Build community partnerships through PhUn Week: It Works

I became aware of PhUn Week during my time as the 2010-2011 APS K-12 Minority Outreach Fellow.  A requirement of the fellowship was to conduct PhUn Week activities in at least one classroom.  The goal was to take a scientist out of the lab and place them in a local school and it worked.  That year, over 1,100 K-12 students in six schools in San Antonio, TX were engaged in science outreach and it helped me establish seven years of partnerships with K-12 educators, schools, and community members.

 

 Types of university-community partnerships: What can you handle?

The types of partnerships you can establish vary.  PhUn Week activities are flexible and adaptable to fit a single one-time project or be developed into long-term, on-going continuum of projects.  Before choosing the type of partnership, take time to get to know your potential partner(s) – teachers, schools, administrators, or organizations.  Talk openly and listen carefully. Learn about each other.  Get a sense about the school district, the population they serve, demographics, barriers, culture, and purpose for the visit.  This process takes time and patience.  Keeping your long-term commitments in mind, realize you are determining fit, the level of partnership, and type of relationship you will establish:  high-level commitment + needs trust; low commitment + loose connection.

Consider your involvement carefully before you make a commitment.  PhUn Week activities are adjusted to fit various needs from a one-hour classroom visit or adapted to a gymnasium with 100 fifth-graders.  This is also a time to consider resources needed (How many volunteers? What supplies?).  Set realistic timelines, roles, responsibilities, and expectations.  Don’t be afraid to start small.  Small is good.  A small start is better than no start.

As the community partnership builds, share the decision-making process.  Find common goals and agree on activities that meet shared missions or outcomes.  For some partnerships, I have made science presentations and conducted hands-on activities in a 45-minute to a bilingual classroom (English/Spanish) during Career Day.  At other occasions, I engaged an entire grade level (K-5th and special needs classes) at a time in a gymnasium with group activities (over 500 students in one day).  At the middle school level, spending two full days (due to block schedules) in science classrooms where students rotated through five stations – then repeated the process for each class period till the students in an entire grade level participated.  PhUn week works well to create community partnerships and we have successfully adapted to various events. 

 

Sustaining and deepening university-community partnerships

Planning PhUn Week activities is just the beginning.  For projects where you wish to establish long-term relations, the partnerships must be sustained and deepened.  In this case, it is important for partners to work together, celebrate, and reflect on the experience.  Work with the K-12 teachers and school to set clear roles and expectations. Rather than take on the huge burden of doing PhUn Week activities alone, work together.  Be clear about what you can and cannot do.  Even when you do the planning, unforeseen events happen.  When volunteers don’t show up and you have to run 5 stations on your own, don’t panic.  Invite teachers, mature students, or others to step in help.  Ask for help.  By working together, relationships deepen.

Partnerships will improve when you take the time to celebrate and reflect on the experience.  Your work is not done when PhUn week is over.  The time after the event is a time to celebrate what was accomplished.  Partners put in lots of time and resources into the event.  Don’t minimize the impact of the event, rather celebrate the planning and execution of the activities.  Were your goals achieved?  Reflect and get feedback on the things that went well and did not.  Take note of lessons learned from both partners.  Some feedback and reflection is done immediately after the event; however you may need time for other feedback to be collected (demographics, volunteer hours, resources used, costs, etc.).  To this day, my favorite feedback about PhUn Week experience is when students complete a pre-visit and post-visit “Draw-A-Scientist” activity (APS, e-DAS Handout).  It may take a few days to collect student’s drawings and to visit with the teacher.

Recently, we tailored PhUn Week activities to university-community partnership that addressed social issues.  Social accountability and community engagement are major directives of the School of Osteopathic Medicine at the University of Incarnate Word and are integrated into the mission statement, strategic plan, and curriculum.  We took PhUn week activities outside the walls of the university and into the heart of the community. Over 3,000 people from across the city took part in the 2016 Science Fiesta in downtown San Antonio.  PhUn week activities were modified to a large, public, city-wide, free event where people of all ages to were invited to engage in hands-on science activities (PhUn Week style) and included an opportunity to “Meet a Scientist” and “Meet a Clinician.”  In this case, PhUn week helped us address social justice issues, engage vulnerable populations, and be positioned to help promote science, health, and education during the Science Fiesta.

 

Additional information about PhUn Week projects can be found at www.LifeSciTRC.org

Bibliography

American Physiological Society, 2007. PhUn Week 2006: Promoting the Understanding of Physiology in K-12 Classrooms. Physiologist, April, 50(2), pp. 62-63.

Jacobson, D. L., 2010. A new agenda for education partnerships stakeholder learning collaboratives. Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning, 25 March.Volume 33.

Kerrigan, s., Reitenauer, V. & Arevalo-Meier, N., 2015. Enacting True Partnerships within Community-Based Learning: Faculty and Community Partners Reflect on the Challenges of Engagement. Metropolitan Universities, 26(3), pp. 63-78.

National Education Association Education Policy and Practice Department, 2008. Center for Great Public Schools. [Online]
Available at: http://www.nea.org/assets/docs/PB11_ParentInvolvement08.pdf
[Accessed 22 June 2017].

US Department of Education, n.d. Science, Technology, Engineering and Math: Education for Global Leadership. [Online]
Available at: https://www.ed.gov/stem
[Accessed 22 June 2017].

Zerhouni, E., 2008. NIH Director Newsletter. [Online]
Available at: http://www.nih.gov/about/director/newsletter/January2008.him
[Accessed 20 July 2014].

 

  Dr. Jessica M. Ibarra, PhD is an Assistant Professor of Clinical and Applied Science Education and a founding faculty member in the School of Osteopathic Medicine at the University of the Incarnate Word (UIW) in San Antonio, TX.  Dr. Ibarra teaches gross anatomy and neuroanatomy.  Dr. Ibarra began her undergraduate studies at Palo Alto College and earned an Associate of Science in Biology degree.  She completed her Bachelor of Science in Biology at the University of Texas at San Antonio. Dr. Ibarra earned her doctorate degree in Cellular and Structural Biology from the UT Health San Antonio where she also attended dental school and completed a postdoctoral fellowship. As a scientist, she conducted studies to explore the role of key inflammatory factors involved in chronic diseases such as heart failure, arthritis, and diabetes.  When Dr. Ibarra is not teaching, she inspires students to be curious about science with visits to local schools.  She has participated in science outreach through the APS Physiology Understanding Week, at the Science Fiesta, and the USA Science Engineering Festival in Washington, DC.  Dr. Ibarra’s passion for teaching and service translates into facilitating learning in the next generation scientists and physicians. She is active in APS as a member of the Porter Physiology and Minority Affairs Committee, Secretary of the History of Physiology Interest Group, a PECOP Fellow and a LifeSciTRC Vision and Change Fellow.

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