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Q&A Ben Falter, Student Affairs Case Manager at San José State University

While many of our supporters know that our movement is student-led, we are excited by the programs that have been spearheaded by faculty and administration on campuses. Commitment from campus administration fosters more sustainable Swipe Out Hunger programs and serves as a model for how campuses are innovating to better meet students’ needs. Today, we’re highlighting one of our dedicated administration leaders: Student Affairs Case Manager, Ben Falter.

Ben Falter joined San José State University (SJSU) in 2015 as the Chair and Student Affairs Case Manager for the Behavioral Intervention Team. Previously, he was the Chief Housing Officer and Interim Director for the Office of Community Standards, a Deputy Title IX Coordinator where he worked on larger university efforts such as the Enrollment Transitions Committee (a multidisciplinary group aimed to reduce student barriers for incoming and transfer students, better align processes & deadlines), Emergency Management Planning, Students of Concern groups and more.  Outside of formal roles, he has taught in Gender, Women and Sexuality Studies, created new roles for Sustainability Education Coordinators, and led Social Justice Leadership retreats on multiple campuses. He has a Bachelors of Science in Computer and Information Science & a Masters of Arts in Student Affairs in Higher Education.  He has worked at mid-sized state universities, two Big 10 schools, and a small private institution. SJSU was the next logical step as the campus’ diverse populations mirrors the community in many ways (HSI, AAPI, etc) and they were looking to build their Case Management offerings, which assist students hitting barriers in physical & mental health, access to food, and housing insecurities. In this role, Ben is able to provide direct service, connect students to community resources and see the change it makes in students lives.

SJSU hosted its very first Swipe Drive in the Spring 2019 semester– congratulations! How did it go?  

Honestly, it wasn’t a big change internally as we were providing temporary meals to students for a while now, but what Swipe Out Hunger did was allow us to move forward with ways students to engage and donate to assist other students, [building out] the caring that our SJSU Cares program encourages. Some employees who had meal plans were very excited and joined in to contribute as well.

How have you been engaging students to date on these efforts around basic needs? What are your plans to engage them in the Fall semester? 

Our SJSU Cares program is run by our Case Management Office and provides support for unforeseen economic crisis: situations involving temporary food assistance, temporary housing assistance, emergency funding, and more. Our Associated Students (i.e. student government) and Student Hunger Committee have been great allies for years and help bring the student voice to the table. 

What has the SB85 funding enabled your campus to do?   

While we’ve had food assistance on campus for many years (via up to 16 food shelves throughout campus, cooking classes, community garden, temp meal plans, etc.), this funding allowed us to have seed money to do additional fundraising to open our permanent walk-in, staffed Spartan Food Pantry. The pantry is not only fully staffed with paid student positions, a professional Basic Needs Coordinator, and student volunteers, the pantry also offers offers fresh produce, refrigerated and frozen items (dairy products, meats, etc.), non-perishable items, and toiletry items. Donations can be made on site and students can receive assistance to sign up for CalFresh/SNAP. On average, we have about 1,000 visits per month.

Lt. Governor Eleni Kounalakis tours the Spartan Food Pantry with Ben Falter as she visits campus on Friday, May 17, 2019. (Photo: Jim Gensheimer)

Tell us about the innovative efforts you’ve been rolling out at SJSU?   

Get data! For all of our programs, we track usage via our student ID card. This permits us to better understand usage, tell our story, reach back to students who might need additional support, assist in fundraising, and track impact on student success.

What would you like your counterparts at other colleges to know about this work? What would you ask them to do?   

It’s hard, it’s rewarding, and it will help your students succeed. Don’t do it alone. Reach out to places you think are doing it right, write proposals, do assessment so you have data to show need. Our website has one of our proposals, which was provided to administration which assisted in opening our pantry.

Feature photo by David Schmitz.

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