Amrita Khalsa, who is graduating with a major in food studies and a minor in Spanish, is the recipient of the spring 2023 SBS Excellence in Leadership and Community Engagement Award, which recognizes a graduating senior who has demonstrated exemplary leadership skills through their involvement on and off campus and their impact on the lives of others.
After high school, Amrita studied culinary arts at Santa Fe Community College and ran a home baking business. Amrita decided to major in Food Studies because of her curiosity and passion for the field.
“My time at the UofA has been a period of personal and professional growth,” Amrita said. “During my first semester I had classes about food justice and food systems, which are not glamorous topics of food and culture, but heavy topics on the reality of our food system. I had not expected these topics in my degree, but they were transformative and eye opening as I began to find my direction in the food studies field. Through my food studies program I was challenged to think about food topics holistically, which greatly expanded my passion to work towards an equitable and sustainable food system.”
Amrita's senior capstone project explored the differences between heritage wheat varieties cultivated over millennia with that of modern wheat, which has been highly altered through industrialized agriculture. She analyzed how heritage wheat varieties can benefit biodiverse ecosystems as well as human health.
"Amrita's thesis advisor noted that it was a truly outstanding and comprehensive project, and the related work for my course, which focused on the relationship between Barrio Bread and MotoSonora, was inspirational," wrote Dereka Rushbook, associate professor of practice in the School of Geography, Development & Environment.
“During my capstone project on What's With Wheat, I was happy to bring together my love of baking with my new knowledge of food systems, in particular local Tucson wheat farmers,” Amrita said. “Professors Laurel Bellante, Dereka Rushbrook, and Rani Olson have all been formative teachers and mentors in my food studies experience.”
Amrita was selected as an Earth Grant recipient, a year-long leadership development program for UArizona students passionate about environmental and community resilience.
Amrita interned at Flower & Bullets Midtown Farm, which focuses on building non-hierarchical and inclusive spaces that provide the foundation for a sustainable and resilient community. She has volunteered for four years with Iskashitaa Refugee Network, which helps refugees integrate into the Tucson community, while improving food security and reducing food waste. She has also spent the last two years volunteering at Mission Garden, a “living agricultural museum” focused on the heritage crops and heirloom trees of the Tucson region.
"Amrita is an exemplary campus and community citizen, supporting her peers on campus and helping to build networks across diverse communities in Tucson," wrote Rushbrook. "While her focus is nominally heritage foods, her engagement at multiple levels reflects her commitment to building a stronger and more resilient community."
After graduation, Amrita plans to look for jobs in the food studies field and continue to volunteer and participate with the Tucson community at Iskashitaa Refugee Network, Flowers and Bullets, and Mission Garden.