URCAD Research Profile: Does Service-Learning Result in Civic-Mindedness?

Kathleen Algire-Fedarcyk ’13, social work, is president of UMBC’s Social Work Students Association and BSW Representative for the National Association of Social Workers’ Maryland Chapter.

Kathleen Algire-FedarcykAs a social work major, I like the idea of service-learning.  I think it is important to involve students in the community they are living and learning in, and to acknowledge their work, skills-building and new insights with academic credit. But does engaging in service-learning make a student more community-oriented or civic-minded? With support from Social Work professor Jessica Guzman-Rea, I developed and carried out a research project to explore that question.

Dr. Guzman-Rea had received a BreakingGround grant to redesign her Social Work 200 course to include much more extensive service-learning and reflection components, with support from the Shriver Center. I served as the teaching assistant for the course. I examined and coded students’ writings from different points in the semester, and looked for patterns to gauge shifts in their perspectives. The theoretical models that guided my inquiry included the Social Change Model (a leadership development framework developed by Alexander Astin and Lena Astin), and Social Learning Theory (pioneered by Albert Bandura). These models suggest that learning is a process, and that the long-term impact of a learning experience may not be immediately evident, which is a challenge for a project designed to measure learning within an academic semester.

I had not participated in research before, and I found qualitative research principles and methods challenging to grasp. Thankfully, Dr. Guzman-Rea was able to guide me through the process. I spent many hours reading and re-reading students’ writings, but I was excited to participate. By the end of the semester, six of the 27 students enrolled in the course had gotten involved in community work beyond what they had done in connection with the class, and many more were able to identify issues and needs important to the community, insights they can bring to future community involvement.

I am excited to present a poster at UMBC’s Undergraduate Research and Creative Achievement Day (URCAD) because it gives me another opportunity to talk about the research! I feel that the research results are applicable to any situation that requires motivating people to change their behavior towards civic engagement. URCAD will also be a new experience for me; I have presented at conferences but I have never had to design a poster and present the material in this way. I am also looking forward to seeing the other posters. I am particularly interested in the presentation on using motivational interviewing. I think including motivational interviewing would be a great way to take my research to the next level. Maybe I can find a collaborator at URCAD as well!

Contact the author, Kathleen Algire-Fedarcyk, at algire1@umbc.edu. Read about more URCAD projects aimed at contributing to positive social change here.

Social Issues/Social Action

Jessica Guzman-Rea is an academic advisor in the UMBC Honors College and adjunct faculty for the social work program.

Jessica Guzman-RaeMy Social Work 200 class—Social Issues/Social Action, funded by BreakingGround—focuses on civic engagement in Baltimore City and the surrounding counties in the practice of social work. I partnered with the Shriver Center to connect students with organizations that allowed them to become involved in addressing social issues across levels of influence.

For this post I asked my student Danielle Bouchard ’15, social work, to speak about her work with the Office of Forensic Services. This agency is responsible for court-ordered mental health services and for evaluation and treatment of individuals to determine competency to stand trial or criminal responsibility. Working with this office, Danielle was able to sit in on court cases where social workers play an important role:

JGR: What do you believe are the benefits of what you personally do, or what the agency does, that affects people’s lives?

DB: The agency allows for individuals who have committed a crime, who don’t even understand they’ve committed a crime, a chance to have a route that doesn’t just leave them in prison for the rest of their lives. They can go into a hospital. They can have different rehabilitation services that not only will help them understand their actions, but will help them get better. They’ll provide them with the medication they need and then after they’re done with their time, or their alternative time, like staying in the hospital, they connect them with organizations that help them get re-entry into society.

I was gratified to hear about Danielle’s passion for “making people more accepting of mental illness” in the court system. There are just so many ways to be a social worker; so many ways to use your skills and unique perspective to help the people around you.

Contact the author, Jessica Guzman-Rea, at jessica.guzman-rea@umbc.edu.