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How Do You Get Healthy Food to the Neighborhoods that Need it Most?

Many low-income communities don’t have access to the fresh, healthy food that many of us take for granted. A group of Bentley students hoped to change that by putting their training to work to help a local mobile food organization better serve its customers.

Fresh Truck seeks to improve community health by bringing fresh produce on a retrofitted school bus to neighborhoods that need it. The problem that Fresh Truck addresses is a serious one -- more than half of Greater Boston’s low-income communities lack access to healthy food, contributing to disproportionate rates of diet-related health issues.

When Megan Campos, a Bentley graduate student and president of the university’s User Experience Graduate Association, learned about Fresh Truck, she knew that Bentley’s business-minded students would have great ideas to contribute. So she helped organize Bentley’s second “hackathon” -- basically, a collaborative brainstorming session -- to tackle the problem.

At the hackathon, which was held on a Saturday and Sunday on the Bentley campus, graduate students from Bentley Master’s programs including Human Factors in Information DesignInformation TechnologyMBA and Business Analytics, teamed up to draw upon their business and design backgrounds to suggest new ways for Fresh Truck to be more efficient, accessible and enjoyable for shoppers. As the students’ brainstorm took off and the ideas flew, multi-colored Post-it notes with new solutions quickly covered whiteboards on the wall.

“Because teams had members from various Bentley graduate programs, they were able to combine their different skills and strengths to come up with really creative ideas,” said Rivka Barrett, a master’s candidate in the HFID program and organizer of the hackathon. “Every single team presented innovative, well thought out solutions that impressed the judges.”

Read how Bentley students "hacked" the Boston Public School bus experience.

Fresh Ideas

hfid article fresh ideasThe teams came up with ideas that included recommendations to make the layout of the bus more efficient, adding nutrition information and recipes to coupons, using data to create customer profiles, and offering pre-packaged grab-and-go bags for sale outside the bus. One team even created a new prototype for the bus using nothing but paper, tape and scissors.

“Access to healthy food is a complex issue driven by proximity to grocery stores as well as affordability and culture -- all of which impact families,” said Josh Trautwein, co-founder and executive director of Fresh Truck. “The Bentley students presented us with some terrific, out-of-the-box ideas to enhance our customer experience, maximize space efficiency, and build on our community engagement programming.” 

Along with Trautwein, the judges included Chris Hass, senior vice president of experience design at the MadPow design agency; Lily Barrett, a software developer at Education First; Jake Crawford, a researcher at Microsoft; and Yukiha Maruyama, a user experience designer at Zipari, a tech company in the health insurance industry. In the end, the judges selected one winning team, but Trautwein plans to bring all of the ideas back to Fresh Truck and put them to good use as the organization aims to add a new bus in the coming year.

“Hackathons like this are a great way to leverage students’ ideas to help solve real community problems,” said Bill Gribbons, director of the Bentley HFID program. “This type of hands-on learning experience, where students are asked to be innovative and think on their feet is exactly what employers tell us they want.”

On the Cutting Edge of UX

Bentley’s Master’s degree in Human Factors in Information Design provides students with a deep understanding of human behavior, complemented by strong qualitative and quantitative skills that help them identify insights that lead to design innovation.

The program includes classes taught by faculty who are thought leaders in the field with decades of professional experience. Classes often feature research and product design problems sponsored by leading tech organizations.

Students benefit from Bentley’s nationally ranked career services office that places graduates in the world’s leading tech organizations, and a strong, supportive alumni group that mentors students and provides an advantage when seeking internships or full-time employment.