Through a Different Lens
SERVICE LEARNING is a requirement for every Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) student at St. Kate's. For Deidre Lindstrom, who graduated with a DPT degree in 2007, the experience affected how she sees the world.
Lindstrom was one of 17 students who traveled to Venezuela last March as part of their DPT program. They visited Father Greg Schaffer's Jescristo Resucitado Parish in San Felix, Venezuela. In a letter to Andrea J. Lee, IHM, president of the College of St. Catherine, Pastor Schaffer wrote: "What I appreciated most was how the students and faculty from the College of St. Catherine treated each and every person they met with great respect and dignity - from the youngest child at the day-care center to the oldest man dying of AIDS."
"St. Kate's does a good job of making you aware of what lens you're viewing the world through," says Lindstrom, who now works as a physical therapist at the University of Minnesota Medical Center Fairview on the University campus. "I was looking at Venezuela from the American viewpoint, but now I have the Venezuelan lens, too."
Lindstrom was most moved by the people of the parish. "They were honestly the most loving, giving people that I've met in my life," she says. "They come from such a different background, but they have the same emotions, the same joys, the same loves that we do. When you appreciate that everyone is a unique individual and has his or her own culture and rituals, it makes you more understanding. Human nature transcends all different backgrounds and every socioeconomic status - you realize that we're all so similar."
The St. Kate's students worked in a soup kitchen, helping to prepare 250 meals a day; they played with the children at the parish day-care center; they visited men dying of AIDS at a nursing home run by the Sisters of Charity.
They accompanied a local doctor, who keeps working despite having received no salary for more than a year, on her clinical rounds at a hospital and to visit the poorest of the poor in their homes.
"The important thing with service learning is that we're partners in learning," says Sue Klappa, assistant professor in the DPT program, who accompanied the students.
She notes that the main purpose of the trip was not necessarily to gain clinical expertise, but to examine issues with regard to Catholic social justice, healthcare disparities, poverty and access to healthcare. "We learn from each other. A real mutual exchange happens, and students leave saying, 'Wow, we got so much more than we gave.'"
Most of the students left Venezuela determined to do more with their lives than work a 9-to-5 job. "They want their work to be a passion, a calling," Klappa says. "One of the students put it this way: 'We thought our service-learning experience would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Now we've decided to make it part of our daily lives.'"
— Sara Gilbert