A Heart, and Hands for Service
There are some things that can’t be learned in a classroom. Skills and experiences that can only be nurtured through rolling up your sleeves, reaching out your hand, and meeting the needs of others. Departments and programs across the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences work year in and year out to provide these opportunities for students where they can step outside themselves and truly develop hearts, and hands, for service.
The footprints of our students’ and faculty members’ work is evident across the state. Their contributions are found in the prison cells of inmates who just want the chance to better themselves, or in the homes of veterans struggling to reintegrate into civilian society. We work to break down language and behavioral barriers that would otherwise stall the education of West Virginia’s next generation of leaders.
The scope of the Eberly College’s commitment to service is vast. It’s focused on healing communities, minds, bodies, and homes. And we wouldn’t have it any other way.
Since 2006, the Appalachian Prison Book Program has shipped more than 11,000 books to state and federal prisons across West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland, Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee. The book subjects range from parenting, self-help, history, law, dictionaries, biographies, and fiction. Whatever the subject, volunteers with the Appalachian Prison Book Project believe they hold the power to unlock worlds.
In 2004, WVU English professor Katy Ryan taught a class on prison literature, and realized that West Virginia did not have a prison book program. She and her graduate students discussed the need, spent two years raising money and collecting books, then started taking requests. The books are all privately donated, many by students and professors in WVU’s English Department and some by others in the community. Occasionally, an author or publisher will send a box of new books, too.
The volunteers shipped the first book, Natural Remedies, to the Trumbull Correctional Institution in Leavittsburg, Ohio, in 2006. The second went to the Mount Olive Correctional Complex in southern West Virginia.
From a small room in a historic house next to the Morgantown Public Library, they meticulously organize requests, exchanging letters to find just the right read and get permission from prison administrators while simultaneously scrambling to raise money for shipping.
The process takes months, and the restrictions are many: spiral-bound books are banned, their spines seen as potential weapons. Hardcovers are discouraged. Some institutions refuse books altogether, often with no explanation.
Inmates often learn of the Appalachian Prison Book Project from each other. Parents sometimes write on behalf of incarcerated children. Inmates often function as informal librarians, passing their books along to others. The group raises money with concerts, carnivals, letter readings, and bake sales. Though it takes only a few hundred dollars a month to keep the project running, volunteers can only ship books every other month.
The Master of Social Work Program at WVU trains graduate students in advanced social work practice either with individuals, families, and groups or in community organizing and social administration.
The focus of this training is to produce competent and effective practitioners committed to enhancing social well-being and quality of life with particular emphasis on vulnerable and oppressed populations in small towns and rural areas characteristic of the Appalachian region.
The program has several projects that provide outreach and service to the state and region. WVU was one of 11 master of social work programs awarded a $476,273 mental and behavioral health education and training grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to create the Integrated Mental and Behavioral Health Training Program. The program addresses the lack of qualified mental and behavioral health practitioners in West Virginia.
Carrie Rishel and graduate students are targeting two underserved populations: children, and military personnel, veterans, and their families. The lack of capacity in statewide child welfare hinders these mental and behavioral health services to children who are in need. Military personnel can experience reintegration issues when returning home from active duty.
This group and their families can experience difficulty adjusting to daily living in combination with mental health issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder.
The grant supports the training of 25 WVU graduate students in mental and behavioral health practice, over the three-year funding period, with a focus on integrated and culturally appropriate models of rural service delivery. The School of Social Work offers the program to master’s candidates at six locations in West Virginia, including Morgantown, Charleston, Beckley, Keyser, Wheeling, and Martinsburg. The grant supports speakers and clinical training in mental and behavioral health for the graduate students. It also provides stipends for graduate students to travel and serve in rural areas of the state that are in the most need.
The School of Social Work has more than 260 students in six locations across the state. In each of these programs students are required to complete up to two field placements or internships. These learning activities provide up to 900 hours of service to the agencies and communities where the students are placed. The placement sites include hospitals, schools, community mental health agencies, residential treatment facilities, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the State Department of Health and Human Resources.
The Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) and Intensive English Program (IEP) faculty of the department are active participants in the state West Virginia TESOL organization, which supports English as a Second Language (ESL) teachers in public schools, adult education, and higher education. Several WVU faculty members serve on the West Virginia TESOL executive board annually and are instrumental in organizing the state’s annual spring conference.
The department encourages faculty and graduate student participation and attendance of the conference with fee support and transportation. World Languages faculty members also are active participants in the West Virginia Foreign Languages Teachers Association (WVFLTA), which supports West Virginia foreign language teachers in public schools, adult education, and higher education. Several WVU faculty members serve on the WVFLTA executive board and are instrumental in organizing the annual fall conference.
“In West Virginia, children are often forced to receive care outside of the state due the shortage of in-state mental and behavioral health services. By training graduate students in mental and behavioral health, we can make in-state services more readily available to these in-need populations. With everyone working collaboratively toward the same goal instead of independently providing fragmented services, the success of treatment and prevention efforts increases.”
—Carrie Rishel, associate professor of social work and project director of the Integrated Mental and Behavioral Health Training Program
The Center for Women’s and Gender Studies maintains relationships with local and state nonprofit organizations, including the Rape and Domestic Violence Information Center (RDVIC), West Virginia Free, and Fairness West Virginia. Last year the Center partnered with the Monongalia County Girls on the Run for a campus community film and discussion evening.
Working with social justice student organizations such as the Gender Equality Movement and Spectrum (the student LGBTQ organization), the Center serves as a hub for the northern part of the state for West Virginia Free, and Fairness West Virginia, and throughout the year provides educational outreach and fund-raising support for RDVIC.
One of the requirements for students enrolled in the women’s and gender studies capstone course is to complete a service learning project. Traditionally, classes have paired with a local organization to volunteer so that students see for themselves what advocacy on the front lines involves. However, students in this course are now also learning through the use of social media and technology.
Brian Jara, senior lecturer with the Center for Women’s and Gender Studies, sees another approach to service learning for the capstone students. Rather than just volunteering on site, he wants students to actively engage with the organizations’ leaders to determine what type of technology would help them do their job and/or reach their clientele better. He then wants students to actively engage in the development of that technology.
This approach to learning has already had some success, and Jara, with former capstone student Jennifer Seifert, presented an Intro to Women’s Studies “app” during this year’s annual conference of the National Women’s Studies Association in Cincinnati, Ohio. The application features information that could be used nationwide, and is a step toward unifying the foundation of women’s and gender studies curricula.