4 Ways Students Are Learning Outside the Box

Working in the community is a long and honored tradition at Gannon University, but there’s nothing traditional about the way that Gannon students, faculty and staff are making things better in the places where they live, work and worship.

In the last several months, members of the Gannon family have reached out to their communities in novel and interesting ways, achieving results that were both surprising and gratifying.

Playing the Part

The healing arts have inspired many classics on stage and on screen, but actors inspiring healthcare practitioners are something else entirely.

Yet that is exactly what happened at an innovative experiential-learning program at Gannon University’s Ruskin, Florida campus. Actors from two community theater companies took the roles of patients in simulated encounters with the students in the occupational therapy doctorate program.

The actors imitated the symptoms and signs of patients with Parkinson's disease, stroke, dementia, multiple sclerosis or head trauma in interviews with students, who were asked to identify the condition being portrayed and recommended treatment.

This kind of role-playing is not unusual in curricula for students in the rehabilitative sciences, but in most cases, fellow students take the roles of patients. Because the actors were unknown to the students, the exercise more accurately simulated the kind of interactions the students are likely to have with actual patients.

In an interview for a local media report, Gannon occupational therapy student Alexa Richter said, “It makes us think on our toes and that’s something that is going to be invaluable once we get into the clinic.”

The simulations proved to be valuable for the actors, too, giving them an opportunity to practice their craft with a level of feedback and response that a theatrical audience can seldom supply.

A Special Meeting

Mohandas K. Ghandi is remembered as one of the most significant figures in the development of nonviolence as a tool for political change.

What is less well known is that Gandhi was a lawyer in India and South Africa, whose human-rights legacy began in law offices and courtrooms.

The legal studies professors and students who attended the event included the following from left to right: Peter Agresti, Ashley Javier, Samantha Dorn, Kenzie Ryback, Raj Gandhi, Bernadette Agresti and David Cimino ‘15.

To get a thrilling, first-hand experience of that legacy, a group of Gannon University legal studies students and professors attended “Gandhi the Lawyer,” a special event at the Duquesne University School of Law that was part of the India in Focus arts and culture showcase, where the student’s received a special visit with his grandson.

There, students David Cimino, Samantha Dorn, Ashley Javier and Kenzie Ryback were granted a special meeting with Rajmohan Gandhi, the great man’s grandson.

The trip was arranged by Atty. Peter Agresti, an instructor in The Charles W. Deaner, Esq. ’48 Pre-Law Program and Bernadette (Dvorak) Agresti ’86, ‘96M, the program’s director.

“The experience for the students was wonderful,” said Bernadette. “We were very blessed to be invited to this event, and meeting Raj Gandhi in person was enlightening, allowing students to hear of the personal experiences of Gandhi’s family life and life as a lawyer.”

The Sweet Smell of Innovation

“Waste not, want not,” the old saying says, but it’s easier said than done.

Fortunately, a group of Gannon University engineering students were up for the challenge and willing to get their hands dirty—literally—with the work of making something useful from the waste that no one wanted.

In this case, it was compost from Gannon’s Goodwill Garden. For the last three years, the garden has been working with engineering students on a variety of projects, including rainwater collection and vertical planters.

This past year, the garden generated a fair amount of compost, but the commercially developed systems to deal with it proved to be ineffective and, well, smelly.

So, two teams of engineering students in the interdisciplinary first-year seminar, one under the guidance of Karinna Vernaza, Ph.D., professor of mechanical engineering, and David Gee, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, designed, built, installed and tested alternative composting systems.

One used wood recycled from pallets. The other designed a metal composting bin that was assembled at Industrial Sales and Manufacturing, an Erie company.

“Around half the students might not have had opportunities to build things in high school or in Scouts, and I think that experience was important,” Vernaza said. 

Gaining New Options

Since 2013, Gannon University’s Gaining Options for College (GO College) program has helped to bring the opportunity to attend college within reach for hundreds of students in the Erie School District.

Students in the GO College program tested the equipment in the Patient Simulation Center on a recent visit to Gannon’s campus.

In November, the good work of the project was affirmed and extended by the receipt of a $250,000 grant from the Erie Community Foundation and the Erie County Gaming Revenue Authority.

The grant will support GO College’s efforts over the next two years to mentor nearly 500 students at Erie’s Strong Vincent and East high schools to explore careers, apply to college and find financial aid.

GO College, a collaborative venture of the Erie School District, Gannon University and the GE Foundation, is a national data-driven initiative that brings communities together to increase college access and success through academic enrichment, college exposure and service-learning.

Since 2013, 443 students have participated in the program, 97 percent of students then took steps to apply to college, 90 percent of which were accepted to 30 post-secondary schools while others have joined the military.

“We are changing the culture and the way students think about their futures by valuing and pursuing their options after high school, which ultimately impacts the entire community,” said Barbara Priestap, Gannon’s GO College director.