Recognizing community partners for their flexibility and adaptation in the face of COVID

This year our community partners had to adapt as much as faculty to changed circumstances. They had to go remote with us, offering remote feedback, engagement and activities. They had to consider whether an internship or project could even be done remotely, redesign entire projects and, in some cases, manage COVID protocols and precautions to allow students to participate directly. We conceived of this COVID-era version of our community partner award while debriefing the semester with Mary Val Palumbo in Nursing. Mary Val was raving about a particular community partner, who had just really taken it on herself to help students complete their service-learning activities. Thanks to the following partner — and the professor's story of her work — we opened the nominations and are privileged to recognize these 10 partners for continuing to work with us during the pandemic.

The SASH Program of Cathedral Square is a federally-funded program based in senior housing facilities throughout Vermont supporting seniors living independently. UVM nurse practitioner students participate within SASH work by completing yearly wellness assessments in seniors' homes. In the fall, nominator Mary Val Palumbo worried constantly about the safety of the older adults in the program, as the nursing students were also working in the hospital, some even on COVID floors, despite the PPE and robust testing and precautions. In November, when numbers began rising, the assessments had to move to Zoom. In stepped Syndi Zook, the SASH coordinator at Thayer House in Burlington. One day after the student started offering wellness assessments at Thayer House, the lockdown returned. Syndi jumped in, with enthusiasm and commitment. She knew every resident's technological capacity, and organized those able to Zoom to participate in on her own office computer to complete the wellness assessments. This kind of adaptability and commitment to collaborative programming makes Syndi a "service-learning hero."

Kaelyn Modrak of the Learn Earn and Prosper (LEAP) Program at ReSOURCE VT has partnered with Ben Dangl of the lower-level Public Communication course in CDAE. Ben commented specifically on Kaelyn's effectiveness in designing and implementing the SL project for the student group: students conducted interviews of young program participants in the LEAP Cafe, wrote profiles, and created promotional materials to recruit new participants to the program. The partnership is now expanding to an additional LEAP Cafe, and one of the students from the class was hired to work at LEAP directly from the service-learning experience. LEAP quickly pivoted to remote collaboration, organized safe and socially-distant interview opportunities and is continuing to work on expanded project this semester.

Carolina Lukac of Vermont Community Gardening Network has worked with Stephanie Hurley in Plant & Soil Science on a range of projects including participatory research, and service-learning design projects, as well as hosting UVM interns in the summer. In Stephanie's SL Landscape Design Fundamentals course, the students work to develop and present design concepts for landscape alterations to benefit society and ecosystems. In past iterations, students have worked on one garden site as the basis for their design exercises, but with a doubled course size in the fall and the pandemic, Carolina engaged the class with four different community garden sites, which allowed students to choose projects, and offer a greater array of design options to VCGN.

Since field trips to garden sites were made impossible by COVID, Carolina visited the sites herself, documenting the sites themselves and the needs with extensive video footage and photos. She presented the sites remotely to the students, remained available for questions, and provided feedback at the mid-point of the design process. With this additional work on Carolina's part, the COVID adaptation actually expanded the range of services students were able to provide, including designs for children's gardens, pollinator habitat demonstrations, shaded seating areas, and fencing to reduce food theft and wildlife browsing.

Kevin Jones is professor at Vermont Law School and director of VLS' Institute for Energy and the Environment, which has for four years provided service-learning opportunities to the Environmental Studies Program, through Jody Prescott's course on Energy Law and Climate Change. The Institute itself partners around Vermont and New Hampshire with small organizations that promote renewable energy among lower-income populations, and these projects generate real-world legal issues that much be explored for the projects to move forward. The Institute reviews the issues, determines appropriate projects for ENVS juniors and seniors to research, and assigns a team leader for each project to supervise and guide the students throughout the semester. Students produce deliverables in the team leaders' desired format and turn this work into research papers for the course. Last spring, all was proceeding according to plan - including the regular visit in the Rubenstein van to VLS - when all partners had to pivot to remote. Even as they were juggling their own work at Vermont Law School moving to remote, the team leaders and Kevin remained in contact with the students to guide them, and offered guest lecture presentations with feedback to students on Teams on short notice. This kind of effort and care for our students, in addition to VLS students, is so appreciated.

Melissa Southwick is statewide director of the SASH (Supports and Services at Home) program, and was nominated by Jeanne Shea for ongoing work with service-learning students and her Anthropology of Culture, Health and Healing course. In the fall, students worked on a research project designed collaboratively by Melissa and Jeanne, to explore older adults' experiences of the pandemic, particularly around social isolation. Students conducted interviews with seniors in Chittenden County and in the Northeast Kingdom, analyzed the data to identify experiences with pandemic isolation and with SASH services + programs. The research is driven by SASH's ongoing desire to tailor their services to best meet needs, including pandemic ones. Melissa's commitment to this has provided UVM students with valuable opportunities to connect their coursework in medical anthropology to the experiences of older adults and SASH workers.

Like Jeanne and Melissa, Shana Haines and Cynthia Reyes in Education also turned towards COVID-related research. They nominated Hemant Ghising for his support of a research project also developed to respond to the COVID crisis. They drew on previous collaborative community-based research they had conducted with refugee families on their relationships with schools for their course on family /school collaboration. Research with families assists schools in developing culturally responsive policies and engagement. Shana and Cynthia reached out to Hemant and others. Hearing that refugee families had been contacted by schools about their needs, but did not feel that they had been able to tell their stories, they developed a qualitative interviewing project within the class, returning to previous research participants. Hemant engaged in outreach to the families, setting up interviews, providing interpretation when necessary, and finally served as a cultural expert as students identified questions and themes within the interview data. Without this help, the service-learning project would not have been possible.

Finally, some partners were willing and able to take students directly into placements, despite the obvious challenges of the pandemic. Jackie Weinstock nominated three partners for this work with HDFS 296: Field Experience. This course includes direct contact with client populations. The three following partners worked extra hard to make this possible. Marti Churchill is Chief of Midwifery at UVM Medical Center, and worked closely with an HDFS student whose career aspiration is to be a birth doula. In the middle of a pandemic, this placement almost didn't happen, but Marti was able to do what was necessary, including finding remote work for Natanya during the medical records shutdown last fall, and helping her return to the hospital in January where she has been able to support birthing women.

When several students particularly wanted experiences in the area of counseling, but were unable to find any placement willing to accept them as undergraduates during the pandemic, Meredith Hoisington, Guidance counselor at the Integrated Arts Academy, generously accepted them. She found ways to involve the students when they could not be in the field, and was also able to help them come to the school and work directly in classrooms.

For a student that was passionate about the field of Child Life, which encompasses offering psychosocial supports for hospitalized children and children of hospitalized parents, Ali Waltien of the UVM Child Life Program was able to create an internship for Kay Noterman. Ali provided opportunities for Kay to learn from a range of Child Life specialists and professionals in the hospital, even though it was not safe for Kay to be in the hospital itself. Because of Kay's developing experience, two other specialists were willing to take Kay in the spring as conditions evolved so that it could be done safely. Thanks also then to Jennifer Hipsley and Ashley Mitchell-Ringuette, also of the UVM Medical Center Child Life program. We appreciate everything it has taken to offer our students these opportunities in this past year.

Similarly, Judith Christensen teaches a two-semester capstone for the department of Psychological Sciences, the Mentored Clinical Internship (MCI) Program. Developed in 2015, the program provides students with experience working in mental health programs ranging from primary prevention/early intervention all the way to tertiary interventions involving 24/7 treatment. Judith nominated Melissa Pennington, Associate Director of Sara Holbrook Center. As Sara Holbrook herself was a clinical psychology professor at UVM, there is a long-standing relationship between the center and the department. Even so, the past year represents a tremendous commitment on Melissa's part to the service-learning partnership. In the spring of 2020 - last spring - Melissa found ways for students to continue remotely and meaningfully as interns. With the effort that required, all recruitment for this academic year's students and placements halted. Despite the shortened timeframe over the summer for students to apply, interview and be placed, Melissa was able to not only take students when many other agencies paused SL partnerships, she expanded the number of students working with Sara Holbrook. In taking these students, Melissa helped to ensure that the MCI program could continue during this pandemic year, and gave students invaluable opportunities to develop new or enhance existing programs to meet the widely varying and unique needs posed by the pandemic. MCI students — Judith explains — speak highly of the support they have received from Melissa and comment often on her dedication and collegiality.

We again thank all the community partners who worked with such care to provide these learning opportunities for our students — opportunities bearing immediate fruit in ongoing research projects and jobs as we've heard, and also having long-term impact on our students' trajectories.

PUBLISHED

04-15-2021
Susan Munkres, CELO Director