What Nora Miller wants her students to know about community psychology is that it doesn’t take a village. It takes individuals—one person at a time, capable of building relationships among people around the corner and across the world.
“I want them to understand ways that people and their natural environment are interrelated,” Miller said of the dozen or so students who make the trek from APU in January to Malawi in southeast Africa. “I hope our students leave Malawi knowing more about how to make themselves useful and integrated into a community in just three weeks.”
A world traveler who lived and studied in Hong Kong, touring by bicycle across Asia for 13 months and earning a degree in Chinese, Miller leads an applied course in community psychology that includes a three-week expedition to Malawi, among the world’s least-developed nations.
In addition to this year’s trip, Miller has led the course in 2007 and 2011. She makes full use of APU’s block scheduling: In addition to reading, writing and classroom discussion before travel, students are graded on their ability to develop and carry out projects in Malawi that demonstrate understanding of ways that community psychology contributes to human well-being.
It’s a challenging task in a country where she and her students walk three miles a day on a dirt road to catch the bus—only to find themselves crowded into the back along with chickens, fish and corn. Determined to work with a local artist on a huge mural, Miller’s students improvised paint rollers out of bamboo.
They’ve traveled to villages for a research project to measure growth rates of orphans. One student organized a portrait project, making frames and taking photos of people who’d never seen their likenesses before. An APU- led dance class introduced Gangnam Style moves from Korea.
“Over the years, APU students have done amazing things, empowering things,” Miller said. A club held at a local high school and aimed at instilling self-reliance attracted some 200 girls a day. A running group begun by APU students in 2011 was still going strong in 2013. Realizing that girls were staying away because they’re not allowed to run in shorts, APU students made skirts that permit freedom of movement while upholding local customs of attire.
As they work to understand Malawians and carry out projects that suit the peoples’ needs, APU students also learn about themselves and their ability to develop rela- tionships to achieve common goals.
“Community psychology is active learning on every level,” Miller said.
By Rosanne Pagano — This article originally appeared in the APU Summit Magazine, Summer 2013.