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BS Community Leadership and Justice

BS Program in Community Leadership and Justice–Program Description, Table of Contents

  • Mission and Objectives of BS Program in Community Leadership and Justice
  • Admission, Transfer of Credit, Orientation
  • Regulations regarding WISR’s BS in Community Leadership and Justice Program
  • Structure and Content of BS in Community Leadership and Justice Curriculum
  • Coursework–Requirements, Options and Course Descriptions

Mission and Objectives of BS Program in Community Leadership and Justice

In the face of growing economic injustice, rising tuition costs, skyrocketing student loan debt, unemployment among recent college graduates, and the fading interest among mainline colleges to provide education for civic engagement, WISR’s BS Program is dedicated to providing a valuable alternative. We welcome young adults and older adults, those with only a high school diploma or GED and no previous college, as well as those entering WISR with three years of college transfer credit. Our 40+ years of experience in personalized education make the Western Institute for Social Research (WISR) an affordable model of undergraduate education founded on WISR’s values and our commitment to working with students to help them build bridges to meaningful employment and/or civic engagement, through action inquiry, a multicultural base and progressive social change.

More than ever, there is a need in the US for undergraduate programs like WISR’s. Specifically,
· All too seldom are students from lower-income backgrounds and disenfranchised communities admitted, much less well-served, by four-year institutions.
· Less and less are middle-class students able to use their college education to obtain employment, and they are even less likely to find meaningful work.
· In the face of financial pressures, colleges are less likely to provide students with any personal attention, and classes devoted to the education of the “whole person” are being phased out or de-emphasized.
· As much as ever, and perhaps more than has been the case for over 60 years, it will be difficult to pursue our country’s democratic ideals without a “critical mass” of committed, well-educated professionals who see themselves as community leaders and “change agents.”

This program, like all of WISR’s educational programs, is suited for learners with many different types of future goals, including but not limited to:  changing careers, pursuing advancement in one’s existing career, becoming more capable and more meaningfully engaged in one’s existing job or career niche, or making contributions to others and to the larger community as an unpaid expert drawing on one’ professional knowledge, skill and talents.

Note: for students enrolling after March 1, 2018–

Note:  Students must take the following 15 semester units of general education courses from other colleges, in the following three areas (Because of the affordability, community colleges are strongly recommended–feel free to consult with a WISR faculty advisor regarding options)

6 semester units in Natural Sciences (e.g., Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Environmental Sciences, Geology, General Science, etc.)

6 semester units in Humanities and/or Arts (e.g., Literature, Art, Music, Drama, Philosophy, Religion, History, etc.)

3 semester units in Quantitative Methods (e.g., Algebra, Statistics, Math Analysis, etc.)


Bachelor’s Program Goals, Learning Objectives, and Outcomes


Bachelor’s students will develop skills as self-directed learners, sufficient to take an active role with faculty in assessing and directing their learning. The student will be engaged in building bridges to the next important steps in their life, both for economic independence and consciousness of the significance of one’s life decisions, and will have the ability and interest to engage in satisfying lifelong learning as part of building a meaningful and fulfilling life for oneself, one’s friends, neighbors and loved ones.

In evaluating the student’s progress with this program learning objective, faculty will consider the following indicators of student progress and competence:

1. The student will identify areas of special interest to pursue in their courses,

2. The student will identify relevant readings and practical community and/or professional preparation experiences to incorporate in their studies, and

3. The student will help faculty in assessing their learning, including their strengths and weaknesses/challenges is achieving learning objectives, and be able to participate actively in making suggestions for the next steps in their learning. Specifically,

4. in their course self-assessments, the student will show that they have actively participated in decisions about their learning. Finally,

5. in their senior thesis and/or in the course “Building Bridges to One’s Future” the student will articulate some of these next steps in their life and learning.

Outcomes: The student’s competence as a self-directed learner with be evidenced in faculty-student dialogue and faculty observations of the student’s learning processes, oral exams, and the student’s written self-assessments.


Bachelor’s students will develop an “advanced beginners” knowledge of methods of action-research. They will learn basic principles and techniques of action-research, such as interviewing and participant observation, and be able to use these methods in their studies. They will critically reflect on and analyze the interpretations and inferences that can be made from their experiences and collected data. They will formulate possible follow up actions and questions for future inquiry and study. Finally, they will be able to design and pursue small-scale action and/or research activities which can contribute to community improvement, using methods of action-research, especially, qualitative, participatory research.

In evaluating the student’s progress with this program learning objective, faculty will consider the following indicators of student progress and competence:

1. The student will use methods of action-research.

2. The student will use both interviewing and observational methods of data gathering.

3. The student will identify the strengths and limitations of the methods of action-research that they used.

4. The student will identify ethical and practical considerations involved with their use of action-research.

5. The student will identify actions and/or questions that would be appropriate ways to follow up on their action-research.

6. In at least one course, the student will design, even if only on a small scale, an action-research project with a purpose that might be of benefit to themselves and/or to others.

Outcomes: The student’s knowledge and skills in methods of action-research will be manifest in the student’s papers and their action-research labs, especially, and also in their written self-assessments, oral exams, and dialogue with faculty and other students.


Throughout their studies, Bachelor’s students will be engaged in studying and critically reflecting on the multicultural implications of the ideas and practices they are studying. They will discuss and write about the value of developing and using multicultural perspectives to inform one’s purposes, one studies, and one’s views of social issues and challenges, and opportunities in one’s chosen fields or arenas of endeavor—profession, workplace, community. This may result in their developing a deeper sense of empathy, compassion and community toward, and with, others. Through their practices and actions, they will show an appreciation and understanding of the broad spectrum of perspectives and consciousness, and how those arise out of people’s culture, gender identity, economic background, religious and sexual preferences.

In evaluating the student’s progress with this program learning objective, faculty will consider the following indicators of student progress and competence:

1. The student will identify and discuss the relevance of multicultural concerns and perspectives to what they studied.

2. The student will also identify challenges and practical considerations that might be involved in making use of those multicultural concerns and perspectives.

Outcomes: The development of an awareness of, and interest in, multiculturalism will be evidenced in the student’s papers, written reflections on readings, self-assessments, oral exams, choice of topics to study, collaborative dialogue with other students and faculty.


Bachelor’s students will learn to connect “micro” issues and perspectives with “macro” dynamics and perspectives, and learn about the value of making such connections. They will develop an interest and curiosity in examining “bigger picture” ideas to help inform their purposes, their studies, their actions on jobs and/or internships, and their ideas about “community leadership and justice” as well as their particular area(s) of special interest and concern. The student may develop a deeper commitment to the well-being of others in the student’s community, and/or be motivated toward active citizen participation informed by a deep concern for the “public good.

In evaluating the student’s progress with this program learning objective, faculty will consider the following indicators of student progress and competence:

1. The student will identify a “micro” perspective on their topic of study, as well as a “macro” perspective, and

2. The student will identify a possible connection between the micro and the macro—between the “bigger picture” and the immediate, everyday experience. In addition,

3. The student will articulate questions and/or suggest ideas for more deeply examining the micro/macro connections, as applied to a particular topic of concern.

Outcomes: Throughout their studies, Bachelors’ students will be engaged in critically inquiring into how ideas and practices in their studies might be connected with such “bigger picture” issues as social justice, equality, and environmental sustainability. This engagement will be evidenced in the writings in their papers, reflections on readings, and self-assessments; in their projects in the action-research labs, as well as in dialogue with faculty and fellow students, and oral exams.


Bachelor’s students will show enough confidence and seriousness about their writing to express their ideas in their own voice, and to be engaged in writing and re-writing rough drafts. They will begin to think about possible audiences for some of their writings, and use writing to further develop and fine-tune their own ideas. They will be able to organize their writings to show some continuity from one point to the next, with a coherent introduction and conclusion, before and after the body of their written works. They will demonstrate an interest in and ability to collaborate with others—among WISR students and faculty, and perhaps with others outside of WISR—and to use the collaborative process to improve their learning, their ideas, and their practices in the field, even if limited.

In evaluating the student’s progress with this program learning objective, faculty will consider the following indicators of student progress and competence:

1. The student will write in their own voice, and from their point of view when writing about their topic(s) of concern—in their papers, written self-assessments and/or senior thesis.

2. The student will demonstrate an awareness of one or more possible audiences.

3. The student will demonstrate that they can use their writing to fine tune and/or further develop their own thinking on a topic of concern.

4. The student will demonstrate that they can produce a well-organized paper.

5. The student will perform collaborative activities with others—through the online forum, seminars, collaborative projects and/or informal discussions—by: a) using their collaborative activities to more deeply engage themselves and others in thinking more deeply and inquisitively about the topic being discussed, and b) thereby contributing to their learning and the learning of others.

Outcomes; The writing skills and motivations will be demonstrated in their papers and in the process of writing their papers, in their written self-assessments, and their written reflections on readings. Their collaborative competence will be demonstrated in collaboration with WISR students and faculty, the oral exams, and their written self-assessments.

With regard to faculty assessment of student communication outcomes:

1. Faculty will assess whether the student’s performance is outstanding, adequate, or in need of improvement, in how well the student writes their papers–in terms of how well the student

a. clearly writes most sentences and paragraphs,

b. develops each writing in an organized, and easy to follow and understand, fashion,

2. Faculty will assess whether the student’s performance is outstanding, adequate, or in need of improvement—in their written work and oral exams—with respect to the extent to which the student: a) has effectively and adequately used at least one point of view to inform their paper, and b) has communicated about what they have learned in their studies for the particular course.


For those Bachelor’s students for whom employability, or career advancement, is a learning objective, they will:

1. explore and gain knowledge of possible career paths in community services and leadership;

2. gain sufficient knowledge to be seriously considered for entry level employment in non-profit organizations, small business operation, grassroots community groups, international affairs, or local civic affairs; in other words, have “advanced beginner” education, knowledge and/or skill training for immediate employment, for example, in local small businesses and non-profits; and/or

3. will be able to use their general education as a preparation for serious consideration for more than one type of work–by combining the best of a practical entry-level professional education with a solid liberal arts education.

For those more concerned with community involvement than employment, the above objectives apply in terms of leading to what the student considers to be meaningful community involvement.

Outcomes: The students’ written self-assessments, oral exams, senior thesis; and especially, employment and/or community involvement in the first two years post-graduation.


Bachelor’s students will develop an understanding of principles and contexts in “community leadership and justice” and in their area(s) of specialization. They will have knowledge of a variety of theories, practices, and perspectives, be able to critically reflect on them in light of their own, relevant, even if limited, personal experiences, and in light of what they have read about some variety of conditions and circumstances. They use such action-research methods as interviewing to learn from others about ways in which knowledge needs to be applied and even adapted in different circumstances. They will be able to look beneath the surface of, and beyond, immediate appearances. In doing so, they will look for circumstances which are exceptions to the rule and for situations that suggest limitations on the theories and principles. Intellectually, and to some degree practically, they will learn to cope with some increasing variety of real world situations—enough to realize that principles need to be modified situationally. They will develop the beginnings of nuances of understandings about ideas and practices to probe “beneath the surface” of appearances in ways that a novice does not. That is, they will be able to see some complexities beyond simple generalizations. This will be evidenced by their motivation to seek out further ideas, practices and deeper insights, as well as by active reflection on what C. Wright Mills referred to as the “Sociological Imagination”—looking for the connections between specific experiences of individuals and bigger picture societal dynamics.

In evaluating the student’s progress with this program learning objective, faculty will consider the following indicators of student progress and competence:

1. The student will demonstrate that that they are able to apply and adapt ideas and/or principles of practice, situationally.

2.  The student will look beneath the surface of the way things might appear at first glance, and then identify circumstantial exceptions to the rule.

3. In their senior thesis, he student will formulate some ideas, or recommended practices for consideration in their area(s) of specialization—through some combination of readings, practical experience and the use of action-research methods.

Outcomes: This “advanced beginner” level of skills and knowledge will be manifest in student papers and action-research activities, in the student’s written self-assessments and oral exams, especially, and also in dialogue with faculty and other students. The student may show readiness, and/or initial engagement in addressing the demands of becoming “competent”—more experienced, intentional, and nuanced in their perspective–in their area(s) of specialization—as evidenced in the student’s senior thesis, written self-assessments, and oral exam.

Admission, Transfer of Credit, Orientation



Transfer of Credits

Orientation to WISR

All entering BS in Community Leadership and Justice students must enroll in a four semester unit course on “Learning the WISR Way.”  In this course, students read articles about WISR’s approach to learning, including self-directed, learner-centered education; discuss these articles with WISR faculty; interview alumni and currently enrolled students to learn more about WISR’s approach to learning.

Description and Goals: “This is an introductory course, required of WISR students in all degree programs, which is designed to enable students to progress more effectively toward the successful completion of the degree program at WISR, so that students can get the most from their WISR education—in pursuing their learning passions and career interests, in developing the core meta-competencies valued at WISR, and in building bridges for themselves to the next significant things they wish to do in their lives.   Students read and study the methods of “Learning the WISR way”–studying the theories and strategies of WISR’s approach to transformative learning for professional and community leadership, as well as learning from stories and specific examples drawn from the experiences of other WISR students.


Also, students are introduced to methods of note-taking and writing in their own voice, as well as the use of professional conventions in formal writing and strategies of effective online research. In this course, students reflect on, discuss and write about what they are learning in the course, and the culminating papers are a reflective autobiographical essay, a preliminary educational plan and a self-assessment inventory of strengths, challenges, needs, and opportunities in the pursuit of their future goals and learning.”

In writing these papers, students must include a statement of how and why WISR’s self-paced, learner-centered methods are appropriate for them—with fewer hours in traditional, large classrooms, and more time spent in self-paced, self-directed learning, in one-on-one mentoring sessions, and small group seminar discussions.

Distance learners must include in their autobiographical statement, learning plan, and self-assessment, an analysis of how and why distance learning at WISR is feasible for them, and will result in their being able to meet their needs and accomplish their goals.

These statements are to be discussed, reviewed and approved by at least one member of the WISR faculty.

Finally, this course is also used to introduce and orient new students to 1) WISR’s career center and resources, and 2) WISR’s library resources, the library resources of other libraries and online databases which WISR will enable or help students to access.

Regulations regarding WISR’s BS Program in Community Leadership and Justice

Length of Study

The vast majority of WISR students are mature adults with significant work and family responsibilities, time demands and commitments. Most students will progress at a rate approximately equivalent to half-time enrollment.  WISR’s tuition is very affordable, even in comparison to other private institution’s rates for half-time enrollment. All WISR students pay the same tuition, and those students who are able to pursue their studies with an intensity and at a pace comparable to students who are seriously engaged full-time students will very likely be able to graduate in 40 to 50 percent of the estimated time for studies in WISR degree programs.

For students pursuing a BS degree, the length of study at WISR will also depend greatly on the amount of previously completed coursework that can be accepted as transfer credit.  For those students with 60 semester units of previous college coursework, mature adults may expect to take as much as 3 years to graduate, unless they are able to pursue their studies with greater  intensity. Those students transferring to WISR with 80 semester units of credit may expect to complete the BS in two years or less. Students who complete less than 60 semester units elsewhere may expect to take four years, or slightly longer, depending on the units they transfer. Those students whose life circumstances permit them to study with the intensity of traditional full-time students will likely finish in significantly less than these estimates.*

Typically, the maximum allowable length of study toward a Bachelor’s degree  at WISR is 4 and a half years for students with 60 semester units of transfer credit, 3 years for students transferring with 80 semester units, and 6 years for students who are granted admission while still completing 30 or more semester units elsewhere.* Faculty review student progress semi-annually to facilitate each student’s efforts to complete their degree within these maximum amounts of time. Students who are consistently engaged in their studies, but who are slowed down due to disabilities or other extenuating factors may petition WISR faculty for permission to take somewhat longer to complete their studies.

In all cases, faculty will strive to support students in their efforts to complete their degree in a timely manner, while also benefiting from their studies at WISR in ways that will help them build bridges to the next important life goals.

*These program length expectations do not include any time off for leaves of absence due to matters resulting from health issues, family responsibilities or periods of financial hardship.  Each leave of absence must be for a minimum of six months, during which time the student does not pay tuition, and during which time the student may not receive credit for any efforts related to their studies at WISR.  The student pays a $600 re-enrollment fee when resuming their studies.

Faculty review of student progress

Structure and Content of BS Program in Community Leadership and Justice Curriculum

Generally, WISR courses involve all, or most, of the following:

  • Required and recommended readings to choose from (both books and articles);
  • Action-inquiry projects, culminating in a written paper;
  • Sharing with others at WISR–notes, drafts of ideas, reflections on readings, one’s action-inquiry and practical community/professional involvements–for feedback and dialogue;
  • Regular mentoring and guidance from WISR faculty, on all aspects of the content and process of one’s learning;
  • The development of each student’s eportfolio;
  • Assistance and support from faculty in writing in one’s own voice, clearly, for oneself to further learning, and with one’s audience(s) in mind;
  • Written reflective analyses of what one has read;
  • Written self-assessment of one’s learning accomplishments and personal insights from one’s learning activities and methods.

The core learning methods will include the following:

DSC01175*providing personalized, learner-centered education, with two or more one-on-one consultations with WISR faculty each month;

*helping students develop and make use of their own Learning Portfolio—hard copy and electronic files of student course syllabi, papers and essays written, multimedia projects completed, and      students will also be encouraged and supported to engage in group project work with other students;

*story-based learning that enables students to tell, listen to, read, write about, and discuss stories, and to view video/film depictions of stories, thereby drawing on their own experiences and the  wealth of wisdom found in their communities and among many “ordinary” and famous people throughout history;

*group support and collaboration, as well as an online forum for dialogue, based on a student-faculty culture in which all are committed to the success of each student;

*instruction in how to make practical use of academic knowledge and ideas*guidance in the use of libraries, online internet resources and learning technology;

*encouragement and guidance in pursuing, as part of each student’s studies, community involvement in nonprofit organizations, public social service agencies, co-ops, faith-based groups,  community businesses, labor unions, activist groups, schools and youth programs, and “community action think tanks”; and

*study of the “bigger picture” challenges involved in trying to create long-term social change—for justice and the public good—so that each student is motivated and prepared for civic involvement  and as an agent of social change.

Specific Requirements

WISR’s requirements for the Bachelor of Science are as follows: 
120 semester units minimum for graduation, including 
40 semester units in general education 
40 semester units in the major field

The culminating major project, the senior thesis involves 6 semester units of credit.
No specific minor field is required, because at WISR the major field is expected to be sufficiently interdisciplinary to involve the student in more than one traditional area of study.
Each WISR student must complete a substantial coursework in each of three areas (natural sciences–6 semester units, humanities and/or arts–6 semester units, and math or quantitative reasoning–3 semester units)–at another institution of higher learning.

During their work at WISR, all students pursue general education–specifically focusing on help in improving their writing, communication and collaborative learning skills, learning and practicing methods of inquiry, and guidance and support for becoming self-directed and conscious learners.  

Coursework–Requirements, Options and Course Descriptions

Details on Coursework–Requirements, Options, and Course Descriptions [<– click to left for details]


40th Anniversary w-out 2015

BS Program Graduation Review Boards

The recommendation of a BS student’s readiness to begin the culminating senior thesis is made by the student’s primary faculty adviser, usually only after at least three-fourths of the other requirements have been completed. At that time, the student writes a thesis proposal, which outlines (1) the major issues and questions to be addressed, (2) the significance of those issues to the student and to others, and (3) the sources of information, the methods of inquiry, and (if appropriate) the modes of action to be used.

The student then constitutes, with her or his major faculty adviser’s help, a Graduation Review Board composed of at least three WISR faculty members, and two WISR students or former students. The Review Board members comment on, critique, and approve the student’s proposal. The proposal then serves as a general guide for the student’s thesis inquiry. However, it is subject to change, and the student is expected to discuss his or her thesis progress with each Review Board member throughout the work on the thesis.Review Board members comment on and critique at least one rough draft, but usually two drafts. The student’s major faculty adviser helps to facilitate and mediate disagreements if Review Board members make inconsistent suggestions for change.

Once the faculty adviser and the student are confident that all Review Board members are ready to approve the thesis, a final Graduation Board meeting is held. At that time, Review Board validates that the student is responsible for their work on thesis, and the student discusses and answers questions about the thesis and their learning in working on it, and throughout the entire degree program. The student is questioned about their future plans, and how the experience at WISR will contribute to the student’s future work. The Review Board may also examine the student’s academic accomplishments throughout the program, and discuss them with the student. Finally, each graduating student is required to submit a written self-evaluation, which includes a critical reflection on what she or he has learned in the program, and a discussion of insights gained, challenges and obstacles encountered, and WISR’s strengths and weaknesses in contributing to the student’s learning.

Grading and Awarding Academic Credit and Academic Policies and Procedures

Expectations for Collaboration at WISR


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