Abstract: (Withdrawn) Equipping Students to Create Social Change: A Mixed Methods Evaluation of an Interdisciplinary Social Impact Fellowship Program (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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(Withdrawn) Equipping Students to Create Social Change: A Mixed Methods Evaluation of an Interdisciplinary Social Impact Fellowship Program

Friday, January 13, 2023
Valley of the Sun B, 2nd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Michael Lynch, MSW, Clinical Assistant Professor, University at Buffalo, SUNY, Buffalo, NY
Elizabeth Bowen, PhD, Associate Professor, State University of New York at Buffalo, Buffalo, NY
Background and Purpose: Modern problems such as social work’s Grand Challenges are complex, multifaceted, and challenging to solve. Scholars are increasingly applying the concept of social innovation as a path to addressing social issues. Social innovation is an interdisciplinary framework for producing social change that requires creativity, problem-solving skills, and collaboration across systems. Currently, there is a gap in the research base concerning how to effectively teach social innovation skills and principles in social work education. This presentation begins to fill that gap by evaluating a 10-week summer fellowship program in which MSW, MBA, and graduate students in the humanities and social sciences worked together in interdisciplinary teams on social innovation projects hosted by community organizations. The evaluation focused on three research questions: (1) What social innovation-related learning outcomes were associated with participating in the fellowship?; (2) How did the use of multiple pedagogical approaches in the fellowship shape students’ learning and overall experience and impressions of the program?; and (3) In what ways did participating in the fellowship affect students’ future career goals and planned trajectories?

Methods: We used quantitative and qualitative course evaluation data completed by fellowship students in 2018 and 2019 to answer the research questions. Students voluntarily completed a pre-program evaluation during the first week of the fellowship and a post-evaluation immediately following the program’s conclusion. We conducted paired t-tests (n=39) to analyze the change in quantitative data from a set of close-ended questions on the pre and post-assessments measuring students’ knowledge and confidence levels on social innovation-related domains (e.g., awareness of social problems; ability to apply design thinking; comfort working in interdisciplinary teams). We also coded students’ responses on open-ended questions for qualitative themes about the program experience and impact.

Findings: Paired t-tests indicated statistically significant increases (p<.05) in several domains, including students’ comfort in working with peers across disciplines, ability to understand social problems from a systems perspective, and ability to apply design thinking for creative problem-solving. Qualitative findings suggested that field-based learning was critical to students’ growth and that the program influenced students’ career plans, mainly through making students across disciplines aware of a wider range of avenues to work toward social change. MSW students expressed increased awareness of how their skills can complement those of students from other disciplines.

Conclusion and Implications: The findings suggest that an interdisciplinary social innovation fellowship program is a feasible model for teaching social work students core skills and concepts for innovation and providing students with opportunities to apply their learning in real-time. Such skills will be critical to enable future social workers to collaborate across disciplines to address the Grand Challenges and other pressing social issues in innovative and sustainable ways. Future research should build from the present study to incorporate comparative evaluations to gauge the relative effectiveness of different models of teaching social innovation skills; analyze outcomes by student discipline and other subgroups; and utilize multiple methods including qualitative, quantitative, and participatory approaches.