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COVID-19’s Impact on Western Montana’s Food System Resiliency

Sis Gibson
Sydney Lang
Bella Butler
Lili Pongracz
Michael Martello
Trevor Finney
Liam Hauck
Jared Gibbs

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, pre-existing sustainability issues have not come out unscathed and in many cases have been exacerbated by the public health crisis. The pandemic has already greatly impacted communities around the world, an example of such effects can be observed through the implications on western Montana’s food systems. Given this information, our Franke Global Leadership Initiative: Natural Resources & Sustainability group developed a research question to explore the network of our food systems further. We asked: during the COVID-19 pandemic, where are Missoula food systems failing to be resilient and sustainable in the way that they serve the Missoula community and what local approaches can best address those weaknesses? We surveyed and interviewed a total of 54 Montanans involved in the local food system. Our survey pool consisted of local Missoula farmers, ranchers, producers, and those in food system leadership roles. We found that an overarching majority of respondents experienced significant changes to their operations.

Cultural Expression Through Art

Natalie Martin, University of Montana, Missoula
Madeline Damon, University of Montana, Missoula
Lauren Sullivan, University of Montana, Missoula
George Finn, University of Montana, Missoula

Our project’s goal is to work towards greater cultural awareness within the Missoula community by focusing on educating children about culture through art. Cultural education has been slow to be implemented in schools, although it is increasing in importance as diversity in the Missoula community and the rest of the U.S. continues to increase. Cultural awareness is a broad term that covers multiple aspects of awareness: empathy, competence, safety, and intelligence. Learning cultural awareness begins at a young age, so we designed a hands-on learning experience directed at students in grades 4 through 6. We decided to use art as a way to connect students to culture in an engaging and memorable way. Due to COVID-19, we created a virtual learning experience using materials that students could easily find at home or any store. Our website contains an introductory lesson on what culture is as well as other lessons led by educators who volunteered to partner with us. Educators provided an art tutorial video as well as a lesson about the culture behind the art project. We partnered with a local nonprofit, The Flagship Program, to offer the website to a small group of students in order to test our website’s functionality and obtain feedback from educators and their students about the material and areas for improvement. By encouraging cultural awareness at young ages, we can support students in developing cross-cultural skills that will foster future global awareness and communication skills. Art itself is a cultural activity that fosters growth, inclusivity, and innovation. By looking at art forms originating in different cultures, our project shows one of the many ways that cultural education can be incorporated into classrooms.

Effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic on UMT Students' Mental Health

Sami Sykes, University of Montana, Missoula
Haylie Peacock
JT Vineyard
Talia Randle
Kit Smith
Liza Donier
Katrina Liston
Elaine Chandler

University Students and COVID-19: The Impacts From This Pandemic on Mental Health

This study explores the mental health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on University of Montana students. COVID-19 has had a notable effect on many aspects of life: economic, health, social, and academics. While these areas individually are objectively measurable, the aspect of mental health is more difficult to assess. Survey research was used to measure the impact of COVID-19 on University of Montana students. Participants also reported how these impacts have affected their relationships with these areas of life. While the survey responses are anonymous, we have reached out to several individuals attending University throughout the world who have volunteered to be interviewed. These interviews helped us to better compare how University of Montana and its students are being affected by and dealing with the COVID- 19 pandemic compared to other schools at an international level. Demographic information of all participants was collected for understanding and generalizing the results. No participants were excluded on the basis of any demographic factor. Data was collected over the course of several months, and we are categorizing and analyzing the results for trends. It is expected that at least 80% of students will report mental health impacts of COVID-19. We are hoping that a combination of the results of the survey and our interviews will shed some light on the importance of prioritizing mental health, especially in a global pandemic.

Lobbying for Medicated Assisted Treatment in Montana

Asia Chhon
Mason Hutchinson
Taylor Hill
Alex Whaples
Kian Speck

Despite spending more than any other county on incarceration and reentry programs, the United States continues to have some of the highest rates of reincarceration. Programs designed to teach inmates job skills, GED programs, and new Medicaid measures have proved moderately successful for reducing recidivism among certain offenders, but one class continues to suffer high recidivism rates. People imprisoned for opioid drug use are more likely to reoffend than any other group, but very few governments in different countries around the world have allotted the resources to establish effective treatment facilities, creating a cycle very few can escape. This project aims to secure funding from the Montana state government to implement Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) for opioid drug use in Montana prisons.

MAT is a treatment plan that would reduce recidivism rates in Montana in an effective way. With this treatment plan, hopefully opioid users will be able to effectively help reduce recidivism and drug rates by using medical assisted treatment. During the 2021 legislative session, our group lobbied members of the Montana state government through phone calls, emails, and social media to secure support for a bill that provides funding for MAT treatment in prisons. We are a student group from the University of Montana that is a part of the Global Initiative program on campus. We are hoping to accomplish action on the issue of opioid use in the state and help reduce recidivism with this medical assisted treatment plan.

Nutritional Access and Resource Knowledge in College

Morgan Weidow, University of Montana, Missoula
Darra Perdaems, University of Montana, Missoula
Drake Leonard, University of Montana, Missoula
Madi Kohls, University of Montana, Missoula
Brooklyn Cunningham, University of Montana, Missoula

Nearly 20% of college students are food insecure, compared to 14.5% of the general population who face food insecurity. Factors that influence this include rising tuition costs, lack of affordable housing in college towns, and an increase in first-generation and/or low-income students. Moreover, food insecurity has a notable effect on physical and mental health and overall academic performance. College years are an important intervention time for nutritional practices as students are making sovereign choices and assuming responsibility for their health decisions that will ultimately shape their lifestyles. We conducted focus groups with UM college students to gauge their dietary habits and nutritional barriers.

Focus group participants were acquired through an optional survey distributed throughout the University of Montana campus, in numerous locations such as the dining hall, the residence halls, and emails from multiple different colleges at UM. In order to acquire demographics of participants, all who completed the survey answered questions regarding their residency status at UM, if they had experience using resources designed for people facing food insecurity, as well as basic nutritional literacy questions. They attended focus groups held via videoconference, where they were questioned about their level of knowledge regarding campus and Missoula community-specific resources. Additionally, we gathered data regarding the barriers preventing students from obtaining an adequate amount of nutritious food, and making healthy choices. Using this information, we will create an all-in-one online guide for students to reference with resources pertaining to nutrition and food insecurity to be distributed to UM students as they leave the residence halls, at Curry Health Center, in their class syllabi, and the global education building for international students studying here. Simultaneously, we will craft a toolkit that walks through our process step-by-step that is meant to be easily reproducible on any campus, anywhere.

Planning Beyond the Pandemic: Assessing the Value of Alternative Exchange Programs

Chloe Loeffelholz, University of Montana, Missoula
Camryn Vaughn, University of Montana, Missoula
Makkie Haller, University of Montana, Missoula
Taylor Gregory, University of Montana, Missoula

Intercultural exchange programs have been shown to increase critical thinking skills, cross-cultural communication abilities, and provide intercultural perspectives to participants. Unfortunately, fewer than 11% of undergraduate students study abroad, which means an majority of college students are not able to participate in the life-changing experiences that come with global immersion. This is largely due to the many barriers to access that currently exist for these programs, including lack of finances, lack of awareness, work and family commitments, and concerns about timely graduation. Another current concern is the COVID-19 pandemic, which halted a large number of in-person exchanges in 2020 and 2021. One way to increase the number of students who are able to engage in intercultural experiences is by expanding the typical definition of studying abroad to include Alternative Exchange Programs (AEPs) such as virtual and domestic exchanges. After conducting interviews with past participants and conducting an advisor and student survey, we have identified the issues of access surrounding in-person study abroad. AEPs can address these barriers and still offer meaningful experiences reflective of intercultural exchange values. AEPs provide students with opportunities to enhance their intercultural communication skills, bolster their resume, and shift their cultural perspectives. We have built an online toolkit that includes personal testimony from past participants in such experiences, as well as resources to help inform prospective students of their options and guide them in deciding whether to participate in AEPs. This toolkit will empower students to increase their awareness of UM’s AEP offerings that best suit their needs. While AEPs offer a unique solution for the challenges of traveling in-person during the COVID-19 pandemic, AEPs are a tool in the toolbox of intercultural education, offering a supplement, not a substitute, to in-person international programs.

REWILDING CHILDREN: Creating Digital Tools for K-5 Wildlife Education

Ashley Sinclair, University of Montana, Missoula
Jeffrey Hyer, University of Montana, Missoula
Mitchell Reynolds, University of Montana, Missoula
Megan Jackson, University of Montana, Missoula
Makayla Haynes, University of Montana, Missoula
Nicole Ballard, University of Montana, Missoula
Katelyn Graybeal, University of Montana, Missoula

As people are moving and expanding into more rural and unoccupied areas, the number of human-wildlife interactions have increased. Public attitudes toward wildlife are essential for the safety of both, as well as maintaining a healthy ecosystem. Lack of awareness and education surrounding wildlife results in relationships with wildlife becoming disconnected, dangerous, and harmful to both native wildlife species and people. We believe through proper education, these conflicts can be mitigated and prevented. With our literature review, we learned that starting education about wildlife at an early age is important. While some resources for teachers exist, they do not allow for students to interact with the material, nor feel empowered by it. Through the interviews that we conducted, we gained a greater understanding as to which subjects should be included in our curriculum on our website, where the current gaps are in education with wildlife and related topics, and what resources would be helpful to allow students to understand this material better. We interviewed a variety of people of different backgrounds, including parents, teachers, wildlife educators, scientists, and international scholars, in order to understand what to include in our created website. With this, we hope to educate children about the natural world and how they can interact with it, as well as develop a love and respect for nature and wildlife. This knowledge will give kids a head start in the science world and help them develop skills such as teamwork, problem-solving, reasoning, critical thinking, and collaborative skills when they are at their most impressionable age. This will be helpful for wildlife, and it will be vital in furthering education and developing skills they will take into their adult life.

The MMM Initiative

Erika Byrne
Amanda Cunningham
Brianna Bal
Christian Pfeifer
McKenna Jones
Jaime Breisch
Rachel Brosten
Noelle Annonen

Information collected and distributed by and on news and social media outlets has manifested in the political biases of its users. This issue led to political polarization and ethnic prejudice. To combat this problem, we applied the Human Centered Design method to develop a project that enhances media literacy to help reduce biases toward ethnic minorities. During the Inspiration Phase, we conducted interviews with experts, surveys, and an extensive literature review. Through our research and feedback from over 40 partners, we found that access to social media literacy education is virtually non-existent -- hence the need for a comprehensive, easily digestible informational package. For the Ideation Phase, we created an online educational package. Our website provides the resources to check personal biases and recognize ethnic prejudices. Our resources use interactive elements to educate users on how the use of media can exacerbate ethnic prejudices. During the Implementation Phase, we conducted an interactive webinar to inform leaders of diverse communities and organizations about the website and encourage them to apply and share these educational tools. We relied on 40 partners in 22 states and 14 countries to promote our educational package in their respective networks. We applied pre/post-experience surveys concerning media usage and subsequent bias to assess and document the outcomes and impact of our project. We also tracked the spread of attendance of the webinar. According to the analytics data collected through The MMM Initiative website, hundreds of people have accessed our website with an accumulation of over 1,000 views between January and March 2021. We expect this to continue to grow exponentially as the benefits of our educational package are spread. The global reach of our project promises to contribute to reducing prejudice against ethnic minorities exacerbated by biases on social media.