Chase Ochrach, a fourth-year PhD student in UW-Madison’s counseling psychology program, became the first recipient of the Excellence in Community-based Learning Teaching Award.
The 2021 Campus-Wide TA Awards gave out the new accolade for the first time this year to honor teaching assistants who have displayed exceptional work in courses using the Community-based Learning (CBL) approach.
CBL courses integrate at least 25 hours of community engagement into course content. Ochrach says CBL courses are unique because they provide a practical way for students to take what they learn in class and apply it in the real world.
“If you’re going to learn something about people, how people function and how to help people, you really need to get out there and actually work with those people,” Ochrach says. “There’s only so much you can really learn from a textbook or from a lecture in a classroom setting about how people work.”
Ochrach’s research and clinical work focuses on individuals who are currently incarcerated or have been released from incarceration, with a particular interest in working with formerly incarcerated youth.
Ochrach brings this passion for working with young people to her teaching assistant position with a CBL course that supports BASES (Building Academic, Social, and Emotional Supports) – a community-based intervention program designed to provide support and mentorship for young children experiencing homelessness.
“UW students go into the schools at the same day and time every week for at least one hour to provide any kind of support the elementary students need, whether that’s help with homework, whether that’s somebody to talk to or somebody to play with at recess,” Ochrach says. “Whatever it is, they are kind of just like buddies.”
BASES, which is founded and currently led by Morgridge Center Faculty Director Travis Wright, has allowed more than 400 students to work with over 450 young children experiencing homelessness in the Madison Metropolitan School District. Since its founding in 2014, BASES has provided more than 9,000 hours of direct community service.
As a TA for the course, Ochrach grades the assignments for the course and fills typical TA responsibilities while serving as a liaison between the BASES program and the school sites where UW students mentor children. Ochrach also became the primary instructor for the course when Wright went on sabbatical.
Ochrach says BASES motivates students to continue pursuing their fields with vigor. Through working with children experiencing homelessness, Ochrach says students learn a lot by engaging with community members they might have otherwise never met.
“Students can be partnered with a five year old kid who tells them about some really difficult, challenging things they are facing in their personal life,” Ochrach explains. “I think that our mentors always report kind of finding a new awareness about the issues going on in our community and about homelessness, as well as confronting their own privilege through this process.”
For Ochrach personally, BASES drives home all the aspects that attracted her to counseling psychology. The relationships developed through BASES mirror the kinds of connections Ochrach hopes to make throughout her career.
After the spring semester ends, Ochrach will begin her predoctoral clinical internship position in Washington state. She will be working in a state hospital in a forensic psychology position, where she will continue to work with adults and juveniles impacted by the criminal justice system.
While Ochrach was the first person to receive the CBL TA Award, she hopes the award continues to raise awareness in the future about the impact CBL courses have on the Madison community.
“I hope that the more times this award is given out and the more focus and energy is given into promoting CBL courses, that more students – when they’re planning their course schedule and see what classes they want to enroll in – can see not only can they learn something, but they can also learn something and apply it to helping their community,” Ochrach says.