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Finding a Win-Win Through Service-Learning Course

Minnie Wood wins a UNLV Community Engagement Award for her work with community partners.

People  |  Apr 18, 2018  |  By Sue DiBella
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Nursing lecturer Minnie Wood designed her service-learning course so students can get hands-on experience helping various community agencies.(Josh Hawkins/UNLV Creative Services)

UNLV nursing school lecturer Minnie Wood had a vision of serving the community while providing rich learning experiences for her students.

Her solution was to address this through a service-learning course, “Population Health Nursing in the Community: A Course for Baccalaureate Nursing Students,” which enables students to work with various community agencies and nonprofits to provide health services to needy individuals in Southern Nevada.

“This course explores concepts of population-focused health care used to promote health across diverse groups of persons defined by socio-demographic and geographic boundaries,” said Wood, the recipient of the 2018 Community Engagement Service Learning Award.

Students in the course are placed in clinical groups with agencies throughout the community that are working to address vital community problems and needs, she added. Students may do individual assessments of clients or use population health data to guide community interventions. They may also perform direct service at agencies or conduct a series of health education activities. 

Community partners have included Helping Hands of Vegas Valley, Meals on Wheels, Southern Nevada CHIPs, Catholic Charities, Salvation Army, Las Vegas Rescue Mission, Veterans Stand Down, Three Square, Clark County School District, University Medical Center’s Healthy Living Institute, Nevada Partnership for Homeless Youth, Boys and Girls Club, and the Southern Nevada Health District.

Collaborative Effort

Wood works collaboratively with each community partner to identify an experience or service-learning activity that will be both beneficial to the community and the students.

“This is a dynamic and ongoing process that occurs throughout each semester,” Wood explains. “The initial partnership may be initiated by either me or by the community partner. Regardless of who reaches out first, we work as a team to develop an experience that will include a role for undergraduate students and simultaneously meet the needs of the identified population.”

Wood said the course has enabled her to become well acquainted with the various organizations in the community and gain a greater understanding of their relationships with each other, their funding mechanisms, local policy implications, agency strengths, and current community challenges.

“I feel this knowledge and experience makes me a better educator,” she said. “In addition, community partners offer UNLV the opportunity to enhance student learning by participating in additional activities through the course, such as roundtable discussions and simulations.”

Everyone Wins

She added it’s a win-win for the students and community partners, noting that the partnerships have opened the door for community-based research among other UNLV faculty members as well.

“Many of the components of this service-learning project reduce the staff/volunteer burden on our community partner by providing a steady and regular stream of students to assist in the identified activities,” she said. “For some of our partners, the nursing students expand the role of in-home assessments to include a unique nursing perspective and, therefore, provide more well-rounded care to the client.”

For other community agencies, the service-learning project enhances the already existing services by adding a health promotion component. In other cases, nursing students show up and provide an actual service to patients or clients.

“In summary, the service-learning component of this course impacts UNLV by providing hands-on educational experiences for our students that give them real-world experiences and a deep understanding of the needs of our community,” Wood said. “Not only do nursing students become well acquainted with issues of community health nursing, but they also become more informed and aware citizens who will become better ambassadors for UNLV and the community at large.”

In her letter supporting Wood’s application, Dana Serrata, executive director of Helping Hands of Vegas Valley, said the partnership was very beneficial to her organization.

“Collaborative partnerships such as this are vital to providing the most effective care for the most vulnerable in our community,” Serrata said. “This relationship has also allowed us to write several grants and influence funders with our willingness to connect beyond the traditional organizations to make an impact. We wholeheartedly support the application.”

The UNLV office of community engagement established four universitywide awards in 2016 to recognize campus individuals for their exceptional community engagement in the areas of service learning, community-based research, faculty/staff community outreach activity, and student service.