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Community Partnerships: Professors Partner with St. Joseph’s Center

Community Partnerships: Professors Partner with St. Joseph’s Center
Debra Fetherman, Ph.D. (front row, left) with her students at the St. Joseph’s Center Worksite Health Fair.

Joan Grossman, Ph.D. teaches in the Department of Exercise Science and Sport and organizes about 140 students a year to serve individuals with special needs at St. Joseph’s Center in Scranton. In addition to the coursework, she often has to teach students how to get the COLTS bus, sometimes the first time they will use local public transportation. “But I would never give it up. It’s so valuable for both the students and the patients.”

This is her ninth year embedding CBL into her courses, and watching students with the patients is “such a rich and rewarding experience,” she said. “The first time I went, the students were putting bibs on these adults and wiping their mouths. Students are initially so apprehensive, but they quickly become comfortable. What St. Joseph’s has given back to our students — you can’t even put it into words.”

Student Eamonn Hanrahan’s experience at St. Joseph’s is a prime example of how the University-community partnership can be mutually beneficial. He became comfortable working at the center during the semester, connecting with one resident in particular.

In his reflection, Hanrahan wrote: “We became such good friends that, on my last Sunday there, the second he saw me, he reached his arm out to grab my hand, and he had a smile as wide as the Grand Canyon. It made me feel so special to be a part of something so amazing.”

Students often tell Dr. Grossman that their experiential learning experience was profound, bringing them into contact with marginalized individuals. “The students begin to recognize that this is giving them a broader perspective of the community and world at large,” she said.

Community Health Education students participated in a Community-Based Learning project serving the employees of St. Joseph’s Center. The project is part of a course led by Debra Fetherman, Ph.D., an associate professor and director of the community health education program. Students applied health communication methods and tools to promote health behavior change among employees.

The students designed and implemented health promotion stations at the employee health fair, which focused on the health needs and interests of the center’s employees. “The students can read about the health communication techniques in the textbook and research or journal articles. I can provide case studies for them to analyze the communication strategies used,” Fetherman said. “But this kind of community project brings the course concepts to life. Students come to understand the value and role of their profession while they are serving others.”

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