"When I completed my dissertation, my advisor told me, 'You may not always be able to do your best, but one thing's clear: you probably won't if you try to do it alone.' "
--Jill Reich, PhD, former APA executive director for education, speaking at a Psi Chi/MPA session about the Psychology Partnership Project
While many of you were sweltering this past June, I attended a national forum at James Madison University in the mountains of Virginia. The forum brought together teachers from high schools, two-year colleges, and four-year colleges and universities to discuss critical educational issues in psychology and to develop proposals to address those issues. The weeklong conference was part of "The Psychology Partnerships Project (P3): Academic Partnerships to Meet the Teaching and Learning Needs of the 21st Century."
Teachers at the conference approached me with ideas and questions about how Psi Chi could get involved with the P3 project. Since that week I have given the question a lot of thought. Certainly Psi Chi students, chapters, and advisors can and should be involved, I mused. If psychology is to successfully broker partnerships across educational contexts, it will have to involve students as partners. Who better to establish psychology partnerships than students who have worked collaboratively since entering elementary school? The sheer number of Psi Chi chapters and current members certainly argues for our involvement in this project: 950 Psi Chi chapters, approximately 30,000 current student members. My mind raced--just think of all of the partnerships that could be formed if each chapter worked on one project! Furthermore, these partnerships have the potential to provide direct benefits for Psi Chi students by fostering leadership skills, establishing contacts in the local community, and expanding and strengthening their research and service projects.
What exactly am I asking you to do? It's simple. I'm proposing that each Psi Chi chapter work on a project with a local high school psychology teacher or class, a two-year community college psychology class, a Psi Beta chapter (the psychology honor society at two-year colleges), or a business partner. Who you establish a partnership with and which project you adopt will depend on your community and interests. Whatever you do, I encourage you to keep your project simple! Establishing a partnership with another group takes time and energy in and of itself; it may take a semester just to make contact and arrange a meeting with another group, just to get your wheels turning.
In the following paragraphs I'll describe six ideas for partnership projects, knowing full well that you'll come up with many others. (In thinking about what your chapter might do, you can get other ideas by skimming through the project proposals developed at the P3 forum. They're posted on the APA website: www.apa.org/ed/p3.html.)
1. Volunteer or Service-Learning Partnerships
Hundreds of Psi Chi chapters currently have an "Adopt-a-Shelter" project in place. Perhaps the easiest way your Psi Chi chapter could establish a partnership would be to ask a high school or community college teacher to involve her/his class in an ongoing service project. Are you also collecting money for UNICEF, our second-level national service project? Involve a psychology class at a local high school or two-year college in the project and have a discussion about child rearing across cultures. Finally, how about partnering with a local business to provide a service to a community agency, such as tutoring in an after-school program at a Boys and Girls Club?
2. Cosponsor Campus "Career Nights"
Host a career night that informs students about future careers in psychology and related fields. At these events, psychology faculty and professionals from the community share information about their career histories and describe careers, internship possibilities, etc. Your Psi Chi chapter could invite local high school and two-year college psychology students to attend these career nights, or cohost the event and involve faculty from both schools. Adjunct faculty at two-year colleges are often delighted to share information about their career paths at a cohosted event.
3. Collect Textbooks and Other Teaching Materials
One message that I heard loud and clear at the P3 conference was that high school teachers of psychology welcome assistance in gathering educational materials for their classes. Knock on most college office doors and you'll find faculty with extra complimentary texts, films, CDs, demonstration materials, even models of brains that they'd be happy to donate to high school and community college teachers. Check with the teachers first to find out what would be useful, and start a friendly "treasure hunt" competition among chapter members.
4. Science Fair or Psych Week
Psi Chi students could help generate awareness and enthusiasm for research among high school and two-year college psychology students in a number of ways. For example, your Psi Chi chapter could invite students from other schools to participate in a psychology science fair. Another option is to visit the other school's psychology class and talk about research in which you and other chapter members are involved (also a great way to find research assistants and participants for your studies!). If your chapter already sponsors or participates in a local or regional research conference, it would be simple to invite students from a high school or two-year psychology class. Or cosponsor activities for a "Psychology Week": a speaker from your community one night, a film with a psychological theme another night, a panel of experts to discuss a contemporary social issue the third night, and so on. And don't forget a fun event: Some chapters have great Halloween parties with a psychological twist; what about a contest for the "most bizarre experiment" ever published?
5. Internship/Externship "Shadow" Program
Many of you have or will participate this year in internship/externship programs, using your helping skills and other talents in schools, juvenile detention centers, and hospitals. You and your Psi Chi chapter could establish a program in which high school or two-year college psychology students could "shadow" you for a day at your internship site, after arranging this in advance with your supervisor. Besides exposing students to "psychology in action" and to new career possibilities, these student-to-student partnerships could develop into mentoring relationships.
6. Introduce Psychology to Local Minority Students
Many colleges sponsor events, such as a "First Day in College" program, in which minority students from the local community attend several college classes during a daylong program. Psi Chi could assist psychology departments in developing a class that high school or community college minority students would be invited to attend during their campus visit. Or your chapter could hold a reception sometime during the day and talk about careers in psychology, with a special emphasis on the careers and professional contributions of psychologists from ethnic minority groups. Or you might develop a partnership with a local business organization that sponsors career programs for minority students. Because having a psychology background is a natural "fit" for many different careers in business, companies may be eager to have you become a partner in their program.
I hope this brief description of possibilities whets your appetite for developing a partnership project. Now it's time to start talking with other chapter members and your advisor to see what will be a good fit for your particular chapter and for the psychology students and teachers from one of your local schools. Please keep us posted at the National Office on your project. We'll be devoting a link on the website to information about the partnerships that Psi Chi chapters develop, so log on and tell us what you're doing (www.psichi.org). Also, consider sending in a proposal to present your partnership project during a Psi Chi session or chapter exchange at your regional conference. I wish you all the best as you take the lead in creating models of successful psychology partnerships.