CSBS unites Illinois researchers around food security

Illinois Professors Merin Oleschuk, Bobby J. Smith, and Kelley Lemon
Illinois Professors Kelley Lemon, Bobby J. Smith, and Merin Oleschuk—co-chairs of the Food Security Working Group

The Center for Social and Behavioral Science (CSBS) recently announced a partnership with Illinois Profs. Kelley Lemon, Merin Oleschuk, and Bobby J. Smith to launch the Food Security Working Group (FSWG), a campus-wide initiative to support researchers in the food security space. The initiative kicks off this semester with a series of events around this important topic.

As part of its mission to unite interdisciplinary researchers around relevant and timely topics to promote research collaboration and apply for external funding, CSBS hosted the initiative’s first event on Feb. 10, a Meet & Greet open to Illinois faculty, staff, and students interested in food security. Attracting researchers from over 40 departments/units and 12 colleges and schools across campus, this event provided a forum for researchers to get to know one another and showcased teaching and research resources for those interested in food security.

In opening remarks to attendees, CSBS Interim Director Eva Pomerantz highlighted food security as an interdisciplinary endeavor. “Food security is one of the most important issues, and as a land grant institution, I believe it’s really our responsibility to be addressing that,” noted Pomerantz. “Please get to know each other as the day progresses, because I think if we are going to solve issues around food security, it is going to take research and engagement that goes across disciplines.”

African American Studies Professor Bobby J. Smith, the visionary for this initiative, expressed appreciation to CSBS for their support. “I see this event not only as an opportunity to network, but also as an invitation to collaborate across disciplines to address the production, consumption, distribution, and processing of food,” said Smith. “We all enter the food conversation in different ways, but I think it’s important to recognize that we’re all about the way people access food whether it’s through the grocery store, whether it’s through farmers’ markets, whether we’re producing products. It’s good for us to think about food in a number of ways and I hope that we begin to continue that conversation today.”

Prof. Kim Kidwell giving the keynote
Associate Chancellor for Strategic Partnerships & Initiatives Kim Kidwell delivers the keynote at the Food Security Working Group Meet & Greet.

Formerly the Dean of the College of ACES, and appointed Associate Chancellor for Strategic Partnerships & Initiatives in 2021, Kimberlee Kidwell delivered the keynote. Kidwell’s work has been focused on the food security space throughout her career, and the presentation emphasized the need for creating a food security ecosystem at Illinois. With the diverse array of talent available and the demonstrated power of interdisciplinarity on campus, Kidwell explored ideas on how researchers might intentionally create an ecosystem that elevates the collective ability to address food security issues more broadly.

During the keynote, Kidwell noted that foundations are increasingly prioritizing translational research in their funding decisions. “There’s incredible potential to coalesce some of our strategic priorities in an interdisciplinary nature with fundraising to address the issue of food security,” noted Kidwell. “What if we thread those things together and develop an ecosystem that really has a compelling, big-picture plan with lots of components?”

Kidwell believes Illinois’ influence will expand if researchers are empowered to work together. “So how do we create this ecosystem at UIUC around food security? Faculty, staff, and student engagement is key. Students are the lifeblood of this place, faculty are the activators, and we’ve got to get people on board with the vision of wanting to do this in a way that you can do more together,” said Kidwell.

The Food Security Working Group Meet and Greet featured an impressive set of investigators from across campus. Please contact CSBScience@illinois.edu for access to the presentation slides or to connect with the presenters.

A panel discussion at the Food Security Working Group Meet & Greet
A panel discussion at the Food Security Working Group Meet & Greet

Teaching resources for food security researchers

  • Debra Korte | Assistant Dean for Learning Innovation, College of ACES
  • Jenny Davis | Associate Professor, Inter-seminars Initiative
  • Ava Wolf | Assistant Director of Teaching & Learning Spaces, Center for Innovation in Teaching & Learning

Funding & community engagement for food security researchers

  • Christopher Span | Associate Chancellor, Administration & PreK-12 Initiatives
  • Julie Elzanati | Director, Office of Foundation Relations
  • Trinity Allison | Senior Program Lead, SNAP-Ed, University of Illinois Extension
The 2023 CSBS staff
The staff of the Center for Social & Behavioral Science
Connect with CSBS

CSBS can support your research and facilitate discussions with potential collaborators in the food security space. If you need seed funding to pull together a team and/or develop pilot data, we encourage you to apply to the Small Grant Program. If you are ready to apply for an external grant, either on your own or with collaborators, please view a list of relevant funding opportunities and contact us. If you have suggestions for what you would like the Food Security Working Group to do, let us know at CSBSscience@illinois.edu.

CSBS has planned two Lunch & Learn Sessions on March 3 and March 31 to further the scholarly exchange among the newly-formed Food Security Working Group. Researchers that are not currently focused on this work but interested in exploring or getting connected to food security research are encouraged to participate.

Subscribe to the CSBS newsletter for more information about these upcoming events and special announcements about center activities and services, education programs, and workshops.

Written by Hannah Wirth