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The
Community
Psychologist

Volume 44 Number 4 
Fall 2014

Education Connection

Edited by Carrie Forden

While many universities have undergraduate courses in community psychology, few offer community psychology degrees, concentrations or certificates.  Most students have to attend graduate school to learn about community psychology beyond the introductory course. In this column, three programs describe their efforts to offer more in-depth training in community psychology to undergraduate students.  Perhaps it may inspire your program to do the same?

As early as 1970, Jim Kelly outlined his vision about the training of Community Psychologists. Kelly believed that this training needed to occur early in their undergraduate and graduate studies in order to help prepare them for the ecologically rich but complicated tasks of community work. Today, several higher educational institutions in the US have undergraduate programs in Community Psychology. This article focuses on three such programs at the following settings: DePaul University, Wichita State University, and Portland State University. To better prepare their graduates for work in Community Psychology related fields, these programs allow their students to apply their Community Psychology knowledge in real-world settings and, thereby, bridge the gap between the classroom and community. We hope the following descriptions of these programs inspire others to consider the creation of undergraduate Community Psychology programs and thus, help actualize Jim Kelly’s vision of training our students in Community Psychology early in their academic careers.

DePaul University’s Undergraduate Concentration in Community

Written by Olya Glantsman (glantsman@gmail.com) and  Leonard A. Jason (ljason@depaul.edu)

After having taken Chris Keys’ Introductory Community Psychology course in 2005, an undergraduate student asked him why DePaul University did not offer an undergraduate concentration in Community Psychology. This request prompted a discussion during several of the graduate program’s Community Psychology faculty meetings, and our faculty agreed to create a new undergraduate Community Psychology concentration. Our graduate program in Community Psychology had been created in the early 2000s. Because at that time,  we did not have a faculty member who could allocate enough time toward developing a proposal  and  curriculum, which would need to gain approval within the larger Psychology Department and University, the first author, who was at that time a third-year graduate student, offered to take the lead on drafting these materials.

The program’s application form was modeled after DePaul’s long-running Human Services concentration, which had been developed in the early 1980s (Jason, 1984). Comments from current psychology students as well as recent graduates about their reaction to the creation of the new Community Psychology undergraduate concentration were included with the application.

In addition to the existing Introduction to Community Psychology course (PSY354), we proposed creating 3 new courses including an Advanced Community Psychology course (PSY356 – Principles of Field Research and Action; offered in the spring of the junior year) and a two quarter Internship sequence (PSY359 – Field Work Research and Action; offered in the fall and winter of the senior year).

The goals of our program included the following:

  • Providing unique training in community psychology, emphasizing prevention of mental and physical problems, program evaluation, and consultation.
  • Providing students with educational and practical skills as community advocates of social justice and empowerment.
  • Actively illustrating the relevance of academic work in an applied setting.
  • Providing an opportunity to apply concepts and ideas learned in the classroom to a work setting.
  • Assisting students in developing and/or applying valuable technical communication and interpersonal skills in a work environment.
  • Strengthening students’ confidence in their abilities to function effectively in a professional setting.
  • Enhancing students’ employability in their chosen field by providing them with work experience in that field.

With approval from our Psychology Department as well as the University, our program officially began in the Fall of 2006. A description of the concentration for the psychology department’s website was created, and the Community Psychology concentration was advertised by the Psychology advisor as well as class visits to Introduction to Psychology and Introduction to Community Psychology courses.

Students could apply to the Community Psychology concentration in the winter of 2007 and the first PSY356 course (taken by 19 students) was taught in the spring of 2007. Spring 2008 was the first graduating year for the concentration with 18 graduates of the program. Since then, 100 students have graduated with a Community Psychology concentration. Furthermore, since the beginning of the program, the interest for the Introductory Community Psychology course has grown so much that it is now offered every quarter, including during the summer. Because of the popularity of this course, we have also recently introduced it in an online format.

After taking two Community Psychology courses by the end of their junior year, students select an internship for their senior year. Students select a setting that best fits their future careers whether it is a research project at a university or a not for profit organization. Upon completion, many of the students ask the instructors to write them letters of recommendation, which includes highlighting their concentration and how the values of the field, and their acquired skills fit the student’s career goals. Many of our students are able to find entry jobs in mental and physical health care fields, and many others enter graduate programs in a variety of fields including Community Psychology. Finally, having taken at least 3 courses together, many students remain friends and colleagues, and these social networks are one of the most salient and enduring aspects of their undergraduate education in Community Psychology.

Reference

Jason, L. (1984). Developing undergraduates’ skills in behavioral interventions. Journal of Community Psychology, 12, 130-139. 

Experience and Exposure: Undergraduates' Involvement in Community Psychology

Written by Jamie LoCurto (jllocurto@wichita.edu), Rhonda K. Lewis (Rhonda.lewis@wichita.edu), and Greg Meissen (greg.meissen@wichita.edu), Wichita State University

Wichita State University has seen many changes within the campus over the last year. The appointment of a new President has led to structural, program, and academic shifts that, in time and with hope, will grow our University into an even more competitive and enriching environment. One of the main emphases of our new President is to diversify undergraduate academics by allowing students to engage in more research and community-oriented work. This important shift will allow our undergraduates to expand their knowledge by gaining real-world, hands- on experience as well as learn how to conduct research and meaningful work “outside the laboratory”.

The Community Psychology Program at Wichita State was already one step ahead of this progression by offering undergraduates an opportunity to receive a Certificate in Community Psychology. This was started by Rhonda Lewis and Greg Meissen after hearing about other successful programs being conducted at universities at the 2007 Biennial Conference on Community Research & Action in Pasadena. After learning about how beneficial this could be, they immediately took steps to include it as part of the curriculum and since 2008, it has been growing stronger with eight students receiving their Community Psychology Certificate.

This Certificate Program has four goals: (1) Enhance academic and experiential education to work in community settings; (2) Enhance academic and experiential education to prepare for graduate work in community psychology; (3) Exposure to active Community Psychologists in academic and community settings; and (4) Research experience in community settings working with Community Psychologists. To accomplish these goals with a balance of vision and practicality, the requirements of the program consist of students taking five courses; four of these are regularly offered classes including Social Psychology, Community Psychology, Psychological Statistics, and Research Methods, while the fifth is a Fieldwork in Psychology class. It is here that students can apply the knowledge gained from their classroom experiences and use it to work on community-based issues within local organizations. This practice allows undergraduates to learn, very early, the rewards and real-world issues associated with community-level work.

Although Wichita State has been successful in our adoption of the Community Psychology Certificate program, we hope to see it grow over the years as the need for community-engaged student experience is important regarding career preparation and continuing education in Community Psychology at the graduate level. We hope to continue this beneficial opportunity to students and adapt to the growing needs of our undergraduate population and our community.

The Portland State University Community Psychology Undergraduate Certificate

Written by Greg Townley (gtownley@pdx.edu), Eric Mankowski (mankowski@pdx.edu), & Keith Kaufman (Kaufmank@pdx.edu)

The Portland State University (PSU) Community Psychology (CP) Undergraduate Certificate has grown out of ongoing efforts to clarify and better articulate specialization pathways within our undergraduate curriculum.  Currently, our curriculum allows students to explore psychology broadly with informal suggestions for focusing on specific areas of psychology that interest them.  While this flexibility has merit, students may not be as prepared or as competitive for employment opportunities and graduate education in more specialized areas of psychology. 

With this in mind, we reached out to Greg Meissen at Wichita State University and Bernadette Sanchez at Depaul University in fall 2012 to seek suggestions and guidance as we began to develop a CP certificate program.  Based on these conversations, as well as regular meetings with faculty in other areas of our department regarding the scope of the certificate requirements, we developed the PSU Community Psychology Undergraduate Certificate in spring 2013.  We are now in the process of finalizing the certificate program and aim to implement it in fall 2014. 

The primary goals of the PSU CP Undergraduate Certificate are as follows: 1) to develop knowledge and skills in the theory and practice of community psychology; 2) to increase understanding of the place of community psychology in the history and scope of the discipline; 3) to facilitate work and employment opportunities in community settings; 4) to realize social justice through sustained research and action partnerships with community members and organizations; and 5) to prepare interested students for graduate study in community psychology.  In total, the certificate consists of five courses (20 credits).  All students are required to take a community psychology survey course and a two-term senior capstone course focused on applying CP principles in field-based settings.  In addition to these required courses, students have some flexibility to select two additional courses from four CP-related course clusters (Individual Psychology, Social and Group Dynamics, Developmental Processes, and Human Diversity).  Alternatively, they may complete additional CP research or fieldwork supervised by program faculty to fulfill the remaining credit hours.     

As we move toward implementation, certain key questions remain: What are the demands for our certificate from students, employers, and graduate programs?  What are best practices for evaluating the quality and effectiveness of our certificate?  Should there be a systematic selection/application process or should the certificate be open to any interested students?  What kinds of additional advising might students need or desire both before enrolling in the certificate program and during their study in the program?  What are creative solutions to staffing practica and research involvement given limited resources (e.g., faculty time)?  What are the positive benefits or undesired consequences of codifying undergraduate CP programs across universities?  Is there an added value and capacity for implementing a graduate certificate or non-thesis MA program in CP?  We appreciate the knowledge already gained from colleagues on these questions during the symposium on undergraduate CP programs at the 2013 SCRA Biennial.  We imagine the experiences that our colleagues share in this timely article will shed additional light.

The Education Connection is a column addressing issues in the teaching and learning of community psychology.  If you would like to contribute an article, please contact Carie Forden, cforden@aucegypt.edu.

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