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Recent graduate Willem Schott started a real food student group and urged the U’s administration to sign the Real Food Campus Commitment.

By Chanapa Tantibanchachai

From leading a competitive ski jumping career prior to joining the U to spearheading a student movement for more sustainable food options, U senior Willem Schott’s undergraduate experience has been nothing short of an adventure. Now the health promotion and education major is ready to leave the U in the fall to study rural medicine in Wisconsin.

Raised in a small rural Wisconsin town with a population under 1,000, Schott always had an interest in local farmers and local food. As Schott got more heavily involved with ski jumping and traveling for competitions, however, he lost his sense of connection to local food. The sense of disconnect increased when he entered the university.

Schott’s early involvement with the Honors College helped forge the path that would eventually lead him to regaining a sense of connection with local agriculture. Schott participated in the American Indian Health Care Praxis Lab, which started Connect2Health, a volunteer organization which connects local community resources with people in need. Since then, Schott has volunteered regularly for Connect2Health.

His junior year, Schott’s continued interests in health care and health disparities led him back to local food and food sustainability in an unpredictable way. Running across a flyer for an internship with the U’s dining services one day, Schott applied because the internship’s description “clicked” with him in a way nothing else had ever clicked before.

During the yearlong internship, Schott received funding to run a yearlong real-food calculator to determine the quantitative sustainability of the U’s dining services.

In his research, Schott ran 1 million invoices of a sustainability calculator to obtain an estimate of what percentage of the U’s food is sustainable.

“To qualify as real, a food must meet at least one of four food attributes: local, fair, ecologically sound and humane,” explained Schott.

At the end of his internship in February 2013, Schott recognized the need for involvement in hypothesis-based research. He then met with Adrienne Cachelin of the Department of Environmental & Sustainability and the Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism, and together the two brainstormed potential research projects for Schott’s honors thesis. Schott applied for and received funding from the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program in the summer of 2013 for a thesis building off of his internship.

For his thesis, Schott incorporated his previous real food study framework to look at individual student food choices.

“The interdisciplinary nature of sustainability gives students a lot of power in the real food movement; food affects every student. However, they often struggle in finding a way to engage in this issue. The great thing about food sustainability is how many different avenues exist for involvement. The movement encompasses hard science, social justice issues, economic concerns and much more.”

Schott tested various interventions to see which one(s) influence(s) student real food choice the most. He ultimately found that receiving some intervention of any kind can increase the amount real food factor listed as important. This semester, Schott presented his findings at the Global Change and Sustainability Center’s research symposium, the Intermountain Sustainability Summit and the Undergraduate Research Symposium.

While working on his thesis, Schott simultaneously started a real food student group that implemented a structure for more student involvement in the real food movement and urged the U’s administration to sign the Real Food Campus Commitment. By signing the commitment, a university commits to purchase at least 20 percent of “real” food by 2020.

This past March, U President David W. Pershing signed the commitment, making the U the largest institution and first Pac-12 school to sign on.

“Conducting research gives me a sense of things that are still unknown and opens a world of possibilities to the things that I don’t understand. It’s incredibly humbling to know that there’s so much out there that I don’t know and haven’t experienced yet,” said Schott.

Reflecting on his experience at the U, Schott said it was never difficult to get involved, thanks to the many opportunities the U offered and how invested faculty and staff are in research and helping students.

“You may feel like a small fish in a big pond, but with all of the resources available for the taking, it’s easy to get involved and find your place.”

After graduation, Schott will attend the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. Schott will participate in the Wisconsin Academy for Rural Medicine within the medical school, where he will develop the specialized skills necessary for practicing medicine in rural communities. He hopes to implement what he’s learned about food justice and access to healthy food into his practice.

“I don’t want to be just a physician, but I want to be part of the community I serve.”


Chanapa Tantibanchachai is a communications specialist at University Marketing and Communications. If you have an interesting story idea, email her at