Chances are if you live in Columbus, Lowndes County or one of the surrounding cities, your life has been impacted by one of the many programs run by the Office of Outreach and Innovation on the campus of Mississippi University for Women.
Teacher development, environmental education, professional learning, wellness education, leadership training, life enrichment classes and summer camps…the Office of Outreach and Innovation offers these services and so much more.
Goals of the program are to support economic and social advancement of the community, develop and implement innovative programs and support professional growth, according to its Director Dr. Kate Brown.
"The Outreach and Innovation team is made up of committed, innovative people who are passionate about creating change and engaging in meaningful works," she said.
Worthwhile service is what the Office of Outreach and Innovation is all about.
Life Enrichment Program
They discuss a variety of subjects ranging from food to the weather. There's just one thing about this conversation that is different; they are mostly using their hands and a lot of facial expressions.
"Seventy-five percent of this language is facial," said Riddick, who taught Sign Language 101 on campus during the Life Enrichment Program's fall term. "Signing without facial expression is equivalent to and parallel with someone writing a paragraph without using any punctuation.
"Imagine signing you won the $50,000 lottery looking sad," Riddick said, adding "Unless of course you were trying to win it also."
A native of Brooklyn, she lives in Starkville and is a certified licensed sign language interpreter, providing interpreting services to any deaf student in the West Point School District. The Howard graduate started doing sign language in her church in Washington, D.C., as a ministry.
Upon her family moving to Starkville, they joined Peter's Rock Church of God In Christ, where her pastor embraced the start of a deaf ministry. The ministry has grown with interpreting services being provided on Sundays and Wednesdays for as many as eight deaf people.
As the result of her work with the church, the ministry became more noticeable in the community with requests for her services.
"An increasing number of calls for this service is what prompted me to pursue a degree and have a license in sign language," she said. "An interpreter should have credentials that make them accountable to state officials, to the public they are servicing and to the deaf community who deserve confidentiality, professionalism and even protection from interpreter error."
Yvonne (Joy) Mast, a 24-year-old from Brooksville, is one of Riddick's students. Mast, who was home schooled, also was born deaf.
Typically, she reads people's lips when she communicates with them in-person. "I face the person so I can see the lips and facial expression and body language so I can more completely understand what is being said."
When Mast is not reading lips, she communicates as most people her age would—via texts and emails. As a child she learned a little sign language, but decided to take Riddick's class after learning a few basics from a friend.
"Now, I am learning more and I like it," she said. "It's fun and interesting."
Mast said one of the most challenging parts of the class was the pace.
"I learn slowly, not always understanding what was being said so it was hard for me to stay caught up with what was being taught," she said. "I really appreciate the teacher taking time to make sure I could read her lips as much as possible." Riddick said Joy was "amazing" in the class, describing her as "oral."
"She reads lips skillfully. While teaching, I had to remember to turn directly toward Joy so that she could read my lips," Riddick added. "I had a group of students who were very passionate about learning sign language. They were absorbent, quick learners. I enjoyed every moment working with them."
Mast said, "I am thankful that MUW offered this class and that a friend invited me to a attend. I really enjoy learning more signs. I only knew a few and am glad for the chance to learn more."
According to Brown, the Office of Outreach and Innovation excels at developing innovative new programs and models, piloting those programs and when possible, bringing them to scale.
"This team of people collaborate with each other, departments across campus and community groups to identify problems, develop solutions, secure funding and implement strategic activities," she said.
One of those partnerships is made possible with professionals in the community who volunteer to teach courses each semester. They are experts in their fields who have a passion for teaching and learning.
CHAMPS for Teachers
"The Lucy Show" is in full effect this week. Games including Operation Scramble, hula hoops and even characters such as Katniss, a fictional character in "The Hunger Games," are brought out as part of McKellar's instruction to rev up her colleagues during an intensive, two-week seminar.
The approximately 50 teachers were on The W's campus participating in the Creating High Achievements in Mathematics and Problem Solving (CHAMPS) program this summer. The goal of the program is to give teachers fun, hands-on lessons and activities that will promote critical thinking and problem-solving in their math classrooms.
Lucy McKellar, who teaches seventh grade at Fifth Street Junior High in West Point, was one of the three full-time instructors leading the sessions.
"I try to teach them (teachers) lessons that will be easy to implement, fun for the students and gives the students a deeper understanding of the concepts." she said. "Students learn more when they are engaged and having fun."
What she terms as the "The Lucy Show" may involve tossing basketballs into hula hoops and jumping rope to emulate a mini Olympic competition. Students conduct a series of similar activities to collect data. This data is then analyzed and charted.
Another activity may involve stations being set up where the teachers become students, rotating from station-to-station, completing tasks that later would be used for their students in the classroom.
A few of the teachers prepare for a game of Shut The Box. McKellar uses math games throughout the stations to encourage the students to think strategically, while having fun.
"This game is easy to play, but hard to win. There is a strategy to use, but do not tell your students the strategy, let them figure it out," McKellar said.
McKellar said these activities are done with her students two to three days before nine-week exams. "This is a good review," she explained to the teachers. "The questions attached to each station are the types of questions they see on their nine-weeks exam and the end of year assessment."
It was about 10 years ago that McKellar participated in one of the first CHAMPS seminars offered at The W as a teacher participant. McKellar and Lauren Zarandona, who teaches at the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science, both were recruited by Debbie Fancher to serve as CHAMPS instructors. Fancher, who has almost 40 years of experience in K-12 classrooms, is a consultant, an adjunct at The W and also taught at MSMS.
"I got my teaching style through CHAMPS," she said. She describes that style as high energy, innovative and student-centered.
McKellar wants the teachers to walk away from the seminar excited about teaching. "Through a Facebook group, the teachers and I stay in touch all year, conversing about lessons and sharing ideas."
Passport to Wellness
When 31-year-old Amanda Shelton heard the "c" word in the doctor's office, her mind began racing, jumping to the worst conclusion.
"I was in tears. I heard cancer. I started planning my funeral," she said. Thanks to early treatment, Shelton's skin cancers, both melanoma and carcinoma, were caught at very early stages.
That may have not been the case if Shelton had not attended the Passport to Wellness program titled Healthy Skin: Prevent, Protect, Perfect at The W this summer. Her purpose for attending the program: to make sure she was wearing the appropriate SPF on her body.
Before she left the program, she had the speaker Dr. Bethany Hairston, a board certified dermatologist, take a look at a spot on the side of her leg. Hairston suggested Shelton set up an appointment with The Dermatology Clinic to take a closer look.
Shelton kept putting the appointment off with every intention of getting to it eventually. In the meantime, she received a gift card for a massage to The Vitality Clinic, which is connected with The Dermatology Clinic. A few weeks later, Shelton finally made it to the clinic for her massage. During that session, the massage therapist noticed the same spot on her leg and went over to the clinic to set up an appointment for later that week.
A biopsy was ordered. Shelton was relieved to learn that the cancer had not spread to her lymph nodes. A week later, Shelton was at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson having outpatient surgery—a procedure that lasted about two hours.
Today, the guidance counselor at Heritage Academy and former W admissions counselor, is cancer free. She continues to have checkups on a routine basis.
Her advice to others, "If you see something out of the ordinary, you definitely want to get it checked out."
Of course she is grateful for the advice she received at the Passport to Wellness program, as well as the gift card. "I am very thankful The W had that program to raise my awareness."