Civic Programs as a Tool to Foster Social Engagement & Community Building: Following up with the MoralUp! Project

A sophomore at FCRH, Gabriella Langella says she has always been interested in the intricacies of the human brain. She is an Integrated Neuroscience major on the cellular and molecular track and a Spanish minor. This pairing is reflective of her interest in the intersection between neurology and linguistics–how the brain responds to different languages.

Currently, Gabriella is working on psychology research based on the 1980s MoralUp! project. Overseen by Dr. Ann Higgins D’Alessandro of Fordham’s psychology department, this civic research project was initially conducted to track the life trajectory of high school students in the Bronx. The project divided students into experimental and control groups and included around 700 students from two Bronx high schools. Students in the experimental group were made to create and adhere to their own set of rules, while students in the control groups were instead held only to the code of conduct provided by their respective schools. Students also completed a Moral Self Interview (MSI), which required them to think critically about the qualities of a morally upstanding person and determine whether their own qualities fell in line with this depiction. The main aim of these tasks was to foster communication between students and instill in them the values of civic engagement and accountability.

While the day-to-day work Gabriella does involves a significant amount of data analysis and paperwork, her experience also emphasizes the importance of communication between researchers and subjects. “I actually like interacting with people,” she laughs, which is why the emphasis on researcher-subject interaction drew her to this particular project. Much of the work she does requires the use of uniform guidelines to score the students’ initial interviews and turn the results into quantitative data. Once quantified, this data is then subject to more in-depth statistical analysis. Gabriella also works to arrange follow-up interviews with the subjects of the original study. The follow-up interviews gauge the current level of civic and social engagement of the subjects and attempt to correlate these factors with their high school experience with the program.

Though they have yet to collect enough responses to draw definite conclusions, the implications of this study could be far-reaching. Ultimately, the goal of this research is to determine whether civic programs like the MoralUp! project can have a positive impact on similar communities by developing more civically and socially engaged individuals. Dr. Higgins-D’Alessandro plans to discuss the results of this research in a future book, exploring the impact that inner-city environments like the Bronx have on the life trajectory of adolescents. 

In addition to her academic commitments, Gabriella serves as the treasurer for Fordham’s chapter of Best Buddies, an organization that works to support individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Next year, she will be taking on the role of co-president. 

While she initially hoped to pursue a future in research, she’s since decided to opt for a more people-focused career. She now plans to attend medical school and specialize in neurology or psychology. More than anything else, Gabriella cites the dedication and enthusiasm of Dr. Higgins-D’Alessandro as one of the highlights of her experience. Although she isn’t entirely sure of what the near-future holds in terms of her research prospects, she says, “when I find something that I’m really invested in, I’m going to see it, because I know what it looks like now.”

By Andie Estrella, FCRH ‘22

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