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Sept. 29, 2011 Volume 33, No. 6

MU seeks campus partners to assist students with children


Survey will assess needs of unique student group

It will likely be a few years before the preschoolers at MU’s Student Parent Center appreciate the free yoga instruction they receive each week. But the four occupational therapy students leading the classes are already gaining real-world experience, along with credit hours for their efforts.

The yoga instruction is a collaboration of the Student Parent Center, located in University Village, and MU’s School of Health Professions. Students in other disciplines, such as pre-nursing and public health, have also taken part in similar programs, earning one to six credit hours while working with the children of other MU students.

Julie Shea, director for the Student Parent Center, said she welcomes and encourages similar partnerships with other academic disciplines. She suggested agriculture students could teach the children to garden or engineering students could work on a playground.

“We are trying to increase the collaborations with faculty,” she said. “They could send their students to us for different field experiences. There are a lot of different things students could do here.”

Kari Eckelkamp, a career adviser for the School of Health Professions, helped set up the yoga intern program at the Student Parent Center after working with Shea on a previous project.

“We have a lot of students interested in occupational therapy,“ said Eckelkamp of the yoga instructors. “The student will gain the career skills for creating activity plans and exercises, and by working with children.”

Like most areas of the university, the Student Parent Center faces some financial challenges, Shea said. The center’s resources are meager; it hasn’t been able to measure the need for day care and other programs to serve MU students with children.

The goal of the center at this point, she said, is to help student-parents take advantage of resources available through the university. But understanding the needs of this unique group has been difficult to assess; for one thing, no one knows for sure how many students on campus have children of their own.

National statistics estimate that 13 percent of students at four-year institutions are parents, but Shea said it is difficult to ask the university for additional resources for these students without hard numbers. “When you enroll, there is no question that asks if you are a parent,” Shea said.

So, with the help of the College of Education, the Student Parent Center has created a survey to gather data specific to the University of Missouri. Student-parents can take the survey at until Oct. 1.

Michelle Froese, Student Auxillary Services public relations manager, said the information will help the center decide how it should allocate its resources to help students and their children. “It will help us build an organized wish list,” she said.

When the survey is completed, Shea hopes to partner with marketing or business students to help the center with its goals. In the past, she enlisted an intern to help with grant writing and offers to collaborate with the fine arts and music  departments. “She did the work that I didn’t have time to make the rounds to do,” Shea said.

Emilia Mense, a 23-year-old senior with a 3-year-old son, said she hopes other schools at MU look at the Student Parent Center for collaboration, too.

“I think it’s a really great idea,” said Mense, a sociology major who is president of MizFIT, a student-parent organization on campus. “Mizzou does have some really great resources, and we’re looking for more.”

Shea said she would welcome talks with any school, and would work with them to develop an arrangement that would be beneficial to the student and to the center.

“It helps us improve services without having to pay a consultant,” she said. “Early childhood majors, psychology majors, medical students, law students … (any field), we’re open to it.”

—Megan Cassidy