Healthcare in the Community
Experiences of Service-Learning in Community Health
Service-learning provides opportunities for college students to foster civic engagement. The Healthy Bearcats Program in the Health Promotion and Education Program, in the School of Human Services, College of Education, Criminal Justice and Human Services provides college students with opportunities to engage in service-learning with children and young adults.
In one arm of the Healthy Bearcats program, college student leaders provide different types of health training, with a program featuring training participants ranging from the elementary school through the young adult years about healthy eating and exercise. This program emphasizes motivational interviewing to allow participants to enhance their health one small step at a time, using goals that “fit” with their daily lives. Health education programs, supervised by Dr. Laura Nabors, are based on evidence-based approaches to improve health knowledge and positively change health behaviors, and college students learn to disseminate health programming within the community in the Greater Cincinnati area. Program evaluation research, also conducted by the college students, has shown that the health education programming has advanced health literacy and changed healthy behaviors, such that participants eat more fruits and engage in higher levels of physical activity. Classes have been offered in local elementary schools and at the Impact Program at the University, which is a program to foster the education of young adults with special needs. Other health programming addresses sleep and advancing positive mental health through relaxation exercises and improving sleep routines.
In another project, students in the School of Human Services and CECH collaboration with Dr. Michael Sharp and his team providing health programming revolving around substance abuse education, with funding from Generation Rx. The goal of this programming was to reduce prescription drug misuse. Programming addressed college students and also elementary school-age youth and featured health messaging through games, fun activities and games, and community presentations. Results of program evaluation studies reveal that participants increase their health knowledge and are satisfied with the programming.
Dr. Nabors and a team of students in a nutrition and health course also teamed with Dr. Frank Russell’s service-learning class in design to provide guidance on addressing food security for college students at the University of Cincinnati. Dr. Russell’s students designed ideas for providing food security and reducing waste, while Dr. Nabors’ class provided ideas for improving the nutritional status of college students.
There are several take-away points from these service learning experiences. When in the schools and community, the college students serve as role models for future Bearcats when working with the young children. Also, the college student “voice” and teaching are absorbed quickly by the children and young adults who relate to their mentors. At the university level, college students have motivated their fellow students toward positive health behaviors and provided education to reduce risk behaviors and improve health literacy. The college student mentors who conduct programming also report enjoying leading the health programming. The college mentors also have indicated that participating in service-learning fosters both a sense of community service and involvement as well as providing experience for resumes that improves experience for future job prospects.
Laura Nabors, PhD, is a professor in the School of Human Services at the University of CIncinnati. She has been engaged in service-learning to benefit the Cincinnati Community with health programming through what is affectionately known as "Healthy Bearcats'' for the past 9 years. This program has benefited over a hundred children and has been adapted to benefit individuals with special needs. The program has benefitted from the services of undergraduate and graduate students at UC who have been wonderful health coaches and mentors for children, families and individuals with special needs.
Abigail (Abby) Overstreet is a senior in the Health Promotion and Education Program at the University of Cincinnati. She was instrumental in adapting the Healthy Bearcats program to serve individuals with special needs. Abby engaged in service-learning with Healthy Bearcats and she participated in a community engagement course at UC, with Michael Sharp and Paula Harper guiding learning efforts. Abby enjoyed this course, and participation in the course increased her knowledge and personal growth. Abby is a wonderful coach and mentor to those in Healthy Bearcats. She was a "student of the year" for the Health Promotion and Education Program this year. She has a bright future improving the lives of individuals in her community.