How community development encourages students to think outside the box and implement true change in their world

Jessica Wall had originally enrolled in a nutrition program with the goal of becoming a dietician. After completing a year in the program, she realized her real passion was in addressing the underlying causes of food insecurity. 

“I was interested in how food could be used as a tool to connect individuals in communities, rather than using food as a prescription in a clinic setting,” is how she explains it.  

Jessica had decided to take the year off to reassess, and on one restless night of Google-searching, she stumbled upon the Community Development program at
Acadia University. Jessica knew right away that community development would be a great fit, as the program’s elective selections would allow her to continue pursuing her interests in nutrition and sustainable economic development.

With only about 20 students in her graduating year, Jessica’s learning experience was rich and collaborative. She and her classmates were able to use community
development to explore different areas; from environmental sustainability, city planning, firefighting to international development. 

The Acadia program encourages students to think outside the box and to implement the change they want to see in the world. 

When Jessica had an unconventional idea for her honours thesis, her professor and supervisor Dr. Alan Warner, was instrumental to its development and success, and helped Jessica to establish connections with groups in the community and province working towards food security. Her idea was to pilot and evaluate a “coupon program” in partnership with the local food bank and farmers’ market. 

“The idea was to give those who were food insecure an opportunity to purchase groceries at the market using the same kind of market money that can be purchased and used by anyone at the market, for a stigma-free experience,” says Kelly Marie Redcliffe, manager of Wolfville Farmers’ Market.

Because of Jessica’s persistence, insight and research, the market embraced this initiative and continued to operate it through community support for the last four years. Additionally, Farmers’ Markets Nova Scotia piloted Jessica’s model through five markets around Nova Scotia in 2019. Her research findings have been presented at several conferences in Atlantic Canada.

“Jessica had an idea that she was willing to do the work for, and demonstrate in action what is possible. Many are still feeling the impact,” Kelly Marie adds.  

Dr. Warner says at the core of Jessica’s dreams is a belief in making the world a better place based on values of justice, health and sustainability. “She is a shining representative of the Acadia Community Development program, in which students build values, knowledge and skills to get out and collaborate with others to make their local communities better places.” 

Beyond her thesis project, Jessica has completed her professional placement at home in New Brunswick where she served as an intern at Food For All NB, helping to facilitate province-wide food security discussions. She then interned with the Wellness branch in the Department of Social Development to conduct a feasibility study on food coupon programs at Farmers’ Markets in Moncton and Fredericton. 

This evolved into Jessica landing her dream job in Moncton, as the executive director of the Farmers’ Truck—a mobile farmers’ market that brings fresh food to rural communities and taking the lead in an innovative business providing local, sustainable food to New Brunswick schools. 

This past year, Jessica has taken a break from focused food work to broaden her perspective once again—just like her time in the Community Development program. She is now the director of a cross-cultural youth project that engages 50 youth across the Maritimes and provides supports to help them tackle issues they are most passionate about in their communities. 

“Community development gave me the tools to lead and to have the flexibility to step into these diverse roles,” Jessica says. “Its interdisciplinary approach and focus on experiential learning is one-of-a-kind and will allow you to flourish and pursue your personal career objectives, and set you up for success in the future no matter what you are doing—even if that changes 10 times.” 

Acadia University supports experiential and hands-on learning, and is proud to nurture big ideas like Jessica’s that can bring true impact to our communities.