Social Responsibility – Kristi Cordell-McNulty
Kristi Cordell-McNulty – Angelo State University
Dr Cordell-McNulty is Assistant Professor, and Director of the M.S. program in Applied Psychology in the Department of Psychology, Sociology, and Social Work at Angelo State University.
Social Responsibility has been implemented at Angelo State University through our Center for Community Engagement’s CONNECT! program which focuses on connecting, serving, and learning. CONNECT! consists of courses and departments that focus on promoting learning through community engagement. One of the components that is assessed in these CONNECT! Courses is social responsibility.
The two classes that I teach that are CONNECT! courses and focus on social responsibility are Child Psychology and Developmental Psychology. These courses look at human development from the physical, cognitive, and social and emotional areas. Child Psychology examines prenatal development through childhood and Developmental Psychology looks at the entire lifespan.
For these courses, I have students volunteer five hours at different organizations around our community that assist people in these particular age groups. For example, many of our students volunteer at our local Pregnancy Help Center, where they watch infants and children while their parents take parenting classes to earn points for items they may need like diapers or strollers. Another popular volunteer location is a support group for teenage moms where the students help watch the children so the moms can have a break. In addition my Developmental Psychology students volunteer at different assisted living facilities for older adults.
After they complete each of their hours, students must write a reflection journal entry describing what happened while they were volunteering and at the end of the semester they write a reflection paper over all their experiences. They are asked to answer specific questions that help them focus on social responsibility in their final paper including:
- Did you hold any preconceived notions about what the children and guardians or older adults you were interacting with?
- Was there anything that surprised you about your experience?
- Did you observe anything in regard to the diversity of beliefs and practices associated with pregnancy and/or child-rearing or aging across cultures?
- If relevant, how did you modify your communication strategies while interacting with people of different cultures?
- In addition please reflect on whether your views on human development have changed as a result of this experience.
Once the reflection papers are turned in we spend some class time discussing different student experiences. From these volunteer experiences and reflection papers student experience social responsibility as they get to interact with people in their community who are often different from them in many ways including, age, culture, ethnicity, and economic status.
- One of the main issues is convincing students that engaging in the community will benefit them and connect with what they are learning. Students often groan when they hear they must complete community service hours as a part of a course. I have found that explaining to students in the beginning that these hours will not only benefit them in helping them understand the material in the course but they will also be able to help members of our community, can change student perceptions of this experience.
- Another way is to make it as easy as possible for the students to complete their hours. I have two to four organizations set up ahead of time where the students can volunteer so they do not have to spend time researching the organizations. I have these organizations come to my class and explain what they do to help the community and allow the students to ask any questions to them directly.
- Another issue for my class was that I wanted students to be able to work with children directly, but most organizations require a background check to work with children. Completing a background check can take time and will discourage most students from going to that particular organization. I sought out organizations where my students would not be alone with children and would be supervised by members of the organization at all times so they did not need to complete background checks. This makes it easy for your students. You also want to avoid any organizations that require extensive training sessions before students volunteer.
- One thing I learned was not to underestimate my students. When I started implementing social responsibility I thought students would just complete their minimum hours and not think much about their reflections. To my surprise I found that many students reported that they thoroughly enjoyed the experience, even if they dreaded it in the beginning, and they wrote about how they were glad I pushed them out of their comfort zone.
- In addition students did a great job connecting what they were doing in community with what we were learning about in class. Several of my students over the past two years have continued volunteering at the organizations and completed additional training with these organizations.
- Another thing I learned was that I need to make the experience as easy as possible for the students which I do by setting up partnerships with organizations ahead of time so students don’t have to find somewhere to volunteer. Professors often forget that students may not be familiar with the community and it can be hard for them to find a place to volunteer.
- In addition, some of my students do not have vehicles so one of my organizations is in walking/biking distance of campus. I also make sure students know what they need to do to volunteer with an organization. Some organizations have students sign up for times online while others want them to call ahead and schedule a time slot. I create a handout with all this information for the students so there is not confusion about what they need to do for their volunteer hours.