The establishment of the 18 Community Psychology Practice Competencies created the opportunity for faculty and students at Wichita State University to review the well-established curriculum that had served our doctoral program in community psychology. Further, the development and discussion around the 18 competencies within the field energized us and created curiosity about what our program could be. In a participatory manner involving students, faculty, and alumni, a town hall meeting and a survey were conducted within Wichita State University’s Community Psychology Doctoral Program to assess the current coverage of the 18 competencies and the desired level of coverage of the competencies in the future. With this data, a retreat involving all faculty and students of this program was held, focusing on the strengths of the program and a vision for graduates of the future. This retreat resulted in student and faculty engaged work groups around curriculum and qualifying exams, which were intentional in including the 18 Competencies as guiding principles. The student and faculty Curriculum Work Group conducted a curriculum mapping process that identified which competencies were focused on by particular courses, including which of the 18 competencies were taught in existing courses and what new courses might be offered to address the remaining competencies. The Curriculum Work Group made recommendations that included greater or less emphases on competencies in particular courses, along with adding two classes: Seminar in Social Policy & Advocacy and Seminar in Community Leadership. The Qualifying Exam Work Group focused on student-selected competencies that aligned with career aspirations, substantially changing and, we believe, enhancing our qualifying exams. The 18 Community Psychology Practice Competencies have provided benchmarks for the Community Psychology Doctoral Program at Wichita State University, which has improved our academic quality while allowing greater flexibility for students in the pursuit of their community psychology research and practice careers.
The process of development and adoption of the 18 Community Psychology Practice Competencies, through the collaborative efforts of the Community Psychology Practice Council and the former Council of Education Programs (now simply the Council on Education) within the Society for Community Research and Action (SCRA), created nearly a decade of national discussion, refinement, and consciousness-raising as the field approached its 50th anniversary (Dalton & Wolfe, 2012). Community psychologists and SCRA have been known for innovation within the field of psychology and the American Psychological Association (APA), but unlike most sub-fields within psychology, community psychology had neither formally identified nor recognized the skills and competencies of the practice of community psychology (Berkowitz & Scott, 2015). SCRA made it particularly clear that as Division 27 of the APA it was not going to review programs and would never consider any form of accreditation, and neither would APA. Thus, once the 18 competencies were adopted by SCRA, the Society encouraged community psychology graduate programs to consider a self-study curriculum review in an effort to reflect these 18 competencies. The establishment of the 18 competencies raised the awareness of Wichita State University (WSU) faculty and students regarding the well-established curriculum that had served the WSU doctoral program in community psychology well for over 20 years. More importantly, the development and discussion around the 18 competencies within the field energized us and created curiosity about what our program could be.
History & Context
The psychology department at WSU started one of the first master’s programs in community psychology in 1972 in response to student interest in social justice and community-based issues at the university, the Wichita community, and nationally (Hermann, 1992). As part of the Community Psychology Master’s Program, the Center for Community Support and Research (formerly Self-Help Network) was founded in 1984 and was dedicated to creating and sustaining positive change, working with self-help groups, peer-run organizations, non-profits, faith-based and community-based organizations and coalitions This institution has recently been restructured into the free-standing WSU Community Engagement Institute. The master’s program in community psychology operated successfully for 20 years. When WSU began to form doctoral programs campus-wide the community psychology program and the WSU Clinical Psychology Master’s Program were integrated at the behest of the WSU administration in 1991. An innovative, community-based doctoral program in community-clinical psychology was developed (Meissen & Slavich, 1997), inspired in part by Jim Kelly’s (1990) thinking that mental health systems could be positively impacted by community psychology graduate education that did not focus on individual clinical intervention but had expertise in mental illness. During the first years of this integrated community-clinical program, some graduate students gravitated toward work on community-based issues, including but not limited to mental health, while others primarily wanted to be able to pursue licensure as clinical psychologists but this systems-focused model simply would not allow APA accreditation. In 1999, the integrated community-clinical model evolved into a thriving free-standing doctoral program in community psychology and a clinical-community psychology doctoral program which received APA accreditation in 2005. The 90-credit-hour, free-standing community psychology doctoral program had an ecological and prevention focused and “action-research” driven curriculum with a year-long community-based practicum that was consistent with the field in the 1990s. An undergraduate certificate in community psychology was also implemented in 2002 as a 15-18-hour program which could be taken not only by Psychology majors but any undergraduate or graduate student at WSU. The certificate program includes a semester-long 10 hour/week practicum in a community-based organization.
Wichita is the largest city in Kansas with a metropolitan area population of nearly 700,000 in a rural state of less than 3 million people. Wichita is an “oasis” of services with all the assets and problems of an urban community, while being home to a surprisingly diverse population that provides a rich setting for the work of community psychologists. The WSU Community Psychology Doctoral Program is a respected partner in the human service, non-profit, and government sectors locally and state-wide. The evidence for how successfully current and former graduate students enhance the health and well-being of their communities shows in the many and diverse organizations eager to pay for graduate practicum, hire our graduates, and partner with the WSU community psychology program in community-based interventions and research often funded through grants secured by joint applications.
While there was considerable innovative work in Wichita and Kansas by those in the community psychology program actively involving graduate students both in and outside of practicum, the curricular framework established for the WSU Community Psychology Doctoral Program in the early 1990’s remained unchanged. Graduate courses had evolved with updated readings on original topics of importance to community psychology (e.g., ecological theory, empowerment, prevention) and these seminars added new topics that were not as common in the1990’s (e.g., policy, advocacy, leadership). However, in a very “non-community psychology” manner, the faculty who often worked with community-based organizations around bold organizational and community change operated with a “if it’s not broken don’t fix it” mentality around our own program and curriculum. The establishment of the 18 competencies raised the awareness of faculty that we were stuck in regards to our own curriculum, and gave voice to students—especially those who had been involved in the national effort around the 18 competencies. An “immunity to change” (Kegan & Lahey, 2009) among WSU faculty was deep-seated, reinforced through structural barriers (e.g., 17 signatures needed for even minute curricular changes), along with the responsibility for changes in current courses and the burdensome work associated with developing new courses.
Faced with decades of curricular stagnation, we modeled the type of work many of us do with coalitions and secured an outside facilitator (Tom Wolff) to manage a town hall meeting, with key stakeholders focused on how to think about the 18 competencies in WSU’s Community Psychology Doctoral Program, especially in our curriculum. The 18 competencies gave us a yardstick by which to compare our current curriculum to others and gave us criteria for a desired outcome. Finally, we were approaching ourselves like community psychologists would, with the help of an experienced community psychology practitioner in Tom Wolff.
Community Psychology Curriculum Town Hall Meeting
Faculty and current students gathered for a town hall meeting in April 2012, where Tom Wolff facilitated a discussion of the 18 Community Psychology Practice Competencies. This meeting featured an enthusiastic and engaging conversation focused on the common goal of developing the best community psychology curriculum and program possible. Most attendees were already very familiar with the 18 competencies, as WSU faculty and students had been actively involved in the development and advancement of the competencies through the SCRA Community Psychology Practice Council and the Council for Education Programs. Everyone had read early drafts of Dalton & Wolfe’s (2012) article, which was also shared prior to the town hall meeting. We knew the 18 competencies, yet we also knew that no curriculum or program could realistically graduate people with “expertise” in all 18 competencies (Hakim, 2010; Kloos, 2010). After discussion on what each of the 18 competencies stood for, students were asked to put a “voting dot” to indicate the extent to which the WSU community psychology curriculum addressed each of the 18 competencies, using the following indicators suggested by Kloos (2010): 1) Expertise; 2) Experience; 3) Exposure; 4) Not At All (see Figures 1 & 2 below that show how this “tool” could be used in other graduate programs). It was emphasized that participants were rating the degree to which the curriculum delivered these levels and not their own individual proficiencies (See Figure 1). Once everyone had placed their “voting dot” in one of the four categories for each of the 18 competencies, Wolff facilitated a “make meaning” conversation, noting that, overall, the 18 competencies were similar in the “Exposure” and “Experience” level (see Figure 1). At the same time, 15 of the 18 competencies had three or fewer who rated the curriculum at the “Expertise” level, with eight of those competencies receiving no votes for “Expertise” (see Table 1). There were relatively high levels of “Experience” regarding the research competencies of “Program Evaluation” and “Community Based Participatory Research,” along with “Collaboration & Coalition Development,” “Community Inclusion and Partnership,” “Program Development, Implementation & Management,” “Ecological Perspectives,” and “Empowerment.”
Following this initial discussion of the current curriculum in light of the 18 competencies, students were asked, “If we really got it right in five years, what levels of 1) expertise, 2) experience or 3) exposure would the WSU Community Psychology Curriculum provide?” (see Figure 2). Once everyone had placed their “voting dots” in one of the three categories, a conversation about the gap between the current curriculum and desired curriculum took place, which first focused on the desire to move from “exposure” to higher levels of “experience” and particularly higher levels of “expertise” (see Table 1). There was pride in the high levels of “experience” in “Program Evaluation” and “Community-Based Participatory Research,” but a conviction to move to “expertise” (Minkler, 2012).
Figure 1: Town Hall Meeting “Voting Dot” Results for Community Psychology Competencies (see PDF version or JPG at the end of this article)
Figure 2: Town Hall Meeting “Voting Dot” Results for Community Psychology Competencies Comparing Now (2012, at left) & Future (2017, at right) (see PDF version or JPG at the end of this article)
Table 1. Town Hall Meeting “Voting Dot” Frequency Counts for Community Psychology Competencies (see PDF version or JPG at the end of this article)
There was also conviction that many of the 18 competencies that produce change in communities and organizations needed to move to “expertise” by 2017 to maximize the ultimate impacts of WSU graduate students. A particularly important insight was the variability across students in terms of what they desired in terms of “expertise” for their careers.
The overall conclusion was that our curriculum needed to be thoughtfully updated in a participatory manner that included faculty, current students, and alumni, providing flexibility for individual students in their pursuit of experience and expertise in different competencies. After the town hall, a commitment was made to conduct a survey asking the same questions that would also include alumni. Another recommended next step was to have a retreat to go from data and ideas to action. One student commented, “We need to do whatever is necessary to move the program and curriculum to be contemporary and relevant much like the community-based practice and research of our faculty, students, and alumni.” A commitment was made to conduct the survey of alumni as soon as possible, to make data available for a retreat that included all faculty and students.
Survey of Program Faculty, Students and Alumni
An anonymous survey (administered electronically) was conducted which more formally assessed the same two questions asked at the town hall meeting about the extent to which the 18 competencies were addressed by the curriculum and the extent to which they should be addressed in five years. The survey included all faculty (n=4), current students (n=17), and the alumni from the doctoral program who had graduated in the previous 10 years (n=29). All four faculty and 17 current students responded (100% response rate), and 22 of 29 alumni responded (76% response rate). Respondents were asked how well the WSU Community Psychology Doctoral Program Curriculum addressed each of the 18 competencies using the same indicators: 1) expertise; 2) experience; 3) exposure (see Table 2). Respondents were then asked for each of the 18 competencies: “if we really got it right in 5 years, what levels of 1) expertise, 2) experience or 3) exposure would the WSU Community Psychology Curriculum provide for each of the 18 Competencies?” This data generated much discussion among faculty, students and especially local alumni about what we were doing well and what was missing from our curriculum or was not covered adequately, and further generated a call for action at the upcoming retreat (see Table 2).
Table 2: Results Community Psychology Competencies Survey as Seen by Faculty, Students, and Alumni (see PDF version or JPG at the end of this article)
First Ever WSU Community Psychology Program Retreat
A “Mission Possible” retreat was held on January 24, 2013 facilitated by Barry Carroll, a local community partner and certified “Master Facilitator” with extensive experience working with coalitions and nonprofits doing visioning, strategic planning, leadership development, and team building. Full and unguarded participation in this retreat really required objective, external facilitation. Carroll fulfilled that role for us, and in exchange (rather than seek funding through the university) we agreed to perform a similar objective, external facilitation role for Bike-Walk Wichita, the local coalition for which Carroll served as president of the board. The retreat was held off campus in the community room of Natural Grocers; instead of catering lunch we asked everyone to contribute to a “community salad” from Natural Grocers to show our appreciation for the free use of their meeting space. Despite the scheduling difficulties in finding a date and time that accommodated over 20 busy people, it was especially important to have all current students present, especially advanced students as they had experienced the whole of the curriculum.
With the insights from the town hall meeting and the survey, this inaugural WSU Community Psychology Retreat included all faculty and current students, and focused on how to infuse the 18 competencies into our curriculum and program. The retreat focused on the strengths of the program and a vision of graduates of the future; students were given a strong voice by focusing on 10 years in the future through facilitation techniques often used with coalitions that leveled power and influence, such as “sticky note” call-outs that allowed anonymity and use of small group deliberations (see Figure 3). Further, faculty were in their own breakout group, which granted student breakout groups stronger voices as we came to consensus on questions and issues (see Appendix 1: Facilitation Planner “Mission Possible”).
Figure 3. “Sticky Note” Call-Outs During “Mission Possible,” the WSU Community Psychology Doctoral Program Retreat (see PDF version or JPG at the end of this article)
The recently revised Vision and Mission statements of the WSU Community Psychology Doctoral Program were reviewed and reaffirmed:
“The Community Ph.D. Program at WSU aspires to be a comprehensive and sustainable Ph.D. Program that graduates highly competent Community Psychologists with a balance of community research and practice competencies taught by nationally recognized faculty with high levels of research accomplishment, excellent teaching ability and who are deeply involved at the urban, community, state and national level.”
“The Mission of the Community Psychology Ph.D. Program at WSU is to recruit, educate and graduate undergraduate and graduate students who have achieved the competencies of Community Psychology in order to engage in collaborative research and practice with community stakeholders to enhance health and well-being of their communities.”
During the facilitated retreat, we also reviewed and accepted guiding principles for the day and beyond from the Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz (1997) that included “1) Be Impeccable with Your Word, 2) Don’t take Anything Personally, 3) Don’t Make Assumptions and 4) Always do Your Best.”
Our work for the day was guided by four important questions:
The retreat was a major step in overcoming decades of resistance to change in our curriculum and program: It was successful, fun, energizing, and provided both focus moving forward and initial conclusions. Of the 18 competencies, there was a consensus that the four cornerstones of the WSU Community Psychology Doctoral Program would be: 1) Ecological Perspectives; 2) Sociocultural and Cross-Cultural Competence; 3) Prevention and Health Promotion; and 4) Program Evaluation. Four faculty and student-engaged work groups were created, dedicated to deliberately using the 18 competencies in addressing the following domains: 1) curriculum, 2) qualifying exams, 3) practica, and 4) electives. Concrete next steps were identified, with corresponding deadlines and designated work groups consisting of volunteers excited about each group’s particular focus. Even though work group participation was entirely optional, most students signed up for at least one work group. Using established community development and coalition techniques (e.g., commitment agendas, guiding principles), roles were established (e.g., facilitator, scribe, scheduler) for each work group and their first two work group meetings were scheduled. A second retreat was scheduled to provide each work group a deadline for proposals and recommendations. The activities are discussed in depth for the curriculum and qualifying exam work groups, which were the most powerfully impacted by the 18 competencies.
Community Psychology Curriculum Work Group
The Curriculum Work Group used the data from the survey, insights gained at the town hall meeting, and information from the Retreat to frame a curriculum mapping process (Sarkisian & Taylor, 2013). Syllabi from the current community psychology required courses were reviewed in consultation with faculty teaching these courses and students who had recently taken the courses. The curriculum work group, consisting of advanced students who had taken most or all of these courses and one faculty member, analyzed the information using the tool below filling in each box with either a “yes” if competency was covered or meaningfully addressed or “no” not addressed or minimally addressed (Table 3). The five existing required community psychology courses were found to be either “overextended” and attempting to cover more material than prudent, or so tightly focused that there were missed opportunities to address other relevant competencies (See Table 4). Based on this work and the recommendations provided from faculty, students, and alumni, the existing five required seminars were revamped to focus on greater depth and experience with fewer, more relevant competencies. Furthermore, two new courses were developed to address competencies not adequately covered but thought to be especially relevant to the developing field of community psychology and the desire of doctoral students to cover these competencies.
Table 3: Community Psychology Practice Competencies Covered in Graduate Curriculum Courses (see PDF version or JPG at the end of this article)
The goal was to provide in-depth exposure to all 18 competencies, along with the development of expertise and experience in many others. Students in the APA accredited Clinical-Community Doctoral Program are required to take the Seminar in Community Psychology and the Seminar in Cultural Diversity, plus two additional community psychology seminars of their choice, which previously meant selecting 2 of 3 remaining community psychology seminars. The addition of two core courses extended the selection to 2 of 5 remaining community psychology seminars, providing more diverse options for the clinical- community students. The community psychology curriculum at WSU has been successfully and extensively revised, with two new required community psychology seminars through the type of student-engaged process, which is rare in academic settings.
Table 4: The 18 Competencies Mapped to Existing Curriculum (see PDF version or JPG at the end of this article)
Table 5: Revised Core Community Psychology Curriculum (see PDF version or JPG at the end of this article)
Qualifying Exam Work Group
The community psychology qualifying exam structure and process had been in place since the late 1990’s with the establishment of the freestanding Community Psychology Doctoral Program, which naturally did not reflect the current 18 Community Psychology Practice Competencies. These qualifying exams consisted of essay questions divided into four half-day components: 1) the dissertation topic area of the doctoral student, 2) community psychology interventions, 3) core community psychology, and 4) community psychology ethics. Except for the dissertation topic component, qualifying exams contained the same questions for all students taking the exams in the academic year, and primarily covered information from the required seminars. One student commented; “Quals are a two-day ordeal that asks over and over, ‘What is Community Psychology?’”
The qualifying exam work group took information from the retreat, going beyond the desire to reflect the 18 competencies by also making them more customized to the specific competencies that reflected individual student emphases. Review of previous qualifying exams, understanding how other doctoral programs in community psychology administered qualifying exams, and discussion among faculty and students produced a revised qualifying exam that was consistent with the changes in the curriculum and reflected the 18 competencies of community psychology. The revised community psychology qualifying exams were divided into three components including:
Thus, the revised qualifying exam format allows greater customization around each student while also allowing focus on the cornerstones of the WSU Community Psychology Doctoral Program.
The 18 Community Psychology Practice Competencies provided a vision for the Community Psychology Doctoral Program at Wichita State University, which has improved our academic quality while allowing greater flexibility for students in the pursuit of their community psychology research and practice careers. There were challenges during this process around engaging all stakeholders, maintaining genuine and strong student engagement, overcoming complicated university barriers to change, and especially maintaining momentum and accountability over a long period of time. However, we have highlighted several strategies that we believe helped make this effort successful including a collective commitment from students, faculty, and alumni using participatory techniques; using diverse data sources to make informed decisions; leveraging human and material resources with partners; and creating a culture of honesty, inclusiveness, and respect.
This collaborative work also produced some unintended positive impacts. The WSU Community Psychology Doctoral Program was awarded the SCRA Excellence in Education Award in 2015, in part because of the contemporary curriculum and revised program influenced by the 18 competencies. Graduate students, encouraged by their successful engagement in revising our program, developed the Community Psychology Association to intentionally engage undergraduates around issues on the WSU campus which is described in this special issue of the Global Journal (Clifford, et al., 2017). In our recent successful APA Accreditation of our Clinical-Community Doctoral Program, the revised curriculum offerings were noted as positive—particularly in genuinely addressing the clinical-community model outlined in our application for re-accreditation. Community psychology is a recognized part of Wichita State University and the Wichita area, and the process and results of revising our program into a more contemporary and relevant structure influenced by the 18 competencies has taken that success to the next level.
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Figure 1: Town Hall Meeting “Voting Dot” Results for Community Psychology Competencies
Figure 2: Town Hall Meeting “Voting Dot” Results for Community Psychology Competencies Comparing Now (2012, at left) & Future (2017, at right)
Table 1. Town Hall Meeting “Voting Dot” Frequency Counts for Community Psychology Competencies
Table 2: Results Community Psychology Competencies Survey as Seen by Faculty, Students, and Alumni
Figure 3. “Sticky Note” Call-Outs During “Mission Possible,” the WSU Community Psychology Doctoral Program Retreat
Table 3: Community Psychology Practice Competencies Covered in Graduate Curriculum Courses
Table 4: The 18 Competencies Mapped to Existing Curriculum
Table 5: Revised Core Community Psychology Curriculum
Greg Meissen, Kyrah K. Brown, Ashlee Lien, Michael Lemke
Greg Meissen, Ph.D., is Professor of Psychology and Coordinator of the Community Psychology Doctoral Program at Wichita State University where he teaches community and organizational development and community leadership. He was instrumental in creating the free standing Community Psychology PhD program and the APA Accredited Clinical-Community Program at WSU serving as their first Coordinator from 1994-97. Wichita State was awarded the SCRA Excellence in Education Award in 2015. Greg has also had faculty appointments at the Harvard School of Medicine and Boston University and served on the Surgeon General’s Council on Self-Help and Public Health. In 1985 he founded the Self-Help Network as a statewide self-help group clearinghouse and research center where it has grown into the WSU Center for Community Support & Research into a statewide and national resource for community-based initiatives where he served as Director until 2008. He has received over 30 million dollars in grants from the National Institute of Mental Health, Kansas Health Foundation, Administration for Children and Families, WT Grant Foundation and SAMSHA, and has published in the American Journal of Community Psychology, Journal of Community Psychology, New England Journal of Medicine, Social Work, and Psychiatric Services. Greg was a co-founder and Co-Chaired of the SCRA Community Psychology Practice Council, has chaired the SCRA Council of Education Programs and has served on the Executive Committee of SCRA. He has received the SCRA John Kalafat Community Psychology Practice Award and the SCRA Award for Distinguished Contributions. A native Kansan, Greg has been involved in a number of Kansas Health Foundation and Kansas Leadership Center initiatives, is a Kansas Health Foundation Leadership Fellow and received the Kansas Community Leadership Award in 2010.
Dr. Kyrah Brown holds a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Spelman College and a doctorate in Community Psychology from Wichita State University. Kyrah is an Outcomes, Evaluation and Technology Consultant at CNM Connect where she applies her training in community psychology to build the evaluation capacity of community-based nonprofits and agencies. Kyrah’s research is focused on improving maternal and child health outcomes among populations of color. More specifically, she is interested in the impact of evaluation capacity building within maternal and child health programs and organizations on health outcomes, and understanding and intervening on life course determinants of health among women of color to eliminate disparate maternal and infant outcomes.
Dr. Ashlee Lien is an Assistant Professor of Psychology at State University of New York – Old Westbury. After graduating from Wichita State University in 2013, she moved to New York and has focused on integrating an understanding of the dynamics of power and inequality into her teaching, with the goal of promoting social justice and community engagement. Ashlee is also the Assistant Coordinator for the Research Aligned Mentorship Program, a new program funded by the Department of Education. Ashlee’s research interests include the impact of societal privilege, perceptions of equality, the development of innovative teaching methods, and understanding first generation college students. Her current projects include mixed method approaches to understanding the experiences of first generation college students who are nearing completion of their undergraduate degrees.
Michael Lemke, Ph.D. A graduate of Wichita State University’s Community Psychology program in 2013, Michael is currently a Clinical Assistant Professor in the Department of Health & Kinesiology at Texas A&M University. Michael is also the Associate Director of the Complexity & Computational Population Health Group at Texas A&M University, where he integrates his Community Psychology background with Complex Systems Science approaches to understand and intervene in population health. Broadly, Michael’s research is focused on alleviating health disparities; more specifically, much of his work delves into chronic syndemics among commercial drivers, immigrant workers, and rural minority populations. Synergistically integrating Community Psychology and Complex Systems Science, several of these efforts use Community-Based System Dynamics Modeling to uncover the nature of these disparities and identify high-leverage intervention points.
Keywords: Community Psychology Practice Competencies, graduate education, curriculum building