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Community Health Class Blends Service Learning with COVID-19 Impact

Health and Exercise Physiology students are gaining first-hand knowledge of how the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated health disparities in our society, particularly for the elderly and underrepresented populations.

The project is supported by Project Pericles, a consortium of 30 colleges and universities that promotes civic engagement within higher education. Catherine van de Ruit, an assistant professor of health and exercise physiology, has been accepted to the Periclean Faculty Leadership Program in STEM and Social Sciences. It is supported by the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations and the Eugene M. Lang Foundation.

In her Community Health course, which van de Ruit teaches every year, Ursinus students perform service with local organizations and learn how health organizations are working to address the health needs in that community.

“It’s even more acute this year with COVID,” van de Ruit said.

Under the Project Pericles funding, the students are performing virtual service work at Frederick Living, a continuing-care retirement community, and Phoenixville Area Positive Alternatives, which provides opportunities for at-risk youth.

“This gives them first-hand exposure to the types of wellness needs in each of these communities, and both are experiencing some health and financial challenges due to COVID-19,” van de Ruit said. “Public health is such an applied action orientated field, and service learning is such a central activity to that. If students want to think about changing or reforming healthcare, they have to get some exposure to real-world settings.”

By performing service for the community organizations, the Ursinus student observe practical ways in which various groups are working to help the marginalized communities they serve.

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