Tuesday, May 06, 2014

[572] EXL class allows MTSU students to dig deeper into health

MURFREESBORO — The 25 students in MTSU professor Mary Beth Asbury’s organizational communication class have a “healthy” appreciation for experiential learning after spending the spring semester researching, planning and finally executing a campus Health Fair to share what they’ve learned.

Held in the atrium of the Student Union in April, the health fair offered students in the Health Campaigns Experiential Learning class a hands-on opportunity to publicly showcase the knowledge gained during the class, while also sharing information with fellow MTSU students that could have a positive impact on their lives.

Now in its eighth year, the EXL program at MTSU is designed to enhance student learning through practical experiences in their fields of study beyond the traditional classroom and that engage the student directly in service. Over 200 courses are now approved as EXL courses throughout the university.

As instructor, Asbury divided her EXL class into five teams of five. Each team was charged with thoroughly researching a topic, including conducting Institutional Review Board or IRB surveys of MTSU students to get feedback. Team topics included positive body image, the benefits of taking vitamins, healthy eating strategies, campus safety awareness and combatting binge drinking on college campuses.

The teams set up display booths inside the Student Union at which they discussed their findings with passing students, faculty and staff while also offering them informational brochures, food samples, water bottles, vitamin supplements and various other giveaway items to reinforce the message they sought to drive home.

Maria Rojano, a sophomore graphic design major from Nashville by way of Venezuela, was among the many students who stopped by the fair and shared her thoughts on her visit to the healthy eating booth.

“I like to learn about healthier options. I’m trying to switch my eating to a healthier way,” Rojano said. “By informing myself about it, I not only get to learn personally, but I can help others.”

After trying out some of the fruit-infused water samples, she noted that the grapefruit-flavored water was a bit too strong for her taste, but the lemon and cucumber sample “was very soothing.”

That was good news to Starlethia Hicks, a junior organizational communication major from Nashville, and one of the team members for the healthy eating booth. Hicks said she had always thought that eating healthy “was too expensive,” but her group’s research on this project led to a different conclusion.

The student team’s survey found that 82 percent of respondents felt that “eating healthy is difficult and pricey,” but 75 percent of students indicated they wanted to eat healthier. So she and fellow team members researched and found economical but tasty alternatives to traditional eating habits of college students.

One example of a heavy dessert alternative was frozen bananas with peanut butter. Not only does it taste good, it’s a great source of protein, Hicks said.

Leslie Kelly, a senior public relations major from Santa Fe, Tennessee, rattled off a number of reasons her team’s topic of positive body image was an important issue to research and discuss.

“It starts in young kids because they see people on TV … models, actors, and they think that’s how they’re supposed to look,” she said. “We really want to promote loving yourself as you are. There are factors that we have no control over that affect the way you look.”

The group did a survey of MTSU students that found 43 percent of responding students would change one thing about themselves on a daily basis, a finding Kelly called “staggering.” Students had to keep journals about their class experience, a requirement that added a deeper level of collective understanding once the project was completed.

“I think we as a group learned a lot, and we were very surprised by some of the things we learned,” Kelly said.

The overall purpose of the Health Fair project was to help educate the public about the health issues students have learned about in the class, Asbury said. Students were instructed to choose a health-related topic “that they were passionate about” and share that with the campus body.

The mission of the class is to educate students about health communications — what messages are people receiving about health and what messages are people giving out, Asbury added.

“A lot of times, we assume that we know how to talk to doctors or doctors know how to talk to us, or we understand the messages we receive about our bodies or food … this class is to educate generally about health communications,” she said.

“How can we best talk to health professionals to get the most out of those interactions?”

As part of the Health Fair project, students created slogans and developed creative ways of sharing what they learned with other students. By hosting a health fair, Asbury’s students had to demonstrate that they truly understood the topic well enough to educate others about it, and that they could analyze an audience properly in order to craft effective messaging.

Students also gained an understanding of the promotional aspect involved in being a health professional, such as participating in the many health fairs that are held in communities throughout the state, nation and world.

Dustin Parker, a junior organizational communication major from Smyrna, Tennessee, said the class project gave him and his classmates real world experience in orchestrating and participating in such an event.

“It’s one thing to be at a health fair, but it’s another thing to actually put one on, almost from nothing,” Parker said. “I want to go into to some sort of health field communication, so this class was perfect for me.”

Organizational Communication is a major within the Department of Speech and Theatre in the College of Liberal Arts. For more information, visit http://www.mtsu.edu/orgcomm/index.php.

Several courses in the Organizational Communication major are experiential learning courses (EXL) and many majors have graduated as EXL scholars. For more information about the EXL Scholars Program, visit http://www.mtsu.edu/exl/index.php.

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