Hands-On Learning Experiences for Students Create Positive Change in Community

By Emma Henzes ’20

Students table in Schine Student Center for the merican Cancer Society Relay for Life
Paige Lord (left) and other HTW 221 students promote Relay For Life as their service-learning experience.

The Community Health Promotion (HWT 221) course offers students the opportunity to take a hands-on role in community-based health promotion and illness prevention through service-learning. In Falk College’s Department of Public Health, service-learning is a primary curriculum focus, placing students in the community to apply the skills they’ve learned in class.

For the HWT 221 class taught by associate teaching professor and family nurse practitioner, Lisa Olson-Gugerty, her clinical experience offers insight into human and health behavior, the public’s general understanding of disease and healthcare as well as how the public uses the health care system. She provides students with an up-to-date perspective on policy changes and procedural changes because she is actually experiencing those changes at work.

Olson-Gugerty’s connections in the community help give her students opportunities to get hands-on experience in the public health field, ranging in different organizations such as the Red Cross, Hendrick’s Food Pantry and the Office of Energy and Sustainability Management on campus. Olson-Gugerty tells her students all activity, no matter how small or big can make a positive impact in a community.

“I want them to walk away with a sense of ability that they can make a change. That their individual actions within the community can make positive change. There are opportunities to make changes that they see as beneficial and that their one small observation can be translated into a community movement or approach, which is particular to this course. I want them to know that public health is dynamic, it’s important, it’s in their everyday life and without it, they wouldn’t be given the opportunities to live as well as we do right now.”

Paige Lord, a public health major, had the opportunity to work with the American Cancer Society: Relay for Life in Professor Olson-Gugerty’s HTW 221 course. Her group promoted and fundraised Relay for Life on the Syracuse University campus. Paige learned about different types of cancer, but more importantly, how many groups are affected by cancer and need aid. Paige says HTW 221 was one of her favorite classes because of Professor Olson-Gugerty’s passion for public health going beyond just the course material and relating it to students’ lives.

“One of my favorite things that Professor Olson did was how she would always share opportunities around campus to get involved in various clubs, organizations, and internships,” Lord says. “She would always encourage us to sign up for new clubs and find hobbies beyond our school work. She is always there for office hours and is one of the most supportive teachers I have had at Syracuse University. She makes me feel like I can accomplish anything if I put my mind to it.”

Professor Olson-Gugerty, known fondly as Professor OG, says she is constantly learning from her students: how they perceive the world, what influences their thoughts, how they think of public health, what they think makes them healthy and sick. She finds generational differences in word usage and approaches in healthcare that helps her stay current as a professor and nurse practitioner.