Jill Waity

March 15, 2022

When Associate Professor Dr. Jill Waity has free time on her hands, she likes to cook, bake and make pottery, a creative hobby she picked up during the COVID-19 pandemic after being inspired by the HBO series, “The Great Pottery Throw Down.” 

The pandemic was not only a time of creative inspiration for the sociology and criminology department associate chair, but also an opportunity to expand her passion for studying poverty and food insecurity. 

“I still remember the Introduction to Poverty Studies class that I took my first year in college,” said Waity, who attended Washington and Lee University in Virginia. “It really changed the course of my college studies and subsequent career path.” 

Following college, she worked for a nonprofit organization in Baltimore that involved youth in community service projects, an experience that sparked her desire to research the causes of poverty and inequality and pursue her master’s and doctoral degrees at Indiana University. 

While Waity’s research had previously focused on concepts such as rural and urban differences in food access, she became interested in studying food insecurity on college campuses.  

Familiar with cases of UNCW students being food insecure, she partnered with researchers from 10 other universities to conduct the first multicampus regional study of its kind in the Appalachian and southeastern regions of the United States.  

Waity credits the work of colleagues Kit Huelskamp, assistant professor in UNCW’s College of Health and Human Services, and Dr. Jaime Russell, director of UNCW’s Office of Community Engagement and Applied Learning, who helped gather the UNCW data and assisted with several academic journal articles. Their collective efforts, in collaboration with UNCW Catholic Campus Ministry, led to opening the first Hawk’s Harvest food pantry in 2019, a free resource for enrolled UNCW students who need food, toiletry items and other support options.  

Recognizing an even greater need due to the COVID-19 pandemic, OCEAL added a second food pantry location in January 2022. With the help of undergraduate students, Waity is currently working on related research that examines and measures the impact of COVID-19 on college student food access. 

Her research also benefits the greater Wilmington area, where she serves as chair of the board of directors of Feast Down East, a nonprofit organization that supports local farmers and advocates for equitable access to affordable, fresh, local and nutritious food. 

“It is my hope to be a go-to resource for people in the community studying issues related to food insecurity and food access. I am grateful that I have the opportunity to take my academic expertise and apply it to this important community issue.” 

Waity’s other endeavors include leading this year’s public criminology and public sociology capstone experience and participating in a two-year applied learning strategic initiative that is providing sociology and criminology students with hands-on learning opportunities with the Wilmington Police Department. 

--Krissy Vick