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Honoring MLK, students seek to strengthen community relationships

MLK Semester of Service Student Awards announced on day of service

Five projects newly funded by the Martin Luther King Jr. Semester of Service Student Awards will help UMass Medical School students tackle hunger with farm-fresh foods, help the poor quit smoking, teach young immigrants to eat healthy and exercise, encourage Latino youth to choose a career in science, and teach health education to teenagers in prison.

The MLK Semester of Service Student Awards program, now in its fourth year, is a community service initiative designed to support student-driven, community-responsive service and service-learning projects in the communities that surround the Worcester campus. The winning projects, announced today, are selected by a team of judges based on how they strengthen relationships with the community, address community needs and student learning objectives, and provide opportunities for members of the UMMS community to work together and engage with the larger community.

“The selection process was really hard for the judges this year because there were so many excellent projects,” said Heather-Lyn Haley, PhD, assistant professor of family medicine & community health and medicine. “We had twice as many applications as last year, and they came from all three schools, which is great to see.”

Two projects are connected to the Capstone Scholarship and Discovery course, a new feature of the redesigned School of Medicine curriculum. In their fourth year, SOM students are required to identify a topic from a broad range of options, including basic, clinical or behavioral sciences, and apply principles of research and scholarship to examine, collect and analyze information and develop a formal presentation worthy of peer-review.

The projects funded were:

1. Farm-to-Health Center Initiative: Prescriptions for Food Insecurity
Kathryn Bailey, SOM ’16; Rachel Erdil, SOM ’16; Jeremy Malin, RN, GSN; Liz Rosen, SOM ’17

The goals of the Farm-to-Health Center Initiative are to assess the level of food insecurity (a lack of access to enough nutritious food for all household members to lead an active and healthy life) among patients at the Family Health Center of Worcester; to improve patient access to farm-fresh vegetables; and to educate physicians and UMMS medical students about food insecurity and resources for hungry families in Worcester. The students are partnering with Community Harvest Project, a non-profit farm in Grafton that grows vegetables for hunger relief organizations in Worcester, to survey patients about what vegetables are most popular so CHP will know which foods to grow.

2. Worcester Free Clinic Tobacco Cessation Project
Lauren Veit, SOM ’15; Wei-Sum Li, SOM ’16

The goals of this project are to train a small number of committed medical and nursing students in tobacco cessation methods at the Worcester Free Clinics and to use the clinics as a venue for these students to develop these skills on a regular basis; increase the availability of effective tobacco cessation counseling to free clinic patients, connect these patients with Quitworks (tobacco cessation support free to all MA residents) and ultimately decrease tobacco dependence among these patients; and decrease the time burden of tobacco cessation counseling on physician volunteers at the free clinics, so they have more time to spend on acute visits.

3. Mentoring Local Refugee Youth for Healthy Lifestyles
Courtney Temple, SOM ’17; Alyse Wheelock, SOM ’17; Alison Bialecki, SOM ’16; Jennifer Perez, SOM ’15; Michael Richardson, SOM ’14

Students will work with the Worcester Refugee Assistance Project, an independent non-profit organization that works with local refugees from Burma to help them resettle and achieve sustainable self-reliance through mentoring and advocacy. This project will continue to enhance mentorship relationships between School of Medicine students from the Quinsigamond House learning community and refugee youth—relationships that were fostered with support from MLK Semester of Service Student Awards in 2011 and 2013. Students will focus on developing skills for a healthy lifestyle, including promoting healthy eating, exercising and stress reduction techniques.

4. Increasing STEM Career Opportunities in the Worcester Latino Community
Glen Gallagher, GSBS PhD Candidate; Regino Mercado-Lubo, Postdoctoral Fellow

The goal of this project is to promote science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) awareness and education in the Latino community in the Greater Worcester area by partnering with the Latino community organization Centro Las Americas and the EcoTarium science museum to host STEM education events and a volunteer fair. Participants will employ new strategies for engaging Latinos in STEM fields while also providing UMMS students with teaching opportunities.

5. Health Education in Department of Youth Services Central MA Region Correctional Facilities
Rahela Aziz-Bose SOM ’16; Jennifer Fishbein SOM ’17; Julia Randall SOM ’16; Gianna Wilkie SOM ’16

The goal of this project is to continue to implement and expand a health education curriculum taught by medical students for the residents in the Department of Youth Services Central MA Region Correctional Facilities. Through a series of health-focused workshops, the students hope to continue to empower the facilities’ teenage residents with the information and skills needed to make healthy decisions both during their stay and after they leave secure treatment.

Each of the five project teams funded this year will receive $500 to support implementation of their proposals. The awards were funded by Building on the Promise: Learn and Serve UMass grants for the initial two years and are now funded internally as a diversity and service initiative. Because of the success of the program, five projects will now be funded each year, up from four previously.

The recipients will be recognized at the UMMS MLK Day celebration on Monday, Jan. 27, at 11:30 a.m. in the Faculty Conference room.

The MLK Semester of Service Student Awards program has helped launch a number of highly successful student initiatives, including WooFood, the Worcester Refugee Assistance Project and Kelley Backpacks.

Related articles on UMassMedNow:

UMMS community celebrates service to honor MLK
UMMS students partner in service with community organizations
MLK Semester of Service Student Awards support local health projects
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