SMU eNews

SMU Faculty Share Health Expertise with Oakland Church Community

When Samuel Merritt University (SMU) faculty members Richard Rocco, PhD, and Christina C. Lewis, PhD, launched the pilot version of the Community Learning Forum (CLF) on the SMU campus, they were met with great enthusiasm but low attendance.

"Drs. Rocco and Lewis came up with the great idea to offer sessions on health topics that would be of interest to the people in Oakland communities," said Irma Walker-Adame, Associate Dean for Administrative Affairs, California School of Podiatric Medicine. "After scheduling a couple of sessions that resulted in limited attendance, I mentioned that often it is uncomfortable for people to venture into a foreign environment. So, why not take the information sessions to the people in a setting in their own environment where they would be more comfortable – like, a church?"

Walker-Adame connected the faculty members to Sharon Burleigh, a doctor of podiatric medicine who is part of the health ministry at Allen Temple Baptist Church in Oakland.  The 5,000-member church and Samuel Merritt University are not strangers to one another; the Podiatry program participated in Allen Temple's Annual Health Education Fair, and more recently the Allen Temple Men's Chorus performed at the SMU Black History Month Celebration.

Since last fall, SMU has hosted 10 forums at Allen Temple. Topics have included asthma, herbal medicines, diabetes, hypertension, Alzheimer's disease, osteoporosis, and the urinary system. A presentation on arthritis is upcoming. The program runs from September through May.

The overall goal of the CLF, initially launched in fall 2011, is embodied in its name: a program for the community, to facilitate learning and to greatly encourage interactive participation.

"We provide members of the community the opportunity to participate in free educational presentations on a variety of primary health matters in order to enhance public awareness about these topics and to share our knowledge and professional expertise," said Rocco.

"We are not administering medical advice, and do make that clear, but are there to share our knowledge with our community and answer any questions that we can and provide reputable sources where they can find additional information," added Lewis.

The hour-long CLF presentations include basic information about the underlying physiology of the health issue and a discussion of relevant pharmaceuticals that are commonly used in treating the ailment. The sessions are interactive, with questions encouraged throughout the presentations.

Rocco and Lewis have recruited six additional faculty members to participate and share their professional expertise next fall.

"We are very enthusiastic for and appreciative of additional faculty participation and hope it continues to foster a growing presence of SMU in this Oakland community," said Rocco. 

"Our program has led to a regular presence and participation in the Senior Health Ministry at Allen Temple," said Lewis. "We will continue to participate in the Annual Health Education Fair that Allen Temple puts on for its community."

Recently the faculty has expanded their presentations to include Allen Arms, a senior independent living residential property that is owned and managed by Allen Temple.

Drs. Rocco and Lewis acknowledge the support and encouragement by the Academic Affairs Office and, in particular, Assistant Academic Vice President Penny Bamford and Provost and Academic Vice President Scot Foster.

Dr. Richard Rocco
Dr. Richard Rocco
Dr. Christina Lewis
Dr. Christina Lewis