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Dr. Malini Natarajarathinam, the principal investigator of a proposal to help Texas food banks, has been named a recipient of the 2016-2017 Texas A&M University Tier One Program (TOP) Grant. Over the next three years, Natarajarathinam and her team will receive about $300,000 to implement its multidisciplinary service-learning project, ‘Famine to Feast: Engaging Texas Food Banks.’

Natarajarathinam is an associate professor in the Department of Engineering Technology and Industrial Distribution at Texas A&M. She is joined by co-principal investigators Dr. Robert Jones from the Department of Educational Administration and Human Resource Development and Dr. Mary Campbell from the Department of Sociology.

TOP grants are awarded by the university to promote hands-on, multidisciplinary learning experiences. To qualify, the program must be a joint effort between faculty members of two or more Texas A&M colleges and impact at least 100 undergraduate or 50 graduate students.

The initiative aims to unite a diverse group of students to help Texas food banks in multiple ways.


According to the proposal, a learning community devised of at least 500 (over three years) undergraduate students within the disciplines of industrial distribution, engineering, sociology and technology management will work together to enhance the ability of local, regional and statewide Texas food banks to understand and meet client’s needs, improve efficiencies and better achieve their overall missions to help the Residents of Texas.

Students and faculty will be working with Feeding Texas and various food banks in the state. This partnership will allow food banks to request help and be linked with the relevant disciplinary at Texas A&M to find solutions and improve efficiency. Whatever supply chain, engineering, agriculture or other problems are presented will be solved together with a multidisciplinary, service-oriented approach.

Undeterred by the scope of this project, Natarajarathinam says ‘Famine to Feast’ is only one aspect of a brand new cooperative structure between Texas A&M and nonprofit organizations.

“We are going to develop a portal where nonprofits can come post whatever challenges they are facing,” Natarajarathinam explained, “and that portal can be a resource for projects for teachers.”

The portal will be a support structure, allowing faculty and students from a variety of disciplines to access, work on and complete service projects for nonprofit agencies in need of help.

Selfless service is one of the six core values at Texas A&M, and Natarajarathinam hopes this initiative will make it easier for students to strengthen it.

“Service [learning] is one of the high-impact practices at Texas A&M, and it’s one of the core values that we want to instill in all Aggies; learn by serving, and serve by learning,” she said.