Psi Chi, in the simplest of terms, is the ultimate psychology club. That is what I learned when I was a psychology student at San Diego City College. I really enjoyed my experience at community college and the diverse student population I interacted with: teenagers who were working multiple jobs to care for their families, grandparents on the journey to start a new career, military veterans rejoining civilian society, homeless individuals who were actively living on the street, and students who for various reasons were unable to earn a high school diploma.
My own reason for enrolling in college was to get out of the house. I was a small business owner in San Diego when I began experiencing severe back pain that became debilitating, I quickly lost the ability to walk. I was diagnosed with degenerative disc disease and needed spine surgery. Spending almost a year bedridden, I had to close my business, and developed a Major Depressive Episode, Panic Disorder, and Agoraphobia. I began taking classes so I could be around people again. I was still recovering from surgery, some days I had to use a walker to get to class, other days I did my homework from the hospital because my legs had temporarily stopped working. Being in school in my late-20s is what helped me survive a dark time.
The best part of community college was joining Psi Beta, Psi Chi’s sister honor society in psychology for two-year colleges. It was the students in that group, who shared common interests and goals, that enriched my experience and pushed me to work toward transferring. That is when I first heard about Psi Chi and the Psi Beta/Psi Chi Collaboration Grant (https://www.psichi.org/collaborinfo), which was created to encourage cooperative activities between Psi Chi and Psi Beta chapters. The idea of doing something with a chapter of Psi Chi was really exciting, and our members were nervous sending out the email to invite San Diego State University (SDSU) to work with us. Thrilled they said yes, we had a fantastic experience working with them on a project in the San Diego community. For that project, we held drives on each respective campus, for personal hygiene and baby care items, to donate to the emergency night shelter for homeless women and children at San Diego Rescue Mission. Then, both chapters went to the shelter on two occasions to serve dinner, make beds, and spend time with the population. In the process, members of Psi Beta were able to learn about being a student on the SDSU campus and what it was like being in Psi Chi. It proved to be a very successful and led our chapters to be named the winners of the Building Bonds Award.
Fast forward, I transferred to the University of California San Diego (UCSD) in fall 2017. I was very nervous about joining Psi Chi. I wondered if I would be able to find the support and connection with others, as I did in Psi Beta. I was happily surprised when I met many other psychology Psi Beta alumni including five past presidents. Although many transfer students were on campus and interested in Psi Chi, the requirements for us to join was so high that it was almost impossible to apply until our senior year. As a transfer, I have to share how frustrating that was.
Community college students work diligently to compete for one of just a few transfer spots at a 4-year college. For example, UCSD only accepted approximately 200 psychology transfer students for fall 2018, and Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo reports on their website that they accept less than 1% of the psychology students who apply. Transfers enroll at their new school with an already extensive list of completed psychology coursework and competitive GPAs; a cause for disappointment if unable to join Psi Chi due to a chapter asking for transfers to complete a high volume of additional coursework as an application requirement. I saw this as an opportunity to create a better understanding of, and inclusion for, transfer students. After becoming active in UCSD’s chapter and stating inclusivity as my platform, I was elected president for the 2018–19 academic year.
I am proud of the work my chapter has accomplished this academic year of embracing transfer students. Changes we have made include lowering the requirements needed for transfers to join Psi Chi. Under the new requirements, they can apply after having completed just one quarter if they hold a 3.3 overall GPA, 3.0 psychology GPA, have completed at least one upper division psychology course, and are in the top 35% of class. Those are the lowest requirements Psi Chi will allow for transfers to join and, therefore, what we adopted.
All students who do not meet requirements to join Psi Chi are welcome to our meetings as psychology club members. Our Psi Chi officers hold office hours every week to support psychology club members on their journey toward reaching requirements to join. This transformed our chapter to having more than 240 active members, and allowed us to become active on our campus and local community with leadership opportunities, community service projects, planning a psychology undergraduate research conference, and field trips. We have found that, by being inclusive, we are providing support and motivation for students to work toward applying to Psi Chi.
We created a new Psi Chi officer position called Transfer Coordinator that runs a mentorship program offered to all incoming psychology transfer students. Those who signed up were matched with Psi Chi members who worked with them over the summer and during the fall quarter. Mentorship includes helping the student to find organizations on campus to join, taking them for a tour of where their fall classes will be held, helping them if they get lost on campus or overwhelmed with the transition, and general information and support.
We began doing outreach to prospective transfers by inviting them to ask us questions through our website and speaking to students directly at six different Psi Beta chapters. In March, we held our second annual Psi Beta Day. This is an event where we invite any interested community college psychology students to visit our campus for a UCSD and Psi Chi presentation, tour psychology research labs, and ask questions to current psychology students. This year, we hosted almost 100 community college students!
Something else we accomplished, to strengthen our relationship with transfer students, was taking part in a Psi Beta/Psi Chi Collaboration Project. Together with a chapter of Psi Beta, we wrote a grant proposal, were awarded money to implement our project, and had a lot of fun. I have included the details of our project and offer the recommendation to apply for it at https://www.psichi.org/page/collaborinfo
I found, in my chapter of Psi Chi, the support and connections I was hoping for. The students I have met are some of the most kindhearted and hardworking I have had the chance to spend time with. We have been on a journey of working toward becoming stronger applicants for graduate school and transforming our chapter with sustainable programs and philosophies that I hope will carry on for the foreseeable future. My desire in sharing our story is for it to encourage other chapters of Psi Chi to evaluate their inclusivity of transfer students.
Psi Beta/Psi Chi Collaboration Grant
In spring 2018, my Psi Chi chapter made a motion to apply for the Psi Beta/Psi Chi Collaboration Grant with a local chapter of Psi Beta. At the time, most nontransfer students had not been aware of the project or even what Psi Beta was. Therefore, engaging in this collaboration became a great way to support prospective transfer students and educate nontransfers on the community college population.
So what is this grant opportunity all about? One chapter of Psi Chi and one chapter of Psi Beta can work together in an academic year on a proposal. Working together, they come up with an idea for a project—it can literally be anything. Some projects in the past have been hosting a research conference, a research study, and a community-based project. There really is no limit to the imagination, creativity is encouraged, and the only criterion is that it be a collaborative effort from the planning process to implementation. There are two times a year an application can be submitted. If you want a grant to do a fall project, the deadline to apply is August 1, spring projects are due by February 15. If a proposal is denied, chapters are encouraged to reapply by the next submission deadline. A 600–800 word proposal with all details for the project including a budget, a letter of support from each academic advisor, and a letter of support from each chapter’s officer team is required for the application. Together Psi Beta and Psi Chi approve four projects each year and each receives a $500 grant. All approved grant projects are then automatically entered for the Building Bonds Collaboration Award (https://psibeta.org/awards/building-bonds/). Participating chapters have until June 1 to submit a Final Report to be considered for the national Psi Beta award, including a summary of how the project went, pictures, and evaluations.
Our chapter worked with Psi Beta’s San Diego Mesa Chapter (SD Mesa). Committees from each organization met during the month of May to brainstorm, choose, and plan a project. The process of generating creative ideas, selecting, and then planning a project brought both chapters closer together. What we attribute to the success and enjoyment of the collaborative process was being open to all idea suggestions and receptive to constructive criticism.
In the end, the project outline was to work with San Diego’s homeless youth population at a night shelter called The Storefront. We applied for, and obtained, the Psi Beta/Psi Chi Collaboration Grant. Our application for funding emphasized a desire to help the teens by spending quality time with them as positive role models and offering activities that would provide age appropriate, unrisky, educational experiences.
The two organizations went to the Storefront once a week for a month to offer art and cooking classes. Art projects needed to be practical things the youth could use and keep, while the recipes made in the cooking class needed to be healthy. Classes alternated each week, so Week 1 was an art class, Week 2 was a cooking class, etc.
The youth were encouraged to participate, but it was not a requirement. Some of the volunteers from each chapter were assigned to teach the class while others were asked to offer alternative interactions such as playing board games, helping with homework, or talking about being a college student. The main focus was for every teenager at the shelter to feel that we were there for them. We did not go because it was a job or because we were getting paid. We were there because we wanted to be in their company and that was the most important message we wanted to leave them with.
Strategies for Collaboration
So how do two large groups of students, not on the same campus, plan a project like this? Each chapter formed a committee of students who wanted to volunteer. Of those students, there was a Chair who led the group. Due to so many students wanting to volunteer, the Chair was the same each week to provide continuity for the staff and kids, while the other student volunteers rotated. The Chairs of each chapter were responsible for communicating with one another regularly.
As projects changed each week, so did the chapter that planned it. In Week 1, the UCSD committee planned the art class, the UCSD Chair taught the SD Mesa Chair how to do the activity, and the SD Mesa Chair taught it to their own committee. The following week the SD Mesa chapter planned the cooking class and the same stream of communication occurred. This repeated over the course of four weeks. Each chapter planned two of the classes; one art and one cooking. The Chairs were also responsible for gathering the supplies for the activities. With the $500 collaboration grant, $125 was budgeted for each week.
A lot of time was spent communicating between chapters to ensure that everyone involved was on the same page. The process was streamlined, it was not difficult to do, nor did it require an unreasonable amount of effort. The reward was seeing how excited the kids were to see us return every week and how enthusiastic they were for the projects we had planned.
Chairs were also responsible for training all student volunteers on how to engage with the youth, why it is insensitive and inappropriate to bring in cell phones, why we cannot take images of the youth1, and why certain clothing and topics of conversation are off limits.
Examples of the Classes
An example of one of the art classes was tie-dye making with canvas bags, an item the youth could have for practical use. The materials purchased were good for initiating the project, but soon we ran out of canvas bags. When we told the youth that they could be creative and tie-dye any of their own items, they began tie-dying their own shirts, pants, shoes, and even hats!
The project was a success and engaged everyone involved. Aside from this, it helped facilitate the interaction between the youth and the volunteers. Some projects offered such as journal making came with additional donations of pencil cases filled with writing utensils for every child.
While at the Storefront, it was noticed that one of the children had tried to make a grilled cheese sandwich, in a standing toaster! There was melted cheese burnt all over the inside and outside of it. This inspired the next week’s cooking class on how to make an artisan grilled cheese sandwich, with additional ingredients including avocado and tomatoes. Prior to arriving, we wrote out the recipe on index cards so every youth at the shelter could have a copy.
Working with the youth at the Storefront was an incredible opportunity. It gave students of both SD Mesa and UCSD a chance to work with and gain new perspectives for a population who are in a unique and disheartening situation. We overcame challenges in planning and successfully executed a long-term intricate project by collaboratively blending together a wide array of different thinkers.
During the course of the project and beyond, UCSD has supported SD Mesa in answering questions about the transfer process, our psychology program, and being in Psi Chi. SD Mesa participants reported this as beneficial in increasing their interest to join the sister honor society. In March, SD Mesa invited UCSD to continue working with them at the 2019 San Diego Festival of Science and Engineering, where they offered neuroscience games to children.
Both chapters report they will be advocating to apply for another collaboration grant next year.
1 To protect the youth at the Storefront, because some are hiding from abusers and other various reasons, no photos are allowed to be taken of them. However, staff were generous in taking photos of some of the projects and of the student volunteers.