Students amplify the impact of community organizations
Selfless service is one of the core values of Texas A&M University. For students in Selina Stasi’s Social Dynamics of Public Health class, it is a requirement.
Stasi, DrPH, MPH, instructional assistant professor in the Department of Health Promotion and Community Health Sciences, has partnered with community organizations to provide assistance in fulfilling their missions, while giving her students the opportunity to give back.
“They do a service-learning project where they commit to six hours of external service,” Stasi said. “Each site provides me with a project description for how the students can serve at their organization. I provide the list of projects for students to do their service and write a reflection report.”
The organizations Stasi partners with provide an array of experiences for her students, who get a chance to see some of the concepts from the course unfold in the real world.
“It is a setting, or a situation where they are going to be exposed to what it feels like to walk in somebody else’s shoes or contribute to an organization that serves people, and they will be part of something larger. It is a nice practice-based experience for my students,” Stasi said.
Although most of the organizations Stasi’s students work with are centered in the Brazos Valley, one—Rose Academies—is headquartered in California and was founded by Stasi’s grandmother, Susan Stasi, who is the CEO of the organization.
Rose Academies, which is a globally recognized humanitarian agency, in special consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council, is currently working in Uganda, East Africa. Its mission is to remove the barriers that keep vulnerable and oppressed children out of school and to empower those with illiteracy with knowledge so that they are able to reach their full potential in life.
“She is just a superstar,” Stasi said of her grandmother. “Her organization has just exploded. She does a lot of work globally and a few years ago she started getting interested in public health. As she started to learn more about public health, she thought it would be great if my students could help her accelerate the learning process.”
To do this, Stasi’s students created storybooks on various health topics that Stasi’s grandmother would print and take with her to Africa for distribution to community members who would read them to school children.
The program has since been expanded, and Stasi’s grandmother, working with the engineering department at Santa Clara University, has created an application to host a library of the storybooks. She has also secured donated mobile phones and tablets which are given to the community leaders to use to share the storybooks with children.
“Now they can bring more than one storybook to share with the children,” Stasi said. “It is part of the educational campaign that she does. And we can show it to our Texas A&M students and show them that their work actually touches people.”
Stasi’s grandmother has continued to expand the educational campaign outreach. Rose Academies recently received a grant to educate on substance and alcohol abuse, and Stasi’s students were once again enlisted to help.
Twenty percent of youth in Uganda drink heavily because of its cultural acceptance and the availability of inexpensive homebrew. Additionally, alcohol and drug use has increased during the COVID-19 pandemic.
To aid in the fight against alcohol abuse, Stasi’s students were asked to create public service announcements as part of a campaign.
“My grandmother has shifted from originally providing just basic awareness and she is now diving deeper into a particular health topic,” Stasi said. “She felt it would be great if my students could create something because a college student is going to be better at knowing what to say to a 12-year-old and it would be more relevant coming from them than us.”
While Stasi’s students are impacting others through their work, they are also impacting Stasi. Before taking the academia route, Stasi wanted to work to advance community organizations efforts when it came to fulfilling their mission.
“I would love to continue to build on this and if I can filter more hands and feet and voices into places where they are going to impact their mission, that’s even more fulfilling and provides a greater impact than me being able to do it by myself,” Stasi said. “I am definitely open to building more partnerships.”