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Learning to Serve Others

Between clinicals and classroom studies, nursing student Stephen Nowell spends a few hours each week at an after-school enrichment program.

December 09, 2019

The YWCA’s Phyllis Wheatley Center program is for local middle and high school students.

“I help with research for reducing chronic absenteeism, record data collection, and facilitate survey completion from students,” Nowell explained.

When health assessment day started, Nowell was allowed to do assessments on the students. “This includes taking blood pressure, pulse rates, teaching children about how their body works, and even how to promote a healthy lifestyle,” he said.

Nowell’s work at the Phyllis Wheatley Center is part of the College of Nursing’s Academic Service-Learning initiative. As a main component of the curriculum, each of the college’s 265 juniors and seniors are required to complete 30 hours of service with the same community partner or agency each semester for four semesters. Among these agencies, the college has collaborated with the Girl Scouts of America, Wesley House, Kicko Knoxville, Salvation Army, the American Red Cross, Thrive Knoxville, and more than 40 other community partners.

UT nursing student Stephen Nowell helps kids make macaroni and cheese
UT nursing student Stephen Nowell helps kids make macaroni and cheese.

The college projects that students will contribute more than 15,000 hours of service this academic year through the program.

The goal of the service-learning requirement is for students to gain a deeper understanding of what it means to care for others and learn a variety of skills—such as communication, leadership, professionalism, safe practice, and critical reasoning—that are critical to a career in nursing. It also provides opportunities for some vital hands-on experience.

“This opportunity has given me the chance to bond with students and staff of all ages,” Nowell said. “Being able to create those relationships with students in which I can see them progress through school, hear about their hopes and aspirations, and be a resource when needed is incredibly humbling.”

In many ways, pursuing a career in nursing is closely aligned with the Volunteer spirit.

“We are called to serve others. Having a heart of service is something I am passionate about; however, it has shown me the impact that we make when consistent time is dedicated to a worthy cause,” Nowell said.

As a future nurse, being excited about volunteer work and going that extra mile will help my skill as a clinician and make my patient feel that their care goes beyond a medical diagnosis.

Karen Messing, director of undergraduate programs, agrees and said students reap huge rewards from the experience.

“Academic Service-Learning is more than a volunteer activity,” she said. “The purpose of the experience is to integrate service with classroom knowledge enhancing the growth of the community partner and the student. The experience should enrich learning through hands-on activity and teach civic responsibility while increasing knowledge and scholarly learning.”

Kathy Mack, director of the Phyllis Wheatley Center, hugs a child before making announcements
Kathy Mack, director of the Phyllis Wheatley Center, hugs a child before making announcements.

To help match students with their service-learning community partner, students complete a survey about their interests and their current volunteer activities. Reflection essays are built into the program, allowing students an opportunity to contemplate what they learned through the experience and draw connections between the service and course content.

“With all of the skills I have learned, the most valuable lesson has been finding the joy of just being present,” Nowell said. “No matter what task I am assigned to, I put all my energy into it.”

“This experience has greatly improved and changed the way I interact with people. Having this opportunity to practice my assessment skills and improve the way I educate people on their health will cross over to my work as a future clinician and love for being a volunteer.”

Emily Slater, who also studies nursing at UT, puts out plates of macaroni and cheese
Emily Slater, who also studies nursing at UT, puts out plates of macaroni and cheese.

UT 225th anniversaryThis story is part of the University of Tennessee’s 225th anniversary celebration. Volunteers light the way for others across Tennessee and throughout the world.

Learn more about UT’s 225th anniversary

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