Service-Learning and Applied Research with Health Students

Diane Sprowl

Written by Nadia De Leon, Community Engagement Coordinator

Diane Sprowl
Community Health Improvement Branch Director

Barren River District Health Department

Instructor in the WKU Consumer and Family Sciences Department

Diane Sprowl completed her undergraduate studies at WKU and received a Master’s degree from

Vanderbilt University. She is a registered dietitian and public health practitioner who has worked at the Barren River District Health Department for 24 years. In the past four years, she has held an administrative position in public health services management working with community programs in nutrition, diabetes, chronic diseases, and maternal and child health. “I love it, there is never a dull moment,” she says about her job.

Mrs. Sprowl has also remained connected to her alma mater in many ways. For four years, she has been teaching a human nutrition class at WKU that fulfills general education requirements, but is most attended by students in programs such as dietetics, nursing, dental hygiene,

and exercise science. Additionally, she helps provide experiential learning opportunities to students in the WKU Master’s of Public Health program.

The Barren River District Health Department and the WKU Department of Public Health in the College of

Health and Human Services have developed a good relationship over the years. Last year, Dr. Christine Nagy and Dr. Darlene Shearer approached Mrs. Sprowl wondering if there

were any projects their students could work on with the Health Department. “They wanted [the students] to have some real world experiences. It just makes for better experiences, meets their class requirements, and is useful to us,” Sprowl explains. She presented to the students about her work and possible opportunities for the students, and then initiated a partnership for service-learning class projects. During the spring 2010 semester, Mrs. Sprowl had 11 students working with her on six different projects. This fall 2010 semester, she and two colleagues in dental health and health promotion respectively, have each taken four students to work in pairs on two projects.

The Health Department has had students do class projects with them in the past, but definitely no

t t

o this extent. When asked if she would like to continue this partnership every semester, Mrs. Sprowl answered enthusiastically: “Absolutely, yes!” Master’s of Public Health students are required to complete a capstone project and an internship, and the Health Department has long been a site for internship placement. As part of these internships, students function as health educator, and participate in programs according to their focus area, such as home visits and restaurant inspections. However, applied class projects at the Department are a new development; Mrs. Sprowl likes to get to know the students and their interests before they are ready for their internships, and adds, “it makes the placement go more smoothly.”

Mrs. Sprowl appreciates the importance of service-learning and applied research. “I think it makes the subject come alive. They see the practical application of what they are doing,” she says, and adds “I think it’s very valuable.” Furthermore, students are developing a deeper partnership with the Health Department. She has two students this semester who worked with her during the spring 2010 semester “It’s really exciting to get to continue and evaluate with students what they did last semester,” she explains.

The two students are Shrikant Patil and Pragati Gole. Last semester, Patil worked on a project to educate pregnant women and their families about the seriousness of late pre-term birth. This semester, he is completing his internship at the Health Department and is continuing the project by evaluating the effectiveness of the materials he developed. His work helps the Health Department, Sprawl explains “because late pre-term birth is a high-priority health issue that we are working to improve.” The materials he is developing will most likely be utilized not only at the local but at the state level as well. Pragati Gole has been working to develop materials to educate WIC families about the importance of eating fruits and vegetables. For her class last semester, she conducted a survey of the Health Department clients and developed educational materials based on the survey results. The survey was conducted in four different languages, and Gole is particularly interested in working with the Burmese refugee community. Her class assignment turned into her capstone project, and she is now evaluating the effectiveness of her materials. She will also be doing her internship at the Health Department in the Spring 2011 semester. Her materials will continue to be used by the Health Department, and she has been selected to present her project at a national conference this year.

“At the end of the semester the groups of students present their projects to the entire class.  The community partners are also invited to attend” explains Mrs. Sprowl.  The students reflect on their experience and share the materials they developed, and Mrs. Sprowl confides, “I am amazed with the quality of what the students have done”.


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