UMMC's Office of Community Engagement and Service Learning was born from a conversation between Dr. LouAnn Woodward, vice chancellor for health affairs and dean of the School of Medicine, and Dr. Ralph Didlake, associate vice chancellor for academic affairs and chief academic officer.
“This was a vision of Dr. Woodward's,” said Didlake. “We were conversing about the fact that all of our schools were either requiring or offering service learning, and the students have embraced and found fulfillment in participating.”
Woodward thought more coordination would make it easier for everyone on campus to be involved. What they discovered was that the School of Nursing was already a few steps ahead of the game.
“We found that the SON had a robust service learning program and software to track and assign a dollar amount to what was being done,” Didlake said.
The program was spearheaded by Tammy Dempsey, former director of student affairs and service learning at the SON. Dempsey utilized GiveGab, an online community for nonprofits, to facilitate and track service learning hours for nursing students and faculty. In a two-year period, the SON exceeded 22,000 hours of service in communities across the state, hours valued at more than $528,000.
“So what we did next was literally steal everything from the SON, the person and the software,” said Didlake.
But it's not so much stolen as expanded. Dempsey is now the director of the new office tasked with vetting, promoting and documenting service learning activities across campus. All six schools will have the benefit of the GiveGab platform and Dempsey's experience.
School of Pharmacy students, Courtney Phillips, left, and Kristen Chesteen, center, signed up for the Script Your Future event through the GiveGab platform. They are discussing the importance of prescription adherence to health expo attendee Treshaundra Jones.
“One of our goals is to ensure that the service learning activities, as well as other types of service already going on, are being documented,” said Dempsey. “We know that all the schools across campus are involved in service learning of some form or another, but to date, we haven't been capturing that information to be able to report - another dimension of how our institution is impacting our community - what is being accomplished.
“One goal, for the long term, is to be able to demonstrate how the service of students and employees has impacted some basic health issues faced by our specific population, such as diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure.”
Service learning is important to both students and the community, according to a 2000 study “How Service Learning Affects Students" from the Higher Education Research Institute. The study found that hands-on experience outside of the classroom helps students develop a stronger sense of “civic responsibility and personal effectiveness.”
“The more engaged students are in their community, the more likely they are to stay in their community,” said Dempsey. “And we want students to stay in Mississippi.
“One commonality of all of these service learning activities is that they introduce the student to health equity, health disparity issues or allow them the opportunity to practice professional skills or values. Similarly, the office will work to ensure the community engagement activities we promote for students and employees are in line with our institutional mission.”
Raines Elementary first-grader D'Ashtyn Minor participates in his 30-minute tutoring session with the TutorMate program.
The first project rolled out campus-wide was the TutorMate Online Literacy Program designed by Innovations For Learning. The program has been implemented in first-grade classes throughout Jackson Public Schools through an initiative of Alignment Jackson, an organization which seeks to align community resources to support the district's strategic goals.
“Since one of the aims in our mission is to improve health literacy, we can start by improving literacy. Volunteering with TutorMate will give us the opportunity to do that,” said Dempsey. “It seemed to be a great fit for our students and our employees because it only requires a 30-minute time commitment each week for the length of time the students are in school.”
Thea Faulkner is the director of Partners in Education at Jackson Public Schools. “This is a very innovative opportunity for us to provide support to our scholars,” said Faulkner.
“It brings busy professionals to the table for 30 minutes a week right from their desk, giving those who do not have the time to drive to a school an opportunity to volunteer. We still need people who can visit with students in person, but we want to engage as many people as possible.”
As of January 21, 59 faculty, students and staff from UMMC have signed up to become TutorMate volunteers in five of the 14 JPS elementary schools. Volunteers began tutoring sessions on January 28.
Partners in Education is working with other employers in the Jackson area to provide tutoring services, but Faulkner said that having Dempsey on hand to facilitate the arrangement between the business and the school has made the multi-layered approval process much faster and more streamlined.
“Because TutorMate is a collaboration between the school and businesses, we often have to get clearance from several departments within the organization, like human resources and information technology,” said Faulkner. “Working with Tammy has been one of the easier situations because she has been there to set up the program without our having to contact multiple departments.”
Coordination of volunteering opportunities is just one of the services that will be provided by the new office. It will also serve as a resource for faculty, helping them to identify ways to include service learning in curriculum.
“I expect this office to do great things and add value to the student learning experience across all of our schools,” said Didlake.
The value is already evident for students who have signed up to volunteer, like Peter Mittwede, a fourth-year medical student.
“Volunteering - be it in the Jackson community, on the UMMC campus, or in national organizations - is important to me because it is my opportunity to 'pay it forward' and potentially touch and impact lives,” said Mittwede.
For more information on how you can take part in UMMC's community outreach, to suggest service opportunities, or to incorporate service learning in your curriculum, contact Tammy Dempsey, director of Community Engagement and Service Learning, firstname.lastname@example.org or (601) 984-1264.