By Doug McPherson
Kate Ashworth is a student at Metropolitan State University of Denver, but this semester she looked more like a teacher in front of a bunch of grade-schoolers sharing tips on how to lead healthier lives.
Ashworth, a senior majoring in integrative health care, was completing a requirement in a class she’s taking called Community Health Education and Lifestyle Medicine. The requirement? Go share what she learned in class with organizations that have missions that align with her values.
Ashworth chose Girls Inc. of Metro Denver, a nonprofit that promotes health, education and independence for girls. She spoke to the group about how to improve their overall health with better sleep, meditation, diet, body positivity and stress-reduction techniques.
“I loved the experience ... and I was so excited to share the benefits of lifestyle medicine with the girls,” Ashworth says. “I hope it added as much value to their lives as it added to mine.”
Another student, Ali Scrable, also a senior in ITP, spent time this semester teaching mindful movement and expressive dance with senior citizens at Eaton Senior Community Center in Lakewood.
“I loved that I could use techniques that I’ve learned in class to connect with the community,” Scrable says. “This course in particular has empowered me to step into my therapy shoes as a professional, and that’s a huge gift.”
The students’ professor, Michelle Tollefson, M.D., sees the class as a gift not only to her students but to the community.
“Putting students into the community to share their education makes MSU Denver a champion for change,” says Tollefson, a physician and associate professor in MSU Denver’s Department of Health Professions. “Half of all medical schools now have lifestyle-medicine curriculum, but it is rare to see lifestyle-medicine courses at the undergraduate level. Starting in the fall, we will offer the first undergraduate lifestyle-medicine minor in the country.”
Tollefson is encouraged by the mindset of her students and the promise they bring to metro Denver.
“Our students truly want to be change agents in our community; they’re passionate about getting out into the community and helping others to become healthier,” she says. “To me, this is what authentic learning is all about: taking what they learn in the classroom and using their passion, creativity, knowledge and hard work to make a difference.”
MSU Denver has a long history of emphasizing experiential learning for its students via internships, service learning, civic engagement and research, says Lori McKinney, Ph.D., a service-learning specialist at the University’s Applied Learning Center.
McKinney says the Applied Learning Center’s programs give thousands of MSU Denver students hands-on learning experiences annually.
“Our programs represent opportunities for students to gain experience that relates directly to their academic and career goals,” McKinney says. “And that experience is an important facet of integrating theoretical knowledge with real-world application. It gives students the chance to connect the dots in a way they can’t in classrooms.”
Evidently, employers like students who get those experiences. Ashworth says she was just hired as a program coordinator for the American Transplant Foundation, a nonprofit that offers support to the transplant population.
There she’ll be helping families find financial grants so they can make ends meet while in recovery and connecting patients with mentors who’ve been through a similar journey.
“I love this job because it lets me help families and patients in a very direct and holistic way,” Ashworth says.
She adds that she’s especially grateful to Tollefson and the IHC program.
“I may have never known about this major had it not been for them, and I wouldn’t have had these opportunities,” Ashworth says. “I’m honored to be part of such a caring and innovative program.”
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