FLORENCE – Though Paul DeMarco was content with his private medical practice in Marion for more than 14 years, he was unable to shake the urge to teach. In fact, he found that on days when he was giving instruction to students who sought to one day become physicians, he was happiest.
This impulse led him to Francis Marion University nearly two years ago to head the Advancing Rural Community Health (ARCH) Project. The program offers screenings and awareness seminars and preventative health education programs in these communities. Under the direction of DeMarco, FMU students enrolled in programs leading to health care related professions take an active role in providing these services.
For his and the work of students like FMU Senior Lauren Tucker of Lancaster who is majoring in biology/pre-med, the program has earned the 2009 S.C. Commission on Higher Education Service Learning Award. DeMarco will receive the award on the university’s behalf on March 5 in Columbia.
“We are grateful for this honor,” said DeMarco. “It’s a privilege to work with so many committed and energetic students, and this award is a testament to their dedication to service. We also appreciate the support of the university as it advocates for the community.”
The ARCH Project is one component of a two-fold program aimed at enhancing economic vitality in rural South Carolina. The Rural Assistance Initiative Program’s – ARCH and Rural Leadership Capacity Building Project – funded through the General Assembly, the PSARAS Foundation and the Kassab Foundation have enabled FMU to move forward with plans to go into rural communities to provide health awareness services and extensive leadership training for non-profit and civic organizations throughout the state. In addition, this initiative has created opportunities for FMU students to engage in service-learning opportunities in these communities.
Named the Kassab Service Fellowship in memory of John Kassab and in honor of Adele Kassab, the students participate in semester-long fellowships in rural community health settings throughout Marion, Marlboro and Williamsburg counties.
“This program has been like taking the road less traveled. Nothing I’ve done since I enrolled in college has benefited me more,” said Tucker. “Sure, I’ve done volunteer work, been active in our church, and the like, but this has been different. Those felt familiar and comfortable. In this, I’ve been forced to crawl outside my comfort zone, which is good preparation for me. It has been a privilege to contribute to the program while preparing for my future.”
The program is open to undergraduate junior and senior students with GPAs of at least 3.0 who are interested in health careers. Students are matched with a community health provider for a semester and spend six hours a week on-site working with that provider. Shadowing sites include doctor’s offices, dentist’s offices, community health centers, free medical clinics, mental health centers, substance abuse centers, disabilities and special needs offices, hospices, Pee Dee Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Assault and an after-school program.
All students receive a $1000 stipend and a travel allowance to cover gas. Many students are eligible to receive credit for their Fellowships. The Fellowship hours may also count toward fulfilling health professional schools’ contact hour requirements.
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