Educational Innovation Award, for their work with the Learners Involved in the Needs of Communities program

In these times of increasing rules and regulations in medical education, it is easy to become jaded and resentful and only work to meet these to the minimum required. Or, if you are this year’s Educational Innovation Awardees, Lelia Brinegar, M.Ed., director of the School of Medicine Curriculum Office, and Christopher Woleben, M.D., associate dean for student affairs, you can enthusiastically take on a new challenge and create a nationally-recognized educational experience that enhances VCU’s relationships with the community and our students’ understanding of the practice of medicine.

Learners Involved in the Needs of Communities, or LINC, started in large part due to a new accreditation requirement for service learning experiences for medical students. In two short years, this program has become a required experience for all first-year medical students that “not only fulfills the LCME requirements, but also develops a critical link between the school and the community it serves, and allows students to experience first-hand the environments in which our patients spend their lives,” explains Isaac “Ike” Wood, M.D., senior associate dean for medical education and student affairs.

LINC includes several components. Students meet monthly in small groups to explore topics including the history of Richmond, socioeconomic factors, and health disparities and a fall community fair allows students to learn more about the range of service learning
opportunities available across the Richmond area. During the community service phase, students complete a minimum of 20 hours of service in settings such as the Central Virginia Food Bank, Gilpin Court Outreach Team, Church Hill Area Tutoring and school health fairs. To help students learn and consider how to apply their experiences, students participate in oral and written reflection exercises during the year.

Examples of LINC projects include science courses for students in low-resource areas, providing fresh produce and healthy snacks at sites with little access to affordable and healthy food, and tutoring and mentoring students of all ages.

“In my opinion, LINC sets a new national standard for medical education curricula that aim to prepare culturally- and economically-sensitive physicians,” states Lynn Pelco, Ph.D., director of VCU Service-Learning. “In particular, I have been impressed by the care and consideration [Chris and Lelia] have put towards developing and stewarding collaborative relationships with community partners to ensure that LINC meets community-identified needs while still providing students with innovative and engaging learning experiences.”

Tina Carter, the director of the Mary and Frances Youth Center’s “Lobs and Lessons” program that serves more than 100 third- to fifth-grade students, says, “The afterschool program provided LINC students with an opportunity to assist on and off the court with life-skills curriculum, tennis instruction, homework, and activities that expose students to higher education. All of the volunteers were professional, energetic, and several volunteered beyond their required service hours.”

Priscilla Mpasi, School of Medicine Class of 2014, says LINC helps students “develop their communication skills to interact with community members of all demographic markers and also attain the knowledge and skills necessary to educate community members on how to improve their overall health status.”

“Service learning has certainly enhanced my medical school education and I am confident that my experiences will also make me a more compassionate and caring physician in the future,” shares M3 student Katie Good.

As Catherine W. Howard, Ph.D., vice provost for the Division of Community Engagement, summarizes, “Chris and Lelia have certainly created an innovative educational program that embodies the spirit of VCU’s Quest for Distinction and will certainly serve as a stellar example of VCU as a model of community engagement and regional impact.”

For rising to the challenge with creativity and commitment to strengthen our students’ ability to help our community, Lelia Brinegar and Chris Woleben are most deserving of this recognition.