Hungry Heartland

Students conduct interviews in Northern Kansas, October 2018

Interdisciplinary teaching collaborations are intellectually engaging, rewarding for instructors and students, … and challenging to execute. Below we feature a successful partnership between the Department of English, the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, and the Department of Art — a partnership that advances the land-grant mission of Kansas State and that helps our students in English translate their academic experience for the professional workplace. 


“Hungry Heartland” is a multi-class, multi-media student project that I am teaching in ENGL 510 “Introduction to Professional Writing” this fall semester. The project investigates the existence of food deserts in rural Kansas and explores social and institutional solutions for the problem.

Food deserts are areas that can be rural or urban and that lack easy and affordable access to fresh produce. Factors that contribute to food deserts include economic hardship, lack of transportation, and lack of healthy food choices.

This project involves two other classes besides ENGL 510: a video/audio production class from Journalism and Mass Communication (taught by Tom Hallaq) and a photography class from Art (taught by Shreepad Joglekar). Together, students from the three classes conducted secondary research of food deserts by reading/watching reports, articles, and documentaries; attended panel discussions with local food experts; and participated in a 2-day field trip to three counties in Northern Kansas that contain food deserts: Jewel, Republic, and Cloud.

“It’s not a class, it’s a film crew”: Faculty members Shreepad Joglekar (front left) and Tom Hallaq (front right) compare notes as the three classes of students are on site in Northern Kansas, October 2018.
Students capture photographs and video in Northern Kansas, October 2018

During the trip, students interviewed and engaged with local communities including farmers, grocery store owners and customers, school teachers and students, and social welfare organizers, among others. They collected observation notes, shot video footage, and took photographs.

Students conduct interviews in Northern Kansas, October 2018

Students in ENGL 510 will produce a series of social media products; they will also write video scripts to assist the Journalism and Mass Communication students to produce documentaries on the topic, while Art students are producing gallery-quality photographs.

It is a challenging class project to design, with lots of planning and leg work, but it has also been a great way to connect classroom learning with real-world problems, to promote social engagement and advocacy, and to develop students’ cross-disciplinary collaborative skills.

Han Yu, Professor

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