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Community Involvement


WISR students are very resourceful in finding places for internships and community involvement that become integral to their studies and degree program at WISR. Many already have community-based jobs, and those seeking jobs or volunteer placements receive extensive informal help from faculty, fellow students, alumni, Board members and friends of WISR.

Although WISR does not provide formal job or internship placement services. WISR faculty help students to use their community involvements to set up learning projects that contribute to their course and degree program learning objectives and that meet some of the course requirements. WISR faculty are mindful of the importance of students making the most of the community involvements so that these experiences will contribute to course and degree program learning objectives.  Faculty do this by meeting regularly with the student to provide supervision and guidance—to help the student to discuss and critically reflect on what they are learning, on the problems and challenges they may be encountering, on the insights gained, and on next steps that can be taken to follow up from one week to the next on what the student is doing in their practical, community involvement setting. This is the case for all involvement, whether paid jobs or volunteer positions, or student-created action-research projects in some community or organization.

WISR MFT students have the responsibility to find and set up their practicum placements. They receive support and assistance from faculty, who also refer them to fellow students, alumni and professional friends of WISR, to aid them in networking and in identifying likely placements. Because MFT students select the agency in which they will do their practicum work, each student can find a place that will optimally meet his or her needs and goals–taking into consideration the kind(s) of client population(s) with whom the student wishes to get experience, the geographic location of the agency, the convenience of the hours and days to be worked, and the style and personality of the person at the agency who will be supervising the student. Most MFT students spend several hours per week for two or three months locating and setting up their practicum. Over the years, all MFT students have successfully set up practica for themselves, and almost always at an agency where they have had extremely valuable experiences. Most practicum positions are for unpaid volunteers, but occasionally, students find paid positions.

WISR PhD Student, Shyaam Shabaka, Executive Director and Founder, EcoVillage Farm, Richmond, CA

WISR PhD Student, Shyaam Shabaka, Executive Director and Founder, EcoVillage Farm, Richmond, CA









WISR Community Projects and Contributions


Over the past 45+ years, WISR has provided valuable community service through a number of projects headed by WISR faculty, students and alumni. These projects typically make use of WISR’s expertise in participatory, community-based approaches to action-research, to promote critically needed inquiry into community problems and engage the community in solutions.  Here are a few examples.

  • In 1980-83, WISR was one of 80 postsecondary education institutions (out of over 2,000 applicants) to be funded as a nationwide demonstration project by the US Department of Education’s Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education. This project, and the curriculum we developed during the project, provided the foundation for WISR’s subsequent efforts over the years—to educate nonprofit agency professionals in the teaching, learning and use of action-research in community improvement.
  • In 1985, we conducted a major study of the needs of and problems confronting low-income elders living in downtown Los Angeles — for the Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency.
  • In the late 1980s, we conducted projects involving groups of African American elders to improve community health, contribute to community development decisions, and improve in-home care services.
  • In the late 80s and early 90s, WISR received recognition for our much-needed AIDS prevention education projects among at risk groups of people, in collaboration with members of local African American and Latino communities in the Bay Area.
  • WISR assisted the Bay Area Black United Fund (BABUF) in the planning and participatory evaluations of the first three African American Health Summits (2003, 2005, 2007), resulting in three “Black Papers” on the insights gained from those Health Summits. This was part of BABUF’s ongoing African American Health Initiative.
  • More recently, in the past ten years, WISR assisted Neighborhood House of North Richmond in training community-based interviewers as part of their Kaiser Foundation-funded project aimed at promoting Healthy Eating and Living in Richmond. In addition, WISR collaboration with Neighborhood House of North Richmond on the participatory evaluation of their Youth Violence Prevention Project and their mentoring project.
  • WISR currently provides assistance in program evaluation to the Director of the City of Oakland’s Foster Grandparent and Senior Companion Programs.
  • Finally, but not insignificantly, WISR continually contributes to community problem-solving with many other marginalized groups and community improvement agencies, through the learning projects of our enrolled students and the post-graduation endeavors of our alumni. There are many, many such examples, but two areas are worth special note. First, in the State of California, less than 10 percent of the licensed Marriage and Family (MFT) therapists are from ethnic backgrounds other than European American. Yet, historically 50 percent of WISR’s MFT students and alumni, all of whom go on to become licensed, are people of color. Second, despite WISR’s small size (about 30 students at a given time), three of our doctoral alumni are Native American, and one European American alum has focused much of her career on collaborative work with the Pomo people in Northern California. One of our alumni, Dennis Hastings was formerly a California resident, and returned to Nebraska to work with his people. Soon after receiving his Master’s degree from WISR, he founded the Omaha Tribal Historical Research Project (OTHRP). Subsequently, he and his colleague, Margery Coffee, at OTHRP pursued a collaborative doctorate at WISR, and developed curriculum materials on Omaha history and culture for use in their local schools, and they researched and wrote the 1,500-page definitive history of the Omaha people in the face of the European invasion, Grandfather Remembers. That dissertation was recently used as the key, definitive evidence in a case before the US Supreme Court regarding the sovereignty of the Omaha people, and resulted in a unanimous ruling in favor of the Omaha (https://www.wisr.edu/2016/01/10/wisr-alumni-have-key-role-in-supporting-the-omaha-people-in-case-to-be-heard-by-us-supreme-court/ ).