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Vida Huber: A catalyst for change

Catalyst: a person or thing acting as the stimulus in bringing about or hastening a result
Webster's New World College Dictionary, Fourth Edition

Vida Huber

Vida Huber (1937–2005)

In the associated article, Facing AIDS,” the reader is given a glimpse into the close collaboration between JMU and the local community. When social work student Becky Marksteiner applies her classroom material to real life situations as an intern with Valley AIDS Network, there’s mutual benefit for her and VAN clients. That beneficial relationship reflects the mission of JMU’s Institute for Innovation in Health and Human Services, a collaboration of all of the university’s various health and human service programs. The value of focusing learning experiences on community needs was a fervent belief of the late IIHHS director Vida Huber, who believed such service-learning experiences provide the education experience an unparalleled authenticity.

At the time of her death in 2005, Vida Huber had proven to be the catalyst for JMU’s Institute for the Innovation in Health and Human Services, which embraces a wide range of disciplines that include nursing, health services, psychology, education, languages, marketing, communication and more. Her foresight had led to the institute’s focus on student-learning experiences and community-based research opportunities. Huber’s vision was grounded on her philosophy that life should be used to serve the public good. Her eloquent advocacy of that philosophy served to inspire colleagues, community members and students alike.

“I believe that it is through service to others that we ourselves become more whole.”

Vida Huber was on the founding board in 1989 that established the the Valley AIDS Network as a 501c3 nonprofit agency and was a member of the board for many years. The organization was one of Huber's many contributions to JMU and the community. Today, IIHHS offices have a wide array of service missions including early childhood literacy, public health, mental health, migrant education and help for the elderly. Social work student Becky Marksteiner, an intern with Valley AIDS Network, says her service-learning experience, “… opened my eyes to misconceptions you may have about all kinds of things.”

“Challenge that produces growth is an important ingredient in helping me attain greater wholeness, and I deprive myself of valuable learning and meaning if I limit my interactions to those most like myself.”

One example of Huber's vision in action is the institute's efforts to reduce barriers to health care. IIHHS sends nursing students to local homeless shelters with their professors, seeking to serve the some of the most vulnerable populations of society. Nursing major Le An Bui (’11) explains. “I have become much more cognizant of how large the homeless population is and the severity of the everyday challenges they face,” she says. “I’ve learned to be more sensitive to people’s situations and to not make hasty or unfair judgments because everyone deserves to be treated as people of worth.”

“It is my belief that limiting one’s focus to what affects self is very shortsighted because, when rightly understood what benefits you can also benefit me.”

Huber's belief that mutual benefit would be a direct result of JMU and community interaction has proven true time and again. Former IIHHS intern Muso Chukwu (’08) is one example. She described her internship as an amazingly broad range of experiences: listening in on grant funding discussions, making the rounds with the Gus Bus, attending regional conferences on topics like migrant education and AIDS, conducting an assessment study on young children's mental health needs, and planning a conference. The interdisciplinary nature of IIHHS and its focus on student-learning had given the future international health professional “a better understanding of so many aspects of public health,” she said. It was an understanding that the Nigerian-born Chukwu intended to use by “going back and helping with the health infrastructure in developing countries.”

“I believe that as institutions of higher education we need to be active participants in our communities. … Focusing learning experiences on needs identified by the community provides an authenticity of the experience that cannot be matched in any other way.”

In line with Huber’s vision, IIHHS successfully blends academics with innovative community service, allowing students to apply classroom learning while they assist with projects that address the unmet health and human service needs of the surrounding community. In one year alone, 728 students in IIHHS programs work 14,527 hours to help hundreds of families and thousands of clients.

Fueling the catalyst: The Vida S. Huber Memorial Fund

It is no surprise that IIHHS has continued to reflect the driving force behind its creation. True to the principles of Vida Huber, its visionary founder, IIHHS is “a catalyst for developing new programs in health and human services that are responsive to the community’s needs,” said Doug Brown, former vice president for academic affairs.

Though stunned by her unexpected death in 2005, Huber’s IIHHS colleagues found some relief from their grief by hunkering down and continuing to build on the legacy she left behind. The JMU Foundation created an endowment fund in Huber’s memory to benefit the ongoing mission of IIHHS. Learn more about making a donation.