Fourth year Laurier students working to better the KWC community with help from the CCRLA

Fourth year students in Laurier’s PS 492 class have been making an impact in their community with help from the Centre for Community Research Learning and Action (CCRLA) partnering with community organizations to help not only with students’ research but also furthering the betterment of KW-Cambridge.

“11 years ago, this research centre was started by community psychology faculty as an interdisciplinary research centre that would promote social justice, community well-being and social change through community engaged research and community partnerships,” said Sharmalene Mendis-Millard, the associate director for CCRLA.

“At CCRLA we have six research groups headed by community psychology faculty and health sciences faculty, but the way that this course started was that it is one major way to train senior level undergrad students to have people actually go through a systematic course over two terms so the students actually get experience in what a community based project looks like.”

Students in the class have worked with many organizations to aid the community this year, including recently working with Big Brothers Big Sisters, ACCKWA which is the AIDS Committee of Cambridge, Kitchener, Waterloo who are supporting people at risk, living with and affected by HIV in Ontario, as well as the Coalition of Muslim Women of Kitchener-Waterloo.

“Students apply to be part of this course, it’s not just a course but it’s also like an internship with CCRLA, so they answer questions, why are they interested, what experience they’ve had in community based research, their interest in social justice, once applications are accepted we interview people before they are actually accepted, so not everyone who applies will get in,” Mendis-Millard said.

“Once they’re in, then it depends on us as instructors and mentors, we group people and assign each group to a community partner based on a few factors; students fill out a survey to say in order of preference what organizations they want to work with, and they also provide their schedule.”

[PS 492 is] not just a course but it’s also like an internship with CCRLA, so they answer questions, why are they interested, what experience they’ve had in community based research, their interest in social justice, once applications are accepted we interview people before they are actually accepted, so not everyone who applies will get in.

— Sharmalene Mendis-Millard, associate director for CCRLA

The course is funded in partnership with the Laurier Students’ Public Interest Research Group (LSPIRG) and Community Service-Learning (CSL) and is used to gain qualitative research for not only academic purposes but also community audiences as well.

“This requires a lot of work outside of the actual classroom time to data collection, meet with community partners and do group work, we try to do the best we can to pair people with the partners they are interested in as well as their schedule,” Mendis-Millard said.

“A lot of what we do is qualitative work, we train in basic quantitative methods because they might ask a population to fill out a survey and do basic analysis like averages or ranges, but we focus on qualitative research because that gives more in depth data to understand people’s lived experiences and how they’re affected and what really matters to people in the community.”

The program may only be open to upper year psychology students, but CCRLA also has opportunities available for others looking to get involved in aiding the community with programming like their program evaluation certificate which is designed to aid professionals in using research methods to make the most informed and effective decisions when it comes to new material such as funding proposals and plans.

“The aim is just to give students a sense of how to do robust research and what it actually entails when working with communities to raise their awareness of systemic issues and what’s going on in this region, some students do use it as a way of assessing in whether they want to go into a master’s degree or not, it really gives them a sense of the whole process,” Mendis-Millard said.

“We hope that students get something out of it but the main objective is for the community partner to get something out of it, we stress that this research must meet a need in the community and so they have to benefit as well otherwise it’s not successful.”

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