Two Majors Unite in BCFS Service Learning to Benefit Students’ Education

November 6, 2013

With spring semester right around the corner California State University, Northridge students will be choosing from a list of courses that will provide them with the knowledge to further their career.  A Service-Learning through Program Evaluation course allows students to learn within the classroom settings and apply their course work to real life circumstances.

The unique course features students and professors from two separate majors.  One course will be available in the psychology department and one through the sociology department.

Professor Andrew Ainsworth of the psychology department and Professor David Boyns of the sociology department team up to provide students a hands-on experience working with research and evaluation methodologies and practices.

For this service learning project, students will evaluate how well an intervention or health centered local community agency is working through its funding.  Every program requires an in-house or outside evaluation team to determine its efficiency and success as a company.

Ainsworth and Boyns train students of the course in evaluation research.

“The class is designed for students to learn skills that parlay greatly to employment opportunities,” said Ainsworth. “Students learn a fairly employable set of skills.  It is not solely a course, but an experience where an actual agency can vouch for the professionalism of a student.”

Currently, they are preparing for their second semester in teaching the Service-Learning through Program Evaluation, which is officially titled Sociology 572: Social Policy Research and Evaluation and Psychology 497C: Proseminar in Psychological Research.  It will only be available during the spring semester at CSUN.

During this fall semester, Boyns and Ainsworth are working to connect with local agencies that will be the clients of the courses’ students next semester.

“The agency is a real world contact who can speak on behalf of the student’s work ethic,” said Ainsworth.

Groups consisting of approximately four students will handle one client/agency.  Ainsworth and Boyns group the students based on: 1) a student’s top three choice, 2) a blend of undergraduate and grad students, and 3) a mix of psychology and sociology students.  These guidelines work to ensure there are no cliques and that students learn from a discipline other than theirs, such as usage of different terminology.

The Service-Learning through Program Evaluation course is divided into three hours.  The first hour consists of lecture topics.  The second hour focuses on student presentations related to readings.   The third hour is devoted to group meetings with professors and discussing how the evaluation is progressing.

“Everyone will learn proper research and evaluation etiquette, how to make a focus group beneficial and the methodology of surveys during class lectures,” said Ainsworth.  “However, not everyone will apply it the same way.  Every group will have a unique experience.”

Students complete fifteen weeks of applied experience.  Students distinguish what ways their program/client can improve its work.

“The students are working with real data, clients and directors,” said Ainsworth.  “Some students may find themselves attending board of directors meetings.  Therefore, a student’s professionalism is important and necessary.”

Toward the end of the semester, the team writes an evaluation report that they present to the client.

For the final week, students congregate in a big lecture room where they present their final evaluations in front of the program directors, Ainsworth, Boyns and classmates.

“The student is evaluated by the professors and agency supervisor,” said Ainsworth.  “Constructive criticism is told to the student so that they can begin their career at a great length.”

During last year’s first-run of the class, agencies hired students to stay with the company for evaluation work.

“You followed through and you are employable”, said Ainsworth.  “Supervisors can write a letter of recommendation which discusses a student’s professional work ethic.”

With the new connections to the Title V grant, Ainsworth hopes to bring more students from low-income backgrounds into the classroom for continued diversity and growth.

“Overall, this course is a good excuse for David and I to work closely with students on applying evaluation and research fundamentals,” said Ainsworth.  “The students learn through implementing the theories they learn within the class.”

Ainsworth’s vision for student’s service learning does not stay within the classroom walls.

“My goal is to produce an evaluation center on campus that will handle evaluation and research needs on a local and national level,” said Ainsworth. “It will bring in support for student employment and allow interdisciplinary peers to work together for service.”