Gaining Valuable Experience in Community Psychology Practice Through Service

By Eric Johnson, University of Massachusetts Lowell

In the following post, I will highlight the opportunities to complete a service term through various organizations such as the Peace Corps, Americorps, and Commonwealth Corps as viable options for gaining experiencing working in a community setting, and in laying the foundation for pursuing a career in community psychology.  As a new Commonwealth Corps member beginning their year of service in the community, I am inspired to spread this opportunity to other aspiring community psychologists, and hope that it may lead some readers to consider service positions as a way to improve training and preparation for a career in the field of community work.

Community psychology as a field is grounded in close collaboration and communication between community practitioners of various types, and academic groups leading research focused on strengthening communities through evidence supported means (Wolf and Scott 2015).  As a result, community psychologists must have experience working in community health settingsas part of their education and training, and must approach their community work from a background in the foundational principles of the field.  Service positions created by organizations such as the Peace Corps, Americorps, and the Commonwealth Corps for residents of Massachusetts, offer excellent opportunities to gain direct experience with community work, and professional development training that aligns with many of the focuses of Community Psychology for aspiring Community Psychologists.

After enrolling in a Master of the Arts in Community Social Psychology program at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, I happened across an opening for a full-time service position through the Commonwealth Corps at the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Lowell where I had recently begun volunteering.  Many of the messages emphasized at the Commonwealth Corps member orientation were echoed during the first meeting of my Intro to Community Social Psychology course, and the assigned reading for class.  Here are some of the orientation messages that showed high similarity to principles of community psychology:

  • The importance of learning to adapt to the community members serve in andbuilding greater sociocultural and cross-cultural competence through close partnerships with community members and organizations.
  • Striving to create sustainable change, in which an organization or community members are able to continue the benefits even after the term of service ends.
  • Focus on empowering community members to gain access to available resources and achieve personal success.

These three points are also reflected in the list of eighteen competencies presented by Victoria C. Scott and Susan M. Wolfe in Chapter 2 of their textbook Community Psychology: Foundations for Practice (2015), meant to outline the various skills desired for a successful community psychologist.  In particular, Scott and Wolf (2015) list “Empowerment”, “Sociocultural and Cross-Cultural Competence”, and “Community Inclusion and Partnerships” as three of the five Foundational Principles of Community Psychology (Scott and Wolf, 44).Through a year of service, a person called to work in the community can gain crucial experience and professional development training grounded in thefoundational principles of community psychology,leading to later career opportunities in the field.

For my year of service at the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Lowell, I am fulfilling the role of Teen Career Success Coordinator, and will be facilitating programs for teens focused on academic success, and preparation for college and careers.  Over the course of my year of service, I will gain experience partnering with community members and organizations, andwill build upon my sociocultural and cross-cultural competency skills while serving to empower teens in the community of Lowell to pursue college and lay the foundation for achieving their career goals.  Continuing my education in a Master of the Arts in Community Social Psychology program at UMass Lowellwhile serving in the community of Lowell will jointly provide a hugely beneficial experiential foundation for pursuing future opportunities in the field of community psychology.

Increased partnerships between service organizations and university graduate programs in Community Psychology could help connect those looking to pursue a career in community psychology with a great opportunity to gain valuable experience, or connect alumni of service programs to higher education in community psychology to further their training.As a result, the field of Community Psychology gains well-trained and competent community psychologists, who then may put their skills to use to strengthen their various communities and improve well-being for all their members.  As the field improves and matures, its ability to create positive change in communities across the world increases as well.

To anyone interested in pursuing a career working in community psychology, I strongly recommend exploring options for committing to a service term in order to gain experience to pursue a career in community psychology work while giving back to your community.  In addition, I argue for increased partnerships between service organizations such as the Peace Corps, Americorps, and Commonwealth Corps and university graduate programs in Community Psychology, in order to expand opportunities for those pursuing community work to gain first-hand experience and educational training.  Such partnerships would strengthen the field as a whole, improving the positive effect it can have on communities across the world.


Eric Johnson is a graduate student in the Community Social Psychology program at the University of Massachusetts. 


Scott, V. C., &Wolfe, S. M., (2015).Community Psychology: Foundations for practice.Sage Publications.