Hometown: Decatur, Georgia
During her time as a 2015 Georgia Innovation Intern, Rebecca Watts Hull explored how sustainability initiatives are influencing food purchasing on Georgia’s college campuses.
Hull, a doctoral student in the School of History and Sociology, investigated the impacts of the growing emphasis on “buy local” campaigns, and she used national and state data on campus food purchasing to predict the economic development benefits for Georgia of more aggressive local and sustainable food procurement goals. In addition, she investigated ways that universities, state government agencies, county and municipal governments, and nonprofit organizations can expand these benefits for Georgia farmers.
“Growing student demand for and institutional commitment to sustainability practices on college campuses in Georgia has created pressure for increased transparency in food sourcing,” Hull said. “That pressure already has led to student education about the sources of foods served in the dining halls at some institutions and has prompted several produce distributors to identify and market products from regional farms.”
According to her report, entitled “Campus Commitments to Local and Sustainable Food Procurement: Trends, Benefits, Challenges and Opportunities,” campus local, sustainable food initiatives in Georgia have, to date, resulted in greater procurement from commercial, conventional Georgia farms than smaller farms and ones with sustainability certifications.
Hull concludes the report by recommending that Georgia’s public colleges and universities, state governmental departments, and other stakeholders — including nonprofit organizations — extend regional economic benefits of campus local and sustainable food initiatives by implementing local buying commitments at all public institutions. She also recommends supporting infrastructure, such as food hubs, that can connect smaller and mid-sized farmers, including organic producers, with colleges and universities.
Hull thinks campus sustainability initiatives can be a powerful force of change for a number of reasons:
“First, through education they may shape the behavior of students for decades to come. Second, the “ecological footprint” of universities is huge; a statewide commitment to even small changes in food procurement can significantly expand markets for sustainably produced foods. Third, colleges and universities are home to natural and social scientists whose research and expertise can advise policy-makers on how to bring about a faster transition to a more sustainable food system.”
The Georgia Innovation Internship program in which Hull worked has provided graduate students in University System of Georgia schools opportunities for hands-on experiences linking science, technology, and innovation to economic development since 2005. The program is sponsored by the Program in Science, Technology, and Innovation Policy, the Enterprise Innovation Institute, and the School of Public Policy.
Fifteen to 20 students apply for the internships each year, and their applications are reviewed by an esteemed set of judges from statewide economic development organizations. Hull and Eric Van Holm, a doctoral student in the School of Public Policy, were selected as Summer 2015 interns by judges Glen Whitley (Georgia Department of Economic Development and the Centers of Innovation), Stan Vangilder (Georgia Power), and Carrie Barnes (Georgia Electric Membership Corporation).
“We believe that some of the best ideas in economic development can come from our students, and we want to have access to and foster these ideas,” said Jan Youtie, professor in the School of Public Policy and director of the Enterprise Innovation Institute’s Community, Policy, and Research Services team. Youtie served as a faculty mentor to the interns alongside Alfie Meek, the director of the Enterprise Innovation Institute’s Innovation, Strategy, and Impact team.
Working with Meek enabled Hull to include an economic analysis of the potential for local, sustainable food commitments on campus to contribute to economic development in Georgia. She said that ongoing feedback from Youtie and Meek on her research and presentation methods exposed her to valuable new perspectives and approaches that somewhat differed from those in her home department.
Hull poses with Grant Grimes, Unit Marketing Coordinator and Sustainability Coordinator of Georgia Tech Dining Services.
“The Georgia Innovation Intern program offered a great opportunity for me to explore a topic related to my (future) dissertation topic while providing Georgia-specific data useful to a variety of stakeholders working to advance local and sustainable food systems,” Hull said. “In addition, the interdisciplinary nature of the program and the opportunity to work with scholars in a variety of fields appealed to me.”
Hull presented her findings during a readout session at the end of August, and she believes her experience as a Georgia Innovation Intern could very well inform her next steps as a doctoral student.
“I have not yet developed my dissertation proposal, but, generally speaking, I am interested in exploring the intersection of campus sustainable food initiatives, student “real food” movements, and the broader sustainable agriculture movement in the United States,” Hull said. “The research I conducted through the internship program gave me a good sense of recent progress in campus commitments to locally procured food and to sustainably produced foods.”
Rebecca Watts Hull
Rebecca is a doctoral student interested in the role of institutions of higher education in sustainability leadership and environmental social change movements. Before returning to school to pursue a Ph.D. she served as Executive Director of Mothers & Others for Clean Air for 6 years, a nonprofit partnership advocating clean air policies and smog safety. Rebecca has worked as a science and environmental education curriculum consultant on a number of projects including California’s Education and the Environment Initiative (EEI). She also served as Curriculum Director for an independent school in Atlanta, designing an integrated science and social studies curriculum framework. Earlier in her career, Rebecca worked in environmental project management in East Africa with the U.S. Peace Corps and in Washington, D.C. with the World Wildlife Fund. She earned a Master of Science degree in Natural Resources and Environment from the University of Michigan and holds a BA from Bucknell University.