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Writers in Service Learning Course Send Out Vital Health Message

Date: Jan. 24, 2002
By: Dawn Fuller
Phone: (513) 556-1823
Archive: General News

An AIDS awareness service learning course launched in winter 2000 is having a strong and vital impact on students in University College, across campus and out in the community. The language arts course, created by Assistant Professor Jonathan Alexander in conjunction with Barbara Wallace, director of service learning for University College, has also received an additional $27,000 in national funding - a total of $30,000 in funding over three years from the Bridges to Healthy Communities program, supported by the American Association of Community Colleges and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

Students who enroll in the course not only meet an academic requirement toward their degree, but also as they build their writing skills, they're helping out local agencies that provide information and support services on AIDS and HIV. More important, Jonathan Alexander adds these students are developing a new awareness about the disease, which according to the National Institutes of Health infects approximately 20,000 Americans under age 25 each year. He hopes that with this awareness, students will spread the message that AIDS affects everyone, but it can be prevented.

"We still get a lot of people who will come into the class with the mindset that AIDS is a problem for gay people or a problem for drug abusers or prostitutes, but then they discover as they find out more that it's an issue they need to be concerned about."

As part of their service learning project, Alexander says students enrolled in the English 101 course last fall were assigned to produce an informational pamphlet about HIV and AIDS, designed for an audience of their peers. "Each student produced his or her individual pamphlet, then we took the best points and folded them into one individual pamphlet." Alexander says that information was then reviewed by a panel consisting of faculty, health experts and community agency representatives. Jonathan Alexander at the resource center

After the panel approved the information, the pamphlet was published and distributed to University College students enrolled in the orientation to learning class. The pamphlet made it into the hands of approximately 1,000 students and is also available at the UC Wellness Center. Students also put together an informational packet that was used in an Oct. workshop.

"Part of our grant goal is to promote positive messages, but this is also a great assignment for an English class," continues Alexander. "Students have to research the information, they have to consider it, they have to think about their audience -- what kind of information do college students need, and how does that information need to be organized. For students to actually see their work published and disseminated, that's really important for a beginning writing student."

During winter quarter, students in the English 102 course will continue to work on a web site that was designed and organized by students last winter. Alexander says the site will post papers about student-researched issues surrounding AIDS and HIV. Students can also enroll in an English 103 course coming up in the spring. Furthermore, students and faculty can now take advantage of a resource center in Alexander's office, located at Room 3303 French Hall. "The resource center contains videos, books about AIDS and HIV and many freebies and handouts," says Alexander. "Part of the resources were bought with grant money, but a lot of it was donated by our community partners: the Cincinnati Health Department, the Infectious Disease Center, the International Service Learning Conference and North American AIDS Treatment Action Forum." Alexander says the resource center is available for faculty and students across campus. "This material can benefit faculty interested in adding information about AIDS/HIV to their courses, as well as students who are working on their projects." While progress has been made in the battle of educating people about AIDS, Alexander says the disease remains a serious health threat, especially for the youth population that was growing up in the decade when the AIDS scare began. "The good part is yes, things have progressed since the 80s, when AIDS first made headlines. But if this sense of progression is making people careless, more people will become infected with a disease that will kill them. "There are now drugs that extend the lives of AIDS patients, but they will still die. Plus, those drugs are expensive and there are often severe side affects, and keep in mind those medications are not available to all people who contract HIV. In tough economic times, who will ensure the drugs will continue to be available? It's a very precarious risk."

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