Hospital Room Becomes Classroom in This Psychology Course

Posted: July 20, 2009 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: February 5, 2010 at 10:33 am

By Leah Kerkman Fogarty

Katherine Garcia. Creative Services photo

Katherine Garcia. Creative Services photo

Not all learning takes place inside a classroom. Just ask recent Mason graduate Katherine Garcia. The psychology major enrolled in PSYC 327, Psychology in the Community, a service-learning class in which students volunteer at local nonprofits and agencies.

Rather than spend her time in a lecture hall for this class, she volunteered at Inova Fairfax Hospital in its Hospital Elder Life Program (HELP).

According to the class’s professor, Mike Hurley, undergraduate faculty advisor in the Department of Psychology, these for-credit internships allow students the chance to get hands-on experience before graduation.

“A lot of students go through college without any real-life experience in their major,” says Hurley. “This class offers an opportunity to get exposure to the kinds of careers open to psychology majors and also stresses to students the importance of volunteering.”

Typically, about 20 to 25 students enroll in the class, which is offered in the fall and spring semesters. Students choose an organization with which to volunteer from a list of partner organizations maintained by Mason’s Center for Leadership and Community Engagement (CLCE) or they can coordinate their own volunteering site, as long as it’s relevant to psychology.

Psychology in the Community is just one of several service-learning classes taught at Mason. According to the CLCE, 350 students on average per year participate in these courses, which combine community service and academic instruction. All told, these students contribute about 17,000 hours annually to the local community.

Garcia spent 135 hours at Inova Fairfax, including six hours of training and 12 hours of shadowing, to earn credit for the class. The program for which she volunteered is called HELP and is run by Susan Heisey, HELP program manager.  The bulk of their work aims to keep hospitalized frail older patients mentally and physically active and engaged.

Garcia screened and assessed elderly patients as part of volunteer work for her Psychology in the Community class. Creative Services photo

Garcia screened and assessed elderly patients as part of volunteer work for her Psychology in the Community class. Creative Services photo

When volunteering, Garcia screened and assessed elderly patients to prevent delirium and improve patients’ quality of life during hospitalization and postdischarge.

“It’s very satisfying work,” says Garcia.

“This is a great opportunity for college students to volunteer and have a real personal contact with patients,” says Heisey. “It’s an opportunity to make a difference in the patient’s life.”

She adds, “They can apply what they’re learning in the classroom and see it in action here.”

This experience was Garcia’s first foray into the world of volunteering, but she says she will continue to do it.

“You learn new things and you meet new people,” she says. “It’s very rewarding.”

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