According to a 2016 survey,* more than 40 percent of the students at Boise State describe themselves as food insecure, or not knowing where their next meal will come from because of financial strain. At the same time, catered events on campus often have leftover food that goes to waste if no one’s there to claim it.
Bronco BEAM, a just-released app created by GIMMworks, the College of Innovation and Design team that works on tech solutions for social issues, aims to solve both problems.
Bronco BEAM (or “beacon environment approximation mapping”) lets coordinators of catered events send notifications to students who are nearby, letting them know when food is available. Students go to a designated location and eat free, no questions asked. Employees who are in need of a meal also can use the app.
The project came about close to two years ago when then-Boise State President Bob Kustra asked GIMMworks students to create apps that would address the most pressing needs on campus. Together Tyler Chapman, an information technology management and GIMM major from Hagerman; Olivia Thomas, a GIMM and computer science major from Boise; and Issiac Torrero, a GIMM major from Twin Falls, created Bronco BEAM.
“Food waste is everywhere in the U.S. and at our university. We thought we could put some puzzle pieces together,” said Chapman. “If we’re successful, Bronco BEAM can be used as a case study for other universities facing similar concerns.”
Thomas and Torrero attended a conference about basic student needs on campus. Torrero said it gave them perspective on the issues of food insecurity and homelessness at Boise State.
“It reinforced for me that this app will do a lot of good. The experience really energized me to get the app done and out for people to use,” he said.
The team has been working with campus caterer Aramark and campus food services to figure out logistics so diners can eat without disturbing nearby meetings. The app has gone through a round of early testing and a soft launch. Event organizers used it recently at the Student Union Building. Twenty people showed up to eat food, saving it from the landfill.
“For me, the best thing about working on Bronco BEAM is that we’ve been able to see the app all the way through to implementation,” said Thomas. “I unexpectedly got a food alert on my phone the other day when I was sitting in class and that was when it really hit me that the app has gone from being some code that we wrote to something that will have a tangible impact on campus.”
The location-based app has many potential applications, Chapman added. A project already is underway to let students in classrooms and tutoring sessions use Bronco BEAM to ask questions that instructors can read in real-time. Instructors then can use that information to tailor their material to students’ needs.
– By Anna Webb
* Hunger update, September, 2020: A RealCollege Survey conducted in the fall of 2018 found that 36% of Boise State survey respondents reported food insecurity in the last 30 days.