Class goes to Honduras, teaches health

Alex Belz

For many students, summer is a time for celebrating the end of classes and relaxing. But for NMU professors Mary Jane Tremethick and Eileen Smit, along with their students, it’s a time to help educate children in Honduras.

Their class, Interdisciplinary Study in Global Health Care in Honduras (NE 495/HL 495), is a student service learning and cultural immersion class that focuses on health promotion in Honduras. Students educate children on basic health information.

“The kids are just so responsive to the students,” Smit said. “It’s been a really rewarding experience to see people who are very committed to making the living of those around them better. (It) is energizing.”

The class began after Smit took a trip to Honduras in the summer of 2006. After her trip, Smit began working with Tremethick, a health promotions professor, to put together a course that would immerse students in the culture of Honduras, as well as encourage them to work to improve the health conditions of Honduras.

“It has been an incredible collaboration,” said Tremethick.

The class also works with Dr. Milton Mendoza and the Yojoa International Medical Center Committee to help establish the hospital. While there, they have been meeting with government officials and helping to raise money for the cause. Tremethick said that many students who have gone on the trip donate money to the Center.

Currently, Smit and Tremethick are working on putting together a podcast to educate the Honduran people on the importance of pregnant women taking folic acids, as well as compiling a list of foods which contain folic acids. Folic acids help reduce the chance of birth defects.

Smit and Tremethick received a Michigan Campus Compact award last fall. They were selected for a faculty/staff community service-learning award.

Trista Buzzo, who went with the class twice to Honduras and once on her own to work on health needs in Honduras, was also selected for the Outstanding Community Impact Award. The award is given to only five undergraduate and one graduate student in Michigan.

Smit and Tremethick will be going again in May, as well as 13 students. Professor Mary Stunkard from the clinical lab sciences department will also be going on the trip. Stunkard is interested in seeing what sort of opportunities there are in Honduras for her department.

Other faculty members, such as professor Sandra Poindexter, have taken an interest in the class and what it is trying to do in Honduras. Poindexter helped set up the Web site for the Yojoa International Medical Center.

Smit and Tremethick have been looking for ways to improve the class. Kathleen Kerr, Tremethick and Smit’s Freshman Fellow, has been conducting research on how different universities handle health promotion study abroad classes. A Freshman Fellow is a freshman student paired with a faculty member who researches an academic topic for them.

“The majority of the students I read about in the medical journals had a more clarified career path and better cultural understanding afterwards,” said Kerr. “I think this class is only going to get a lot better.”