2013 Goldies: North Carolina State University, Raleigh

NC State fosters student engagement through local purchasing program.

Lindsey Ramsey, Contributing Editor

My Roots are at NC State highlights local companies’
connections to the university.

Getting students engaged was top of mind for the dining services sustainability team when designing the My Roots are at NC State program. The program has two goals—to get students interested in the department’s sustainability efforts by educating them about local companies that have an NC State connection and to increase the amount of locally sourced products purchased by the department.

“Our university is a little bit different. At some other universities students might be a little more boisterous about issues like buying local and reducing waste,” says Keith Smith, director of board operations/sustainability. “Our students are more about, ‘how can we get jobs that matter?’ By showcasing employees of companies who are making a difference locally, the students became much more interested in our sustainability efforts. It helped the students identify with these local companies and know that when they graduate from here, they can make a difference.”

Smith says he believes the program exemplifies the gold standard because of how it engages the students.

“You can do a lot of these initiatives and programs, but if it’s not important to the campus community, then why are you doing it?” Smith asks. “We need to influence and educate [our students]. This program was really good because it got the students plugged in to what we were doing. It made them realize why these sustainability issues are important. For them to see someone who graduated four or five years ago going out there and making a difference is really powerful. When you do that you can get them fired up to do other things.”

Composting is one area the program has helped get students interested. “We had a composting program, but the students didn’t really care about it,” Smith says. “We found a [woman] who worked for the composting company and told her story to the students. That showed them that after graduation this [woman] went on to get a job that mattered. It made them care more about our composting program.”

Composting is just one component of the department’s sustainability efforts. Twenty-eight percent of the food served in the dining halls in 2011-2012 was sourced locally. With My Roots are at NC State, the department hopes to increase that amount.

Sharing the local message with students is also an important element of the My Roots are at NC State program. The department posts stories about the companies NC State has connections with on its website and in the hallways of the dining centers.

The department also tied the program to two events that it hosts every year—the All Carolinas Meal, which is in the fall and features a complete menu made from local products, and the Earth Day meal in the spring. The department invites to campus those [alumni] featured on the posters [in the dining halls] so they can actually meet the students. 

Program Highlights

NC State University’s My Roots are at NC State program represents the gold standard for non-commercial foodservice because:

• In an effort to engage students in the department’s sustainability efforts, dining services partnered with the state program Got to Be North Carolina to track down local businesses that have an NC State connection

• Dining services then made a list of all the local companies it was already purchasing from and looked for areas where it could switch to a local company

• Students became more engaged in the department’s efforts such as local purchasing and composting when they saw that people in those businesses had connections to NC State

• The department promoted the stories of the companies that had NC State connections on its website and posters, in order to engage students with the producers and companies

• The program also is featured in the department’s All Carolinas Meal and Earth Day celebrations by inviting the business owners to interact with the students 

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