NYU Steinhardt News

Steinhardt Student Wins Entrepreneurs Challenge, Aims to Combat Campus Hunger

Jonathan Chin, graduate student in the Department of Teaching and Learning, was one of the few outstanding and innovative students who won NYU Stern’s W. R. Berkley Innovation Labs’ Entrepreneurs Challenge. He was awarded a $37,500 Social Venture Prize for his organization Share Meals – a mobile app connecting students with their peers while combating campus hunger. We spoke with Jonathan to learn about the motivation behind Share Meals and the organization’s next steps.

What prompted you to found Share Meals, and what do you hope to achieve with it?

I saw a series of anonymous posts on Facebook about students going hungry. More miraculously, I saw several students leaving comments, offering to swipe them in with their own meal cards. It moved me because the students donating swipes didn't know anything about the students posting, and the students posting didn't even ask for help. The largest roadblock, though, was that Facebook is not designed for these kinds of interactions: multiple strangers coordinating in large numbers. That's when I decided to start Share Meals.

As I've been working in and exploring the hunger relief space, I've become aware that hunger among college students is a widespread crisis: from coast to coast in the US to Canada and Egypt and Malaysia. My ultimate goal is to bring Share Meals to every campus that can use it. By leveraging technology, I'm able to reduce traditional overhead and logistical costs so that global expansion is a reachable goal.

I view food as composed of two things: nutrients and calories. It provides us everything we need to think and solve and create, everything we came to NYU to do. So long as we don't have enough to eat, we cannot perform to the best of our ability.

Secondly, I noticed a large-scale crisis of social isolation and loneliness. For many, college is the first time students are living on their own. They are hundreds or thousands of miles away from their home. This often leads to depression, which leads to poor academic performance, which leads to depression, and so on. I believe Share Meals, as a way to connect strangers over mac and cheese, can go a long way to reducing this social crisis of loneliness.

How did Steinhardt help you in achieving success with Share Meals?

As I was researching graduate programs in education, Steinhardt stood out in two notable ways: the faculty were responsive and invested, and my master’s program (Teaching English Language and Literature in Colleges) was highly flexible. More importantly, Steinhardt empowers me to be self directed with my learning; I can effectively devise my own curriculum, which is important because I want to integrate computer science, linguistics, and education.

How do you plan on using the prize money to take Share Meals to the next level?

We're continuing to serve the NYU community by building some amazing partnerships. Next year, we'll be working with the Student Senators Council, Inter-Residence Hall Council, and several others to make sure every NYU student is food secure. Additionally, we are scaling our services to Columbia, Stanford, the University of British Columbia, and a few other universities. The United Nations is dedicated to eradicating hunger worldwide by 2030 and Share Meals is playing our part to make sure we have a generation of leaders who understand the importance of food and compassion so they can rally behind that cause.

Congratulations Jonathan! Read his profile in the New York Times here