JMU-Community Partnerships Are a 'Force for Change'

From: Public Affairs

U.S. Surgeon General speaks with JMU Girls Golf partners.

November 20, 2008

When U.S. Surgeon General Steven Galson visited James Madison University to give the Champion Award to the school's youth Girls Golf Program, he wasn't just honoring a few individuals involved with that effort. His words touched on values that are core to the university's mission.

"There is a lot going on…in each of the 50 states and the thousands of universities and the local and state governments and among our incredible strength of community organizations in this country," Galson said. "We have a force to make change."

The Girls Golf Program, a collaboration among JMU's Morrison-Bruce Center, Mulligan's Golf Center and Lakeview Golf Course, received recognition for its work in helping improve the fitness and heath of young women in the Harrisonburg-Rockingham community. But its efforts are just a part of the valuable work JMU students and faculty bring to the community each day.

From students teaching in local school districts to service-learning students working in more than 75 Shenandoah Valley agencies and individual efforts such as tutoring, mentoring and volunteering, JMU personnel from all fields are taking their skills off campus and into the community.

"We have a great level of participation from JMU students. In public health education, we've had social work students, we've had environmental students, we have clubs that we work with like Circle K," said Cindy Reeves, coordinator of health education and awareness at Rockingham Memorial Hospital. "The students are incredibly valuable. They allow us to do projects we couldn't do, we don't have the staff time to do. A lot of times, that's the catalyst for us to move forward."

The JMU Institute for Innovation in Health and Human Services partners JMU faculty and students with more than 30 clinics, services, outreach programs and collaborations in the local community. Their work ranges from AIDS initiatives to suicide prevention, health education, childhood literacy, psychological counseling and free lifelong learning courses for senior citizens.

The programs are grant-funded, meaning local citizens get the benefits of the services at no tax cost. But it's not just community members who benefit. While the community gets access to education, information and services otherwise unavailable to them, JMU students gain hands-on experience and learn the most effective strategies for community outreach.

"It is truly a unique part of JMU that strives to be innovative and collaborative with the community. We consider ourselves a part of the community," said Jane Hubbell, associate director of IIHHS. "To be able to go out to them… means a great deal to these families. It's a win-win for the community, the students and the faculty."

It's that symbiotic relationship that is the essence of partnership. Besides the joys of teaching young girls the game of golf, senior Kristen McGoldrick said working with the Girls Golf program has taught her skills she'll use the rest of her life.

"We're learning just as much as they are. How to run programs, how to work with children, how we really can help," McGoldrick said. "There are a lot of resources available that I don't think people are necessarily aware of that are there to help."

Even outside the surrounding community, university outreach can have a large impact in helping improve society.

"What we're always looking for in public health is different ways to approach problems. Young people who aren’t already put in that silo of thinking a certain way, they can bring real, new innovations," said Dr. Karen Remley, Commissioner of Health for the Commonwealth of Virginia. "We also are able to partner with professors who have the time to do the research we need to have done so we can raise a problem, [say] 'here's a question, let's all sit down now and see how we can answer it,' and then develop a plan for how we can go forward and solve that issue."

Galson urged the leadership roles universities can and must play to help overcome many of the issues that face the nation and world today. JMU's role as a gathering place of top-level expertise from faculty, shared technological and educational resources, uniquely focused institutes and energetic students, makes it the ideal institution to lead the charge for change.

But it can’t be done by universities alone, Galson said.

"Universities will not be successful in this role unless they are partnering. They have to be part of the communities that surround them," Galson said. "They have to have a lot of communication and then actual activities to make this work, to make the university be an agent of change. That's happening here."

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