Graduate School

The University of Mississippi

Nutrition Professor Develops Food-based STEM Curriculum

Dr. David H. Holben (left) works with his graduate students to prepare bags of food for the 2016 Farm-to-YOUth! initiative at Bruce Elementary School.

David H. Holben (left) works with his graduate students to prepare bags of food for the 2016 Farm-to-YOUth! initiative at Bruce Elementary School. Helping him are (from left) Sydney Antolini, Michelle Weber and Kelsey Reece. Photo by Bill Dabney

By Nathan Towery

Using food as a way to teach children math and science is a priority for David H. Holben, University of Mississippi professor of nutrition and hospitality management.

“We want to get underrepresented students into STEM education,” Holben said.

Holben is a member of the Deep South Network, a research collective made up of members from UM, East Carolina University, University of Alabama at Birmingham, University of South Carolina, Auburn University and Georgia State University.

The Deep South Network received a $1.2 million grant from the National Institutes of Health’s Science Education Partnership Award, or SEPA, in 2017. The focus of the grant will be to develop Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) based curricula for underserved minority youths through SEPA’s new Food, Math and Science Teaching Enhancement Resource (FoodMASTER) program. Melani Duffrin, a former doctoral student of Holben’s, leads the efforts from East Carolina University.

Holben plans to build on his partnership with Calhoun County. He formed a partnership with Calhoun County through his work in the Farm-to-YOUth! program, which was an initiative to introduce nutritious food into public schools while also sending these foods home with the children. The Farm-to-YOUth! program is supported through the UM Food and Nutrition Security Support Fund established by generous gifts from Monsanto of St. Louis, MO, in 2016 and 2017.

“We will incorporate some STEM education using food, and I will probably do it in the context of a summer feeding program.”

Calhoun County does not have a summer feeding program, so there is a need. The schools do not have the capacity to support this type of program, so Holben is hoping to use the public library or the arts center as a host for implementing the FoodMASTER program.

He is working on a study with Piggly Wiggly in Calhoun County in which food stamp recipients will receive money back when they use their food stamps on healthy and nutritious foods.

“I hope to marry the two things to add some food education and have that be the summer program but also see if this improves food security,” Holben said. “With the new Flagship Constellation initiative at UM, I see this project as complementing the work of others in the Community Well-being Constellation.”

Holben is a member of the steering committee of that constellation.

The Community Well-Being Constellation is charged with identifying factors impairing the well-being of rural communities in Mississippi and deploying new programs and practices to build strong and vibrant communities.

Holben hopes to receive another SEPA grant after the completion of the FoodMASTER program, to allow him and his graduate students to go into different communities and help provide food security for underrepresented and underserved youths.

The UM Food and Nutrition Security Support Fund is open to gifts from individuals and organizations who want to support food security research and outreach. Checks supporting the fund may be mailed with the fund noted in the memo line to the UM Foundation, 406 University Avenue, Oxford, MS 38655. Gifts can also be made online by visiting or by contacting Katie Morrison, 662-915-2135 or