Community award-winners B Sharp and Center for Community Partnerships transform lives

Kyu Rim Kang, a doctoral student in occupation and rehabilitation science at Colorado State University, administers a test to B Sharp participant Hal Squier before the Fort Collins Symphony
Kyu Rim Kang, a doctoral student in occupation and rehabilitation science at Colorado State University, administers a test to B Sharp participant Hal Squier before a Fort Collins Symphony concert. (Photo credit: Colorado Public Radio)

At last spring’s Celebrate! Colorado State awards ceremony, two unique CSU community-based programs were honored with the inaugural Community Engagement Scholarship Awards, and nominations for new winners are now being accepted.

There’s no doubt that both of this year’s groundbreaking recipients have had a profound impact on the community, but their life-changing influence goes much deeper than that. All of the people whose lives have been transformed through one of these programs have their own distinct story to tell.

B Sharp

CSU’s innovative B Sharp program delivers the gift of live classical music to people with dementia, and it has been shown to have a strikingly positive effect on mood, cognitive function and relationships. The program is a cross-university partnership among several colleges and the Fort Collins Symphony,

During CSU’s first year of B Sharp, people with dementia and their caregivers were given passes to concerts during the Fort Collins Symphony’s 2015-16 season. Hal Squier and his wife and caregiver, Sue, have been a part of the program since its beginning.

“It’s something that we can do together,” said Sue. “Since we’ve participated from the beginning, I enjoy seeing other people involved with the program and their caregivers. It’s nice to have somebody who is in the same boat.”

B Sharp not only provides a “normal” evening out for the couple, but Sue notices that it’s an activity that Hal enjoys and benefits from.

Improved cognitive performance

“During the concert, he’s more alert, and he often leans over to tell me how good they are,” said Sue. “I notice the next day he’s more invigorated.”

Sue observes that with other social activities, Hal often wants to leave shortly after they arrive, but has a different reaction to the concerts.

“That doesn’t happen at the concert,” said Sue. “He enjoys the entire concert and doesn’t want to leave. At the symphony, he can just concentrate on the music.”

“We found that engagement in the B Sharp program resulted in improved performance on a series of cognitive tests after a nine-month period,” said Deana Davalos, associate professor in the Department of Psychology and the director of CSU’s Aging Clinic of the Rockies. “This happened in spite of including participants with a neurodegenerative disorder.”

Sue believes the B Sharp program is very important to the community.

Call for nominations

The Office of the Provost & Executive Vice President and the Office of Engagement are calling for nominations for the 2018-19 CSU Community Engagement Scholarship Awards.

The awards are conferred annually in recognition of exemplary engaged scholarship by CSU faculty or academic staff members and their community partner(s).

This call for nominations includes the following awards:

Distinguished Community Engagement Scholarship Award (one at $3,000)in recognition of a collaboration, project or program with a long-term record of sustained impact, achievement and scholarship

Emerging Community Engagement Scholarship Award (one at $1,000)  in recognition of a relatively new initiative that has shown potential for long-term impact, achievement and scholarship

The deadline for all nominations/proposals is Feb. 1, 2019. 

Faculty, administrators, colleagues, students or community partners can initiate nominations; self-nominations are also welcome.

More information on the awards and a nomination form can be found at the website.

Shining a light

“It shines a light on Alzheimer’s and dementia, and I think it’s important for people to understand these diseases,” said Sue. “There are so many people living with this, and there aren’t enough places for help, but we are so lucky here that there are so many resources.”

This year, the group of CSU faculty studying the effect that engaging environments have on the brains of aging adults and people with dementia received a prestigious grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to continue its work. It is only one of 10 Research: Art Works grants, worth a total of $550,000, that the NEA awarded this year to investigate the value and impact of the arts.

The grant will fund two years’ of research data collection and program coordination to compare the effects of attending symphony, dance or theater events.

Center for Community Partnerships

The first cohort of the Center for Community Partnerships Empowerment Course.
The first cohort of the Center for Community Partnerships Empowerment Course.

Colorado State University’s Center for Community Partnerships launched its Empowerment Course in the fall of 2016, and Kyle Witter was among the first cohort. Witter, who has Asperger’s, had been homeschooled and was working as a janitor at a local church when he discovered the program.

The Empowerment Course aims to enable successful employment or an educational outcome for transition-aged young adults with disabilities. With an emphasis on self-advocacy skills, students learn how to identify, obtain and keep meaningful employment within an individualized postsecondary career path.

Kyle Witter's PATH planning activity, a comparison of where a student is now and where they want to be in the future.
Kyle Witter's PATH planning activity, a comparison of where a student is now and where he or she wants to be in the future.

PATH planning

Witter’s path began with PATH – Planning Alternative Tomorrows with Hope – planning.

“When we were working on Kyle’s plan, we determined he was very interested in audio-visual communications, so we helped him develop a plan to reach his goal,” said Megan Wolff, who co-instructs the Empowerment Course as part of her role at CSU’s Center for Community Partnerships.

By spring semester, Witter had an internship at CSU’s campus radio station, KCSU, and loved it. The experience of working on campus spurred him to apply to the university. He was accepted and by fall 2017, he was a student at CSU, on his way to reaching his goal of obtaining a degree and beginning a career in journalism.

Kyle Witter, junior journalism major

A game changer

“The Empowerment program made me realize I wanted to attend college and get my degree,” said Witter. “I’m interested in sports production or possibly starting my own company, and this program helped me to determine journalism was the best major to help me reach my goals. It’s really been a game changer for me.”

Throughout his tenure at the university, Witter has participated in the Center for Community Partnerships’ Opportunities for Postsecondary Success (OPS) program, a program for students with disabilities and complex learning needs who require support beyond typical academic accommodations.

With the help of both programs, Witter gained the confidence to apply for and obtain a dream job, sports reporting at CSU’s campus television station, CTV.

He’s also adjusted to life on campus quite well, running for and being elected senator for the College of Liberal Arts in the university’s student government, the Associated Students of Colorado State University.

Direction and purpose

“The amount of growth we have seen in Kyle since we first started working with him at the Center for Community Partnerships a little over two years ago is astonishing,” said Wolff. “He went from feeling as though he had no direction to now being a thriving CSU student majoring in journalism and media communications, being an ASCSU senator, and taking the initiative to get a job that he loves with CTV. The most profound change we’ve seen in Kyle is that he has direction, has purpose and, as a result, is excited about his future and has a positive outlook on life.”

“I would recommend these programs to anyone who is considering going to college and has struggles and challenges,” said Witter. “I would definitely encourage them to check out not just the Empowerment Course and OPS, but the Department of Occupational Therapy because they do so much to help people.”

About the Community Engagement Scholarship Awards

The Community Engagement Scholarship Awards are an initiative of the Provost’s Council for Engagement, jointly established by the Office of the Provost & Executive Vice President and the Office of Engagement. The Council was formed to advance the practice and recognition of engaged scholarship at CSU. Nominations are now being accepted for next year’s awards. The sidebar of this story has more information.