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Students use econometrics to examine campus issues

December 23, 2014
By cnp
Posted in Business Administration

Several University of the Ozarks business students recently used their emerging knowledge in statistical and mathematical techniques to tackle a pair of campus issues: cafeteria food waste and class registration.

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Associate Professor of Economics and Business Robert Wofford explains the campus projects that students in his Econometrics class worked on during the semester.

The students were in Associate Professor Robert Wofford’s Fall 2014 Econometrics class. Econometrics is a branch of economics that deals with the use of mathematical methods, especially statistics, in describing economic systems.

As part of a semester-long project, the students, in two teams of four, chose and then examined an area on campus where they could use empirical research to identify a problem and provide solutions. The students presented their findings to the campus community on the final day of the semester, Dec. 12.

The team of Irma Flowers, Oscar Anzures, Karina Ramirez and Ricardo Gutierrez worked on a project titled, "Creating Awareness for Reducing Food Waste in the University of the Ozarks Cafeteria." The team of Megan Stewart, Jose O’Conner, Linda Ollivier and Geraldo Navarrete looked at the issue, "Student Satisfaction with the Registration Process."

"The students examined these issues through quantitatively-driven research, with the main question being, How can they make it better," said Wofford, associate professor of economics and business. "Through their work, they provided the decision-makers with the tools and the data to make changes, if needed."

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One team of students looked at how an awareness campaign affected food waste in the cafeteria.

The team that looked at food waste in the cafeteria used an awareness campaign to educate the campus community about the problem of food waste. A two-week audit before the awareness campaign showed that an average of 331 pounds of food per day was being thrown out during the lunch and dinner periods. Following an awareness campaign that included posters, emails, social media, menu boards, and word-of-mouth, a second two-week audit showed that the food waste had dropped to an average of 260 pounds per day, a 23 percent decrease.

"We discovered that, through an education and awareness effort, we can make people conscience of the problem and actually make a significant impact on the amount of food being wasted," said Gutierrez. "We thought there would be a difference, but it even surprised us to see how much a difference there was."

The students said they calculated that the cafeteria could save approximately $27,000 a year in food costs if the decreased food waste trend continued throughout the year.

"We found that the word-of-mouth campaign was one of the most effective methods of getting the point across," said Ramirez. "Students seemed to listen more to other students and that peer pressure made a difference."

The students shared their findings with ARAMARK food services officials Stephen Kerr and Brad Crosson.

"I applaud the students for taking on this issue because it’s one that needs to be addressed," said Crosson, a district manager for ARAMARK. "Food waste not only impacts us as a company, but it impacts the students as well."

The team that examined the university’s registration process used a survey that looked at student satisfaction levels in regards to registration for classes.

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Another team of students examined the satisfaction level of students regarding the registration process on campus.

According to the team’s findings, 47 percent of the sophomores, juniors and seniors survey believed that the registration process took between 30 and 59 minutes, while 27 percent stated that it took 29 minutes or less. A total of 89 percent believe the process should take under 29 minutes.

The findings also showed that students would prefer to do most aspects of the registration process online.  The team recommended that to reduce the time spent in the registration process, the actual in-person system should be reduced to four steps: getting the schedules, renewing student ID, choosing a meal plan, and receiving book vouchers. The team recommended that other components of registration, such as obtaining convocation cards and updating emergency contact information, be moved online.  

The researchers also discovered that while students overwhelmingly wanted to see more of the registration process online, 38 percent of the students were uncomfortable with moving the financial part of the registration online.

University Registrar Wilma Harris and several other people from the Registrar’s Office listened to the students’ report.

"We’re always interested in how students feel about registration and ways we can improve the process," Harris said. "The students did a great job of pulling together a lot of information and statistics and giving us some things to think about."