May 2011—Story by Jenny Morgan, photo courtesy of Robyn Lightner ’11
Robyn Lightner ’11 never planned on writing a thesis.
She was so sure, in fact, that she made clear on her Civic Engagement Scholars application that a thesis was not in her future. An environmental studies major, Lightner (standing, on the right) was applying to the fellowship in 2010 to fund a summer internship focusing on food access in underserved neighborhoods in Boston. She was awarded the fellowship—with no thesis strings attached— and began working for the Food Project and the Bowdoin Street Health Center. Lightner’s biggest project was to initiate a study comparing the cost and quality of farmers’ market produce to grocery store produce. No one working on food issues in Boston had ever conducted such a study, and by the end of the summer, it was clear that she wasn’t finished. “I didn’t feel that I could let it go,” Lightner reflects. “I fell in love. I really felt invested in the follow through…and [getting] a good message out.” She continued her research, eventually translating the project into a 100-page thesis and a presentation for the Boston Food Policy Council. The thesis that might never have been is now helping shape the conversation on how to support getting fresh, local, and healthy produce in Boston’s underserved communities.