Student’s Research Demonstrates Impact of Service-Learning
Student’s Research Demonstrates Impact of Service-Learning

Andy Gleason

The research of recent graduate Andy Gleason, MA’17, demonstrates that service-learning increases health professional students’ personal growth and their awareness of cultural differences - a key finding that supports the University’s educational mission.

Gleason, who conducted his research as a master’s candidate in the Medical Anthropology Program in the Graduate School, followed 18 Creighton physical therapy students in the Dominican Republic (D.R.). As the students rotated through their clinical, service and immersion sites, Gleason was there, acting as both an observer and interviewer.

“When observing and interviewing students,” Gleason said, “I had my research questions at the forefront of my mind.”

Before Gleason and the physical therapy students set out to the D.R., he formulated two research questions:

  • From participation in cross-cultural, service-learning experiences, are students better prepared to engage their patients across cultural differences?
  • Are students more inclined to think critically and challenge some deeply entrenched assumptions that underpin problems in U.S. health care practice today?

With a special interest in service-learning and a background in cross-cultural immersion, Gleason’s research centered on topics to which he was closely tied. In 2013, Gleason originally came to Creighton as a program coordinator for the University’s Institute for Latin American Concern (ILAC) program. In this role, he oversaw Creighton students as they traveled and served in the D.R. As a staff member with the ILAC program, Gleason said he saw growth and transformation among the students.

In 2014, Gleason began Creighton’s online master’s degree program in medical anthropology. This time, as a researcher, Gleason said he witnessed students’ growth and transformation once again, especially by the end of the third and fourth week in the D.R. Through interviews and reflections, Gleason said he discovered that students became more aware of the challenges that their patients faced, including health care barriers and racial discrimination.

Gleason said that while his project was a relatively small case study, he felt it showed the importance of cross-cultural service-learning on health professional students.

After interpreting his interviews, surveys and observations, Gleason had five key findings, reporting that students:

  • Gained a broader global perspective
  • Increased their understanding of, and appreciation for, human connection and relationship
  • Acquired increased confidence and ability to navigate challenging clinical environments
  • Increased their understanding of health in a holistic context and the importance of a patient-centered approach
  • Demonstrated that consistent, intentional reflection is a critical component to making meaning of experience

Gleason, who graduated in May, is currently the international program coordinator for the Jesuit Volunteer Corps in Washington, D.C. He will present his research at the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities (AJCU) Justice in Jesuit Higher Education Conference at Seattle University in August.