Rob Brannan, associate professor of nutrition, talks with Vinton County Middle School students as the group toured the College of Health Sciences and Professions on May 11, 2012.

Photographer: Heather Haynes


Vinton County Middle School students Anna Dickinson, left, and Cayla Allen check out a mannequin patient in the Nursing Simulation Lab in Grover E225 on May 11 while touring the College of Health Sciences and Professions.

Photographer: Heather Haynes


Vinton County Middle School student Michaela Puckett uses her smart phone to check out an interactive video on hearing conversation during a tour of Ohio University’s College of Health Sciences and Professions on May 11, 2012.

Photographer: Heather Haynes

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Campus visit provides Vinton County middle schoolers with a healthy vision of their futures

Last week, a few dozen Vinton County middle schoolers spent a few hours in Grover Center getting a taste of what college life would be like if they choose to become a Bobcat.

The visit included test-driving wheelchairs, taste-testing Jell-O in the name of science, and working with a nursing simulation mannequin. The group learned about the wide range of professions within the College of Health Sciences and Professions (CHSP), which hosted the visit. They also toured campus and learned about the admissions process.

For officials at Vinton County Middle School in McArthur, Ohio, it was an invaluable opportunity to expose students to their options for the future.

“(Our goal) is to give our students an opportunity to see some of the opportunities that OU offers for possible careers,” said Steve Roach, an assistant principal and one of the group’s chaperones.

Ohio University students who worked with the middle-schoolers – and who not so long ago were in their shoes – recognized the importance behind youngsters envisioning their futures.

“They’re in middle school and getting ready to go to high school,” said Samantha Zoulek, a graduate student who helped run the physical therapy station. “They can start to think about what they want to do in the future. I think it’s great for them to see not just physical therapy, but other health professions.”

Zoulek’s exhibit, which she ran with fellow graduate student Andrea Johnson, was particularly amusing for the group. To connect the visitors with the mindset of a patient, the youngsters were asked to face the kind of physical challenges a stroke victim does. Students had to grasp and manipulate household items such as pill bottles and medicine droppers while wearing thick gloves, and with their eyes closed.

Laughter filled the room as they struggled, and the activity achieved both of Johnson’s goals.

“I hope they got a little bit of a sense of what it’s like to have an injury or a disability,” she said. “We want them to know that it is harder than it looks sometimes, and it gives them an idea of what (a disability is) like to live with every day. I hope they also took away that physical therapy is a fun career. It’s very hands-on and you get to help someone feel better.”

The participatory nature of the exhibits separated this visit from others the middle school has organized. In years past, youngsters visited physics and chemistry labs on campus, Roach said.

 “So far today, there has been a lot of hands-on stuff for the students,” Roach said. “This is the first time we’ve done the Health Sciences and Professions visit, and they’ve really been hands-on.”

The star of the show was the Nursing Simulation Lab. The Grover Center facility features a series of lifelike mechanical patients that breathe, run a pulse, even blink. While the students were ready and willing to participate at other events in Grover Center, the creepily realistic mock patients had most of them hesitating. Each time a brave soul checked the pulse or examined the eyes (whose pupils dilate in the light), the fake patient coughed or had seizures, causing the student to jump back in terror. And the room to erupt in laughter.

The fun and games were all a part of the mission of the visit: introducing the middle schoolers to a range of fields they might not otherwise know about. That so many of the visitors expressed interest in health care-related fields only added to the value of the trip.

Each student had earned his or her place in the excursion through membership in the school’s Academic Club, and their smarts were evident in their questions and eager participation. All of the stations were hands on, and each had an educational element. For example, a pair of audiology graduate students taught the visitors both about their field and about the dangers of loud noises.

“It gives our graduate students (a chance to) educate people,” said Marianne Malawista, coordinator of clinical services in the Communication Sciences and Disorders program. “That’s what our audiologists are all about: educating people about hearing loss, hearing protection, how to preserve hearing. It’s great.”

The middle-school group capped the day by having lunch with CHSP Dean Randy Leite – complete with a few nutritional lessons – and a campus tour and information session about the Ohio University admissions process.

The Vinton educators who chaperoned the group hope their young charges left Athens with a better sense of their futures, and maybe a passion for getting there.

“There are so many career options out there, and they should explore as many as they can,” said Vinton math teacher Jenny Souders. “It lets them see what college is like.”