Sometimes, inspiration is closer than you think.
Brian Oppy, a cognitive psychologist and professor in the Department of Psychology, only had to look to Sacramento State for an idea on how to address challenges facing his department in 2015. At the time, he was serving as department chair and aptly aware of the department’s understaffing, gaps between community outreach and connecting with the area’s underserved youth, and need for oversight of its internship program.
While performing a review of Sacramento State’s Department of Psychology, he realized the sister campus boasted a relatively new community psychologist, which got him thinking about how one person could possibly serve multiple roles at Chico State.
“So we conceptualized this as, ‘Let’s find somebody who does community psych, [someone] who would be excited about the internship program . . . and someone who could expand into more qualitative approaches to research,’” Oppy said.
Enter Mariah Kornbluh, whose depth of experience and passionate vision were too much for the University to ignore.
“Chico State has an exciting opportunity to bridge caring and reciprocal partnerships with the community, provide its students with rich research experiences and opportunities in service learning, and provide pathways for fostering civic engagement through meaningful connections,” Kornbluh said.
Joining the department last fall as Chico State’s first-ever community psychologist, Kornbluh leads teams of graduate and undergraduate students to draw on expertise in the areas of mental health, youth development, social networks, and rural outreach to support the community.
While the position of community psychologist is new to campus, Kornbluh has significant experience in the area. The California native did her doctoral training at Michigan State in a community psychology program, and her postdoctoral work focused on community-based research at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.
Here at Chico State, Kornbluh’s position combines laboratory research and community outreach, performed by Kornbluh and her graduate and undergraduate students. Whether working with the University’s Cross-Cultural Leadership Center or a transitional housing facility, Kornbluh’s efforts impact mostly young people, ranging from elementary school-age to college students.
“One of the core values of community psychology is to focus on social justice and service to historically disadvantaged communities,” Kornbluh said. “A key value of Chico State is civic engagement. Both in my classes and in my research, students explore issue on injustice and providing service to the community through locally based research.”
These experiences help Chico State students build their understanding of how their degrees can be used to promote social change, community engagement, and service to others, Kornbluh and Oppy agree. Add the guidance of the internship program, and Kornbluh is showcasing the energy and intangibles to make things happen, which Oppy said is one of the qualities that won him over.
“You want somebody who steps on campus and says, ‘I’m willing to jump in there with the students, I’m willing to get my hands dirty with all that needs to be done,’” Oppy said. “You need somebody who’s going to take those steps independently.”
Check, check, and check. Kornbluh has done all of those things, and currently mentors both undergraduate and graduate students. Most of Kornbluh’s students have taken a course with her or have spoken with her personally about their passions for doing research for the community.
Holly Brott, a graduate student pursuing her master’s degree in psychological science, currently works with Kornbluh on conducting a program evaluation on a shelter for homeless families. In identifying the shelter’s strengths as well as areas for improvement, Brott says the work gives shelter service providers valuable information, while lending a historically marginalized population a voice in their community.
“Working with Dr. Kornbluh has been an extremely valuable experience,” said Brott (BA, Psychology, ’15). “Applied research provides us with more information, while simultaneously helping the community.”
Strategic plans to further support the North State are currently being sketched out. Kornbluh excitedly waits to see how the role of a community psychologist—and the University’s Department of Psychology—can further engage in these efforts. For example, she has a desire to support efforts that partner with historically underserved populations, like migrant or low-income communities, with an emphasis on educational services and supports for youth and families.
“There are so many rural communities out there that would love to have a partnership with Chico State, but it’s also really hard for us to get out there,” Kornbluh said. “I think expanding that base will be a really exciting part of that process.”