The College of Science put to use a portion of its State Farm Leadership Grant to help a group of students promote environmental consciousness by expanding Concordia’s recycling efforts. A main requirement of the grant is that projects must be student led. Concordia students Jennifer Phillips, Hong Vo, and Alexandra Brennan’s recycling project seemed a perfect match. The College of Science learned that the students needed funding to put their plan into action.
Previously, the College of Science made use of the grant through a student-led effort working with area high school students to create interpretive guides for the trail around the preserve. However, the focus has shifted from working with high school students to working with the soon-to launch Concordia Master Naturalist group. Master Naturalist programs are approved through a partnership between Texas A&M AgriLIFE Extension, and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Concordia is seeking to establish the state’s first collegiate chapter. “The initiative for this program has already begun and the formalization of it is happening now,” said Dr. Janet Whitson, College of Science dean. “The program will likely launch the following academic year.”
Environmental Science Program Director Sam Whitehead says that balancing the need to increase awareness while minimizing traffic into the preserve remains a challenge for Concordia. But with “projects like recycling, students gain an awareness and education of protecting the environment” said Whitehead.
A new Austin recycling ordinance went into effect October 2012, requiring that outdoor recycling bins be placed alongside trash bins. Budget cuts potentially threatened the University from becoming fully compliant with outdoor recycling. But the State Farm Leadership Grant helped to bridge the funding gap and provided an educational opportunity for the students who led the project. Whitehead learned about the students’ recycling initiative through a meeting organized by Eric Booth, director of facilities management. Booth and Whitehead work together to manage the preserve with Booth’s department being responsible for maintaining the fence around the preserve, the trails and regulating access. Whitehead and other faculty are responsible for designing academic programs that make use of the preserve, as well as researching and obtaining grants for scientific study. Whitehead thought the students’ recycling project was a perfect fit for the grant.
In 2011 Jennifer Phillips, a facilities intern, organized a group of about 10 students on a Saturday to conduct a trash audit. “What we found was that more than 40 % of the trash that was collected could have been recycled or composted,” said Phillips. Phillips along with her fellow classmates Vo, and Brennan met with Whitehead to discuss improving recycling on campus. “It was frustrating trying to figure out how to improve recycling in the beginning. But I definitely feel like we accomplished a lot this semester. The new outdoor recycling bins around campus look great.”
Whitehead hopes the preserve inspires more students to become environmentally conscious. “We can truly reach everyone at the University, so hopefully even if you are not a student in the college of science, you will take a course that lets you go out in the preserve and study it,” said Whitehead.
For Phillips her next big challenge is a campus-wide initiative for composting. “I’m not really sure how to go about it, “Phillips said. “But it’s a learning process and I look forward to it.”
Concordia prides itself on the mission of developing Christian leaders. During the spring semester, Concordia students had the opportunity to learn and serve others as Christian leaders from across the world. During a study abroad trip to Costa Rica, one group of students was an International Study Abroad (ISA) group that stayed in Costa Rica for three months, and the other a 10-day Tropical Biology course. Both courses were taught and led by Concordia biology professor Dr. Laurence Meissner, or as the students call him “Doc.” Nine Concordia Texas students enrolled in the ISA three-month long program. In these three months, the students earned full academic credit while experiencing a different part of the world. The program partnered with Veritas University in San Jose, Costa Rica.
“A typical week for students consisted of classes Monday through Thursday, and excursions Friday through Sunday,” Meissner said. “The Tropical Biology students visited several sites including the Arenal Volcano, Playa Tamarindo, and Monteverde (Cloud forest) in Costa Rica and Bocas Del Toro in Panama.”
As part of the ISA group, students were required to take one Spanish course and live with a host family to create an immersion experience. Other required courses included Introduction to Environmental Science and/or Tropical Biology with Dr. Meissner and one course taught by Veritas University. ISA students also participated in the Experiential Learning Abroad Program (ELAP) by volunteering at a children’s hospital, a zoo, a community clinic, or an elementary school.
“Living in a [developing] country for three months is a life-changing experience. I volunteered in the children’s hospital and saw pain and suffering,” Rachel Ferry, senior communication major, said.
Living and studying in a different country wasn’t always easy for the students to adjust to.
“Going to church in a different country, trying to pray in a different language, and trusting that God had his perfect plan in motion at all times was sometimes more of a challenge,” Amanda Herrera, senior behavioral sciences major, said.
Doc began a weekly Bible study and led the first two sessions. Soon after, students began to lead them.
“Doc makes people feel welcome, and as it grew, it became something great,” said Ferry. “We developed our own community and wanted to make a difference to the people there.”
There were approximately 25 people at each Bible study. A few Concordia students as well as other international students studying abroad, led approximately 10 studies over a period of 13 weeks.
“CTX should be proud of these students,” Meissner said. The study abroad programs offers a unique way for students to learn about other parts of the world, but to also learn about who they want to be.
“I felt that [in Costa Rica] we had such a family atmosphere, so it was so rewarding to be able to walk away from the trip with true friendships,” Herrera said.
This experience was a great way for Concordia students to meet new people and exercise the skills they have learned during their time at Concordia, both in and out of the classroom.
Inspired by the university’s mission of developing Christian leaders, the Concordia community is given opportunities and encouraged to participate in activities of servant leadership. Annually, thousands of hours are logged in local, regional and global communities in partnership with local charities, Can-Do missions, global outreach organizations and churches. And those experiences are transforming lives.
Students in the university’s growing nursing program are required to participate in a medical mission experience during their training, something senior Zenoba Peterson didn’t know when she applied for admission but believes is an awesome opportunity to apply what she’s learned.
Traveling to Guatemala was a “life changing experience,” Peterson said. “God will send you where he wants you to go.”
Peterson’s journey to nursing school wasn’t what some would call traditional. A graduate of The University of Texas with a degree in sociology, she wanted to pursue nursing but wasn’t accepted into their program. Learning that Concordia evaluates applicants based on the ‘whole person’ intrigued Peterson.
“I’m pretty sure God wanted me to wait to start nursing school so I could find Concordia,” Peterson said. “[Nursing Director Joy] Penticuff chooses people who want to make a difference. I have no regrets.”
It was her first time to Guatemala, where she and 12 others served villagers who otherwise do not have access to medical care. They served in clinics, administering basic medical care to the people including wound care, drug distribution under the direction of Concordia nursing professor Beth Nurmi. They also taught in vacation Bible school, teaching people about the word of God with Pat Fick and other volunteers from Can-Do Missions.
A native of south Texas with family in Mexico, Peterson said her bilingual skills also came in handy while in Guatemala.
“I was able to help translate in homes and teach my colleagues the language to communicate,” Peterson said. “I know that nursing is my calling, and am blessed to be part of this program where Christian leaders are called to do this.”
Peterson will graduate in December 2013. She hopes to return to Guatemala one day and also serve in other areas of the world where there is a need for her work.
The Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) has completed its accreditation site visit review of the Concordia University Texas Bachelor of Science in Nursing Program. The accreditation site visitors’ preliminary evaluation is that the Concordia BSN Program met all four standards and the site visitors made no recommendations for change. The site visitors’ report will be submitted for official review to the CCNE Accreditation Review Board (ARC). It is extremely rare for the ARC to overturn the recommendation of the site visitors, and the official report is anticipated for later in the spring.
The nursing program graduated its first class in April.
Enrollment into Concordia’s nursing program continues to grow as students seek to meet the demand for healthcare professionals in central Texas. Upon completion of the BSN program, graduates are eligible to take the NCLEX-RN licensing exam to become registered nurses. Nursing program director Joy Penticuff is pleased to report a 100% passing rate for eligible graduates. All 20 of the recent graduates from the first nursing class have been offered employment as a result. Concordia’s program offers a very hands-on approach with students working in partnership at The Clinical Education Center at Brackenridge (a Seton hospital in Austin) during their junior and senior years, and opportunities to serve on medical missions throughout the world.
For more information on the nursing program, visit: www.concordia.edu/nursing
Navigating the nature Preserve at Concordia takes caution, but thanks to Eagle Scout, Caleb Giese, the trek through the Preserve is now easier to access because a new pedestrian bridge was constructed. Visitors to the CTX Preserve can now pass easily across the creek and flora and fauna are protected.
“I wanted to help make the creek not only easier to cross, but to help preserve the wonderful wildlife and allow biology classes to have easier access to the preserve,” Caleb said. “We don’t want to harm wildlife, so I thought a bridge would be the perfect project.”
Caleb built this bridge on the Concordia nature Preserve for his Eagle Scout community service project. The Eagle Scout rank is the highest and most difficult to achieve. Choosing a service project wasn’t an easy decision for Caleb. He didn’t know where to begin.
Caleb’s father, Dr. Curt Giese, is a theology professor at Concordia and recommended Concordia’s Preserve. Caleb realized that the University Preserve was a perfect fit for the project.
The requirements to complete this project were lengthy and strict. There was much paperwork involved. Caleb had to start with the outline of the project, request approval, and once approved, he had to keep track of all materials used on the Preserve.
“My dad helped me get in touch with the necessary contacts,” Caleb said. “I needed five signatures just to begin this process.”
For approval of the project, Caleb met with Dan Gregory, Concordia’s Executive Director of University Services, and Eric Booth, University Director of Facilities Management. Gregory and Booth helped guide Caleb through all necessary requirements to complete this project on the Preserve.
“Concordia’s preserve is host to thirteen endangered species,” said Booth. “The endangered Jollyville salamander lives in the Preserve, and the bridge prevents visitors from stepping on them or disturbing their environment.
A project of this caliber can’t be done by one person alone. At any given time, Caleb managed a team of four to 12 helpers.
“Not only did I help build the bridge, I had to design the bridge and plan the process,” Caleb said. “This project required tons of details, which helped me exercise and improve my leadership skills.”
The project began in December 2011, with the approval to begin the first steps. In February 2012, construction began and the bridge was completed by the end of March.
“The foundation took a lot longer than expected,” Caleb said. “We ended up having to work an extra weekend to finish on time.”
Caleb was in eighth grade at Redeemer Lutheran School during the time of this project. He is also involved in soccer, woodworking, football and hiking in addition to Boy Scouts. Caleb is now attending Concordia High school.
“I want the legacy of this bridge to highlight for anyone who walks through the Preserve that a Boy Scout completed this project, in hopes to inspire other Boy Scout projects,” Caleb said. “I also want to promote the protection of the environment.”
Concordia University Texas is located on a 386-acre tract in northwest Austin, four miles east of Lake Travis. Approximately 250 acres of the campus is a nature and wildlife preserve and is part of a conservation easement with Travis County. The campus is a “living classroom” for the study of responsible urban environmentalism and offers a unique opportunity to investigate and manage endangered species, native plants, hydrology, forestry, geology along with archeology in a spectacular setting.
Dr. Janet Whitson comes to the University from Concordia University Nebraska where she served as associate professor in the Natural Sciences department and chair of the graduate council. She brings a broad background in education to Concordia. She taught elementary school science, spent time in administration and teaching at the high school level, and served as an assistant professor in the Neurosurgery Department of the University of Texas medical school in Houston. Dr. Whitson is a member of the National Science Teachers Association, the Society for Neuroscience, and the International Society to Advance Alzheimer Research and Treatment (ISTAART).
Post-doctoral training, Baylor School of Medicine, Houston, Texas
Ph.D., University of California at Irvine
B.S., Concordia Teacher’s College, Illinois
Dr. Whitson’s research interests include Alzheimer’s disease (specifically the beta-amyloid protein), traumatic brain injury, and ischemia. Her favorite brain part is the hippocampus, and all of her research has been focused on this area. At the high school level, she was three times nominated by former students to Who’s Who in Teaching and won awards at the University of California for both teaching and research.
Concordia University Texas’ Nursing Program established a partnership with the Central American Lutheran Mission Society (CALMS) and Can-Do Missions to develop a medical missions program where nursing students are given opportunities to travel to foreign countries and assist in rendering medical care to those in need. During the fall break 2011, five students traveled to Guatemala and Belize.
In Guatemala, they worked with Dr. Elry Orozco, director of the Santa Cruz Clinic in Amatitlan, an economically challenged community near Guatemala City and with the health center staff in a remote village near La Union. They cared for patients with respiratory disease, open wounds, and back pain brought on from carrying heavy loads on their backs.
In Belize, the team was able to work in three different settings: Octavia Waight Home for the Aged, where they assisted with everything from physical care to mowing the grass, Good Shepherd Clinic in San Jose Succotz Village and in the underserved villages near San Ognacio, where they participated in activities such as distributing medications, taking vitals, and spending time simply listening and laughing with those seeking care at the free clinic.
Dr. Keith Ellen Ragsdale and Professor Pat Fick worked with the CALMS staff to develop the program and prepare students for the cross-cultural health service. It’s a unique facet of Concordia’s fast-growing nursing program that enables students to understand compassion behind the care they offer and grow as Christian leaders in the medical field.
A $250,000 grant from St. David’s Foundation is enabling Concordia University to install a state-of-the-art videoconference center for nursing students. This progressive idea meets helps students advance their education in nursing. The goal for creating the teleconferencing center was to increase communication between outside experts and nursing students for enhanced learning access. With this new technology, students can attend virtual guest lecturers from the country’s top health care professors and seasoned health care practitioners, all while pursuing their studies on the Concordia University Texas campus. This conferencing room allows faculty to connect to any video conferencing system around the world, while still remaining in the classroom. The center has surpassed expectations, giving students not only the chance to talk to and learn from experts, but also to talk to and learn from the professionals who wrote their text books.
With the grant money, in addition to the equipment in the videoconference room, the programs Movi, Adobe Connect, and Tegrity have been purchased to operate the video conference room and provide students with videoconferencing capabilities even when off campus.
Nursing students at Concordia University Texas are preparing to go on medical missions by enrolling in Cultural Diversity and Global Health Mission classes. This course will prepare nursing students traveling to various countries around the world and cities in the United States, in order to bring health care to communities in need. In this immersion experience students will learn how to cope with the challenges of giving aid to those who come from different cultural backgrounds and beliefs. Students will be returning to the same locations for years to come, so as to foster relationships, create a lasting impact, and begin a transformation in the communities they assist.
“The CTX nursing program is dedicated to partnering with communities to make a difference in which lives are transformed, both for our students and the populations in which we serve,” Dr. Keith Ragsdale, Associate Director of the nursing program and professor of the Cultural Diversity and Global Health Mission course said.
One of the main concepts surrounding medical mission trips is holistic nursing. Students learn that every aspect of the person is connected; therefore healing is not only a physical process but a mental and spiritual one as well.
“The body, mind, culture, relationships, and spirit of a person are all interconnected,” Gabriela Zapata, nursing student said. Students are trained to administer holistic nursing and will be implementing their knowledge on several different mission trips of their choosing. The locations for the trips are as follows:
Honduras - This trip is to the La Mosquita Jungle in the remote village of Mocoron to support a clinic that offers minimal care. Students will be partnering with Christian Health Service Corps and the Norma Love Foundation. It is a remote location that has a very real and serious need. Health care is sporadic at best for these people. For pictures go to: http://www.normalove.org/
Guatemala- This trip will be to the highlands of Guatemala in Amatitlan. Students will be serving in a clinic with a Guatemalan Lutheran physician, Dr. Elry Orozco, who has established a clinic to serve the needs of a very impoverished population of Guatemalans. Students will also have opportunities to help with a Saturday vacation bible school and participate in worship on Sunday. The nursing program partners with the Central American Lutheran Mission Society (CALMS) to set up this trip.
Belize – Students will serve in the Octavia Waight Home for the aged, making home visits with Nurse Dorothy Roth, helping at Good Shepherd medical clinic in San Ignacio, and working in some remote areas with Dr. Jose Sanchez, who is serving a Hispanic population with limited resources and health care. Students will also be engaged with Belizean university students from Galen University who are interested in expanding the service learning culture at their university. This trip will also be facilitated by CALMS.
South Africa- This site is currently in the development stages for students to serve in a variety of settings. The Lutheran Bishop of South Africa, Dr. Wilhelm Weber, has invited Concordia nursing students to come to South Africa to learn about his country and serve his people.
Bokenkamp Children’s Center in Corpus Christi, TX- Students would be serving alongside Nurse Severa Soto as she takes care of the health needs of immigrant children who have often undergone grueling experiences including refugee camps or unhealthy traveling conditions as they escape from war torn countries. Bokenkamp Children’s Center is an existing Can-Do Missions partner.