Tag Archives: University of Chicago

Gabby Wimer Digs Mealworms

Growing up in Westport, Gabby Wimer accomplished a lot. At Staples High School she was a 4-year varsity swimmer and water polo player. She played violin, and sang in the choir.

She spent 8 years swimming with the Y’s Water Rats, and helped out with Amnesty International.

But she never took Staples’ popular Environmental Science course. And she had nothing to do with Wakeman Town Farm.

Gabby always figured she’d go pre-med in college. And she was fascinated by the history of medicine.

The University of Chicago seemed a perfect fit. She majored in the history of medicine and global health. She did volunteer work in Rwanda.

Like many students, she had no idea where it would all lead. Then, as a senior, Gabby was chatting with 2 friends who had done global health work, in Nigeria and Guatemala.

Gabby Wimer (center), flanked by University of Chicago friends Joyce Lu and Elizabeth Frank.

Gabby Wimer (center), flanked by University of Chicago friends Joyce Lu and Elizabeth Frank.

They identified common problems — and vowed to take action.

They competed for the Hult Prize: up to $1 million, plus mentorship, for start-up enterprises that tackle grave issues faced by billions of people.

Enter mealworms.

The larval form of a beetle — once thought of as a pest — can be baked or fried, for human consumption as a healthful snack food. Mealworms don’t need much water and eat almost anything, so raising them can help improve nutrition in areas that desperately need it.

Mmmmm -- mealworms!

Mmmmm — mealworms!

The women made it to the Hult Prize regional finals, in Boston. They won $20,000 in seed funding, from 3 organizations, including the Clinton Global Initiative University Resolution Project.

In September, Gabby heads to Guatemala. Right now, she’s studying the best ways to farm mealworms in that country.

She’s set up 2 mealworm plots at Wakeman Town Farm. She and steward Mike Aitkenhead are experimenting with different foods found in Guatemala. Banana peels work particularly well.

She’s also testing different ways to produce mealworm powder — roasted in an oven, for example, or barbecued — along with the best grinding methods (food processor, mortar and pestle). Gabby’s colleagues are concocting recipes with tortillas and oatmeal.

The women’s organization is called MealFlour. The goal is for families in Guatemala — a country with the 4th-highest rate of malnutrition in the world — to learn how to build mealworm farms using recycled materials. The mealworms are then dried and ground into a flour that’s more than twice as protein-efficient as beef.

It’s a win-win: Along with nutritional benefits, MealFlour creates jobs. And mealworm farms are small: just one square foot.

“I always wanted to do global health work. But I never knew about mealworms,” Gabby says.

“This is perfect for me. It combines science, sustainable agriculture and public health.”

At first, she admits, “my friends were weirded out. But now they think it’s cool.”

Perhaps they were convinced by Gabby’s delicious mealworm cookies. They taste good, she says.

And — as she and her generation know — bringing sustainable agriculture and public health to areas of the globe that desperately need it is a recipe for success.

Mealworm cookies.

Mealworm cookies.


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Isaac Stein Sets The Criterion

With his University of Chicago classes starting much later than most other schools’ — this week — Isaac Stein might have spent the last month Snapchatting or sleeping in.

The 2012 Staples grad did neither. Instead, he sparked a journalistic renaissance in a Bridgeport high school.

Writing was always Isaac’s passion. As a senior writer and web editor-in-chief for the Staples school newspaper, Inklings, he fought student disenfranchisement, and crusaded for change on many fronts.

One memorable story exposed Matsu Sushi’s policy of tacking tips onto teenagers’ bills — without telling them ahead of time.

At Chicago, Isaac became news editor of The MaroonThis summer, back home, he worked at the Minuteman. Looking at public schools’ website, he noticed Central High School’s excellent online archives. One issue, from the 1990s, featured front-page stories on a Laotian student’s immigration issues and the AIDS Quilt exhibit.

But, Isaac learned, the Criterion had been defunct since 2001, when Central’s journalism class was cut.

Central High School in Bridgeport.

Central High School in Bridgeport.

Isaac is a firm believer in the power of high school journalism to give students a voice, and foster social justice. He met Central principal Eric Graf, who put him in touch with English department co-chair Joe Jeffery.

When school started, Isaac visited English classrooms (including that of Westporter Andy McConnell). He preached his vision of a new Criterion. 

Almost immediately, 30 teenagers showed up at twice-weekly meetings. Isaac taught them the basics. They took it from there.

The online paper — www.bptcriterion.com — has featured an op-ed piece on Ferguson, sexism and the appropriation of the word “ghetto.” It’s a lively, provocative paper. Isaac gives all the credit to the students — most of whom are just a couple of years younger than he.

Isaac Stein (left) and J.P. Rossi, Criterion's editor-in-chief.

Isaac Stein (left) and J.P. Rossi, Criterion’s editor-in-chief.

Isaac has been impressed with their talent, enthusiasm, and level of respect. He also bristles at stereotypes.

“Before I went in, people said, ‘Don’t go there. They’re a bunch of animals,'” he says.

“That’s not-so-veiled racism. And it’s very disturbing.”

Isaac loves his students’ creativity and intelligence, and the “raw people power” he sees. He’s disturbed at the obstacles they face. But he’s amazed, for example, that there is no centralized email system, making communication difficult.

When Isaac played basketball at Staples, he and his teammates had to pass through metal detectors at Central. That was the only contact he had with the school.

Now, he knows, students wait 40 minutes before class every day at those metal detectors. “That’s 3 1/2 hours a week of dead weight, lost time,” he says. “Staples has 12 doors, and everyone walks right through. I never thought about that.”

His young writers are already working on a news story and op-ed piece about that issue.

It will run without Isaac, however. He’s finally back at Chicago, ready to start classes.

But — hundreds of miles away — his legacy lives on. An editor-in chief has been chosen for the Criterion. A permanent advisor has been named.

And funds have been promised for the next 2 years.