Once a week during spring quarter, third-year physiological science student Jennifer Shieh made ceramics with HIV-positive patients.
The pottery went hand in hand with interacting with the patients, learning about the medicinal side effects of treating HIV, and receiving credit for her molecular, cell and developmental biology class.
For the last 13 years, community service has been a mandatory requirement for students enrolled in Molecular, Cell and Developmental Biology 40.
The general education course focuses on sexually transmitted diseases with an emphasis on HIV/AIDS and introduces students to both the biological and social implications of the disease, said Hung Pham, a lecturer in the molecular, cell and developmental biology department who taught the course last quarter.
The course teaches students about transmission and prevention of the condition, as well as the social stereotypes and misunderstandings surrounding AIDS, Pham said.
“The goal of volunteering is to help the public learn about transmission and understand the challenges and the fears of the patients,” Pham said.
By sitting in on counseling sessions and directly interacting with AIDS patients, students experience the challenges associated with the disease firsthand and can apply in-class knowledge to their surroundings, Pham added.
Students must volunteer at least 12 hours with an AIDS support group or on-campus AIDS awareness club of their choice and then submit a page-long summary about their experience.
At Being Alive, an organization offering support groups and psychotherapy for AIDS patients, students schedule appointments and observe the mental and physical challenges of the disease by sitting in on counseling sessions, said Daniel Robison, the program’s volunteer coordinator.
Her experience through the class was different from her previous volunteer work as an AIDS ambassador, where she worked exclusively with high school students on the topic of AIDS prevention and education. The service learning requirement allowed her to work firsthand with patients, she said.
“I wish more classes were like this,” Shieh said.
In addition to direct patient contact and educational sessions, students can assist with food drives and other relief efforts for AIDS patients, Pham said.
Nabeel Wahid, a fourth-year molecular, cell and developmental biology student, participated in a food drive outside a Pavilions grocery store in Beverly Hills with AIDS Project Los Angeles.
Though he had no direct contact with patients, he faced some of the negative feelings directed toward HIV-positive individuals in Los Angeles.
“I wasn’t aware that people had a negative stigma about people with HIV/AIDS,” Wahid said. “It’s one thing to hear a professor talk about it, but it’s another to see it firsthand.”