Editor’s Note: This is the fourth in a series of 2015 Experiential Learner of the Year award nominees. Students who are nominated must submit an extensive portfolio in order to be considered for recognition. Their portfolio must document an outstanding Field Period™ experience, strong co-curricular learning, and a community service/service learning component.
Each year before the new academic year kicks off in August, students new to Keuka College participate in several TeamWorks! Adventure program activities on the high and low elements of the Birkett-Mills Challenge Course.
And senior Bridgette Fletcher was no exception. But she wanted to dig deeper than the physical challenge TeamWorks! provides.
“Having participated in a few TeamWorks! programs, I approached Molly [McGuigan, adventure program and TeamWorks! manager] and asked if anyone had ever evaluated what the facilitators do from a psychological perspective,” said Fletcher, a psychology major from Walton. “When the answer was no, I knew I wanted to do my last Field Period™ with this program, and really delve into what it is all about.”
“Bridgette was initially interested in observing my staff facilitation training purely to learn and apply her psychology courses to the groups development,” said McGuigan. However, during our planning it became clear that with her skill level she needed a much larger challenge.”
So, with three days to go until McGuigan’s new staff came, she handed Fletcher a textbook, gave her the facilitators’ personality assessments and a brief overview, and asked if she would use the week of training to determine whether or not this assessment would be useful for adventure facilitators.
“My main objective was to observe and analyze the training process new facilitators undergo before classes start in the fall, to learn the DISC as a tool to assess behavior, and to have the new facilitators be aware of different behavior styles by having them take the DISC themselves,” said Fletcher. “My goals were to better understand adventure therapy, team building, and positive and negative reinforcement. Each participant learned how to manage their behavior style and adapt it to the group so that they all effectively and efficiently worked together.”
“Bridgette single-handedly taught 12 College students about their behaviors, how to interact with others, and how to adapt programming and communication to the personality of clients,” said McGuigan. “Her work not only changed these individuals, but will improve the quality of programming they provide, and has made them better communicators in general. Due to the success of Bridgette’s seminar, and the noticeable improvement of staff quality, this is going to be made common practice for staff training.”
The training for the program consisted of a dozen undergraduate students during a 70-hour week. The facilitators had to work together in various activities to meet a goal, complete every activity the course uses, and create their own.
“Bridgette’s results are comparable to those of certified professionals, which is even more impressive given she had less than one week of preparation,” said McGuigan. “When it comes to working with assessing individuals and groups, she is a natural. She is compassionate, intelligent, and has a follow-through that I don’t see in students any more. She doesn’t just say ‘this is a great idea’ or ‘this would be cool’ she immediately looks to implement it.”
And Professor of Psychology Dr. Drew Arnold agrees.
“In Bridgette’s courses and Field Period™ experiences, she has consistently gone beyond the immediate course requirements to gain a more comprehensive and personally satisfying understanding of her experiences,” said Arnold, a licensed psychologist. “In all of her academic pursuits, she has been a fully engaged and active learner who has shown initiative and very effective critical thinking skills.”
For example, during the three weeks Fletcher took to complete her Field Period™, she observed or participated in more than 100 group activities.
“I found I needed to learn so I could become a better observer, as my behavior style makes me want to participate, be a leader, and complete tasks,” said Fletcher. “Once I stepped back though, I watched the group grow in a variety of ways.”
According to Fletcher, the group celebrated achievements when finishing critical thinking and trust activities, and got frustrated with each other when activities took longer and were more difficult to complete.
“They stepped outside of their comfort zones, did things they wouldn’t ordinarily do, and developed a strong trust with each other,” said Fletcher.
Prior to starting this Field Period™, Fletcher admitted she had not been aware TeamWorks! was therapeutic.
“I merely thought what the facilitators did was icebreakers and had a goal to get strangers familiar with one another,” she said. “I now know it is so much more than that. I am taking away the importance of debriefing, as it puts every participant on the same page with an activity. I believe debriefing is therapeutic, particularly in activities that increased frustration levels, it was helpful in decreasing tension within the group.”
“Bridgette accomplished an extraordinary amount in a few short weeks with very long hours,” said McGuigan. “Not only did she learn all technical facilitation skills needed to be an advanced challenge course professional, she also learned to teach and implement a behavioral assessment that she had no prior experience with. Bridgette has a versatile skill set and an innate ability to understand the big picture. Her meticulous work and passion for the subject resulted in a phenomenal program.”
Arnold adds he believes Fletcher “is a reflective, personable, and thoughtful person who is open to the feelings of others, as well as to differing value systems and new ideas,” he said. “She is effectively self-critical and has insight into her learning and personal developmental needs.”
Added Fletcher: “This Field Period™ changed the way I look at group interaction, and the skills and techniques I learned will be something I possess for the rest of my career. From this Field Period™, I believe I am a better observer, stronger leader, and I began to think critically and analytically. I learned an incredible amount about teamwork, behavior styles, and communication. I could have never imagined that I would learn and grow so much in such a short amount of time.”
In addition to her Field Period™ experiences, Fletcher is a member of the Equestrian Club, KC Tom’s Club (president), Adventure Club, Psychology Club, a New Student Orientation mentor, serves on the Student Senate and the Campus Rec Advisory Council, and is an admissions Gold ambassador, earned a received the Board of Trustees Scholarship.
Keuka College received approval from the New York State Department of Education to offer a major in child and family studies (CFS) beginning in the 2013 fall semester.
Like CFS programs at other colleges and universities, Keuka’s will be interdisciplinary in nature, which makes it a perfect match with the College’s curriculum, according to Professor of Psychology Drew Arnold.
“Given our strong sequence of developmental psychology courses, as well as existing courses in sociology, social work, education, and criminology/criminal justice, Keuka is well positioned to offer a strong, comprehensive major in CFS,” he said.
Those courses, plus others that focus on contemporary family and family development issues, provide a program that “is comparable to, or exceeds, the range and quality of courses offered in other CFS programs,” said Arnold.
The curriculum is just one reason why CFS is “a natural fit” for Keuka, according to Arnold, who added that faculty expertise is “strong” in this area, particularly among those who teach developmental psychology.
Students who earn a bachelor’s degree in CFS from Keuka will be prepared to pursue careers in child protection services, human services, parent education and training, and daycare.
“They will also be prepared to pursue graduate degrees in CFS and thus have the opportunity for careers in counseling, family therapy, child therapy, and research,” explained Arnold.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt once said “a full pocketbook groans louder than an empty stomach.”
Professor of Psychology Dr. Drew Arnold contends that FDR’s statement rings truer today than it did in post-Great Depression America.
“It seems that poverty hardly enters our national discourse,” said Arnold, who delivered the keynote address at the annual academic convocation today (Aug. 28). “The word poverty is seldom used by politicians. President Obama has been using the term ‘vulnerable’ instead of ‘poor.’ It’s become the ‘p’ word.”