Thirty-one McNeese State University senior nursing students enrolled in a public health course this fall learned how to "piece together a healthy community" hundreds of miles away without ever leaving their classroom in Hardtner Hall.
Through the use of Skype technology, McNeese nursing students were able to collaborate with the McNeese Wesley Foundation and Louisiana College nursing students on a global community health project that will provide much needed health education to an underserved population at a Methodist medical clinic in Rio Bravo, Mexico, according to Dr. Peggy Wolfe, dean of the College of Nursing.
"Over the years our students have traveled to such areas as Kinder, Hackberry and Lake Arthur for their community health projects, but this is our college's first global community health project and today's technology made this happen."
So how did this collaboration begin? According to the Rev. Angela Cooley Bulhof, United Methodist campus minister at the Wesley Foundation, a Wesley Foundation team will travel Jan. 5-8 to Rio Bravo, a city near the southeastern Texas border between Reynosa and Padre Island. "This will be the first time McNeese Wesley Foundation leads a team to Rio Bravo," said Bulhof. "We led one other week-long construction team to Reynosa in July 2008, where we assisted in building a school and laying tiles in classrooms."
Guillermo "Willie" Berman is a United Methodist missionary in Mexico, who helps coordinate volunteers for medical clinics and her contact person for the Rio Bravo clinic.
On a trip to Lake Charles to visit with Bulhof, Berman contacted Wolfe about a collaborative partnership between the nursing college and his Rio Bravo clinic. "He wanted the nursing college to develop health promotion educational materials that the Wesley Foundation could bring to his clinics - in Spanish," said Wolfe.
Wolfe was excited about the opportunity for the nursing students to go global with their community project. The Rev. Bulhof stepped in and recruited Dr. Kim Bowman in the McNeese Department of English and Foreign Languages to help translate the materials that her group will deliver to the clinic in January. "Bowman has identified two upperclass students who will be translating all of this material as a graded project this semester," said Bulhof. "So, that department is also part of this collaboration."
Technology solved the other hurdle-the location.
Nursing faculty members Lori Groves and Kathlene Williams - who team teach the community health class - began working with Berman and Julian Otero, media coordinator for Iglesia Methodista de Mexico.
To plan their assessments for this project, the students conducted a windshield survey - where the students rely on observations for data - using videotape shot by Berman and Otero of the surrounding Rio Bravo community and then made available online. "With this survey, the students could get a sense of the community and what kinds of materials to prepare," said Groves.
Berman also suggested Groves get in touch with Renee Shamblin, a nursing instructor at Louisiana College, because she traveled with a group of LC nursing students to Rio Bravos during the summer who might have some additional material to add.
Groves contacted Shamblin and that's when technology stepped in. "Our students used Skype for the first time to interview the LC nursing students who shared their experiences and photographs," said Groves. "The class developed a list of questions for the LC nursing group ahead of time and everything was seamless-this provided an additional piece of assessment needed for the project."
The McNeese nursing students analyzed all of the collected data, looked over the problems and prioritized a list of common health issues for Otero. To present their findings, the students planned another Skype session that lasted almost 90 minutes-Otero had additional information to share.
From the videos and interviews, the students designed a plan of action to address the top four health concerns - obesity, diabetes, hypertension and mental health - and planned educational materials to address those issues. The theme for the project is "Piecing Together a Healthier Community."
The class divided into four groups, with each group selecting one of the health concerns to address.
An informational jingle in Spanish promoting good health habits, an activity booklet for children with puzzles and word games, a magazine and educational pamphlets outlining healthy choices-all of these were developed for the final presentation via Skype to Otero.
One by one, a spokesperson for each group presented their health promotion educational offerings to Otero. After the presentation, Otero commended the group on "their professionalism and their amazing work on this project for Rio Bravo and the Methodist Church of Mexico."
For McNeese's nursing students, going global has been a great experience.
Michael McFarlain, Sulphur, said the community health project was just "a small piece of a really big puzzle" in the delivery of health education to a community in another country. His group wrote - and McFarlain sang - the musical jingle that Otero liked and that will play throughout the day in medical clinics.
"I had previously traveled to the Rio Bravo clinic with the Wesley Foundation and was familiar with the area," said McFarlain. "I will also be on the January mission trip when we deliver the final educational materials in Spanish for the medical clinics."
Shayla Finn, Moss Bluff, was amazed at how many people came together to make this community health project work, and classmate Kayley LaBowe, Hathaway, agreed. "Through this collaboration and the usage of technology, we overcame communication barriers to experience first hand the impact we can make hundreds of miles away."