Category: CEPS Feature Stories

2020 UCO Reach Higher: Reconnect Week

UCO GraduatesFinish What You Started! 

Complete your college degree 100% online through the Reach Higher – Organizational Leadership program at the University of Central Oklahoma. Reach Higher: FlexFinish is a program for BUSY ADULTS that uses your existing college credits to develop a personalized degree completion program at an AFFORDABLE TUITION rate.

2020 Reach Higher: Reconnect Week –
October 19-24, 2020

Join program representatives for any of the special events below during Reach Higher Week to learn more about the program and an opportunity to receive a tuition stipend during your first semester!

  1. RECONNECT WEBINAR: Tune in to an informational webinar where program representatives will cover the application process, financial breakdown, course requirements, and will answer your questions about going back to school!

 

  1. MEET WITH AN ADVISOR – Win an Amazon Gift Card! Schedule a time to meet virtually with one of our program academic advisors to ask specific questions and see what your degree plan will look like. The first 15 students to schedule appointments will receive $20 Amazon gift cards. Schedule your appointment time.

 

  1. GET ENROLLED – Win a Tuition Stipend! The first student to meet with an advisor and enroll in the Reach Higher – Organizational Leadership program during Reach Higher Week will receive a $250 tuition waiver during their first semester at UCO.

 

For more information about Reach Higher Week, email the program coordinator Trevor Cox, Ph.D., tcox18@uco.edu

Teaching During a Pandemic

On March 18, 2020, the traditional learning environment at Central, as we knew it, was flipped upside down as the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic caused worldwide shutdowns; as a result, all courses for the remainder of the spring semester were moved to a virtual format. Learning, teaching and working took on a whole new look for the entire Broncho community. Many faculty members were given one week to transition all of their instructional materials, assignments and exams online. Now that the spring semester is over and they begin to prepare for the upcoming fall semester, many professors are reflecting on what this experience has been like and how they plan to move forward.

“We really were not prepared at first, so there was a mixture of nervousness and surprises,” said Kanika Bhargava, Ph.D., associate professor in the nutrition and food science program.

“I was already familiar with teaching online, but during the extended break, I had to add a lot more content to stay connected with my students, other than just notes and resources.”

Speaking about the early days of the pandemic, Tom Hancock, Ph.D., professor and chair of the Department of Psychology reflected, “The entire process you’re thinking about what does this mean to me and my family? What does this mean to my students? What does this mean to my colleagues? And the university? There’s just so many different levels.”

Some faculty members, like Bhargava and Hancock, already were accustomed to teaching a few courses each semester online, but even with prior experience, this was unlike anything they had faced before. Bhargava’s nutrition and food science students had planned to present research posters at a program symposium in March, but that was quickly adjusted to a virtual format using an online discussion board.

“It was a challenge for me at first to try to explain to students how to change their poster project. The students already knew from the start of the semester they have to do it in a certain way, and then, on the spot, you have to tell them do it in a different way, so they had a lot of questions. You have to make them comfortable, and you need to prepare some guidelines for a new system you’re setting.”

And, in addition to transitioning learning resources online, Bhargava and her colleagues in the nutrition and food science program also were concerned about finding ways to keep material engaging for students in the same way it would have been in the classroom setting.

“The crisis forced us to think beyond our limits and be more creative at keeping students engaged and involved. We wanted to keep them enthusiastic for learning.”

She explained that national organizations in the food science industry began making videos and creating webinars for professors to share with students, which helped. Some even showed examples of how students could conduct their own lab projects at home with minimal supplies, or how to present a live, virtual lab experience for instructors, all of which she utilized.

But then, on top of continuing instruction, came the even tougher challenge: how to stay emotionally connected with students. Central prides itself on small class sizes that foster unique relationships between faculty and students, but when the pandemic hit, many missed the value of in-class discussions and relationships. In some cases, it made navigating these uncertain times even more difficult.

Students in Zoom

An example of a Zoom class during the 2020 UCO Prospective Teacher Academy.

Some classes still met virtually via Zoom or Webex, while others finished with online lectures and group discussion board chats. For faculty members, finding creative ways to stay connected with their students and remain supportive of them was a key piece to finishing the semester.

“One of the things that I really tried to do during this time is just mindfulness and having some compassion for students. More so than any other time in my 20 years of teaching I have had to understand that they are really going through some difficult stuff,” Hancock said.

“I am still working with a student who had COVID and actually spent two weeks in the ER. It’s extremely traumatizing.”

And with the sudden switch to online learning, other faculty members were worried about whether their students were going to be able to continue the semester at all.

“One thing that really came out in the beginning was I’m not hearing from some students, they’re not engaging in the content, and then being really worried about those students, are they okay?” said Scott Singleton, DPSY, associate professor in psychology.

“So, I finally put out an email saying, hey, I don’t care about the assignments. I’m just worried about you. Just let me know you’re around.”

As we navigate through the summer and prepare for the fall, we know the pandemic is likely far from over, but many are already asking themselves the question, “how do we move forward from this when life is back to normal?”

For Bhargava, Hancock and Singleton, they don’t think their teaching styles or course formats will ever return completely to their previous state. This has been an opportunity to grow and adapt and better navigate how they serve their students. Some even hope that it will shape how the university as a whole approaches online learning in the future. And, all agree this taught them new ways to understand and care for their students. They had a chance to reflect on how they connect with students, ensure that their objectives and learning outcomes were still being communicated and balance the mindfulness of the fear and uncertainty everyone is facing during the pandemic.

“I think this was a constructive kind of experience which taught us a lot and which we can always utilize in the future in teaching our students,” Bhargava reflected.

“We know how to deal with crisis, how to reach students who are in need. In the future, the normal life might be different, but we just have to learn from it and have to keep moving.”

Community/Public Health Students Assist with Metro COVID-19 Response Efforts

With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the final semester for UCO seniors turned out to be anything but ordinary. In true Broncho style, many faculty and students have embraced this change with flexibility and determination. Students in one senior capstone course at Central have even found a way to assist with metro COVID-19 response efforts as a part of their final learning project.

UCO Student Kelly Smith

Community/public health senior, Kelly Smith, takes a selfie as she sits down to write her briefing on April 11.

The Oklahoma City Metro Shelter Directors Response Team contacted faculty in Central’s community/public health program to assist people experiencing homelessness during the COVID-19 pandemic. Though students and faculty could not help in person, they could meet a need by providing a daily briefing for the shelter response team. The team has been busy implementing new strategies to protect the populations they serve, leaving little time to seek out daily additional resource information. These much-needed briefings are providing information directly applicable to managing vulnerable populations and specifically people experiencing homelessness during this time along with general daily COVID-19 updates.

The assignment was quickly incorporated into the community/public health capstone class taught by professor J. Sunshine Cowan, Ph.D., as a substitute for the midterm project. Each student will complete one daily briefing to submit to the response team by 3 p.m. The briefings are now being sent to 46 individuals involved with the Oklahoma City Metro Shelter Directors Response Team.

“I am excited about this, as it is a community partner requested need and it gives our students a role to do during this pandemic while still social distancing at home,” said Cowan.

“I am hopeful students will be able to look back on this chapter and know they had a positive impact in otherwise uncertain times.”

Students will research the topics using credible information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization and other professional health and medical sources. An example of the briefings is shown here in the daily briefing from April 8, created by community/public health student Sakinah Al Saleh & edited by Wellness Management graduate student, Bryan Shannon: Health Brief April 8.

CALL @ UCO: Transforming Students and the Community, One Class at a Time

Student Leading CALL Class
UCO student Marlee Hearn knew from a young age she had a desire to someday spend her career working with older adults. Her passion for health and wellness led her to pursue a degree in kinesiology-exercise/fitness management where she became connected with the Center for Active Living and Learning (CALL).

“Throughout my time in the kinesiology program my professors would always encourage me to get involved with CALL because of my passion to work with older adults, but I didn’t know if my schedule would allow for it,” said Hearn.

“I love CALL so much now. I can’t imagine not being a part of it.”

The goal of CALL is simple: to promote healthy living and lifelong learning throughout the lifespan with particular emphasis on UCO students and older adults. The program also offers targeted, transformative learning experiences for students which recently earned the center and its two co-directors, Melissa Powers and Jacilyn Olson, the Masonic Endowment for Transformative Learning Award at UCO’s 2019 Fall Forum. The health and wellness benefits of the various classes are supported throughout years of research and offer a great way for students to apply what they have learned in the classroom in a professional environment.

Hearn currently holds one of the paid student positions for the program as the CALL student project coordinator. Her main roles are to handle the scheduling of classes and management of class instructors, many of whom are her peers. This role has taught her how to communicate in a professional environment, the importance of being organized, and just how rewarding it is to work with members of the community.

She explained that not only do CALL classes provide for health and wellness opportunities, but also for valuable, intergenerational social interactions.

“I really get to know my participants and about their lives, and they always ask about what I’m doing in college.”

CALL initially began through a grant-funded program under the direction of Kinesiology and Health Studies Professor, Melissa Powers, in 2008 that allowed kinesiology students to visit community centers and hold classes for older adults. In 2016, CALL officially transformed into a year-round program held on Central’s campus which has now grown to host eleven classes per week.

CALL also provides 24 different classes per week in communities across central Oklahoma at no cost to participants through partnerships with the Areawide Aging Agency and various residential communities.

Larissa Boyd, assistant professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Health Studies, credits CALL for sparking her interest in community-based research. She was part of the initial grant-funded research program which allowed kinesiology students to lead fitness classes in the community back in 2009.

“I seriously doubt I would’ve ended up as a faculty member here had I not had the opportunity to learn more about community based research through this program,” said Boyd.

“It changed my perspective on how education research can impact the community and students.”

All students in the kinesiology-exercise/fitness management program are now able to gain valuable experiences through CALL with a required involvements in several courses such as introduction to kinesiology and physical activity and aging along with the opportunity to become paid CALL student project coordinators and class instructors.

The future for the program looks bright as new funding opportunities have allowed CALL to continue to expand not only on UCO’s campus but also in the metro community with a new class recently being added at the Okarche Center of Family Love.

Hearn explained she hopes to see CALL continue to transform the lives of students just as it did for her.

“I hope to see CALL keep growing because it provides great experiences for students and a benefit for older adults who might not have this low-cost opportunity anywhere else.”

For more information about CALL at UCO and in the community, visit uco.edu/call or contact the program coordinators at call@uco.edu or 405-974-5309.

UCO Hosts Troops to Teachers Program

Veterans attend UCO Troops to Teachers Program

 

 

 

 

 

UCO is continuing its mission of providing educational opportunities for veterans by partnering with Oklahoma’s Troops to Teachers to host the annual Troops to Teachers Jump School professional development program. The first seminar was held on Central’s campus in June, and the program will once again be offered in summer 2020. The three-day seminar was open to veterans who are currently teaching or planning to enter the education profession.

Over thirty veterans attended the sessions which focused on how to develop a positive classroom learning environment, design engaging instruction, integrate technology into the classroom and meaningfully assess student learning. Participants also attended a special ceremony in Old North with former UCO President Don Betz and current UCO President Patti Neuhold-Ravikumar. Special thank you to professors from the Educational Sciences, Foundations and Research department for helping to plan and lead this event!

Study Tour Captures Power of Transformative Learning Experience

When Susan Hanny began her graduate degree at UCO in 2016, the notion of studying abroad did not seem possible. Hanny was a nontraditional, adult student with two children and a full-time job; however, when she heard about a spring break study tour to Italy through the Adult Education and Safety Sciences department in March of 2017, her longtime love of travel and desire to visit Europe led her to accept the opportunity. The study tour, titled, “An Italian Experience,” was led by UCO professor Lori Risley, Ed.D., and centered on the themes of culture, education and leadership. During the tour, each student was required to prepare and plan an itinerary for one day of the trip. This allowed students to take an experimental approach to what they were learning about adult and higher education and leadership and apply it in a real-world setting with fellow travelers.

“Students were responsible for navigating the group through transportation and daily activities,” Risley said. “They had to do a lot of pre-planning for this, and most of the transportation signs aren’t in English which makes it even more difficult.” The tour included visits to significant sites in both Padua and Venice and gave UCO students a glimpse at the history, architecture and artistic elements of the country. The group even had the opportunity to interact with students and faculty from the University of Padua. Transformed and encouraged by this ten-day educational and cultural experience, Hanny then requested permission from the university to develop her own independent study course to conduct research on the same tour in 2018, with Risley as her mentor.

The goal was to discern the ways in which students experience transformative learning through an international study tour. This time, Hanny traveled to Italy as a research observer. The results of her research displayed a strong connection between study tours and the transformative learning concept. Each participant found he or she had been transformed in some way by the study tour, and surveys of the students showed the experience proved significant in displaying the concept of transformative learning. Some students, many who were middle-aged adults, gained a stronger appreciation for art or culture, while others were simply given the opportunity to experience life outside of the United States for the first time.

“Study tours can move people from just learning knowledge to actually seeking experiences that mean something and are valuable to them as a person.” – Susan Hanny

Her findings, with assistance from Risley, were recently published in an international journal, and the experience has encouraged her to continue her education by recently applying to the Swansea at UCO Ph.D. program. Both Hanny and Risley agree that they hope these opportunities continue to remain a possibility for graduate learners in hopes that more will be impacted and transformed. For more information on how to support the UCO College of Education’s study tour programs, contact Erin Ta at eta1@uco.edu.