“End of Life” Course Earns Top NASPA Honors
In 2003, when the Rev. Mark Wm. Radecke started teaching Issues at the End of Life, an elective course he helped conceive as Susquehanna’s university chaplain, he knew it could have a powerful effect on the students who were exploring some of life’s most personal and profound questions. What he didn’t predict was the impact it would have in the greater educational community: the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) recently awarded the course a gold Excellence Award in its service-learning category and a Grand Bronze Medal overall.
Radecke attributes the course’s award-winning status to a number of features, including its multidisciplinary examination of such issues as terminal illness, life support, death and dying, grieving, funeral practices and views of the “afterlife” from religious, pastoral, scientific, medical, ethical, legal, cultural and psychological perspectives.
Offered three times since its launch during the 2002–03 academic year, most recently last year, Issues at the End of Life is offered jointly by Susquehanna’s Office of the Chaplain, the Department of Philosophy and Religion, and the Palliative and Supportive Medicine Program of the Geisinger Health System in Danville, Pa. Radecke and Geisinger’s director of palliative medicine, Dr. Neil M. Ellison, are primary instructors.
Half of the 28 class sessions focus on religious, spiritual and theological issues; the other half feature guest presenters from Geisinger, including physicians, nurses, bioethicists, hospice and social workers, and counselors. Among its unique elements is its compelling service-learning component: each student works with a member of the community who is facing end-of-life issues due to age or illness to create a lasting, meaningful record of the person’s life.
In addition to recognition by NASPA, Issues at the End of Life has garnered national media attention and served as the source for presentations at national forums. Ellison and Radecke also co-authored an article published in the peer reviewed Journal of Palliative Medicine (April 2005).
Awards and attention, however, don’t keep Radecke and his colleagues from tweaking their successful formula. Last year, they added ethical wills––bequests of values, hopes and dreams instead of material goods––to course content.
“Students found the exercise challenging, in part, I think, because considering the moral and spiritual legacy one wants to leave behind presumes that one has lived a bit more than 18 to 22 years,” says Radecke. “I think the concept resonates with this generation, though, because they are more spontaneously interested in service.”
At its heart, the course paves the way for common experience. “It was not quite a year after I took the course when I lost my best friend, both grandmothers, an aunt, a high school friend and a college acquaintance to accidents, illness and old age,” says Kimberly Tomaszewski ’06, who took the course as a student and now serves as campus minister at the University of Illinois Urbana–Champaign. “I cannot count the times I leaned on my experiences and learning from this course to remember how natural my emotions were, how communal the processes of mourning would be and, again, how much death and the end of life is a part of this life.”
Contributing writers to The ‘Grove section are Karen Jones, assistant director of media relations, and Heather Cobun ‘10, a communications and political science major from Eldersburg, Md.