Personal touch: Connecting students with real-life health resources | Tracy Ciucci

From Contact magazine, Spring 2014


Talking about certain health topics such as alcohol, drugs, eating disorders, mental health, contraception and sexually transmitted diseases may be difficult for some, but Professor Tracy Ciucci knows how to engage her students in the classroom and online.

She focuses on facts and community resources, and she takes a real-life approach to issues that impact college students and individuals everywhere.

“I make health as relevant and involved and as personal for each student as possible,’’ said Ciucci, a former softball coach at Kalamazoo College and Kellogg Community College in Michigan. She taught health courses at those institutions and Western Michigan University before starting her career at Palm Beach State College in 2009. “These aren’t theories that we’re talking about. This is how health is applicable to their life.”

Ciucci teaches all of her classes online or as a hybrid, meaning students meet one day a week in person and complete the rest of their work online. When students in the hybrid classes meet for class they have already completed their work, which leaves more class time for practical application.

“When they come to class, we do activities or group work, and they’re all prepared because everything they did was already due online before they arrive. It’s the best format for my students to get the most out of the course,’’ said Ciucci.

Last year, her students did service learning projects that helped bloodmobiles double the number of students on campus that gave blood. They also helped increase the number of students who got tested for HIV.

Ciucci puts all of her lectures and presentations online. Students watch videos on different health topics and answer questions about them. Ciucci also created online card games to help them learn health concepts. The students complete self-assessments for each topic, develop video presentations, post and respond to messages on the discussion board and write journals and blogs.

“Some of the students may never speak in class, but once you go to the online portion, they’re the ones who are talking up a storm. Some of them are really comfortable online, and some are really comfortable in the classroom,’’ Ciucci said.

She has developed measures to allow students to opt out of writing discussion posts or reflections on topics in which they don’t feel comfortable without being penalized, but she does not avoid covering any topic. She also uses a private Twitter account that allows students to ask questions anonymously during class, and the Twitter feed is projected on a screen during class.

Her teaching methods and style have garnered glowing reviews from students and captured the attention of College leaders who nominated her for a 2014 National Institute for Staff and Organizational Development Excellence Award. She will travel to Texas in May to accept the award.

“The majority of what I do is the teaching. Twenty-five percent of what I do is health- and community based in the sense that they have health issues, and I have community contacts. I put them all together. I have community speakers in the classroom all the time.”

Ciucci regularly refers students to the counseling center on campus as well as outside resources, including clinics where they get free health care.

“It’s impossible not to start referring and finding out information to help those students. I have students who are dealing with a family member who committed suicide, or they are having suicidal thoughts themselves. How can I not provide them all of the information they need even though it’s outside of class?”

need to ask…..

Q What inspired you to become a health professor?

 A  My first teaching position as a professor was in a maximum security state prison. I encountered a population of people who were mostly poor and undereducated. I started seeing specifically in the area of health education how little information that they had.

Q  If students were giving a speech about you, what would they say?

That I’m accessible, current, encouraging and non-judgmental.

Q What have been the highlights of your career?

The personal things that I’ve helped students with through the information that they’ve learned in this course, whether it was STD testing or preventing suicide. I’m fairly confident that there have been many cases where had I not contacted students about [statements they have made in] their writings, they may not be here today.

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