The oldest of three raised in a New Jersey household without a college-going culture, Pam Koch once considered higher education a world unto itself.
“The only people I knew with college degrees were my teachers and my doctors,” she recalls.
A lifetime academic, Koch can appreciate the journey as she moves into the next phase of her career in an endowed chair as the Mary Swartz Rose Associate Professor of Nutrition & Education.
Koch (M.Ed. ’98, Ed.D ’00) is the third faculty member to hold the chair honoring Rose, a pioneering TC professor and researcher in the field of nutrition education, and enters the role after serving as Associate Research Professor.
She follows Joan Gussow and Isobel Contento, long time collaborators in teaching partnerships, research projects and in Koch’s position as the Founding Executive Director of the Laurie M. Tisch Center for Food, Education & Policy.
“I have been incredibly lucky to work closely with both Joan and Isobel,” she says. “I can now blend what they’ve accomplished with my own input to ensure ongoing high quality nutrition education in schools as we promote diversity and equity in the TC nutrition program.”
Spurred by mounting evidence of higher achievement scores among children taught by teachers of similar race ethnicity, Koch has in fact made diversification of the program along with professional nutrition educators a central tenet of her tenure in the Rose professorship. Nearly 80 percent of nutrition educators in the United States are white.
“I happen to think that it is even more important that a person talking to you about something you are putting in your body looks and has a background like yours when it comes to food and nutrition. We are responsible for diversifying our profession,” Koch says.
Why Equitable Food Access Matters in 2021 and Beyond
In a recent video series by the College's Digital Futures Institute, Pam Koch discussed how the COVID-19 pandemic further exposed inequities and fragility in access to nutritious food - and how this basic need must be addressed moving forward – with Tony Hillery, founder and CEO of Harlem Grown.
The commitment to equity and social justice is an extension of the research on food nutrition, education and policy conducted during Koch’s leadership of the Tisch Food Center. Recent efforts from the Center have made significant contributions to understanding the shifts that schools can make to serve fresh food, and how policy makers can alleviate a “deeply inequitable food system.”
Tisch analyses and studies are further credited with connecting students to sustainable and healthy eating practices to students in both urban and rural learning environments.
The Center, among other initiatives, also oversees and supports the efforts of the Food Ed Hub Coalition, a clearinghouse coordinating food and nutrition resources for New York City schools, nonprofits and community-based organizations.
Koch in her new position also intends to place renewed emphasis on the implementation of cultural relevance in food curricula and the application of food studies to other subjects.
“Food and nutrition traditionally fit into school curricula as a single health education topic,” Koch explains. “But food as an application connects to social studies and science. And you can't make a recipe without math.”
Koch says studies that show higher rates of attendance on days designated for students to visit school gardens supports the idea of food as a cross disciplinary learning tool.
She moreover believes the long-term impact of classroom cooking and gardening projects merits further research.
“We have anecdotal evidence that it changes the connection to food,” Koch says. “But I’d love to research the cumulative effect to see if the cumulative experience of gardening and cooking for second graders leads to conversations among older kids about food justice or convinces them to maybe carry a water bottle instead of falling for advertisements telling them to drink a bottle of sugared tea or a soda.”