By: Sarah Lundy '18
Alina Rusu is a Senior Visiting Fulbright Scholar and faculty member at the Department of Psychology and Educational Sciences at Babeş-Bolyai University, in Cluj-Napoca, Romania. She conducted her Fulbright Visit at Rutgers University School of Social Work from September to December 2017 and collaborated with Director of the Office of Global Programs, Dr. Rebecca Davis. Alina also works collaboratively with Rutgers University’s Office of Global Programs on the Summer Study Abroad Program- “Romania’s [R]Evolution: Community Care for Vulnerable Groups in Romania.”
Thank you so much for answering a few questions. What are your perspectives of the field of social work in the U.S. in comparison to the field in Romania?
As a Fulbright Senior Visiting Scholar at Rutgers School of Social Work in New Brunswick, I had the chance to interact with specialists in the field, undergraduate, and graduate students. The working discussions, events, and the formal lectures I was involved in while I was here have broadened my perceptions of the social work field in general. In the U.S., I saw that soes not include a clinical component, but does include a service-learning component.
You have extensive experience in the field of clinical psychology with animal assisted interventions, as well as a background in biology. Can you speak a little bit about how these experiences shape your work today?
Having a background in biology, natural sciences, animal behavior and psychology has brought me toward the interdisciplinary approach of Human-Animal Interactions (HAI). As a PhD student at University of Zurich, Switzerland, I discovered the applicability of Animal-Assisted Interventions and Animal-Assisted Therapy. I was greatly influenced by worldwide specialist in the field of HAI, Professor Dennis C. Turner.
I was always fascinated by the social life of animals, therapeutic values, and attitudes toward animals. In 2008, this led me to develop a postgraduate course in Animal Assisted Therapy and Activities for persons with special needs. Currently, this is the only course currently and Academic Training Program in the field of animal-assisted therapy in Romania. My experience also led me to coordinate research on animal-assisted activities in socio-emotional development programs for individuals on the autism spectrum. I also began the coordination of multiple community-oriented events promoting the animal protection and student engagement through human-animal interaction activities. From my experiences, I have seen that the interdisciplinary field of human-animal interactions has the power to bring people together and shape attitudes and behavior through education.
Tell us about your experience with the Social Work Study Abroad program in Romania with Dr. Rebecca Davis.
I first met Professor Rebecca Davis and her team of students enrolled in the SSW Study Abroad program in 2015, at a disability-awareness event in collaboration with the Autism Transylvania Association (ATA NGO). They also participated in the Day of Human-Animal Interaction, which is a community-oriented event organized every year in relation to the International Day of Children. The Rutgers students and Professor Rebecca Davis brought to my attention to the purpose of the Study Abroad Program, which promotes the global civic engagement of students by connecting them with diverse environments. The Study Abroad Program in Romania provides not only human-assisted activities to the students, but it also creates valuable connections between HAI and Service-Learning. I am deeply grateful for all the enriching learning experiences practices in the areas of Social Work, Service-Learning and Animal-Assisted Therapy at Rutgers University and meetings facilitated by Professor Rebecca Davis and her colleagues within this Fulbright visit.
What research projects are you working on right now?
My current research projects are mainly in the area of socio-development of children with special needs through animal-assisted interventions with dogs and horses. I also am bringing in collaboration with local NGOs that are addressing their programs for children from the community. I am currently coordinating the research theses of nine PhD students in Psychology, with diverse research topics, including the investigation of the level of readiness of the Romanian academic personnel for the implementation of Service-Learning programs for HAI students. This last research topic is being included in an international project run in collaboration with another five European Universities.
What are some of the highlights from your visit to Rutgers this fall, as a Fulbright Scholar?
During my Fulbright journey, the highlights included increasing my knowledge on the School of Social Work and Rutgers University educational and research system, policies and best practices. These ranged from individual to global values that I was able to explore through study abroad & Fulbright programs, Field Education, other organized events. I presented on animal-assisted interventions and worked with different professionals in the field of Human-Animal Interaction and Animal Assisted Therapy. I had the opportunity to meet the dedicated members of the Rutgers University Seeing Eye Puppy Raising Club (RUSEPRC) and attend their awareness events on campus. A significant highlight of my visit was spent at Green Chimneys in Brewster, NY. Green Chimneys is a well-known nonprofit organization with a long tradition of helping young people to maximize their full potential by providing residential, educational, clinical and recreational services, in a safe and supportive environment that nurtures connections with their families, the community, animals and nature.
One of the most important aspects of my Fulbright visit was the curriculum development with Professor Rebecca Davis on the connection between human-animal interactions and civic engagement of students through Service-Learning. This work, entitled Civic engagement of students through human-animal interactions: Ideas for an interdisciplinary Service Learning-based curriculum and the second abstract was submitted to the World Conference on Social Work, Education and Social Development 2018, July, Dublin, Ireland. Finally, I also had the opportunity of receiving training at the Interprofessional Education CVA Case Conference 2017 at the Public Health School Rutgers, to support a cross-discipline team-based learning experience for healthcare students. These combined experiences, along with interprofessional education opportunities, social and cultural enrichment events were the highlights of my trip.
Next year’s theme for the Joint World Conference on Social Work, Education and Social Development is Environmental and Community Sustainability; Human Solutions in an Evolving Society. Can you speak about how this theme relates to your developing research on Animal Assisted Interventions?
The research abstract we submitted to the World Conference on Social Work, Education and Social Development of 2018 Ireland is in line with the major objective of my Fulbright visit at Rutgers University – to develop the base for an interdisciplinary curriculum connecting the human-animal interactions field with Social Work education. This can also relate to the theme of community and environmental factors in relationship to the joint conference. The title of the submitted abstract is Interdisciplinary Approach of Yalom’s Group Therapy Factors: Educational Values of Animal-Assisted Interventions for Social Work Students. With this, we aim to incorporate interdisciplinary AAI practices with Yalom’s primary therapeutic factors of groups, such as: universality, corrective recapitulation of the primary family group, development of socializing techniques, interpersonal learning, and group cohesion (Yalom, 2005). We will discuss each factor as it relates to AAI, emphasizing the added value of animal presence in group therapy settings.