The Big Event
The students, faculty and alumni of James Madison University are about to make a big impact by volunteering with the Big Event. On April 14, thousands of participants are expected to take part in the second annual Big Event, a student-organized day of service intended to show appreciation and make a positive impact on our community.
Student Greater Madison and the Student Government Association, co-sponsors of the Big Event, have worked all year to secure service locations and recruit volunteers. The committee hopes to engage several thousand participants this year.
“We have a lot of great service projects planned for this year and are looking forward to again showing the Harrisonburg community how appreciative JMU is for their continued support over the years,” said Big Event Director of Outreach Jade Morse. JMU volunteers will participate in service projects such as clean-up jobs, lawn work and nonprofit organization work.
This year the Big Event is expanding to include JMU alumni. Alumni are encouraged to sign up and volunteer with their local chapter.
“This year, we are excited to work with the Alumni Association,” said Executive Director of Student Greater Madison Truman Horwitz. “Through them, we have managed to create mini-Big Events around the nation, put on by alumni in various locations. These events will occur at the same time on the same day as The Big Event here.”
Volunteers are encouraged to visit and sign up at www.jmu.edu/thebigevent/. Students can sign up individually or as a team. Alumni can visit www.jmu.edu/alumni/involved/bigevent.shtml to view participating chapters.
For a select group of James Madison University freshmen, the road to a career in the health professions begins in Shenandoah Hall, where residents become research partners, competition gives way to collaboration and the community serves as a classroom.
Each year, the Huber Residential Learning Community, which honors the late Dr. Vida Huber, who established JMU’s Institute for Innovation in Health and Human Services, brings together 20 first-year pre-professional health students from various majors in a living-learning environment that promotes professionalism, community awareness, personal reflection, communication and teamwork.
“It’s an intensive opportunity to learn more about a number of issues that are important to their eventual success as a professional, as an applicant to graduate school and as a change agent in health and human services,” says Emily Akerson, associate director of IIHHS and one of three JMU faculty members who team-teach a pair of courses in the Huber Learning Community.
After being accepted to JMU, incoming freshmen seeking to join the community apply through the Office of Residence Life. Applicants are evaluated based on a written essay, their professional goals and other qualifications. The group represents a variety of health-related career tracks, including dentistry, forensics, medicine, occupational therapy, optometry, pharmacy, physical therapy, physician’s assistant and veterinary medicine.
“When I first applied to the Huber Learning Community, I was hoping to get the best experience possible with pre-professional health,” says Leanne Clifford, a freshman from Poquoson, Va., majoring in pre-physical therapy. “I knew there was a lot of competition and it was a small group . . . with three faculty members who are really involved in JMU. Getting that connection with them and making the connection with other students in the (Huber) community could really advance my learning here at JMU.”
“I felt like it would really benefit me as a pre-med student in order to learn more about my profession and how my profession would impact those in my community, as well as being with people who are also studying the same things as I am,” adds Michael Rudloff of Williamsburg.
Sharing a residence hall with other like-minded students is a real benefit, says Andy Russo of Virginia Beach. “Being able to live with them is better because we get to communicate how we react and interact with other people on a daily basis. We get to share our stories and share experiences whereas other students aren’t able to have that constant contact.”
In addition to the course requirements for their respective majors, Huber Learning Community members enroll in a one-credit class in the fall that examines the social determinants of health — poverty, socioeconomic status, race, language, educational level, geography — and also introduces them to skills in professionalism and interprofessional practice in addressing local and global health challenges. In the spring, members partner with local agencies to complete 20 hours of service learning.
Since the fall of 2006, Huber Residential Learning Community alumni have logged more than 2,800 hours in the community with groups like Harrisonburg Community Health Center, Occupational Therapy Clinical Education Services, Harrisonburg-Rockingham Free Clinic, The Gus Bus: Reading Road Show, Health Bites, Teen Pregnancy Prevention, Crossroads to Brain Injury Recovery, the Office on Children and Youth and Campus Suicide Prevention Center of Virginia.
Clifford is volunteering this semester with IIHHS’ Community Health Interpreter Service. She accompanies local Spanish-speaking residents on doctor’s visits to facilitate communication between patients and providers. “I get to shadow actual doctors as a medical interpreter,” she says. “I try to absorb it all in to see how difficult it can be to have a language barrier and how important the communication aspect of health care is. … It’s really made me think about how I will approach it when I’m in the medical field.”
Russo, an athletic training major, helps with the kinesiology department’s Overcoming Barriers program for area residents with disabilities. On Thursday afternoons in the Godwin Hall gymnasium, he leads a group of children in an hourlong dance session designed to improve their motor skills, functioning and overall fitness level. “I really like working with O.B.,” he says. “They really want to help and see these kids succeed. It’s been a good experience for me.”
Rudloff’s work with Valley AIDS Network is giving him a clear window into the medical profession. “I feel like it really helps me get an idea of what I’m going to be doing,” he says, “and it’s helped me understand the idea of being a professional. I think that’s really benefiting me.”
As health care moves toward more interprofessional practice and collaborative care — and admissions committees at medical schools and graduate programs conduct holistic reviews of applications — Huber Learning Community members are being well prepared for the future, according to Akerson. “We encourage them to think wider and more broadly; to reflect on what a privilege it is to care for others, whether it’s individuals, families or communities; and to consider who is our patient and what other health professionals may need to be involved in their care.”
“I hope that we are able to provide the students with some lenses that they can use as they move up and through their careers,” Akerson says.
Published April 10, 2012