Jay Clark /
Sunday, July 14, 2013
East Carolina University professor Dr. Thom Skalko is extending the university mission of service to South Africa, where he is collaborating on a project that will create new jobs and enhance quality of life in the community.
Skalko, a professor in the Department of Recreation and Leisure Studies, is working with educators at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban, South Africa, to establish the country’s first degree in recreational therapy. The degree will train students to use recreational activities to rehabilitate and restore function for individuals who have a disability, are recovering from a serious illness or accident, or are struggling with mental health issues. Impairments addressed may be physical, emotional, social or cognitive.
Skalko visited UKZN for two weeks in May, providing lectures on therapeutic recreation and its application in health sciences. He will return to South Africa in September to present at the Leisure and Recreation Association of South Africa conference.
Establishing the degree program requires course development, discussions regarding existing degree programs at UKZN and with governmental agencies that regulate health care services. As the curriculum is developed, Skalko will work with UKZN faculty in related disciplines including biokenetics, exercise physiology, occupational therapy, physiotherapy and leisure. Skalko anticipates that UKZN will need to eventually hire a credentialed recreational therapy faculty member.
Skalko said he expects the degree to be offered through a combination of distance education and face-to-face course offerings, with many of the support courses required for recreational therapy certification and accreditation available at the UKZN campus.
While the new academic program will benefit UKZN and provide new career opportunities for the students, the skilled therapists who come out of the program will benefit residents in surrounding communities.
“The need is great for all levels of rehabilitation services for individuals with disabling conditions,” Skalko said. “Providing qualified recreational therapists as an aspect of allied health will offer additional options for the country.”
The goal of recreational therapy is to facilitate full and optimal involvement in the life of the community, Skalko said.
“Offering quality rehabilitation services in state-operated hospitals, particularly in mental/behavioral sciences and in agencies that serve older adults both in the community and in long-term care facilities will improve the overall quality of life for the citizens of South Africa,” Skalko said.
Maliga Naidoo, lecturer in the UKZN School of Health Sciences, was instrumental in setting up the collaboration and arranging funding for Skalko’s travels, with the support of the Health Sciences dean Dr. Sabiha Essack. The university recognized Skalko’s efforts by appointing him as an honorary professor.
The ECU-UKZN collaboration came about through Skalko’s service as chair of the Committee on Accreditation of Recreational Therapy Education, which is part of the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs. In that role, he heard inquiries from universities in South Africa about adding the recreational therapy curriculum. He responded with support and information.
From that interchange, he was invited to keynote the first Leisure and Recreation Association of South Africa conference in March 2012. His presentation sparked interest and UKZN officials chose to move forward with the degree program.
Colleagues at ECU support Skalko’s efforts as well, according to Deb Jordan, chair of the Department of Recreation and Leisure Studies.
“Dr. Skalko, with his leadership role in the national accreditation processes for recreational therapy curricula, has years of experience in academics as well as working with practitioners,” Jordan said. “I have no doubt that by introducing recreational therapy to South Africa, Dr. Skalko is helping to improve the lives of many.”
Glen Gilbert, dean of the College of Health and Human Performance, where Recreation and Leisure Studies is housed, said Skalko’s efforts are a good example of the university’s mission, “Servire” (to serve).
“It also emphasizes the need for our students to become global in their thinking,” Gilbert said. “This work by Dr. Skalko will be shared with our students in many ways and better prepare them for the future.”
Web portal to assist student veterans
A new military web portal at ECU offers a central location for discovering what ECU can offer student veterans, service members and their families.
Development of the www.ecu.edu/military site was initiated in February and began in June, thanks to collaboration across multiple departments on campus. The site provides virtual visitors with the ability to quickly navigate to the information they need on ECU’s website, including contact information for staff members who can answer questions specific to the military population.
The military portal is just one of many resources available at ECU to enhance experiences for veterans and service members.
The Student Veteran Services office provides support, resources and assistance for student veterans and service members. A Green Zone training program for faculty and staff enhances awareness about the unique needs of student veterans. A new student organization — Pirate Veterans — was formed in the spring, and an orientation session tailored to new student veterans is in the works.
“The whole goal is to make East Carolina military friendly,” said Dr. Steve Duncan, assistant vice chancellor for administration and finance and military programs.
Duncan said the ultimate goal for the Web portal was to create an uncomplicated process for members of the military and their families. “We’re not trying to make it an octopus. We are trying…to make a veteran feel comfortable and have enough information,” Duncan said.
Trish Goltermann, SVS assistant director, said it was important to provide easily accessible information designed for the military.
“If people of the military cannot find what they need quickly, we may lose them,” Goltermann said.
SVS graduate assistant John Kistler said that the website will help student veterans transition to college life. It is a move “in the right direction to help with every step of the process.”
ECU student veteran and Pirate Veterans president Dustin Hawley said that returning to campus as a new student following military service felt strange and presented extra challenges. Student veteran Chad Merewether agreed.
“The hardest part was finding the right places,” Merewether said. “With student veterans, I wasn’t sure if that was paperwork or benefits. That was vague, but eventually I figured everything out.”
“A webpage that walks you through would be great,” Merewether said, and added that a veteran event at the beginning of the semester would be a good way “to build a community and a comfort.”
“I always thought it would be nice to have somewhere to go where I could get help,” Hawley . “I’m really happy with the direction that ECU is going.”
- Monday: Reading by eastern North Carolina author Jim Grimsley, 7:30 p.m. Greenville Museum of Art. Grimsley is senior resident fellow in creative writing at Emory University. Free and open to the public.
via The Daily Reflector.