From Knowledge to Social Action: Addressing College Student Alcohol Use Through Class “Service-Based Action Projects” (Susan Kennedy, Denison)

Susan Kennedy, Department of Psychology, Denison University

Question: Can instructors leverage in-class learning to impact an important public health issue? Here’s one approach designed to use knowledge gained in a psychopharmacology class to address drinking among college students.

Susan Kennedy, Associate Professor of Psychology, Denison University

The misuse of alcohol among college students represents a significant public health concern. According to recent estimates, nearly 2,000 college students die annually due to alcohol-related accidents, while another 600,000 sustain injury that can be attributed to drinking. Irresponsible alcohol use by college students is an associated cause of both harm to others (sexual assaults, physical violence, vandalism) and to a student’s own academic prospects (missing classes, doing poorly on exams, etc.). Prior experience working with community-involved projects in an introductory Neuroscience class informed me that students will not only benefit significantly from “hands on” interaction with the community, but find it enjoyable and rewarding.

Therefore, when I recently taught a psychology course in Psycho-pharmacology, I proposed that the entire class engage in service-based action projects around the general topic of student alcohol use. I saw this as a means of producing a meaningful educational experience for my students particularly because the projects would directly address the Denison community.

Action projects allow students to utilize information gleaned from their research and from class lectures, discussions, and readings in a manner that can have a positive impact on the community as a whole. Research has shown that students who are involved in such projects gain valuable skills in community building and develop sensitivity and increased awareness about the needs of the community/audience to which their projects are geared.

Beyond this, I was interested in helping my students gain a sense of empowerment as they engage in projects designed to result in attitude change, information sharing and involvement in an important social cause. Along with project and topic suggestions from students, I generated a list of possible projects that they might want to be engaged in. Students then chose to participate in one of five groups, each comprised of four students:

  • Creating an on-campus safe drinking campaign targeting first-year students;
  • Writing letters to elected officials (local, state, and national level) and alcohol vendors in the area;
  • Creating and monitoring an interactive social media site that allows for anonymous comments and questions from Denison students and provides information about alcohol and its effects;
  • Writing a series of informational columns about alcohol use on college campuses to be published in the student newspaper as well as public service announcements to be broadcast on the student-run radio station; or
  • Analyzing the issue of alcohol use in student athletes, particularly in first-year students.

The pedagogical goals, course design, procedures employed, and outcomes achieved are described fully in my article, Lights!  Camera!  Action Projects! Engaging Psychopharmacology Students in Service-based Action Projects Focusing on Student Alcohol Abuse and Supplementary Material published in The Journal of Undergraduate Neuroscience Education (14:2, Spring 2016). JUNE is an an online, open source journal for undergraduate neuroscience faculty that publishes peer-reviewed reports of innovations in undergraduate neuroscience education.

Please direct questions or comments to kennedys@denison.edu.