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HBCU Programs Redefine Mobility with Social Impact Projects

Ford Fund competition recognizes universities with $35,000 in grants

Ford HBC You Mobility Challenge logo

DEARBORN, Mich. — At Morgan State University in Baltimore students will soon learn to grocery shop on a budget and prepare healthy meals—using the campus shuttle, phone apps and free meal-planning courses.

Farther south at Talladega College in Alabama, students and community residents who are blind will be able to walk with confidence across campus and around town.

The two universities were winners in Ford Motor Company Fund's 2020 HBC-You Mobility Challenge for developing unique programs that redefine mobility while making a positive social impact.

Morgan State University took first place and won $25,000 for using mobility to address food insecurity on campus. And Talladega was the runner-up, winning $10,000 for approaching mobility as way to meet the needs of visually impaired pedestrians.

Morgan State University

Morgan State created FRESHLY—Food Resources and Expanded Shuttle for Healthy Living Year-round—to feed food-insecure students, get them to the grocery store and teach them how to shop using coupons and sales coupons while making healthy purchase choices.

Collegiate age, male, African American student talking with older male at Food Resource Center display in Morgan State University
Photo courtesy of Morgan State University

"The 'starving student' is not a joke," said Ellis Brown, grant specialist at Morgan State. "It's real. Our project helps solve the immediate need of hunger on campus while teaching students life skills that will serve them the rest of their lives"

In a pre-COVID survey measuring student hunger on campus at Morgan State, 82 percent said they had eaten less than preferred in the prior week; 71 percent said they skipped meals due to a lack of food; and 67 percent said they asked friends for food or money to buy food. The on-campus Food Resource Center was organized as a result, with donations of food and funds from the local community.

To operate efficiently, FRESHLY enlisted the help of several university departments and services to address all issues. Program leaders are coordinating with the transportation department, the schools of engineering and computer sciences and the office that issues student IDs to develop a reservation/GPS location app for the shuttles. A student intern will coordinate the work.

The campus shuttle has expanded its route to include three local grocery stores. Additionally, a series of free, no-credit on-line courses teach market meal planning, grocery store layout strategies and the art of couponing.

Grocery store apps are also part of the program. Students will use them to learn the store's layout, identify the healthiest sale items and map out their shopping expedition. Coupons offered on-line are also easily retrievable through grocery apps.

Talladega College

In Talladega, Alabama, where the college and the Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind (AIDB) are neighbors, serving those with visual and hearing impairments is an important part of campus life.

Four students, one administrator in front of Dr. Billy C. Hawkins Student activity Center
Photo courtesy of Talladega College

"We have talked with the AIDB for some time about connecting our two campuses to make sure our facilities are accessible to all," said Talladega President Dr. Billy Hawkins. "This grant from Ford Fund opens that pathway and will help get us started."

Talladega College intends to use the grant to improve sidewalk intersections for pedestrian safety. Improved sidewalks will have truncated domes, or raised circles, on the pavement that can be felt by foot to alert blind people that they've reached the end of the sidewalk. The domes will also be painted bright yellow or red to add even more caution for those who can see contrast.

The bond between the AIDB and Talladega College is strong. Enhancing pedestrian safety makes it more so, said Dr. Hawkins.

"We're changing the lives of blind students with a project like this," he said. "This project gives them greater mobility, accessibility and independence so all visually impaired residents can move around our campus without a deterrence."

Titled TC Proud TC Strong & AIDB, the project is designed to serve the 25,000 deaf, blind and multi-disabled students and residents of AIDB.

Talladega is currently undergoing large-scale new construction and renovations to return the 168-year-old campus back to its historic glory, Dr. Hawkins explained.


The 2021 HBC-You Mobility Challenge is accepting applications through March 31. Proposals must address the theme: Making Lives Better: Changing the Way We Move Through Smart Mobility. The first-place winner receives up to $25,000 and the runner-up receives up to $10,000. Visit: https://www.fgb.life/hbc-you/hbc-you-mobility-challenge.

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