Public Health Service-Learning Addresses Infant Mortality



Marie Stark, assistant professor of professional practice in public health nursing, is using service-learning to impact the high infant mortality rate in Tarrant County. Service learning engages students not only in their respective disciplines, but in the examination of their roles as future leaders. Faculty partner with local leaders to design service projects that enhance learning and meet the needs of our community. In other words, it is truly a win-win.


Marie Stark

Stark shares about the unique service-learning endeavor underway in the Harris College of Nursing & Health Sciences.

Tell us about your service-learning endeavor and how you have incorporated it into your course.

In TCU Nursing, all public health clinical nursing courses revolve around service-learning. For the past five years, my students’ focus has related to decreasing maternal/infant mortality. We have partnered with multiple organizations including: Tarrant County Public Health, Health Equity Alliance (H.E.A.L.), Boys & Girls Club, Cook Children’s Safe Baby Sleep Council, Tarrant Baptist Association, UNT Health Science Center, Baylor Scott & White All Saints Medical Center, JPS Health Network, Fort Worth ISD, Fort Worth Pregnancy Center, Gladney Center for Adoption, Metroplex Women’s Clinic and the Urban Inter-Tribal Center of Texas.

What community need is your course/initiative aiming to fill?

As a labor and delivery nurse for most of my career, I saw many disparities in patient outcomes. For instance, according to the March of Dimes, Black women and Native American women are up to three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications compared to white women. A large predictor of maternal/infant mortality is women’s health before pregnancy. Tarrant County has one of the highest infant mortality rates in Texas, and there are large disparities by race, ethnicity and ZIP code.

What kind of activities were you and your students involved in during the project?

In 2021, four clinical groups developed and continued service-learning projects related to impacting the high maternal/infant mortality rate in Tarrant County. During the current spring semester, two clinical groups are continuing the work. The students divide into team roles and work together to put on interactive events. They assess the needs of the community and agencies’ clients, identify the area of most impactful education, plan and implement events, evaluate outcomes and make recommendations for future clinical groups.

We believe that providing a safe sleep environment has the potential to save lives, so we present on safe sleep and healthy lifestyle topics. At most events we provide incentives for attending that also reinforce concepts regarding the topics. These include healthy food, sleep sacks, Pack ‘N Plays with fitted sheets, pacifiers, diapers, journals, pens and self-care wellness items. We have been blessed to partner with Cook Children’s and the Tarrant Baptist Association who provide some of these items. We have also received grants from Chase Bank.

Can your share any outcomes from your project? Consider your students and the community, as well as your own experience.

Our partners have told us how wonderfully students connected with clients and how thankful they were for the education. Students have given me positive feedback on how much they benefit from experiencing other cultures, hearing alternate perspectives during group projects, acquiring insight into nursing and public health and gaining confidence from interactions.

It is delightful to observe the commitment to advocacy and warm connection the students make with the community. Attendee engagement, willingness to share their stories for emotional support and gratefulness to the TCU students is obvious. Some tremendous benefits of service-learning for the nursing students are their insights into ways to communicate, understanding different perspectives, valuing partnerships and the reward of helping others from diverse backgrounds.

What is next for your service learning?

We will continue our partnerships with the health department, TCU disparities class, Metroplex Woman’s Clinic and The Urban Inter-Tribal Center.  Our focus with the Tribal Center will involve developing health-literate education materials that are culturally appropriate and respectful of cultural beliefs.


For information on how to incorporating service learning into course curriculum, contact Rosangela Boyd, director of service learning and academic initiatives.