Community college professor Diane Finley, PhD, doesn't just bring psychology to her students. She uses it to help women at a gym in Prince George's County, Md., get into shape. And she stresses its scientific basis in working with high school psychology teachers.

Finley is not alone in moving psychology's benefits beyond her college walls to the surrounding community. Other community college faculty who are also conducting service-learning projects will join her to explain their efforts at APA's 2005 Annual Convention, Aug. 18-21 in Washington, D.C.

The session on "giving psychology away" through community service projects (see box) will illustrate ways to get "psychology and the college out there," Finley says.

"With a community college, whether in psychology or any other department, that's our mission--to get out in the community and become a part of it," she adds.

Reaching new audiences

In keeping with that public service message, Finley does more than teach her students at Prince George's Community College in Largo, Md., the importance of psychology in their daily lives. She also tells them how it can be used to help communities. A case in point: Finley gives presentations to and works individually with women in a 10-week exercise program in neighboring Bowie, Md. She helps them set personal fitness goals, stay motivated and improve their nutrition by learning about healthy food choices. She also teaches participants how to judge nutrition and exercise information in the media.

Her message doesn't stop there. Finley also created a Web site four years ago (http://academic.pgcc.edu/~dfinley/title3index.htm) to give students and the public general psychology information--such as an introduction to psychology terms, psychology career information and APA guidelines for formatting psychology documents.

She also works with local high school teachers in Prince George's and Anne Arundel counties--helping them plan lessons on teaching introductory psychology, giving them textbooks and serving as a resource on teaching psychology scientifically. She taps APA's National Standards for the Teaching of High School Psychology, which offer a road map for teaching the scientific basis of psychology.

Finley says her work through the community helps recruit better students to psychology by educating the public about the field and what psychologists do.

"This helps people in the community get an idea of what a psychologist is, what a psychologist does--it's not all Oprah and Dr. Phil," Finley says.

Improving accessibility

Civic engagement is the lesson taught by Donna Killian Duffy, PhD, of Middlesex Community College in Bedford and Lowell, Mass. In 2003, Middlesex Community College and the Lowell National Historic Park received a Learn and Serve Grant--distributed through a division within the Corporation for National Service--to help college students gain an understanding of civic engagement and participate in a diverse range of initiatives that encourage citizenship and service.

In her developmental disabilities class, Duffy assigned students to visit the Lowell National Historic Park's Boott Cotton Mills Museum to assess its accessibility for people with disabilities. The museum includes exhibits on Lowell's 19th-century cotton mills and immigrant and labor history.

The students pinpointed such accessibility issues as doors being too heavy, limited signs to the bathroom and difficult-to-read exhibits. Students brainstormed ways to make the museum and its displays more accessible and presented their recommendations to park staff in early December. They also are discussing ways to create an exhibit devoted to the conditions of people with disabilities who worked in cotton mills and demonstrate how laws and advocacy for people with disabilities have evolved to the present.

"This helps the students gain an awareness of their voice, and shows them they have a role to play in their community," Duffy says about the students' work.

Emphasizing that message, Duffy also redesigned her introduction to psychology class to focus on civic engagement by weaving the course with the five themes of the Decade of Behavior, an initiative launched by APA and other organizations in 2000 to inform the nation about the importance of behavioral and social research.

As part of the class, students focused on projects or worked in the community on one of the five themes--improving health, increasing safety, improving education, increasing prosperity or promoting democracy. They completed such service-learning projects as tutoring elementary school students or organizing programs at the local Boys and Girls Club. Students also reviewed resources available in local communities and national organizations related to one of the five themes.

Discovering psychology

Vincent Granito, PhD--an assistant psychology professor at Lorain County Community College (LCCC) in Elyria, Ohio--uses hands-on psychology activities to show elementary and high school students in his community how psychology affects their lives.

In a five-week program, "Journey to the brain and beyond," Granito teaches fourth- and fifth-graders how brain chemistry influences emotions. To help students learn brain parts and operations, he has them weave necklaces mimicking the brain's neural network and create clay models.

Granito takes psychology to the general public, too. He helped create an interactive psychology exhibit for the college's annual "Family Fest," which highlights the college's various degree programs at a carnival-like family event. The psychology booth contains biofeedback machines, brain and neuron models and activities on such topics as optical illusions.

What's more, Granito participates in LCCC's Project GRAD (Graduation Really Achieves Dreams), a national program that exposes high school students of low socioeconomic backgrounds to subject areas such as math and science and encourages them to succeed in school. Granito runs a five-week course on psychology during the program's summer institute.

Granito strives to make all the class activities interactive. For example, when learning about the senses, students walk around campus blindfolded with a partner to experience what it would be like to be blind. He also has students from the LCCC Psychology Club guest lecture on psychology topics.

"There is so much that the psychology field has to offer--even if people choose to never take a class in psychology or go into the field," Granito says. "This is an opportunity to show them that psychology is not all about psychological disorders and psychotherapy....Psychology is really about life."

Further Reading

For more information about civic engagement and service-learning, visit APA Education.


The session on "Giving psychology away: A community college model," sponsored by APA's Committee of Psychology Teachers at Community Colleges, will be one of many presented during APA's 2005 Annual Convention, Aug. 18–21 in Washington, D.C. To keep updated on convention news and programming information, visit the APA Convention Web site. The Monitor will also feature convention coverage in its May issue.