UTEP Students, Faculty Discuss Connection Between School and Life
Last Updated on February 21, 2019 at 12:00 AM
Originally published February 21, 2019
By Laura L. Acosta
For Rosa Escalante, a health promotion major at The University of Texas at El Paso, engaging people in disease prevention and wellness education at health fairs and other public events has enabled her to jump-start her career as a health educator while also making a difference in the community.
“We promote health and we teach the community how to have healthier lifestyles,” said Escalante, who expects to graduate in May 2019. As president of UTEP’s Eta Sigma Gamma - Gamma Lambda chapter, a national honorary association for health education students, Escalante has helped organize events on sexual violence prevention and healthy eating.
“(Community participation) has made me more aware of the (community’s) needs and has given me more of a hands-on experience in my field,” she added.
Escalante was among dozens of UTEP students and faculty members at the most recent Dean’s Dialogue session in the College of Health Sciences who talked about the value of engaging students in real world practice as part of their educational experience.
By doing so, students will be prepared for more than a job, but also a lifetime of civic engagement.
“There was general agreement among the participants that for higher education to be truly transformative, it must enable students to gain a deeper understanding of some of the most pressing issues facing our nation and world,” said Shafik Dharamsi, Ph.D., dean of the College of Health Sciences and the event’s moderator. “Students need to be engaged in learning activities that require creative and collaborative problem-solving skills, critical thinking, working in diverse teams, and ethical reasoning, which will help them be both outstanding employees and transformative global citizens.”
Initiated in 2018 by the College of Health Sciences, the Dean’s Dialogue series offers UTEP students an opportunity to share ideas and promote issues with college administrators, faculty and staff, and invited guests. Topics include ethics, global literacy, cultural competence and social responsibility.
Aside from Dharamsi, January’s event featured Clifton Tanabe, Ph.D., dean of the College of Education, and Denis O'Hearn, Ph.D., dean of the College of Liberal Arts.
They encouraged students and faculty members to talk about the connection between higher education and the real world.
Some students said they preferred to engage in service-learning opportunities that provide them with real-world experience, but also mold students into civically engaged citizens.
Faculty members also expressed their support for engaging students in these activities, hoping that the knowledge they gain would one day solve some of the most pressing issues facing society.
"One of the exciting things about coming to UTEP is to work with a group of deans who are all dedicated to the mission of access and excellence,” O'Hearn said. “The access part of this is a two-way street. Not only must we invite students from all backgrounds into the University, we also have to get out of the classroom and into the community. Having dialogues like this is a critical part of the process of building these things. We can let the faculty and students know that we are serious about community engagement but at the same time we get their ideas about how it can be done and strengthened."
Francisco Morales-Acuña, M.D, a doctoral candidate in UTEP’s Interdisciplinary Health Sciences (IHS) program, manages the Clinical Applied Physiology (CAPh) lab led by Alvaro Gurovich, Ph.D., director of the Doctor of Physical Therapy program.
The CAPh lab is preparing students in the Bachelor of Science in Rehabilitation Sciences program to lead the lab’s community outreach activities and to participate fully as research assistants and co-authors in research projects.
“Students in the lab are doing things they’ve never done before,” Morales-Acuña said. “They have great opportunities. They’re working on projects and attending research conferences as undergraduate students.”
During the Dean’s Dialogue, Morales-Acuña stressed the value of incorporating hands-on learning activities into the classroom that mimic real-world situations.
In the rehabilitation sciences course he teaches, Morales-Acuña assigned students a clinical case involving a patient with a broken ankle. Students were grouped into different health professions – physical therapists, emergency medical technicians, nurses, physicians, radiologists and occupational therapists. They worked together to develop a plan of care.
“Students are engaged,” he said. “They learn to work as a team, which for me is the most important thing in real life.”
In Isabel Latz’s experience, students benefit from a combination of service-learning opportunities and classroom activities.
“It is typical classroom-related activities that I have personally greatly benefited from in my professional development,” said Latz, an IHS doctoral student who also attended the event.
For Latz, these activities included in-depth discussions of books, journal articles and essays; understanding relevant theories and methodologies in a field; and learning effective writing skills.
“Clearly, students benefit the most when they get a chance to practice and apply these skills in practice, including outside of classroom settings,” she said. “Therefore, I think it is important to combine different approaches and explain to students how they can benefit from classroom as well as service-based learning environments.”
Students and faculty members can join the conversation at the next Dean’s Dialogue session taking place later in 2019.