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University of Maine at Machias: Psychology & Community Studies

Lois-Ann Kuntz
Professor of Psychology, Chair of Arts & Letters
 

Description

The Psychology & Community Studies (PCS) program is part of University of Maine at Machias (UMM), which is a small, rural regional campus of University of Maine. UMM serves both traditional and non-traditional undergraduates on campus and at a distance. UMM received the Carnegie Community Engagement elective classification in 2010. All academic programs at UMM include a service requirement, though the PCS program has a specific commitment to Civic Engagement and Service Learning (SL/CE) and supporting alumni, community partners, and the local community, in addition to our students. The PCS program collaborates with campus-based, local, regional, national, and international partners. Civic learning and social responsibility is woven throughout the PCS program curriculum.

SL/CE experiences make coursework more relevant for students and help with transfer of knowledge. Students develop soft skills that support future civic engagement, employment, and/or graduate work. Importantly, they develop a wider social/professional network and appreciate its value. Students also develop leadership skills and the understanding that they have a responsibility and role in their community. The collaborative projects benefit the local community, but the relationships and lessons learned through these experiences benefit graduates and their future communities.

The PCS program learning outcomes include civic engagement for all of members of the department. One learning outcome for the department is that students “use place-based and service learning to examine dynamic human relations to physical, social and cultural environments and appreciate the complexities of applying theory to real world situations”. These outcomes form the basis of annual program evaluation. Five of the PCS learning outcomes were referred to verbatim in a national publication on Core Competencies in Civic Engagement (2013).

Another program’s aspiration is “To equip students to be ethical and responsible citizens and be actively engaged members in their communities and in the world.” Faculty are expected to be role models as reflective practitioners, good collaborative partners, and life-long learners too. As part of the peer review process, PCS faculty demonstrate civic engagement in the community by supporting other organizations and initiatives. This service is in addition to collaborations for the classroom. It may include being a board member for a non-profit organization or supporting community partners’ grant applications and programming. This engagement not only models the importance of civic engagement, but sustains relationships and develops awareness that can lead to future SL/CE collaborations.

Scaffolded Levels of Student Learning
The courses chosen as SL/CE anchor courses are required for all majors and are taken at key points distributed throughout the curriculum. Following the work of Carrie Williams Howe, et al (Howe, Coleman, Hamshaw, & Westdijk, 2014) faculty chose to scaffold levels of civic learning using three phases. Phase I is Exposure and Raising Awareness through brief community partner interaction and students working on a simple, short-term SL/CE project that is heavily guided by the teacher and a community partner. In this phase students meet community partners, work together as a group, and gain awareness of a local issue that affects the community.

Phase II is Capacity Building which allows for more student involvement in a project linking with course learning outcomes and more work with a community partner. Midlevel SL/CE courses require students or student groups to take more responsibility for the community partner contact, as well as project development and management. The instructor is actively engaged in the project, adjusting the level of support as needed.

Finally Phase III is Responsibility in which the students are much more engaged with community partners with more responsibility for the results of the course-long project. Senior students will draw on their earlier coursework, including SL/CE experiences, for a capstone project, which involves them developing their own collaboration with a community partner around an issue of importance to them. Throughout the different phases, the role of the instructor changes from that of a Primary Manager to Facilitator to that of Coach or Consultant.

Reflection is also a developmental skill students develop throughout the curriculum. In Phase I, they learn how to reflect on their experiences and learning with the guidance of prompts and encouragement from the instructor. By Phase III students should have an appreciation for the value of self-reflection and how it supports learning, problem solving, creativity, and collaboration.

Please see the related graphic for details/examples of how the PCS program has developmentally integrated SL/CE into the curriculum by clicking on the “Infographic” bar.

Exemplary Courses That Highlight a Civic Lens

PSY 102 Personal Growth
Course Context: This course fulfills a specific requirement for the Psychology & Community Studies major. It is also a first-year seminar and fulfills the FYS requirement for all first-year students at UMM. There are no prerequisites.

Course Description: This course is designed to provide students with the opportunity to examine their life-space; to envision alternative possibilities in their personal and professional growth; and to foster the development of creative changes toward their future life-career. This course has two essential aspects. First, the theoretical and academic aspect focuses of the class and text on major psychological theories and their applications for everyday life. Second, the experiential aspect encourages students to participate in growth exercises individually and in group situations. The course involves the various areas of life including relationships to family members, to friends and associates, and to professional colleagues. This course includes a Service-Learning and Community Engaged (SL/CE) component. 3 Credits

SSC 420 Research Methods & Design
Course Context: This course fulfills the specific requirement of the Psychology & Community Studies major and some additional majors. This course also fulfills the program and general core requirement for service learning and is writing intensive.

Course Description: This course is designed to nurture an appreciation and understanding for the manner in which any question of interest can be methodically approached and possibly answered by applying a set of sequential methods. Students learn how to find information, read journal articles, pose research questions, select appropriate methods of inquiry, select participants, select appropriate designs and statistical analyses, report research findings, and do the above in the most ethical manner. The primary goals in this course are for each student to gain experience with conducting research and writing research reports for a community partner. This course includes a Service-Learning and Community Engaged (SL/CE) component. During the semester, students are expected to make periodic progress reports on their projects, culminating in formal (convention-style) presentations to the class and community partners. Prerequisites: Introduction to Statistics and Junior class standing. 4 Credits

BEH 450 Senior Project
Course Context: This course serves as a required senior capstone course for all PCS majors.

Course Description: This course offers an opportunity for students to apply and expand what they have learned in the Psychology & Community Studies program by pursuing local problems and issues. In this culminating service learning/community engagement course, students will work with a community partner to design and implement an independent research project or develop and run a program that serves the community partner’s needs. Independent inquiry and formal presentations to the class are important components of this course for both peers and the community. This course includes a Service-Learning and Community Engaged (SL/CE) component. Prerequisite: Senior class standing, SSC 420 Research Methods & Design, and COE 313 Community Experience: Internship & Seminar. 3 Credits

Exemplary Project Description

The Memory Book Assignment, PSY 324 Lifespan II
This course focuses on development in adulthood and older adulthood.

Making a Documentary, CMY 110 Downeast Documentary
This is a community studies course in which students learn documentary filmmaking while studying a challenge or facet of the local community.

Community Engaged Project, PSY 313 Social Psychology
This class focuses on social psychology, which includes the many ways that environment and social cues shape human behavior without awareness.

Cross-Cultural Civic Engagement Project, CMY 310 Crossing Borders
This course involves exploring issues of exclusion and inclusion in society by comparing experiences in four different countries. Students going to universities in the US, Netherlands, Norway, and Germany are put into small international groups and work together online to choose a topic related to social exclusion and inclusion on which their project will focus.

Process for Adoption

In 2007 the Psychology & Community Studies (PCS) program responded to an RFP for a Northern New England Campus Compact for the Davis Education Foundation and were awarded an Engaged Department Initiative (EDI) planning grant. The grant included funds to attend an EDI planning conference. In addition to supportive Campus Compact staff and expert consultants in EDI (ME, NH, VT), there were other campuses in attendance and all worked together receiving expert workshops, tackling specific visioning tasks, giving and getting feedback on ideas, and then gave brief presentations. Three full-time faculty and two contingent faculty attended and were involved in the planning process. The grant supported stipends for the contingent faculty. Planning was further fleshed out and reported on during the first year and based on these initial outcomes, the department was also awarded a second-year planning grant which included an individual consultant for the PCS team.

This faculty team met regularly to include SL/CE into the curriculum strategically so that the practice of service-learning was structured developmentally as discussed at length in a previous section. Examining degree progress and semester planning for faculty load allowed caution in making faculty, student, and community partner schedules too demanding with multiple SL/CE projects. Having this road map for the faculty has helped them plan a timeline of when to teach particular skills in order to support student learning in later classes. The PCS program has sustained this curriculum and has extended a similar design of incorporating SL/CE into the same distance courses as those on campus. The engaged department strategies of the PCS program have been documented more completely in a chapter by Kuntz and Duff (2015) included in Service-Learning and Civic Engagement: A Sourcebook.

Internal and External Influences

Internal Influences that support the PCS program’s commitment to SL/CE include UMM’s focus on student learning and the fact that the institution values service. Small class size allows for greater engagement in projects. Service is part of UMM’s mission and students must complete service while earning their degree. Administration supports faculty investing time and energy in this work and encourages good working relationships with community partners. SL/CE activities are considered as part of the peer-review and tenure process.

External Influences The most significant external influence on PCS’s commitment to SL/CE was the Northern New England Campus Compact’s Engaged Department Initiative, which provided training, funding, and technical support for revising the curriculum to include a developmental sequence of SL/CE courses. PCS faculty have also participated in other Campus Compact Trainings over the years, as well as been nominated and awarded service-learning teaching awards.

Another important external influence is related to rural and remote living. Washington County, where UMM is situated, has approximately 13 people per square mile of 3,258 square miles. The population is small and spread out across a large geographic area, though much of it is clustered in towns by the coast. Rural and remote living comes with increased awareness of interconnections with other people. Program faculty know the community partners, and everyone recognizes the impacts of income inequality, changes in industry and natural resources, and the challenges and benefits of rural and remote living. This awareness and these relationships are a good foundation for engagement.

The PCS Program’s Influence PCS program faculty spearheaded UMM’s application for the Carnegie Community Engaged Campus Designation, which was awarded to the institution. Also a PCS faculty member worked with Maine Campus Compact to develop FUSION, an online SL/CE training for faculty teaching distance courses. The Education Program at UMM has developed a Service Learning/Community Engagement and Distance Learning certificate with the support of PCS faculty. This certificate is offered hybrid or online with courses preparing professionals to effectively teach or support Service Learning and Community Engaged (SL/CE) classes. The intended audience includes education students, K-12 educators, college and university instructors, graduate students, instructional designers, community professionals, and student life professionals. The curriculum includes providing knowledge, skills, and the practice of high impact strategies for how to teach, coordinate, lead, research, and assess service-learning and community-based learning for educational improvement and community enhancement.

Evidence

Because UMM does not have an office of Service Learning or a related office that is responsible for collecting data across classes, much of the evaluation process has been ad hoc. Since the Engaged Department Initiative, PCS has relied on maintaining contact and regularly soliciting feedback from community partners, alumni, and students to understand what is working and what may be improved. Students also have contributed project and course reflections that include prompts for how these projects may be improved.

Though the PCS program has over ninety community partners, including international, regional, and local, we have a core group of twenty regional partners that we work with annually. These partners provide ongoing feedback and representatives are part of program review as an Advisory Board.

In 2015 with the support of a group of students in the SSC 420 Research Methods & Design course, a survey was designed to collect information from PCS students about eight of the ten program learning outcomes. This survey is now administered to first-year students in the PSY 102 Personal Growth classes in the fall and to the senior students in the spring BEH 450 Senior Project classes for both campus and distance class sections. The purpose of administering this survey to these two student populations is to detect if learning outcomes appear to be met by senior year and whether this is changed from first year to senior year. It is also important to compare with transfer students who have not had the developmental scaffolding of SL/CE. It is too soon to have definitive evidence of the learning outcomes as the population of students is small.

Approximately every five years we collect information from our alumni as well. This survey was last collected in 2013 prior to students graduating in an engaged department environment. The survey to be conducted in 2018 will include questions regarding alumni perceptions of SL/CE courses preparing them for the workplace and graduate school along with how the network of community partners has supported them. We also conduct focus groups with community partners regarding course work and employment preparation. In all cases, respondent rates are high for participation, satisfaction for the program is high, and there is a general indication that we are on the right pathway to preparing graduates for the future.

Words of Advice

  • Administrative Support is Crucial for Success. Since SL/CE work involves time to develop, coordinate, implement, and evaluate, it is critical that university/college administrations understand, value, and support the work in order for it to be successful. This investment and support can take many forms. Supporting and funding training opportunities is essential. Providing releases for work related to SL/CE projects is another way to support and encourage faculty. SL/CE work should be valued in faculty’s peer-review teaching and service sections as well as in the tenure process. Funding staff positions is important in order to allow for data collection that can be used for evaluation as well as for campus public relations and institutional advancement. Administration can also help recognize and thank partnering organizations, which helps maintain those relationships and benefits the institution.
  • Maintaining Relationships is Critical for Successful Collaboration. Developing strong relationships with community partners is an important strategy for sustaining department-driven SL/CE. SL/CE partnerships often start with faculty and the community partner having a shared interest and contact in another setting, such as working on grant proposals, attending nonprofit board meetings, or participating in community events. As faculty and community partners work together on non-SL/CE and SL/CE projects, they gain a better understanding of each other’s perspectives, goals, needs, and constraints, which improves future collaborations. Community partners are often motivated by the positive impact of SL/CE projects and by students’ energy and ideas. These seasoned community partners, who have experienced SL/CE successes and weathered project failures, are very helpful in encouraging and orienting potential new community partners. Though students are essential partners in SL/CE, faculty and community partners are more likely to have long-term relationships since students’ time is limited by graduation; therefore, faculty and the school would be wise to give special attention to maintaining relationships with community partners. Opportunities for thanking and recognizing community partners should be implemented.
  • Reflection and Transparency is Key for Students to Develop Skills. SL/CE projects require faculty to teach students the soft skills that collaboration requires and be transparent as they model these skills. This helps students understand the value of these skills and know how to work with the challenges and unpredictability that are part of the life outside the classroom. Helping students develop the capacity to reflect, problem-solve, address conflict productively, communicate effectively, and step into leadership roles when called upon are skills that require practice across courses.
  • Engaging Multiple Perspectives. SL/CE projects are collaborative. It is critical that there is communication and input representing multiple constituencies and stakeholders. Students, community partners, full-time and contingent faculty, administrators, and service learning coordinators need to participate if programs or campuses want to commit to more SL/CE work.

Looking for more information on the courses and projects? Please return to the top of the page and click on the “Exemplary Course Specifics” and “Exemplary Project Details” buttons found under the campus logo.