SVSU student Joanna Cooley knows what it is like to go to bed hungry. And she knows the lasting toll childhood hunger can take. Her research into childhood food insecurity — and her plan to combat hunger in her community — took Cooley, virtually, to the Global Student Leadership Conference in London and earned her the top prize in the “BIG IDEAS” pitch competition at the conference. The conference, presented by FIE, the Foundation for International Education, was held in London April 10 and 11.
More than 550 students, university staff, faculty and professionals registered for the conference. Cooley was one of six individuals to present at the conference and one of three students in the final IDEAS competition.
Rene Hernandez, SVSU associate professor of health sciences and Cooley’s mentor for the research project and presentation, explained that Joanna was invited to present at the conference based on a proposal she had submitted in 2019 with Hernandez and a former SVSU student. The 2019 conference was canceled due to COVID-19.
“Joanna realized in the fall  that she would have to present alone at SGLC,” Hernandez said. “I helped her record her presentation, but it was all Joanna. She was phenomenal — competent, clear and concise.”
In her presentation, titled “Child Food Insecurities in Developed Countries,” Cooley discussed connections to food insecurity, including obesity and chronic disease, as well as the prevalence of food insecurity among college students. She also addressed the actions taken at SVSU to bridge the gap of food insecurity for all students.
Cooley’s BIG IDEA concept, which she presented via livestream to other conference delegates, was “Tiny free community pantries.” The pantries Cooley proposed are modeled on the Little Free Library program. Cooley’s idea will soon be put into practice in her hometown of Perrinton, Mich., about 15 miles south of Alma, with a food pantry installation scheduled for early May, followed by installations of a pet supply pantry and diaper pantry.
Cooley is a nontraditional student who is majoring in neuroscience. She expects to graduate in 2023 and plans to go to medical school.
“My plan is to become a neurologist working with veterans who have experienced traumatic brain injury,” Cooley said.
As a member of the Cardinal Food Pantry at SVSU, Cooley was instrumental in obtaining additional refrigeration equipment for the pantry, expanding the food storage capabilities and the availability of nutritionally sound ready-to-heat meals.
Prior to attending SVSU, Cooley worked as a clinical medical assistant in a neurologist’s office.
For more information about the Student Global Leadership Conference, visit https://www.fie.org.uk/sglcconference.