Service Learning on the U.S./Mexico Border: Transforming Student Paradigms
The purpose of our evaluation is to provide an example of how public health schools can use service-learning courses to teach students about health equity. By ensuring that the future workforce has a comprehensive understanding of regions such as the U.S./Mexico border, students will be better equipped to provide public health services. Specifically, our objectives were to (1) understand how student perceptions of the border evolve during the 1-week Border Health Service-Learning Institute (BHSLI) course and (2) understand how the service-learning experience impacted students’ proposed personal and professional goals. Using BHSLI student journals collected over 9 years, we conducted a qualitative investigation to evaluate students’ experiences of the service-learning course. Our findings suggest that BHSLI offered opportunities for advancing dialogue about health equity. Because BHSLI is immersive, it showed students a reality that they would not normally encounter. In reflecting on these new experiences, students were not only encouraged to question systems and policies but also made accountable to act upon the insights they gained. We found that BHSLI was a space for critical consciousness building, for shifting paradigms. Students learned how to intervene in real time to make change around public health issues. Service learning could be a practice-based solution to help public health students learn about health equity, especially in historically marginalized regions such as the U.S./Mexico border.