A Teacher for All

by Jackie Marcoux, University of Massachusetts Lowell

What comes to mind when you hear the word education?  It is likely that images of school buildings, classrooms, and teachers lecturing on a particular subject all come to mind.  While any image you conjured up is valid, did you come up with any images of education occurring outside of the traditional spaces associated? How about the school yard?  The grocery store?  Your neighborhood?

I have dedicated my life to education.  When I first began my journey towards educating others, I too thought the only way was through the traditional idea of a classroom.  As I progressed through my undergraduate career as an Elementary/Special Education major I began to realize that world was not where I fit in.  I didn’t want to be standing in front of elementary school kids teaching them spelling and math.

My experience as a Resident Assistant made me realize I wanted to work with college students but again not as a professor at the front of the room.  As an RA I encountered so many students who were uneducated on some of the most vital life skills and knowledge.  There were students who didn’t know where to get a condom or a dam (assuming they knew female condoms existed), didn’t know how to ask for help academically or personally, didn’t know how to interact with people different from themselves; the list could go on.  My job as an RA was to educate my residents as much as I could on the issues that were relevant to them.  I took this idea and ran with it.

I created a theater based peer education group at my alma mater that tries to address these issues.  The most important event that the group puts on to educate students is a performance at freshmen orientation.  In the first performance we covered issues of drinking, sexual violence, and partner violence.  This past year we addressed suicide, same sex sexual assault, verbal abuse, and anxiety.  After each performance there would be students who would approach us to ask further questions, thank us for performing, or ask how to get involved.  Everyone involved, be it participants in the show or audience members, where being educated and learning something new.

Outside of the explicit opportunities for education that I built or sought out, I am also an ambassador of education every day.  When I walk by with my service dog I am educating someone new.  Maybe they didn’t know a service dog could go everywhere with me.  Perhaps they didn’t know that a service dog for individuals with a hearing loss existed.  Maybe they want to know more about what a service dog does and how a dog becomes a service dog.  Every time I am stopped and a question is asked about my service dog is a moment when I am an educator.

All this adds up to a natural connection with Community Social Psychology.  To me, the core of CSP is providing people with education and the ability to learn and grow.  The education may come from a program explicitly created to address an issue.  It could also come from teaching people how build capacity and make change from and for themselves.  It comes from making connections with people and bridging the gaps in order to be successful as a community.  I may not be a teacher in the traditional form but with my CSP education I hope to be a teacher that everyone can access.


Jackie Marcoux is a graduate student in Community Social Psychology Department at the University of Massachusetts Lowell.

Threat Assessment Prevention Program: A Temporary Hope?

by Annisha Susilo, University of Massachusetts Lowell

One of the common response I received from friends and family when I told them I’m going to study in America was “Be careful, you know the gun problem there”. I understand their concern and it does have a strong statistical basis. The statistics published by MotherJones.com on mass shootings (four or more shooting victims in a single incident, not including the shooter) found thatthere have been at least 72 public mass shootings across 31 states in the past 33 years (Follman, Aronsen, & Pan, 2015). The number is currently believed to be on the rise, with mass shootings occur every 64 days on average since 2011 (Cohen, Azrael & Miller, 2014). Out of a total of 143 guns owned by the killers, more than three quarters were obtained legally. The gun types range from semi-automatic handguns to assault weapons. Approximately half of the cases of mass shootings occur in a school or workplace, and the rest of the cases took place in public spaces such as shopping malls, restaurants, religious and government building. The killers were mostly white males, with an average age of 35 years old. The majority of them were mentally troubled or displayed signs of mental health problems prior to committing the crime (Follman, Aronsen& Pan, 2015).

So what do we do to stop it?

Gun control is a debatable issue in US. Currently, there is a lack of political will (or ability) to tighten regulations on the sale and access to guns (Follman, 2015). This doesn’t mean that the government is not doing anything at all. Ever since the Columbine massacre in 1999, there is a shift of focus in the law enforcement from prosecution to prevention method. Threat assessment is one of the prevention program run locally across America in response to the mass shooting problems (Follman, 2015). Itconsists of a team of cops, psychologist, counselors and security expert, who work together to identify, evaluate and intervene people who has the potential to turn violent or become a mass shooter (Follman, 2015). The aim of this secondary method of prevention is simple, to stop someone from becoming a mass shooter.

How do they do it?

Threat assessment involves three stages; identifying, evaluating and intervening process. It starts when the team receivesa tip or report from people in the community about a potential high risk subject who has been behaving erratically or have communicated their intention to harm others. The team then works to identify if the subject is a real threat by looking at their social background and risk factors such as access to weapon, mental health status, and intention to kill. Information is then evaluated and used to create interventions such as counselling programs or if threat is imminent, involuntary hospitalization (Follman, 2015).

How will does it work?

“In December 2013, then-attorney General Eric Holder announced that Simons’ FBI unit (a threat assessment team) had helped prevent almost 150 attacks in one year” (Follman, 2015, para.17).  That is a lot of potential crime prevented, but why is the rate of mass shooting still increasing every year? The experts argue that it is difficult to measure the effectiveness of threat assessment because there is no real way of knowing “whether someone would have otherwise gone to attack” (Follman, 2015, para.18). Furthermore, like any other issue in the community, it requires multiple solutions that specifically target the risks. Threat assessment is one of them, but it can’t be the only one, especially when a significant risk factor such as access to guns has not been properly addressed.More work needs to be done incorporating Bronfenbrenner’s level of analysis and need assessment model in prevention programs if we want to win“the race to stop the next mass shooter” (Follman, 2015, title). (630 words)

#Commpsych #prevention #massshooting #threatassessment

Annisha Susilo is a graduate student in Community Social Psychology Department at University of Massachusetts Lowell.


Cohen, A. P., Azrael, D., & Miller, M. (2014).Rate of Mass Shootings Has Tripled Since 2011, Harvard Research Shows. Retrieved http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2014/10/mass-shootings-increasing-harvard-research


Follman, M., Aronsen, G., & Pan, D. (2015).A Guide to Mass Shootings in America. Retrieved from http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/07/mass-shootings-map


Follman, M. (2015).Inside The Race to Stop The Next Mass Shooter. Retrieved form http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2015/09/mass-shootings-threat-assessment-shooter-fbi-columbine


Image source Stanford Mass Shootings in America, courtesy of the Stanford Geospatial Center and Stanford Libraries. (2015). Retrieved from https://library.stanford.edu/projects/mass-shootings-america

How to Improve Youth Civic Engagement Through Mini-Grant Programs

By Eric Johnson, University of Massachusetts Lowell

Youth may often be overlooked as important stakeholders in issues affecting their community, yet they can play a key role in addressing those negative issues and working towards a solution.  Through the establishment of mini-grant programs created to fund youth driven community action, young people can create change in their community, and see immediate results that also benefit their community in the long run.  Foster-Fishman et al. (2006) describe the use of a mini-grant program throughout several communities within the city of Battle Creek, Michigan that worked to encourage greater resident participation in community capacity building activities.  The goal of the program was to address racial gaps in level of education and socio-economic status present throughout the city by establishing mini-grant programs in communities found to be at the lower end of the cities average education and income.  The mini-grant programs allowed residents to apply for immediate funding of events that would enable them to take immediate action to address a specific and manageable community issue, in the hopes that this would lay the foundation for larger community efforts later on (Foster-Fishman et al., 2006).

After some changes in the initial strategies, the program described by Foster-Fishman et al. (2006) enabled positive changes in the community, and residents were improving in their capacity to achieve bigger goals.  However while the program attempted to encourage youth-driven community projects, participation from the young people within the community proved difficult, and stayed lower than program directors had expected.  Engaging youth in a mini-grant program may require different support and strategies than when involving adult community members, but could be just as effective when implemented successfully.

Accessible adult mentors or program directors to aid with the development of youth planned community service events or projectsare necessary to supportyouth in accessing funds and resources, and in executing plans.  This direct oversight and guidance enables teens to improve their own capacity to create change to address issues that affect them, and learn to take more active roles in promoting positive developmentin their community.Another strategy to encourage youth participation in community betterment projects is to identify potential youth leaders or youth recruiters who would be able to generate interest about the project amongst peers at school and elsewhere.  Potential youth leaders or recruiters could be teens already engaged in community development projects, or those knowledgeable about certain community issues.  These identified youth community members may then work closely with adult program directors, and receive training and support in organizing community projects, knowledge they can pass on to other youth through recruiting their participation.  This may work best when combined with an existing youth development organization in the community, as staff at these organizations may have established relationships with and knowledge about the youth in their community, and could help identify and recruit potential youth leaders for a community project.  In addition, staff at a local youth organization could serve as adult mentors or program supervisors and work directly with the youth to apply for funding and develop community projects.

One example of an existing youth program similar to the mini-grant programs described above is the Keystone program for teens at Boys & Girls Clubs across America.  This program works to improve youth leadership and character development through encouraging and supporting the development of youth-organized community service and civic engagement projects.  While the youth involved in this program do not directly apply for funding, the Keystone program itself is funded through grants that support the efforts of participating teen club members.  The Keystone program also has an adult program supervisor, who works to oversee and support the youth members in identifying addressing community issues, and taking a more active role in their community.  The Boys & Girls Club of Greater Lowell, for example, runs the Keystone program with their older teen club members, and encourages the development of character and crucial leadership skills to better equip them to achieve a successful future.  In the past year, Keystone members have tutored younger Boys & Girls Club members, and served as volunteers for large community building events including the Lowell Folk Festival and Winterfest.  Opening greater opportunities for teens to apply for mini-grants through programs like Keystone could equip and encourage the youth to take a more active role in addressing community issues affecting them.

Learn more about the Keystone program, and read more about the program aims and goals here:


Also, check out the website for the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Lowell, to read about Boys & Girls Clubs programs like Keystone in action: http://www.lbgc.org/index.php


Eric Johnson is a graduate student in Community Social Psychology Department at the University of Georgia.



Foster-Fishman, P., Fitzgerald, K., Brandell, C., Nowell, B., Chavis, D., &Egeren, L. (2006).  Mobilizing Residents for Action: The Role of Small Wins and Strategic Supports. American Journal of Community Psychology, (38), 143-152.

“You have what now?!” How Much Do You Really Know About Chiari?

by Helen Whitlow, The University of Masschusetts Lowell


Image Credit: http://www.craniofacial.vcu.edu/conditions/chiari.html

Everyone remembers the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge right? That social media craze where millions of people spread awareness of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) by uploading challenge videos, including nominations for others to take part. This promoted fundraising to find a cure for ALS, and influenced individuals to actually educate themselves. A lot of people didn’t know what ALS was, until the ice bucket challenge emerged. There are a lot of diseases, illnesses, epidemics, physical, intellectual, and developmental disabilities, where awareness has reached almost every part of the world. Sometimes I wonder if communities know of other illnesses, whether it’s from the news or social media. Have you ever heard of Chiari Malformation?

Chiari Malformation (CM) is a structural defect of the brain and spinal cord, where the cerebellum is in a downward placement at the back of the skull. Normally, the spinal cord should be the only thing passing through. This causes a lot of headaches, neck pains, dizziness, fatigue, and much more major symptoms. In 2009, I was diagnosed with Type 1 Chiari Malformation. For a few years, it was a slight secret, where only my immediate family knew. When I attempted to explain to others that I have CM, I was given the same puzzled response, “you have what now?!” I eventually gave up on informing people. As the reader, I don’t want you to pity, but I want you to understand how you can educate yourself and get involved in public awareness. Unfortunately, there are some fundraising and walks to find a cure for CM, but doesn’t produce the same effect as the ALS Ice Bucket challenge. By educating the reader about how community psychology provides resources on CM, encourages individuals like myself to shine a light on this invisible disease. Taking from the Competencies for Community Psychology Practice, I can address this issue, and hope that social change can arise from my need to advocate.

The eighteen competencies for community psychology help give individuals skills and knowledge on addressing social issues, and aid in the promotion of change. By focusing on the “Community and Social Change” category, the competencies within create more meaning in the education of CM. Collaborating and coalition development with individuals diagnosed with CM, can help educate those in surrounding communities. There are families who are heavily affected, and can use their life experiences to aid community psychologists, in the creation of educational resources. Community psychologists can work with others to improve awareness within the competency of information dissemination and public awareness building. Psychologists can establish more fundraisers and health clinics, providing accessible information to all individuals. They can utilize the ecological perspective competency, and use their work in context, and help individuals affected to increase social change (Scott & Wolfe, 2015, p. 44). Even more so, hoping to reach higher levels of awareness through social media, similar to the ALS Ice Bucket challenge.

My goal of this blogpost is to shed some light on this invisible diagnosis, and encourage readers to research. Well if that did, then I utilized public awareness building! Community psychology can help with creating walks, foundations, and websites, while helping pediatricians and neurologists to become more aware of CM. Chiari Malformation may be invisible, but for individuals like myself, it will always be there. At least until further treatment is needed.

Now that you have learned a bit about Chiari Malformation, and want to learn even more, provided below is a link to the “Conquer Chiari” webpage. Create awareness, and be part of the change. http://www.conquerchiari.org/index.html

#commpsych #chiarimalformation  #chiarimalformationawareness  #arnoldchiari

Helena Whitlow is a graduate student in Autism Studies Program at the University of Massachusetts Lowell.


Scott, V., Wolfe,S. (2015). Community Psychology: Foundations for practice. California:         Sage Publications Inc.