It was August 2005 during the first week of the school year. I was a junior at Missouri State University in Springfield, and I was about to tackle my first journalism assignment for a print publication — The Standard, the university's then-twice-weekly student newspaper.

I was to write about an initiative being brought to the campus by MSU's new president, Dr. Michael Nietzel, who began his five-year tenure there in 2005. I no longer remember the details of the initiative, but I do remember that as a college student without many pieces of professional clothing in my dorm room closet, I wore a nice blouse, a jean skirt and a pair of light blue Chuck Taylor sneakers. It was the best I could do.

I was nervous. Who wouldn't be? Not only was this my first real shot at being a journalist, which I declared would be my major just the semester before, but I also had to interview the university president, who I imagined would be the most intimidating person on the entire campus. Why couldn't I have started off covering something easier, like a back-to-school bash?

To my great relief, Nietzel was a wonderful first interview. He met with me in person during arguably one of the most chaotic weeks of the semester, answered my questions and waited patiently as I scribbled his responses furiously into my notebook. He gave me respect and courtesy and treated me like a real journalist, even though I was still a student learning my craft. (Nietzel would later serve as a policy adviser to former Gov. Jay Nixon, and he is currently the deputy director of the Missouri Department of Mental Health.)

I'm not even sure if my story ever ran in The Standard. But the experience gave me a fondness for what would become two of my biggest loves — journalism and education, specifically higher education — and I am thrilled to combine the two into this weekly column about the people, ideas, events and happenings across higher education in this region.

PSU volunteerism

Two groups of nursing students at Pittsburg (Kansas) State University are also still developing their craft and, hopefully, taking away some positive experiences as they do so. They recently earned university credit by working as volunteers over PSU's winter break at the Program of All Inclusive Care for the Elderly in the 9th Ward of New Orleans.

The students join more than 50 others from Pitt State who have volunteered to serve there since 2011.

"I want to expose students to a different cultural environment," said Barbara McClaskey, a professor and chaperone. "As they go forward in their profession, it will be important for them to be able to relate to and care for a diverse population."

The Program of All Inclusive Care for the Elderly promotes the health, independence and dignity of senior citizens by enabling frail older adults to live in their homes and in the community as long as medically and socially feasible. It includes adult day health centers, primary and specialty physician care, medications, rehabilitative therapy and personal care services.

During their trip, students worked in a medical clinic assessing patients, assisted with physical and occupational therapy, and interacted with the patients socially. They had raised their own funds for the trip and also worked in a little sightseeing along the way. Assuming that they also completed the required readings and assignments from McClaskey, they'll earn three credit hours for their efforts.

Stephanie Edwards, a senior from Frontenac, said it was worth giving up part of her winter break for.

"I would encourage other students who come after us to do it," she said. "The juniors now definitely should do it next year. It's a unique opportunity you might not ever get again."

Emily Younker is the assistant metro editor for The Joplin Globe. Contact her at 417-627-7253 or

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Emily Younker is the managing editor at the Joplin Globe. Contact: eyounker AT joplinglobe DOT com.