“If I have genuinely improved the health and well-being of even one student, then I have been successful.”
Florida State University senior Serena Baldwin always dreamed of being a Seminole.
The native of Orlando, Fla., was raised by two Florida State alumni and always knew her heart belonged to the garnet and gold.
“When it came time to apply to college, Florida State already felt like home,” Baldwin said.
After being accepted to FSU, Baldwin received an FSU Freshman Scholarship based on merit and embarked on a four-year journey that was everything she imagined and more.
The double major in political science and psychology has excelled academically at FSU and shining in the classroom, earning multiple President’s List honors, along with membership in the Phi Eta Sigma National Freshman Honors Society and the Omicron Delta Kappa National Leadership Honors Society.
Though, it’s Baldwin’s political science and sociology’s experiences outside the classroom that have really helped shape her future and led her to discover a career path she is passionate about — food and agricultural policy.
“Public health and environmental objectives can no longer be subordinated to the interests of big agribusiness,” Baldwin said. “I want to fight for consumer protection against toxic chemicals in food.”
Baldwin was selected as a 2017 Social Science Scholar during her junior year, which presented her with an opportunity to do an internship at the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont last summer. This internship led her to discover the Real Food Challenge, a student-led food movement that leverages the power of youth and universities to create a healthy, fair and sustainable food system.
“The Real Food Challenge movement presents a perfect representation of how the goals of diverse food movements are being mobilized on college campuses by crafting a common language and establishing clear goals,” Baldwin said.
The Real Food Challenge inspired Baldwin’s honor thesis, “Serving up a Social Movement Manual for the Real Food Challenge at FSU.” The primary goal of the movement is to shift 20 percent of existing university food budgets toward local and community-based, fair, ecologically sound and humane food sources — or “real food” — by the year 2020.
FSU has recently transitioned to a new dining provider, Sodexo, an institutional food service company that signed a transparency agreement with the Real Food Challenge in 2013. This agreement set up a process for students to collaborate with Sodexo managers to collect and analyze purchasing data in an effort to accomplish the goals outlined in the Real Food Campus Commitment.
“I can only hope my experiences will have lasting effects on the Florida State community,” Baldwin said. “If I have genuinely improved the health and well-being of even one student, then I have been successful.”
An FSU IDEA grant allowed Baldwin to conduct research utilizing the four stages of social movements as a theoretical framework for implementing the Real Food Challenge on campus. She presented her findings at the Undergraduate Research Showcase in fall 2017.
Baldwin is grateful to her mentor Annette Schwabe, an FSU faculty member in the Department of Sociology, for providing her the encouragement to challenge her academic abilities and pursue an honors thesis.
“It has been my pleasure to watch Serena skillfully integrate her classroom experience, thesis work, IDEA grant and Social Science Scholarship to create a complex and meaningful intervention program for enhancing the quality of our food systems,” Schwabe said. “Her intense level of engagement and leadership at FSU emanates from her uncommonly high degree of curiosity, strong work ethic and innovative thinking.”
Alongside her academic pursuits, Baldwin served as the marketing chair for TEDxFSU 2016 and is the public relations chair for the College of Social Science and Public Policy Student Leadership Council. She is also heavily involved with the FSU Center for Health Advocacy and Wellness as a certified peer health educator and a member of FSU Healthy Noles.
Her interest in health and wellness led her to a part-time position as an administrative assistant at the Center for Health Advocacy and Wellness. This introduced her to The Body Project, where she facilitates and leads small peer groups focusing on body image.
“One of the most rewarding roles I’ve held at FSU is being a facilitator for The Body Project, a body-acceptance program that helps students resist pressures to conform to an ideal of thinness or muscularity,” Baldwin said. “It’s amazing to help students realize that body pressures affect us all in some way and then see their body image and confidence improve throughout the sessions.”
After graduation, Baldwin plans to pursue a graduate degree in food systems focusing on food and agricultural law and policy.
“FSU has certainly impacted my future ambitions,” Baldwin said. “My time here has made me a better student as well as a better leader, and allowed me to hone in on what I want to do with my life.”
By Ali Buis, University Communications Intern
Produced by the offices of Information Technology Services, the Provost, Student Affairs, Undergraduate Studies and University Communications.