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Nursing students Sophie Mintz and Chantal Low have contributed work to “Community Champions,” a Penn program in which students promote healthy lifestyles in the Philadelphia community.

Credit: Cindy Chen

When you walk into Claire Fagin Hall, you’ll see a large quote stating, “We are Penn Nursing Science and we care to change the world.” Nursing undergraduates are starting to change the world through “Community Champions," a program in which students promote healthy lifestyles in the Philadelphia community.

Terri Lipman, assistant dean of community engagement at the School of Nursing, started the program two years ago with 2015 Nursing graduate Jodi Feinberg, a President’s Engagement Prize winner. Lipman realized that many of her Nursing students wanted to apply what they were learning in the classroom to help out in the community.

Community Champions originally started with 20 students and, in a short time, has grown to more than 50 students.

“I am completely amazed and thrilled by the enthusiasm and energy of the students involved in Community Champions. They have don,e and are continuing to do, an incredible job and they have such a strong passion for what they are doing,” Lipman said. “They are being leaders in the nursing profession, and this is a wonderful opportunity to engage with the community.”

“I have learned a lot about what it means to make your lessons as pertinent as possible to your population,” said Nursing senior Leah Quinn, Community Champions recruitment chair. “One of the first curriculums I designed about asthma was very technical with science and biology, but when I taught it to a sixth grade class, it did not fully resonate with them. I had to take a step back and think about how this initiative could be most beneficial to them.”

Quinn revised her curriculum to empower the students and give them the tools to be active members of their community. For example, the class made and hung up posters around the school to promote living and learning in a smoke-free environment.

One of the top Community Champions initiatives is “Dance for Health,” a free fitness dance class for all ages. The program includes asthma outreach, diabetes awareness programs and the “Fruit Stand,” which demonstrates to children how to eat well and manage a business by selling healthy food.

Another program, “Living Independently for Elders,” provides community-based healthcare services to help seniors — who would otherwise require nursing home care — to live independent, healthy lives in their own communities. At the LIFE Center, Community Champions puts on a chair-dancing program to increase physical activity.

In the field of nursing, Quinn believes that it is crucial to understand the lifestyles of the people you are treating to provide better care.

“You can’t treat a kid with asthma in the hospital and then sign him out [because] then they would probably come back a week later with another severe asthma attack because the home that they might be living in could be filled with dust and triggers,” Quinn said. “You have to be able to engage with other disciplines, like social work, and other community members to make an actual change and comprehensively care for your patients.”

“The community engagement should improve the health of the community and should also improve the educational experience of the students,” Lipman said. “It is important to evaluate these outcomes to make sure that we have a mutually beneficial community partnership and engagement.”

In the long run, the students hope to make sure that all of the initiatives are run effectively and to expand the program to include initiatives for all ages, cultures and communities. This could possibly include working in the prison system, Quinn said.

“For me, even though I am graduating in the spring, a macro goal is to have community engagement be implemented into the nursing curriculum so everyone can obtain these experiences,” she said. “There [are] not concrete actions to have this developed yet, but I would love to see Community Champions inspire it.”

Video by Video Producer Matthew Mizbani and Staff Videographers Ming Zhang and Sanjana Sarkar

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