JONESBORO — There is a place on the Arkansas State University campus where students can expect to find holes in the walls, rats and roaches and even drug paraphernalia on occasion.
That place is Arkansas State's new Simulation Training and Research (STAR) House for students, faculty and community providers. Patricia Walls, co-chair and associate professor of social work, describes it as a place where realistic experiences can be set up to resemble the learning unit of choice.
It is a wonderful opportunity to take students out of the classroom and into experiences that mimic real-life scenarios they might encounter when they enter the workforce, Walls said.
The Jonesboro Sun reports that the College of Nursing and Health Professions and the Department of Social Work held a soft opening for the STAR House last week. Students recently began simulation training there.
Karen Fullen, the program director of Title IV-E academic partnership in public child welfare, plans to bring her students in small groups to the STAR House in April. Her program within the social work department teaches courses in child abuse and neglect, child welfare, and children and the law.
When they visit the STAR House, she said she will have it staged with different scenarios they will likely run into in the field if they were investigating child maltreatment or doing a home visit with a family where a report has already been determined to be true.
"We will have bugs, roaches and rats and things like that that they might run into," she said. That doesn't happen at every home that people go into but it does happen in some. We will have some artwork on the wall to simulate holes in the walls where people have domestic violence situations and may have struck at somebody and hit the wall.
"We are going to have not real drug paraphernalia but simulated drug paraphernalia because many of the homes we go into are drug involved, and they need to know what they are seeing," she said.
The goal is to teach students to relax in the environment. Fullen said they need to figure out how to be in tune with the client at the time so they are not focused on the impact of what they are seeing or smelling has on them, but what it means in the course of the assessment or investigation.
The house will not only be used by social work students, but also those in other departments including disaster management, occupational therapy and physical therapy. One scenario could be physical therapy students assessing the need for equipment like ramps or bars in the bathroom.
"We have not had the capability to do that before," Walls said. "We have role play in the classroom but when we are role playing, we create the scenario. We don't have all the props and things where we can really assess how they are going to do.
"By having this house, let's just say if we were simulating child abuse and neglect, we would have all the props here complete with smells, with roaches and rats, all the things that we may find if we were doing a real-life investigation. We will have the capability ... to assess if they are practicing those skills that we have taught them in the classroom."
There are cameras set up in each room to record the training sessions. Walls said it means they can use those videos to review and use as an additional teaching tool in the classroom.
The STAR House is something that Fullen and others have wanted for a long time.
"We have known for years in order to properly prepare students to enter the field of child welfare, for instance as a child abuse investigator or a child maltreatment case worker, that they needed to be better prepared after they received their undergraduate degree," Fullen said. "The first and foremost way to do that was to put them as close as we could to real-life situations so we have been thinking about a simulation house for a long, long time."
After a speaker at last year's social work conference spoke on simulation training and research, Walls spoke and polled former graduates in social work who now work in the field about the topic.
Those graduates kept saying it was a good idea and it would have really benefited them, she said.
It is a win-win situation, although there are still some challenges to overcome. Walls said Rick Stripling, vice chancellor for student affairs, "has been very gracious for us to have this house for a short period of time," but she and others will still need to search for additional funding opportunities.
"We are at a difficult time right now. There are budget cuts on campus so we will be beating the bushes to try to find ways of revenue to fund this very exciting project," she said. "We will be looking for grants. We will be looking for collaboration with people who are in the community.
"My long-term vision is for us to move from a house to a research center and have a house be one component of the research center," she said. "Will it happen? I don't know, but I will certainly be trying to find a way to make it happen. I think I have a good team of people who are working with me and I am hoping as the community comes in and buys into this project, certainly if we all sit together, we can come up with a way to fund this and it be long-term."
Distributed by The Associated Press.