Zooming In: Summer Reseach Spotlight on Jessica Kennedy

Jessica Kennedy

Written by Jessica Kennedy

The last month has flown by. Summer has a way of doing that – in June, you still feel like summer is nearly endless and that fall is unfathomably far away, but as soon as mid-July rolls around, the end feels (and kind of is) imminent. Approaching the end of summer means I’m looking back on what I’ve accomplished so far for my SURF project and feeling like there is so much left to do. I have come to realize that research is truly infinite – even the most specific, obscure topics can be studied for months or years. A summer of research barely skims the surface.

But I have done a lot of what I had planned to do. I’ve interviewed most of the hunger-fighting organizations in the area, and I’ve been attending the FARM Café board meetings to get an insider’s perspective into the restaurant operations. I volunteered at the restaurant during the lunch shift to observe the way things ran, and I’ve been re-stocking the customer survey every few weeks. So far I’ve received nearly 70 responses, and the surveys will keep coming in for another few weeks. I had never created a legitimate survey before this one, and that process has been a huge learning experience. It was challenging to find the right balance between quantitative and qualitative data. I’m not sure I struck that balance, but I hope the comments will be valuable for the FARM Café leaders regardless.

One challenge I didn’t expect was that it would be hard to find enough time to accomplish this project. I’m doing a part-time internship at a non-profit organization this summer – something I had lined up long before I got the SURF grant – and although it’s part time, it’s something that I’m passionate about and don’t feel like I can leave entirely once I’m off work for the day. Throughout this summer, I’ve had these two topics of research swirling around in my head. It reminds me of the difficulty of balancing many classes at UNC.

I am, however, extraordinarily thankful for my non-profit internship because it provides clear structure to my summer. Working on my SURF project without having an office space has made self-scheduling a little more difficult and daunting. The seeming endlessness of summer combined with the independent nature of this research project have led to feeling, as someone recently described to me, like “wandering alone in the dark toward an unknown location.” Talking with a good friend who is also doing research this summer, we agreed that part of the goal of SURF grants is just to get undergraduate students out there doing research to understand what the process is like. I’ve learned just as much from the process of research as I have from the research information itself. Independent research is no easy undertaking, and this summer project has made me realize that a delicate balance of independence and collaboration is really the best way to get things done.

Still on the horizon before August creeps around: compiling all the survey data, finishing the farmers’ market-grocery store price comparison, transcribing a couple of interviews, and discussing the possibility of building a website with my computer-genius brother. The SURF grant has very few final reporting requirements, and since I’m not writing a thesis, I’m looking into the idea of compiling my summer research into a simple website. All in due (summer) time, I suppose.