Topics: College of Communication Information and Media, College of Applied Sciences and Technology, Immersive Learning

December 3, 2009

A tough economy can make it difficult for struggling families to eat healthy, but two Ball State students are working on an immersive learning project that proves good quality food doesn't have to come at a high price. 

Chelsea Backus, a public relations major, and Autumn Sexton, a marketing major, spent their fall semester promoting the local farmers market to low-income families. They wanted this population to know more about the market and the availability of federal WIC (women, infants and children) vouchers to purchase vegetables, fruits and other healthy goods there.

Backus and Sexton wrote news releases about the farmers market's offerings and worked with market vendors to create a survey to pass out to customers in summer 2010. The pair also taught community members how to create a healthy, affordable meal with ingredients from the farmers market during a segment for dish, a microsite about food at; the online edition of he east central Indiana newspaper The Star Press. 

"This project allowed us to interact with people from all different backgrounds," Backus said. "And this is an experience where we've been able to apply what we've learned to a real life situation and feel great knowing we've ended the class with a physical product that is going to help people." 

It was during their research of the WIC program and seeking out similar low-income/healthy option programs nationwide that Backus and Sexton connected with a student from Harvard University and a student from Williams College, both of whom contributed to their research efforts. One of those students will join Backus and Sexton to present their findings at a Dec. 3 research symposium at Ball State. 

Backus and Sexton worked on this project under the leadership of Deanna Pucciarelli, assistant professor of family and consumer sciences (FCS), in her  immersive-learning based course FCS 496, which she hopes to offer every fall. 

The course brought students from varying disciplines together to partner with community businesses in researching and creating industry-centered marketing campaigns. Small, locally owned and food-centered enterprises, such as the farmers market, were the target markets for the course.  

Sexton has high praise for the experience. "I think every student should be required to do an immersive learning project," she said. "You take a lot more pride in helping out the community than just getting an A in a class."

By Chanel Richards