Management and Nursing Students Address Food Insecurity in Novel Transdisciplinary Project

Transdisciplinary student teams are developing innovative solutions to the real-world problems of food insecurity and food deserts and the corresponding impact on patients’ health.

Transdisciplinary student teams are developing innovative solutions to the real-world problems of food insecurity and food deserts and the corresponding impact on patients’ health.

In a unique project and skill exchange, undergraduate management and nursing students at Jefferson (Philadelphia University + Thomas Jefferson University) are working together in transdisciplinary teams to develop innovative solutions to the real-world problems of food insecurity and food deserts and the corresponding impact on patients’ health.

The creators of this collaborative project—Cathy Rusinko, professor of management on East Falls Campus, and Kathryn Shaffer, associate dean for strategic initiatives and innovation in the Jefferson College of Nursing—met last year at Jefferson Faculty Days and immediately hit it off.

“Kathryn teaches a senior course on innovation in nursing and is passionate about how 21st-century nursing education must include an understanding of business and innovation,” said Rusinko, who teaches a senior management seminar on current management topics. “I believe we should provide management students with hands-on, real-world projects that reflect the complex and multidisciplinary nature of the business world.”

The idea for the project—with the pilot launched this semester—came from their brainstorming about how they could combine their courses to better serve both sets of students and advance their teaching goals. Twenty-three undergraduate nursing seniors and 12 undergraduate management seniors are participating.

Since the students have two different skillsets—both necessary for successful project outcomes—they will be teaching one another and learning from one another, much as multidisciplinary teams must do in real-world projects, Shaffer and Rusinko noted.

Management professor Cathy Rusinko said this valuable experience will help students to distinguish themselves during job searches.

Management professor Cathy Rusinko said this valuable experience will help students to distinguish themselves during job searches.

The two faculty members act as facilitators and cover knowledge and frameworks (in nursing and management/business) that may be used to innovate and move their projects forward. For example, Shaffer discussed health implications of food insecurity and food deserts (areas with limited access to affordable and nutritious food). Rusinko reviewed the Business Model Canvas, a framework used to generate new ideas to solve problems and develop them as value-added innovations. Management and nursing students also applied design thinking as an approach to this problem.

“Over the course of the project, both sets of students will apply and enhance their skills in cross-functional teamwork, communication, problem-solving, decision-making and leadership—all of which are vital in their careers,” Shaffer said.

The nursing students will identify patients living in a food desert or with food insecurity who will share their challenges to meeting their food needs on a regular basis. All team members will combine their skills and expertise to work together to address their clients’ food issues in a way that’s innovative, effective and acceptable.

Then, nursing students will analyze the health implications of food insecurity for their clients and generate innovative solutions from a population health perspective. Management students will apply innovative business frameworks and perspectives, with the goal of adding further value to the nursing students’ solutions and enhancing effectiveness and efficiency for the clients.

“This wonderful pre-professional experience will distinguish them from their competitors during their job searches and in the career world,” Rusinko said.

Management student Dermot Hughes said the course has opened his eyes to the prevalence of food deserts—even within Philadelphia.

“Working with the nursing students from Center City is a great opportunity to brainstorm potential solutions to this problem,” he said. “It was very interesting to see how the business students and the nursing students looked at the same problem differently.”

Management student Brendan Kilpatrick agreed, saying the project gave him a newfound appreciation of another profession and how they approach various issues.

Nursing student Nancy Amoroso said she also has enjoyed the free-flowing discussion and the knowledge gained by working with the business students.

In April, the teams will present their innovative solutions in a “Nurse Tank” competition (think “Shark Tank” for nursing students) on Center City Campus.

Rusinko and Shaffer also plan to evolve the collaborative project and the interdisciplinary class over time. They submitted an abstract to present their project and preliminary results at Faculty Days in June on East Falls Campus.

Read more about the just-launched Jefferson Ramily Market in the Kanbar Campus Center, which works to combat food insecurity at the University.

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