Thursday, February 17, 2011

Research Summary: Promoting Counseling Students’ Advocacy Competencies through Service-Learning


Christine E. Murray (UNCG), Amber L. Pope (UNCG), and Clay Rowell (North Georgia College and State University)


Journal for Social Action in Counseling and Psychology, Fall 2010

The full-text of this article can be found at the following web-site:

The Purpose of this Study:

The researchers conducted an action research evaluation of a multi-class service-learning and advocacy project carried out in the UNCG Department of Counseling and Educational Development during the Fall 2008 semester. Through the “Your Sex Life, Your Career, Your Mental Health…Your Vote” ( project, students created policy guides relating to the 2008 Presidential election.

About the Participants:

Students in the doctoral-level career counseling class and the masters-level sexuality counseling class were invited to provide qualitative feedback about the project through five rounds of data collection. The participants were asked to describe the benefits and challenges they experienced through the service-learning project, their suggestions for improving the project, and the extent to which they thought that the assignment was a valuable learning experience.

Major findings:

  • Some of the benefits students reported receiving through the project included applying information from the courses to the “real world,” learning about public policies relevant to counseling, and increasing their skills in advocacy and their beliefs in the value of advocacy for the counseling profession.
  • The main challenges the students experienced included organizational challenges, finding meaning in the assignment, and feeling overwhelmed by it at times.
  • Some of the identified strategies for improving the project included linking it more closely to the rest of the course and addressing certain organizational and communication challenges.
  • Several students indicated that they believed the project was useful for learning, service, and developing new skills.

Major caveats:

Action evaluation studies are often carried out by researchers who are also instructors. However, this arrangement could have biased the researchers in their analysis and interpretation of the data. The researchers took steps to ensure that they would not know which students provided feedback, but students still may not have felt fully comfortable providing feedback knowing it would go back to their instructors. In addition, this project was carried out in one university, and certain course- or university-specific variables may make it difficult to generalize these findings to other institutions.

What does this research mean for counseling training?

The researchers offer several recommendations for counselor educators interested in incorporating similar service-learning advocacy projects into their courses. First, counselor educators should consider the unique development levels of their students to ensure that the assignment is suitable to their needs. Second, counselor educators should tie the project directly to other aspects of the course, such as readings and course discussions. Finally, counselor educators should be prepared to assist students stay organized and use their time effectively to ensure the success of the project.

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