Abbey Verslues stands beside a smartboard at the front of class. In front of her, a student raises her hand to answer the question Verslues is posing to the room. In the foreground, a students sits in her seat.
School of Health Professions graduate student Abbey Verslues talks to eighth-grade students in Smithton Middle School. Her presentation in the AVID class was to introduce middle schoolers to careers available in the health professions. Photo by Rob Hill

Story by Erik Potter

The students in the back row of Michele Winters’ eighth-grade classroom slumped in their chairs and paid no attention to the brochure Abbey Verslues had just given them.

A physical therapy graduate student in the School of Health Professions, Verslues stood in front of the classroom at Smithton Middle School in Columbia and laid out an array of Mizzou-themed prizes: a shirt, pencils, even pompoms. Then she started her presentation, called “Who Cares for Me? A Health Care Careers Game.”

Many middle school students imagine only doctors and nurses when they think of potential health careers. If neither of those professions interest them, they might disregard the whole health care field.

Abbey Verslues stands in front of the blackboard.
Verslues used a gamified pop quiz — with prizes — to make her presentation interactive. Photo by Rob Hill

Verslues, a graduate assistant, worked with a team of School of Health Professions student ambassadors to put “Who Cares for Me?” together in fall 2017 to expose middle school students to a wider array of health care career paths.

For the first 15 minutes of her talk, Verslues discussed the 11 careers the School of Health Professions offers degrees in, the kind of work those professionals do and the kinds of patients they treat. Then she broke out the dice.

In a gamified pop quiz, Verslues had a student throw dice to decide which question she’d ask next. Each question was a hypothetical scenario that corresponded to one of the 11 careers.

The first scenario stumped everyone. No one remembered that a person who helps children to not throw violent tantrums is an “applied behavior analyst.” They didn’t do much better remembering “clinical laboratory scientist.”

Verslues then offered to give them two minutes to study the brochure, which has descriptions of all 11 degree programs.

Suddenly, students who had been slumping back jumped forward, flipped over the previously ignored brochure and speed-read the entire page.

Afterward, hands shot up for each question, four, five and six at a time.

“I love seeing students get excited answering the questions,” Verslues says.

Verslues majored in health science as an undergraduate at Mizzou, earning a bachelor’s of health science in 2017. She learned leadership and public speaking through her Chi Omega sorority — skills she says were vital in putting “Who Cares for Me?” together and working with teachers to schedule presentations.

Teacher feedback has been great, Verslues says. “They are excited because it helps them counsel their students about their high school class schedules” and the importance of including science courses.

Verslues says she and the student ambassadors will keep tweaking the presentation and make it a permanent part of their community outreach.

If you’re a middle school teacher and would like a student ambassador to present “Who Cares for Me?” in your classroom, contact Cheri Ghan, School of Health Professions recruitment coordinator, at ghanc@health.missouri.edu.

Verslues points to a student during her presentation.
Verslues and the team of student ambassadors in the School of Health Professions developed the “Who Cares for Me?” presentation during the fall 2017 semester and started giving it over winter break. Photo by Rob Hill