Q&A With Mary Katherine Duncan and Jennifer Johnson of the Bloomsburg University GoodWork Initiative
At Bloomsburg University, one of the public institutions of higher education in Pennsylvania, colleagues have been spreading the message of “good work” since 2011. The Bloomsburg GoodWork Initiative involves a number of interrelated efforts, including an orientation activity for new students on “good work” defined by the three Es (excellence, ethics, and engagement), workshops, courses, and student research.
The Initiative is spearheaded by Mary Katherine Duncan, Joan and Fred Miller Distinguished Professor of Good Work, and Jennifer Johnson, Associate Professor, both in Bloomsburg’s Department of Psychology. Below, we ask them several questions about their projects, what led them to champion “good work,” and their challenges and successes.
We hope that others planning or working on similar pursuits can learn from their example.
Q: With the Bloomsburg University (BU) GoodWork Initiative now well-established, how has the program evolved over time?
Mary Katherine: We began the BU Good Work Initiative on a large scale with a campus-wide introduction to the concept of Good Work through guest lectures, faculty workshops, and a website. Then, we sought to embed the concept of Good Work into existing programming. For example, we used the three Es (excellence, ethics, and engagement) of Good Work to introduce incoming first-year students to the expectations of our academic community. Since 2011, we have designed, implemented, and assessed mandatory summer reading assignments, freshmen orientation workshops, and first year seminars. We are currently assessing a Good Work-inspired online module for all incoming first-year students.
Over the last few years, we have concentrated our efforts on examining factors that motivate and challenge psychology majors’ pursuit of excellent, ethical, and engaged academic work. Interestingly, our findings align with the American Psychological Association’s principles for a quality undergraduate education, as well as the national organization’s guidelines for implementing a distinguished undergraduate program in psychology.
Over the years, we’ve been fortunate to be able to share our successes (and lessons learned) through publications in scholarly, peer-reviewed journals. In addition, we hope that these data will inform programmatic and curricular developments as we strive to offer undergraduates a distinguished program of study in psychology.
Jennifer: Thinking back on our efforts, I would say there has been an ebb and flow between promoting Good Work to a wide audience across campus and learning more about Good Work within our specific department of Psychology. I would say the Bloomsburg University Good Work initiative started as a university-wide effort; we wanted the Good Work message to reach as many students and faculty/staff members as possible. We worked through several years of revisions as we created an online Good Work-inspired module that incoming first-year students complete before coming to campus. I’m happy to say that the first-year module is now a permanent part of first-year orientation to BU. We also worked several years on creating an initiative website, with resources for students and faculty/staff members. As the initiative progressed, we found some of what we were doing to promote Good Work to a wide audience was difficult to sustain. We’ve had to cut back on some parts, such as organizing Good Work-inspired workshops for first-year students and offering presentations to our faculty/staff colleagues. That was when we started to focus our energy on researching factors that motivate and challenge Good Work in our Psychology majors. Now that we have that information, I think we might move our initiative back out to a broader audience now that we have new information to share.
Q: Can you share a memorable moment, story, or realization from your work over the years?
Mary Katherine: One of the most memorable moments on this journey occurred years ago when Jennifer and I attended a meeting with high-level administrators from the Office of Academic Affairs and the Office of Student Affairs. One of the administrators recognized that the broadly applicable concept of Good Work created a unique opportunity to bridge Academic Affairs and Student Affairs in higher education. It was an important “all in” moment.
Jennifer: I always get excited when I mention Good Work to students and they remember learning about it through the first-year online module. I specifically remember one time that Mary Katherine and I were getting coffee on campus: we were talking about Good Work, and a couple of students overheard us. The students recognized what we were talking about and told us how they found the Good Work message to be inspiring. We were thrilled!
Q: How does the GoodWork Initiative fit into your professional interests? Why does it resonate for you?
Mary Katherine: I have long held that the mission of higher education is to educate for purpose. I agree with Bill Damon that good workers are often people of purpose. To the extent that we are able to assist young men and women in identifying their aspirations and activities that align with their self-selected personal/professional/civic goals, we have achieved part of the mission of higher education. The mission, however, is not complete without also fostering an understanding of and competence in pursuing purpose vis-a-vis the three Es (excellence, ethics, engagement) of the Good Work model.
Jennifer: Ethics has always been important to me, and the Good Work model provides a great framework for conversations about ethical behavior. I hope to continue to find ways to increase ethical work on campus through the BU Good Work Initiative.
Q: How do you see students reacting to the GoodWork Initiative?
Mary Katherine: One of our mottos is, “No one rises to low expectations.” The three Es of the Good Work model, when explained in clear, concrete ways, as well as through case studies and students’ own anecdotes, sets the bar high. Undergraduates report being inspired by the challenge to pursue academic Good Work; empowered by having clear expectations for their performance as a member of our academic community, and grateful for the opportunity to reflect on the quality of their own academic work. About 2 years ago, our department, college, and university approved a Good Work-inspired upper-division psychology course which may be taken in partial fulfillment of the requirements of the psychology major or minor. A permanent addition to the University’s course catalog, PSYCH 327 Positive Psychology is offered at least one per year, and it enrolls up to 30 students per section. The students seem to have an insatiable desire to learn more about this topic, often commenting that they wish they had taken the course earlier in their academic careers.
Jennifer: Our research findings have shown time and again that students find value in learning about Good Work. However, I do worry that our students only have one guaranteed exposure to the Good Work message through the embedded online module for first-year orientation. It is a module that students complete in addition to many other modules and requirements before starting at Bloomsburg University. It would be easy for the Good Work message to be lost. Mary Katherine and I will be working this year to find ways to embed the Good Work message into other university-wide initiatives.
Q: What do you hope that students take away from their participation?
Mary Katherine: I hope that students develop a habit of reflection and an understanding of the importance of periodically considering anew what it means to do academic Good Work within their respective discipline. I want them to know that they have an obligation to look up from the path they are on and recognize that they can determine whether they continue walking down this path or pivot in a new direction. In terms of engagement, “What really matters to me and why? What brings me a sense of enjoyment or fulfillment?” In terms of excellence, “What do I know or do really well? How do I know that my work is exceptional?” In terms of ethics, “To what extent am I using my knowledge or skills to elevate others (family members, colleagues, neighbors) or to contribute in a meaningful way to institutions with which I am affiliated (my school or workplace) or to society as a whole? In other words, how does my work benefit the good?”
Jennifer: I hope they gain a framework for examining their own and others’ work. I also hope that students see the value of the Good Work message and infuse excellence, ethics, and engagement into their life-long personal and professional pursuits.
Q: What challenges or puzzles are you currently facing?
Mary Katherine: Our biggest challenge is how to embed the message more fully into curricular and extracurricular activities across the University. It is challenging to find a group of individuals to take the mantle and embed the message of Good Work into existing programming or daily practices. Unfortunately, the perpetuation of the message of Good Work is sometimes lost in the day-to-day business and business of University life. In addition, it has been challenging to preserve the integrity of the Good Work message. For example, the concept of Good Work is sometimes misinterpreted through different constituencies’ idiosyncratic translations of each of the Es or misrepresented through well-meaning attempts to inform undergraduates about this “heady” topic through edutainment (education + entertainment). One way to counter these challenges may be to regularly profile and showcase role models of Good Work at our University (e.g. current students, faculty, staff, or alumni). We fully understand the challenge of this task, as good workers tend not to seek or enjoy being in the spotlight.
Jennifer: Faculty members at our university have a heavy teaching load (4 courses per semester) and everyone (including us!) is so busy. It’s difficult to find the time to keep old initiatives going and even harder to find the time to get new initiatives started. We were able to build a team of Good Work advocates on campus in the first few years of the initiative, but it was challenging to maintain those relationships. We had hoped faculty members would embed Good Work messages into their courses but also understand that people may not have a lot of flexibility in terms of the content of their courses. It is also possible that faculty and staff on campus have infused the Good Work message into their courses, but we are unaware of it.
Q: Where do you see the GoodWork Initiative going in the next few years? What is your vision for the future?
Mary Katherine: I would like the work that we have done on identifying psychology majors’ motivators and challenges to academic good work to continue informing curricular and extracurricular programmatic developments in our department. Our first attempts at studying these motivators and challenges have left us with more questions than answers and a program of research for years to come. In addition, any programs that are designed and implemented as a result of these data would require assessment over the long term. Ultimately, I can imagine sharing our research methodology (measures, procedures, coding rubrics), findings, and research-informed developments with other departments at the University.
I also am in the process of taking the message of Good Work into the community vis-à-vis elementary school and middle school-based programming.
Jennifer: After spending the past few years researching factors that motivate and challenge Psychology majors’ pursuit of Good Work, I think we will move our focus outward to the campus community again.
Q: What makes the concept of “Good Work” attractive to an institution of higher education like Bloomsburg University?
Mary Katherine: In my opinion, the Good Work model is attractive because of its versatility. Whether a student subscribes to the transactional mission of higher education (i.e. prepare for the workplace) or the transformative mission of higher education (i.e. personal/civic development), the message of Good Work is relevant to and congruent with their goal of obtaining a baccalaureate degree.
I also think the concept of Good Work is attractive insofar as it helps students to more fully appreciate the expectations of the University’s constituents. That is, students who are admitted to Bloomsburg University have been “stamped for success” by all those who contribute to the operations of the institution. The Good Work message conveys to students that they are expected to work hard… not to obtain incentives, but to gain expertise and, with it, credibility. They are expected to make good choices… not to avoid trouble, but to elevate others. They are expected to get involved… not for a line on the resume, but to achieve a sense of fulfillment that comes with doing what you do best every day. Just as our students have every reason to believe that faculty, staff, and administrators are committed to pursuing Good Work, the University’s constituents have every right to expect that students will pursue Good Work for the good of the Good.
Q: What advice might you offer someone who might be interested in starting a similar initiative at their institution?
Mary Katherine: A bottoms-up approach (department-level) seems to be more manageable, productive, and fulfilling.
Jennifer: Find a small group of committed people to work with. Find high impact ways to reach as broad an audience as possible.