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‘End of Life’ Course Earns Top NASPA Honors

SELINSGROVE—Susquehanna University’s “Issues at the End of Life” course has earned a gold Excellence Award in the service-learning category and a Grand Bronze Medal for overall excellence from the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA), the nation’s preeminent organization for student affairs in higher education.

Each year, NASPA’s Excellence Awards recognize “the contributions of members who are transforming higher education through outstanding programs, innovative services and effective administration.” Entries in each category are assessed by three to five NASPA-member judges using 10 criteria, including a positive impact on student learning, transitions, retention and/or success; collaboration with academic affairs and other departments; originality and creativity; and other relevant measures. Winners of the three overall awards— Grand Gold, Grand Silver and Grand Bronze—will be recognized at NASPA’s annual conference March 9 in Chicago.

“This is the fourth year in a row that SU has been recognized by NASPA for its service-learning programs,” said the Rev. Mark Wm. Radecke, university chaplain, associate professor of religion, and course developer and instructor. SU has won past awards for its SU CASA, SPLASH and Hurricane Relief Team programs.

Offered three times since its launch during the 2002-03 academic year, “Issues at the End of Life” is a multi-disciplinary, service-learning course 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 Neil M. Ellison, M.D., Geisinger's Director of Palliative Medicine, 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.

“I am proud to be a part of the tremendous instructional team for this very important topic,” said Ellison. “This honor bestowed upon us by NASPA illustrates how meaningful a course of this nature can be for students.”

Among the course’s 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 and/or illness, to create a lasting, meaningful record of the person’s life. Projects have included audio- and video-recorded life histories, memory books, and even a quilt made from scraps of symbolic garments such as wedding attire and baptismal gowns. Local religious communities help identify members who are willing to serve as “legacy partners.”

Other community collaborations include presentations from a regional law firm and a field trip to a local funeral home.

In addition to recognition by NASPA, “Issues at the End of Life” has garnered national attention in articles in The Chronicle of Higher Education (July 11, 2003), The Lutheran magazine (November 2003) and The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Dec. 19, 2004). Ellison says that his and his colleagues’ experiences with the course have been presented at national forums, including the annual meeting of the American Association of Hospice and Palliative Medicine. He and Radecke co-authored an article published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Palliative Medicine (April 2005).

At its heart, Radecke says, 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, aunt, a high school friend and a college acquaintance to accidents, illness and old age,” says former student Kimberly Tomaszewski, now a 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.”

Geisinger is a $2.1 billion, integrated health services organization widely recognized for its innovative use of the electronic health record, and the development and implementation of innovative care models, including its advanced medical home and ProvenCare ("warranty") program. The system serves more than 2.3 million residents throughout 42 counties in central and northeastern Pennsylvania. For more information, visit www.geisinger.org.

Founded in 1858, Susquehanna University is a national liberal arts college that prepares students for achievement, leadership and service in a diverse, interconnected world. Academic excellence, study away and service learning, student-faculty collaboration, and rich opportunities for creative and personal growth are hallmarks of a Susquehanna University education. Susquehanna students come from 36 states and 13 countries, and more than 90 percent of them find jobs or pursue graduate study within six months of graduation. The university is located in central Pennsylvania, in the town of Selinsgrove, along the banks of the scenic Susquehanna River and about three hours from major East Coast cultural, financial and recreational centers. For more information, visit www.susqu.edu.

Karen M. Jones


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