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College of Humanities & Sciences

Psychology Department

Mentoring Children At Risk [View Image] Mentoring Children At Risk

Service Learning

Take your learning beyond the books and gain invaluable hands-on education through service learning courses.

Service learning courses provide the experience, knowledge and skills that make college graduates more marketable in the helping professions. These courses allow students to interact with a diverse group of individuals with special needs, build and put into practice communication and problem-solving skills, and take psychology out of the textbook into interactions with real people in structured and supportive environments. You will gain an appreciation of community needs and assets, a deeper understanding of yourself, and an awareness of career options.

"I got my current job because of the experience I gained in the service learning course." - Program participant

Comments from Previous Service Learning Students

"I was able to see a culture and life situation other than the one I'm used to."

“Completing a service learning project gave me a realistic perspective of my career choices.”

“I feel as though it made each individual open their eyes and take notice of what is going on in the community. It also encouraged me that one person can make a difference.”

“This class has been great preparation for a job as a therapist. I feel like the class has given me confidence and I realize that I have the ability to work with just about anyone.”

“I think that this class gave me the feeling that I was a part of things at the university, not just a typical student who goes to lecture classes, never experiencing any hands-on work until after graduation … I would say that overall, the class made this academic year stand out from the rest.”

“With a major like psychology, where several options seem to be available on which career choice to move toward, it has been important to narrow down those choices. This program has allowed me to do that.”

Service Learning Opportunities in the Department of Psychology

  • PSYC 493, Fieldwork: Human Services - This three-credit course requires students to apply to register, typically as a junior or a senior. The course offers students the opportunity to spend 120 hours in a non-profit human services organization in conjunction with a weekly class component that combines theory and experiential processing.
  • Psyc 493, Mentoring Children at Risk - This three-credit course offered during the summer includes one week of intense classroom training and then one week mentoring children at the All God’s Children camps. Together, they swam, rode horses, did arts and crafts, resolved conflicts and learned about each other. The VCU students kept daily journals and wrote a comprehensive paper at the end. Life-changing discoveries—for both VCU students and the children!  
  • PSYC/CRJ S/SOCY 491 and 493 Youth in Corrections - This three-credit course provides an opportunity to mentor and tutor youth involved with the legal system. The course is open to students with a junior standing or higher. Coursework focuses on at-risk youth and the court system. Students participate in the service project, Project ACE (Assisting Correctional Education).
  • In addition to these two offerings, there are special sections of PSYC 492, Independent Study, which add a one-credit service learning opportunity in conjunction with a developmental content course.

Find Out More and Register

Interested students should come to Psyugrad Advising for consultation prior to contacting the instructor of record.

You may apply and participate in more than one course.

Service learning course provides mentors to children of incarcerated parents

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Each summer, Geri Lotze, Ph.D., teaching associate professor of developmental psychology, leads students in her undergraduate service learning course "Mentoring Children At-Risk" through a program of the Virginia Conference of The United Methodist Church called “All God’s Children.” The camp is for children of incarcerated parents and aims to provide them a weeklong sanctuary from the many challenges they face. Lotze coaches undergraduate mentors who serve as trusted advisers to the campers. Barbara Myers, Ph.D., emerita professor of developmental psychology, was the founder of the mentoring program at the camp and passed the baton to Lotze upon her retirement in 2016.

VCU News profiled the course in a recent news feature. Excerpt:

“This is such an important program because it allows the children to come to camp and forget about the struggles at home and just be children again,” said camp director Lori Smith. “It is also important because they attend a class each day where they learn about conflict resolution and self-esteem building, allowing them to use these tools and skills when they return home. Here at camp, they learn that they truly are somebody and really begin to live into that.”

Service learning course expands CMoR's Living Lab

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Students in Assistant Professor Marcia Winter’s PSYC 493 “Developmental Science: Making it Real” service learning course are working with the Children’s Museum of Richmond (CMoR) to develop and extend the scope of Seymour’s Living Lab (SLL), which offers families hands-on science education, in addition to providing opportunities for scientists to disseminate information and to recruit participants.

“Our students might lead a child in an activity to demonstrate impulse control (or lack thereof), and parents are offered accompanying information about the scientific concept and what we know about it,” Winter said. “Students also recruit children and their parents/guardians to participate in interactive research studies while they’re at the museum.”

Winter said students are not only providing a valuable service to the parents and to CMoR, but they are also seeing the importance of what they’re doing and the science behind what children demonstrate.

“CMoR relies on volunteers for much of its programming, so it seems like a natural match to bring our PSYC students, so many of whom are eager for hands-on experience, into service there,” Winter said. “Learning is at the core of all that CMoR does, so learning about child learning and development fits right in and helps reinforce the educational nature of CMoR for museum visitors and personnel, as well as VCU students. Our interactive exhibits also allow excellent opportunities for a dynamic museum experience.”

Supported by a Service Learning Partnership Grant, the initiative is based on and is a localized extension of the national Living Lab initiative, which was originally funded through the National Science Foundation. After funding ended, Winter and CMoR Education Manager Jenna Petrosino began exploring ways to continue the initiative and make the model more sensitive to local needs and more sustainable long-term. Service Learning Teaching Assistant Jessica Greenlee is producing a manual for the program and for the pedagogical model it encompasses.

“We’re exploring more ways to extend SLL - to the other CMoR sites in Chesterfield and Short Pump and by applying the program more broadly to reach more families and even educators who might be able to use the model,” Winter said.

For more information, contact Dr. Winter at

Story courtesy of the VCU Division of Community Engagement

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