The purpose of this capstone course is to provide an opportunity for students from different units in the College of Applied Health Sciences to participate in the development and implementation of community-based wellness projects that have an interdisciplinary focus. Students in the course are placed into small teams to create projects related to community engagement. Specifically, the course is designed to present students with an innovative environment in which they (a) solve problems and address challenges that increase wellness and quality of life for older adults living in Champaign-Urbana, (b) develop a commitment to volunteerism, (c) participate in team-based learning, (d) acquire skills related to engaging with the media, (e) showcase different aspects of their project in a professional portfolio, (f) formally present their project in different venues and critically reflect on their experiences, (g) learn how to resolve group conflicts, (h) be confronted with the real possibility that a project could fail, and (i) encounter a real-world learning environment in which they are responsible for making decisions independently of course instructors.
The course, sponsored by a Civic Commitment Grant from the Office of the Provost, was offered for the first time in Fall 2007 on a limited-enrollment basis. It began with a series of six lectures from prominent members of the community who addressed the different dimensions of wellness. After subsequent classes focusing on team development, entry into a community-based setting, interacting with organizational CEOs, and project sustainability, teams of students were assigned to design and implement health and wellness-related projects in the community. Although multiple projects have been conduced, three are briefly explained here: “Bridge Night: Where Wii Come Together” coupled older adults from the Champaign Park District with university students for purposes of cross-generational participation in traditional games such as Bridge and Pinochle and more recent and technologically-based games such as Wii. The second group, “Never Stop Exploring Urbana-Champaign” organized a series of wellness-oriented field trips for older adults from the Champaign County Adult Day Care Center that ventured to Curtis Apple Orchard, Illini Union, Arboretum, Meadowbrook Park, Krannert Art Museum, and Memorial Stadium. The third group, “What’s Your Story?” was designed to inspire residents from Clark-Lindsey Village to document important memories by creating a memory book as a means of preserving life lessons for family members while simultaneously enhancing intellectual wellness.
Given the success of the class, which has generated considerable media attention and resulted in outstanding feedback from both students and community participants, the instructors plan to use it as an instructional laboratory for testing different models for engaging students in the College of Applied Health Sciences in innovative community-based internship experiences. The class has resulted in multiple national and international presentations related to public engagement. It has also enabled significantly more students to participate in team-based experiences prior to graduation that are cost-effective and support the community-based learning initiative outlined in the strategic plan at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.