To build a more sustainable food system, Gabrielle Rivera, N21, approaches her work and studies with a simple motto: “I know a lot, but I also have a lot to learn.”
That’s what led her to the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, where she’s earned a M.S. in Agriculture, Food and Environment, focusing on food production and communication for community stakeholders. “Tufts stood out to me from the beginning,” she says. “The Friedman community is interested in addressing the whole food system from different angles, and that was missing from my experience.”
Rivera first developed an interest in food and nutrition when she studied food choice behavior for her undergraduate capstone project. That led her to work in public health food access research for the University of Minnesota. But after two years, she still had questions. “I saw the effects of the food system, but I wanted to learn more about the underlying policy,” she recalls. “Why do we have this food system that places so many in a position of food insecurity?”
She gained new insight through her work as a research assistant for Ph.D. candidate Sarah John, evaluating two Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) fruit and vegetable programs: Boston’s Double Up Food Bucks and the New England Nutrition Incentives Collaborative healthy incentive program. In addition to analyzing data, learning a new statistics program, and writing reports, she helped run a promotional campaign for SNAP incentive program savings at farmer’s markets through social media.
“It was fun to tap into my creative side. A lot of people don’t know about these programs—they can be very impactful, but only if you know about them,” she says. “It was really fulfilling to see the impact a digital ad campaign can have on expanding farmers’ market SNAP participation and associated nutrition benefit to communities.”
Rivera was also grateful to receive guidance from John and Professor Parke Wilde. “I could always come to them with questions, and they were as invested in the research as they were in my learning.”
In an intense academic environment, during a time of social distancing, their weekly meetings—and understanding—were appreciated, she says. The pandemic has presented many challenges but has also helped “build a community that’s more understanding of physical and mental health,” she says. “That has felt affirming to me.”
After graduation, Rivera will work as a research fellow through the Global Sustainability Program. She will join the project CityFood in collaboration with the University of Washington, focusing on the potential of integrated aqua-agriculture systems. “It’s exciting to me to apply what I’ve learned at the Friedman School to this international project. It will be a great new research experience,” she says.
Profile written by Karen Shih.
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