Oct. 26, 2006
By Amanda Hughes and Jody Grenert
In some cases, it's a special project that offers lessons beyond the classroom.
Michele Morrone, an associate professor in the School of Health Sciences, teaches a course titled "Institutional Environmental Health." Her students learn about environmental health and safety issues in schools, hospitals, child-care centers, nursing homes and prisons.
Last winter, members of her class tackled a service-learning project that took them into three elementary schools in Athens County: East, West and Morrison. They worked in teams of 10 to apply elements of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's "Tools for Schools" kit, which provides checklists to help identify issues that could lead to unhealthy indoor spaces.
After the inspections, the teams compiled reports on what they found and listed suggestions for improvements. Two representatives from each team then presented the reports to the class, with the school principals looking on.
Morrone said such projects help students grasp and apply course material to situations they are likely to encounter in their careers.
"This type of project does more than enhance learning about specific environmental health topics. It also enhances students' communication skills, responsibility and accountability," she said.
Jen Sirko, a junior studying industrial hygiene and environmental health, said the project gave her an opportunity to apply what she had learned during the past three years in the classroom.
"This type of real-word experience is an important part of our education, and we're able to help the surrounding community at the same time we're learning," Sirko said. "The entire class is going to graduate with some actual experience, which makes us more attractive to prospective employers."
She also saw the project as a chance to step outside her comfort zone as a student.
"The elementary school project gave me a unique opportunity to work with the Athens community," she said. "It's rare that I see Athens outside the OU campus, so I thoroughly enjoyed meeting the school personnel and working with them as a professional."
Another service-learning project put more than 20 interior architecture students to work designing floor plans for a Habitat for Humanity house in Athens County.
Those students, under the guidance of David Matthews, an associate professor in the School of Human and Consumer Sciences, are part of the Design Group, a student organization that initiated the Habitat partnership out of a desire to be active in community projects.
The Design Group developed three floor plans for the homeowner to choose from. Construction began in March and was completed in July, and the students were involved in each aspect of the project, from helping choose a construction team to deciding on window styles.
Allison Billheimer, a senior interior architecture student and president of the Design Group, said the project was well-suited to the architecture curriculum, which is based on a practical approach and close working relationships between students and professors.
"It's more about getting involved in the community and learning not just from professors, but also from professionals in the field that have been doing this for a long time," Billheimer said.
Keeping it real
The Atrium Café, the eatery inside Grover Center, serves up its own brand of experiential learning.
Students in the School of Human and Consumer Sciences are involved in planning its menus and preparing its meals. In one course, students attend to most aspects of the Friday meals at the café, from researching recipes to ordering ingredients.
The classes help students learn how to standardize recipes and use food-service equipment, and to master food safety and sanitation principles, said Assistant Professor Diana Manchester, who teaches the courses along with Associate Professor Annette Graham.
The classes take on special events as well. In January, beverage-management students helped present an event in the cafe called "High Tea," which was sponsored by WellWorks. Participants munched on scones and sampled teas while listening to students explain each variety's history and characteristics. Coordinating the event required detailed planning and preparation, both in the classroom and the kitchen.
"The High Tea is an opportunity for our students to go outside of their comfort zone and think about foods and beverages that are different from the everyday," Manchester said. "Putting together an event where they have to coordinate their separate efforts and work together as a team on a million little details really gives them an insight into planning successful events."
The hands-on experience of coordinating such events and activities can't be overestimated, said LaRosa, the student dietetics counselor. Her dietetics curriculum included one of the food-service classes that supplied the café.
LaRosa, who graduated in June, said that all three main aspects of her dietetics training -- food service, community and clinical -- included a hands-on component.
She also volunteered to help with such WellWorks events as "Kids in the Kitchen," which educated youngsters about nutrition by letting them prepare foods under supervision in the Grover Center test kitchen.
The program's clinical component is an internship at a health facility. LaRosa completed her five-week internship before her senior year, and this summer she began a post-graduate internship at the Cleveland Clinic. Once she completes that 10½-month internship and passes a state test, she'll reach her goal of becoming a registered dietitian.
She believes that the experience she gained during her nutrition-counseling course and other hands-on activities have given her a head start in the field.
"I don't know of another dietetics program that has this [counseling] opportunity. You feel like you're one step above everyone else because you've had this experience."
Jody Grenert is the Director of Communications with the College of Health and Human Services. Amanda Hughes is a student writer with the College of Health and Services' Dean's Office. This article first appeared in the fall 2006 edition of Atrium