Student Spotlight: Freddy Driesen

Aug. 17, 2020

Studying How a Pandemic Affects Food Security


My name is Freddy Driesen, and I am a senior agricultural and resource economics student at the University of Arizona. For the entirety of 2020, the world has been dealing with the effects of COVID-19. For Arizona students, faculty and community members, the week of spring break was a defining moment when a lot changed for us. After spring break, campus was essentially closed, classes were moved online, and our daily routines were drastically changed. I went from never having heard of Zoom, to not only using it daily for academic purposes but also recommending it to family members as a way of staying in touch.

Over the summer, I was hired by Dr. Anna Josephson of the AREC department to help study some of the effects COVID-19 is having on our community and the state. Specifically, we are trying to learn about the effects the pandemic is having on food security. Food security, according to the United Nations’ Committee on World Food Security, is when “all people, at all times, have physical, social, and economic access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food that meets their food preferences and dietary needs for an active and healthy lifestyle.” 

Surveying the Community and Using Historical Data

The study was broken into two parts, with the first part focusing on distributing a survey throughout the state. The survey is part of a national group that is also interested in the issues facing everyday people in trying to make sure they have access to food in these unprecedented times. Designed by researchers at the University of Vermont, the survey was adapted a little to better fit our state, and then distributed using Qualtrics. We are currently in the process of collecting and cleaning the survey responses.

The second part of the study focuses on comparing other historical events that have occurred in the U.S. to see the impact they have had on food security and serve as a basis of comparison to the changes in food security associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. No two events are the same, but we are trying to use data provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics around hurricanes that have left communities in tough situations. We are currently in the process of identifying what types of analyses are possible with the wealth of information the bureau provides.

Building Professional Skills

For myself, some of the highlights of the study so far have been learning more about the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the process behind how they release public use micro data. I was able to attend a yearly conference the bureau puts on with the goal of gathering more information on its huge database. This year’s event was held virtually, and while I’m sure the in-person version of the conference would have been preferred, being able to listen and speak directly to economists who work with this data on a daily basis was incredibly useful. Another highlight has been learning how to use the statistical software Stata. Whether its writing code myself, or collaborating with others, learning about Stata and how to use it is a skill that I will hopefully be able to use in the future.

I finish my undergraduate degree later this year in the fall, and I am weighing my options to see what I am going to do afterward. Working on this project has been a great experience and has opened my mind to new possibilities and opportunities.