Citizen Professional: the term and a story

By William J. Doherty

We need a new crop of citizen professionals coming out of our colleges and universities.  The term citizen professional emphasizes the role of professionals in rebuilding the civic life of communities in addition to their traditional role in providing specialized services to individuals.  It moves beyond the late 20th century notion of the professional as a detached expert who informs other citizens but is not informed by them, who critiques social systems but does act to change these systems, and who sees patients, clients and communities in terms of their needs and not their capacities for individual and collective action.

Citizen professionalism is mainly an identity: seeing oneself first as a citizen with special expertise working alongside other citizens with their own special expertise in order to solve community problems that require everyone’s effort.  This not just an idealistic self-image but comes from a grounded realization that the really big problems in health care, education, and social welfare—sometimes known as “wicked problems”– cannot be solved by professionals working alone, nor by government action alone.  We will not make headway against the tide unless we all row together.

Here’s a short video describing the transformation of a student’s ideas about her future professional work after taking a course in Citizen Professional Work with Families and Communities.

William J. Doherty, Ph.D. is a professor in the Department of Family Social Science and director of the Citizen Professional Center at the University of Minnesota.  He leads the Citizen Health Care and Families and Democracy Projects, which are developing the theory and practice of civic action by families and democratic public work by professionals.  He and his colleagues currently have implemented 15 grass roots organizing projects among parents and other citizens around cultural, health, and community issues of importance to families.  These projects range from the cultural discontents of middle class families (overscheduling, out-of-control birthday parties) to challenges of urban single fathers, from health care problems among American Indians to the enduring effects of war and trauma on an African immigrant community.  For descriptions and publications, see  Bill is also a practicing family therapist, does frequent media interviews to promote cultural change, and is past president of the National Council on Family Relations.

Improving the welfare of animals in Baltimore City

By Kelly Cyr

I started volunteering at the Baltimore Animal Rescue and Care Shelter (BARCS) in the fall of my sophomore year in college. I was enrolled in the 096 Practicum, and picked BARCS as the site to get my 30 hours of service. I attended an orientation at the site in September, but due to a short amount of dog walking trainers and conflicts between my schedule and theirs, I wasn’t able to start volunteering on my own until November. Because of this, I was stressed out trying to cram my 30 hours into a month. The site also didn’t benefit from regular service on my part throughout the semester, because I had to cram it all into one month.

During the fall of my junior year, one of the Shriver vans became free on Saturdays and was offered to me to drive students to BARCS (prior to this, transportation had never been provided to the shelter). I agreed to drive students, and the site allowed me to train the UMBC students to walk the dogs there. Because I was now able to train students to walk the dogs and provided transportation for them once a week, students were able to get their training in earlier and could volunteer on their own for a longer period of time. This benefitted students because they no longer had to worry about getting into trainings in time and having to cram their 30 hours into the last month of the semester. It also allowed students who don’t have their own transportation to be able to volunteer at the shelter. It benefitted BARCS because they now had about 8 volunteers committed to coming to the shelter once a week and able to volunteer for the entire semester.

BARCS is now one of the most popular sites for UMBC students to do service at. I now drive about 18 students to the site two days a week. I’ve streamlined my trainings so that I can get students volunteering on their own as quickly as possible. This has been very helpful for the site. Every day I bring students there, all of the dogs get walked and most if not all of the cats get socialized, which greatly increases their chances of being adopted.

I am very glad to be able to bring this many students to the shelter. BARCS is doing great work in improving the welfare of animals in Baltimore City, and I love that I can be a part of that. I also enjoy knowing that the students who come to BARCS are being educated on the importance of improving the welfare of animals. This experience has greatly improved my leadership skills and confidence in my ability to create change on my campus and in my community.

Kelly Cyr is a senior biological science major at UMBC and plans on applying to veterinary school. She also plans on continuing to volunteer at BARCS after graduation.