Psychology comps helps LINK Center reach out to Northfielders in need

November 4, 2011 at 12:30 pm
By Nick Welna

Colin and Rebecca sitting

Gourevtich and MacArthur discuss their project in the Weitz Center.

       Last March, psychology majors Rebecca Gourevitch ’12 and Colin MacArthur ’12 met with Janet Lewis Muth, the director of Growing Up Healthy, to begin a year-long civic engagement project that would serve as the duo’s senior thesis. “This wasn’t going to be a partnership with just two meetings, one at the beginning and one at the end of the term,” recalls MacArthur. “Doing an Academic Civic Engagement comps means creating a longstanding relationship with constant communication throughout the year,” Gourevitch explains.

       Gourevitch and MacArthur have created an exciting project that demands such an intensive partnership. They plan to work with Northfield’s recently opened LINK Center, a site run jointly by the town and Growing Up Healthy that helps newly arrived and low-income residents access social services. Janet Lewis Muth told Gourevitch and MacArthur that the LINK Center needed to make its presence better known in the community, so the two have decided to design, implement, and evaluate a research-based marketing campaign for the Center. They’ve spent the months since that first meeting reading scholarship on marketing, meeting with focus groups of Northfielders, and assembling media for the campaign.Rebecca quote

       “I feel a deep obligation to positively shape any community in which I reside,” says MacArthur, who grew up in northern New Mexico community built around a national laboratory. There, civic life was grounded in intellectualism and research. Since coming to Carleton, MacArthur has tried to give back to Northfield. “Many students feel that their campus residency overshadows the community of the surrounding town,” he reflects, “but that feels incomplete to me. Northfield has had a strong positive impact on my life.”

       Gourevitch, too, is a product of a community that prized civic engagement. In her suburb of New York City, she details, “Service was emphasized everywhere, and volunteering was very important. Now, whatever place I’m in, I want to participate in the community’s evolution.” At Carleton, she has served in student government and worked extensively with HealthFinders, a free local clinic. “My academic and career interest is in public health,” Gourevtich declares, “but you often can’t take classes explicitly about this.” Through college partnerships with HealthFinders and the LINK Center, however, she’s been able to pursue her passion.

       But doing a community-based comps has presented some stiff challenges. “Our project is going well, but I think we both knew that doing community-based research would not be the same as traditional psychology research,” MacArthur cautions. “There is a very disciplined methodology in psychology, and it can be hard not to assert control as you would in an experiment.” The students must meet the expectations of their partners at the LINK Center and their professors in the psychology department, two perspectives that don’t always align. “Our project demands compromises,” concludes MacArthur.

 Colin & Rebecca standing      Yet the struggle to be methodologically rigorous and also deliver their partner’s expected results has been a rewarding one. “It’s daunting because, if our campaign fails in any way, we’ll be the ones who discover it through our evaluation,” observes MacArthur, “but we’ve already been really helpful for the LINK Center, doing our research and focus groups, building knowledge that the organization never had before.” Both students lauded and thanked their advisor Ken Abrams for helping them develop knowledge of psychology into an effective applied comps. “The theory has helped us structure a more effective publicity campaign, and our discipline also helped us develop a data collection system to assess our outreach,” Gourevitch explains. 

       Comps is the last major challenge of Gourevitch and MacArthur’s time at Carleton, but both report that joining academic rigor with community engagement will remain a personal focus. “There are so many different ways to serve the public good,” remarks MacArthur. Though he’s unsure of what his life’s work will be, “I’m interested in bringing intellectualism and the principles of social science to whatever I do.” Gourevitch, on the other hand, already feels dedicated to public health. But she describes her goals similarly: “I want my whole life to be about researching and designing projects that will help fix people’s problems.”