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A Healthy Future

Thursday, December 10, 2020

From doctors to dentists, dietitians to physician assistants, counselors to physical therapists and more, the College of Education and Human Sciences is preparing professionals who will enhance quality of life through health and wellness for generations to come.

An impressive one-third of College of Education and Human Sciences students pursue health-related degrees across seven academic units, making the college home to the largest collection of health programs on the Stillwater campus. Academic programs focus on development across the lifespan and emphasize physical, mental and relational health.

“Fundamental to the College of Education and Human Sciences is our desire to improve the human condition, including preventing chronic disease, improving familial and other interpersonal relationships, identifying strategies for enhancing mental health and wellbeing, as well as improving financial wellbeing,” said Dr. Christine Johnson, associate dean of research and graduate studies.

Student Learning

With a holistic academic approach and a focus on hands-on learning and mentorship, the college is developing collaborative, confident and well- respected professionals who enjoy successful careers in diverse health settings.

“In the College of Education and Human Sciences, we focus on the human condition,” said Dr. Stephen Clarke, head of the Department of Nutritional Sciences. “We’re teaching our students concepts related to social sciences and human behavior, and this prepares them not only for the science of health care, but gives them an understanding of human needs.”

This comprehensive perspective gives graduates an edge as they take the next step in following their dreams, whether that be applying for graduate or professional school or landing their first job. In recent years, an impressive 100 percent of OSU nutritional sciences pre-medical majors have been admitted to medical schools across the country.

Opportunities to collaborate with expert faculty largely contribute to overall student success. Whether presenting at or attending national conferences, conducting research in state-of-the-art laboratories or completing clinical or internship hours, faculty members provide a distinctive learning experience that centers on a hands-on, mentorship approach.

Ryan Colquhoun, who earned his Ph.D. in health and human performance in 2019, said this makes all the difference.

“You’re surrounded by people who want to invest in you,” Colquhoun said. “The focus is on producing quality people and receiving a quality education. That makes me want to return the investment and give it my all. My experience has truly set me up for success.”

Many of the college’s health programs require internships or clinical rotations, which add up to hundreds of hours of field experience.

“All of our programs require an experiential, field-based, placement experience to graduate,” said Dr. Julie Koch, head of the School of Community Health Sciences, Counseling and Counseling Psychology. “Our students are learning, and we’re providing a service. It’s a win-win scenario.”

Mental health service units such as the Center for Family Services and the Counseling and Counseling Psychology Clinic provide high-quality, low-cost mental health services to the public within a training environment for graduate students in the corresponding academic programs.

From left: A student provides warmwater therapy to a local child, and dietetic interns work with the Oklahoma Beef Council.
From left: A student provides warm water therapy to a local child, and dietetic interns work with the OklahomaBeef Council.

Service-learning opportunities don’t end there. Undergraduate health education and promotion students complete 400 hours of practical experience in local fitness and rehabilitation facilities, physical therapy offices and retirement homes. Recreational therapy students gain their experience by completing professional internships and providing warm water therapy to local children with behavior, physical and psychiatric diagnoses and disabilities.

“I left college with so much patient care experience and confidence in my ability to build rapport with a patient and interact with their families,” said Lilli Higgins, a 2017 recreational therapy graduate who recently launched her own nonprofit recreational therapy business. “I think that’s pretty rare for an undergrad program.”

Danielle Christiansen, now a critical care dietitian in Dallas, completed 1,200 internship hours, including a rotation with the Cooper Clinic while pursuing her master’s in nutritional sciences. That experience, coupled with other hands-on opportunities such as working in a dialysis center, volunteering with OSU Cooking for Kids programs, working at the Tulsa Health Department and completing clinical hours at the OSU Medical Center in Tulsa, prepared her for her current role providing nutritional support for individuals with restricted eating ability or other breathing challenges due to being on a ventilator.

“My experiences were so well-rounded, and I think that sets OSU apart (from many other graduate nutrition programs),” Christiansen said.

Community Outreach

In addition to service-learning, the college emphasizes community outreach to support relational, mental and physical health needs and raise overall health awareness across the state.

College programs offered through Family and Consumer Sciences Extension help more than 126,000 Oklahomans annually by providing health resources, including those available through the Community Nutrition Education Program (CNEP). The program provides educational support to youth and adults for making healthy food choices through nutrition and meal planning.

“We teach participants to plan their meals and how to be more conscientious about getting more for their money,” said Candy Gabel, OSU Extension associate specialist and state coordinator for CNEP. “This can have a positive impact on many issues such as food insecurity, diabetes, obesity and even physical inactivity.”

Work within Family and Consumer Sciences Extension is complemented by other initiatives such as the Center for Family Resilience. By analyzing and translating scientific data about families, schools and organizations, the center can develop strategies to help build resilience in the community, which are implemented by human and social service agencies.

The Center for Family Resilience hosts the Chautauqua Conference, an annual conference that brings experts from across the field of human development and family science to Tulsa to engage with faculty, students and community agencies. Past topics have included chronic illness, family caregiving, parenting and behavioral regulation and family risk and resilience, to name a few. The center also works with a Tulsa radio station to host a weekly discussion on mental health topics and other issues related to health and well-being.

Additionally, the OSU Osher Lifelong Learning Institute offers a unique opportunity for senior adults to stay active through educational classes, social activities and travel opportunities. Keeping this age group mentally, physically and socially engaged directly affects quality of life and life expectancy.

Dr. Gina Peek, interim associate dean for extension, engagement and continuing education for the College of Education and Human Sciences, said these broad community outreach programs share a common thread.

“I can’t think of a single one of us in Extension that doesn’t somehow have health in our programming,” Peek said. “I think about healthy housing, aging in place and even financial health.”

Collage of students and faculty engaging in various activities and research
Top left: An OLLI member participates in art class; Top right: applied exercise science students conduct research in a lab; Bottom left: counseling and counseling psychology students meet in a clinic; Bottm right: a faculty member evaluates a health study participant; Center: a research participant does a stress test

Looking Ahead

Through academic program offerings, service-learning opportunities, research endeavors and community outreach initiatives, the College of Education and Human Sciences has the foundation to significantly benefit health and wellness across Oklahoma and beyond.

Part of that foundation includes the college’s focus on the interconnected relationship among physical, mental and relational health.

“Health is directly related to wellbeing,” said Dr. Sissy Osteen, head of the Department of Human Development and Family Science. “The amount of stress you feel when relationships are challenging affects your health and has a direct link to your feeling of wellbeing and your ability to be resilient.”

Dr. Koch agreed, noting the importance of an integrated approach when it comes to health.

“The more we learn about the body and about the mind, the more we know these things are connected,” Koch said. “For example, we know one of the best ways to manage anxiety and depression is through exercise, diet and self-care. This is one of the reasons we believe mental health should be integrated and considered part of the broader health field.”

Over the past year, the college has begun to explore the possibility of launching a new center for healthy living. While conversations are still in the very early stages, the center would bring mental, physical and relational health services together under one roof, providing convenient accessibility for the community.

“The concept brings together integrated, health-related services such as counseling, child and family services, marriage and family therapy, family financial planning, nutrition counseling and more in one convenient location,” said Dr. Stephan Wilson, interim dean of the College of Education and Human Sciences. “Ultimately, our goal is to better serve the community and ensure they know of and have access to the services they need. In theory, the center would allow us to do more and, ultimately, serve more people.”

MEDIA CONTACT: Rachel Eng | 405-744-8320 |

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