Clinton School alum Jenna Rhodes currently works as a program manager for the Childhood Obesity Prevention Research Program and the program operations manager for Arkansas GardenCorps at the Arkansas Children’s Research Institute. As a UACS student, Rhodes was a member of the Practicum team assigned to Delta Garden Study which has since evolved into Arkansas Farm to School, a Practicum project she now helps supervise.
Rhodes and fellow Clinton School alum Emily English will lead a group of students looking to map existing assets that could potentially support farm-to-institution programs across Arkansas. Students will research and review other local food system statewide asset maps from across the nation, aggregate existing databases of assets from various organizations and agencies, and create new databases for currently missing information, all of which will inform the development of a searchable map to be housed online.
In addition to her time with the Clinton School, Rhodes earned a bachelor’s degree in biology at Northwest Missouri State University before completing a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. She taught high school science for six years and served as the state coordinator of the Missouri Environmental Literacy Plan. In addition to her master’s degree in public service from the Clinton School, she earned a concurrent master’s degree in public health from the University of Arkansas for Medical Science.
What do you remember most about your Practicum project?
It was with the Delta Garden Study, which provided schools with a 1 acre garden, a greenhouse, and a full-time garden manager who also offered nutrition education through a curriculum aligned to the state standards, in order to determine changes to fruit and vegetable intake, physical activity, achievement, school bonding, and social risk behaviors. That was the first sort of foray into school gardens, and developing some of the background research that was missing in order to show the link between gardening and health and academic outcomes.
Did you enjoy the project overall?
I did. It was really interesting. I think that it was a great example of what the Clinton School offers in terms of real-world projects for students. My background was teaching high school science, and I knew I wanted a career change and to get into the nonprofit world. Originally, I thought I would end up doing something more technical in the environmental arena, but I fell in love with this work through the Clinton School. I think that working on a real-world project with a meaningful mission and learning the skills of qualitative and quantitative data collection, key informant interviews, and coding have become important to me. I have no idea where I would’ve learned those skills if it weren’t for the Clinton School. I use those skills all the time in my work, and they’re really important to what we do here with developing evidence and research.
Has the project changed at all since you were a student?
The Delta Garden Study was a time-bound grant. However, the Delta Garden Study is what led to the development and creation of Arkansas GardenCorps, which is now a program in its sixth year with the Childhood Obesity Prevention Research Program. I think it’s really become a key asset in Arkansas for meeting the need and placing service members in community and school gardens all over the state, as well as offering nutrition education and access to healthy food for communities. I think it absolutely played a big role in the realization that there was a real need to provide assistance to school and community gardens all across the state.
What are your goals for the Clinton School students to take away from this Practicum project?
I think that we have been growing and building Farm to School and Farm to Institution with a ton of great partners all across the state. These include different agencies and organizations and different departments and stakeholders. Being able to bring together existing data from multiple partners and networks and get them all in one place and be able to look at an actual map to see what exists in the state, is going to be so important in us moving forward in terms of local and regional food system development. Also, being able to share that with our partners who are working on different pieces of the puzzle will help us focus and be really efficient in the way we work with one another. It’s going to be an incredible resource, and there’s no way we could do it without the Clinton School. We just don’t have the capacity to take on that project. It’s been something that we’ve wanted to do for a couple years, and until we were able to work with the Clinton School on it, we haven’t had the capacity to do it, so we are so thrilled.