Faculty spotlight

Dr. Laura Crosswell

  • Department: Reynolds School of Journalism
  • Service-Learning Course: Journalism 490A/691A; Applied Research in Health Communication
  • Semester: Spring 2018

Course Description:

The willingness and intent to make positive changes in society brings us together in this class as we explore the best practices for applied research in health communication. Students learn the theories and techniques that guide effective health messaging, as well as the importance of data-driven decisions in strategic planning. Throughout the semester, students apply what they have learned in class as they work on an applied research project that serves a local healthcare client.

Please provide a brief description of the project/service activity.

Students worked together to address the needs of the UNR Medical School's Student Outreach Clinic. The class developed deliverables that aimed to address the identified needs of the SOC. From the SOC: "The goals of the Student Outreach Clinic are really twofold: to provide access to quality healthcare to the under-served populations of Northern Nevada and to help medical students gain meaningful clinical experience early in their education such that they are better prepared to become future providers. Not only are the under-insured provided a place to receive healthcare - medical students improve cultural competencies by interacting with a demographic they might not encounter otherwise. We always face the challenge of providing the most complete care with the limited resources allocated to us. More current challenges include marketing to our demographics such that they are aware of and attracted to the clinic. Basically, how do we get more people to come consistently?"
Specifically, students aimed to increase awareness, interest, and repeat ‘visits' among the SOC's target demographics; which included (1) SOC patients/under-served populations (2) Community faculty/Physicians (3) Potential donors and community outreach. In three separate teams, groups focused on different messaging objectives/deliverables for the different audience groups. Each team determined how to best reach their specific audience and meet communication objectives through research-based insights and data-driven deliverables.

Why do you use service-learning as a teaching pedagogy?

The motivation to use service-learning as a teaching pedagogy stemmed from my students' interests and goals. Students at the journalism school are interested in experiential learning, practical experience, and projects with a purpose. They want to develop the skills and experience that will best position them to make a positive impact on society. I want to serve their passion/goals the best I can, and the OSLCE offered the training, tools, and support that helped me help them.

What advice do you have for faculty and students when considering service-learning?

Be flexible, open-minded, and fully engaged. Think beyond the final course grade and instead concentrate on your contributions to the community and personal growth throughout the experience.

Name something important you learned as a faculty member through your work with OSLCE and service-learning.

There are many resources available to help facilitate course implementation of service-learning projects. Easy access to university-approved community partners, for example, is especially helpful for new faculty members that may not have established the necessary connections for a specific service activity/partnership. From start to finish, the OSLCE provides incredible support to the students, faculty, and community partners that are involved in service-learning collaborations.

What do you believe is the greatest benefit of service-learning?

Service-learning offers a structured learning opportunity for students as they engage in working relationships with actual clients. Students more fully develop critical skills in health communication practices through such collaborative community relationships. I have found that the service-learning component promotes greater student engagement with the class project, as well as the overall quality of project outcomes. The SOC has been a great partner to work with, as representatives have visited the class throughout past semesters and generously provided information, data, and opportunities for hands-on student research. In the fall, the class also took a field trip to the Student Outreach Clinic to get a better feel for challenges/opportunities/potential messaging strategies. In turn, students gain first-hand experience in developing strategic and informed approaches to client deliverables.

Describe a moment from this/last semester that stands out to you.

I don't necessarily have a stand-out moment, but I appreciated the role that service-learning had on class discussions and overall student learning outcomes. Community engagement encouraged a higher level of critical thinking and heightened awareness of the ways in which media messaging and content/design can be used to empower change or reinforce the status quo. In addition to providing students with practical experience, the service-learning activity encouraged greater reflection on the role they will play as contributing members in the professional industry.