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Engagement in Practice: Community Engagement Challenges for Food Supply-chain Engineering

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2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

Community Engagement Division Technical Session 5

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Community Engagement Division

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Paper Authors


Pouneh Abbasian Texas A&M University

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Pouneh Abbasian is a PhD student in an interdisciplinary program at Texas A and M university.

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Malini Natarajarathinam Texas A&M University Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Malini Natarajarathinam joined the faculty of Industrial Distribution Program at Texas A&M University in 2007. Natarajarathinam received her Ph.D. in Supply Chain Management from The University of Alabama. She received her Bachelor of Engineering (Major: Industrial and Systems Engineering) from Anna University [Tamilnadu, India], her MS in Industrial Engineering from Auburn University, her MA in Management Science and MS in Applied Statistics from The University of Alabama. She has experience working with many industries such as automotive, chemical distribution etc. on transportation and operations management projects. She works extensively with food banks and food pantries on supply chain management and logistics focused initiatives. Her graduate and undergraduate students are integral part of her service-learning based logistics classes.

She teaches courses in strategic relationships among industrial distributors and distribution logistics. Her recent research focuses on engineering education and learning sciences with a focus on how to engage students better to prepare their minds for the future. Her other research interests include empirical studies to assess impact of good supply chain practices such as coordinated decision making in stochastic supply chains, handling supply chains during times of crisis and optimizing global supply chains on the financial health of a company. She has published her research in Journal of Business Logistics, International Journal of Physical Distribution and Logistics Management and peer-reviewed proceedings of the American Society for Engineering Education.

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Sarah N. Gatson Texas A&M University

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Food banks and other food distribution agencies face challenges beyond preparing the required nutrition and supportive education for the food insecure members of the community. Some of these challenges involve connecting with and retaining the relationships with the people who are in need. In the current situation, people needing food assistance must have necessary time, energy and knowledge to “know where to go and when”, with the constantly changing landscape of providers and the available resources. Food insecurity is influenced by a number of factors including income, employment, race/ethnicity, and disability. Urban/rural areas with limited access to full-service supermarkets or grocery stores also affect physical access to food. Residents are at risk for food insecurity in neighborhoods with limited transportation options and thus spending longer travel time . Furthermore, low income communities are more likely to move from one place to another as they strive to find affordable housing. These factors make access to food and other basic needs such as housing, medical care etc. hard for the community members. They also make it challenging for the supply chain managers to collect data to design more client-oriented solutions and services. As food banks typically distribute goods through partners such as pantries and kitchens, they are one step removed from clients causing some delay in assessing, communicating, and responding to need in a timely manner. Given the importance of access to food and water and the challenges inherent in the system, there is a pressing need to develop an engaged supply chain for emergency food distribution that is technically feasible, economically viable, and desirable to the community. Based on information collected from community members and community development and food distribution organizations, we identify potential challenges with community engagement that the agencies faciliatitbg food distribution are facing. The results of this study will help us in designing a more comprehensive food distribution supply chain with having a broader knowledge of behavioral/societal and economical problems of the engaged community.

Abbasian, P., & Natarajarathinam, M., & Gatson, S. N. (2021, July), Engagement in Practice: Community Engagement Challenges for Food Supply-chain Engineering Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference.

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