Carlson students are using analytics to fight for access to food


Ben Deters, Writer

Throughout Minnesota, hunger continues to be a problem faced by many. One out of nine residents is dealing with the stress of hunger, and many live paycheck to paycheck in order to feed themselves and their families. Resources such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) have been implemented in order to help those dealing with hunger, but they haven’t been used nearly enough as they could be. In Minnesota, there is a 19% gap between eligibility and access to the SNAP resources, meaning that of those eligible to obtain the resources, only 81% actually do. Some students studying at the Carlson School of Management took this problem into their own hands, and used the resources available to them to help. 

In order to increase the use of SNAP, Second Harvest Heartland, a Twin-Cities based food bank partnered with the Carlson School of Management, and tasked undergraduates with creating a model that provided insight as to how and why these resources were being underused. The outcomes of this experimental learning project provided SNAP with some answers as to how they could adjust both their outreach and overall effect on the community. 

Second Harvest Heartland worked alongside students enrolled in the first Business Analytics in Action course, which was taught by Ellen Trader, the managing director of the Analytics Lab, and Senior Lecturer Ken Reily. Ben Goworowski, Seryozha Mzenga, and Tran Nguyen, all ’21 Bachelor of Science in Business Administration students, worked alongside Second Harvest Heartland, and their work stood out for using real life examples, and showcasing their ability to use analytics to better their community. 

Using local data, these students found that of the total population represented by the Second Harvest Heartlands service area, 15.8% were eligible for SNAP. Of those 15.8%, only 36.7% were currently accessing the resources provided. This brought up a very obvious question; why are those eligible for the program not utilizing it, even when facing the struggle of hunger? The answer to this question proved to be the lack of knowledge of the program, as well as those who are eligible not knowing that they are eligible.

For the students, the outcomes and takeaways from the class proved to be significant. “One thing I really appreciate about the Carlson School is that you get to work on real projects instead of made-up stuff in the classroom,” Nguyen says. “This project showed me a lot of the steps, research, and analysis that I’m going to need in my own career. So this was a very rewarding experience.” The findings from this experiment were quickly brought to the attention of the Minnesota Department of Human Resources, to prove that the data collected by the department could be used for real-world benefit. 

The Carlson School of Management also provides three other ‘In-Action’ courses, meant for students to be hands on and use data provided by organizations to solve real-world issues. These courses include Entrepreneurship in Action, Mergers and Acquisition in Action, Marketing in action. The partnership between the University’s Analytics Lab, and outside organizations continues to be very beneficial for both parties.