The Lock Haven University short term study abroad and international service-learning programs have provided students with the opportunity to complete spring break mission trips to the rural village of Harmons, Jamaica, for the past four years. There, LHU students and faculty have run a health clinic, visited schools and an infirmary, and built houses and foundations for the people of Harmons.
The program is a cooperative effort between Dr. Amy Way, health science professor and international service-learning program coordinator; Jennifer Bell, assistant professor, physician assistant program; and a nonprofit organization located in the rural community in south central Jamaica.
In a total of just four weeks – one week each year during spring break, since 2015 - there have been 56 undergraduate, 33 graduate, and 6 faculty participants in the program, with a combined total of more than 3,400 service hours.
In the program’s first year, the group saw 95 patients. That number has grown significantly since then, with more than 200 patients receiving care during this year’s trip. The program is a true collaboration between students that models the ways healthcare professionals collaborate on the job.
As part of the program, physician assistant graduate students offered physical exams under the direction of a graduate faculty member. The undergraduate students work with the graduate physician assistant students, taking patient histories, recording vitals, and observing. The undergraduate students also develop educational pieces on topics relevant to the population they are serving.
Way, who has been offering international service-learning programs since 2010 and short term study abroad for two years before that, described her experience with the program as extremely rewarding.
“Rewarding in what it offers our student and the opportunity that they have to develop both professionally and personally. Rewarding in the relationships that we have built in Harmons, both with the community and the mission,” she said. “Personally rewarding for me as an educator, a scientist, and someone who believes in the value of service.”
Also through the program there have been 650 applications of fluoride varnish provided to children and donations totaling 10,300 pounds of clothing, shoes, vitamins, and other supplies have been made to be distributed by the nonprofit organization.
The Health Science Club organized a vitamin drive at the Lock Haven campus, as did the Clearfield Activities Board at the LHU Clearfield campus. As a result, hundreds of bottles of vitamins were collected.
Alexis Palfey, physician assistant student said that the LHU students who have participated in the program were there to walk alongside the Jamaicans — to build relationships and to encourage and practice empathy. “They made me feel so appreciated,” she added. “They enjoyed the work we were doing — whether it’s building houses, providing education, or even just spending time with them.”
The program also has provided project opportunities for students and faculty resulting in four undergraduate research projects, three faculty projects and three publications with a fourth submitted for publication.
“It’s a unique opportunity to be able to collaborate with my colleagues and my students in such a meaningful way,” Way said.
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Lock Haven University’s main campus is located on the West Branch of the Susquehanna River in the scenic mountains of Pennsylvania. The university offers 49 undergraduate majors and certifications with 47 minors and five graduate programs.
LHU is a member of Pennsylvania’s State System, the largest provider of higher education in the Commonwealth. Its 14 universities offer more than 2,300 degree and certificate programs in more than 530 academic areas of study. Nearly 520,000 system alumni live and work in Pennsylvania.
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