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Community-Based Research

"Interning at Eagle's Nest, creating and conducting my own research project, and complementing the academic training I received with hands-on experience was the perfect combination of service and research."

Lainey Johnson '16 Eagle's Nest Clubhouse, Buena Vista

For a student so engaged in the Rockbridge area, taking on a community-based research (CBR) project was the ideal way for Lainey Johnson '16 to expand her research skills while supporting a local agency's need for a well-conducted program assessment.

Johnson's project was embedded in a Psychology independent study and supported by the Community-Academic Research Alliance (CARA), which nurtures research partnerships between W&L students and faculty, and non-profits in the community to address pressing challenges.

Last fall, Johnson interned at the Eagle's Nest Clubhouse, a community-based mental health facility in Buena Vista that utilizes the clubhouse model to support people with severe and persistent mental illnesses. Clubhouse participants are referred to as "members" and take part in restorative activities that focus on their strengths and abilities, not their illness.

"I decided that this project would be the best culmination of my Shepherd internship and my psychology research experience," said Johnson, a psychology major and poverty minor. "Interning at Eagle's Nest, creating and conducting my own research project, and complementing the academic training I received with hands-on experience was the perfect combination of service and research."

The goal of Johnson's community-based research project was to complete a consumer satisfaction report of four primary aspects of the Eagle's Nest: personal experience in the program, overall program satisfaction, satisfaction with clubhouse staff, and personal growth, empowerment, and contribution.

Johnson worked with Eagle's Nest Program Director Phil Floyd to determine aspects of the survey that would be especially helpful for him and the program. Dr. Karla Murdock, Johnson's mentor in the psychology department, provided suggestions for developing the survey and methodology for conducting research with a vulnerable population.

During the five hours each week she spent at Eagle's Nest, Johnson enjoyed productive, one-on-one conversations with program participants, an experience that allowed her to learn more about the intricacies of conducting off-campus research with populations that require special care and intention.

"Reading about and researching the benefits of mental health facilities and treatment using the clubhouse model was fascinating, but hearing from program participants themselves about how they perceived the benefits of clubhouse participation was more meaningful than any research study or article," said Johnson. "Completing this project alongside my direct service at Eagle's Nest helped the project to be intentional and productive, too."

Johnson hopes Floyd and his Eagle's Nest colleagues will benefit from the information she gathered from participants in the program. Her final report included suggestions for program enhancements, slight changes she hopes will make a significant difference for clubhouse members.

There is no doubt that partnering with Eagle's Nest on a CBR has had a profound impact on Johnson. "I feel such a powerful sense of gratitude to Phil Floyd and members of the Eagle's Nest community for helping to train and mentor W&L students like Lainey," said Murdock. "Multiple generations of W&L students have been given the opportunity to intern at the Eagle's Nest, a luxury which has launched them into their future lives of service with a multidimensional perspective of issues surrounding mental health, mental illness, and rehabilitation."

Because of the time spent with the Eagle's Nest members, Johnson became more than a researcher but also a friend. The depth of the community she experienced at Eagle's Nest demonstrated to her the importance and effectiveness of the clubhouse experience to those who take part. Johnson said she also realized the important role CARA plays in providing students with rich experiential learning as researchers and consultants, while also having meaningful impact in the community.

"This is the beauty of CBR," explained Alessandra Dickovick, who helps coordinate CARA projects. "Community-based research allows students to apply skills they've learned in their classes and service work to very concrete situations with real-world nuances. It gives depth to a student's academic and professional experience, while also addressing a community-identified need."

Lainey Johnson '16 Eagle's Nest Clubhouse, Buena Vista

Hometown: Charlotte, NC

Major: Psychology

Minor: Poverty Studies

Extracurricular Involvement:

  • RA
  • Bonner Scholar
  • Psychology research assistant
  • Volunteer Venture leader (2013)

Off-Campus Experiences:

  • Eagle's Nest internship
  • Girls on the Run coach
  • Saturday's Child activity director

Favorite W&L Memory: Snow days!

Favorite Class: Martin Luther King Jr.: Poverty, Justice, and Love with Dr. Howard Pickett

Favorite W&L Event: The Souper Bowl

What's your passion? Equality for all human beings

What's something people wouldn't guess about you? I'm a huge Harry Potter fanatic

Why did you choose W&L? The size and location, relationships with professors, and the Shepherd program

Why did you choose your major? To gain a better understanding of how we as people operate and interact with each other

What professor has inspired you? There have been so many! Particularly Dr. Karla Murdock and Dr. Howard Pickett

Advice for prospective or first-year students? Take advantage of the area and time off-campus just as much as on-campus opportunities

What do you wish you'd known before you came to campus? It actually takes a long time hike from Wilson to the Science Center. Avoid back-to-back classes.

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Service learning is also an important component of many of our academic programs. Students in the Shepherd Program for the Interdisciplinary Study of Poverty and Human Capability combine academic study with co-curricular work and rigorous internships to learn about issues related to poverty. Students with a variety of majors volunteer in the local public schools and participate in service-minded co-curricular programs, including Washington and Lee Student Consulting and the General Development Initiative.

At an institutional level, Washington and Lee is committed to the local community through an ongoing grants program that provides financial assistance to worthwhile projects and organizations.

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246,339 meals served to food-insecure families and individuals by the Campus Kitchen at W&L to date.
64,079 hours of community service logged by W&L students last year.
W&L has awarded local nonprofit organizations $332,542 through its Community Grants Program since 2008.
13 W&L graduates joined the Teach for America corps in 2014, making the university one of the top 20 small colleges and universities sending graduates into teaching service for the second straight year.
W&L has 472 varsity student athletes, with over 75% of the student body participating in organized sports at the intramural, club or varsity level.
95% of the student body is involved in the nationally renowned quadrennial Mock Convention.

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