Community Engagement

Commitment to community

Honors for service to make debut at commencement for OUWB Class of 2023

An image of students volunteering at Gleaners

Nearly 30 OUWB medical students volunteered at Gleaners Community Food Bank's Detroit Distribution Center in January 2023 for a service day held in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. (Photo by Andrew Dietderich)

Community Engagement

icon of a calendarApril 27, 2023

icon of a pencilBy Andrew Dietderich

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Community always has been embedded into the DNA of Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine — where school officials have launched a new way to recognize dedication to service.

For the first time ever, Compass Service Honors will be part of the OUWB Commencement ceremony.

Students who have completed more than 150 hours of community service during their four years at OUWB will be wearing purple and silver cords. (Students who completed 50-150 hours will receive a certificate.)

A total of 29 members from the OUWB Class of 2023 will wear the new cords.

“We are very excited about our inaugural service cords,” said Tonya Bailey, Ph.D., associate dean, Diversity & Inclusion and Community Engagement.

“The students are not only receiving a degree, but acknowledgement for the service they did while accomplishing that.”  

‘A more meaningful experience’

An image that contains all names of service cord recipientsOUWB’s mission statement is “to develop compassionate physicians who are dedicated to improving the health of their communities, collaboration, and lifelong learning.”

The emphasis on community dates to before the school even welcomed its first class in 2011, according to Jean Szura, Ph.D., director of service learning.

“Our founding dean (Robert Folberg, M.D.) wanted to make OUWB a community itself, and then bring that atmosphere out into the surrounding community to really help our students develop into physicians that care about their communities and diverse populations,” she says.

“It was all about making medical school a more meaningful experience.”

Compass is the school’s department that is focused on facilitating connections with local, regional, national, and global communities.

Compass works with a wide-range of community partners, such as Gary Burnstein Community Health Clinic, Hope Hospitality and Warming Center, and Care House of Oakland County.

Further, Compass awards mini-grants of up to $500 for various student-led projects, such as a sheep brain dissection program for Avondale High School students, or another one to create birthing kits for pregnant women in Nigeria. For the 2022-23 calendar year, 15 mini-grants have been awarded.

The department also oversees several events that have become signature programs for OUWB: Make a Difference Day; Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service; OUWB Day of Service; and more.

“When we think about community, there are two words inside of that one word…common and unity,” says Bailey. “Our overall goal is to make sure that our future physicians understand that there is a common unity that needs to be met within any community that they serve. Our role as an institution is to give them those opportunities.”

Szura says it’s all about offering as many “teachable moments” as possible for students.

“Addressing food insecurities, or housing insecurities…it’s helping them better understand how many different things impact health and health care…and possible future patients,” she says.

Students have increasingly taken advantage of such community service efforts over the years, too.

An image of students at the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer event in October 2022

Students at the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer event in October 2022. (Photo by Michele Jasukaitis)

‘A passion to give back’

Since 2019, the number of service hours performed by OUWB students and recorded by school officials has more than doubled.

For the 2019-20 academic year, students performed 6,779 hours of service work. That number increased to 12,644 for 2020-21, and again for 2021-22, when the number increased to 13,036.

Service work recorded ranges from yard work to volunteering with organizations like Gleaners.

Szura says the increasing number of service hours can be, in large part, traced to the kind of students who apply to OUWB.

“So often, OUWB applicants have a passion to give back and love that it is such a central focus of what we’re doing,” she says.

Trixy Hall, coordinator of graduate programs and community outreach, says she believes a lot of the increase has to do with the feelings students get from helping others.

“Having opportunities definitely sparks a fire with students who want to do more,” she says. “Students feel better by giving and helping…and think to themselves, ‘Yes, that was worth it. I’ll do it again.”

To recognize the OUWB commitment to community, officials wanted a way to honor those who go above and beyond, which is where the Compass Service Honors come in.

‘Great’ honor

Szura says OUWB always has asked students to log their service hours, but there was a general belief that not all hours were being tracked.

To incentivize students to log the hours, a plan was developed to recognize those who reached certain milestones.

First, it was certificates. That evolved into the service cords.

According to Szura, officials definitely saw students putting in the effort to log their hours after they understood that they would be wearing honor cords at commencement.

It’s a win-win situation, she adds.

“That helps us know where they are in the community, and helps us see where we are making an impact,” she says. “And it gives us a chance to recognize them for all their hard work.”

Stephanie Mrowczynski is one student who received the Compass Service Honors and says it’s “great that OUWB is honoring students in this way.”

Mrowczynski says her service experiences at OUWB drew her to Tulane University, where she matched for residency in internal medicine and a program that is focused on underserved medicine and advocating for health equity.

“Service has always been something I am passionate about because it allows me to connect to people from all walks of life; it is how I learn what empathy really means and how to practice it, which is essential for patient-centric care,” she says.

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