Service Learning Success

June 09, 2014

At Grinnell, an array of class-related experiences outside of the main academic buildings gives students a chance to dig deeper into topics in real-world settings.

Take Asani Seawell’s Advanced Health Psychology course, for example. Seawell, an associate professor of psychology, used the class to offer students deeper knowledge while also helping their community. With the assistance of Susan Sanning, assistant director of service learning and engagement with the Center for Careers, Life, and Service, the students in Seawell’s course developed community interventions that aim to ease adolescent obesity.

The course combines Grinnell’s extensive commitment to community engagement and social responsibility.

Investigation and Introspection

The course focused on the creation of a number of community interventions. The students spent their time in and out of the classroom examining obesity issues. They observed and interviewed patients who were having bariatric surgeries at the Grinnell Regional Medical Center. Some students interviewed patients who were undergoing surgery long after their dramatic weight loss following bariatric surgery, such as a breast reconstruction and a skin removal procedure.

As a result of personal interactions and observations and examining the primary literature, Seawell’s students gained a much more nuanced view of obesity. “Now I question everything,” says Beth Gillig ’15. “I’m more of a critical thinker.”

The class also extended students’ knowledge of the community, thanks to Susan Sanning, who helped them find community partners. “One focus of the class was to highlight obesity in a different way,” says Emily Twedell ’15, “and it did.” “We also designed community interventions so that there’s no disconnect between the researchers and the community,” says Gillig.

Intervention Implementation

Asani Seawell and students

Last year, Ellie Garza ’14 developed an intervention in Seawell’s class that would help children ages 2 to 12 learn about nutrition and grocery stores. She and Sanning worked with Hy-Vee to establish the healthy kids kiosk. Garza considered the needs of the community and sustainability issues when planning this project. “I wanted this to be something community members could pick up on their own,” she says.

Between the class and the implementation of her proposal, Garza figured out her next steps after graduation. “This class and the project inspired me to apply for health psychology research positions,” says Garza, who will be working at a research lab at Northwestern University where she will be involved in implementing a behavioral intervention for individuals struggling with obesity. Being able to make her intervention happen outside of class was one of the opportunities that steered Garza in this direction.

This year’s proposed projects ranged from a partnership with 4-H to a cookbook, a series of community walks, and a program at a local youth center. When the students return to Grinnell in the fall, they will have the opportunity to meet with community organizations to repeat the success of the healthy kids kiosk with their own projects.

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