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College of Health

Compassion, Attention, and Communication for Better Health

OKER OT Garden

Imagine a classroom where students and faculty serve and learn in their own communities. It’s a reality in the University of Utah College of Health, which continually strives to create a culture of wellness in Salt Lake City, Utah, and worldwide.

“True community engagement includes service but must also involve engaging members of a community in  project  decision  making  and  planning,”  says  Scott  Ward,  PhD,  interim  dean  at  the  college.  “It  involves  the application of student learning and requires skills that  include  real-world  compassion,  attention,  and  communication.”To  make  that  kind  of  difference,  the  College  of  Health leverages the combined knowledge and expertise of six departments. In 2022, community engagement initiatives included culinary medicine, PEAK fitness classes, and the Center for Emergency Programs in the Department of Health & Kinesiology. The latter has a huge reach in Salt Lake City and beyond. Chris Stratford, MS, and his team in emergency medical services offer hundreds of trainings a year to community businesses, university partners, and rural populations  in  Utah. 

HKER mountain sled

This  includes  teaching  an  EMT  course for the residents of Wayne County, the stretch between  Capitol  Reef  and  Canyonlands  National  Parks. This area isn’t lacking in natural beauty, but it does lack access to big-city health care resources. To facilitate remote rescue training, the Center for Emergency  Programs  also  offers  swiftwater  rescue  courses, including flood response, to an average of 35 community members per year. They partner with local fire departments for five-day long courses and work with Brighton Ski Resort to implement critical response systems, like cliff rescues and lift evacuations.

More than 600 students from across the University of Utah have enrolled in the center’s basic life support courses  in  the  last  year.  These  future  medical  assis-tants,  nurses,  physicians,  and  health  care  providers  facilitate this critical knowledge into deadly situations to save lives. 

Such measures can also be applied as early inter-ventions that positively impact under-resourced popu-lations. After Shannon Jones, MS, from the Department of Nutrition & Integrative Physiology noticed ongoing resource  gaps  for  Salt  Lake  City’s  unsheltered  com-munity,  she  and  her  colleagues  received  a  planning grant  from  the  National  Science  Foundation to build a hybrid farm and civic engagement center (see Page 8 for more). 

AEMT class

Jones  and  her  team  hope  to  get  seeds  in  the  ground  and  officially open  the  Intersectional  Food  Access  Rights  for  Marginalized Communities  (IFARM)  Hub  next year, building on the success of  existing programs  at  Wasatch  Community Gardens’ Farm. “We want to build community and  create  programming  that  is  self-sustainable and economically viable,”  Jones  says.  “For  example community  members  can  get  access to healthy food but also contribute to growing it. It doesn’t feel like they’re getting charity—they’re part of this community that’s working  together to meet  their own needs. ”The Hub will aggregate food, housing,  health,  transportation, and technology services  to  increase and improve access to basic resources for people experiencing homelessness. As one of the largest colleges on campus, the College of Health understands  the  importance  of  interdisciplinary   collaboration. “Our longstanding contributions to community health services and pro bono clinics have assisted many in the  community who do not have equitable access to health prevention and clinical care programs,” Ward says. “Participating students tell us it positively  changes their perspective around the people they serve, and it gives them an increased confidence in their applied skills.”

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