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Student Employment Experience with Basic Needs Leads to New Skills

Anthony de leon Matta, Student Director, Big Orange Pantry

One of the key components of the Division of Student Life’s strategic plan is to responsibly and creatively steward university resources to maximize the student experience and subsequent student learning. Through the Big Orange Pantry, Student Life stewards space, funds, community partnerships, and resources to help reduce food insecurity among the student body, contributing to a basic human need being met more frequently and overall student success. Supporting student success means prioritizing the whole student experience, including access to basic needs.

Read about one Big Orange Pantry student director’s experience serving with the pantry and his perspective on how UT is working to meet students where they are.

As a student director, I have been able to experience the many sides of providing basic needs resources for the campus community, from managing Second Harvest pickup orders and receiving food recovery deliveries to stocking the pantry shelves and greeting people as they come into the space.

Through working here, I have been able to learn more about the reality of basic needs resources. Basic needs challenges, such as hunger, affect more college-aged students than people may initially realize. However, from the perspective of a college student, this makes perfect sense. Students sometimes have to choose between working a job or spending time studying and preparing for exams. With this in mind, students may have limited resources when it comes to feeding themselves. Campus resources like the Big Orange Pantry are a huge help in making sure students at UT are taking care of their basic needs.

Another important realization I have had while working here is the importance of creating a welcoming environment and atmosphere. At the Big Orange Pantry, we try to make the space resemble a regular grocery store as much as possible, whether it’s through the self-shop, the self-checkout experience, or how items are shelved. Playing music and maintaining a vibrant environment is also key to creating a normalized experience for pantry users.

I am very grateful for the opportunity to work here, as it has allowed me to grow my leadership skills and learn more skills related to my major, which is business analytics with a data science minor. Over the summer, I noticed how much data we were collecting about pantry users, and I asked if I could look through it to see if there were any key insights lying around. By analyzing the Big Orange Pantry data, I used this opportunity to build on my existing data visualization skills and learn new ones as well.

This project allowed our team to confirm one of our initial assumptions—graduate students make up over half of pantry users. Overall, this project allowed me to combine the skills I have learned in class with the basic needs insight that I have gained on this job, leading to identifying key data points and visualizations about pantry usage.

As an aspiring business analyst, being able to use my skills in a space that I am passionate about inspires me to learn more skills to further help my community. This summer, I will be interning with PepsiCo as a business analyst in Purchase, New York. My experience as a basic needs student director helped me demonstrate my leadership skills and desire to learn new skills in the interview process for the internship. I look forward to expanding my skillset this summer and returning in the fall to another great semester with the Basic Needs team!

Anthony de leon Matta is a junior. He has worked in the Big Orange Pantry for one semester and will continue his employment in the spring and fall of 2024.