During COVID-19 lockdowns in March 2020, Missouri State University offered a “virtual friend” program for international students who were unable to travel back to their home countries.
The program piqued the interest of Deborah Cron, clinical professor of speech-language pathology in the communication sciences and disorders department. She volunteered and formed a friendship with an international student from China.
Then she had an idea.
Many international students arrive at Missouri State wanting to improve their English speaking. This was no different for Cron’s virtual friend.
In summer 2020, Cron and Jinzi Fan, China programs specialist, developed a program for SLP graduate students to meet virtually with international students to practice pronunciation techniques.
“When COVID hit, the Chinese students I work with were suddenly isolated,” Fan said. “But they were still eager to learn. This program is an opportunity for them to improve their English beyond their classes.”
The virtual program continued via zoom after campus reopened in fall 2020 and is now a flourishing partnership between SLP and International Programs.
Staying connected through culture
For SLP graduate students Monica Ballay, Hanah Braden, Ashton Doza and Brendyn Petty, the program gave them a different perspective of culture.
“We learn a lot about the international students’ cultures working with them,” Braden said. “But we also learn about our own culture, as we explain the context of certain terms and their pronunciations.”
Yidan Ge, an international student from China who participates in the program, echoes that sentiment. Ge appreciated learning important aspects of American culture, while also making progress with her English.
“I’ve only been in the States for a year,” Ge said. “So, it’s been really nice to stay connected with this group and be able to practice during the weirdness of COVID.”
The goal of the pronunciation sessions is to help them produce speech sounds that non-native English speakers use in their mother language. The students also learn context, vocal inflection and sentence structure.
“We never want to erase someone’s native accent,” Cron said. “The goal is to make their English understandable.”
Ge says English slang, vowel sounds and plural pronunciations are what she struggles with most.
“Take ‘clothes,’ for example,” she said. “I used to pronounce it like ‘clothe-is.’ But this group has helped me work on those plural pronunciations.”
How to participate
Students, faculty, staff, alumni, even community members coming from any language background can sign up for upcoming sessions by sending an email to Deborah Cron.
Include “English Pronunciation Groups” in the email subject line.
The McQueary College of Health and Human Services at Missouri State University wants students to succeed — and have ample opportunity do so.
To push this effort forward, the college plans to allocate $240,000 during the 2021-22 academic year toward the MCHHS Student Success Innovative Project (MSSIP).
About the project
In fall 2020, MSU approved a $25 per credit hour fee for most MCHHS undergraduate courses. A portion of that fee will fund the MSSIP.
The college will put $120,000 toward projects submitted during the spring 2021 semester.
Outcomes for students include:
- Educational opportunities.
- Professional skill and career development.
- Enhanced experiences relevant to diversity, equity, inclusion and/or cultural competence.
- Enhanced inter-professional/cross-disciplinary experiences.
Submitting a project proposal
MCHHS staff, faculty, faculty teams, faculty with student contributors and students with faculty advisors are eligible to submit proposals to the MSSIP.
The deadline for spring 2021 proposals is 6 p.m. April 2.
Submit completed applications and supporting materials via email to MSSIP@MissouriState.edu.
Matt Hancock earned a bachelor’s in exercise science, became a personal trainer and managed a gym.
The Springfield native eyed MSU’s health promotion and wellness management graduate program because he wanted to make change on a larger scale.
“I really wanted to get into corporate health,” Hancock said. “It has been blowing up over the past couple of years. There’s a lot of opportunity. Companies are realizing healthier employees are more productive, too.”
Working while completing his degree
Missouri State’s program was attractive because it was flexible and offered a mix of seated and online courses. He worked full time at Mercy and was able to go to school part time and tackle his degree in chunks.
“I really liked the core classes because they let me learn a lot more about the direct areas I was going into, such as how to build up a program, how to look at a population health approach. My undergrad was more studying facts. My master’s was more applicable to everyday life and translating into a working situation,” Hancock said.
As part of a clinical requirement for his master’s, Hancock completed a 420-hour internship at Bass Pro working for the company’s wellbeing program.
He added on a certificate in health education because Hancock felt it would give him an edge in the job market and it did.
Shortly after graduating in spring 2019, Hancock left Mercy and joined Prime Inc., as Driver Health and Fitness Coordinator.
Making a difference
At Prime, Hancock was able to use the knowledge he learned in his master’s courses to directly impact driver health.
He revamped the wellness program and reaches nearly 8,000 drivers.
“In the past, Prime focused on a 13-week weight loss program for drivers,” Hancock said. “We have evolved to focus on a whole person virtual approach now. When COVID entered our lives, we had to look at our health initiatives in a different way. In-person services were no longer an option, so in October 2020 we began designing our own online wellness platform using a learning management system called Learn Dash.”
“The master’s program really helped prepare me for my career by giving me the base of knowledge I needed. I didn’t know anything about corporate health when I started. I learned a lot to prepare for the position I am in now.”
Through this platform they created health risk assessments, collected health data and designed and evaluated programs more efficiently to suit drivers needs based on the health risks that are prevalent in the occupation, such as fatigue and back pain.
A holistic approach to employee health
The platform will allow them to offer fitness, nutrition and mental health programs around-the-clock to fit drivers’ unique schedules over the road.
“All aspects will be gamified so we can create an engaging, competitive atmosphere by offering points to our drivers for completing certain health-related activities and tasks,” Hancock said.
Drivers can access virtual personal training and nutritional counseling with their registered dietitian.
Taking a holistic approach, they also addressed:
- Mental health, which is so important during the pandemic.
- Created a tobacco cessation program since 60 percent of drivers use tobacco products, said Hancock.
- Formed a healthy driver task force and put together exercises that drivers can do at truck stops or using equipment on the truck
- Showed employees how to make healthier choices on the road.
“Not everyone is interested in losing weight or eating right, but if we have several initiatives they can focus on, then we can let them hone-in on one that helps them lead a healthier life,” Hancock said. “It has gotten a lot of traction. We are starting to see improvement in employee health. It’s really a rewarding job. This is what I’ve been wanting to do for many years. I want to make a big impact on driver health, satisfaction, happiness and lifestyle.”