The College of Pharmacy recently announced its latest initiative, “Intercultural Social Hour,” designed to improve conversation among students coming from various diverse backgrounds.
According to the Pharmacy College website, “The group invites confident English speakers and English language learners alike to meet regularly for an hour to discuss cultural topics in a fun, small-group setting. Students whose first language is not English are able to brush up on the language in a casual environment while gaining skills that prepare them to better talk to patients.”
The project was developed by Vern Kent Duba, a clinical assistant professor of pharmacy, and Benjamin Hassman, the director of the Rhetoric Conversation Center. Since then, the Administrative Leadership Committee has tried to implement its ideas for the benefit of students.
Duba said the volunteers of the leadership committee decide upon the schedule and topics of conversation.
The next meeting will take place on Feb. 7 in 226 Pharmacy Building.
Committee member and second-year pharmacy student Allison Norris said the group was created because of a desire for pharmacy students to have a place to interact with one another.
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“Conversation skills are very important for pharmacists to have when they step into the field,” Norris said. “Some of the conversations we have are free and low-stakes, while others derive from a prompt and try to get the ball rolling.”
Norris said the group aims to meet around five times a semester in the Pharmacy Building.
“We have so many students who appeal to all areas of professional skills,” she said. “Having a conversation with someone who has a different background from yours is good to interact and meet someone that you wouldn’t have otherwise met before.”
UI pharmacy student Ellen Overholtzer said the environment was a large part of developing the initiative.
“We want to emphasize the importance of an environment that is beneficial for both English speakers and non-English speakers to be successful,” Overholtzer said. “Where my involvement stemmed from was the recruitment of graduate students to take part in our initiative.”
The group is open to all graduate students in order to foster a greater sense of community in the Pharmacy College, she said. The committee hopes to expand to other UI colleges and develop more cultural conversations.
Hassman said the Rhetoric Conversation Center works to build informal and intercultural communication skills.
“We often talk of removing social barriers to the interesting conversations students want to have,” he said. “The Intercultural Social Hour is dedicated time and space for building skills around engaging face-to-face.”
He stressed that the conversations pharmacy students will have will ultimately help them grow and learn more about the world around them.
“As cellphones impinge on more social spaces, our chances to practice conversation skills — engaging, listening, and contributing — become fewer and fewer,” he said. “The Intercultural Social Hour gives students a forum for building successful communication skills.”