Humanitarian Work in the Classroom

Nov. 15, 2018
Dr. Ann Christy

Dr. Ann Christy is an OSU faculty member who incorporates humanitarian work into the classroom. Last year, Dr. Christy started a project for students in her Thermodynamics course (FABE 3120) designing an outdoor cooling system for the Mid-Ohio Foodbank’s mobile pantries. The Mid-Ohio Foodbank (M-OF) is a non-profit organization that aims to end hunger in the Mid-Ohio area through providing underprivileged families with nutritious food and resources (Mid-Ohio Food Bank). Last year alone, M-OF gave out over 70 million pounds of food, but even this amount of food does not adequately provide for the hungry people in the Mid-Ohio. 

One way the Foodbank distributes food is through their mobile pantries. Once a month from April through October, M-OF sends a truck full of nutritious food to various locations in Mid-Ohio where underprivileged families can collect food. The Food Bank strives to provide their clients with a variety of nutritious food each month, including fruits, vegetables, dairy, and more. However, these mobile food pantries take place outside, and it can get very hot during the summer months. Dr. Christy has been a regular volunteer at these food pantries over the past years and decided to create a project for her Thermodynamic students so they could also get involved with Mid-Ohio Food Bank’s cause. 

Clients line up to wait for their food hours, sometimes a whole night, in advance. Then, the food sits outside for most of the day once it is unpacked. Therefore, in the summer months, M-OF is unable to bring any produce that requires refrigeration, because it will spoil by the time clients bring it home. Also, the clients and volunteers get very hot waiting and working outside all day. For these reasons, Dr. Christy has challenged her students to design a cooling system for the mobile food pantries. In the Thermodynamics class, students learn about cooling and refrigeration systems, so they are able to apply their knowledge to this real-world, humanitarian application.  

Image result for mid ohio food bank

The project is split up into multiple parts so that students are able to gain sufficient knowledge about their goal before designing a system. First, the students identify all stakeholders involved in the mobile food pantries and their needs. Students then create a decision matrix to weigh different aspects of the cooling system in response to the stakeholders’ needs, such as price, effectiveness, and transportability. Next, the class researches various types of cooling systems so that they can learn about how they work, their efficiency, cost, and more. Lastly, students are split into groups and given the task to create designs for three different cooling systems that could be used at the outdoor pantries.  

At the end of the semester, the class displays their designs at a showcase to compare and contrast the work of each student group. Through this project, Dr. Christy gives her students the chance to solve a problem in a real-world setting for the purpose of helping underprivileged people in the Mid-Ohio area more easily receive the food they need.  



Mid-Ohio Food Bank. (2018). Retrieved from: (Accessed November 2018).