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In Engaged Liberal Arts Classes, Students Combine Scholarship With Professional Development

: Sophomores Maggie Moss (left) and Margaret Perron in Geography Professor Elizabeth Chacko’s Migrants and the City class.

Sophomores Maggie Moss (left) and Margaret Perron in Geography Professor Elizabeth Chacko’s Migrants and the City class. (Photo: Sydney Elle Gray)
March 14, 2018

When sophomore Carley Christerson enrolled in Columbian College’s Public History class last fall, she was looking forward to a curriculum that included discussions on urban renewal and the shifting political tides of city life. But what she got was much more—a class that helped her apply her studies to the professional workplace through field trips, internship opportunities and in-classroom workshops with representatives from the Center of Career Services.

“I was totally taken by surprise at that component,” said Christerson, a history major. Several of her classmates parlayed their enhanced job skills into internships, she said, while Christerson herself has taken a broader view of what a history degree means in the workplace. “This class opened up a whole new world of occupational history for me,” she said. “I’m now aware of hundreds of career options that I didn’t even know were available to me through history.”

The Public History class is one of several offered this year through a pilot curriculum dubbed the Engaged Liberal Arts (ELA). Like Dean’s Seminars and Sophomore Colloquia, which are offered exclusively to CCAS students, ELA classes target sophomores and juniors looking for focused study on specific areas of interest but with one big difference: the introduction of a professional development element.

“There’s a lot of buzz these days around the value of a liberal arts degree,” said Columbian College Dean Ben Vinson III, who spearheaded the new ELA initiative. “These courses are meant to mitigate that notion through the connection of scholarship with practice-oriented learning enterprises and professional success.”

Working with Career Services, ELA faculty introduce career skills that complement academic instruction. In some cases this means turning over their classrooms several times a semester to Career Service representatives for presentations on skills assessments, professional communication and networking. Other times, faculty have adapted existing classes or created new ones that integrate professional development directly into their curriculum. For example, in the Public History class, Associate Professor of History Christopher Klemek had his class networking with working historians like museum curators, and Professor of Clinical Psychology Christina Gee invited alumni into her psychology class to explain how they are putting their liberal arts degrees to work.

The ELA initiative launched in the fall with classes in four disciplines—biology, psychology, history and music. Two more classes were added in the spring: Gee’s Clinical Psychology class and Geography Professor Elizabeth Chacko’s Migrants and the City.

“By merging the academic with the professional, we want students to think earlier about their preparation for being in the workforce,” said Chacko, who also serves as the CCAS associate dean of undergraduate studies. “That may mean getting an internship or improving your professional skills or learning where your talents and strengths lie. These classes provide concrete, practical professional development without losing sight of our academic mission.”

According to Assistant Provost for University Career Services Rachel A. Brown, approximately 80 students enrolled in the fall courses. In post-class surveys, students said they now felt better able to convey the relevance of their academic experiences to employers. Prior to the classes, 73 percent agreed or strongly agreed that they could articulate the skills they acquired through their liberal arts education. That figure rose to 86 percent after completing an ELA course, with strongly-agree respondents increasing from 10 percent to 19 percent.

“We are trying to help students see the value of their liberal arts education and how it can impact their development both in the classroom and in professional experiences,” Brown said. She noted that, at the end of each course, students are required to create a written and video “professional pitch” on how the class relates to their career goals. “In a sense, we are trying to get them to convey the Engaged Liberal Arts in their own words.”

When junior biology major Priya Brahmbhatt enrolled in Professor of Biology Keith Crandall’s Introduction to Bioinformatics last fall, she was initially skeptical of the professional development component of the course. But the skills Crandall incorporated into his science seminar—resume building, networking and interviewing—were immediately helpful to Brahmbhatt when she applied to research-oriented internships. “It definitely made me more aware of the importance of professional development and the impact it makes on my career trajectory,” said Brahmbhatt, who hopes to attend medical school after graduation.

For sophomore political science major Gordon Ehrlich, meeting professional historians in Klemek’s class—including a former top-level National Security Agency officer, researchers at the Office of the Historian at the State Department and curators at Ford’s Theatre—offered him a window into possible career options. “Not only did [the professional development components] help me better understand the technical aspects of applying to a job, but I also gained helpful insights from people who have spent an entire career in the field of public history,” he said.

While Columbian College and Career Services will continue to evaluate the program after the semester, Brown has a checklist of ideas to build on the lessons learned in the pilot program, including expanding the number of disciplines and courses, increasing alumni involvement and enhancing student awareness of the Engaged Liberal Arts brand. Still, the initial offering, she said, was an important step in the right direction. “Through Dean Vinson’s commitment and the endorsement of our faculty partners, we are making a strong statement to our students: Professionalism and professional development are a vital part of the liberal arts.”

 

*** Next deadline is April 10, 2018 ***

Overview

 Through the generous support of an anonymous donor, the GW Psychology Department Undergraduate Summer Research Fellowship (USRF) gives promising undergraduate psychology majors the opportunity to engage in a well-defined research project under the mentorship of a Psychology faculty member.  Research experiences not only provide challenges and depth to students' education, but they also strengthen their applications for nationally competitive fellowships and for graduate and professional schools.

All research projects must be undertaken with ongoing input and direction from the faculty mentor. It is expected that the student and mentor will discuss their expectations regarding the time commitments of both parties, scope of research, and anticipated results (e.g., papers, presentations, performances, etc.) and arrive at a mutually agreeable understanding. In many cases, this will involve working with the mentor on an established study in the mentor’s lab.

Eligibility

Student applicants must be full-time undergraduate students at GW who are majoring in psychology. Note: Recipients must be enrolled at GW throughout the tenure of the award. Faculty mentors must be tenured or tenure-track faculty in the GW Department of Psychology.

Funding

The USRF provides an award of $4,000 meant to support the student’s research-related expenditures, which may include living expenses, travel, materials, and equipment.

Faculty mentors receive a stipend of $500. These funds can be used to support activities directly related to this research project (e.g., supporting travel, equipment, supplies, etc.).

Award Period

Activities supported by this award can begin as early as May 21, 2018. They must be completed by August 25, 2018.

Application Deadline

Applications must be received by April 10, 2018.

Application Materials

Applications need to include:

  • Completed application form.
  • Statement of support for you and your research activity from the Psychology faculty member overseeing the experience
  • Unofficial GW transcript (please provide a screen shot; no transcripts from GWEB).

Selection Process

The Psychology Department Selection Committee, which includes faculty members from the three department programs, will review applications and make decisions on funding. Recipients must let the Department know if they receive funding for the same activity from another source; the award may need to be reduced.

Final Report

The recipient must submit a report at the end of the funding period explaining how the funds were used, and any activities or outcomes that the funds made possible.

Contact Carol Sigelman (carol@gwu.edu) for a copy of the application form.

*** Next Deadline is April 10, 2018 ***

Overview

The Department of Psychology Undergraduate Research and Service Grant (URSG) program is designed to support undergraduate psychology majors who are exploring psychological research and psychological services as possible career paths. Students may apply for up to $500 to cover relevant expenses.

Eligible Research and Services Experiences

Students engaging in the following activities are eligible for URSG funding:

  • Research with Department of Psychology faculty, through research internship (enrolled in PSYC 3591), independent study (PSYC 4591), as a research assistant paid with other funds, or through uncredited volunteer activities.
  • Psychological research conducted by investigators outside of the Psychology department or the university, when coordinated through Psychology faculty via research internship (PSYC 3591), independent study (PSYC 4591), or through non-course learning plans (see below).
  • Service placements coordinated by Department of Psychology faculty, through field internships (PSYC 3592) or CCAS service learning (CCAS 2154).
  • Service placements within the Department of Psychology Meltzer Center, whether on a funded or volunteer basis.

Non-course learning plans: Some students may find opportunities for participating in psychological research projects being conducted outside the Psychology Department, but not wish to enroll in PSYC 3591 or PSYC 4591. These students can apply for URSG funding if they are able to find a member of the Psychology faculty willing to provide oversight of the experience. This would include helping the student develop a written learning plan with their research supervisors that outlines the commitments and responsibilities of both the student and the research team. It would also include the Psychology faculty member being available to help the student negotiate with the research team if problems arise.

Allowed Expenses

URSG funds may be used for any expense associated with participation in the research or service activity. These expenses can include travel to and from the performance site, materials and subject payments for research projects, or expenses associated with attending scientific or professional services conferences or trainings directly relevant to the student’s research or service experience, including presentation of posters or papers. It can also include costs of background checks required by some service settings. URSG funds may also be used for hourly wages of students who have a paid position under the work-study program as a research assistant with a Psychology Department faculty member or with the Meltzer Center.

Application Deadlines

There are three deadlines for 2018, corresponding to funding for activities during the spring, summer, and fall:

  • 2018 Spring Semester: Friday, January 19, 2018.
  • 2018 Summer: Tuesday, April 10, 2018
  • 2018 Fall Semester: September 7, 2018

Application Materials

Applications need to include:

  • Completed application form.
  • Statement of support from the Psychology faculty member overseeing the experience
  • Unofficial GW transcript (please provide a screen shot; no transcripts from GWEB).

Selection Process

The Psychology Department Selection Committee, which includes faculty members from the three department programs, will review applications and make decisions on funding. Recipients must let the Department know if they receive funding for the same activity from another source; the award may need to be reduced.

Final Report

Each recipient must submit a report at the end of the funding period explaining how the funds were used, and any activities or outcomes that the funds made possible.

Contact Carol Sigelman (carol@gwu.edu) for a copy of the application form.

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