by Leah Wilkinson

Imagine participating in a class that not only provides you with real-world scenarios, but real-world experience. Through collaboration with several community partners, Dr. Courtney Keim’s Organizational Behavior and Leadership psychology course provides helpful information that allows efficiency and effectiveness in the workplace.

This spring will be Keim’s fourth semester teaching the class at Bellarmine.

“In some of my other classes I might have a pretend consulting project, where I might give the students information about a case study or an organization I make up, but with this class what I try to do is give the students a project that is meaningful not just to their own learning but to the community partner we work with,” Keim said.

Keim said she believes it’s important to give students more than just textbook scenarios and instead provide the opportunity to apply the learned concepts in an impactful way. Past community partners include Norton, Youth Detention Services, and the Department of Public Health and Wellness.

“We want to do something that’s going to be meaningful to [the students], and so I think that’s what makes [this class] different — having that applied piece but also the real-world application of the concepts they’re learning in class,” Keim said.

Junior Brianna Bragg, a communication and health services major, took the class in spring 2020.

“Since I’m interested in healthcare and I knew they were working with Norton, for me that was something really exciting,” Bragg said.

Keim said although the majority of students who take the class are either psychology or health services majors — or students who fulfill credit for a psych minor — students with junior standing or those who have instructor permission can register for the class.

“I have this interesting mix,” Keim said.

Keim tries to find partners that work for each major. She said her classroom is roughly split evenly between psychology and health services majors. She chose to partner with the Department of Public Health and Wellness one semester in hopes the partnership would give health services majors the opportunity to put to use the experience they’ve gained in their program.

“I specifically chose that community partner because I thought it would be relevant to students who were health services majors — that they would be able to bring their expertise and their knowledge to better the consulting project that we would be working on with the health department,” Keim said. “We created a leadership training program for the health department.”

Senior Colleen Begley, a psychology major who also took the class in spring 2020, said she enjoyed learning more about leadership and how that applies to specific workplaces.

“Leadership is something you think you know a lot about until you really kind of delve deeper into the theory that backs it and the various types of leadership, and leadership itself has strengths and weaknesses, and you wouldn’t recognize that immediately unless you really took a look into it deeper,” Begley said.

Begley said the specific leadership focus was on individuals within the workplace.

“You think about the individualistic parts of leadership, and that just gives you a better idea of how interpersonal connections really play a role in the leadership,” Begley said.

Keim said the project the class worked on last semester was for the collaborative care model at Norton, which now includes a therapist, a social worker, a psychiatrist and a general practitioner who all work together to take care of a patient.

“So, you go into your primary care doctor who is a doctor within the Norton system and you’re there for a check-up or you’re there because you hurt your arm, but through that conversation you tell your doctor that you’re also having issues with anxiety or depression,” Keim said. 

Keim said with telehealth, there’s already a social worker or psychiatrist placed in that office who can help with therapy and medication.

Keim said to progress this model, Norton was moving toward telehealth and teletherapy. Keim said the class’ job was to teach the workers how to use Zoom as a way of administering therapy.

“Some of these people who were social workers had a lot of experience providing therapy but they didn’t have a lot of technological experiences and skills, and they were trying to reach people who lived in Shelbyville and places all over the county, so to be able to do telehealth was going to be so critical, and then all of a sudden COVID happened and now all therapy is happening via Zoom,” Keim said.

Bragg said she believes not many people knew about Zoom prior to the pandemic.

“It was really weird at the time because we started this project in January, so this was before COVID, and no one had heard of Zoom at all,” Bragg said. “And then like three months later [Zoom] was all anyone could talk about, so it was just really neat to be kind of like an instrumental part of like preparing for the unknown because we didn’t know what was coming.”

Bragg said although there were several smaller groups working on specific research or surveys, the whole group collaborated frequently.

“It’s interesting in the fact that the whole class works together,” Bragg said. “I mean we obviously had different groups but all of us had to work together in order for [the project] to make sense.”

Bragg said the class communicated with Norton employees to see what tools would help them most.

“[One group] ended up creating a survey to send out to the actual employees so we could collect data about what their experiences were with Zoom and how they felt about the overall organizational culture, and that information really helped us form our project,” Bragg said.

Bragg said she was a part of the communication group, whose goal was getting users to buy into the online concepts.

Keim said the class’ help was needed immediately when things quickly changed due to the pandemic.

“My contact at Bellarmine who’s actually a Bellarmine alum, contacted me and said ‘I need what your students are doing. I need what they have done right now. We have to give this to our social workers right now,’ so it was like immediate applicability,” Keim said. “What my students were building was needed by the organization immediately, and so we were able to gather that and we were able to send it to them and they were able to use it.”

Begley said the class taught her to look at a project as a whole and not just one step at a time.

“You have to be able to look beyond the present moment and your wants and desires for a project and you have to be able to just look at the greater picture,” she said.

Begley said she’s confident the group’s project was very helpful to Norton.

Hayley Davis, a Bellarmine alum and former student of Keim’s who’s now a practice supervisor at Norton Behavioral Medicine, said the students provided useful tools to her team.

“Ultimately, we were able to take a lot of what the students suggested and implement that into how our department was growing and how we were adding onto it,” Davis said.

Davis said there were a couple of little things her team was not able to use due to working as a part of a big organization and under administrators who make those decisions

“But, what’s good about it is we can even take that to the administrators that are above us and say, ‘Hey, we had this perspective brought in from some Bellarmine students who are pretty sharp. What if we implemented this instead of the current process?’ and so those suggestions were really really appreciated,” Davis said.

Davis said when Keim reached out to her, Davis thought it was a good idea for the students to be a part of this decision-making process.

“I was like ‘Absolutely. This would be a great opportunity to get some fresh eyes on what we’re doing and make sure that as we’re setting things up we’re doing it the right way so we don’t have to go back and fix it later,’” Davis said.

Dr. Keim said a difference between this class and others is that there are always unknowns.

“[Students] want that very detailed instruction, and this class is a lot more nebulous,” Keim said. “Some of it is unknown — things will change — and for me, I find that to be very exciting because that’s what a real-world consulting project is like.”

Although Keim said she does know who future community partners will be, she said potential partnerships could either align with the university’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion initiatives or involve organizations that are looking to maintain psychologically healthy workplaces in the midst of COVID-19.

Students can find the class by searching “PSYC-402” in the course catalog.

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The only math I enjoy is eating + sleeping.

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