Research Spotlight: Jackie Thaw

Research Spotlight: Jackie Thaw

In 2023, Department of Art & Design chair Jackie Thaw, an associate professor in the design program (pictured, at left), teamed up with Cara Cuite, a social scientist at the Rutgers School of Environmental and Biological Sciences, as well as staff and students from Hudson County Community College, to promote New Jersey’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

Thaw and Cuite received a nearly $117,500 grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation aimed at promoting SNAP, a federally funded program that provides food benefits to low-income families. Often, Thaw says, students resist enrolling in the program because of shame, stigma, or a lack of information.

“Our fundamental idea was to activate the entire campus in talking about personal stories of food and food insecurity, looking at it as something more than an economic problem, but a cultural problem, a social problem, a problem of family life and relationships, because food affects all these different things,” says Thaw, adding she and Cuite wanted people “to think about their own food stories as something beyond have or have not, scarcity or plenty, but a more nuanced, human, complicated story.”

To that end, the team worked with HCCC art students to create public-facing artworks based on statements in anonymous surveys filled out by students experiencing food scarcity. Read more about the project.

The collaboration nudged each member of the team think more expansively, Thaw says. Cross-disciplinary collaboration “encourages new ways of thinking. It’s almost like everyone’s putting all their tools on the table.”

It wasn’t always easy.

“Often, we didn’t completely understand each other’s methodology,” Thaw says. “…Explaining and sharing one’s own methodology with others really forces you to question your own assumptions and your blind spots. That is a very healthy thing to experience and come out the other side and create something quite new.”

A video on the collaboration, which they hope to expand to community colleges across New Jersey, details the benefits of cross-disciplinary research projects.