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Linda Powell: Helping to Effect Change for the Better

Linda Powell, Associate Professor of Psychology and Education, describes herself as a "clinical psychologist who is interested in and committed to schools." Powell is new to the Department of Leadership and Organization, coming to TC from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, where she taught courses on leadership, authority and urban schools.

In the area of research, she is involved in a number of studies focused on how organizations that work with young people can be improved. One study being done through the Carnegie Corporation of New York examines intergroup relations among young people and ways to create a new generation of tolerance. "I am looking at what educators can do to help kids by creating structures and policy," Powell said.

The research on this project will be completed in 1998 and will look at the role that adults can play in providing leadership, policies and structures that support improved relations among young people. It will also explore the impact of schools on intergroup relations and what they can do to foster improvement. The research will also investigate links among three issues: personal transformation about adult identity questions, professional development for teachers and others in leadership roles, and political efforts to make a difference for the school as an organization.

Previously, she worked with the Pew Charitable Trust on a project in Philadelphia involving an organizational and professional development model called Family Group. In this program, each student was assigned to a weekly group meeting run by a trained adult. The project involved placing relationship and community at the center of teaching and learning. In a paper that Powell wrote with Margaret Barry and Gwendolyn Y. Davis from the University of Pennsylvania, she related that, "Family group becomes a source of social support and motivation that students report helps them stay and succeed in school." She also noted that adult leaders "report that their experiences in these groups improve their teaching and encourage them to be more connected to . . . their students."

The Ms. Foundation engaged Powell as part of the evaluation team of a research and strategy approach to explore girls' strengths, called Healthy Girls/Healthy Women Initiative. It will fund 16 cutting edge programs around the country focused on empowering girls. "The developmental psychology literature suggests that something powerful happens to girls at adolescence," Powell explains. "We want to capture some sense of what keeps girls strong during adolescence. We know schools and organizations can play a huge role." The three-year project will fund researchers who will help build a body of knowledge about what works for girls. A research based on this initiative will provide research opportunities for TC students.

"My teaching is also related to my research," Powell says. She is teaching Organization and Interpersonal Behavior this semester, a course designed to focus the students on personal, interpersonal and group level dynamics as they occur in the classroom.

"A big difference in my class is that students have a lot of group relations experience," Powell explained. "Large parts of the course are spent in unstructured learning groups from a model derived at the Tavistock Institute for Human Relations in Great Britain." The Tavistock model connects psychology, systems, and social psychological theory about individuals and organizations.

Powell's most recent book, Off-White: Essays on Society, Race and Culture (Routledge Press) discusses issues of race from the perspective of understanding whiteness as a race. A co-author of the book is Michelle Fine, an alumna of TC, and contributors include Debra Noumair and Robert T. Carter, both Associate Professors of Psychology and Education in the Department of Counseling and Clinical Psychology.

Powell designed and managed human resource development programs and corporate training programs for organizations such as Corporate Education Resources, Marine Midland Bank, the National Council of Churches, and Ecumenical Women's Centers.

Why the interest in groups and group relations? "I am an only child, and all my life I have been fascinated by groups," Powell explained. "My undergraduate degree was in group communication, and I fell in love with group relations theory and methodology." She continued, "I am also interested in the link between the internal world and what people do to make organizational change. Some of that starts inside us."

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