Engaged Learning Exemplar:  Jamie Mayer

Jamie Mayer

Engaged learning is music to ears. Associate Professor Jamie Mayer knows first-hand that students and the broader community benefit from partnerships and that’s why her colleagues from the Department of Allied Health and Communicative Disorders nominated her to be recognized as an engaged learning exemplar for her outstanding commitment to engaged learning, teaching and scholarship.

“Engaged learning is a fantastic way to get students to integrate their own experiences with course material. This significantly enhances their understanding of course topics by allowing them to make personal, concrete connections to broader concepts,” says Jamie Mayer, an associate professor specializing in speech-language pathology within the Department of Allied Health and Communicative Disorders. “Moreover, in most cases, the service aspect of the experience can boost students’ self-efficacy and allow them to see how they can fit into the bigger picture as part of a larger community outside of the classroom.”

While all of Mayer’s projects are still works-in-progress, she says one of the most important pieces of the engaged-learning process on the part of the students is reflection: that is, the ability to take what is done in the community context and critically reflect on what they are doing as well as why and how it relates to other aspects of their academic career.

“The students and I try to meet to debrief on a regular basis. That students are collecting qualitative, and in some cases, quantitative data, on project outcomes also helps them to not only learn about the research process but also to experience directly the impact they are having on people’s lives,” she explains.

Mayer says she currently has several, concurrent engaged learning projects taking place. The first is the Music & Memory program at Pine Acres Nursing facility in DeKalb. Initially funded by a Tri-County grant, the program involves using personalized music with residents with dementia to augment quality of life, promote emotional/remote memory and decrease agitation/pain. The program is run by NIU undergraduate students in conjunction with the Pine Acres activities director and nursing staff.

“We are in the process of collecting data to examine the effect(s) of music on residents’ communication, comfort and medication needs,” says Mayer.

The second program in progress is the Bridges Choir, designed for individuals with acquired language, speech or cognitive challenges. The choir is run out of Oak Crest Retirement Center in DeKalb, but choir members can be from anywhere in the surrounding community. The choir was initiated by a speech-language pathology graduate student under Mayer’s supervision following a Center for the Interdisciplinary Study of Language and Literature (CISLL) Proposal or Pilot (PoP) grant that allowed the student to travel to California to research directly other choirs with a similar purpose.

“We named the choir ‘Bridges’ because music can act as a bridge between language, cognition and verbal expression,” explains Mayer. “The choir is continuing this semester with several graduate and undergraduate student volunteers. We have collected qualitative data on participants’ thoughts and reactions from last semester, and are planning to expand the data collection process this spring.”

Mayer also co-runs a monthly support group for stroke survivors out of the NIU Speech-Language-Hearing Clinic. Graduate and undergraduate student volunteers help with planning activities, designing informational handouts and working one-on-one with group members as needed during meetings to facilitate communication and participation.

Mayer states that “It is my hope that this work has impacted both the community and NIU students, first by showcasing our amazing student talents and allowing the community to see new ways in which students can interact with community members. I believe this work also has impacted students by allowing them to see directly how they can influence the quality of life for individuals with acquired language or cognitive disorders. I think students have been surprised by how much they have been able to learn from those they are helping.”

Join Mayer, along with other faculty, staff and students for the first Engaged Learning, Teaching and Scholarship Conference. This new event is scheduled from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Tuesday, March 6, and uncovers and recognizes the faculty perspective of collaborations with students and community partners. Several faculty and staff will present on best practices in engaged learning, teaching and scholarship in the Holmes Student Center. All are welcome to attend; registration is open online.

Co-sponsors of the Engaged Learning, Teaching and Scholarship Conference are the Office of Student Engagement and Experiential Learning; the Division of Outreach, Engagement and Regional Development; the Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center; the College of Business Experiential Learning Center; and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

For more information, call 815-753-8154 or email rkersh@niu.edu.

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