Lessons from One Book One Northwestern are ‘relevant’ to Chicago, says OBON fellow

Steph O'Connor is one of this year's One Book One Northwestern fellows.  Image courtesy of OBON website.

Steph O’Connor is one of this year’s One Book One Northwestern fellows. Image courtesy of OBON website.

Steph O’Connor, a rising senior majoring in Urban Studies and Psychology at Northwestern, is proudly serving as a One Book One Northwestern fellow for the 2013-2014 school year.

One Book One Northwestern (OBON) engages the Northwestern community in a conversation around a thought-provoking title each year. Fellows serve as a liaison among staff, students and student groups to ensure programming fits the needs of students.

This year’s selection OBON selection, The Last Hunger Season by Roger Thurow, traces the work of the One Acre Fund– a social enterprise founded by Kellogg School alumnus, Andrew Youn– to help small-scale farmers in Western Kenya escape the cycle of hunger by delivering micro-credit, instituting better farming techniques and utilizing high-yield seeds.

O’Connor spoke with the Global Health Portal about OBON programming for the year and the invaluable lessons about hunger and public health she gleaned from The Last Hunger Season.


What made you want to be involved with One Book One Northwestern?

I’m part of a group called the Freshman Urban Program, in which we take a bunch of freshman into the city. So I was super connected to the One Book last year (editor’s note: last year’s selection, Never a City so Real, by Alex Kotlowitz, is a collection of vignettes about Chicago neighborhoods). I really liked the program. I really liked getting freshmen engaged as soon as they got to Northwestern, talking about things with other students and faculty.

Are all freshmen involved in the One Book One Northwestern program?

All of the freshmen receive the book… They all meet with their peer adviser and have a discussion about the book once they get back… And then throughout the year, they are encouraged to go to a bunch of different activities– which are open to upperclassmen, as well, but upperclassmen don’t receive the book for free like the freshmen.

Which events are you looking most forward to this year?

Right now, I’m looking forward to the one that’s this Saturday, where we’re going to take 250 students…to different tracks in the City and Evanston area looking at a specific topic the book deals with. Some will be going to the Greater Food Depository in Chicago, some will be volunteering for four hours, others will be hopping between different nonprofits, usually with a professor at Northwestern. I think it’s going to be a great way for freshmen and other upperclassmen to not only think about the book, but think about it here. We don’t want them to feel disconnected because the book takes place in Africa and not in America.

Where can people find more information about the event?

They can go to the One Book website and there’s a link on there to all kinds of information. It’s called “First Season” and it will stay open all the way up to the day. So you can definitely go check it out and choose your track for the day.

What can Northwestern students take away from The Last Hunger Season?

The book is about hunger, and something people don’t often think about here is that hunger is definitely real; We just might not see it so much at Northwestern. And you can find food deserts within a one-mile radius of Northwestern….And to think about having to choose– having to prioritize food or education– is something that all of the people here who are part of education can definitely think about. It’s one of the big themes of the book.

What have you, personally, learned from the book?

I learned a lot about what we take for granted as Americans. [The solutions to hunger] are a lot about access.  It’s not so much that there was this new invention… just making sure that people have access to it. I think it’s amazing that Andrew Youn came in as an outsider and was able to– with sheer genius and ability to connect with others– get people to be able to accept this. Because, to some, this was a totally out-there idea.

Have you learned anything from this book that’s going to impact your time at Northwestern?

I’ve been thinking about urban healthcare and looking at the impact of food deserts and that sort of thing. It’s a huge thing that this book opened my eyes to: the ways that food and malnutrition impact the rest of your life. I’ll definitely be interested in looking at that going forward. It’s very relevant in Chicago right now.

That’s interesting because The Last Hunger Season isn’t necessarily about global health, per se, but there are so many lessons about health from this book

The impacts of the things they talk about in this book–the huge ramifications they have in so many parts of life– is more what I take away than some of the direct economic lessons.

Meaning that the economic policies and solutions discussed in the book affect other areas?

Totally. I’m terrible at econ! I couldn’t institute the same things with the same organization system that [Youn] does, but the impact and the way what he’s doing affects so many other things is amazing to me.

Is there anything else you want people to know about OBON?

Our schedule is still changing, so I want people to know that we have resources if they want to be involved… If they want to create something or do something, or be a part of the One Book schedule, they should reach out and contact us… Email Nancy Cunniff, the OBON coordinator– she would love to hear from people!

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