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Psychology Students Develop Motivational Material to Encourage Healthy Eating

Using what they learned in their Motivation and Emotion course, students spent the semester creating programming ideas for The Family Place in Saint Paul.

By Cherie Suonvieri ’15, content specialist

December 11, 2018 | 11:15 a.m.

Ciera Neufeld '20

Cierra Neufeld ’20 explains the snack wheel activity her group designed.

Collectible trading cards. Color-coded calendars. Popular songs remixed with names of various vegetables. These are just a few of the programming ideas psychology students developed to encourage children at a local non-profit to eat healthy foods.

These educational materials were the product of a semester-long assignment in Associate Professor of Psychology Andy Johnson’s Motivation and Emotion course. “I was looking for a project that would be meaningful to the students and beneficial to another group,” Johnson says. His searching led him to The Family Place, a day center for people experiencing homelessness, based in Saint Paul, Minnesota.

Together, Johnson and Margaret Lovejoy, founder of The Family Place, discussed ways the class could partner with the organization. While The Family Place has established comprehensive programming for families, one challenge they’ve encountered is motivating children to eat fruits and vegetables at meal times.

The students' assignment would be to address this challenge. Using what they were learning about the psychology of motivation in class, they were to research and develop ideas that The Family Place could consider incorporating into their programming.

The project was designed as a partnership, a model that student Vivian Chavez ’18 notes was important to its success. “We’ll present all these ideas that The Family Place can use, but they’re the ones who decide and implement,” she says. “They’re the ones that already have relationships with the families.”

When the class visited The Family Place earlier this fall, Lovejoy emphasized that she wanted the students to use their imagination for the project. Inspired by the creative freedom Lovejoy gave the class, Chavez and her partner Charity Ntor-ue ’19 went to work writing a parody of I Like It by Cardi B—an upbeat song the kids are likely to know—with lyrics to make vegetables more fun and less intimidating. “When you learn and laugh at the same time, that’s when you keep it with you,” Chavez says. “And from my experience working with kids, it always helps to be silly.” 

Lovejoy came to Bethel on December 4 to see the six groups present their suggestions. Students provided a variety of physical and digital materials that could be taken back to The Family Place and implemented as the staff sees fit.

Table tri-folds

Students developed a variety of materials for The Family Place, including trifolds with riddles and fun facts, reusable calendars, goal charts, and character cards.

One group produced prototypes of 40 collectible cards featuring characters like Zucchini Zac and Sweet Potato Steve on the front, with fun facts and nutrition benefits on the back. When children try new fruits or vegetables, they’re given a pocket-sized card that matches the food as a reward. 

The same group also made table tents with lists of conversation starters to encourage parents and children to talk about the foods during mealtime. According to Autumn Zigterman ’19, their group kept a person’s need for autonomy in mind when they shaped their programming suggestions. “We wanted to present ideas that rely on the kids and parents to be committed to eating healthy, because we can’t force them to do that,” she says.

When the final presentation concluded, Lovejoy stood to address the class. “It’s just amazing how many good ideas you are offering us to help these children have better lives,” she said, a table full of the students’ presentation materials in front of her. “I had no idea that you’d get to this point, and I hope that along the way, you were learning for yourselves, too.”  

Margaret Lovejoy

Margaret Lovejoy, founder of The Family Place, responded to each group’s presentation with feedback and insight.

Students say they’ll be leaving this semester with a number of takeaways. Zigterman, who is considering going to graduate school for marriage and family counseling, appreciated the practical experience they gained through collaborating with The Family Place. “If you want to motivate someone, you have to understand their values and where they’re coming from,” she says. “This project has better equipped me for a counseling career.”

Within the vocational preparation, there are ethical lessons as well. “Students have learned that people who are homeless are told what to do a lot,” Johnson says. “They’re learning about the importance of framing interventions in a way that is empowering and encourages partnership.”

Chavez was admittedly apprehensive when she first heard about the assignment, but that changed as it became clearer that the students would be following Lovejoy’s lead. “There are ways to volunteer and work with others that don’t replicate the whole ‘white savior’ thing,” she says. “This was a really good example of how to be involved, but also know our place—where we are and how much power we have.”

Taking Learning Beyond the Classroom

This collaborative project happened beneath the Bethel/Frogtown and Summit-University Community Partnership.

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