Students Tackle Food Insecurity Through 'Design Thinking' Solutions

May 12, 2023

Five UNT Dallas students are teaming up to create solutions for the food insecurity problem in the community surrounding the university.

The area is part of the 75241 Zip code in Southern Dallas, which is located in District 8 of the Dallas City Council. District 8 has long been underfunded for infrastructure and has been identified as a food desert lacking stores that sell affordable, nutritious products.

As part of the UNT Dallas 2023 Design Thinking Challenge, the students researched, designed and pitched their individual, yet connected, ideas for tackling food insecurity. They were encouraged to think creatively without budget or policy constraints.

The project is a cooperative effort among the UNT Dallas Office of Experiential Learning, the UNT Dallas Center for Socioeconomic Mobility Through Education, and the Principal Impact Collaborative (PIC) at UNT Dallas. PIC developed the Design Thinking Challenge and facilitated the content, with Amanda Dudley and Claudia Vega as the facilitators.

four students

The students represent different academic programs and different classifications. Veronika Ramirez, a graduating senior, will receive her degree in general business; incoming seniors Anna Holland and Ashley Sarabia are majoring in interdisciplinary studies; junior SirWesley Raven is majoring in psychology; junior Arianna Wadley is majoring in organizational behavior and human resources management.

As part of developing their five prototypes for connecting community members with better food sources, the students collected feedback by listening to residents’ comments in surveys, in-person meetings and news articles. They also referenced a U.S. Department of Agriculture report about food security in America.

During their research, the students discovered the prevalence of food insecurity, not only in their own backyards, but nationwide. They gained eye-opening knowledge about the negative effects of food deserts, especially on citizens’ health. And they documented the long distances many people would have to travel to reach a well-stocked, full-service grocery store with a variety of fresh, nutritious, reasonably priced food.

Students were also conscious of the stigma some people feel when they need food and contemplate asking for help to get it. As they constructed their presentations, all were careful to include ways community members could be served, while preserving their dignity and avoiding the stigma.

grocery bags

The five solutions proposed by the students include:

  • A free mobile app called “Jax Connect” with resources and information about how and where to access food supplies (Ramirez)
  • A community garden on the UNT Dallas campus in which fruits and vegetables can be grown and then distributed (Holland)
  • A farmer’s market on campus that would supply the public with fresh produce and other products from local farms (Sarabia)
  • A grocery store on campus where community members and UNT Dallas members can buy a wide selection of food items (Wadley)
  • A transportation service for residents to drive them to and from sources of affordable, healthy food and ensure they have access to stores outside their immediate neighborhood (Raven)

UNT Dallas President Bob Mong was impressed with the five ideas and asked the students to provide a summary and action plan that would help make their proposed solutions a reality. He made the point that some members of the community might be able to use public assistance programs SNAP and WIC for the purchase of food if the market and store come to fruition.


Provost Dr. Betty Stewart questioned the students about the materials they would need and the estimated cost of each plan. She also asked how much land they would want for a garden on university grounds.

By the end of the Design Thinking Challenge Final Showcase, it was clear the seeds had been planted for solutions that will grow in size and scope both on-campus and off in the months and years to come.

(UNT Dallas hosts a monthly mobile food pantry in partnership with the North Texas Food Bank. The next one will be held Friday, May 19, in the UNT Dallas parking lot, 7400 University Hills Blvd. The free, drive-thru service runs from 9 a.m. – Noon.)