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Undergraduate Researchers

Kathleen Algire

Kathleen Algire-Fedarcyk, Social Work

“Promoting Social Change through Service-Learning”

A basic component of social work is understanding the challenges faced by society and local communities. Using the Social Learning Theory and the Social Change Model, this research explores the process in which college students become civic-minded during the progression of a semester-long course. During the fall 2012 semester, 27 students were enrolled in Social Work 200 and spent the semester engaged in a service-learning placement at a local agency or organization. Students enrolled in the course were encouraged to develop their own ideas on social issues and to connect those ideas with action across levels of influence in relation to the practice of social work. We used three aspects of the Social Change Model: Consciousness of Self, Collaboration, and Citizenship, to theme and code the students' reflective writings which enabled a qualitative research study on students' increased awareness and knowledge of civic-mindedness. This research posits that encouragement and exposure to a service-learning activity increases the likelihood that students will become more civic-minded and will have the opportunity to create positive social change. Findings will be presented.

How did you find your research opportunity?
Dr. Guzman-Rea sent a listing for a teaching assistant/research assistant and I jumped at the opportunity.

Who did you work with on this project?
I worked with Dr. Guzman-Rea for this project. Dr Guzman-Rea had applied for a Breaking Ground grant to change the current Social Work 200 course and an extension of the grant was performing research.

What academic background did you have before you started?
I have taken research courses but did not have any research experience. Within my social work classes, we read a lot about the necessity of social work research so I was actively looking for opportunities.

What was the hardest part about your research?
The hardest part about the research was understanding the qualitative process. Until my social work research class, I did not fully understand how to perform qualitative research.

What was the most unexpected thing?
I did not expect to actually be able to recognize the change in students but it was observable. It was really interesting to see students change the words they used or change the connotations of a word over the course of the semester. It was also interesting to see how the themes could be applied to any involvement activities, especially student organizations.

How does this research experience relate to your work in other classes?
Within social work, we are always talking about the change process and it was very interesting to see people go through part of that process in a short amount of time.

What is your advice to other students about getting involved in research?
Talk to your professors and express your interest in research, even in fields where there doesn’t seem to be a lot happening in research, like social work.

What are your career goals?
I plan to pursue a MSW in macro social work. I would like to work in Baltimore City to pursue change based on social justice and economic equality. Currently, my interest is in forensic social work.

What are you doing next for research?
I am working with another social work professor to look at the effectiveness of advocacy within social agencies. Advocacy is a cornerstone of social work and yet it seems to lack a common definition and practice.

What else are you involved in on campus?
I am the president of SWSA and I have a grant writing internship at the Women’s Center through the Honors College.

3/28/2013