The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus


Capstone course tackles South Dallas food desert

When Stacy Cherones and Robert Foster came to SMU’s Associate Professor of Communication Studies Owen Lynch for help designing a study on food deserts, none of them knew the extent of the project they were about to tackle.

“We identified a problem from a community perspective so then we had to form a solution,” Lynch said. “Because no one else was doing it and no one else was going to do it we felt like, ‘OK somebody’s got to do it,’ so
we did.”

Cherones was advising an SMU ethics design team that conducted a social-scientific study of a South Dallas food desert, an area whose residents have limited access to fresh, healthy food. Cherones and her team partnered with Foster, a South Dallas community advocate, and together they connected with a group of 12 high school students from Lincoln High School known as the Turner Twelve, a South Dallas based student mentoring program.

The team wanted to find solutions inside the community rather than outside. With that in mind, Lynch designed a study that would help the community understand the problem and come up with their own ideas of how to fix it.

He asked the high school students, “What is healthy?” To answer the question, students were told to take pictures of what their idea of healthy was in their neighborhood.

“From that we realized for that community healthy was more than just access to food,” Lynch said, “it was knowledge of food, it was ability to cook the food, it was the ability to have a healthy community around the food.”

It was their findings that led to the founding of Get Healthy Dallas, their research based non-profit, where Cherones currently serves as president, Foster as vice president and Lynch as a board member.

Get Healthy Dallas (GHD) partnered with DISD and developed the Entrepreneurial Culinary Arts Program (ECAP) that is debuting at Lincoln High School in South Dallas. Realizing that a food desert is also a lack of community resources and job opportunities is what led them to the conception of ECAP.

“We came up with the idea for the academy within the school because the school is where you have the people in the most need,” Lynch said. “You have the obesity rates in the school and you also have kids dropping out of school without jobs.”

Rather than just teach the students about nutrition, ECAP takes it one step further. Lincoln High School will be home to a new demonstration kitchen, professional kitchen and student-run restaurant. ECAP will not only teach students about healthy eating, but will also provide them with hands-on experience in the culinary arts. The restaurant, serving only locally grown food, is not just available to students but the entire community.

If ECAP is successful at Lincoln, Lynch hopes this program might serve as a model for food deserts in other cities. However, there are still some steps that need to be taken to get the project fully off the ground, like funding. Rather than use professionals, the team looked to SMU students.

“It’s an opportunity to take some of the best students SMU has with requisite skill sets and help them apply what they’ve learned in class and the skills they’ve developed while studying towards a good goal,” Lynch said.

Lynch opened COMM 5303 as a capstone course for the fall semester and now has a class of 14 students from the communication studies, advertising, and journalism departments.

Senior communication studies and Spanish major An Phan took this class to apply the skills she’s learned to a real-life company.

“I’m excited to see our efforts help this company grow,” Phan said.

The course is broken up into three different projects: individual, class, and group. The individual project has each student designing a fundraising event while the class project is to plan and execute a public event launching the fundraising campaign for the Lincoln ECAP program. Group projects cover everything from donor relations to logos and branding.

“This class gives us the opportunity to work with a campaign from the ground up, applying everything we’ve learned and get to see the tangible results as a school gets formed,” said English, communication studies and PR major Chelsea Grogan ‘15. “Getting to be apart of the solution to a serious societal need is amazing.”

Although they knew they would benefit from utilizing the skills of the students, Cherones and Lynch also believed the students would benefit from being a part of this program.

Cherones and Lynch hope being a part of this program will make SMU students aware of their privileges and to see the vast inequalities between the two parts of Dallas.

“We aren’t saying people should look at their opportunities and say ‘oh I have so much I should feel guilty’ but ‘I have so much I should feel blessed and I should feel obligated to help’ and that’s an education that SMU students should have,” Lynch said.

Considering this is an experimental program that hasn’t been done before in Meadows, Lynch and the team are grateful to everyone who has taken the chance with them.

“We want to thank the community in itself, DISD who has partnered with us and thank Jose Bowen who is supporting this capstone course along with the chairs in each department of journalism, advertising and communication studies,”
Lynch said.

More to Discover