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Our Community as a Classroom: Pacific Faculty Embed Community Engagement

Mar 14, 2019

Service learning opportunities are important because they provide opportunities for "real world" application of theoretical concepts. In the context of purposeful service learning activities, students can practice interpersonal skills, organizational skills, and deepen their appreciation for issues that are relevant to their communities and careers. Pedagogy embedded within opportunities for service to the community supports the University mission to produce graduates who are leaders in their careers and communities, as well as our Shared Value of community engagement.

There are many examples of faculty initiatives at the university that provide service learning opportunities for students, which are based on different models of community engagement. Among them:  

Professor and Department Chair Dr. Cathy Peterson (Department of Physical Therapy; DPT) has been active in international service since 2006, and she was a 2011-12 Fulbright Scholar to Malawi. (Physical Therapy) offers an elective class that is limited to 10 DPT students in their second year of the program. This elective culminates in an international service learning experience for up to four of the students, based on a competitive selection process that is completed prior to the start of the course. The service-learning experience is a seating and mobility clinic for the disabled poor in Mexico, Central America, or South America. To date, 23 DPT students have participated in these international seating clinics. The course has evolved to include more reflection and education about the destination over the past 10 years.  

Dr. Rajul Patel (Department of Pharmacy Practice) uses his academic training in pharmacoeconomics to provide a class in which students learn about the Medicare Part D (prescription drug) benefit and how to perform comprehensive Medication Therapy Management Services. Students take the didactic training they receive over their first 1.5 semesters in the PharmD program directly into the community to assist Medicare beneficiaries with minimizing their out-of-pocket drug costs and ensure their medications are safe and effective to take together. To date, 454 PharmD students have completed both the Medicare Part D class and outreach activity. In addition, over 2,000 pharmacy students, approximately 90 physician assistant students, and over 100 nurse practitioner students from UC Davis and USF have participated in related outreach activities.  

Learning through service, if accompanied with structured and supported deep reflection, has the potential to be life-altering for students. 

"Students and faculty see themselves and their worlds through various lenses that, without this type of immersion, would be hidden," said Peterson. "Students learn what it means to give of themselves and how it benefits not only the recipient, but themselves by inspiring them to do more both at home and away."

"I think [students] learn about the importance of humanistic considerations in impacting patient outcomes," Patel added.  

Resources are available in the Center for Teaching and Learning for faculty who are interested in embedding andragogy within community engagement. Lott Hill, Director of the CTL, has a background in developing and teaching service-learning classes and other forms of integrated civic engagement and community engagement. He is available to consult with faculty who are thinking about building service-learning and civic engagement into their courses and to observe classes that already include elements of community engagement.

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