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Thinking outside the books
College of Health and Human Services strives to weave real-world experiences into its curriculum 

Oct. 9, 2006
By Amanda Hughes and Jody Grenert

The client wanted to lose 25 pounds. He wasn't into crash diets and had a weakness for late-night snacks. He told the nutrition counselor that, more than anything, he wanted sound advice on how to eat healthier.

Dietetics student Jessica LaRosa took what she learned in the classroom about nutrition counseling to another level by working with clients.Middle-aged, overweight, sedentary, nutritionally challenged. His was a textbook case of what dietitians face on the front lines of American's growing battle with obesity.

While his case was typical, the counseling session was unique. Across the table was Jessica LaRosa, who would learn as much from her interaction with the client as he would about carbs and portion sizes. LaRosa, though well-versed on calorie intake, cholesterol levels and the other aspects of a dietitian's repertoire, wasn't a registered dietitian. This session was part of her training to become one.

The 22-year-old dietetics major, a senior in the School of Human and Consumer Sciences, was learning the vital communication skills she needed to help future clients help themselves. And that's what these counseling sessions are all about, said Francie Astrom, a licensed dietitian who lines up real clients for students like LaRosa as part of the nutrition-counseling class she teaches. The course encompasses four sessions of counseling each client, plus a classroom component.

The clients are often members of WellWorks, Ohio University's wellness program. WellWorks services include nutritional counseling, educational and special-event programming, and a fitness center located in Grover Center. The facility's staff includes students majoring in areas such as exercise physiology, physical therapy and nutrition within the College of Health and Human Services.

The nutrition sessions benefit all parties involved. Students get to venture beyond their textbooks into situations similar to what they'll face after graduating. Clients receive valuable nutritional advice (under the close supervision of Astrom, a licensed dietitian) at a reasonable cost. And Astrom can better prepare students majoring in dietetics and nutrition with science for the give and take of counseling clients who, like most Americans nowadays, are nutritionally challenged.

Astrom selects counseling candidates who are motivated to change their lifestyle and are willing to work with a student. During the four sessions, the student dietitian uses a log of the client's eating habits to zero in on problems, then help the client come up with realistic weight and exercise goals that will nudge him or her toward a healthier lifestyle.

The counseling experience gives Ohio University dietetics majors an edge in landing jobs and internships, Astrom says.

"When our students apply and are accepted into internships, we find that they are better prepared to deal with clients and patients ... because they've had this opportunity to do the nutrition counseling," Astrom said. "Our students go into internships well-prepared to communicate with their clients and their patients."

LaRosa agreed, adding that the sessions were a confidence builder for herself and her classmates.

"No matter where they start, everyone comes out of it a little more confident in expressing their nutrition knowledge to someone."

Another benefit LaRosa took away from the experience was learning how to be a better listener.

"I realized that when you're counseling, it is not about what I want to say and the information that I have to give you, it is about what you have to say," LaRosa said. "Really, the most beneficial way to counsel someone is to let them talk."

A culture of hands-on learning

The nutrition counseling sessions at WellWorks are just one example of the culture of real-world learning at the College of Health and Human Services that blends the college's mission of outreach with a key educational goal of Ohio University's new strategic plan, Vision OHIO. That goal: Extend students' education outside the classroom.

The hands-on learning at CHHS takes many forms, ranging from clinical experiences built into programs, to special class projects that send students into the Athens community.

"Real-life experiences and interactions with the community are interwoven into all of our curricula," said Gary Neiman, CHHS dean. "The training of health and human service professionals requires that students have prescribed experiences with clients, but it is even more important that students bring to their studies a strong value about enhancing the human condition."

The community benefits from this interaction as much as the students, Neiman says.

"Since our immediate laboratory is in Appalachian Ohio, we have the unique opportunity to improve the quality of life here," he said. "Personally, I find no greater calling than that of enriching your community."

The curricula at two CHHS schools, for instance, incorporate clinical experiences at Ohio University Therapy Associates, a clinic that, like WellWorks, is housed in the college's home at Grover Center and serves the community.

The facility offers hearing, speech, language and physical therapy services to the public while providing valuable clinical education and research opportunities for students in the schools of Physical Therapy and Hearing, Speech and Language Sciences. Both under-graduates and grad students observe and interact with patients there and at other off-campus facilities operated by or affiliated with the clinic. They are closely supervised by clinicians intimately involved with educational programs, and experiences range from hearing-aid programming to diabetes-related physical rehabilitation.

In the School of Nursing, whose programs are concentrated at Ohio's regional campuses in Zanesville, Chillicothe and Ironton, students pursuing an associate degree participate in clinical experiences at nearby agencies and health-care facilities. In Zanesville, for example, these facilities include Bethesda and Good Samaritan hospitals, Fairfield Medical Center and Southeast Ohio Regional Medical Center.

Along with the obvious benefits to a student's training and education, hands-on experiences fulfill a need in the medically underserved Appalachian population.

Each year, for example, about fifteen graduate students in the School of Recreation and Sport Sciences' Athletic Training program serve assistantships as athletic trainers in area high schools, club sports and intercollegiate athletic programs. The students, who are certified and licensed, gain valuable experience while helping programs in these medically underserved areas, said Jeff Seegmiller, assistant professor of athletic training and coordinator of the graduate program.

"The graduate students in our program have the opportunity to further develop their clinical skills and provide a needed service to the community," Seegmiller said. "I think what makes our students so attractive to employers is that our program is unique in Ohio and is the only graduate athletic training program in our region that has a structured curriculum in athletic training that builds on what is gained in professional programs."

Another area where outreach and education overlap is the Child Development Center, which serves as a laboratory school for hundreds of university students each year who are studying the care and education of young children. The center is located on The Ridges and is overseen by CHHS' School of Human and Consumer Sciences.

One undergraduate course focusing on direct and indirect guidance strategies for youngsters requires students to spend four hours per week at the Center as classroom assistants. They observe how experienced teachers plan and implement developmentally appropriate activities with groups of children from 6 weeks to 5 years old. In another course, early childhood education seniors spend about 25 hours per week in a classroom planning and implementing curricula, as well as refining skills in observation, assessment and communication.

Experiential learning provides an operational link between CHHS and Ohio's Division of Campus Recreation. In January, Doug Franklin added the title and duties of executive director of Campus Recreation to his responsibilities as CHHS' assistant dean for recreation, wellness and operations.

In these multiple roles, he sees firsthand how CHHS' curricular role and Campus Recreation's co-curricular programs complement each other. Campus Recreation, including the Ping Student Recreation Center and Fitness Program, Aquatic Center, Bird Ice Arena, the Golf and Tennis Center, Intramural and Club Sports program and Outdoor Pursuits, provides experiential learning opportunities for a variety of majors. These include exercise physiology and recreation students in CHHS' School of Recreation and Sport Sciences.

The symbiotic relationship serves the student learner well, said Franklin, who is working on a doctoral dissertation on professional standards associated with student learning outcomes for participants and student employees in campus recreation programs.

The basic idea of assisting students' transition from their hometowns to a university environment by providing familiar activities such as sports is a fundamental goal of a campus recreation program, he said.

However, "we do more than throw out the ball," Franklin said of the Campus Rec staff. 

"We're providing teachable moments in every aspect of our operation and are focused on helping students learn by providing practical experience and real-time, real-world responsibility.

"Learning occurs from the totality of the experience,'' said Franklin. "Challenging students to accept increased responsibilities provides them with optimal growth. This is the real purpose of our division," he said.

(Watch for part two of this article next week.)

Jody Grenert is the Director of Communications with the College of Health and Human Services and Amanda Hughes is a student writer in the College of Health and Human Services' Dean's Office. This article first appeared in Atrium, the college's alumni magazine.


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Published: Jul 20, 2006 3:50:00 PM
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