Hello, my name is Jack Wong, and I am a first-year AmeriCorps VISTA serving at the University of Michigan (U-M). I was born and raised in Grand Rapids, MI. This past August, I graduated from Michigan State University with a degree in kinesiology, specializing in health promotion. Next fall, I begin a master’s program in public health at U-M.
My primary placement site is the College of Pharmacy, where I have been working on a variety of projects over the past six months, the most significant of which has been to expand an innovative, interprofessional service-learning course. Enrolled college students can select from a variety of placement sites, however, I advocate for Community Action Network (CAN) and Peace Neighborhood Center. Both sites offer after school programs (ASP) for economically disadvantaged K-12 students in Washtenaw County. The U-M students who elect to serve at the sites have an opportunity to lead health lessons and activities in addition to tutoring the children. This semester, we are focusing on the theme of environments and health. That is, how we impact the environment and how our environments can affect our health. The idea is to have the children develop a sense of responsibility for their center, school, and community.
In past semesters, service-learning students could choose to serve at only two CAN sites. I recently played an important role in expanding the CAN placements to include two additional sites managed by fellow VISTAs, Stephen Crano and Meghan Gieseker. Both sites are at local elementary schools, providing the service-learning students a greater opportunity to utilize school resources and space in order to promote learning and physical activity. The children also seem to be more receptive and focused in their school environment, making this partnership even more rewarding for the students and the children they work with.
As part of an ongoing initiative to recruit non-pharmacy students, for whom the course is elective, and to increase the course visibility, I created a course webpage and posted an article highlighting my work and the importance of service-learning (https://pharmacy.umich.edu/service). I also helped make the course available to undergraduate kinesiology students. This semester, in addition to eight other non-pharmacy students, fourteen kinesiology students enrolled in the course. This is a fourfold increase in non-pharmacy enrollment from last semester and the first time the course has had significant representation from other disciplines. As the role of the health team becomes more prominent, it is increasingly important that there be opportunities for health science students from different disciplines to dialogue and collaborate. The service-learning course and sites benefit from the different perspectives of interprofessional teams of students. Also, the more diverse array of students exposed to the community, the greater their collective understanding of the determinants of health, knowledge that can be applied to their future work in health professions.
So far, I have really enjoyed my experience as a VISTA, but there is still much to be done to ensure the sustainability of my projects. I look forward to continuing my involvement at U-M and in the community.
Each blog post is written by one of our program's VISTAs!