BGSU graduate uses capstone project to help people living with food insecurity gain access to nutritious meals

By BGSU Marketing & Communications

Madeline VanHorn, who most recently earned a Master of Health Services Administration from the BGSU College of Health & Human Services, used the university’s accelerated Bachelor-to-MHSA track as an undergrad that allowed her to obtain both degrees at age 22.

A Bowling Green State University graduate created public good by helping people living with food insecurity gain access to nutritious meals.

Madeline VanHorn graduated from BGSU this fall with two degrees in fewer than four years.

VanHorn, who most recently earned a Master of Health Services Administration from the BGSU College of Health & Human Services, used the university’s accelerated Bachelor-to-MHSA track as an undergrad that allowed her to obtain both degrees at age 22.

In the process of fulfilling her degree requirements, VanHorn used the opportunity to both help others and see first-hand how a behind-the-scenes role can improve health outcomes. She did her capstone project at CommunityCare Free Medical Clinic in Toledo to research how uninsured patients’ nutritional habits changed after the outbreak of COVID-19.

While obtaining data, VanHorn discovered many eating habits had changed simply because so many people were unaware of the resources available to patients experiencing food insecurity. In response, VanHorn made an information sheet that details how patients can obtain help that can be used as a handout during visits.

“A lot of the patients are food insecure, so if they don’t know what resources can help them, they’re not getting help,” VanHorn said. “Many of these patients cannot afford food and can barely get transportation to the clinic, and a lot of what they’re eating is fast food and frozen meals. Just telling them about the resources they have gives them a chance to have more nutritious food, more knowledge and healthier meals.

“Telling them about the resources filled the gap: they didn’t know about the resources, so they weren’t using them.”

VanHorn, a native of Brecksville, west of Cleveland, plans to present her research at multiple conferences in 2023. Initially, she was not sure about graduate-level research, but said the experience taught her a new way to help patients.

“I didn’t think I wanted to do research, but then I did this project and loved it,” she said. “It was so cool interacting with people, collecting data, analyzing it and producing a real thing that the patients can use in the future that would help them.”

VanHorn, who hopes to be a hospital executive in the future, came to BGSU with 60 college credits earned during high school and chose the fast-track option allowed her to pursue the hybrid MHSA program while still an undergraduate.

The option allowed VanHorn to enter the workforce 3.5 years after high school with a master’s degree already completed.

“For what I want to do, you have to have a master’s, so the Bachelor-to-MHSA fast track really put me ahead of the game,” she said. “When I graduate, I can get a job right away that’s geared toward what I want to do rather than something that’s entry-level.”

While on campus, VanHorn was part of an emerging leaders committee for Midwest Chapter of the American College of Healthcare Executives that helped organize a networking event at Ford Field in Detroit that brought healthcare executives and students together. Additionally, she competed at the organization’s Health Case Competition as the leader of the BGSU team along with two other MHSA students.

Philip Welch, an associate professor in the department of Public & Allied Health, said VanHorn using her capstone project to help others showed she is “a caring and selfless student working to positively impact public good” and commended her proactivity during college.

“Being actively engaged in your educational journey is a skill that every student should hone,” he said. “Madeline was an engaged, proactive undergraduate student and these attributes carried over into graduate school.”

While meeting with several hospital presidents over the summer, VanHorn said their advice combined with knowledge from her BGSU classes confirmed that she made the right choice for a career path.

“They expressed how much they actually get to help patients, and in my classes, you get to see how much an administrator can really change a patient’s outcome, and I really liked that,” she said. “Being behind the scenes in the medical field, I feel like I can really reach out and help a lot of people.”