College of Wooster students learn, also serve others

College of Wooster students learn,  also serve others

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In its 157 years, The College of Wooster has graduated thousands of young people from around the world.

Many may view these students, as they cross Beall Avenue, heads bent in concentration, as unmindful of the community beyond the campus. But as they depart after four years, diplomas in hand, many leave something behind. Through volunteerism, internships and research, they leave the place where they’ve chosen to study better off.

The college provides the opportunity for many of these endeavors. For example, the office of experiential learning and community engagement helps students deepen their education while serving others. Amanda Iskin, a junior economics major from Brazil, designed and implemented surveys to evaluate area needs so Community Action Wayne/Medina could improve the efficiency of its programs. Students studying for healthcare careers may serve as interns at Ohio’s Hospice LifeCare after completing a 16-week EMT course with the Wayne County Fire and Rescue Association.

Student participation in the community is a two-way street, according to Cathy McConnell, director of experiential learning and community engagement.

“Our students use their research, communication and problem-solving abilities to address the needs of our community partners and local government offices,” she said. “In return they benefit by applying what they’re learning to real-world circumstances.”

Through the office’s Social Justice Internship program, this past summer Maud Bulman, a senior anthropology major from Pennsylvania, helped Trinity United Church of Christ expand its outreach to the homeless and low-income population. She created several programs including a partnership with a local hairstylist who gives free haircuts every few months.

“I wanted to stay active in community service during college,” Bulman said, “and I became passionate about my work at the church.”

Another student spent the summer at the Viola Startzman Clinic, working toward improving patient compliance through evidence-based research and refining a health coach program. According to Jaime Parsons, chief executive officer, college students have been key volunteers at the clinic for many years.

“They serve as translators, social media managers, outreach volunteers, receptionists and scribes. Several have engaged in larger projects such as implementing our social determinants of health screenings, building referral networks and planning fundraisers,” Parsons said. “They bring enthusiasm, skill, a great work ethic and fresh perspectives that challenge us to see issues from different angles as we create solutions for our patients.”

The student-led Wooster Volunteer Network links student organizations with volunteer opportunities. Student members of Colleges Against Cancer held a Relay for Life event last year, resulting in nearly 400 students raising over $25,000 for the American Cancer Society. Through COW 4 Kids, students are matched with children by Wayne County Children’s Services and mentor them while engaged in free or low-cost activities.

Another WVN organization, the Organic Farming Club, involves students serving as hands on organic farms in the area, feeding chickens, building raised beds, even harvesting tulips. Through Young Life, students guide and mentor high school and middle school students by lending a caring ear and showing up for their sports events. The WVN also hosts annual events including a carnival for local children, a food drive for People to People Ministries and raking leaves for neighbors.

The college’s athletic teams also care about the community. The football team purchases holiday gifts for one family annually through the Wayne County Department of Job & Family Services. Individual players also volunteer independently at various organizations including OneEighty, where they lend a hand to people recovering from trauma and addiction.

Head football coach Frank Colaprete is proud of his players. “They realize that their service connects us to the community by improving it and making it a better place for all of us to live,” he said.

Ryan Johnston, a senior from Southington in Ohio, is particularly active in community service while studying geology and communication studies and participating in football, track and field, and cross country. He heads up Men Working for Change, a student organization that brings masculine voices to advocate against domestic abuse and violence. He also is a member of the student-athlete advisory committee, which, among other functions, provides community service opportunities.

In addition, Johnston lives in one of the college’s 25 service houses, which provide volunteer hours to community partners. He and his housemates volunteer at Boys & Girls Club of America, helping youth with homework, providing mentorship and participating in activities with them.

“If all I need to do to make a difference in someone’s life is give a little of my time and show that someone cares,” Johnston said, “there’s no reason not to.”

Students enrolled in prehealth advising may participate in the Community Care Network, a collaboration with Wooster Community Hospital designed to promote wellness, reduce unnecessary procedures and hospitalizations, and promote delivery of evidence-based care while giving students field experience.

Students participate in a semester-long training, learning about prevalent diseases impacting the community from WCH healthcare professionals, then are assigned as health coaches who visit patients in their homes. They take vitals, perform assessments, fill medication boxes, provide disease-specific education, help patients set and achieve realistic goals to improve their health and quality of life, and provide companionship.

“Our students come to campus seeking a comprehensive learning experience in and out of the classroom,” said Wayne Webster, interim president at Wooster. “Our integrative experiential learning partnerships within Wooster and Wayne County are fundamental to those experiences, and in the process, our students learn the importance of civic engagement and community involvement, which they take with them for the rest of their lives. These experiences are wins for our students and wins for the community.”

These are only some of the ways The College of Wooster students give back. They may call this place home only temporarily, but through their time, energy, classroom learning, aptitudes and perspectives, they leave a permanent legacy of an enriched community.