PSYC 427: Community Engagement for Social Change

Dr. Lauren Cattaneo is a tenured faculty member at George Mason University’s Psychology Department. Using her expertise on community psychology and social justice, Dr. Cattaneo created a new course, PSYC 427: Community Engagement for Social Change. The class applies service-learning techniques to maximize the learning experience.


Service

Working in coordination with the Center for Leadership and Community Engagement, Dr. Cattaneo has established a list of contacts and sites in the local community that are well-suited for students of the course. Some examples of past student opportunities have included:

  • Working with Horton’s Kids in Washington DC’s Ward 8, providing meals and educational programming for children of low-income
    families
  • Assisting case managers at New Hope, serving in their Education & Employment Center, and conducting one-on-one tutoring sessions
  • Coordinating with program staff at Carpenter’s Shelter to deliver services at their day shelter, help with fundraising, website development,
    job coaching, and administrative duties

Learning

The goal of the course is to guide students toward a complex, nuanced understanding of poverty. Beyond giving students the opportunity to see poverty first-hand, classes are structured to make student engagement an essential habit.

  • The majority of in-class time is dedicated to discussion-based material rather than lecture. Guest speakers from the local community
    come to class to enhance the on-going conversation.
  • To ensure that classes are prepared to be engaged in discussions, short reading quizzes are given at the start of each meeting.
  • Students conclude their semester leading presentations on social issues not directly related to poverty, using the models developed in class. The assignment helps students demonstrate their mastery of skills and understanding of the process by applying them to another topic.

Significance

“From an educational perspective, if the goal is to engage and motivate students, I don't think there is any substitute for direct experience with the people and places a course is covering. Students' interactions in their placements add enormous energy and, at times, urgency to our discussions. From a moral perspective, I also have a personal belief that universities have a responsibility to directly benefit their communities, and to work to produce citizens who know and care about those communities as well.”

— Dr. Lauren Cattaneo