Making a Health Impact Through Service at UMass Dartmouth

05/01/2015 09:51 am ET | Updated May 01, 2016

This column by Caitlin Stover is part of a series of three columns written by individuals from the winning teams of the recent Higher Education + Service Year Innovation Challenge hosted at the Aspen Institute. The Franklin Project at the Aspen Institute along with the National Conference on Citizenship and the Corporation for National and Community Service announced Wednesday that the winners of the Service Year + Higher Education Innovation Challenge were Drake University, Miami Dade College and the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. Prizes were awarded in three categories: private university, public university and community college with each winner receiving $30,000. The winners for each of the categories were Drake, UMass Dartmouth and Miami Dade respectively. Miami Dade received an additional $10,000 for receiving the audience choice award, which was voted on by those attending the event at the Aspen Institute. The prizes were awarded to these institutions for outstanding and innovative plans to create new university-based service year positions connected to academic credit. The prizes were made possible thanks to the generous support of the Lumina Foundation. The purpose of the challenge was to generate innovative new ideas that integrated the service into the higher education experience. You can read more about the Challenge at: This column was written by Caitlin Stover on behalf of University of Massachusetts Dartmouth team.

"Can you please take a look at the e-mail below and the attached links? My staff and I met this morning to discuss different ideas and one was you and the community health nursing class/students." This was an email sent to me on January 22, 2015 by Matt Roy, Assistant Vice Chancellor for Civic Engagement at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. The attachment was a call to institutions of higher education to propose an innovative project that could successfully implement a service year. Three finalists in each of the categories, public institutions, private institutions and community colleges would be selected to give a "5 minute pitch" of the project to a panel of judges in Washington D.C. Winning projects must demonstrate innovation, sustainability and replicability. UMass Dartmouth is committed to providing activities that meet the challenge of providing active student learning opportunities while meeting and addressing community needs. This mission is based on the belief that integration of learning and service is a powerful tool for enhancing student learning and increasing student engagement with the ultimate goal of creating a more just society.

Within ten days, the four brains (Matt Roy, Gary Marden, Deirdre Healy and Caitlin Stover) began bouncing back and forth ideas. The struggle was that there were few guidelines to frame our Service Year. You may think that fewer rules would be easy to work with, but we spent a lot of time speculating what the challenge committee was looking for. We tried to imagine ourselves as the judges. What type of service would wow these highly educated, national recognized service learning advocates?
From the application we knew that there needed to be a minimum of nine months of service that would be linked to academic credit. We knew that there needed to be a link between the service and the students projected career goals. And then there was the would we spend the money? This was a puzzle and we were desperately trying to connect the perimeter pieces as a means to provide structure and direction for project development.

Simultaneously, I was working closely with my community partner, the South Coast Community Health Worker Collaborative (SCCHWC) on their mission to promote the role and professional identity of Community Health Workers (CHWs) through training/workforce development, advocacy, employment and networking. Specifically, SCCHWC seeks to find ways to train Community Health Workers locally, with the least amount of cost required; collaborate with any and all other area groups, agencies, providers and healthcare entities wanting to train Community Health Workers and employ them; and ensure that trainings would adequately address core competencies towards planned CHW certification.

I live an hour from the UMassD campus. I always joke that I do my best thinking in the car on the ride home. Well, that certainly was the case this time. As I reflected on the many conversations I had with Kathy Murphy, the SCCHWC representative that I had worked intimately with in the previous months, it dawned on me that I could help her, create a service year and begin to make an impact on the health disparities that plague the South Coast region!

Nursing students are always trying to jockey for the best position as a nurse's aide, patient care attendant or certified nurse's assistant. They feel that by working in these roles, it will give them a head start, an in, a lead in the job market. So why couldn't we train nursing students to perform in the role of community health worker for their service year? The skills that they would gain from CHW core competency training and the sustained interaction in the community would develop skills and knowledge that are fundamental to nursing success, both as a student and a professional nurse. This idea was the last perimeter piece of the puzzle.

On a snowy afternoon, the first snow storm of what would end up being a record breaking snow fall season in Massachusetts, the four heads met again for a strategic meeting where we slowly placed the inner puzzle pieces together. "Be creative as you can" they had told us on the pre-proposal submission phone call. I am creative, in fact, I am very creative. I create beautiful scrap books, I create confluent teaching strategies to instill nursing concepts into my students, I create innovative programs to meet the needs of the community. However, I like rules. I like policies and I thrive on structure. Boy did I want the Franklin Project to tell me the rules of this challenge. Heck, I rarely cook and when I do, I will ONLY do it with a recipe in hand. That is why I am so very grateful for the other members of the team who helped to complete this puzzle. As we discussed tuition stipends, number of hours served per week, placement of service hours in the demanding nursing curriculum the thought occurred to me...College Now! College Now is a 5-year Alternative Admissions program designed to provide students from ethnically diverse and economically challenged backgrounds with an opportunity to develop academically and receive support as they work towards success at UMassD. These students are automatically on the five-year academic plan, making the insertion of a service year feasible without making students stay enrolled in an extra year (this was our biggest obstacle was inserting the service year without penalizing the student an extra year in college). We easily developed the five year program of study, which includes a service year of over 1000 hours for academic credit, and the opportunity to declare a minor in Leadership and Civic Engagement which will augment their nursing degree. Additionally, College Now students consist of a demographically diverse group of students who represent the Southcoast community ethnically, culturally and linguistically. The benefit of this? When CHWs are recruited from within the target community the effectiveness of the intervention increases significantly. The team felt like we had solved the puzzle, and with the final piece, we added Michel Ortiz, the Director of Alternative Admissions at College Now.

This Service Year project is a collaborative effort between the UMassD College of Nursing, Leduc Center for Civic Engagement, College Now Program and the South Coast Community Health Worker Collaborative. The project entitled Community Health Worker: Advocate! Navigate! Educate! Service Year aims to increase the number of Community Health Workers in the South Coast region, a necessary mechanism for combatting the multiple health disparities that plague the region.
Dr. Matthew Roy and Dr. Caitlin Stover represented the UMassD project team in Washington D.C. We were honored to be part of the finalist group in The Aspen Institute Franklin Project Service Year Challenge. Each team of finalists had original ideas and recommendations for how a service year would be implemented at their respective institute. The myriad of innovation which spanned the country, from San Jose California to New Jersey, filled the room with inspiration, as all projects focused on one common good, connecting student to service as a mode of higher education pedagogy. The judging panel was a virtual Who's Who of community service conceptualization and implementation in this country. Between them and the other contestants, we felt like we were among servant leader royalty. Although only three teams walked away with the prestigious recognition of being a Service-Year Challenge winner, in the end, all institutions who supported project proposals should be recognized for their commitment to service learning principals.

Caitlin M. Stover, PhD, RN, PHCNS-BC, CNE is in her third year as Assistant Professor at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth College of Nursing. She is Chairperson of the Community Nursing Department. Dr. Stover graduated from Boston College with a Bachelor's Degree with a major in Nursing, received her Master's degree in Community/Public Health from Worcester State University and her Ph.D. from the University of Massachusetts Worcester. She is a board certified public health clinical nurse specialist and certified nurse educator. Dr. Stover's interests are examining the social determinants that contribute to healthcare disparities in marginalized populations and conducting community assessments to develop and evaluate community based health programs. Her clinical research focuses on the healthcare experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender population.