Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Living On Hope, Hoping For a Bright Future: Syria’s Children

by Tuğba Metinyurt, University of Massachusetts Lowell

Image Credit:

“My adolescence, it was taken from me. I feel that I am in a different world, as if I am not living. Sometimes I wish we died before seeing what we saw. I wish we never came to this world and saw this.” 

These words belong to a 16-year-old refugee girl, who fled violence in her home country (Kashi, 2014). 

According to annual situation report by UNICEF, in November 2014, 10.9 million Syrians were displaced outside of Syria, including over 3.3 million refugees across Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Turkey and Egypt. More than half of the refugee population are children. (UNICEF, 2014a, p.1)  Syria’s children have witnessed too many violent and traumatic acts. Consequently, they are growing up with feelings of mistrust, betrayal, anger, displacement and uncertainty about their future. Children under the age of 18 are growing up in unsanitary conditions, in need of education, and in need of healthcare and psychological support. These children are at risk of becoming a “lost generation” and they need a sense of belonging in their new environment as well as basic humanitarian needs.

The recently published Bahcesehir Study of Syrian Refugee Children in Turkey (Ozer, Sirin, Oppedal, 2015) interviewed refugee children from Syria. According to this study, three in every four Syrian children had lost a loved one due to the bloody conflict; one in every three children had been hit, tortured or shot at in the course of the conflict. In addition, many people lost access to healthcare and are living in unsanitary conditions where the risk of disease is high. 2,000 schools have either been damaged by the fighting or become temporary shelters for displaced people, greatly disrupting Syrian education. (p. 20-25)

Community psychologists provide services for refugees and seek solutions to provide mental health and health care services, to enhance protective factors such as social support, to engage children and adolescents in preventing discrimination, violence, abuse, exclusion, prejudice and separation of children through educational programs. They also attempt to address the social and physical causes of psychological distress in refugees. 

Providing healthcare and education services is vital for protecting the host communities and the refugees. In doing this, they can prevent the built up anger that may threaten host communities in the near future. As Ozer and Sirin stated (2013), “…places like Afghanistan or Rwanda should remind us what happens when refugees are left to their own devices: camps, full of people who feel forgotten and, therefore, hopeless and angry, becomes recruitment grounds for child soldiers. This cycle carries the civil unrest across generations.” To avert this cycle, community psychologists can take an active role in creating a sense of belonging and helping refugees connect to their community. To achieve this goal, time banking can be used as a tool to develop links between refugees and host communities. Time banking is a reciprocity-based economic system where time, instead of money, serves as currency. Time banks allow communities to come together and trade services, connecting people, filling needs, and creating growth. “This program gives refugees and host communities the opportunity to earn time credits for voluntary work and to exchange these credits for the equivalent amount of time of someone else’s skills, serving to develop links between refugees and host communities.” (Webster & Robertson, 2007, p. 156). 

It is also promising that many non-profit organizations from around the world, such as UNICEF, USAID, and Save The Children are working together to save Syria’s children. UNICEF is lending a helping hand to these children and their families, providing psycho-social support as well as shelters, warm clothes and accessible education for children (UNICEF, 2014b). In addition to UNICEF, the USAID- No Lost Generation project helps provide psycho-social services through women's health centers, mobile clinics, and outreach workers to help Syrians deal with the stresses of conflict and displacement. It also leads parent support programs which focuses on helping mothers, fathers, and caretakers develop the skills to cope with stress and to provide protective care for their children (USAID, 2014). The Save The Children team is another organization that runs alternative learning programs and informal education in refugee camps and host communities, providing safe play areas and access to counseling for thousands of children across the region. They also launch back-to-school campaigns to encourage parents to enroll their children (Save The Children, 2014).

If you would like to learn more about the lives of Syrian refugees, I would recommend a short documentary called Syria’s Lost Generation, (Syria's Lost Generation).


Tuğba Metinyurt is a graduate student in the Community Social Psychology program at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. She is currently enrolled in Dr. Christopher Allen's Introduction to Community Social Psychology course.


Kashi, E. (Director). 2014 Syria’s Lost Generation: Directors Give Voice to War’s Young Refugees. Podcast retrieved from: http://talkingeyesmedia.org/syrias-lost-generation

Ozer, S., &, Sirin, S., (2013, April 30). Provide Education and Health Care for the Refugee Children in Syria, The New York Times. Retrieved from: http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2013/04/29/finding-solutions-for-syrias-growing-refugee-crisis/provide-education-and-health-care-for-the-refugee-children-in-syria 

Ozer, S.,  Sirin, S. & Oppedal, B. (2015). Bahcesehir Study of Syrian Refugee in Turkey. Retrieved from: http://www.fhi.no/dokumenter/4a7c5c4de3.pdf

UNICEF. (2014a).  Syria Crisis- 2014 Annual situation report, 1-5. Retrieved from: http://www.unicef.org/appeals/files/UNICEF_Syria__Annual_Regional_Crisis_Situation_Report_2014_.pdf

UNICEF. (2014b). Retrieved from: http://www.unicef.org/appeals/syrianrefugees.html

Webster, A., Robertson, M., (2007).  Can Community Psychology Meet the Needs of Refugees? The Psychologist, 20(3), 156-158. Retrieved from: http://thepsychologist.bps.org.uk/

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Theater: Entertainment and Then Some

On Tuesdays and Thursdays during the month of October, community psychology students will be contributing entries connecting their life experiences to the field of community psychology. 

by Jackie Marcoux, University of Massachusetts Lowell

The world has been viewing theater for hundreds of years.  It started with the Greeks and the goal of teaching their communities life lessons.  As the art form grew, goals shifted.  Theater became a mode of entertainment; a place to go for a few hours to forget about the poverty that awaited you back home in 1500’s England.  The goal of entertaining a crowd of people has continued into the present. 
Today, we still wish to be entertained when we sit down in the theater but we are also prepared for more.  We want to feel emotions and connect with characters who are different from ourselves.  This idea has been utilized by some artists as a mode of change within the world outside of theater.  I’m not exactly sure when the shift began but we are just starting to see its ripples.

For me, it began with the musical RENT.  RENT put a spotlight on the issue of HIV and AIDS in a way that had never before been done.  People were able to sing along with the songs and connect with these characters.  We may not be diagnosed and dying of AIDS in the early 1990’s but we can certainly imagine we are and realize how important the issue is.  A dialogue was started.

Then came Next to Normal, a musical about a family coping with a matriarch who has delusions of her dead son and is bipolar.  This show paved the way for a discussion about mental health issues and the toll they can take on a family.  There were conversations about whether or not people should be medicated in order to deal with the issue.  The children of these parents were also focused on and questions about whether or not it is healthy for them to live with a parent that has a diagnosed mental illness.  These questions and concerns didn’t just disappear when the show left Broadway.  Every time the show is performed around the country these questions get thought about by the communities that see the show. 

Deaf West's production of Spring Awakening

Currently on Broadway there are multiple shows continuing the idea of theater starting conversations and making impacts.  The play The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime speaks to autism.  The musical Fun Home deals with LGBT issues and suicide.  Matilda is a musical dealing with abusive adults.  Spring Awakening is a story of teens learning about sexuality in 1600’s Germany. 

On a recent trip to New York City I was able to see Spring Awakening.  In the current production of the show, originally staged by Deaf West based in California, the Deaf culture has been incorporated into the show’s storyline.  The entire production is done in American Sign Language and has selected certain characters as deaf.  This adds a new dimension to the show because not only is it discussing young people discovering their sexuality in a world that tried to hide them from it but it also deals with being a deaf person, particularly at that time in history.  It allows for conversations about sexuality, Deaf culture, and the ability to be inclusive of all people who want to go to the theater.

Community Psychology is all about working towards addressing issues of social justice but that can only happen if conversations about those issues are started.  Theater is no longer a vacuum where the viewer simply goes to be entertained.  Viewers are being forced to look at themselves and the world to find meaning in what they just watched.  In order to find meaning, those dialogues occur and people can begin to work toward fixing the issue.  Sure, some people will continue to go to the theater just to be entertained and to forget about the world for a little while.  It is my hope that more theater will be created that forces the viewer to think critically about an issue, promote action and activism, and create social change.


Jackie Marcoux is a graduate student in the Community Social Psychology program at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. She is currently enrolled in Dr. Christopher Allen's Introduction to Community Social Psychology course.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

THEory into ACTion
A Bulletin of New Developments in Community Psychology Practice
August, 2015

Facilitating Engagement in Our Communities

Tabitha Underwood
Missouri Campus Compact, Missouri State University

Little Free Libraries are the product of a nonprofit organization aptly titled Little Free Library that seeks to provide everyone easy access to books. Their mission is “to promote literacy and the love of reading by building free book exchanges worldwide and to build a sense of community as we share skills, creativity and wisdom across generations”. Initially, the organization set out to exceed the number of libraries built by Carnegie (2,509) and has done so by leaps and bounds. A Little Free Library (LFL) is a small structure, typically placed in the front yard of a home or business, containing used books spanning a variety of genres and age groups. The idea is simple “Take a Book, Return a Book.” (see website for more information: http://littlefreelibrary.org/)

Little Free Libraries have the potential to (1) help community practitioners engage in their own communities and (2) to facilitate engagement in the communities within which practitioners work. As a community psychologist and practitioner, I have found Little Free Libraries as a way to engage with my community outside of the work environment. Many of us work within the realm of community engagement every day, helping others find their place and connection in the world. However, what do we do in our own neighborhoods? Does our own engagement as community psychologists stop when we leave the office? Little Free Libraries are an avenue for involvement within our neighborhoods, while also espousing the competencies and values of Community Psychology. They are also both an engagement and a literacy tool to be used by community practitioners to help others improve their communities and potentially improve educational outcomes through access to literacy. As John McKnight has stated, Little Free Libraries are an easy and accessible intervention because they do not require a lot of effort or resources (Aldrich, 2015).

Little Free Libraries (LFL) have a natural connection to many of the Community Psychology competencies as outlined by the Society for Community Research and Action. The following provides examples of these connections (SCRA, n.d.).

      Sociocultural and Cross Cultural Competence: The LFL helps us to get to know other cultures through books. You can learn about others’ reading preferences and sometimes worldviews through what they take and leave from the library; however, this knowledge can really only be acquired by combining the library with actual discussion (either online or in person).

      Community Inclusion and Partnership: LFLs are an easy way to include others in neighborhood initiatives. For the library to function, residents need to come together to supply the books and use the library. The library provides a passive way for residents to become involved. Anyone can take or leave a book without judgement or sometimes even notice.

      Resource Development: The collaborative nature of this project requires you to involve the resources of others. This project often takes more than your own resources to be successful. You must rely on others to leave or donate books in order to keep a rotating, fresh supply for the avid readers in the neighborhood. Once they see a lack of turnover in books, what will keep them returning?

      Program Development, Implementation, and Maintenance: This might be the simplest competency of all to practice. LFLs are programs in and of themselves. You can flex your program management muscles through the planning, building, placement, maintenance, and even evaluation of your own small library.

Little Free Libraries also help us live out one of our greatest values as community psychologists, that of building a sense of community. As we know, Sarason (1974) proposed that sense of community was the core to our field. Indeed, this is the entire focus of the Little Free Library initiative. It is a way for residents to get to know one another, grow a sense of belonging and connection, and rely on one another, even if only for reading material. The newly published Little Free Library Book (Aldrich, 2015) sheds light on this outcome. Stories of LFLs across the world show how they have helped neighbors get to know one another and develop a connection. The book outlines “Building Community” as an essential use of the libraries.

Little Free Libraries have great potential for our work as community practitioners, not only because of their inherent connection to community psychology principles and practices but because of their associated outcomes for the individuals and the communities in which we work. Through their exchange of resources (books), LFLs help neighbors connect, facilitate a love of reading, make books more accessible, serve as a common space and an anchor to other community activities, demonstrate creativity and innovation, and ultimately build social capital (Aldrich, 2015). They also have the opportunity to build neighborhood leadership. As Todd Bol, the founder of Little Free Library, says of library stewards, “they are the perfect concerned citizens, ready to pick up the charge, improve their neighborhoods, and ensure that all their neighbors read well and often” (Aldrich, 2015 p. 2)

Beyond being a tool in our community practice arsenal, I would argue that Little Free Libraries are also a way for community psychologists and community practitioners to engage with our own neighbors and practice what we preach. As we work day in and day out as practicing community psychologists, helping others to find their voice, work together to solve community problems, and improve quality of life, what do we do for our own personal growth and development within the realm of engagement? I propose that Little Free Libraries are one way that we can serve as role models of the principles of community psychology in our own life.  

This is what Little Free Libraries have done for me as a community practitioner. A few years ago, we purchased a house in a neighborhood that was just getting started with its organization. A group of interested residents were in the process of setting up a community watch, there were discussions of reopening a park that had been closed, and a neighbor had started to organize regular neighborhood gatherings. Community engagement is my passion and my work, but with an incredibly demanding schedule at work, I found it difficult to find the time, and quite frankly the energy to engage with my neighbors as fully as I wanted. However, the Little Free Library provided an answer. It was a resource I could provide my neighborhood and became a way to start conversations with my neighbors. Our house became know as the one with the little book exchange in front of it. When meeting new neighbors that was the only defining feature I needed to mention to explain where our house was positioned in the neighborhood.

Once we moved cross country and settled into our new home, it was time for the Little Free Library to once again work its magic and help me get to know my neighbors. As my husband and I worked to level a small patch of land in our yard and place the cinder blocks as a base, our neighbors took notice. Almost immediately our neighbor to the right came out to see what we were doing, which initiated a conversation. Another neighbor across the street brought over her toddler grandson to take a peek. In the evening when I return home from work I find people walking with their dogs and those pushing strollers searching for that next great read. I should mention that our neighborhood does contain other Little Free Libraries, so some people are accustomed to their presence and understand their purpose. However, our library has given us an opportunity to teach the occasional passerby about this common good. These interactions are not unique to our library. There are countless stories of this same phenomenon occurring in neighborhoods around the world (Aldrich, 2015).

In all, my Little Free Libraries have helped me to meet new people, provide a resource to my neighbors, generally observe neighborhood behaviors, and build my own sense of community. Through the two libraries that we have placed in our yards, I have witnessed first-hand what they can do for me as a practitioner and how practitioners working in other communities may help others utilize Little Free Libraries as an engagement tool. I don’t pretend to claim that Little Free Libraries will change the world, but they may in fact add to the quality of life of neighborhoods, help build relationships with neighbors, and provide a venue for you to live community psychology practice at home.


Aldrich, M. (2015). Little free library book: Take a book, return a book. Coffee House Press.

Sarason, S. B. (1974). The psychological sense of community: Prospects for a community psychology. Jossey-Bass.

Society for Community Research and Action (n.d.). Competencies for community psychology practice. Retrieved from http://www.scra27.org/what-we-do/practice/18-competencies-community-psychology-practice/.

Friday, August 21, 2015

THEory into ACTion
A Bulletin of New Developments in Community Psychology Practice
July, 2015

Interview with Helen Louise Azzara, Creative Facilitator with a Master’s degree in Creativity Studies and PhD Candidate at Pacifica Graduate Institute

Libby Christenson, B.A. and Olya Glantsman, Ph.D.
Depaul University

FreeImages.com/Gerrit Prenger
“We do have this natural ability, through play and through expression, to change things” - Helen Louise Azzara

As a student in an advanced Community Psychology course at DePaul, I wanted to learn how to use creativity to help others, therefore, I searched online for information on community psychologists who use creativity in their work. My search led me to Helen Louise Azzara who is a creative facilitator, and is presently working on her dissertation exploring the value of creative arts in dementia care.  In the interview, Helen Louise shared her journey that led her to the field of community psychology and how she incorporates art and creativity in her work with communities.

While pursuing an acting career for nearly 20 years in New York City, she re-discovered her love of psychology and became a certified psychosynthesis practitioner (a transpersonal psychology). While completing her certification, she experienced the powerful effect the creative process has in helping people develop a greater understanding of self, their relationships and the world they live in. In 2001she founded The Heart of Creativity program, facilitating workshops throughout the New York metropolitan area.

In 2007 she earned a Masters of Science in Creative Studies from SUNY Buffalo State’s International Center for Studies in Creativity (ICSC), and is currently enrolled in a PhD program for Depth Psychology with emphasis in Community Psychology, Liberation Psychology and Ecopsychology at Pacifica Graduate Institute in Carpinteria, California.

Helen Louise had never heard of community psychology until attending Pacifica. During her three years of formal classes, her fieldwork projects involved working in community settings that focused on conducting creativity programs for older adults diagnosed with dementia.  It was while doing this work, she realized she has been a community psychologist all along “I was doing it, but I didn’t know I was doing it. I was very involved with the communities and teaching them various ways to handle stress or use conflict resolution,” says Azzara. 

At Pacifica, Helen Louise was able to focus on the concepts of well-being and learn more about community psychology as a field of study. “It has led me now to deepen my study of dementia, and how we as a society can provide better resources to help improve their  quality of life.  So I see myself more working in the field as a community psychologist rather than an ecopsychologists. However, I do think they are all interdependent on one another.”

Helen Louise has found that creativity studies seem to have an inherent connection to community psychology. When she started her work, using creativity as a forum to open dialogue and to manage stress, bringing it into community contexts was novel. She loves creativity workshops and using them with different groups—artists, social workers, health professionals, older adults, caretakers— there are a lot of different venues where creativity does link, where everyone comes together and solves problems more through self expression. Creative mediums using improvisation, poetry, painting, dance, theatre games, listening to music, and silent meditations are some of the ways in which can bring community together and deepen connections. Moreover, such workshops incorporate many community psychology values such as the strength-based approach, collaboration, and empowerment. According to Helen Louise the workshops promote self-awareness and collective efficacy towards addressing participants’ challenges and expressing everyone’s voices.

In conducting conflict resolution workshops with social workers, Helen Louise has been inspired by the work of Augusto Boal (c), the founder of Theatre of the Oppressed. She uses many of his improvisation techniques such as “sculpture” (using the body to create an image of an oppressive situation or emotion), theatre games, and role play to create a community-oriented space. According to Helen Louise, the workshops promote cohesion among group members who report feeling much more harmonious, more together, more open to listening and solving problems together. “It is a bridge that brings the community to a place of coexistence where we can hear, respect and value each other. And we are all there for the same reasons, for our own well-being, for our loved ones and beyond. To help people.”

Her fieldwork in an adult daycare allowed her to bring creativity and workshops to the center [for people with dementia]. “It was quite lovely to see everyone getting together and seeing the positive changes.” In addition, Helen Louise has lived in a small residential facility for eight days in the New England area to experience what it is like to live in an actual home for people with dementia. Now, she is looking forward to getting involved with the Alzheimer’sAssociation and volunteering with them in the near future. Her dissertation focuses on researching dementia care and she hopes to work with memory care communities of Santa Barbara.

Helen Louise’s involvement with communities allows her to participate and experience a sense of empathy among her clients and according to her, empathy is a big part of her work. Azzara comes from a depth psychological point of view, which means one has to look at his or her own unconscious patterns of behaviors, attitudes and biases.  According to Helen Louise empathy is not something that is revered in this country as much as it should be. To her, empathy promotes more understanding, kindness, caring and patience; we are able to see and hear the other and have respect for diversity.  This, to her, is especially important for community psychologists to whom empathy may also mean inclusion. As community psychologists, we should ask ourselves: “What are my strengths? What are my weaknesses? Who is benefiting from this work?” Who is making the decisions? “Am I able to make a positive impact?” Is my work ameliorative or is it transformative?  In other words, to borrow community psychologists’ Nelson and Prilleltensky’s concept, am I participating in placing a temporary band aide over a problem or situation, or does this work have the potential to create real change for individuals and within the community.

When Azzara reflects on one of the turning points of her career, she recalls a child that she worked with many years ago as a social worker. The child was a young girl about nine years old and she was not able to talk. At that point, Helen Louise had not yet explored creativity in her work, but decided to use it to let the client express herself. Through self-expression, Helen Louise empowered her to take more control of her own treatment, which included various types of artistic media such as art and dance. Over the course of three months, the client began to show progress and eventually started to sing and talk. It was a profound, life-changing experience that helped Helen Louise realize why creativity was powerful for healing. The transformations happen over and over again and this is why the work is always new and fresh. Someone is always affected. People can work together, understand differences and see the other and themselves. This interview sheds light on the possibilities of community transformation through art, creativity, and self-expression. Imagine the change that may occur throughout a community when community psychology practitioners begin to fully utilize strategies of creativity.

Friday, May 15, 2015

5 Ways YOU can raise awareness and support for LGBT youth on IDAHOT

Today we are featuring an article by Mary T. Guerrant, on the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia. Read below to learn more about this event and how to participate, specifically, 5 way YOU can raise awareness and support for LGBT youth on IDAHOT.

The International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia (IDAHOT) is May 17th!

By: Mary T. Guerrant, MS, a doctoral student at North Carolina State University and a member of APAGS-CSOGD.

On May 17, 1990, the World Health Organization declassified homosexuality as a mental disorder, and since 2005 the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia (IDAHOT) has commemorated that day. It is a global occasion for individuals, groups, and organizations to take action on topics related to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals and to advocate for more accepting public policies. Each year a global focus for IDAHOT is chosen and this year’s is LGBT youth.

How can you get involved to raise awareness and support for LGBT youth? Here are five quick ways:

1. Inform yourself. Check out the official website for IDAHOT, where you can learn about what different groups worldwide are doing to raise support and awareness for LGBT youth and you can also follow IDAHOT onTwitter (@May17IDAHOT) and Facebook.

2. Take social media by storm. Join the IDAHOT Thunderclap campaign. Thunderclap is a service that you give permission to post a preset message on your social media pages on May 17 in honor of IDAHOT. When multiple people post on Facebook and Twitter at the same time, it creates a bigger buzz.

3. Be an advocate for LGBT youth. You can do this on your campus and in your community. Work with LGBT groups on your campus and in your community to help generate interest in IDAHOT and raise awareness of the unique challenges and experiences faced by LGBT students. Although there are plenty of resources out there, here are a few to get you started…

4. Support fellow LGBT graduate students. Tell your peers what is out there and specifically for them. The APAGS Committee on Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity has long been advocating on behalf of this community. It currently offers a set of free training webisodes on special topics (e.g., coming out to your clients), a climate guide (PDF) and a survival/resource guide, an academic-year mentoring program, two grants (one for training and the other for dissertation research), the APAGSLGBT listserv, and much more.

5. Support other youth around the world. Consider donating to the IDAHOT movement and help fund one of several activities worldwide planned, including public marches and demonstrations, publications in national newspapers, festivals, education and public awareness raising, flash mobs, and the support of LGBT rights organizations internationally.

Picture caption: Last year’s IDAHOT at CQ University in Sydney, Australia brings the message, “Being straight is no excuse for homophobia.” (Source: Acon Online for Flickr. Some rights reserved.)

APA wants every day to be an IDAHOT day. For more information about how we support LGBT communities and a list of resources for becoming engaged in action, check this page out.  Remember, every action counts in the fight for LGBT youth around the world!

Friday, May 1, 2015

At the Intersection of Community Psychology and Undergraduate Business Education

THEory into ACTion

A Bulletin of New Developments in Community Psychology Practice
April, 2015

Hermann J. Schneider, MBA, National Louis University
Agnieszka A. Hanni, MA, National Louis University
Suzette Fromm Reed, PhD, National Louis University

        Liberal arts colleges and universities tend to lead in encouraging intergroup relations and building diverse social opportunities for students – both values that are embraced in community psychology. These principles, however, are challenged in traditional business courses in which the application of theory is exemplified with entrepreneurial success of such celebrated figures as Mark Zuckerberg or Bill Gates. 

        The problem with this approach is that the triumphs of those iconic “gold standards” are much less common in reality than what is portrayed in those courses. And since in the U.S. the majority of small business owners are members of diverse cultural groups, including first- generation college students, these examples are even less relevant (Stephens, Fryberg, Markus, Johnson, & Covarrubias, 2012). The current report highlights the impact of this shortcoming while offering a pedagogical solution to improving outcomes of students from diverse backgrounds.  

        Most entrepreneurial education programs fail to take into consideration cultural challenges encountered by students of diverse backgrounds (Kauffman Foundation, 2008). The future business owners of hair salons, fitness centers, and fast food restaurants have very little in common with the role models presented to them in class. The American spotlight on independence, encouragement of taking risks, and reliance on equal opportunity are all values that are much less salient to students of diverse backgrounds (Stephens et al., 2012). In their case, more value is placed on lengthier decision-making processes grounded in security of lower-risk decisions.  They also tend to lack social capital and financial foundations that can offset perceived risks in their future business ventures. 


        One way to overcome the cultural discrepancy in business courses in the U.S. is to employ an innovative two-fold teaching approach. The method relies on two steps: 1) personal SWOT analyses to determine individual students’ strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (Bartol & Martin, 1991), with the goal of increasing their self-efficacy and sense of empowerment, followed by 2) built-in opportunities to identify and associate with untraditional and unexpected role models, with the goal of increasing relevance to students of diverse cultural backgrounds and expanding the idea of entrepreneurial success. This two-fold method is unique as it utilizes theory and application in a single approach – a goal valued in community psychology. It was first pilot tested in Entrepreneurship 275 at Dominican University, Brennan School of Business, in River Forest, IL. 

Step 1.
        In the first step of the method, the students examine the traits of average successful entrepreneurs (cf. Scarborough, 2013). In the same step, they conduct a personal SWOT analysis to determine which of their own traits help them excel and which need to be improved. The results of the personal SWOT analysis are then used to develop a unique value proposition for each student, complete with ideas for tackling existing weaknesses, before the students attempt to engage in their own business ventures.

        The SWOT analysis is a framework of evaluating strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (Bartol & Martin, 1991). In community psychology, it is often utilized in social marketing initiatives to promote specific community-wide behavioral responses to local challenges. In the world of business, it is common to use SWOT to analyze the value proposition of current business ventures. But applying SWOT principles to analyze one’s own traits as they relate to likelihood of future business success is an innovative way to promote self-efficacy and sense of empowerment. In business education, the insights that all students, but especially students of diverse backgrounds, can gather from their personal SWOT analyses can highlight their unique strengths and reveal any obstacles that may stifle their success. 

Step 2.
        The second step of the two-fold teaching method of business education requires creating structured opportunities for incorporating untraditional role models that students of diverse backgrounds have more in common with. The goal of this step is to present individuals who exemplify entrepreneurial success despite their less-than-favorable circumstances similar to those of students of diverse cultural backgrounds. In order to access these individuals, educators can rely on publicly available resources. One of those resources is the U.S. Small Business Administration’s website, which provides access to 348 chapters of small businesses in urban, suburban, and rural communities. Another resource to educators is the Young Presidents’ Organization (YPO) and the World Presidents’ Organization (WPO), featuring business owners who use their entrepreneurial success to make a difference in society. 

        The key in this step of the two-fold method of teaching business education is to handpick speakers who lacked formal education; had limited English language proficiency; experienced minimal professional guidance; and did not have a buffer of social networks. Introducing students in a classroom to these untraditional role models who have succeeded despite their unique obstacles offers a crucial element of reinforcement for students navigating the opportunities and limitations of their own circumstances. Moreover, this step of the two-fold method also promotes positive feelings associated with diversity and membership in a non-dominant group – principles valued in community psychology.


        Students who took part in the pilot test of this innovative two-fold teaching method of undergraduate business have reported increased self-awareness and sense of empowerment despite challenges specific to their diverse background. In the course evaluations, one student wrote: “My personal SWOT analysis helped me expand my perspective and outlook of life that facilitated my developmental growth in different aspects.” Another student wrote:  “I am a strong believer that dimensions of culture such as language barriers and ethnicity influence or limit me from pursuing my personal goals. Developing my personal SWOT analysis gave me the confidence and motivation to believe in my dreams and most importantly in myself.” Finally, another account read: “This semester I heard the testimonials of individuals, some who did not even attend college, and I was inspired…. Too many times we look at individuals like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates and think we could never be them.” 


        These examples of positive feedback on the two-fold teaching method of business courses described in this report suggest innovative ways to bridge American cultural values with the unique challenges faced by students of diverse backgrounds. They also provide support for increased theoretical applicability of the two-fold approach beyond college years, and into students’ future entrepreneurial ventures. Finally, the merits of the two-fold approach can be replicated to increase self-efficacy and sense of empowerment of specific cultural groups studied in community psychology, as well as training of professionals in other fields.

This is one of a series of bulletins highlighting the use of community psychology in practice. Comments, suggestions, and questions are welcome. Please direct them to Bill Berkowitz at Bill_Berkowitz@uml.edu 


Bartol, K. M. & Martin, D. C. (1991). Management. New York: McGraw Hill, Inc.

Charney A., Libecap, G. D. & the Kauffman Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation (2000). Insights: A Kauffman Research Series. http://entrepreneurship.eller.arizona.edu/Docs/Evaluation/Impactevaluation_Entrepreneurshipprogram_UA.Pdf 

Scarbourough, N. M. (2013). Essentials of Entrepreneurship and Small Business Management. Pearson, 7th ed. 

Stephens, N. M., Fryberg, S. A., Markus, H. R., Johnson, C. S., & Covarrubias, R. (2012). Unseen disadvantage: How American universities' focus on independence undermines the academic performance of first-generation college students. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 102, 6, 1178-97.