Students embark on a project to help local non-profits
Maureen Rutherford has wanted to incorporate a community perspective into her “Drugs and the Nervous System” course for years.
The Indiana University Northwest associate professor of psychology, along with her students, have embarked on a project that involves multiple student groups working with local nonprofits to create drug-related and substance-abuse resources to assist the organizations’ clients, and the greater community.
“Student groups create materials like pamphlets, videos, or other resources,” Rutherford said. “And as a result, students gain real-world, service-learning experiences that foster learning, increase awareness of substance abuse issues, and ultimately, improve public health through a greater knowledge of community resources.”
Students get to choose the local organization they partner with based on their unique interests. Rutherford mentioned the Indiana Parenting Institute, as just one example.
Advancing the cause
Last semester, the results of the campus-community partnership were nothing short of excellent. Due to student interest and a grant from the IU Women’s Philanthropy Leadership Council, Rutherford was able to hire two student research assistants to help further this work
They're going to help me seek out ethical approval to gather student perceptions and help manage the student groups,” Rutherford said. “Incorporating students into research familiarizes them with the complete process and gets their feet wet.”
One of those research assistants, Alix Umbarger, is especially excited to get started. “I am most excited to work with Dr. Rutherford on this project because she is an amazing professor, and I think I can gain so much from her. I will be able to not only learn about professionalism, group communication, and the findings of our study, but I will also be able to be a part of a meaningful research experience that will hopefully have a positive community impact down the road,” she said.
Specifically, Umbarger hopes to decrease the stigma around prescription drugs and help people struggling with drug abuse find the help they need.
Rutherford’s study really is all about having a positive impact—both on students and on the community. She echoes Umbarger’s sentiment about increasing education pertaining to drug-related issues. “That’s one of the benefits of having a regional campus,” Rutherford said. “These are our students’ communities, so they can pass information on to their friends, family, and the broader community.”
Rutherford hopes her students also gain personal benefits from this research project. She said in the past semester, she noticed students not only learned the subject matter, but they also developed leadership and collaborative skills along the way. For some students, these skills will be useful in other higher-level courses, volunteering, and more.
But for Umbarger, who will be graduating in May 2022, she hopes these skills will lead her into a career path. “I am hoping to go into a career in research. This experience will assist me to develop professionalism by helping contribute to the final write-up of our findings, as well as conducting and presenting our research.”
While student research assistants like Umbarger can be a big help to Rutherford, what she’s really in it for is the student experience. “I’m really excited to create opportunities for students,” Rutherford said. “I really appreciate the IU Women’s Philanthropy Leadership Council for giving me the chance to enrich my students.”
Under Rutherford’s wing, Umbarger and students like her are poised to make an impact on the greater Northwest Indiana community and the nonprofit organizations that work around the clock to provide drug education.