Meredith Stafford, staff writer
Senior Will Bannister received the 2022 Martha Berry Award for Outstanding Undergraduate. The annual award recognizes a senior at Berry who has fulfilled Berry’s mission with their individual achievements. Bannister has worked closely with other members of the Honors program and other members of the Bonners program in community outreach and service work.
According to Lauren Heller, director of the honors program, students and faculty received an email in February asking for nominations for the award. Seniors are nominated through a letter explaining how the student meets the qualifications for the award. The nominee must have completed at least 60 coursework hours at Berry, have at least a 3.20 GPA and an exemplary record as a student worker on or off-campus and be involved with volunteer services, religion-in-life or service opportunities. A committee involved with the Provost’s Office then reads the letters and determines the recipient.
According to Bannister, he was able to work with the William S. Davies Homeless Shelter his freshman year as well as the Ruth and Naomi House, the Atrium and the Food Clinic. As a senior intern for the scholarship program, his job focused on communication with different community partners in service.
Heller described how Bannister was a student in her Honors 300 class in which they help students determine a course for their thesis.
“Will was a biochemistry major but didn’t really want to do bench work for his thesis,” Heller said. “He wanted to do something involving his work in the community and he was really interested in food deserts and poverty and the links between poverty, food and health.”
Bannister combined his work with the Davies Shelter with his Honors thesis through completing a program analysis of the Davies Farm Bus program. According to Heller, this program is a new initiative at the shelter that was put in place to minimize food deserts and food insecurity among poor residents in Rome. As a part of the program, they bring fresh food to places that might otherwise not have access.
There was virtually no data collected on the Farm bus, Heller said, and there were no records in terms of price or demographic information. As a part of his thesis, Bannister went through the normal protocols for research and Institutional Review Board (IRB). He collected data about what demographics the Farm Bus reached in terms of income and region as well as the differences in purchases based on income.
Kevin Renshler, director for the center for student enterprises and entrepreneurship development (C-SEED), said that Bannister’s thesis project provided a way to make it more convenient for residents of food desert communities to receive nutritional items such as fruits or vegetables. Bannister identified areas of improvement within the Farm Bus initiative and used empirical evidence from his study to provide recommendations in order to positively impact the organization.
“Just having the ability to impact one individual or one family is significant, and I think Will’s recommendations will move the organization into a better direction when it comes to providing food sources for members of food deserts communities or areas,” Renshler said. “So, his recommendations are ways to reduce inefficiencies in regards to time, energy and money and for the families, his recommendations clearly provide ways to make it more convenient and accessible to obtain those items.”
Renshler views Bannister’s thesis as another testimonial to why he received the award and that it was not his thesis alone that made him the best candidate, but rather his work with different organizations on campus.
Heller appreciated that Bannister’s work involved his work with the Honors Student Union, where he has served as president and worked to grow and maintain the organization.
“I think his work is right in line with Martha Berry’s motto not to be ministered unto but to minister,” Heller said. “He’s out in the community doing real work that’s affecting people’s lives, both within and outside of Berry.”
According to Bannister, he chose to focus on the Farm Bus for his thesis and centered it around program evaluation because of his passion for the nonprofit world. He values the project because of the role it played in preparing him for graduate school. Following his time at Berry, he will be earning a masters of public health and a masters of public affairs at Brown University.
“I created this idea of kind of program evaluation and couldn’t really get a professor to jump on it because it’s not really anyone’s specialty,” Bannister said. “So, Dr. Heller really kind of took me in and worked with me a lot to do and organize my project and I really think that’s one of the highlights of my Berry career because it did allow me to do a lot of work for graduate school. I really think the Honors thesis prepared me a lot for that because I was able to do in field research and learn how to create a project and a survey and learn about all of the difficulties that go along with it.”
Bannister is thankful for the students, faculty and mentors that supported him at Berry.
“I’m very honored to receive [the Martha Berry Award] and I’m thankful for the people who nominated me for it,” Bannnister said. “And I don’t want to downplay that part, but I do think, in all these four years, I just did what I was passionate about, and I was passionate about service and I was passionate about the nonprofits that I worked with,” Bannister said.