Eberly in Service
In its recent “The Centrality of Engagement in Higher Education” report, the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities wrote, “To thrive in the 21st century, higher education must move engagement from the margin to the mainstream of its research, teaching and service work. Nowhere is this more essential than within public and land-grant universities. By recommitting to their societal contract, public and land-grant universities can function as institutions that truly produce knowledge that benefits society and prepares students for productive citizenship in a democratic society.”
As West Virginia University’s largest college, dedicated to enhancing the well-being of the citizens of West Virginia, our nation and our world, the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences takes this call to service seriously. The stories below are just a few of the many ways the Eberly College returns public and private investments back into the community while supporting the University’s land-grant mission.
Improving Pediatric Healthcare
Hindered by access to high-quality healthcare, West Virginia children demonstrate some of the worst health outcomes in the nation. A valuable resource for children is available in the one place they find themselves daily: their local schools. School-based health centers provide services ranging from preventative and immediate healthcare to behavioral and dental care. A team of WVU researchers, including political scientist Simon Haeder, are investigating how children’s health and education outcomes can be improved through these centers.
“We look forward to building strong and lasting community ties, providing community members with better access to relevant tools and information and improving connections to local, state and national policymakers. We hope learning from and working with our communities and other organizations that are actively engaged in these issues will improve the well-being of West Virginia’s children.”
Addressing the Opiod Crisis
West Virginia has the highest overdose rates in the U.S., and in response social workers at WVU are leading the way in opioid treatment and prevention. Social work professors Carrie Rishel and Helen Hartnett received 2018 Behavioral Health Workforce Education and Training supplemental funding from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration to train Master of Social Work students and offer continuing education training for current social workers.
“To be able to prepare students to really have the skills they need to address the opioid crisis is exciting. We have students who come into social work who say, ‘I’ve been impacted. My community is impacted. I want to give back, and I want to learn how to do that.’ To be able to have a program that speaks to that passion and interest of the incoming students is really great.”
Balancing the Books
Since 2004, the Appalachian Prison Book Project has distributed over 29,000 books to inmates in the region. Founded by English professor Katy Ryan, the project was featured by BuzzFeed for its work to overcome inequities in educational access for those in prison.
“Prison libraries are typically underfunded, and the quality can be uneven. People often cannot find books they really want to read. Prison book projects try to fill this gap by responding to individual requests for titles. The Prison Book Project has also created prison book clubs that increase access to books and provide the chance for discussion.”
Navigating Life “Outside the Gate”
With 1.3 million active duty military personnel nationwide, finding accessible healthcare and social services for their 1.7 million family members is a major challenge. Christopher Plein, the Eberly Family Professor for Outstanding Service at WVU, is working to address these challenges through the Military Families Learning Network. He is creating professional development and continuing education resources for military family support personnel. Plein and WVU’s involvement in the Military Families Learning Network is part of a national effort by land-grant universities supported by the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture in coordination with the U.S. Department of Defense.
“The military is not something that we should think about as separate from society. It is deeply embedded in our society, but there are complex arrangements and relationships. Navigating that interface with the civilian and the military world is necessary for military families to get the services they need.”
Where Messy Meets Science
The C. Eugene Bennett Department of Chemistry’s annual children’s chemistry show is a magic show that brings science to life for kids of all ages. The experiments range from elephant toothpaste that oozes foam to a Ruben’s tube, a metal pipe that uses flames to visualize standing wave patterns. Held in a 280-person classroom, there is typically only standing room left, as participants come from all over northcentral West Virginia.
“The chemistry show gives our explorers the opportunity to apply their literacy and math skills into problem-solving situations. Explorers get to visit a major university, meet people who work at WVU and increase their skill sets. Our explorers love to volunteer to participate in the show. In previous years we have watched balloons blow up and ooze spread across a table.”
Sparking an Interest in STEM
From extracting DNA to creating clouds, sometimes all it takes is a “spark” to excite kids about science. Physics professor Paul Cassak partnered with Spark! Imagination and Science Center to create free science kits and demonstrations for the nine elementary schools in Braxton and Webster counties. The kits put the materials and lesson plans in the teachers’ hands so they can explore science with their students for years to come.
“The presentation was informative for students. They thoroughly enjoyed having scientists come and share their knowledge. The staff will also use the kits provided for science instruction this school year with our middle grades.”
Busting Blighted Buildings
As an intern with the Fairmont Community Development Partnership, Kelsey Staggers (MPA, ’18) learned about the growing epidemic of abandoned buildings across West Virginia. She spent the spring 2018 semester surveying Fairmont’s 300 abandoned properties and met with community members to prioritize a demolition list.
“This internship taught me how important it is for nonprofits and government to make the people’s needs a priority. I successfully planned the demolition of one structure. Although this seems like a small win, it will have a lasting effect. Eliminating blight through redevelopment increases property values and transforms community health and safety liabilities into community assets.”
Connecting with Nature
The WVU Core Arboretum offers its annual Nature Connection Series all summer long. A weekly series of free public lectures by local and regional nature experts, topics have included pawpaws, birds, freshwater mussels, fungi and citizen science. In summer 2018, more than 400 people from the community participated.
“One of the most encouraging things about the Nature Connection Series has been not just the high attendance, but also the regular participants. There are about 15 or 20 people who come to most of the talks, and one person who has been to every Nature Connection Series lecture that we have ever held.”
The number of service hours performed by students in COMM 112, Small Group Communication, in fall 2018. Student teams used the communications skills they learned to lead service projects for 34 community partners around Monongalia County.
“Students learn that there are several ways to come to a group decision. After they learn the procedures for reaching a fair decision, they become more cohesive and clearly communicate to their community partner.”
Conversations Through the Fence
The Inside-Out Prison Exchange think tank at the Federal Correctional Institute, Hazelton has published a creative writing magazine written by incarcerated men with responses by outside readers. A product of a recent WVU Inside-Out course on justice and literature taken by 15 WVU students and 15 imprisoned individuals (and held in the prison’s visitation room), the inaugural issue features poetry, nonfiction, fiction and artwork.
“Being on the editorial board of ‘Conversations Through the Fence’ is like being gifted moments of hidden wisdom. It is hard to describe the literary exchange between people on both sides of the prison walls and what it means to have a hand in producing a medium that breathes life from the inside out.”
Earning the Badge
More than 300 scouts travel to WVU Morgantown from six states each February to earn coveted merit badges offered by WVU faculty, staff and graduate students. From nature and nutrition to fingerprinting and robotics, students experience not only worldclass research but what life is really like on a college campus.
“Some of the students who attend Merit Badge University have never been on a college campus. We are so fortunate to provide this experience for scouts. It’s really powerful to showcase all the wonderful things about WVU for these scouts to see.”