Students use geographic information systems to help food bank connect its clients with healthy food

Students Ren Bee, Priscilla Duarte, Suzanne Beshore and Linda Luna outside the Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services.

Editor's note: This story was first published in fall 2011. As of June 2012, Bee is an inaugural graduate of the School of Nursing.

Less than six months after classes opened at the recently launched Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing at UC Davis, students help improve health through projects that help community organizations solve health issues. One class project, for example, uses technology to make it easier for people to easily find accessible, nutritious and affordable food.

Ren Bee and Suzanne Beshore, two Master of Science students in the Nursing Science and Health-Care Leadership graduate degree program, partner with the Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services through the course, Community Connections. The Food Bank provides low-income families with food assistance and many other critical health services. Food Bank leaders met with Community Connections’ students early in the fall semester to determine projects that best support the organization’s needs. Bee and Beshore determined that geographic information systems, GIS, could help the Food Bank’s clients find resources such as local food markets that offer healthy and nutritious food in their neighborhoods.

"GIS can be a great tool because it provides a great visual analysis of various research data and it highlights health and illness issues in populations,” Bee said.

Several studies in the last decade found that areas with decreased economic and social resources have higher rates of obesity due to a lack of healthy food choices in supermarkets and eating establishments. Lack of nutritious food is linked to health risks such as obesity, diabetes and other illnesses. Food bank leaders lacked support to help individuals easily find healthy and nutritious food and hoped the Community Connections students would discover creative solutions.

Bee, who also works as a trauma nurse at California Shock Trauma Air Rescue, first used GIS in early 2011 to develop the tool for the Sacramento Food Bank. Additionally, Bee and other students contributed to the creation of a new GIS class with Estella Geraghty, an assistant professor at the UC Davis School of Medicine. Six master’s degree students from the School of Nursing and one student from the Health Informatics Graduate Degree Program enrolled in the class.

“GIS supports the analysis of various scientific research that can be used across all disciplines in health care, not just nursing,” Bee said. “We hope our GIS course can help promote interdisciplinary education that could include other graduate students at UC Davis, including Public Health, the Graduate School of Management as well as the School of Medicine.”

Bee and 32 other members of the inaugural classes at the school take leadership roles in their individual studies, oftentimes in team-based projects with community partners such as the Sacramento Food Bank. As the inaugural classes take a role in the creation of new courses—such as the interdisciplinary GIS course—their work helps shape the curriculum for future scholars at the School of Nursing and UC Davis Health.

Bee is considering a master’s degree thesis that will examine how well GIS identifies community resources. He aspires to serve communities in Sacramento which need the most help and simultaneously create a foundation for countless future UC Davis students to integrate GIS in their interprofessional studies and careers. “It is an honor to be one of the inaugural students at the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing, a place that supports innovative and interprofessional thinking needed to solve society’s health problems,” Bee said.