New EMU credential helps human service professionals relate to those with different experiences

In 2021, Eastern Michigan University (EMU) Bright Futures Project Administrator Anna Gersh founded the One Love Symposium, intended to bring together students to analyze what Gersh calls "the moment in a service position [when] you are faced with someone who doesn’t share your experience." Now, the findings from the symposium have come together in a continuing education course at EMU called The Human Services Professional, which Gersh will teach this summer.

The Human Service Professional course is designed for those studying or working in medicine, education, or law to learn stronger skills in assisting those they serve despite differences in lived experience. Gersh says the course offers a set of experiences to help people better understand what she describes as the "point of service moment." She hopes that the course design will bring together students in varying fields.

"The goal is to get a bunch of different people in a room together, send them out into the world with the people they serve, and have a cross-disciplinary, cross-skill-level conversation about what those interactions mean," she says.

For current educators, the course will provide 33 State Continuing Education Clock
Hours, which can be used for renewal and progression of certificates and licenses issued by the Michigan Department of Education. Students also will have the opportunity to earn a Digital Badge from EMU Professional Programs and Training, which can aid in networking and increasing visibility to employers.

"There is no requirement for any previous experience with higher education to be successful in this course," Gersh emphasizes. "You can be successful in this class at any level. It’ll be run through discussion, debate, and dialogue – characterized by only making 'I' statements, describing things by how you see them, seeking to understand rather than trying to be right."

Gersh is also working alongside community partners, such as Ann Arbor restaurant Detroit Filling Station and Ypsilanti nonprofit Friends In Deed, which will pay the necessary fees for their employees who want to take the course. These partnerships, Gersh says, are designed to bring together students from all different backgrounds and lived experiences, just as students will encounter in their careers.

"Being able to serve people effectively has everything to do with the info you’re able to glean from them, and you don’t get it just by asking questions," Gersh says. "You get it through patient listening, through observation, through study – caring enough to learn about them beyond what they share with you. That’s what this course is attempting to do: give people experiences that make them curious about their region of service."

The course will run from June 9 to August 25. Gersh hopes the program will return annually, evolving through feedback from students.

"To me the need is totally obvious. The value is obvious," she says.

For more information or to sign up for the Human Services Professional course, visit EMU’s summer course catalog.

Rylee Barnsdale is a Michigan native and longtime Washtenaw County resident. She wants to use her journalistic experience from her time at Eastern Michigan University writing for the Eastern Echo to tell the stories of Washtenaw County residents that need to be heard.

Photo courtesy of Anna Gersh.
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