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NSU student automates food bank efficiency
May 11, 2013 | 225 views | 0 0 comments | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Northwestern State University student Steven Piwonka completed a service-learning project that helps maximize efficiency at Shreveport’s St. Vincent de Paul’s food bank. In creating a database for the non-profit, Piwonka streamlined a cumbersome records-retrieval process and makes reporting food distribution fast and simple. Piwonka is a senior who will graduate in August with a degree in nursing earned with honors.  The project led to Piwonka’s inclusion in the University of Louisiana System Academic Summit, which highlights service projects and research completed by undergraduates.

 “The project was combined from two classes I took last semester, care of the older adult and nursing informatics,” explained Piwonka, who became aware of a need at St. Vincent de Paul through his father-in-law.  “I know several people at the food bank and they talked with me in the past about helping them automate.”

 Before going back to school to study nursing, Piwonka worked for several years in manufacturing and process improvement, where he learned about building databases and taking the opportunity for error out of a process.

 “I began by sitting down with the food pantry employees and going through the paper form that they used for recordkeeping,” he said.  “We found that it was out of date and they did some things out of order and ended up writing some notes in margins.  We revised the paper form to have spots for all the pieces of information they needed and then I made a database that was set up like the form so that it would be simple to enter the data from the form into the database.”

  Piwonka also found out what the food pantry employees needed from the database.

 “They wanted to know the last time a client picked up a box of food, total boxes of food given out for a period of time and a report showing which clients had children,” he said.  “They sometimes do spe See Food Bank page 10 A cial events for Christmas or other holidays and having a rough count of children helped.  I created the necessary reports and queries and let them test it.  I made a few revisions and then we were done.”

 As part of the honors curriculum, students complete research and extra projects in addition to regular coursework. Piwonka proposed the project to his faculty mentor, Vickie Wissing, who encouraged him to submit it for inclusion in the Academic Summit.

 “I rely a lot on my mentor, Vicki Wissing, for help in picking, focusing and implementing my projects,” he said.  “She has been a great help in letting me pick my own topics and helping me find ways to apply them to my honors requirements.”

 Piwonka said he didn’t realize before the project how many people relied on resources like the food bank.  This summer, as part of a community health class, he plans to extend the project with another.

 “I was happy that I was able to streamline their process and make it easier to serve the community,” he said.  “I plan to assess the community the food bank serves and determine what difficulties they have with cooking healthfully, or even at all.  For example, not all have complete kitchens.  I hear stories of people who turn down certain foods because they don’t know of a way to prepare it with the tools they have. I got a letter of thanks from St. Vincent De Paul thanking me for streamlining their process so they spend less time on recordkeeping and more time doing what is important to the community they serve.”

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