Champions in the Fight Against Food Insecurity

ISE alumnus Neil Brittain (IE ’94) and his wife, Deanna Brittain, are making waves in the Industrial and Systems Engineering (ISE) Department with a generous new gift to provide meals and food to graduate students experiencing food insecurity. Their generous gift is a testament to the couple’s commitment to giving back and was partly inspired by their challenges when young. “My wife and I have experienced some level of food insecurity at different points in our earlier lives,” he said.

“When you are hungry or don’t know where your next meal is going to come from, it impacts your self-esteem and your ability to effectively function with everyday responsibilities, much less trying to get through engineering school,” explained Neil Brittain. Their struggles fueled their determination to support others facing similar hardships.

Wanda Urbanska, ISE Director of Philanthropy, sheds light on the origin of the Brittain gift. Neil’s realization of food insecurity among graduate students struck a chord during a recent panel discussion, which he moderated, at the March ISE Advisory Board meeting. When he heard personal testimony from the students about going hungry, it struck a nerve. He decided to take action.

The Brittain family’s donation will go directly toward alleviating food insecurity within the department. “The purpose of this gift is to combat food insecurity amongst ISE graduate students,” Urbanska affirmed. This initiative aims to provide needy students with meals, snacks and even supermarket gift cards. Such support addresses immediate hunger and fosters a sense of community and well-being among recipients.

Julie Swann, ISE department head, emphasized the broader impact of gifts like the Brittains’. Strengthening the graduate program enhances the department’s reputation and improves living conditions for students, many of whom face financial constraints while pursuing their education. “Having sufficient food is necessary to support efficient and effective learning,” Swann affirmed.

The Brittain gift underscores the pivotal role of philanthropy in shaping the educational experience and fostering a supportive environment within the ISE Department. “This kind of gift boosts the morale – and fills the bellies – of our hard-working ISE graduate students, letting them know that we care about them and strive to improve their lives and studies here,” Urbanska added.

Reflecting on their journey, Neil and Deanna Brittain offer advice for prospective donors. “Start with your heart and fund issues that speak to you personally,” they said. Their story serves as a poignant reminder of the transformative power of empathy in making decisions about where to give.

In the realm of philanthropy, every contribution, regardless of size, holds the potential to affect positive change. As Brittain aptly puts it, “Every gift…creates opportunities to elevate the student educational experience, attract, engage and retain top-notch faculty and, ultimately, shape the world we and our future generations will experience.”

For those interested in making a difference, Wanda Urbanska encourages alums and others to explore philanthropic opportunities within the ISE Department. “If anyone wants to explore philanthropic options, please ask them to contact me directly!” she said.

The Brittain family’s commitment to combating food insecurity exemplifies the spirit of generosity and community within the ISE Department. Their legacy will endure as a beacon of hope and support for future generations.
Please reach out to Wanda Urbanska @