Conversation with Mary Katherine Waibel Duncan of Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania
Dr. Mary Katherine Waibel Duncan is a Professor of Psychology at Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania. Over the past several years, Duncan and her colleagues Jennifer Johnson and Joan Miller have spearheaded the Good Work Initiative at Bloomsburg University, integrating ideas and frameworks from the Good Work Project into freshmen orientation sessions and classes throughout the university. In February 2015, Duncan was named the Joan and Fred Miller Distinguished Professor of Good Work, the first Good Work-related professorship of which we are aware. We recently caught up with her to talk about how Bloomsburg’s Good Work initiative is evolving and continuing to influence students.
Q: How has the Good Work Initiative at Bloomsburg University developed in the past year?
Mary Katherine: First of all, I am excited and honored that I have been named as the first Distinguished Professor of Good Work at Bloomsburg University thanks to the generosity of Joan and Fred Miller, who created the position with an endowed gift. It was such an unexpected and welcome surprise. I hope to use this occasion and the funds available to me to give Bloomsburg University students opportunities for pivotal, transformative experiences. For example, we would really love to bring students to future Good Project or Project Zero conferences to expose them to the ideas that have come out of these endeavors and inspire them to think about what Good Work means in their own experiences. Students can then translate what they have learned into presentations or projects that benefit BU and the surrounding community.
Also, somewhat unexpectedly, we have been given the chance yet again to facilitate Bloomsburg’s summer assignment for incoming freshmen, and we have of course chosen a Good Work-themed assignment based on the 3 Es (Excellence, Ethics, and Engagement). This is our fourth year organizing the assignment, meaning that all students at Bloomsburg in 2015-2016 will have been exposed to Good Work. My colleagues and I reach about 2000 incoming students each year, and we refer all of these students to the Good Work Initiative website we have created, which is a great source of material. We have not looked into how many students have visited the site, but we hope that they continue to return to this site to learn about campus-based resources that have been designed to support their pursuit of Good Work. Through the Good Work Initiative, we want students to reflect upon and to better understand the challenges and opportunities they have to do Good Work as undergraduates and beyond.
Q: What are the biggest challenges to doing Good Work for students, faculty members, and administrators at Bloomsburg?
Mary Katherine: Although we have seen progress in how our students conceptualize Good Work, there is still more we can do to foster deeper connections. We recently surveyed sophomores and seniors in the Department of Psychology at Bloomsburg about their pursuit of Good Work, and we found that while respondents mentioned values/beliefs as motivators, a sense of purpose was not discussed, and little thought was given to horizontal support from peers. We also noted that students face obstacles to doing Good Work, mostly in the form of impediments to short-term goals, including time constraints, the stress of heavy course loads, and social distractions. We are thinking about how we can help students overcome these challenges.
We’re also encouraged by the number of faculty who have integrated Good Work into their courses. Faculty have led the workshops during our Welcome Weekend (freshmen orientation) sessions. When professors tell students that they also struggle to make sense of what is “right” in particular situations, it makes them more personable and less intimidating. We want students to feel like professors are approachable resources for help and information.
Q: How will Bloomsburg’s Good Work Initiative be expanding in the coming months and years?
Mary Katherine: We have been thinking about ways to continue the influence of Good Work at Bloomsburg beyond the Summer Assignment and Welcome Weekend workshop by injecting it into existing programs and courses, which will allow us to continue to have an impact on students throughout their college experience. In the past, we have hung Good Work posters in dorms and campus buildings as daily reminders of our shared goals and ideals. Some professors have placed references to Good Work in their syllabi after coming to talks that Jennifer Johnson or I have done on the topic. We also have students who have approached us, particularly in the psychology department, to ask about how they can do Good Work in certain tricky or ethically “grey” situations. Furthermore, we have a few students every year who do research and presentations on Good Work as a part of senior capstone projects. Eventually, it would be interesting to follow up with alumnae about how the program has had an effect on their personal and professional lives after graduation.
I am happy to say that we are in the process of tying Good Work to the meaning of our school motto “Unleash Your Inner Husky” (the husky is Bloomsburg’s mascot). When someone asks, “What does it mean to be a Husky at Bloomsburg?”, we want the answer to be tied to the definition of Good Work: Excellence, Ethics, and Engagement. We are planning on making videos of outstanding students who embody Good Work and playing these on the monitors throughout campus as exemplars for other students. There are many other avenues we can pursue to further integrate Good Work into the Bloomsburg experience as well. In the meantime, I will continue to embed the message of Good Work into my on- and off-campus speaking engagements.