Sharing Expertise to Help Others
Analyzing problems and finding solutions are foundational to the liberal arts experience. Those skills were recognized last fall when Austin College received the Crusader Award from the Dallas nonprofit, Alley’s House, for outstanding service to the agency. Faculty and students of the Psychology Department developed outcome measurement tools and ongoing assessments to help the organization with fundraising and programming.
David Griffith, dean of Social Sciences, said it was an honor for Austin College to be selected for this award, which recognizes the hard work of Ian MacFarlane, assistant professor of psychology, and psychology students Amberlee Partridge ’15 and Grace Anderson ’16. “This project represents Austin College’s commitment to provide practical experiences to our students while helping to develop our community,” Griffith said.
Alley’s House provides a nurturing, stable environment to help teen mothers overcome obstacles and become thriving women through counseling, innovative learning, and workforce development. In 2013, Rachel Branaman ’01, executive director of the organization, spoke with Austin College faculty about a partnership that would help Alley’s House increase fundraising abilities and better measure successes. The first step for MacFarlane and his students was understanding what the organization does and how that service could be measured.
The group’s mission includes increasing the social and economic independence of teenage mothers. Partridge began work with an independent study to explore how the goals were being measured. She then took the lead in writing a survey tool that she and MacFarlane presented at the Southwestern Psychological Conference in April 2015. In summer 2015, Anderson began to work with MacFarlane on the project, observing the group’s client workshops and coming up with assessments to test client knowledge before and after the sessions.
“This has been a wonderful partnership,” MacFarlane said, “because we are able to provide a needed service to an organization doing critical work in the Metroplex, while our students are getting invaluable experience in real-life applications of concepts we discuss in class, plus a behind-the-scenes look at how nonprofit organizations operate.”
MacFarlane and his team are now amassing data from the program and continuing to develop ways in which the nonprofit can benchmark its services. Branaman left Alley’s House last fall; in a ’Roos-are-everywhere twist, Austin College alumna Kirsten Brandt James ’85 now leads the organization.