Brenna Ellison came to ACU because of a family connection and a phone call.
Her grandfather and great-great-uncle both attended ACU. That family connection resonated deeply with Brenna, and when she got a phone call from Dr. Foy Mills in the Agriculture and Environmental Sciences Department, it cemented her interest. She says the four years she spent in Abilene helped define what she believes, who she is and what she’s doing now.
“ACU was great for me for a lot of different reasons,” she said. “I grew a ton here. You build a foundation for all the beliefs you had in the first place.”
While at ACU, Brenna served as a peer leader for the political science Welcome Week group for two years, was an officer in the on-campus Ag Club, and worked part-time as a bookkeeper and at a local bank. She was also a recipient of the Jack Pope Fellowship, a prestigious honor that requires students from various majors to complete a public service minor in return for a two-year scholarship.
First taste of research
Brenna used her Pope Fellowship requirements to develop research on food assistance, comparing the viewpoints of political science and ag majors on the subjects of food stamps and WIC. She asked whether the two groups thought food assistance should be government-based or should come from the private sector.
Her consensus was that there was, in fact, a difference between the way political science majors and ag majors saw the subject. But the results were much deeper than just an answer to a question. For Brenna, it was a confirmation that research was a personal passion.
“It gave me a feel of what research was going to be like,” she said. “It really sparked my interest in answering questions.”
Her Pope Fellows project wasn’t the only chance Brenna had to acquire academic skills, however. In the ag department, she found opportunities to interact with knowledgeable mentors, work with business models that included up-to-date analysis and marketing techniques, and even get in a little teaching experience.
“I feel like I got a lot of diversity from all the different programs,” she said. “You get to work with a lot of people who see things differently than you.”
Brenna is currently at Oklahoma State University, pursuing a Ph.D. in Ag Economics. Her research is a project that works with the federal healthcare bill recently passed by Congress, with a focus on menu labeling, a practice that has produced some positive health results in European grocery stores. She’s trying to bring it to this side of the Atlantic.
“I’m really into health and nutrition,” she said.
Stoplights for healthy eating
Menu labeling in Europe consists of three symbols, each of which represents of level of health for consumers of a particular product. A green light means healthy, a yellow light means borderline and a red light means very unhealthy. Brenna used this system in a restaurant on OSU’s campus, using three test menus to determine whether or not the traffic light system impacted consumers’ choices. Her results found that using the “traffic light” menus did, in fact, reduce the number of calories consumers ordered.
“My fellow researchers and I are really excited about it,” she said. “We hope that a lot of good will come out of it. I really want people to grab onto my research and be able to form an opinion about it.”
Although she loves research and the results it can have, Brenna’s long-term goal is to teach. Watching skilled and enthusiastic professors at ACU inspired in her the desire to pass her knowledge on to someone else.
“That’s one of the things I really loved about ACU – the teachers were really dedicated,” she said. “They are invested in their students. They really will take the time to help you see that youcan get what you want to achieve.”
In essence, it’s about turning on that spark of interest for her students, just as her ACU professors did for her.
“I want to be that person who makes the light bulb turn on for someone else,” she said.”