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Spotlight - Dr. Laura Boltz - Faculty

July 18, 2022 (Monday)
Written by: Kerrigan Clark

Dr. Laura Boltz has extensive experience working with the community, but the fall of 2022 marks the first year she taught the community-engaged learning course "Social Work Practice II". The course was designed to provide students with the opportunity to practice interpersonal communication skills in a group setting, dealing with the different stages the group might go through, and ways to effectively lead groups.

The class was divided into two parts, beginning with class lectures. Students then transition to a class discussion before breaking off into groups to work on planning for their teaching day or heading to the Boys and Girls Club where they lead sessions with 4th and 5th grade students. The young students were taught about self-esteem, the best way to treat others, how to improve their feelings about themselves, as well as how to best treat their friends. One example that the social work students included in their lessons was a web of yarn activity. The kids stood in a circle with a ball of yarn that was passed between them. Each time the yarn was passed, a student held onto a piece and said a nice thing about the person that the yarn was passed to. The yarn activity created a web, illustrating the impact that kind words can have on our peers.

Boltz found it important for the students to not only receive instruction about social work through lectures and discussions but to also experience interactions with different types of groups. "There are a lot of things we can prepare for in the classroom but there are a lot more things that are better to be experienced," Boltz said. "That's why I think this class fits so well with community engagement. There are a lot of things that group members may say or do that it's impossible to discuss all the ways that things could happen and so this gives them a chance to really experience it."

Not only did the social work undergraduates benefit from the community-engaged aspect of this course, so did the 4th and 5th grade students. Boltz discussed how many 4th and 5th graders don't regularly interact with college students, and the interactions help to show that Mississippi State is not in its own bubble and that the university and its organizations are actively seeking to help the surrounding community. Social work student, Bryanna Young, stressed the feeling of community and bonding that she discovered while participating in the program. "This class modeled the importance of community engagement through the bonds and interactions that we, as MSU students, were able to form with children in the community. With these interactions, we learned a lot more about various community resources, the local school system, and the thoughts and opinions of elementary students from the community that we never would have had access to otherwise."

Boltz reflected on the course expressing how much the students have learned and experienced through the process. "I felt that it was something that they were remembering and enjoying and that's really something that they're taking to heart. It's something that the students get time prepping for and preparing and having to work with their group members and then also providing skills to the kids. It ends up being a group within a group since the students are in groups of 4 and they have to present together, they learn things about group interaction as a part of a student group and then also group interaction as they lead the group of kids too. So, there are a lot of different ways we're able to incorporate the information we talk about in the class in different ways."

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