Beyond Activity, Place, and Partner: How Publicly Engaged Scholarship Varies by Intensity of Activity and Degree of Engagement

Diane M. Doberneck, Chris R. Glass, and John H. Schweitzer


Publicly engaged scholarship is often described by activity (e.g., service-learning; community-based, participatory research; public humanities), by place (e.g., rural communities, urban neighborhood), or by partner (e.g., non-governmental organization, school). These common descriptors—based on what faculty do, where they do it, and with whom they partner—fail to characterize how faculty members collaborate with community partners in engaged research, engaged teaching, and engaged service. This study explored whether two process-oriented constructs—level of activity and degree of engagement—were useful descriptors of how faculty members go about their scholarly collaborations with the public. Interpretive content analysis of 173 promotion and tenure forms revealed significant differences in intensity of activity and degree of engagement by gender, race, age, teaching assignment, joint departmental appointment, appointment length, Extension appointment, and discipline. These variations suggested new directions in professional development for community engagement and appointments/assignments supportive of faculty involvement in publicly engaged scholarship.


In response to public criticism concerning their contributions to the greater good of society, some institutional leaders and faculty at American research universities have led organizational change initiatives to make publicly engaged scholarship a central tenet of their institutional missions (Boyte, 2005; Kezar, Chambers, & Burkhardt, 2005; Matthews, 2006). Many leaders recognized the need for systemic change to sustain engaged scholarship on their campuses and have advocated for various reforms in institutional policy and practice (e.g., revised strategic plans, vision and mission statements, revised promotion and tenure policies, and new incentive and rewards programs) to integrate engagement on their campus (Checkoway, 2001; Ehrlich, 2000).

Consequently, publicly engaged scholarship has moved from the margins to the mainstream at many higher education institutions, with 115 campuses designated with the Carnegie Community Engagement Elective Classification in 2010 (Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, 2010; Driscoll & Sandmann, 2001). Some leaders in the engagement movement, however, are concerned that many of these institutional change efforts represent shifts in rhetoric only and not in the ways in which faculty collaborate with community members, diluting the ideal of reciprocal, mutually beneficial partnerships with communities. Specifically, they charge that lack of focus on the process dimensions of engagement may “leave some campuses and their leaders with the impression that they are ‘doing engagement,’ when in fact they are not” (American Association of State Colleges and Universities, 2002, p. 8).

While early institutional change efforts focused on organizational structures, policies, and practices, more contemporary ones emphasize the significantly different types of relationships faculty have with their community partners and advocate for crisper distinctions between types of faculty-community relationships (Saltmarsh, Hartley, & Clayton, 2009). However, beyond calls for a greater focus on understanding the process dimensions of community engagement, very little research has been conducted to differentiate ways in which faculty collaborate with their community partners empirically.

Research Purpose and Questions

The goal of this research was to contribute to the limited but growing research about publicly engaged scholarship, which includes research about levels (Colbeck & Wharton-Michael, 2006), integration (Bloomgarden & O’Meara, 2007; Colbeck & Weaver, 2008), pervasiveness (Colbeck & Weaver, 2008), and types (Doberneck, Glass, & Schweitzer, 2010; Glass, Doberneck, & Schweitzer, 2011). Specifically, this study was designed to explore whether two process-oriented constructs—intensity of activity and degree of engagement—were useful for characterizing differences in how faculty members collaborate with community partners in engaged research, engaged teaching, and engaged service (Glass & Fitzgerald, 2010). A second research goal was to determine whether analysis using these two process-oriented constructs would reveal significant demographic (gender, race, age, number of years at institution), appointment (assignments, joint college, joint departmental, Extension), or disciplinary differences in how faculty members approach their publicly engaged scholarship. The following research questions framed this study:

1. Are faculty demographic characteristics related to intensity of activity and degree of engagement in publicly engaged scholarship?

2. Are faculty appointment variables related to intensity of activity and degree of engagement in publicly engaged scholarship?

3. Is the faculty member’s area of study related to intensity of activity and degree of engagement in publicly engaged scholarship?

To be clear, we are not advocating that higher levels of intensity of activity or degrees of engagement are “better” than lower levels; our goal, instead, is to reveal the range of ways faculty members collaborate with the public, based on empirical evidence, and to examine whether there are demographic, appointment, or disciplinary patterns related to how faculty approach their scholarly collaborations with the public.

Conceptual Framework and Definitions 

For this study, we modified Colbeck & Wharton-Michael’s (2006) framework, “Individual and Organizational Influences on Faculty Member’s Motivation and Engagement in Public Scholarship,” and linked individual characteristics, academic characteristics, and areas of scholarship to intensity of activity and degree of engagement (see Figure 1).

We used Michigan State University’s definition of publicly engaged scholarship, which states that engagement “is a scholarly endeavor that cross-cuts instruction, research and creative activities, and service; fulfills unit and university missions; and is focused on collaboration with and benefits to communities external to the university” (Provost’s Committee on University Outreach, 1993). Because we wanted to move beyond descriptions of activity, place, and partner, we developed two process-oriented constructs to characterize the differences in how faculty members approached their scholarly collaborations with the public.

Intensity of activity was comprised of the frequency, duration, and complexity of faculty members’ interactions with community partners and was influenced by Enos & Morton’s (2003) framework for development of campus-community partnerships. Intensity of activity included types of engagement activities, number of different types of engagement activities, frequency and duration of the engagement activities, scholarly output related to the activities, and awards/recognitions received for publicly engaged scholarship.

Degree of engagement characterized the extent to which faculty members collaborated with their community partners in reciprocal, mutually beneficial ways, and was influenced by The Research University Civic Engagement Network’s degree of  collaborative processes in engaged research (Stanton, 2008), Imagining America’s continuum of scholarship (Ellison & Eatman, 2008), and distinctions between transactional and transformational partnerships (Saltmarsh, Hartley, & Clayton, 2009). Degree of engagement focused on depth of collaboration and included the direction or flow of information or knowledge; locus of control in decision making; extent of collaboration at different stages of the engagement process; and recognized sources of new knowledge or understanding associated with publicly engaged scholarship.

External audiences (often called the community or the public) were broadly defined in this study to include more than geographically bound communities (e.g., neighborhoods, cities, or regions defined by physical place). We also included communities of identity, affiliation or interest, circumstance, faith, kin, and profession or practice (Fraser, 2005; Ife, 2002; Marsh, 1999; Mattessich, Monsey, & Roy, 1999). Private consulting and individual volunteerism were excluded from the study because they fulfill individual goals, not unit or university missions. Faculty contributions to university, college, or departmental committees and to scholarly and professional associations were also excluded because those activities do not contribute directly to the public, but instead address campus or disciplinary needs or goals.

Research Design and Methods 

For this exploratory study, we conducted an interpretive content analysis of the faculty members’ portions of promotion and tenure forms, rich descriptions of faculty members’ scholarly activities in instruction, research and creative activities, and service. Interpretive content analysis was selected because it is particularly well-suited for determining the presence of identified concepts in large amounts of unstructured text and because it is a context-sensitive analytic technique, responsive enough to differentiate between nuanced meanings inherent in faculty descriptions of their scholarly activities (Krippendorff, 2004). For example, using interpretive content analysis, we were able to differentiate between how plant biologists and urban planners use the word “community” in descriptions of their scholarship.

Research Site and Participants 

Because this was an exploratory study, we purposefully limited data collection to one site (Creswell, 1998; Patton, 2001). Michigan State University was selected because it is a research-intensive, land-grant, Carnegie-engaged institution, where faculty members are expected to achieve scholarly excellence across all three traditional academic missions—research and creative activities, teaching, and service—and to pursue these activities in service to the public good. Michigan State University also revised its promotion and tenure forms in 2001 to encourage faculty members to report their publicly engaged scholarship. As such, institutional data about faculty members’ scholarly activities were reasonably expected to provide the rich, detailed examples required to determine whether the two process-oriented constructs—intensity of activity and degree of engagement—would reveal differences in how faculty members approach their scholarly collaborations with the public.

Researchers accessed promotion and tenure documents written by tenure line faculty who underwent tenure and promotion reviews between 2002 and 2006. Due to the unavailability of institutional data, the study did not include tenure line faculty who were unsuccessful in promotion and tenure review; were no longer employed at the university; and/ or no longer held tenure track appointments at the university. During the study period, 374 tenure-line faculty members met our eligibility criteria and were contacted by mail for their informed consent. Of the eligible faculty members, 46% (n=173) consented to have their promotion and tenure documents included in this institutional review board approved study.

The 173 participants included 69% male, 31% female, 80% White, 5% Black, 10% Asian/Pacific Islander, 2% Hispanic, and 3% American Indian/ Alaska Native. Participant ranks included 54% assistant professor and 37% associate professor. Participants held primary appointments in the following colleges: 27% agriculture and natural resources; 19% natural science; 14% social science; 12% arts and letters, including music; 6% education; 4% business; 4% engineering; 4% human medicine; 4% osteopathic medicine; 4% veterinary medicine; 2% communication arts and sciences; 2% nursing; and 1% other primary tenure home.

Using chi-square analysis, researchers determined that faculty members included in this study were not significantly different (by gender, ethnicity, primary college, and rank) from the full-time, tenure line faculty at Michigan State University during the 2002–2006 study period.

Sources of Data 

Researchers accessed the study data from two sources centrally collected and organized by the institution’s Office of Academic Human Resources: a university administrators’ database and promotion and tenure forms completed by faculty members. Data from the university administrators’ database included demographic information such as gender, race, and date of birth. Data from the promotion and tenure forms included: data about the faculty member’s appointment [college(s), department(s), and/or Extension]; assignment (percentage of time assigned to instruction, research and creative activities, service to the university, and/or service to the community); and descriptions of scholarship written by faculty on their promotion and tenure forms. Researchers also accessed and coded faculty members’ curriculum vitae and the personal or reflective statements that are part of their promotion and tenure dossiers.

Data Coding and Analysis 

Researchers assigned two different holistic scores— one for intensity of activity and one for degree of engagement—to characterize faculty members’ publicly engaged scholarship. Because this was an exploratory study, holistic scoring was used to describe each faculty member’s engaged scholarship in its entirety (instead of scoring specific instances of publicly engaged scholarship and aggregating the scores into an overall score). Researchers used the four-point coding scheme (none, low, medium, and high) developed by Colbeck and Wharton-Michael (2006) to characterize levels of faculty engagement. For intensity of activity, researchers coded a 0 for absolutely no publicly engaged scholarship reported by faculty; 1 for faculty whose publicly engaged scholarship could be characterized by mostly ad-hoc, short-term activities with no scholarly publications or awards associated with it; 2 for faculty whose work was characterized by a mixture of shorter and deeper intensity publicly engaged scholarship; and 3 for faculty whose work was characterized by multiple types; ongoing, regular relationships; or partnerships with community members which resulted in generation of scholarly publications and/or awards and recognitions.

For degree of engagement, researchers coded a 0 for absolutely no publicly engaged scholarship reported by faculty; 1 for faculty whose work was characterized as mostly unidirectional transfers of expert knowledge from university to community recipients; 2 for faculty whose work was characterized as a mixture of unidirectional and collaboratively, co-created activities; and 3 for faculty whose work was characterized as predominantly reciprocal, mutually determined flows of knowledge and resulting co-generated scholarship.

We coded the data by hand to ensure faculty members’ descriptions of their engaged scholarship were considered in their fullest context. We followed standard procedures for team-based coding, including frequent meetings to ensure coding consistency across team members, to discuss and resolve ambiguous cases, and to update coding rules and the codebook as needed (Mayring, 2000; MacQueen, McLellen, Kay, & Milstein, 1998).

Once the data were coded, we entered them into Statistical Package for Social Sciences 17.0. As is common practice in exploratory research and interpretive content analysis, we analyzed the key constructs using various statistical procedures to search for significant patterns in the data. We calculated means, standard deviations, and frequency distributions, and conducted t-tests, one-way analyses of variance, and chi-square statistics to examine differences within groups and between groups of faculty. Two-way analyses of variance were also used, when appropriate, to identify potential interactions between demographic variables. For this study, p < .05 level was considered to be the level of statistical significance; however, because this was an exploratory study, we occasionally noted patterns in the data that were interesting even if they failed to meet the threshold of statistical significance.


Q1: Are faculty demographic characteristics related to intensity of activity and degree of engagement in publicly engaged scholarship?

The demographic characteristics considered in this study included gender, race, age at time of review, and number of years at the institution at time of promotion/tenure review. Because the numbers of minority faculty members were small, we grouped them into a single category—non-White faculty—for the purposes of analysis. Mean levels of intensity and degree of engagement were compared using t-tests and one-way analyses of variance. Results and levels of statistical significance are presented in Table 1.

For intensity of activity, there were no statistically significant differences in publicly engaged scholarship by gender, race, and age, though intensity did vary by number of years at the university. Greater levels of intensity were found for faculty who had been at the institution for 11 to 15 years. For degree of engagement, there were no statistically significant differences by race and by number of years at the institution. Women reported statistically significant higher degrees of engagement than their male colleagues, and faculty members in their 50s reported higher degrees of engagement than their younger colleagues.

After testing for main effects, two-way analyses of variance were conducted to look for possible interaction effects between the demographic variables. For intensity of activity, there were no statistically significant findings. For degree of engagement, the interaction between gender and race was statistically significant. Mean levels by gender and race for degree of engagement are depicted in Figure 2.

The data in Figure 2 indicate that there is very little difference in the degree of engagement between White males (mean = 1.28), non-White males (mean = 1.30), and White females (mean = 1.40). Non-White females (mean = 2.18) reported a statistically significant higher degree of engagement than the other groups.

Q2: Are faculty appointment variables related to intensity of activity and degree of engagement in publicly engaged scholarship?

Faculty appointment variables in this study included rank and assignment (percentage of appointment in instruction, research and creative activities, and service; Extension appointment; patient care appointment; joint appointment; and length of appointment [academic 9 month or academic 12 month]).


At Michigan State, faculty members’ assignments typically consist of an assigned percentage of time in instruction, research and creative activities, service, and other categories, including Extension, international, urban affairs, and patient care. The instructional assignment is further divided into the following sub-categories: undergraduate teaching, graduate teaching, non-credit instruction, and academic advising. The service assignment is divided into three subcategories: academic (within scholarly and professional organizations); academic (within the broader university); and within the broader community.

Pearson’s correlations were conducted to determine whether assignments were related to intensity of activity and degree of engagement. Results are reported in Table 2, with a single asterisk indicating significance at p < .05 and a double asterisk indicating significance at p < .01.

The data in Table 2 revealed several statistically significant patterns related to assignment. First, there is an inverse relationship between assignment in instruction and degree of engagement. Faculty with higher percentage appointments in graduate instruction described higher degrees of engagement in their scholarship, while faculty with higher percentage appointments in undergraduate instruction described lower degrees of engagement in their scholarship. Second, faculty members’ percentage assigned to service to the university showed a negative relationship with intensity of activity. That is, faculty with higher assigned percentages to service to the university reported lower intensity of activity. As their assigned percentages of service to the university decreased, they reported higher levels of activity in publicly engaged scholarship. Faculty members’ assigned percentages to service to the profession did not vary greatly (between 4% and 6%) and were not related to faculty members’ reported intensity of activity. Finally, faculty members’ assigned percentages to service to the community showed a positive relationship with reported intensity of activity. As assigned percentage of service to community increased so did reported intensity of activity.

Joint Appointments 

In this study, the majority of faculty members (83%) held appointments in one department, with 15% appointed in two departments and 2% appointed in three departments. For the purposes of analysis, we compared faculty with a single department appointment to faculty with joint appointments. A t-test was conducted to determine whether an appointment in more than one department was related to the reported intensity of activity and degree of engagement. Faculty with joint appointments (mean = 2.39) were more likely than their colleagues with single appointments (mean = 1.94, p = 0.027) to report high intensity of activities. For degree of engagement, the analysis showed no statistically significant differences between faculty with single and joint appointments.

Length of Appointment 

Michigan State faculty hold either 9-month or 12-month appointments. T-tests were used to compare the different appointments and to determine whether length of appointment was related to intensity of activity and degree of engagement. For intensity of activity, no statistically significant differences were found. For degree of engagement, faculty members with 12-month appointments had statistically significant higher degrees of engagement than their colleagues with 9-month appointments.

This study included faculty members of two ranks—individuals going up for promotion/tenure to the associate professor level and those going up for promotion/tenure to the full professor level. T-tests were conducted to determine whether rank was related to reported intensity of activity and degree of engagement. We found that there were no statistically significant findings for intensity of activity or degree of engagement related to rank.

Q3. Is the faculty member’s area of scholarship or discipline related tow intensity of activity and degree of engagement in publicly engaged scholarship?

For the primary college appointments, we recoded Michigan State’s 15 colleges into 8 more commonly used college groupings for the purpose of analysis. Means and standard deviations for intensity of activity and degree of engagement by primary college appointments are reported in Table 3.

The data in Table 3 indicate, for both intensity of activity and degree of engagement, that faculty members with primary appointments in education, health and medical professions, and agriculture and natural resources reported higher levels, while faculty members with primary appointments in business, arts and humanities, and physical and biological sciences reported lower levels. Faculty members with appointments in engineering and social and behavioral sciences fell somewhere in the middle. These findings are consistent with other studies that examined how area of study relates to faculty participation in publicly engaged scholarship. For example, researchers examining commitment to community service found “the weakest supporters of community service [were]…faculty trained in the physical sciences, anthropology, and English” (Antonio, Astin, & Cress, 2000, p. 384). Similarly, faculty members in physical and biological sciences, the arts and mathematics, engineering, and computer sciences reported that service-learning (one type of publicly engaged scholarship) is “not relevant to their disciplines” (Abes, Jackson, & Jones, 2002, p. 12).

In Figure 3 it is clear that the college grouping shows a positive relationship between intensity of activity and degree of engagement, with faculty in some colleges reporting both low intensities of activity and low degrees of engagement while others reported both high intensities of activity and high levels of engagement.

Delimitations and Limitations 

Because this study was exploratory, data were collected from one research site. The results are not expected to be broadly generalizable, but instead should be considered as a starting point for additional research conducted at other institutions of higher education where faculty members conduct publicly engaged scholarship.

Promotion and tenure forms as a source of data have some limitations. Faculty descriptions of their own scholarship, especially for promotion and tenure, are complex expressions, negotiated between the (sometimes competing) epistemological, institutional, and disciplinary influences and faculty members’ perspective on both the value of their own work and the perception of “what counts” at their institution at the time of review (O’Meara, 2002). Faculty members may have selectively included information on their forms, emphasizing specific aspects of their scholarship while minimizing others in order to make the strongest case going forward for review. Junior or mid-career faculty, for example, may have chosen to underreport their publicly engaged scholarship (Ellison & Eatman, 2008). As a result, data from promotion and tenure forms may differ from faculty members’ more authentic, less strategically crafted descriptions of their publicly engaged scholarship. While the “unreactive” nature of documents gives them their stability as a data source, it also limits researchers to analysis of text without further explanation from faculty members (Whitt, 2001). In other words, the written documents may tell only part of the story. Despite these limitations, promotion and tenure documents are the institutional record of faculty scholarship and served as an accessible, stable, and rich source of data for this study.

Discussion and Future Directions For Research and Practice 

At Michigan State University, faculty members from a broad range of backgrounds, appointments, and disciplines described publicly engaged scholarship in their promotion and tenure materials, thereby providing researchers with a rich source of data about how faculty members collaborate with the public in engaged research, engaged teaching, and engaged service. Using interpretive content analysis, we were able to characterize faculty members’ engaged scholarship by intensity of activity and degree of engagement—two process-oriented constructs different from the usual activity, place, and partner descriptions of engagement. Analyses also revealed patterns—related to demographics, appointment, and discipline—in how faculty members describe their engaged research, engaged teaching, and engaged service. This study’s findings suggest several future direction for research and practice.

First, while previous research has shown female faculty and faculty of color are more likely then their male and majority colleagues to be committed to and motivated by community-based teaching and research (Antonio, 2002; Antonio, Astin, & Cress, 2000), this study revealed that their engaged scholarship is also more likely to be characterized by higher levels of intensity of activity and degree of engagement. This finding is consistent with other research that confirms higher levels of publicly engaged scholarship by female faculty of color in what Turner describes as the “manifestation of interlocking race and gender” (Antonio, Astin, & Cress, 2000; Turner, 2002, p. 79). Future researchers may wish to study the interaction effects of race and gender related to publicly engaged scholarship—specifically, looking for differences across racial/ethnic groups (e.g., disaggregating ‘faculty of color’). Institutional leaders in higher education would do well to recognize this trend and ensure that institutional supports for engaged research, engaged teaching, and engaged service are especially supportive of women faculty of color who are more likely to be committed to the most intensive forms of publicly engaged scholarship.

Second, this study showed that faculty members’ assignments (e.g., percentages assigned to instruction, research and creative activities, and service) are related to levels of intensity of activity and degree of engagement in publicly engaged scholarship. Faculty members with graduate teaching assignments described higher degrees of engagement than their colleagues with undergraduate teaching assignments. Faculty members with appointments in “service to the broader community,” even minimal percentages, described higher levels of activity than their colleagues with “service to the university” appointments. Faculty members with Extension appointments, appointments in more than one department, and 12-month appointments (versus 9-month) were also more likely to demonstrate higher levels of activity or degrees of engagement. Because very little previous research has examined assignment and its relationship to publicly engaged scholarship, we would suggest that future researchers build upon this exploratory study to examine whether trends at Michigan State are consistent across American colleges and universities. Institutional leaders responsible for leading organizational change efforts for community engagement would do well to consider how faculty assignments are made on their respective campuses and to make adjustments in faculty appointments to support their engaged faculty.

Third, this study provided additional evidence that the disciplines in which faculty are initially socialized and practice their scholarship influence how they approach their collaborative scholarship with the public. Disciplinary differences revealed by this study confirmed what other researchers have discovered; that is, faculty members in agriculture, education, and health sciences are more likely to be engaged with communities, while their colleagues in the physical sciences and arts and humanities are less likely to conduct their instruction, research and creative activities, and service in conjunction with community partners (Abes, Jackson, & Jones, 2002; Antonio, Astin, & Cress, 2000). Future research is needed to understand these disciplinary differences, to identify how the disciplines create the barriers or facilitators for faculty involvement in publicly engaged scholarship, and ultimately to understand what publicly engaged scholarship looks like across the spectrum of faculty disciplines. More thorough understandings of these differences will allow institutional leaders to support faculty success and to communicate faculty relevance to society at large. Institutional leaders charged with professional development for community engagement should consider these findings as they craft faculty development programs that provide more than a “one size fits all” approach. For example, faculty members in disciplines with lower levels of activity or degrees of engagement (e.g., business, arts and humanities, physical and biological sciences) likely need different types of incentives, connections, and support to establish more robust community collaborations than their colleagues in disciplines with higher levels of activity and degrees of engagement (e.g., education, agriculture, and health and medical professions). In addition, this study’s findings suggest that faculty members’ age and years at the institutional may also influence their levels of activity and degrees of engagement. Those charged with professional development for community engagement may also want to consider a lifespan approach to supporting engaged faculty (Ellison & Eatman, 2008).


This study demonstrated that two process-oriented constructs—intensity of activity and degree of engagement—provide a way of describing publicly engaged scholarship that goes beyond activity, place, or partner descriptions. These two constructs allow faculty, researchers, and institutional leaders to make distinctions between the many ways faculty members collaborate with the public in engaged research, engaged teaching, and engaged service. They allow differences in type of activity, number of types of activities, frequency and duration, scholarly outputs, flow of information and knowledge, locus of control of decision-making, extent of collaboration, and sources of new knowledge and understanding to come into relief or focus in ways that descriptions based on activity, place, or partner do not allow. We hope that the two constructs, along with other process-oriented constructs yet to be developed, will strengthen our understanding of variations in faculty members’ approaches to collaborative scholarship with the public. By making distinctions about the process dimensions of publicly engaged scholarship, we may respond to criticisms about changes in “rhetoric” with sound evidence about reciprocal, mutually beneficial, scholarly collaborations with the public.


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About the Authors

Diane Doberneck, Ph.D., is a researcher in the National Collaborative for the Study of University Engagement in University Outreach and Engagement; Chris R. Glass is a Ph.D. candidate in Higher, Adult, and Lifelong Education; and John H. Schweitzer, Ph.D., is a professor in the Center for Community and Economic Development—all at Michigan State University.

Book Reviews

Heather Pleasants, Book Review Editor

Beverly Naidus. Arts for Change. Oakland, CA: New Village Press. 256 pp., $14.95 (paperback) Reviewed by Kelly Campbell-Busby The University of Alabama E-mail: Given the longstanding relationship between the arts and social change, one might approach Beverly Naidus’ Arts for Change with a wary eye. However, the book is a refreshing surprise and a welcome addition to the literature on socially engaged teaching practices. Naidus does an excellent job of drawing in all kinds of readers by weaving story and academic reflection together as opposing yet familiar textures. The overall effect is a powerful account in which theory develops through history, personal story, and the words of others, making Arts for Change an enlightening read.

Naidus first uses personal narrative to introduce the reader to her own story and set the stage for the pages that follow; she lays further groundwork for the book by providing the reader with a brief historical account of the arts – from cave paintings through FDR’s Works Progress Administration on to McCarthy era propaganda and into the Cold War Abstract Expressionism. Building on this history, within the first few chapters, Naidus illustrates how the arts have been used for and against humanity for eons, and have sometimes been successful in changing opinion and rallying people to fight for their beliefs. Her discussion of the artwork associated with these events places emphasis on the social, historical and cultural contexts that shape and are shaped by art, and illustrates that art is not just for the elite or those who have plenty of leisure time. This is key, given that a decontextualized reframing of these art objects’ meanings can make it difficult for students to understand why particular objects hold a significant status in world history.

Naidus moves from a broad historical perspective back to her own personal history in discussing how she has developed her pedagogy through life experiences and art training. The raw examination of her journey — from being an art major who at first did not understand the appeal of abstract expressionism, to achieving a satisfying balance between being an artist and a teacher — will be cathartic for many who have carved a similar path. Many who pursue the balance between art and teaching struggle with combining an artistic need to express, a socially responsible consciousness, and the desire to teach, and Naidus reveals how one teacher’s gift of Ben Shahn’s book The Shape of Content (1957) helped her realize that teaching was yet another extension of her creative self. The book, along with Naidus’ involvement in public art works and feminist theorizing, moved her out of the “art for art’s sake” mentality she had witnessed earlier in her career, while also showing her the uglier side of criticism and judgments made about art and the artists who create it.

Crafting a professional life as an artist is often quite difficult; Naidus’ reflections on being rejected from three graduate schools will resonate with many artists who have sought formal training, gotten rejected, and then have had to sit back and ask “why?” Readers may also relate to Naidus’ articulation of the tension between wanting to redefine art as she saw fit, and the realization that she had to discover a way to make her own way in the world. Naidus’ chronicle of her move to New York, where she worked odd jobs and created art in her cockroach-infested apartment, further reflects struggles that many artists have endured. Through these accounts a sense of shared camaraderie allows readers to empathize with the challenges of becoming a teacher of art while maintaining and developing one’s identity as an artist.

In discussing issues of pedagogy in Chapter 3, Naidus recalls the teacher we probably all experienced at some time, the one who thought mimeographed sheets of holiday images were to be considered “art.” Her hope for an art specialist trained as an “artist/teacher/activist/community member” is probably less likely to be found, but Naidus offers examples of promising sites for the development of such specialists that are on the horizon. Groups such as the Caucus for Social Theory in Art Education, Visual Culture, and Critical Theory are beginning to permeate schools of art and art education and are encouraging artists and art educators to be aware of art’s wider implications. Naidus suggests that this progressive school of thought may help others develop school curricula that are interdisciplinary, and she advocates for an approach to art that emphasizes creativity within civic engagement and the role of the arts in promoting an ethic of caring. Often, positive influences on Naidus’ pedagogy have taken shape through informal interactions and practices, such as late night debates with fellow artists, reflections on world politics, journaling, and personal reflections. Though these experiences take place outside of formal education, Naidus finds them integral to informing her identity as an artist and educator and to her development of transformative pedagogical practices.

Naidus devotes most of Chapter 4 to outlining her curriculum for the Arts in Community interdisciplinary program at the University of Washington, Tacoma. Through photographs and descriptions of activities and projects, Naidus presents vivid examples from her classes, where students create art in response to environmental issues, wartime concerns, body image questions, cultural identity, labor, and globalization. The chapter concludes with Naidus’ explanation of the challenges to developing this type of curriculum. Typical barriers such as grading, time limitations, dumbed down products of American schools, and the perrenial lack of funding are all hurdles countless art teachers face around the country; and Naidus skillfully articulates strategies she has used to surmount these obstacles.

In panoramic perspective, Chapter 5 presents sketches of the work and experiences of artists and educators working for social change across academic and community contexts. These sketches emerged from a series of one-hour interviews in which Naidus asked each individual to reflect on their practice and pedagogy and offer “stories of transformation.” Ironically, though Naidus frames the chapter as an opportunity for community building, learning, and dialogue, the sheer number of artist/educator profiles (each usually spanning about two pages) precludes a complete achievement of this goal. Rather, these brief glimpses into the work lives, challenges, and triumphs of this unique group of people often leaves the reader with more questions than answers. Given the book’s emphasis on transforming traditional arts teaching to socially engaging art and cultural production, this may very well have been one of Naidus’ objectives. Nevertheless, these short, but powerful representations of practice are inspirational narratives that begin to delineate the possibilities of socially engaged art instruction.

Naidus ends Arts for Change with an examination of her trips to Cuba and her observations about the artists who live and work there. She recognizes the contradiction of the art she saw there as expressionist, while still serving as a tool for what the government wanted people to know. From Cuba, Naidus moves on to consider conversations she had with a young college girl who expressed idealistic thoughts about the impact she could have on marketplace practices, her own observations about the monolithic American health-care profession, and finally a reflective examination of her own dream life. Naidus’ critique of the commercial marketplace and art’s role in it is present throughout the book, and it is within this last chapter that Naidus courageously looks inward as a way to figure out her small place in this very big picture.

Many artists claim to start life with a slightly different or quirky slant on things and Naidus is no exception. She recounts her life as “weird and different early on,” a life influenced by a scientifically grounded father, and by her recollections that she did not have the opportunity to experience indigenous cultures until later in her adulthood. After gaining this opportunity, another mentor persuaded her to paint her dreams and share them with others. The cultivation of her ability to look inward eventually led her to become part of a women’s dream group that uses dreams as a tool to strengthen their creative life. In the end, her metaphoric personal narratives woven throughout the book are finally revealed as part of this analysis-of-dreams process.

As Naidus looks to herself, society, and others through Arts for Change, she is reminded of how often the answer to life’s questions are located outside the frame, and that thinking outside the box and looking at things from a different perspective are metaphors for what she wants the reader to think about as they ponder their own creative battles, and look through the cracks for ways to serve the many rather than just a few. Through a multifaceted account that merges personal narrative, biography, history and the presentation of strong pedagogical practices, Arts for Change offers all of us an open invitation to become mindful of the unifying ability and eye-opening power of art.

Donoghue, E.M., and Sturtevant, V.E., Eds. Forest Community Connections: Implications for Research, Management, and Governance. Washington, DC: Resources for the Future Press, 2008. 280 pp. $32.95 (hardbound).

Reviewed by Joshua Gruver Doctoral Candidate Penn State University E-mail:

Within the last several decades, the management of the nation’s public forests has increasingly shifted from an industrial extraction model toward a focus on ecosystem functions, restoration, and forest health. This evolution in forest policy and management has created more opportunities for community involvement in resource management and governance. Forest Community Connections: Implications for Research, Management, and Governance seeks to elucidate the consequences of this shift and examine factors contributing to strong community-forest connections.

Nineteen authors contribute 14 essays to the book, which is organized within three broad categories, examining how social science is used to define and assess communities; how persistent and emerging forest management issues affect communities; and how forest and community connections develop into unique forms of forest governance. The book is well organized according to these three areas and each essay is relevant to the topic and contributes sensibly toward better understanding community-forest connections. Within the first chapter, the editors set the stage by exploring the evolution of forest policy and management from the Great Depression to the current struggle toward integrating communities and forests. Viewed in light of the sociocultural and biological history of our forested landscape, the current relationships between people and forests and forest policy are better understood. Subsequent essays examine issues such as the advantages of involving communities in collaborative research; the growing need to consider non-timber forest products in forest management; and the logic of creating community forests to avoid, among other ills, landscape parcelization.

Donoghue, Sturtevant, and their contributing authors submit that healthy communities and forests are dependent on flexible and dynamic community-forest connections. Socioeconomic, political, and institutional processes operate to either sustain or weaken forest communities. The recognition and the development of human capital within a community and the strengthening of internal and external communal ties are integral to its strength and resilience. Realizing this vision of resilient communities and healthy forests is not something that happens overnight. The path toward fostering strong community- forest connections requires citizen engagement over time and is fraught with several significant challenges. First, the nature of the community- forest connection is continually redefined through timber markets and technology, shifting sociodemographics and environmental values, and changing forest policy. Further, production of timber products in the U.S. has flat-lined while consumption has increased. Products such as furniture, the bread and butter of many communities, are being replaced by imports from China and elsewhere. Finally, the expanding urban fringe into forested areas and the increasing immigration of exurbanites presents new challenges to communities, forests, and forest managers. Finding ways to work with these challenges while taking meaningful steps toward the communal stewardship of our forests is at the heart of Donoghue and Sturtevant’s message.

The authors illuminate the consequences of the shift from single-interest-based forest management to collaborative stewardship and ecosystem management. Much of the book is devoted to defining and analyzing community forestry and grassroots community engagement. However, engaging communities and connecting them to their forests is not a new idea. Following the Earth Summit in 1992, work began on a set of common criteria and indicators for sustainable forest management. Following this, the U.S. Forest Service began to partner with community groups to advance understanding of how national, regional, and local efforts to develop sustainability criteria and indicators could be linked. Since then there has been a groundswell of literature and research focused on the community-forest connection. Communities and Forests: Where People Meet the Land (Lee and Field, Eds. 2005) is a good example of work in this area though there is little mention of this prior publication in Forest Community Connections. Further, despite “Community” in the title, most contributors never really define the term. This is unfortunate, since a conversation about what community means to the authors would serve readers well.

To the authors’ credit, they offer honest criticism of community forestry and avoid the elementary notion that it is an elixir fit for every community. The work makes clear that forest communities need the opportunity to act cohesively and to participate in decisions that directly affect them. Helping people engage in restoring the forests to which they are connected involves attending to factors that determine the quality, durability, and meaningfulness of this connection. The book provides social scientists, forest managers, and community representatives with ways to potentially attend to these factors.

Even though this recent effort by Donoghue and Sturtevant and their contributing authors is largely a synthesis of past work, there is much to be gained from continuing and extending the conversation. Their work adds clarity to the complexities inherent in understanding forests and communities by focusing on the nature and quality of the actual connection between them. It will appeal to those interested in human/ nature relationships, particularly from a forestry perspective. I especially recommend this book to social scientists interested in exploring new ways to engage the study of communities and forests, as the work speaks well to those ends. Selected readings would also benefit advanced undergraduate and graduate students interested in the human dimensions of natural resources and should be required reading for those students who wish to work with trees and people.

If you would like to review a book relevant to the scholarship of engagement, call Heather Pleasants at 205-348-3282 or e-mail her at

The Undergraduate Community Service Experience: Changing Perceptions of Diversity

Kay Yoon, Donald Martin, and Alexandra Murphy



Previous research has documented many positive effects of community service on student learning. Although a few studies have discovered that community service increases student’s cultural awareness, little research has addressed concrete changes in students’ conceptualization of diversity. The current study investigates how community service participation changes the complexity of students’ attitudes toward and perceptions of diversity. One hundred and six students participated in community service as a requirement for classes in Small Group Communication. Both quantitative and qualitative analysis of pre and post-community service surveys revealed that (1) community service significantly increased students’ level of comfort in interacting with populations different from their own, and (2) community service facilitated a shift of students’ conceptualization of diversity from simple categorical divisions to both similarity and difference as dynamic principles of identity.

As the relevance of multiculturalism became increasingly critical at the university level, faculty began incorporating unique learning opportunities into their courses that allowed students to explore and reflect upon multicultural issues across multiple contexts (O’Brien, 1993). In recent years, community service-based pedagogy has gained much attention as one of those opportunities that could potentially bring positive impact on students’ learning about diversity.

Existing scholarship highlights the impact of community service on a variety of aspects of students’ learning, including their sense of social responsibility and personal efficacy, the development of important life skills, and an enhanced sense of political, social, and cultural awareness. While previous research findings provide strong evidence supporting the significance of community service-based learning, few studies have focused specifically on learning associated with diversity.

Several studies have shown that community service helped students raise cultural awareness (Jahoda, 1992; Jones & Hill, 2001; Osborne, Hammerich, & Hensley, 2006; Primavera, 1999; Simons & Cleary, 2006). However, their findings are still challenged in terms of their substantive integration and methodological rigor. Specifically, while the improvement of cultural awareness has been well documented, the content of “awareness” and how students’ conceptualizations of diversity develop over time as a function of community service experience are unknown. Methodologically, many studies have used either longitudinal observations pre- and post-community service activities (Giles & Eyler, 1994; Simons & Cleary, 2006), control groups (Eyler, Giles, & Braxton, 1997) and quantitative (Eyler, Giles, & Braxton, 1997; Osborne, Hammerich, & Hensley, 1998) or qualitative analyses (Jones & Hill, 2001). However, few studies integrated multiple methodologies to address the impact of community service on diversity in a more comprehensive manner.

This study investigates changes in the complexity of students’ conceptualizations of diversity in small group communication courses. We begin with a discussion of the historical and contemporary “crisis of community” that provides a context for current models for diversity, difference, and service-learning. Next, we discuss the impact of community service-learning models in higher education for increasing cultural awareness, social responsibility, and life skills. We also discuss the relevance for increasing these areas for the learning outcomes in small group communication courses. Next, we adopt integrative methodologies, using a quantitative methodology, to explore how short-term community service participation plays a role in changing student attitudes toward diversity, and a qualitative approach to examine how such change manifests itself in resultant conceptualizations of diversity. We end with a discussion of our findings that demonstrate a link between students experiencing a service-learning component in their small group communication courses and developing an increased sense of cultural awareness and social responsibility as evidenced through their evolved understanding of diversity.

A Crisis of Community: Diversity, Difference, and Service-Learning

Community service is an integral part of American life. According to Morton and Saltmarsh (1997) the emergence of contemporary models of community service and service-learning is the result of cultural responses to “individual and social dilemmas that emerged from the crisis of community at the turn of the last century” (p. 137). This early crisis of community is described as a fragmentation of a unified American culture by the combined forces of industrialization, urbanization, and immigration, and by the increasing centralization of political and economic power in the hands of private, industrial elite. U.S. American culture has focused relentlessly on the idea that individuals are self-interest maximizers and that private accumulation and private pleasures are the only measurable public goods. Capitalism requires us to be consumers rather than citizens.

Putnam (2000) describes a more contemporary version of the crisis of community. While the earlier one was a result of urbanization and the industrial revolution, Putnam looks at the increased individualization and separation as a result of suburbanization caused by middle-class urban flight and facilitated by the mobility of the automobile and reinforced by increased usage of technology such as the internet. Given these cultural changes, he argues that models of civic engagement and social connectedness have substantially declined. Those groups that he claims have grown in membership, such as Sierra Club and NOW, are primarily tertiary associations, meaning that the members do not actually gather in groups and build any relationships among themselves. For Putnam, the current crisis of community reflects a loss in “social capital” or the “features of a social organization such as networks, norms, and social trust that facilitate coordination and cooperation for mutual benefit” (p. 2).

So, while community groups are increasingly more homogeneous and tertiary, we know from a number of different projections, our community and institutional associations are increasingly becoming more diverse. One study estimates that by the year 2030, Asians, blacks, Hispanics, and other minorities will account for one-third of the U.S. population (Allen, 2004). Also, there are increasing demands by social identity groups for equal rights and recognition. Therefore, issues of social justice involving race, class, language, socioeconomic status, cultural sensitivity, and privilege pervade most activities we associate with community service.

The historical and contemporary crises of community demonstrate the need to consider definitions and experiences of diversity and difference. As we know from theories of social construction and social identity, the individual self is forged through our interactions with others (Allen, 2004; Berger & Luckmann, 1966). Therefore, engaging in service to communities raises complex issues that go beyond the acts of teaching a child to read, feeding the homeless, or tutoring English to a newly arrived immigrant—it exposes students to experiences of difference. Allen (2004) describes the important distinction between diversity and difference. Diversity is the word most frequently used to describe set categories of race, class, socio-economic status, gender, sexuality, etc. Difference, on the other hand, “signifies how we tend to view identity (ours and others’)” (Allen, p. 4). While diversity tends to almost exclusively focus on the categorical divisions of others, difference focuses on both similarity and difference as dynamic principles of identity. Allen continues, “This perspective allows us to recognize that no two persons are either totally different or totally similar” (p. 4).

One clear way that students can experience difference is through service to others. In fact, Morton and Saltmarsh (1997) describe the shift in models from charity to service that form the basis of most service-learning models of engagement. This is more than a simple name change. Charity fundamentally requires an unequal social system; there must, by definition, exist a giver and a receiver; the donor and the needy.

A service model, on the other hand, is not about giving money or resources that might maintain a diversity gap; students learn about the similarities and the differences among themselves and others. In the next section, we turn to previous research that adopted this service model and review how service-learning methods influence students’ social responsibility, life skills, and cultural awareness.

Impact of Community Service Learning 

Stafford, Boyd and Lindner (2003) describe service learning as a method through which students learn by participating in meaningful, organized community activities.

Rooted in the educational pragmatism of John Dewey (1938), the structured community service experiences of undergraduate students that are often required and parallel classroom instruction, have been the focus of considerable scholarly attention. Much of the research indicates that service-learning contributes to increased awareness and understanding of the values, knowledge, skills, efficacy, and commitment that underlie effective citizenship (Bringle & Steinberg, 2010; Einfeld & Collins, 2008; Eyler & Giles, 1999; Mobley, 2007).

Students develop a heightened sense of social responsibility through their community service contributions. Giles and Eyler (1994) demonstrated that community service contributes to feelings of civic involvement, a sense of social obligation and a belief that service facilitates sustainable outcomes in community life—by sharing resources with other members in the society. Similarly, Scales and Blythe (1997) argue that student service contributions often stimulate a sense of citizenship on the part of student participants. Moely et al. (2002) and Wilson et al. (2008) found that service-learning correlates with increased plans for civic action and future community involvement.

In addition to social responsibility, scholars have substantiated the sense of efficacy students experience as a result of their community service. According to Pleasants, Stephans, and Selph (2004), community service not only stimulates interest in community involvement, but also provides students with opportunities to discover how they can make a difference in the community and subsequently leaves them believing that they can be that difference. Youniss and Yates (1997) provide an apt description of this quality, arguing that students do not become paralyzed by the challenges they encounter, but rather often experience a sense of agency and a feeling of responsibility to the forces for social change.

Scholars have also carefully documented a cross section of “life skills” students acquire via participation in community service activities. Primavera (1999) discovered that 65% of the students surveyed experienced feelings of increased competence, heightened self-esteem and personal growth. Similarly, Scales and Blythe (1997) reported that students experienced intellectual growth and heightened feelings of autonomy. Astin and Sax (1998) discovered increases in self confidence and a greater willingness to assume leadership roles. And in complementary research, Pleasants et al. (2004) argued that community service not only provides students with challenging opportunities to lead, but to do so while simultaneously building their self confidence and ability to work outside of their comfort zones.

Community service participation can also impact students’ political, social, and cultural awareness. Politically, community service can provide students with an opportunity to discover the relationship between civic responsibility, participation in the community, and the attainment of meaningful outcomes for multiple communities involved (Astin & Sax, 1998; Mobley, 2007; Moely et al., 2002). Community service participation provides often opportunities for students to observe first hand unequal opportunities, as well as inequitable distributions of resources between social groups – inequities that provide a rationale for both political action and civic involvement (Primavera, 1999).

Socially, students can gain insight into issues affecting the lives of other social groups in the society (Pleasants et al, 2004). Students become aware of both the extent and depth of social problems including poverty, discrimination and violence (Youniss & Yates, 1997). But perhaps most importantly, Giles and Eyler (1994) found that after participating in community service activities, students became more likely to make situational attributions than personal attributions when it comes to socioeconomic and political disparities across social classes. In other words, community involvement helped students identify the lack of equal opportunities to all groups and its impact on the disparity between groups.

Participation in community service also impacts upon the student’s cultural awareness. Research suggests that student attitudes toward diversity shift as a result of their participation. Jahoda (1992) as cited in Youniss and Yates (1997) argues that community service brings students into contact with people who are different and who the students might not have previously known about. Jahoda (1992) argues that such exposure contributes to a “discovery of the other” (p. 87), and a process whereby those previously known through stereotypes, become real to the student volunteers. Giles, Eyler, and Braxton (1997) argue that such exposure contributes to not only a reduction of stereotyping, but furthermore greater empathy toward others. Some students even acknowledge the inaccuracy and unfairness of stereotyping. This is consistent with Osbourne, Hammerich and Hensley’s (1998) findings about positive changes of cognitive complexity. Cognitive complexity refers to “the degree to which a person feels or she seeks out multiple explanations for the behavior of others” (p. 7). In their study, service learning participants showed significantly higher ratings on the cognitive complexity assessment than non-service learning participants. Primavera (1999) discovered that students displayed a greater appreciation for diversity and multiculturalism following their community service participation, and perhaps most interestingly a heightened awareness of similarities among people of different cultural backgrounds—a result also supported by the research of Simons and Cleary (2006).

Finally, service-learning influences the degree to which students learn about and experience cultures they assume to be unlike their own. In a qualitative investigation, Jones and Hill (2004) discovered that community service contributes to cultural learning, the negotiation of individuality and the crossing of boundaries between cultures. Through cultural learning students become familiar with the day to day lives of AIDS patients for example, and acquire a broader understanding of the disease. Through the negotiation of individuality, students discovered that those of different races, social classes, sexual orientation or even HIV status face and deal with some of the same day to day issues as the students themselves and their own family members. Additionally, by crossing boundaries, Jones and Hill (2004) argue that students actively work to circumvent the barriers that are imposed by community service itself and subsequently discover what life is like “on the other side (p. 210).”

Eyler and Giles (1999) reported a similar finding in saying that “students’ report that their service-learning contributes to a sense that the people they work with are ‘like me’ and demonstrate their growing appreciation for other cultures” (p. 54). Moely et al. (2002) and Hunt (2007) also found that students with more community service-learning experience demonstrated reduced stereotyping and a greater understanding of other cultures. Dunlap (1998) examined the reflection journals of undergraduate students involved in multicultural service sites. She used the students’ own voices to demonstrate the ways service-learning works to influence how students express, experience, and negotiate multicultural or race-related incidents. Other work has offered recommendations for how to teach and talk about issues of diversity and difference in a service-learning classroom. Green (2001), for example, writes about the critical importance of discussing race when engaging in service-learning. Dunlap, Scoggin, Green, and Davi (2007) provide a useful theoretical model for framing the ways white students experience issues of privilege and socioeconomic disparities through their service-learning courses.

As the literature suggests, researchers have discovered a positive relationship between community service and cultural awareness. Community service participation allowed a heightened sense of others, greater appreciation and awareness of diversity, and increased knowledge of multi-cultural groups that strengthen cross-cultural relationships with those they serve. What remains unclear is how, within the context of the increased awareness that other scholars have demonstrated, student sensitivity to diversity actually changes through community service participation and how such change manifests itself in subsequent conceptualizations of diversity. In attempting to explicate how student sensitivity to diversity actually changes, we anticipate that after completing a community based service learning experience students will first, have a better understanding of diversity, second, feel more comfortable interacting with people who are different from themselves, and third, feel more comfortable working with those representing different cultures. These potential changes will first be explored quantitatively and then qualitatively.

The Small Group Communication Course 

Communication is an excellent discipline in which to explore the relationship between service-learning and cultural and social diversity. While interdisciplinary in nature, much of communication studies focuses on the area of “praxis,” or the interrelationship between theory and practical experience. Applegate and Morreale (1999) claim, “There is a special relationship between the study of communication as the means for constructing social reality and service-learning as a pedagogy designed to enhance social life and communities” (p. xii).

More specifically, the learning goals associated with many small group communication courses are further enhanced with service-learning pedagogies. Most small group communication courses include a core curriculum, including the study of group dynamics such as teamwork, collaboration, conflict, and diversity, as well as group processes, such as decision making and problem solving. Most small group communication scholars agree that more can be learned by studying “real” groups in “real” situations (Putnam & Stohl, 1994). Similarly, students can learn more about small group dynamics and processes by experiencing “real” lived group experiences. In a study of service learning in a small group class, Foreman (1996) noted: “It is difficult for a student to understand small group communication and the role communication plays in making the experience a positive or negative one until he or she is actually involved in a small group experience” (p. 1).

Yelsma (1999) agrees that service-learning is a critical component to furthering the goals of small group communication courses. He states that small group classes typically have two fundamental goals: 1) to encourage students to learn about more effective ways of interacting with others in group settings, and 2) to reflect on their own values and attitudes when interacting with others (often those similar to themselves). Service-learning, however, allows an opportunity for students to “learn more about attitudes and values of people different from themselves” (Yelsma, p. 88; Hammond, 1994).

Yet, support for these claims is scant, as the majority of research on small group communication and service-learning has focused on the process of group problem solving, not understandings of cultural awareness and diversity.

Method Overview 

This study was conducted at DePaul University, chosen for the study for several important characteristics relating to service-learning and diversity. For six straight years, 2002–2008, U.S. News and World Report (DePaul University Newsroom, 2010) has recognized DePaul for its top-25 service-learning program, and the Princeton Review has recognized DePaul for its top-10 diverse student population (DePaul University Newsroom, 2010). For our investigation, we conducted surveys with students who were participating in a community-based service project as part of the requirements for the Small Group Communication class. We conducted surveys with them at two different points in time: one before they started the community service for the class and the other after the service. The surveys asked the participants to report their perceptions, attitudes, and knowledge about diversity and to define what constitutes diversity. These pre-and post-service reports in both Likert scale and open-ended formats allowed us to measure the impact of community service on student sensitivity to diversity.


Eighty-one undergraduate students enrolled in small group communication classes participated in the study. Although 81 participants participated, only 57 completed both surveys; hence the quantitative analysis is based on the responses of those 57 only.

Procedures and Context 

Students enrolled in three small group communication classes during the fall 2006, winter 2007, and spring 2007 terms were invited to participate in the study. The participation was voluntary, and no reward was offered. Each survey took approximately 15 minutes. These classes required community service in their course work. To fulfill their requirement, all students chose a specific service location and worked in the location as a group of 5-6 members for 5 weeks. Individually each worked a minimum of 15 hours. See Table 1 for a description of community service sites and student service responsibilities. Each site closely mirrored the diversity of its surrounding neighborhood in demographic composition— providing students with opportunities to work with adolescents, teenagers, and adults (including senior citizens), representing primarily African American, Hispanic, and Asian populations.

Upon completion of their community service, the students produced a group paper and presentation. The assignment required that students assess both the positive and negative consequences of community-service learning from the perspective of their field experiences and to draw upon course content in offering an assessment of the relative effectiveness or ineffectiveness of the communication processes operative at each site.

The first survey was conducted two weeks after the students were first divided into groups and before they started their community service. The second survey was conducted one week after they finished the community service. The participants indicated in the survey the extent of their agreement (1-5, 1 being strongly disagree and 5 being strongly agree) with the following statements: (1) I can make difference in the community, (2) I have interacted with populations different from me extensively, (3) I feel comfortable interacting with populations different from my own, and (4) I’m very knowledgeable about diversity. The participants were also asked to define diversity in an open-ended format. The same set of questions was asked in the second survey.

Data Analysis 

Our data analysis involved both quantitative and qualitative methods. The quantitative method tested the statistical significance of the difference between pre- and post-test ratings related to participant perceptions and attitudes toward diversity. The qualitative analysis examined similarities and differences in terms of the participants’ conceptions of diversity over time by looking at how they defined diversity in narratives before and after they engaged in community service activities. Established qualitative procedures were used in analyzing student narrative responses (Berg, 1998; Glaser & Strauss, 1967; Lindlof & Taylor, 2002; Strauss & Corbin, 1998). The second author first conducted a line-by-line analysis of both pre- and post-test narratives. This analysis allowed the conceptual labeling of thematic contents that emerged from the data. Then, the second author grouped the responses in thematically discreet clusters that were identified from the line-by-line analysis. The third author then reviewed the clusters in order to ensure discreetness of content (Strauss & Corbin, 1998).

Results: Quantitative Difference between Pre and Post Community Service 

The repeated measure of ANOVA was conducted with pre- and post-community service ratings as between-subject factors and various outcome measures as within-subject factors. The mean ratings of pre- and post-community service surveys are reported in Table 2.

As shown in the table, participants showed significant improvements over time in terms of their perceptions of their ability to make a difference in the community. The improvement in terms of the extent of interacting with different populations was not statistically significant, but was in the expected direction. These results indicate that students gained confidence in their ability to improve their communities, added to their knowledge about diversity, and felt more comfortable working with culturally diverse populations because of their community service.

Qualitative Differences Between Before and After Community Service 

When comparisons were made between pre- and post-test narrative responses, interesting thematic distinctions emerged. The distinctions may be grouped into three categories: (1) responses suggesting the positive acceptance of diversity; (2) responses suggesting the importance of interaction and convergence; and (3) responses suggesting the presence of similarity between the students themselves and the diverse populations with whom they interacted. In the pre-test responses 80% of the students consistently offered straightforward demographic reflections on what constitutes diversity. Consider an example; one student defined diversity in the following manner: “The differences people may have between them. These differences could include race, age, culture, religious views, etc.” Demographic descriptions of this sort were typical of most pre-test narrative responses. In the post-test responses, 30% of those surveyed provided the same demographic descriptions, but these denotative observations were followed by one of the three connotative descriptors referenced above– acceptance, interaction or similarity. Consider each thematic distinction and examples in Table 3.

Acceptance. In the first category, post-test definitions of diversity include not only a reflection on what constitutes diversity, but the suggestion that diversity creates a positive dynamic within a group context. In the sample responses, notice in particular the phrases “positive combination,” “positive atmosphere,” and “success as a whole.” Between the pre- and post-tests one can discern a shift from a definitional effort alone to making positive attribution within the context of each student’s perception of diversity.

Interaction. The second category of narrative responses allows us further insight into the development of student perceptions of diversity. Here the post-test responses, once again, went beyond the initial pre-test effort to define diversity, suggesting that the concept of diversity includes members of diverse groups interacting with one another. Notice in particular the phrases, “interacting with one another,” “interacting in one environment,” and “including and engaging.” Again, the denotative suggestion that diversity includes the behavioral dimension of interaction within the context of difference is meaningful.

Similarities. Finally, recall the arguments of Primavera (1999) and Simons and Cleary (2006) that community service facilitates perceived similarities between student volunteers and diverse community members. In our third category, student narrative responses clearly support earlier research efforts. Post-test definitions of diversity reference the presence of “similarity” in the midst of difference. Consider the phrases “having common similarity,” as well as “similarities and differences” present in student narrative responses. Narrative responses thus suggest a perceptual shift from definitions that stop at descriptions of difference alone, to definitions including the more proactive denotative themes of positive acceptance of, interaction among, and similarity or affiliation with members of diverse groups.

These themes reflect an important movement on the part of student definitions and understanding of diversity to difference. As noted earlier, while diversity tends to focus almost exclusively on the categorical divisions of others, difference focuses on both similarity and difference as dynamic principles of identity. The shift from conceptualizations of diversity to difference is an important one as students begin to recognize that no two persons are entirely different or entirely similar (Allen, 2004). These themes did not emerge in the narrative responses offered in the pre-test definitions.


Scholars have clearly demonstrated the relationship between community service participation and the increased cultural awareness that occurs among student participants in community service education. This investigation unpacks the notion of increased cultural awareness and allows further understanding pertaining to what increased sensitivity to diversity means from the point of view of a student volunteer.

One of the contributions of our study is a broader application of the concept of diversity to the literature of community-service learning. Previous research on diversity and community service-learning considered diversity primarily in terms of distinctions in racial, ethnic or socio-economic backgrounds (e.g., Jones & Hill, 2001). However, this investigation attempted to adopt a more comprehensive approach by conceptualizing diversity more broadly as “difference” (Allen, 2004). Our student participants were exposed to not only diverse ethnic groups in their service activities, but also different age groups (e.g., adolescents and seniors), physically challenged populations, and different residential environments. Given that our participants reported significant change in their attitude toward populations different from their own and more complex conceptualizations of diversity, the application of our results may be extended beyond racial or ethnic diversity.

Pre- and post-test survey responses suggested that participants experienced significant changes over time. Significant improvements occurred with regard to the volunteers’ perceived knowledge about diversity, their perceived capacity to make a difference in the community, and their increased level of comfort interacting with diverse populations.

While previous research demonstrates increased knowledge of diversity, and perceived similarities with diverse groups, the narrative responses in this investigation provide a heuristic complement to those conclusions–providing even further insight into what actually constitutes a change in terms of cultural sensitivity. The heightened knowledge of diversity reported by student volunteers could arguably influence the perceptions of similarity and positive acceptance of diversity reported in the narrative responses. But perhaps most importantly, by acknowledging that diversity includes the dynamic dimension of interaction and engagement within the context of their definitions, the narrative responses are also suggesting an interesting relationship between an attitudinal shift toward diversity and the potential for a behavioral shift as well.

Our study has a few limitations that need to be considered for generalizations of the results. First, student participants’ reports on their community service experiences were based on only 15 hours of their participation in one designated community service site. Although the logistical constraints are inevitable when the service-learning components are folded into course requirements, the short-term involvement in one specific service site certainly presents limitations in generalizing our findings to longer-term and more diverse service experiences. We speculate that a longer period of exposure to multiple communities may magnify the findings of the current study and may also reveal more nuanced or different types of conceptual changes about diversity besides “acceptance,” “interactions,” and “similarities” that we identified in this study.

Second, our study addressed only conceptual changes about diversity influenced by community involvement as part of a course requirement. Therefore, extending these findings to behavioral changes outside the classroom would be problematic. Conceptual changes about diversity would be more meaningful when they are directly linked to behavioral shifts in the future interactions with diverse populations. Future research needs to assess the impact of the conceptual shift on student willingness to participate in community service activities following required involvements in the classroom. Such research would provide not only further insights into what constitutes cultural sensitivity but also evidence to suggest the actual ways in which conceptual changes in cultural sensitivity are demonstrated by participants’ behavior in community service activities.

We are living in a contemporary “crisis of community” (Allen, 2004; Morton & Saltmarsh, 1997; Putnam, 2000). Service-learning affords the opportunity for experiential education in which students engage in activities that address human and community needs together. More specifically, service-learning in contexts such as these small group communication courses can provide a context for students to shift their thinking about diversity and difference and to set the stage for building a stronger democracy through acceptance, interaction, and a focus on similarities beyond the classroom.

Service-learning and teaching are not the only academic functions that can benefit from civic engagement (Barker, 2004). There has been increased interdisciplinary attention paid, both in theory and practice, to the role of civic engagement as scholarship (Boyer, 1996; Barker, 2004; Van de Ven & Johnson, 2006). Engaged scholarship is often defined as a collaborative form of inquiry in which academics and community practitioners are said to “coproduce knowledge” to solve complex and compelling civic and community problems (Van de Ven & Johnson, 2006, p. 803). In doing so, engaged scholarship does not follow a standard, social scientific model for academic knowledge; it invites (and ultimately requires) a reciprocal relationship between civic practices and the production of knowledge. As Barker (2004) puts it, “the scholarship of engagement suggests a set of practices that cuts across all aspects of the traditional functions of higher education” (p. 126). Therefore, as engaged scholarship with a focus on service-learning and diversity, this work provides an important intersection among the often disparate academic areas of teaching and research with the practical and complex components of participating in a civic society.


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About the Authors 

Kay Yoon is an assistant professor, Donald Martin is a professor, and Alexandra Murphy is an associate professor—all in the College of Communication at DePaul University.

A Community Deliberative Polling Event: The Economic Impact of Walmart

Christopher Latimer, Karen Hempson, and J. Richard Kendrick, Jr.



This article presents the results of a deliberative poll in which members from the local community and college students from SUNY Cortland discussed the economic impact of Walmart on a small town. We review the literature concerning deliberative polling and describe the process of the deliberative polling event. Our examination of the data focuses on net changes in the participants’ opinions and gross changes in the participants’ opinions. We discuss the trends and implications of the opinion shifts and outline future research. The results illustrate that the process of deliberation affects changes in attitude items at both the individual and group level.

Social and political apathy affects both students and the broader society. Putnam (1993) contends that this phenomenon is connected to a decline in social capital, which he defines as “the features of social organization such as networks, norms, and trust that facilitate coordination and cooperation for mutual benefit”(p. 36). Putnam thinks that citizenship is affected by social capital. Moreover, involvement in civic life has been connected to lower absenteeism and reduced apathy. Social capital theory assumes that engagement on any level will enhance social trust and efficacy in citizenship, thereby strengthening democracy.

Since the 1980s, a number of methods for involving citizens and making their voices heard have been advanced. These include focus groups (Kreuger & Casey, 2000; Morris, 1999; Morrison, 2003); citizen juries (Coote & Lenhaglan, 1997; Smith & Wales, 2000; Niemeyer & Blamey, 2003); planning cells (Renn et al., 1984, 1993); citizen panels (Kathlene & Martin, 1991; Bowie et al., 1995), and consensus conferences (Einseidel, 2002; Andersen & Jaeger, 1999).

Another approach used for involving citizens by providing them a public forum for discussion is the deliberative poll. The deliberative poll is different from other methods because it allows for estimating informed opinion while retaining the possibility of generalization to the overall population through random sampling (Fishkin, 1991, 1995, 1997; Ackerman & Fishkin, 2002; Hough & Park, 2002; Hansen & Anderson, 2004; Luskin, Fishkin, & Jowell, 2002). This article presents the findings from a deliberative polling event at SUNY Cortland.

The deliberative polling method attempts to combine the depth of a qualitative analysis with the generalizability of a representative poll. Where decisions are being made without proper information, we might reasonably expect that these decisions may not entirely reflect an individual’s “true” interests. Some argue that the problem of an uninformed public and disengagement could be remedied through deliberation. As James Fishkin et al. (2000) contend:

While there is disagreement about how much lack of information and interest affects people’s views [and engagement], it is possible that preferences would be noticeably different if everyone was more knowledgeable about, attentive to, and reflexive about the issues involved. In deliberating, it is hoped that citizens will develop informed, or more reflective, preferences than would otherwise be the case (p. 657).

Those participating in a deliberative poll may shift from a position of ignorance and/or disengagement to a position of measured opinion and/or civic engagement. Fishkin argues that contemporary democracies fail to provide ordinary citizens with a means to have their voices heard. As a result, individuals believe that being informed and engaged have no utility for them. This is known as rational ignorance (Converse, Miller, & Stokes, 1960). Participation in a deliberative poll may reduce the impact of an individual’s rational ignorance by providing them with the incentive and opportunity to think about important policy issues and engage in a process that values their opinions.

The basic design of a deliberative poll includes contacting, inviting, and polling a representative sample to attend a one- or two-day deliberative polling event at a common location. Participants are then provided with carefully balanced briefing materials laying out the major arguments for and against a given set of policy proposals, policy related issues, or electoral alternatives. The participants engage in dialogue with experts and decision makers based on questions they develop in small groups with trained unbiased moderators. After the deliberations, the sample is once more provided the original questions. The consequential changes in opinion signify the conclusions the general public would reach if they had an opportunity to discuss an issue, engage with alternative points of view, and become more informed.

The goal of this project was to determine if deliberation would have any impact on participants’ opinions, regardless of whether they started from a positive or negative view of the selected issue. Increased deliberation affords a unique insight into what might be a better understanding of what people are actually thinking and feeling. The investigation of the polling event in Cortland, New York, reveals that the process of deliberation affects changes in knowledge and attitude items at both the individual and aggregate levels. This analysis includes a review of the deliberative polling literature, an explanation of our hypotheses and methodology, an examination of the data, including net changes in the participants’ opinions and gross changes in the participants’ opinions, and finally a discussion of the implications for engagement.

Literature Review 

There is a considerable body of research that attempts to assess the extent to which an individual’s opinion would differ if that person were given time to inquire about the subject matter and given information about the topic.

Deliberative Polls 

Through a number of deliberative polling events, Fishkin et al. (2000) have found that, following participation in such exercises, people are stimulated to learn more about politics and that opinion shifting is common. Luskin, Fishkin, and Jowell (2002) compiled a national probability sample of 301 British subjects who met for the world’s first deliberative poll. The deliberation focused on the root causes of crime, policing, punishment, and procedural rights, covering matters such as the rights of the accused, those of victims and the citizenry in general, as well as juvenile matters. By the conclusion of the event, participants increased their support for sending fewer criminals to prison, relaxing sentences for juvenile offenders, and alternative sentencing models for those deemed a lesser risk to society. The premise upon which such events are organized is that the resulting deliberated opinions will be more considered as a consequence of increased interest in the issues, increases in knowledge, the exposure to multiple arguments and points of view, and more careful reflection.

Hough and Park (2002) found that information and dialogue could generate important shifts in attitudes about the best ways of controlling crime. The changes they discovered were all in the identical direction, relating to a decrease in support for stronger measures such as imprisonment as a response to crime and greater support for rehabilitation. It is not unexpected that there was a quantifiable change in attitudes directly after the weekend seminar. For example, 35 percent of participants initially thought that “sending more offenders to prison” would be a very efficient way of lowering the crime rate. After the weekend, only 20 percent took this view. What is surprising is that opinion change seems to be long lasting. While 50 percent initially thought that “stiffer sentences generally” would be a very effective way of reducing crime, when followed up 10 months later only 36 percent thought the same. Support for community penalties was originally quite high and remained largely unchanged. Not all people adopted more liberal views after the event; some adopted tougher views. In general, people adopted less extreme views after the event, with a net shift in a liberal direction.

Hansen and Anderson (2004) studied the results from the Danish National deliberative poll on the single currency with a representative group of 364 Danish citizens. Between 7 and 28 percent of the participants changed their viewpoint on a number of issues related to the single currency. Before participating in the deliberative poll, 45 percent of the participants indicated that they would vote yes, 37 percent no, and 18 percent did not take a stand. At the conclusion of the poll, 51 percent revealed they would vote yes, 40 percent no, and just 9 percent had not made up their minds. The participants’ answers reveal a deliberative procedure dominated by considerable changes in opinion, an increase in knowledge, and an improved ability to form a reasoned opinion.


This analysis adds to the research concerning deliberative democracy and opinion formation. It is important to emphasize that only attitude change of some kind is predicted, rather than change in any specific direction. The theory is that the involvement of such an event will move participants from a position of ignorance and disengagement to a position of considered opinion and engagement.

H1: Participant opinions concerning the economic implications of Walmart on a small town will have a net change after deliberation on the issues.

H2: Participant opinions concerning the economic implications of Walmart on a small town will have a gross change after deliberation on the issues.


This study presents evidence from a deliberative polling event that took place at SUNY Cortland. The all-day event started at 8 a.m. and concluded at 4 p.m. Our limited budget prevented us from hosting the event for two days. The issue selected was the economic impact of a Walmart on a small town. This is particularly relevant for Cortland County as it is an economically depressed area.

Of the 76 student and community participants who attended the event, 44.7 percent were men and 55.3 percent were women; 36.8 percent were 25 years old or younger, 13.2 percent were between the ages of 26 and 40, 23.7 percent were between the ages of 41 and 55, and 26.3 percent were 56 or older. The racial makeup of participants was 96.1 percent Caucasian, 2.6 percent African-American, and 1.3 percent Native American. The income distribution for 76 participants revealed that 25 percent of participants make less than $10,000 per year, 18.4 percent make between $10,001 and $19,999, 23.6 percent make between $20,000 and $34,999, 17.1 percent make between $35,000 and $49,999, 11.8 percent make between $50,000 and $64,999, and 2.6 percent make more than $65,000 a year. The sample of participants closely reflects the demographic characteristics of Cortland.

Participants and Design 

The sampling process followed a two-stage probability design consisting of all individuals within Cortland County and all members of the SUNY Cortland student body. Volunteer students reading from a prepared script used a residential phone book covering Cortland County and called every eighth name listed. A separate college list including students was used with the understanding that this method would have the potential of selecting members of the college community who also lived locally twice. We chose every eighth name on this list as well.

One thousand forty-eight community members and students were contacted for the deliberative polling event. Of those, two hundred seven indicated that they were interested in attending. The pre-deliberation survey was given to those individuals prior to the event and they were required to bring the pre-surveys back to the event. We followed up the phone call with an additional letter and/or email reminding them of the date and time of the event. The morning of the event, the organizers received 22 phone calls from individuals informing them of their inability to attend. A total of 76 participants completed both the pre- and post-surveys for a response rate of approximately 36.7 percent (based on the number who had originally committed to attend). The lower than anticipated turnout was due, in part, to the weather. The day we held our deliberative polling event was an unusually warm and sunny early spring day in Central New York, an area noted for its long, cold, snowy winters.

Materials and Procedure 

The briefing materials provided to participants were drafted and reviewed by a panel of four faculty members from the university. The focus of the materials was information about the possible economic impacts of a Walmart store on a local economy as well as the public policies associated with this topic. The small group moderators were trained a week before the event and included faculty, staff, and members of the community. There was a six-member panel of experts, including three members of the faculty, town council members, local business people, and the mayor of Cortland.

On the day of the event, participants registered, signed the informed consent document, and then were randomly assigned to a small-group. Nine small groups contained 8-10 participants plus the moderator. The deliberations included a 60-minute small group session, a preliminary 30-minute opening session with welcome remarks by the President of the University and instructions for the day, and a 60-minute plenary session with the expert panels fielding questions, followed by a 60-minute lunch break, and another 60-minute plenary session with experts answering the remaining questions from the small groups. At the conclusion of the second plenary, the participants filled out the post survey.

The Data 

The survey instrument included 38 economic-based questions concerning Walmart. The breakdown of the questions was as follows: 11 questions concerning workers; 9 questions concerning prices; 10 questions concerning Walmart’s impact on other businesses and taxes; and 8 questions concerning economically related public policy questions and issues related to big box stores. We hoped that the number of total questions would provide a stronger incentive for participants to complete the survey. An incentives drawing was included as part of the event to increase participation. We had a number of items such as electronic equipment and items donated from the college store that were given away at the end of the event. The incentives giveaway did not begin until the moderators collected all of the surveys from each group.

A 5-point Likert scale was used to measure participants’ opinions. Likert scale items are most often used to investigate how respondents rate a series of statements by having them circle or otherwise mark numbered categories. Our scale was as follows: 1 (strongly agree), 2 (agree somewhat), 3 (don’t know), 4 (disagree somewhat), and 5 (strongly disagree). The inclusion of “don’t know” within a basic Likert scale makes an implicit acknowledgment that not all respondents will have a position or the knowledge to respond appropriately. It seemed appropriate to use don’t know for this project as we knew that not all of the participants would have formed opinions on some of the questions included in our survey.

We first analyzed our data to examine net changes in pre-survey and post-survey responses using a paired samples t-test to examine differences in mean scores. Our results are discussed below in the next section. In order to more finely differentiate types of change, we coded each pair of responses (pre-test and post-test) for each participant on each variable according to whether or not their responses indicated no change in position, a change in at least one level or degree, a change into or out of neutral (the “don’t know” category), or a change of side. For each recomputed variable, we ran a frequency distribution to analyze the percentage of respondents who exhibited no change, a change in at least one level, a change into or out of neutral, or a change in side. As a test of statistical significance, we used the chi-square test for frequency distributions.

Results: Net Change 

Following the analysis of Luskin et al. (2002), we evaluated change on two broad dimensions: net change and gross change. Net change is simply the difference between pre and post deliberation means, aggregated across individuals. These changes may be positive or negative; we were interested in magnitude of the absolute net change. By these criteria, the Walmart deliberative polling project seemed effective. The opportunity for discussion, reflection, and additional information had an impact on participants’ opinions. On nearly half of the survey items, opinions underwent statistically significant change. Table 1 presents the means, before and after participation, of the participants’ positions on every survey item, including the p-value from a paired comparison test of the significance of the differences in means. Of the 38 items, 16, or 42.1 percent, showed statistically significant change at the 0.05 level or above.

Results: Gross Change 

To get a more accurate picture of opinion change, we calculated the gross opinion change of the participants. Gross opinion change is computed in several ways. One measure of gross changes examines the percentage of the participants who changed position on the five-point scales. This measure includes any individual who moves either way on the 5-point Likert scale for a particular item to any degree at all (including moving even one position from strongly agree to agree, for example). The second measure of gross change examines the percentage of participants who change sides or who move from “neutral” to any level of agreement or disagreement with a particular item. The third measure of gross change is the percentage of participants who changed sides completely, and it does not include those who moved from neutral. Percentages of those who exhibit change on the first dimension of gross change will be higher than that of those who exhibit change on the second or third dimensions of gross change (Luskin et al, 2002). In other words, the measure of the third dimension for gross change—change in position, disregarding movement from neutral—is the most conservative measure. The measure of the first dimension, any change at all, is the most liberal. Table 2 presents several measures of gross change.


We hypothesized that participation in a deliberative polling event would be associated with a shift in attitudes and an increase in general knowledge about the subject. The observation of the net and gross attitude change of participants’ opinions would seem to support the theory of deliberative polling concerning the effect of more informed opinions. Our event was smaller than the national events that have taken place over the past twenty years. Yet, this more local focus allowed us to reduce our operational and economic costs, thereby, increasing the likelihood of a successful deliberative polling event.

The data illustrates significant opinion change by participants. In terms of net change, sixteen out of thirty-eight questions or 42.1 percent demonstrated statistically significant change at the 0.05 level or above. And while many of the changes in opinion may have cancelled each other out, we determined that overall 72.6 percent of the respondents changed position on at least one variable, that at least 63% of the respondents percent changed sides on at least one variable (including movement to and from the neutral category), and that 30.1% percent changed sides completely (excluding movement to and from the neutral category) on at least one variable.

Net Change 

The trends concerning the magnitude of net change in opinions about Walmart reflect a mixed bag with a slight majority of questions moving in a positive direction in support of Walmart. Of the 16 questions that demonstrated a statistically significant change, 10 were more negative toward Walmart and six were more positive. The questions dealing with impact on business and prices reflected a positive trend about Walmart, while the responses to the impact on workers and policy questions tended to be more negative. Why these particular changes in opinion? We can offer a few impressions, based on firsthand observations of the event.

Concerning the impact on businesses, three of the seven questions demonstrated statistically significant net change with two of the three questions shifting in favor of Walmart. With respect to whether Walmart “attracts new business to the area,” one of our experts, the Mayor of Cortland, discussed in great detail that Panera Bread, Bed, Bath and Beyond, and Lowe’s had agreed to establish themselves in Cortland if the Walmart project was approved. The Mayor also mentioned a study that the town commissioned which supported the claim that Walmart “generates a larger customer base for business” because individuals from outside Cortland County would travel to Cortland if Walmart was approved. There was also a slight shift in a positive direction for the issue “promotes growth in non growth communities.” The one question which shifted negative was the “impact of bulk purchasing” on other businesses in the area. Participants thought that existing stores would be at a disadvantage, as they had not usually offered many products for bulk purchase to save consumers’ money.

Of the four statistically significant questions concerning prices, three moved in a positive direction in support of Walmart. They included “impacts competitor’s prices,” “prices allow me to buy products I usually can’t afford,” and “brings international goods to customers.” Responses to one question moved in a negative direction, “raises the cost of living for consumers.” Of the three statistically significant questions concerning impact on business, two tended toward the positive, “attracts new business to the area” and “generates a larger customer base for business.” It appears from the data that participants’ positive opinions concerning Walmart and prices were strengthened as a result of the event and they were not as concerned about businesses that were already in Cortland.

The most significant positive shift in opinions related to prices. There was a shift for participants toward Walmart having a positive impact on competitors’ pricing, which is related to the ability of individuals to afford products that they may not usually be able to afford. The ability to afford products that would usually be considered out of range may have also influenced the question concerning cost of living. On the other hand, we noted a shift in position on “Walmart raises the cost of living for consumers” toward neutral, consistent with the shift toward agree on “Pricing leads to less competition.” Perhaps respondents recognize an immediate effect of lower prices, but a longer-term effect of higher ones if competition is diminished.

The starting positive position concerning prices may be due in part to Walmart’s marketing campaign. The “Always Low Prices” slogan was used by Walmart for 19 years and their estimated marketing budget is approximately $570 million dollars a year (Helm, 2006). Walmart has a very powerful marketing campaign that seems to have influenced the participants to some extent. Certainly the small-group discussions as well as the expert responses played some part in the overall shift of opinions.

The impact on workers section demonstrated a negative shift of opinions including “provides an increase in jobs,” “supports unions,” and “contributes to the export of jobs.” Only two of the five statistically significant questions reflected a positive trend with “treats workers fairly” and “provides more jobs for people with disabilities.” Two of the experts addressed Walmart’s exclusion of unions in response to a small-group question. There was a brief discussion about outsourcing jobs due to the increase in trade with China. Even though the Mayor of Cortland explained that new businesses had already agreed to open in Cortland, an opposing expert explained that Walmart would diminish the capacity of local businesses to employ workers leading to a net decrease in jobs. The result of the conversation was that overall job creation would not offset job loss, leaving a typical town with a net loss of jobs.

A specific question developed by one of the small-groups dealt with unions. The experts responded that Walmart does not have a union but allows workers to buy into the company with shares of stock. One statistical hint of the impact of this discussion may be seen in Table 1 in the increased negativity of participants believing that jobs were more likely to be exported overseas again leading to an overall net loss for a town. This result was not surprising given the questions asked during the plenary session focused on job creation and whether Walmart salaries were comparable to other box stores in the area. The economic downturn and loss of jobs locally may also have impacted participants’ opinions concerning middle-class workers in general. Although they do not seem to believe that Walmart creates jobs overall, neither do they seem to believe that Walmart causes net economic harm for a particular community. This may be due to the belief that the impact of Walmart on the economy of their community as a whole is positive by bringing in new business and offering lower prices.

It is important that deliberative polling also impact participants’ policy preferences. This should be the result of most deliberative polling events or these results would be revealing no more than what ordinary polling provides. The four policy questions that demonstrated a statistically significant negative response toward Walmart included “department stores should be regulated,” “the number of department stores should be limited,” “the government should establish store design guidelines,” and “communities should be able to vote on whether Walmart should be allowed.” Even though there were more positive statistically significant changes overall, all four statistically significant policy questions were negative. We were surprised by this result and are not completely convinced that this is due to the plenary session discussion.

At the same time, the deliberative experience had very little impact on participants’ policy preferences concerning the minimum wage and providing health care. As there was little to no discussion of these questions, it would make sense that opinions did not shift on these issues. The lack of change on these questions, coupled with the statistically significant changes on questions related to Walmart is consistent with our hypothesis that deliberative polling accounts for shifts in opinion. And on the items directly related to workers, there was limited opinion change concerning the treatment of workers in relation to other box stores, providing jobs with career tracks, and paying workers a living wage. On the questions concerning prices, there was also not much movement about prices at Walmart being generally fair, participants shopping at Walmart due to their prices, and consumers benefiting from the stores’ retailing system. In terms of impact of a Walmart on taxes, there was limited change in response to the questions regarding increases in the tax base of a town and benefits to individual taxpayers. All things considered, however, the overall net changes were still relatively significant.

Gross Change 

As with net change, gross change included some noticeable variations. Proposals dealing with wages and health care see relatively little gross change. This result might be expected of issues that were not addressed by the deliberative polling discussion. Another question with a lower percentage of participants changing position was Walmart “provides products at a lower price.” This is not unexpected as there might be a psychological reason for the response to this question. Once a shopper enters Walmart and notices those lower price point items, they might form the opinion that everything in the store is the lowest price in the area. This perception is reinforced with a media campaign blitz that reemphasizes this point to the consumer. Taken together, it is not surprising that participants believe that Walmart provides consumers with products at a lower price. In contrast, questions relating to the impact on workers and impact on businesses show particularly widespread gross change. Perhaps these are two areas where pre-deliberation attitudes were not as solidified and participants’ attitudes were more subject to change.

The number of participants who changed their position is between 35 and 73 percent. The percentage changing sides runs in the 11-60 percent range. The percentage of those participants changing side completely was between 3 and 30 percent. As with net change, there are some noticeable variations across policy topics. Concerning those participants who changed side completely, five out of the ten lowest percentages were found in the public policy section. On the question asking whether the “government should increase the minimum wage,” only 2.7 percent changed their position completely. Regarding the question as to communities being able to vote on whether Walmart should be allowed, 4.1 percent changed sides completely on the scale provided. And concerning the question whether the “government should pass legislation for universal health care coverage,” 4.2 percent changed sides completely.

As Luskin et al. (2002) point out, when examining gross changes, particularly those involving changing sides completely, percentages that are in the “mid-to-high single digits are impressive … and those in the twenties are astonishing” (p. 472). Those questions on which more than 20 percent of the participants changed sides (whether from the agree to the disagree range or vice versa) included, “provides an increase in jobs,” “provides jobs with career tracks,” “I shop at Walmart because of the prices,” “generates a larger customer base for business,” “draws people to the community,” “negatively impacts small business,” and “department stores should be regulated.” Of those questions, respondents tended to move from the disagree to the agree range on the variables, “I shop at Walmart because of the prices,” “generates a larger customer base for business,” “draws people to the community,” “negatively impacts small business,” and “department stores should be regulated.” Respondents tended to move from agree to disagree on the variables, “provides an increase in jobs” and “provides jobs with career tracks.” Table 2 summarizes statistically significant net changes.

There were also a number of issues where the percentage of participants who changed sides completely was statistically significant. On an issue related to workers, “provides an increase in jobs,” 30.1 percent of participants changed sides completely. The opinion shift was moving in a negative direction on this issue, weakening support for Walmart. Slightly more than 24% of participants changed sides completely about whether Walmart negatively impacts small businesses. Overall, the participants were moving in a more positive direction in response to this issue, although the mean responses mask changes in sides that could have canceled each other out. And 26.4 percent of participants changed sides completely on whether department stores should be regulated. The shift in opinion for this issue was stronger in terms of allowing the government to regulate these types of box stores. Each of these issues represents a significant shift of opinions.


There is disagreement about the efficacy of the deliberative poll as a proper research tool. It is important to note that scholars question the ability of a deliberative poll to stimulate true deliberative dialogue (Hart & Jarvis, 1999; Tringali, 1996), while others in the field have questioned the basic premise that deliberation provides the optimal format to study social outcomes (Mendelberg, 2002; Sanders, 1997).

Denver et al. (1995) in their study of one type of deliberative opinion poll found no evidence that deliberation significantly affected the quality and nature of participants’ beliefs and understanding about the issues discussed. This limitation as applied to this study is addressed in more detail under future research. They also found that participants’ knowledge of certain political “facts” had actually decreased. While the knowledge effects of deliberation are an important aspect of the arguments offered for deliberative democracy, the evidence of knowledge gains is not yet conclusive and should continue to be analyzed.

There were a number of potential limitations with our study. First, one of the common criticisms of deliberative polling is the amount of time and money necessary to successfully organize such an event. Even though we were able to save money by using local resources for the event, cost was still an issue. For example, we had to rely on volunteers to make up the expert panels. Because this issue has been debated locally, we were able to utilize local faculty members and elected officials as experts and moderators. We did, however, have a cancellation without much notice and were scrambling to find a replacement to make sure both positions were represented.

Another possible limitation concerns the reliance on the use of experts to provide information for the deliberative dialogue for the participants. In our case, we used local experts—members of the faculty at SUNY Cortland, area business people, and local politicians knowledgeable about the issue. The philosophy of the deliberative polling process is that “experts” are defined in as neutral a way as possible and the information they deliver should be factually based to aid in rational decision-making. Yet, there are clearly problems with this process. First of all, the mere fact of labeling someone an “expert” (and someone else as “not expert”) shapes how that individual’s information is received by an audience. Calling someone an expert may turn them into someone perceived to be an expert, regardless of the quality of the information that they may be presenting. Second, the personalities of the experts had a tremendous range. We had several academics who were much more reserved than other presenters, and we had several politicians who were very outgoing. Even with a moderator and a platform that included an equal amount of time to respond, it is possible that the more extroverted experts could have a slightly greater impact due to their presentation style. In addition, those speaking favorably about Walmart were fairly well known public figures in the community. Those speaking on the other side of the issue were not as well known. It is difficult, if not impossible, to perfectly balance a panel in terms of knowledge of an issue and skill at presenting one’s arguments. At the same time, labeling someone as an expert gives weight to their testimony that may not be deserved. The audience is still left to sort out which “facts” they will believe and which ones they will ignore.

Finally, the format of the deliberative polling event has been characterized as a “quasi-experiment” because it lacks the full investigational control characteristic of a laboratory experiment and because it lacks a true randomly assigned control group. The first limitation is inevitable given the setting and time treatment period. The inability to exclude extraneous influences is largely shared by all field experiments, but the deliberative polling process includes a number of elements such as the unbiased moderator and balanced briefing materials which hopefully minimize this potential problem. As for the second limitation, our deliberative polling event had a small attrition rate from those individuals who agreed to participate during the initial interview to those individuals who decided to participate. This may be explained by the smaller scope of our event. The limitations of a deliberative poll should continue to be evaluated in light of the purpose of each project and weighed against the strengths and weaknesses and costs of the available research options for the purpose at hand.

Future Research 

There are a number of questions that this project does not address that should be examined for future research. One theoretical question concerns how much of the event’s impact stems from gains in information versus increased contemplation. The questions we have to ask ourselves: are new or changed viewpoints accounted for by simply providing greater attention to the particular policy or issue presented? Do opinions shift by the mere fact of offering time for individuals to think about them? Even without acquiring more information about the economic impacts of Walmart, some participants may view the alternatives through different eyes due to different standards or to think harder about them and thus to see more clearly through the same eyes.

Another question would be to determine whether changes in opinion were derived from the briefing materials, the discussion in their small groups, and/or the plenary session in which questions were answered by the experts. It would also be interesting to determine whether changes in opinion were based on participant’s demographic characteristics such as their political affiliation or gender. Future deliberative polling events might collect data which attempt to better understand these possible influences (and further analysis of our own data might shed light on these questions as well).

One final area for further research might concern the longevity of these changing opinions or whether participants revert back because of the re-introduction of friends and family. A deliberative polling event in the future might re-poll the participants six months to a year after the initial event to determine whether or not their opinions remained the same or reverted back to their initial positions. This could help us to better understand the participants who were more or less susceptible to change during the event.


The general insight provided by this project is that deliberative polling can be a successful device for increasing the awareness and understanding of the economic impacts of Walmart amid a somewhat diverse number of participants. Our experience has shown that universities are valuable forums for these types of events, as resources can be assembled cheaply and quickly with experts and moderators such as professors, local politicians and administrators. The process of deliberation allows participants to become more informed, to realize its aptitude to solve public problems, to become engaged, to make a decision based on the virtues of an issue rather than on media sound bytes.

This deliberative polling event demonstrated that exposure to information and allowing for open discussion concerning an issue led to opinion change. Citizens who were directly involved with the deliberation were stimulated by the both the small-group and plenary session discussions. Many expressed the fact that they operated under misconceptions about Walmart, and felt that they learned a lot. At the end of the last plenary session, there was an apparent connection made between the participants. They felt comfortable in their new role as citizens deliberating on a given topic, asking key questions, and formulating new opinions.


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About the Authors 

Christopher Latimer is an associate professor in the Department of Political Science and associate director of the Institute of Civic Engagement; Karen Hempson is Lecturer II in the Childhood Education Department; and Richard Kendrick is a professor in the Sociology/Anthropology Department and founding director of the Institute for Civic Engagement—all at the State University of New York at Cortland.


Publisher Samory T. Pruitt Vice President for Community Affairs The University of Alabama
Editor Cassandra E. Simon The University of Alabama
Production Editor Edward Mullins The University of Alabama
Editorial Assistant Jessica Averitt Taylor The University of Alabama
Editorial Intern Brett Bralley The University of Alabama
Design Intern Antonio Rogers The University of Alabama

The Journal of Community Engagement and Scholarship is published at The University of Alabama by the Office of Community Affairs for the advancement of engagement scholarship worldwide. To reach the editor e-mail or call 205-348- 7392. The NASA infrared image on the cover is of Hurricane Katrina as it approached the Gulf Coast in 2005.

Marsha H. Adams, The University of Alabama Jay Lamar, Auburn University
Andrea Adolph, Kent State University Stark Campus Hal A. Lawson, The University at Albany, State University of New York
Katrice A. Albert, Louisiana State University James Leeper, The University of Alabama
Theodore R. Alter, Penn State University Robert C. Liebman, Portland State University
Robert E. Bardon, North Carolina State University Marybeth Lima, Louisiana State University
Anna Sims Bartel, Bates College Hildy L. Miller, Portland State University
Delicia Carey, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Robert L. Miller, Jr., The University at Albany, State University of New York
James D. Cashman, The University of Alabama Mary Ann Murphy, Pace University dt ogilvie, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
Jeremy Cohen, Penn State University Jacob Oludoye Oluwoye, Alabama A&M University
Jan Cohen-Cruz, Syracuse University Michael E. Orok, Alabama A&M University
Richard L. Conville, The University of Southern Mississippi Ruth Paris, Boston University
Susan Curtis, Purdue University Clement Alesander Price, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
Mary Elizabeth Curtner-Smith, The University of Alabama Josephine Pryce, The University of Alabama
David J. Edelman, University of Cincinnati A. Scott Reed, Oregon State University
Barbara Ferman, Temple University Michael J. Rich, Emory University
Hiram E. Fitzgerald, Michigan State University Howard B. Rosing, DePaul University
Philip A. Greasley, University of Kentucky Sunil Saigal, New Jersey Institute of Technology
Susan Scheriffius Jakes, North Carolina State University Nick Sanyal, University of Idaho
Phillip W. Johnson, The University of Alabama Amilcar Shabazz, University of Massachusetts
Lisa M. Hooper, The University of Alabama L. Steven Smutko, North Carolina State University
Rhoda E. Johnson, The University of Alabama Lee H. Staples, Boston University
Mary Jolley, Community Development, Tuscaloosa, Ala. John J. Stretch, Saint Louis University
Kimberly L. King-Jupiter, Lewis University Rahima Wade, National Educational Consultant
William S. Kisaalita, University of Georgia John R. Wheat, The University of Alabama
 J. Robert Krueger, Worcester Polytechnic Institute Kim L. Wilson, Purdue University
Diane F. Witmer, California State University

A Checklist for Implementing Service-Learning in Higher Education

Amelia Jenkins and Patricia Sheehey



Service-learning has been implemented successfully as an instructional method in K-12 schools, colleges, and universities. Research indicates that service-learning helps students gain knowledge and skills and increase self-confidence and sense of caring. Service-learning projects in colleges and universities are beneficial to those in many disciplines, including education. This article provides a framework for including service-learning in education courses and introduces an innovative checklist to guide and evaluate service-learning as an instructional strategy. The checklist delineates the four-stage service-learning process: (a) preparation, (b) implementation, (c) assessment/reflection, and (d) demonstration/celebration.

Instructors in teacher education courses use an array of instructional strategies to facilitate preservice teachers’ acquisition of the theoretical knowledge of teaching and the application of the process of teaching children and young adults. Instructional strategies are implemented in the college or university classroom, online, or in school classrooms. Diverse instructional strategies to actively engage the university students in their own learning include role-playing activities, cooperative group projects, and service-learning (Sileo, Prater, Luckner, Rhine, & Rude, 1998). This article provides teacher educators with a foundation for using service-learning in their courses and a structure to guide and evaluate service-learning as an instructional strategy.

Service-learning has been implemented successfully as an instructional method in elementary and secondary schools, as well as community colleges and universities (Griffith, 2005; Yoder, Retish, & Wade, 1996). Service-learning allows students the opportunity to practice critical thinking skills and apply learning in real-world settings, while meeting authentic needs in communities. Service-learning presents students with real-world problems to confront, alternatives to consider, and solutions to find. Service-learning challenges students to work collegially, communicate successfully, and acquire and exercise new skills. Research indicates that service-learning, when well designed and managed, can contribute to student learning and growth (Astin & Sax, 1998; Billig, Root, & Jesse, 2005; Chang, 2002; Hamm & Houck, 1998). Grounded in John Dewey’s theory of learning through experience, service-learning increases self-esteem, knowledge and skills acquisition, personal and interpersonal skills development, and a sense of accomplishment (Chen, 2004; Conrad & Hedin, 1991; Dudderar & Tover, 2003; Ehrlich, 1996).


Service-Learning in Higher Education 

Research has indicated that service-learning is effective pedagogy on college and university campuses. Research has further indicated that service-learning has had a positive impact on academic, social, and cultural variables (Butin, 2006). It increases understanding and depth of course content, promotes knowledge and understanding of civic and social issues, and increases awareness and acceptance of diversity (Astin & Sax, 1998; Billig et al., 2005; Chang, 2002; Cress, Collier, Reitenauer, & Associates, 2005; Hamm & Houck, 1998). Service-learning may be included in college and university courses as a separate course with a focus on service-learning (Anderson, Swick, & Yff, 2001) or as strategy for teaching academic concepts in disciplines such as engineering (George & Shams, 2007; Mehta & Sukumaran, 2007; Zhang, Gartner, Gunes, & Ting, 2007), education (Chen, 2004; Swick & Rowls, 2000), and nursing (Romack, 2004).

Faculty resources and research on service-learning present a four-stage schema for service-learning planning (Bringle & Hatcher, 1996). The stages are (1) preparation, (2) implementation, (3) assessment/reflection, and (4) demonstration with celebration (Fertman, 1994; Kaye, 2004).



Preparation involves a variety of activities, including identifying a community need, establishing a goal/objective for the service-learning project, establishing the knowledge and/or skills necessary for the project, and determining resources and activities necessary for the project (Bringle & Hatcher, 1996; Kaye, 2004). Course objectives should include and connect academic and civic/social learning (Berle, 2006; Zlotkowski, 1995). Service-learning should be carefully and thoroughly planned (Berle, 2006). Planning includes developing connections with community resources for the project (Kaye, 2004), determining the number of participants, establishing the type of project and whether students will have a choice in their type of project, the number of hours required for the project, and the expected outcomes or forms of assessment for evaluating project outcomes and student learning (Bringle & Hatcher, 1996). Werner and McVaugh (2000) recommended several strategies for increasing the quality and interest of service-learning, including giving students a choice and control of their project. Choices and control over project assignment and project activities have resulted in a goodness-of-fit between tasks and students’ interests resulting in an increase in learning and competence and may result in the internalization of the value of service. Mabry (1998) found that service-learning seems to be more effective when students provide at least 15 to 20 hours of service per semester and are in frequent contact with the beneficiaries of their service project. Assessment for evaluating academic learning and the outcomes of service-learning include formative and summative reflections (George & Shams, 2007; Mabry, 1998); focus groups (Cooks & Scharrer, 2006); group discussions (George & Shams, 2007); journal writing (Cooks & Scharrer, 2006; George & Shams, 2007); observations including videotapes (Cooks & Scharrer, 2006); narrative assessments in the form of a midterm and take-home final (Strage, 2000) or essays (Bringle & Hatcher, 1996); and presentations (Bringle & Hatcher, 1996).



Implementation of service-learning should include frequent connections of the project to academic content (Cress et al., 2005). Astin, Vogelgesang, Ikeda, and Yee (2000) found that instructors who frequently connected the service-learning project to academic learning facilitated a learning relationship whereby the service experience enhanced academic understanding that in turn enhanced the service experience. Throughout the implementation of the service project, students should reflect on the project and academic learning to assess their learning. This ensures that participation in the service-learning project is impacting academic learning and enhancing social learning (Astin et al.) or understanding of diversity (Rhoads, 1997).



Much has been written regarding the assessment of service-learning and service-learning outcomes. Assessments often focus on evaluating the course and/or evaluating student academic and social or civic learning. Cooks and Scharrer (2006) presented several methods for assessing students’ social learning that included interviews, focus groups, journal assignment analysis, and analysis of videotaped interactions. Bringle and Hatcher (1996) suggested using purposeful reflections linked to course objectives that are analyzed using a rubric or a separate activity such as a poster presentation or essays. Student reflections as a data source seem to be the most frequently used form of assessment. Bringle and Hatcher suggested the use of purposeful reflection activities, analyzed using a rubric to rate learning, or a separate activity such as a poster presentation or essay. Ash, Clayton, and Atkinson (2005) used rubrics to evaluate students’ thinking as demonstrated in their written reflection. Strage (2000) used an analysis of students’ journals to determine that students had reflected thoughtfully on the connections between lecture information, readings, and hands-on experiences. Questionnaire surveys and Likert scales have been developed and used to evaluate course objectives and program outcomes that included service-learning projects (George & Shams, 2007; Zhang et al., 2007). However, George and Shams (2007) issued a caution regarding the use of Likert scales and surveys because assessment of learning based on self-report may be biased due to students providing desirable responses. Student surveys and semi-structured discussions at the end of the semester can also provide information regarding suggestions for program improvements (George & Shams, 2007). In addition to assessing the impact of the service-learning project on student learning, George and Shams contended that it is equally important to determine the success of the project from the perspective of the community partner. Although traditionally outside the realm of learning in higher education, obtaining community members’ perspective provides a more holistic assessment (George & Shams, 2007), which promotes service-learning as a mutual activity in which both parties benefit (Rhoads, 1997).



Kaye (2004) defines the final stage of demonstration as allowing students the opportunity to discuss and openly exhibit their work through different formats such as displays, performances, and presentations. Demonstration provides students an opportunity to validate what they have learned and how they learned it, as well as to share that learning with others. While celebration is sometimes included as the final stage of service-learning projects (Fertman, 1994), Kaye suggests that celebration be included in the demonstration stage, such as planning a festive occasion paired with the student demonstrations. Students, too, have reported the importance of being given the opportunity to share the results of their service-learning projects with others (Swick & Rowls, 2000).

Existing literature on service-learning provides a wealth of information for developing and implementing service-learning projects in higher education. The literature provides descriptions of instructors’ experiences in implementing service-learning, including details such as methods used and evaluation procedures (Allison, 2008; Curtis & Mahon, 2010; Larios-Sanz, Simmons, Bagnall, & Rosell, 2011; Ming, Lee, & Ka, 2009). Many colleges and universities have developed faculty resources including pamphlets, brochures, and practical guides to support faculty in developing a service-learning course or project (Bringle & Hatcher, 1996; Gilchrist, Mundy, Felton, & Shields, 2003). There is information on worksheets for planning, suggestions on how to assess, types of reflection activities/ questions, pre and post assessments for students, and numerous checklists. However, for an instructor inexperienced in service-learning and undertaking the development of a service-learning project in a course for the first time, accessing the depth and breadth of the literature could be overwhelming.

We attempted to streamline the existing literature into a manageable checklist to provide a simple method of planning and assessing an instructor’s experience with service-learning. The simple checklist provides a framework that reflects our experiences and the service-learning literature. Further, the checklist breaks down the four stages of service-learning into components somewhat finer than that which the literature recommends.

This article provides a description of our service-learning experiences and the resulting checklist we developed. The purpose of the checklist is to assist an instructor—in particular those new to service-learning—in developing, implementing, and evaluating the results of a service-learning project. This checklist provides instructors the opportunity to fine-tune their experience and continue to grow in their use of service-learning.


Service-Learning Project Description 

Our experiences in service-learning include planning, implementing, and assessing service-learning projects as required assignments in two graduate courses and one undergraduate course over an eight-year span. During that time we assessed and reflected on the assigned projects, making revisions to provide more detail in the planning, providing more feedback and linkages to academic and social learning, and refining the evaluation of student learning. We reviewed (a) the course syllabi; (b) the service-learning projects completed by students; (c) student course evaluation ratings and comments; (d) instructor notes; and (e) evaluation instruments completed by the instructors to revise and improve our service-learning projects.

In an attempt to design a workable schema to assess service-learning projects, we developed a guide for instructors to complete in reviewing the service-learning experiences. After the initial guide was developed, the instructors met and reviewed data collected from the courses. Discussion ensued on how to respond to each item on the guide, and revisions were made to provide greater clarity. Each instructor then individually completed the guide for an additional course each taught, and comparisons were made. Differences in perspectives were discussed until complete agreement was reached on elements to include on the guide. A study of our service-learning experiences was then completed (Jenkins & Sheehey, 2009).


The Checklist 

Our experience in developing a guide for evaluating service-learning in higher education courses, and a review of the literature on service-learning, led to our development of a simple checklist for planning, implementing, and evaluating service-learning. Elements on the checklist were grouped into the four stages widely accepted in the service-learning literature (Bringle & Hatcher, 1996; Fertman, 1994; Kaye, 2004), resulting in a 10-item checklist.

The checklist is presented with brief descriptions of suggestions for instructors to consider; individual items should be weighed for appropriateness against instructor’s prior knowledge and background, and the course into which a service-learning project (SLP) assignment is to be integrated. We included the data collection source, criteria utilized, and a brief discussion on each of the elements. The checklist can be found in Table 1.

Stage 1: Preparation 

1. Course description. Data Collection Source: Course syllabus. Criteria: Consider whether the goals and objectives of the course are aligned with the goals and objectives of service-learning. The course syllabus should include the course goals and objectives specific to service-learning and the nature or benefits of service-learning as related to the course content (Berle, 2006; Zlotkowski, 1995).

2. Integration of SLP into course content. Data collection source: Course syllabus, course agenda, individual class agendas, and supporting materials. Criteria: Prepare the course session agendas to integrate the SLP into the course. Schedule class sessions to devote to the teaching of service-learning, the monitoring of project implementation, and final presentations of projects (Kaye, 2004).

3. SLP description and requirements. Data Collection Source: Course syllabus and/or supporting course materials (e.g., service-learning guide, separate handouts with project description and directions). Criteria: The SLP assignment should be described in detail. Include a description of the components of the project and detailed written directions for submitting. Specify if the students are to submit a final written report of the SLP, the elements to include in the paper, and how it will be scored. Consider breaking the project assignment into parts to be submitted to the instructor on specific dates. The instructor can then provide written and/or verbal feedback to individual students to direct their completion of the SLP. The SLP directions should include specific details for the evaluation/reflection section (George & Shams, 2007; Mabry, 1998). Consider including specific questions to guide the students’ reflection regarding what they learned from the project and the impact of the project (Bringle & Hatcher, 1996). The evaluation component should require students to reflect upon the learning in three aspects: (a) learning of course content, (b) their thoughts and feelings about the service-learning experience, and (c) the impact of and feedback from the community partner who participated in the service-learning project. Consider using a pre- and post-test method (questionnaire or survey) for evaluating the results of the SLP impact on students and community partners (Borges & Hartung, 2007; George & Shams, 2007).

3a. Time requirement. Data Collection Source: Course syllabus and/or supporting materials. Criteria: Details of time students should devote to the service-learning project should be specific enough to provide students the necessary guidance (Berle, 2006). Specify if the SLP should be a semester-long project, and specify the minimum (and maximum) number of hours students are required to devote to the project (Bringle & Hatcher, 1996). Consider requiring students to submit a timeline or time log with an estimate of the time devoted to planning, implementing, evaluating, and writing the project final report.

3b. Grade value. Data Collection Source: Course syllabus and/or supporting materials. Criteria: The SLP should be given a point value and assigned a percentage of the course grade appropriate for the project assignment. In our experiences, the SLP accounted for 30% to 40% of the course grade. Individual project reports were evaluated on a 100 point scale, and included the presentation of the project to the whole class.

3c. Type of project. Data Collection Source: Course syllabus and/or supporting materials. Criteria: Specify the type of project required. Types of SLPs include direct, indirect, and advocacy or civic action. Fertman (1994) defined the three types as follows: Direct service is personal contact with those to whom the service is provided, such as cooking and serving food to the homeless; indirect service “involves channeling resources to solve a problem,” (p. 13) such as fundraising for the homeless; civic action involves “active participation in democratic citizenship” (p. 14), such as petitioning the local government to address housing needs of the homeless. Students should be informed if they are to choose their own project (unlimited choice), choose from a menu (limited choice), or be assigned a predetermined project. Werner & McVaugh (2000) found that providing a choice increased the quality and interest of the project and resulted in an increase in learning and internalization of the value of service. A study by Mayhew (2000) suggested that students learn whether given limited or unlimited choice. In our experiences, we allowed students to choose their type of project, according to specific criteria provided. Students predominantly chose direct service and implemented worthwhile projects that provided a needed service to others, within the guidelines of the project description and appropriate to the course. Instructors may want to complete a chart that summarizes the types of projects students implemented.

3d. Location. Data Collection Source: Course syllabus and/or supporting materials. Criteria: If the SLP is to be implemented in a specific location or with identified community partners, the instructor should develop community connections regarding the SLP location (Kaye, 2004). For example if a SLP is assigned in a reading methods course, the instructor should have made a connection with the administrator and teachers in a school to facilitate implementation of the SLP. The volunteer criteria/requirements of the school would then need to be identified and clearly articulated to the candidates. If the SLP is assigned in a course on working with families, the specific location may not be specified as long as the project participants include families. However, the instructor should have connections with family resource centers and include volunteer criteria for those centers, as applicable. We required students to submit to the instructor a proposal indicating the type of project and location—including documentation that they meet volunteer criteria for that organization or agency—and receive approval prior to implementing. Given sufficient location choices, meeting volunteer criteria should not be a hindrance.

3e. SLP Evaluation. Data collection source: Course syllabus and/or supporting materials. Criteria: Clearly specify how the project will be evaluated (Cooks & Scharrer, 2006; George & Shams, 2007). Align the method of evaluating the project with the project description. A rubric, for example, should be comprised of the identical components included on the written directions for the SLP, with criteria for levels of performance. Students should be provided the written evaluation document/rubric, including specific information for all components to be submitted to the instructor. Consider including details for evaluating (a) the content of the project final paper, (b) the quality of the written product, (c) the quality of the presentation, and (d) the appropriateness of the project to service-learning and to the course.

Stage Two: Implementation—Performing the Service 

4. Foundation for service-learning. Data collection source: Class agenda, instructional materials, instructor’s notes. Criteria: Provide sufficient information and instruction on service-learning. Prior to allowing students to begin the projects, provide a foundation for service-learning as a philosophy and as pedagogy. Introduce service-learning as a valuable instructional technique; provide the rationale and theoretical research base, the principles and practices of service-learning, and the benefits to teaching and learning. Assign readings or have students locate articles or stories of teachers who have implemented service-learning projects (Chen, 2004; Dudderar & Tover, 2003). Provide examples of completed projects as models for students to review.

5. Student support and feedback. Data Collection Source: class agenda, instructor notes. Criteria: Schedule class sessions to review specific requirements for the projects; include class time to answer questions regarding the assignments, and review students’ drafts of projects prior to completion. Periodically, instructors may hold individual and whole class sessions with students to clarify project requirements and give feedback. Class sessions also may include coverage of topics related to specific skills needed to complete the project. Include frequent connections of the project to academic content (Astin et al., 2000). Allow students to share ongoing progress and dialogue with others in class (Mayhew, 2000). Encourage students to reflect on the experience as it progresses and at the end, such as through reflective journals (Dudderar & Tover, 2003; George & Shams, 2007; Mabry, 1998). Answer questions and assist students in problem-solving as issues arise.

Stage Three: Assessment/Reflection 

6. Student learning and performance on SLP. Data Collection Source: Before and after surveys, student project reflections, community partner feedback, completed project and course grades. Criteria: Instructors should devote time to review data on student learning and performance. Instructors should utilize multiple measures in evaluating student performance on the SLP, including course grades, individual project grades, and other measures including community partner feedback. If a before and after survey or questionnaire was implemented, evaluate the data for indications of student learning (George & Sham, 2007; Zhang et al., 2007). Similarly, evaluate the questions to which students responded in the project reflection section (Bringle & Hatcher, 1996). Items that address acquisition of course content and impact of service-learning project on the community partner should be analyzed.

7. Student satisfaction. Data collection source: Reflection section of SLP, student course evaluations. Criteria: Instructors should have gathered sufficient data to provide for a review of student satisfaction. Student satisfaction of the SLP can be determined from comments on the reflection section of the SLP and in the course evaluations completed by students at the end of the course. On the course evaluations, items pertaining to “course assignments,” “course projects,” and/or “overall course” should be analyzed. Mean responses to those items as well as student comments should be considered. Student satisfaction may indicate the degree of learning about the academic field and the impact of the project on the community partner. Research indicates that students report greater satisfaction in courses implementing service-learning (Moely et al., 2002).

8. Instructor satisfaction. Data Collection Source: Observation/instructor notes, review of completed projects, course evaluations. Criteria: This is a subjective evaluation to be determined by the instructors after reflecting upon the experience. Challenges that higher education faculty face in implementing service-learning, such as an already over-crowded curriculum, lack of time to plan, and the mission and goals of the program or course not aligned with service-learning (Anderson et al., 2001) are important issues to weigh against the benefits of service-learning. Instructors should consider keeping notes during implementation and to reflect upon them following the experience. Instructors should summarize “what I learned as an instructor,” noting what worked, what didn’t, and what next. Further, note any changes made to the project from a prior experience, if appropriate, and the result.

Overall, both instructors were pleased with the results of the SLP assignments and students’ performances. We integrated the SLPs into the course as required assignments, in courses that typically required semester long projects; therefore there was no issue of an “already over-crowded curriculum.” We devoted more time in planning the projects in the first experiences, but time lessened with experience. The conceptual framework of our college, “preparing educators for a just and democratic society,” is closely aligned with the outcomes of service-learning, and therefore supports its use. Both instructors felt we learned much from the experience, but both still consider we have room to grow. Instructor satisfaction was highest in the final experiences.

Stage Four: Demonstration & Celebration 

9. Student and partner celebration. Data Collection Source: Student and partner presentations. Criteria: Instructors should provide opportunities for students and community partners, if possible, to present their final project results to others (Bringle & Hatcher, 1996; Swick & Rowls, 2000). Class time can be devoted to allow students and partners to present individually or in a poster session format. An alternative is to schedule a Mini Conference during which students and partners will present their project results. Encourage students and partners to submit proposals to local, state, or national conferences to present their results. In our experience, students enjoyed the opportunity to present their findings to the class; some community partners participated in the presentations or were invited guests at the celebration. Presentations included poster sessions and individual power point presentations. We found the presentations well prepared and engaging overall.

10. Instructor celebration. Data source: Instructor presentations. Criteria: Instructors should share their experience with colleagues through informal or formal opportunities. At the local level, instructors can share their results with colleagues at department and/or college wide meetings or forums. Share your experience with graduate students and encourage their research with service-learning. Instructors may prepare a manuscript for publication to share the results of the experience. Finally, instructors may consider submitting a proposal to local, state, or national conferences to present their results. Community partners might also be invited to co-present their perspectives on the projects.



Although the literature provides descriptive guidance for planning, implementing, and evaluating service-learning in higher education courses, we developed a checklist for planning and assessing service-learning projects in our courses. We included information from the literature as well as our own experiences in developing our schema. We divided our checklist into the four stages of preparation, implementation, assessment/reflection, and demonstration/celebration as presented in the literature, broken into smaller components. We found that it is essential that all aspects of the service-learning project be thoroughly planned and linked to course academic learning and social learning goals and objectives. As recommended by Werner & McVaugh (2000), we determined that offering selective choices regarding projects should be included in service-learning assignments. As Mabry (1998) suggested, we determined a specific number of hours during the semester for the project implementation and developed connections with the community regarding possible projects. We included feedback and review of course academic concepts to enhance learning and support of the project throughout implementation as suggested by Astin et al. (2000). We also recommended that requirements for the project be reviewed throughout the semester to provide support and clarification. We suggested evaluations be conducted prior to the project, throughout implementation of the project, and after the project. The use of formative and summative evaluations provides the instructor with feedback regarding student learning through the duration of the project (George & Shams, 2007; Mabry, 1998). As Bringle and Hatcher (1996) suggested, we recommend the use of reflections, surveys using a Likert scale (George & Sham, 2007; Zhang et al., 2007), presentations (Bringle & Hatcher), etc. as instruments for evaluating student-learning. We also included specific questions on course evaluations and project grades to determine student and community partner satisfaction and student learning outcomes. Similar to the celebration as the last component of a service-learning project, we suggest instructors of courses in higher education who have included a service-learning activity in their course celebrate by sharing their results with colleagues in their departments, colleges, and universities through formal or informal meetings or forums. In addition, celebration might include publishing research on service-learning outcomes for specific disciplines and presenting findings at local and national conferences.



From our review of the service-learning literature and our experiences, we gleaned the critical elements to consider in planning, implementing, and evaluating service-learning in higher education. We then condensed that information into a usable checklist. With the use of the checklist, we analyzed specific components of our service-learning experiences. We determined that the checklist provided a valuable structure to assist us in identifying our strengths and weaknesses, and in determining areas needing improvement. We offer this instrument as a means of providing suggestions to those interested in implementing service-learning. We suggest that others use the checklist to assist in determining the specific elements that worked and what is in need of further improvement.



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About the Authors 

Amelia Jenkins is a full professor, and Patricia Sheehey an associate professor in the Department of Special Education at the University of Hawaii Manoa.

Mini-Med School: Developing Partnerships with the Community and Between Health Professions and Students

Annette I. Peery and Kathryn M. Kolasa


Often in the high-tech, fast paced arena of health professions education, community engagement may be ignored. One rural, Southern university with a large health sciences division did not allow this to occur and has provided an opportunity for engagement and scholarship through a Mini-Med School. This multi-session education experience introduces members of the general public to academic and professional experiences of a medical education, and includes an interactive health fair session. The health fair session relies on the collaboration of multiple health professions – medicine, nursing and dietetics, thus promoting faculty and students from these health professions to engage in dialogue, training and interaction with each other and the community participants. This activity has been deemed extremely successful in promoting engagement of individuals and groups on multiple levels and thus provides an exemplar for others to follow.

Introduction and Background 

Since the early 1990’s, scientists and interested lay people have met in the Mini-Med Schools experiences throughout the U.S. Mini-Med school, in some locations, is an open lecture series. In others, like the one offered at the [University] from 1998- 2002 and again in 2007, is a multi-session education experience exposing members of the general public to the academic and professional experiences of a medical education. The Mini-Med school is designed to foster a better understanding of the role medical school and related programs such as Nursing and Allied Health, plays in its community. There have been few papers describing this program, although the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Office of Science Education published a planning guide (2006). This paper, then, is meant to describe how one southeastern university medical school conducted a Mini-Med school, the partnerships developed between the school and the community as well as between health professionals and students engaged in this effort. We also report on the results of the “Doctoring Experience”, one of the experiential learning activities for participating community members.

Mini-Med School 

The concept was brought to the School of Medicine by a representative from the [company] that provided a small unrestricted grant for the first three years and the program was offered subsequently for five consecutive years. It was offered with internal funding for an additional two years. The program included a variety of presentations offered over a 6 week period.. These dealt with cutting edge developments in medicine and provided hands on learning with new technology as well as question-and-answer sessions among faculty and participants. . The sessions, attended by more than 500 individuals were taught by physicians and researchers in their fields who were chosen for their ability to make the technical language of medicine understandable to the non-medical public and who volunteered their time.

The objectives of the program were to assist participants to develop understanding of the following: 1) The primary care mission of the University; 2) the disease and health conditions especially prevalent in the region; 3) the growing emphasis in medicine on health improvement and disease prevention; and, 4) the importance of research in improving health care.


The program highlighted health concerns of the region and included heart disease and stroke, cancer, diabetes and obesity. Special areas of training received by some health professional disciplines were included, such as biomedical research, medical humanities and ethics, medical communication and patient education, and the use of evidence based medicine. The program also demonstrated some of its treatments and telemedicine, along with lower technology training of students using standardized patients.

Integral to the programming was an interactive activity during each session. The goal was for each participant to leave the session with a new skill from calculating their own Body Mass Index and assessing the heart healthfulness of their personal diet to identifying quality web sites to using the tools of Evidence Based Medicine to answer their personal clinical questions. Mini-Med school was a

popular program based on its high attendance rates, waiting lists for the next offerings and comments made on evaluations completed after each session rating the quality of the presentations and interactive activities. We wanted, however, to have a more objective measure of the impact of Mini-Med School and chose to evaluate the impact of the “Doctoring” experience which gave participants information about their own health status.

In 2003, The Institute of Medicine called for educating all health professionals to deliver collaborative patient-centered care via interprofessional practice (Greiner & Knebel, 2003). Our 2007 Mini-Med school provided student volunteers an excellent opportunity to experience interprofessional practice. Thirty-six students from dietetics, nursing, and medicine along with primary care resident physicians, interacted with each other and Mini-Med school participants in a “Doctoring” experience. . All students, within their own professional school, completed the University and School of Medicine confidentiality module. The students of the various disciplines were trained together, by health professions faculty, to manage stations where each participant had their diet analyzed, body composition measured, lifestyle screened for diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular disease. Most of the students had no direct experience or training with these measurements. An Interprofessional Training Session was held the week prior to the “Doctoring” experience which included a review of confidentiality concepts and practicing the measurements on themselves and each other. In the earlier Mini-Med schools faculty managed these stations but only provided oversight during the 2007 event.

The students experienced “Doctoring” from a patient’s viewpoint, increasing their sensitivity to patient concerns. They had the opportunity to informally interact with the general public about their desires to serve their community in a health profession. Students learned psychomotor skills such as finger stick blood sugars, insulin injections, taking a blood pressure, and measuring ankle-brachial index and learned the value of screenings to educate and empower healthcare consumers to promote change in health behaviors. Students also had the opportunity during the “Doctoring” experience to improve their communication skills with consumers.

Community Participants (Sample)

Participants to the Mini Med School were recruited through a mailing to community leaders as well as paid newspaper advertisements. The promotional literature promised the participants that the program would enlighten, entertain, and familiarize participants with medical terminology and to provide insight into biomedical research and patient care.

Adult men and women from a wide variety of occupations, and who had a strong desire to learn more about medicine and medical education and were willing to commit 18 hours over a period of six weeks to fulfill this wish enrolled in the sessions. The class size was typically limited to 90 people on a first-come-first-serve basis.

Prior to the 2007 Mini-Med School, IRB approval was obtained from the University and Medical Center Institutional Review Board of [University] to collect survey data concerning the participants. Additionally, participants signed a consent form on the first night of the Mini-Med School after attending a presentation on the process of Human Subject Research Review. Participants were able to refuse to participate in any component of the program and their consent to participate in the results reported in this paper was based upon them voluntarily turning in a copy of the form at the end of the session.

Data Collection

During the “Doctoring Experience,” participants were divided into small groups and had the opportunity to rotate through eleven interactive stations where they learned to use the same screening tools medical students employ to help adult and pediatric patients understand how their lifestyle contributes to obesity and chronic disease (previously discussed). Each participant received a “Doctoring Experience Report Card” on which the results of their screenings, as well as their answers to some health history questions, could be recorded. The participants retained a copy and a copy was turned in for a door prize drawing, if the participant desired to do so. All participation was completely voluntary and participants completed only the questions and activities they desired.


Participants had the opportunity to complete a variety of screening and assessment instruments at the various stations during the “Doctoring Experience,” and were able to record their results on the “Doctoring Experience Report Card.” The “Doctoring Experience Report Card” allowed participants to enter results of the previous instruments, results of blood pressure and blood glucose readings, and to answer questions regarding their health and health-related behaviors. Other

instruments included a Calcium IQ Quiz, Rate Your Plate (non-DASH version) dietary assessment, and Diabetes Risk Test. “Rate Your Plate” and the “Calcium IQ Quiz” provide quick assessments and have been developed or revised and evaluated by dietitians in the [University] Department of Family Medicine.

The “Calcium IQ Quiz” has participants answer calcium intake related questions based on their previous day’s dietary intake. Based upon that intake, 1 to 3 points are given for various calcium containing foods/beverages and the total points then multiplied by 100 resulting in the approximate milligrams (mg) of calcium consumed in the previous day. Participants can then compare this amount to the recommended daily allowance for their age and gender. (ECU Family Practice Center, 1999)

The “Rate Your Plate” instrument assesses how individuals are doing in making healthy choices related to their eating patterns based upon their typical, or usual, intake of various foods. The “Rate Your Plate” scores are interpreted as follows: 18 to 28 points = there are MANY ways to make your eating patterns healthier; 28 to 41 points = there are SOME ways to make your eating patterns healthier; and, 42 to 54 points = you are making MANY healthy choices. (ECU Family Practice Center, 1998).

The “Diabetes Risk Test” (National Diabetes Education Program, 2011) helps determine one’s risk of developing pre-diabetes or type 2 diabetes. The guides one through a brief series of “yes/no” questions with points assigned to each. A score of 10 or greater represents that an individual has an increased risk of developing pre-diabetes or type 2 diabetes if they continue with their current lifestyle.


Sixty-four (91%) of the 70 participants completed the evaluation. Of these 70% reported that they participated in most of the interactive stations.

Participants were asked whether they found the interaction with the students to be a positive experience and all responded that their interactions were very positive. Following is a summary from the 2007 Mini-Med School of the demographics of the participants as well as an overview of their “Doctoring Experience” results indicating their own health status.


Data were collected from 64 participants, representing 91% of the entire group. The mean age of the sixty-four respondents was 47 years, with an age range of 19 to 86 years. The majority were female (63%) and Caucasian (83%). Forty-seven percent held a graduate degree while only 4% held a high school diploma as their highest degree earned. In terms of internet use, 12% reported that the never or infrequently used the internet and 47% reported using the internet often. Additionally, 71% of respondents reported that they had taken information they found on the web with them to discuss with their physician, indicating that consumers do seek health information on their own.

Weight and Body Composition 

Participants had the opportunity to determine their height, weight, waist to hip ratio, body mass index (BMI) and answer questions related to their weight as a child as well as the weight of their own children. In this sample, 18 (28%) had a BMI of between 25 and 30 kg/m2 while another 18 (28%) had a BMI greater than 30. Of those with a BMI equal to or greater than 30, only 8 (13%) reported being overweight as a child and most reported (10, or 56%) becoming overweight after the age of 20. Of those with a BMI > 25, only 15 (23%) reported that a physician broached the subject of weight with them, and 19 (83%) of those reported that they had attempted at some point to lose weight after their physician mentioned it.

Healthy Eating and Physical Activity 

Forty-seven participants reported their score on the “Rate Your Plate” instrument, which assesses whether or to what extent individuals are making healthy choices related to their eating patterns based upon their typical intake of various foods. Of these participants, 36 (76.6%) had a score of 42 or higher, indicating that the majority of the respondents were already making healthy choices in regards to their eating patterns.

Forty-nine participants reported their score on the “Calcium IQ Quiz.” It is recommended that individuals age 19 to 50 years have a daily calcium intake of 1,000 mg and those over 50 years 1, 200 mg (NIH, 2011). Of the respondents, only 13 (26.4%) reported a calcium intake of 1,000 mg or more over the past 24 hours.

Participants were also asked if their physician had ever encouraged them to walk, be active for at least 30 minutes a day on most days of the week and/or do strength training at least two days a week. Although 20 (62.5%) or the 64 participants reported that they followed their physician’s recommendations for physical activity most of the time, only 8 (11.4%) respondents reported that their physician had encouraged them to walk, 11 (15.7%) were told by

their physician to be active for at least 30 minutes a day on most days of the week, and only 7 (10%) were encouraged to engage in strength training at least two times per week.


In this sample (N=64), 7.8% reported having been diagnosed with diabetes and all were taking either oral medication and/or insulin. While only 5 (7.8%) reported a diagnosis of diabetes, only 6 (9.4%) had been told by their physician at some time that their blood glucose level was high.

Participants had the opportunity to have their blood glucose levels checked via a finger stick. These were considered random blood glucose readings as they were taken without regard to when the individual last ate food. A blood glucose reading is one of the assessments used to assist in diagnosing diabetes. The American Diabetes Association 2008 Clinical Practice Guidelines state that a random blood glucose level of 140 to 199 mg/dL may be diagnostic of pre-diabetes, while a random level of 200 mg/dL or higher may be diagnostic of diabetes (American Diabetes Association, 2008). Of the participants who completed this screening (N=60), fifty-four (90% ) had a random blood glucose level between 71 and 129 mg/dL, 4 (6.7%) between 142 and 160 mg/dL (pre-diabetes range), and 2 (3.3%) of 200 mg/dL or greater (diabetes range). Participants also had the opportunity to complete the American Diabetes Association Diabetes Risk Test. A score of 10 or greater represents that an individual has an increased risk of developing diabetes if they continue with their current lifestyle. Of the 36 participants who reported their score on this risk test, 11 (30.6%) reported a score of 10 or greater, indicating an increased risk of developing pre-diabetes or type 2 diabetes.

Cardiovascular Disease

In this sample, 6 (9.4%) of respondents reported they had been diagnosed with hypertension (systolic BP > 140 or diastolic > 90, for those without diabetes (NIH NHLBI, 2008). Medications for hypertension were used by 5 (7.8%) and 6 (9.4%) had been encouraged to eat less salt to assist in managing their hypertension. Thirty-one of the participants had their blood pressure taken and recorded. The actual blood pressure results of participants that were normal or hypertensive were as follows:

Normal systolic pressure — 13 (41.9%)

Normal diastolic pressure — 20 (74.1%)

Hypertensive systolic — 2 (6.5%)

Hypertensive diastolic — 1 (3.7%)

Information related to cholesterol, LDL, HDL and triglyceride levels was self-reported. In this sample, 14 (87.5%) reported having their cholesterol tested within the past two years and only 5 (7%) of participants reported the values for their LDL, HDL and triglyceride levels (the majority of which were within the desirable range). Of the respondents, 16 (38%) reported that they had been told that their cholesterol was too high and 12 (30.8%) had been encouraged to change their diet due to this, but only 7 (10%) reported actually making dietary changes and 8 (18.6%) stated they take medication for their high cholesterol levels.

Motivation to Change 

Participants in “The Doctoring Experience” were asked, “Based on what I learned today, I am motivated to change personal behavior.” Of the respondents, 56 (86.2%) replied “yes”.

Satisfaction of the Interdisciplinary Teams

Students participating in the interdisciplinary teams responded to an open-ended survey concerning the experiences. The student volunteers from all disciplines were extremely positive as they reflected on the experience, with 100% reported satisfaction with the experience.

They were asked “in what capacity did you interact with students from disciplines other than your own?” One student responded: “ The training session was very informative and taught me skills I would not have learned if I chose not to participate. . . . I liked the interaction of the program with (other) students . . .The idea of the entire program combining the disciplines and working together was great! We should be working together, our studies overlap and join in so many ways!”

When asked “what was the most beneficial aspect of this experience for you?” the responses included:

–“I had the incredible opportunity to learn new skills that I would have probably never had the chance to learn. … they really help to put things in (perspective) for me from the eyes of a patient.”

–“Interacting with the community.”

–“The most beneficial aspect of this program was definitely the training session. I also enjoyed the one-on-one time with the individuals coming through. The random questions some individuals came up with were fascinating, and it was also interesting how much information they expected me to know.”


For these respondents, the rates of overweight and obesity were slightly lower than the national average. In the United States, about two-thirds (66%) of adults age 20 and older are overweight or obese as indicated by a BMI of > 25. Of these nearly one-third (31.4%) are considered obese, with a BMI > 30 (NIH NIDDK, 2007). In this group the comparable percentage was 56%. It may be that this group was more highly educated and therefore more aware of the importance of maintaining a healthy weight. It is also interesting to note that this group scored highly on the “rate your plate” exercise indicating that as a whole they are making healthy food choices. Yet the majority are still in the overweight or obese category.

The majority of respondents, 62.5%, reported that they followed their physician’s recommendations for physical activity most of the time. This number seems quite impressive as only 26% of adults in the U.S. engage in vigorous leisure-time physical activity three or more times per week and 59% do no vigorous physical activity at all in their leisure time (NIH NIDDK, 2007). We note, however, that less than 25% reported that their physicians discussed their weight or exercise regimen with them. This is consistent with other reports in the literature reporting that physicians and nurse practitioners do not readily discuss weight control issues (Pollack et al, 2010).

In the United States, as the prevalence of obesity has increased, so has the prevalence of diabetes, particularly type 2 diabetes. In 2007, the prevalence of diagnosed and undiagnosed diabetes in the U.S. for all ages was estimated to be 7.8% of the population. (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2008). In this group 8.1% reported having been diagnosed with diabetes, thus they were comparable in this aspect to national norms.

Changing one’s lifestyle and health behaviors may be met with multiple starts, relapses, re-evaluations and restarts. Prochaska and DiClemente describe this cycle in their change theory, which includes six stages:

1) Pre-contemplation (resisting change)

2) Contemplation (thinking about change, but not considering it within the next month)

3) Preparation (getting ready to change; plan to act within one month)

4) Action (practicing new behavior; 3 to 6 months)

5) Maintenance (continued commitment to sustain new behavior)

6) Termination (if no relapse, new behavior is habit) OR Relapse (resume old behaviors) (Kritsonis, 2004; Littell & Girvin, 2002)

The participants in this program would most likely be in the second or third stage of change. One might assume that some resistance has been overcome through the program participation. The positive response to the item asking about plans to change would suggest that change is under consideration or that the individual might be actively planning how to bring about the change.

Engagement on Multiple Levels

Mini-Med School in this University has united the University and Health Sciences Division and the community at-large and has been successful at integrating teaching, research, service and community engagement. Community members engaged in this experience were able to see and experience first-hand what the major University in their area has to offer the region in terms of health care and in education of health professionals to serve this region. They had opportunities to learn about current, cutting-edge topics and research in healthcare and how it might relate to them. Additionally, they had the opportunity to learn more about their own health, through the “Doctoring Experience”, and how to promote a healthier lifestyle for themselves and their families.

In conclusion, interprofessional work with multiple disciplines can lead to extremely successful interactions, events and engagement. The Mini-Med School program was an example of such a successful interaction. All groups involved in this project interacted with one other and found that a positive activity. Future evaluation should focus on determining the degree of impact the program has had in bringing about healthier behaviors in the participants and also the effect of interprofessional education activities on each professional group.


American Diabetes Association. (2008). Diagnosis and classification of diabetes mellitus. Diabetes Care, 31, S55-S60.

ECU Department of Family Medicine. (1998). Rate your plate (non-DASH version). Retrieved March 14, 2011, from

ECU Department of Family Medicine. (1999).

Calcium IQ quiz. Retrieved March 14, 2011, from

Greiner, A.C., & Knebel, E. (Eds.). (2003). Health professions education: A bridge to quality. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.

Kritsonis, A. (2004-2005). Comparison of change theories. International Journal of Scholarly Academic Intellectual Diversity, 8(1), 1–7.

Littell, J.H., & Girvin, H. (2002). Stages of change: A critique. Behavior Modification, 26, 223-273.

National Diabetes Education Program. (2011). Diabetes, You Could Be At Risk. Retrieved June 30, 2008, from .

National Institutes of Health, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. (2008, April). High blood pressure. Retrieved June 30, 2008, from

National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. (2007, June). Statistics related to overweight and obesity. Retrieved June 30, 2008, from

National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements. (2011). Dietary supplement fact sheet: Calcium. Retrieved March 14, 2011, from

National Institutes of Health, Office of Science Education. (2006). Mini med school planning guide. Retrieved June 30, 2008, from

Pollak, K.I., Alexander, S.C., Coffman, C.J., Tulsky, J.A., Lyna, P., Dolor, R.J., James, I.E., Brouwer, R.J.N., Manusov, J.R.E. & Ostbye, T. (2010). Physician Communication Techniques and Weight Loss in Adults: Project CHAT. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 39 (4), 321-328.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2008). National diabetes statistics, 2007 (NIH Publication No. 08-3892). Washington, DC: National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse.

About the Authors

Annette I. Peery is an assistant professor in the College of Nursing and Kathryn M. Kolasa is professor and section head of Nutrition Services and Patient Education, Family Medicine and Pediatrics, in the Brody School of Medicine—both at East Carolina University.

Developing a Community-Based Research Network for Interdisciplinary Science: The Alabama Entrepreneurial Research Network

Annette Jones Watters, Paavo Haninen, and J. Michael Hardin



The Alabama Entrepreneurial Research Network (AERN) is a program originated to encourage entrepreneurship in rural areas of economic distress. In addition to promoting prosperity in low-income areas, the program now also serves as an opportunistic research network for interdisciplinary science investigations. Through AERN, potential and existing entrepreneurs in rural areas of Alabama have access to extensive university resources and personnel to advance their ideas for improving their local economies. The network provides materials, training, counseling, and business research services. AERN now includes 15 partners located over a large geographic area. This network has been sustained for over 10 years at a non-land grant state university. This paper describes the AERN program and suggests that an extensive university bureaucracy devoted to community relationships (such as the very successful and admirable Extension System) is not always necessary for long-lasting, effective engaged scholarship. The University of Alabama (UA) team has benefited as surely as the rural partners and local entrepreneurs. We have gained skill in community-based engagement scholarship and research; journal articles have been written; cross-university collaborations have been forged; students have been involved in real-life problem solving. We see this endeavor as a positive example of how to form a sustainable university-community relationship.



Entrepreneurs worldwide find it harder to access capital and technology in rural areas. Even with a good idea and a strong will, potential rural entrepreneurs often lack the technical or managerial know-how necessary to create successful businesses. Rural areas are also often areas of economic distress. (Snyder et al., 2011.) Our aim has been to establish a robust community-partners network within the business community in rural, low income areas. The network serves as a vehicle to increase prosperity, but it is also a resource for community-based research for interdisciplinary science. Business and economic research might come first to mind, but we have discovered with experience that a community-partners network of entrepreneurs is also an important resource for research in other academic fields.

An original aim of the community-partners network was to make resources from The University of Alabama available to local communities in creating jobs and for increasing locally available goods and services. From that original aim, a network with more sophisticated goals has evolved. The original goal of interaction with rural communities has never changed, but along the way we have developed interdisciplinary coalitions and research opportunities. This paper chronicles that process and encourages others to be open to this kind of academic endeavor.

Our rural partners perceive a positive relationship between physical, environmental, and cultural amenities and economic growth; nevertheless, they know that they are not freestanding economies. Their economic well-being depends on other, surrounding rural counties and on nearby metropolitan areas. Having a formal, long lasting link to business research with a major university has given each partner the chance to develop its own unique strategy for using the university-community resources to improve its local economy.

Despite rural socioeconomic difficulties, our study region has a rich cultural history, and its citizens are optimistic about the future. The area has produced artists, musicians, writers, civil rights activists, and national political figures. In celebration of these assets, different organizations within the various counties organize annual festivals devoted to culture, crafts, cuisine, local flora, music, and in one case, to that great economic powerhouse of earlier times, the mule. (Mule Day is held every June in Gordo, in Pickens County.) Our community partners are constantly pursuing new ways to improve the economic and social conditions in this most impoverished part of Alabama.

By putting resources directly into the hands of people who need them, AERN, the university community network we have established, enables the targeted communities to build local economic successes and simultaneously contribute to original research. Building a sustainable, cohesive, committed network of community partners and university researchers is hard, but doable. The process we describe here is proving valuable for the advancement of research and for the economic benefit of the partner communities.


Literature Review

Community-university collaborations are not new (Austin, 2004). Many units and disciplines across academia have engaged in a wide range of community-based relationships for generations. Because community problems offer opportunities for all three legs of the university’s mission—research, teaching, and service—the experiential learning for students, fresh data sources for faculty, and publicly recognized service outreach, make the community-based research model attractive (Brooks & Schramm, 2007).

The literature regarding community-based research collaborations points to the value of trust and mutual understanding among all partners to a project. At the earliest possible point in the research process, the community partners should be involved and all participants should be mutually defining the goals and objectives of the project. The community partners should have legitimate input regarding the direction of the project, the gathering of the research data, and the analysis of the project results. It is through this level of shared processes that another key element of true community collaboration can be attained: research that has a real and impactful result in the partner communities. A goal of any community-based collaboration should be for the partnership to survive beyond the life of the project currently being undertaken (University of Washington, School of Public Health, 2010).

The ongoing challenge to effect change in rural, low income communities often is that community engagement varies across different socioeconomic groups. For example, less affluent groups participate at a lower rate in community activities than other individuals (Williams, 2004). In any effort to overcome long-standing socioeconomic and cultural hurdles and to ensure broad participation in network activities, communication among local government workers, local politicians, and entrepreneurs is important. While entrepreneurs can tap informally into social capital networks—i.e. personal contacts with important players in the community—the structural dimensions of social capital can also provide a framework regarding the three ingredients important to the individual entrepreneur: access (to scarce resources), timing, and referral (Berggren, 2009).

Community-based development and research continue to gain momentum, particularly in health-related disciplines. There is an ongoing hope that local citizens will take ownership and responsibility and undertake action to achieve sustainability within their own communities for medical translational research efforts (Prinsloo, 2008). “Translational” research moves an idea from theory into practice, and experience shows that sustained university-community research networks like AERN are an excellent vehicle for this to happen.

Building capacity and sustainable economic development activity in “marginalized” communities (Austin, 2004) is the foundation upon which our model rests. Millio (1995) has noted that institutions such as those acting in partnership often serve as important intermediaries between individuals within low performing, rural communities and larger structural partners outside the community. As suggested by the literature, nurturing the community-based groups, and creating and sustaining bridges between individuals and the institutions that support them, are nearly synonymous with rebuilding community capacity (Anheier & Salamon, 2001; Dekker & Van Den Broek, 1998; Merrett, 2001; Perotin, 2001; Salamon, 2001; Stoll, 2001; Williams, 2004).

The bridging of individuals and institutions and larger outside structures takes place through a series of progressive stages that, over time, will increase the likelihood that collaborative, mutual democratic interactions occur that enhance the long-term success of the partnership and the specific project. The shared growth and building of the collaboration, with the preferred goal of full participation by the community partners, also allows for the development of local, engaged democratic interactions that will lead to behavioral changes and local advocacy for future and ongoing collaborative actions among all parties (Terlecki, Dunbar, et al., 2010).

Any approach to sustained community and entrepreneurial capacity building should begin with a common understanding of the individuals and communities involved. First, at its most basic level, “…the ideas for a new venture seem very much rooted in single entrepreneurs.” These entrepreneurs have knowledge and experience harvested over their lifetimes and are searching for “relevant resources to exploit the idea.” (Borch, Forde, Ronning, Vestrum, & Alsos, 2008). Second, at the community level, the local players are looking for tangible action and results, rather than further analysis of the underlying structural social, economic, cultural, or demographic factors that undergird the community or targeted project population. In other words, community partners expect the research and collaboration to directly benefit the community, enhance community assets, and provide some understanding of the community’s place in relationship to the larger structures beyond the local environment. In practical terms, regular meetings, specific actions, focused attention on new members to the collaboration or partnership, and other tangible work products all contribute to creating sustainability and build a common sense of purpose that can ultimately lead to true social change and increased local capacity (Austin, 2004).

The fundamental challenge facing community-based development and collaborative research efforts remains “…to adapt and develop support tools that work well in the specific local context.” Any community-based network must manifest flexibility in the deployment and adaptation of the support tools used in its collaborative efforts—particularly in rural communities (Borch et al., 2008). Over time, the partnership model has the opportunity to transcend traditional project-based collaborations due to its ability to deal with both high levels of complexity and a lack of capacity by any one organization. Long-term efforts to build trust among partners should be predicated on shared decision making, flexibility, mutual implementation of the project, and transparent conversations among all partners. By focusing on the partnership, the likelihood for greater long-term impact and sustainability for both the partners and the partnership will be enhanced (Terlecki, Dunbar, et al., 2010; Austin, 2004).


The AERN Model

This paper describes a community-based model (Figure 1) that meets the community expectations outlined above by Austin and the research expectations outlined by Terlecki and Dunbar. The community-based research model described in this paper has a 10-year history with a strong base of service and a more recent history with successful academic research endeavors.

Our network is deliberately only in rural areas. The commonalities of history and culture that our rural counties share contribute to our successful AERN community partnerships today. Nevertheless, university researchers who might begin work in a rural area in which they did not grow up should not assume that all nearby rural counties with similar statistical profiles are all basically alike. Advice from this project is that university researchers must be carefully attuned to local sensibilities, expectations, and leadership. “They all look alike to me” is never a good way to begin any research endeavor—ever. Even though AERN counties are some of the poorest counties in Alabama with poorly developed physical and social infrastructure and minimal resources, they have leaders who want to see improvement and progress.

Our area’s common history includes chronic poverty and lack of access to high quality public education, factors that introduce impediments to increasing rural prosperity in the area. Chronic poverty restricts access to capital for business startups. Local public schools don’t always offer a solid early childhood or elementary education; nor do the public secondary schools always ensure that students have strong basic skills to support further, postsecondary education. Business owners sometimes wish for a better collaboration between educators and employers to ensure that curricula are aligned with workforce needs.

Seven of the 17 counties in our network had a majority African-American population (U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, 2010); every county had double-digit unemployment rates (Alabama Department of Industrial Relations, 2010); poverty rates ranged from 18 to 35 percent of the total population in the 2005–2009 time period (U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates Program, 2009); up to 30 percent of the adults in these counties have not completed high school and the median family income in several counties is approximately half the national average, while none of the counties has a 2010 median family income as high as the Alabama state average, which is only 85 percent of the national average (U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, American Community Survey, 2005-2009). Our AERN counties generally lack a strong tradition of entrepreneurship among the African-American population.

The socioeconomic situation described above for our research area seems dire, but local response to the AERN initiative has been good and the program has met with success. Local business leaders in all AERN counties, regardless of location, have shown interest and enthusiasm for participation in AERN activities and for participation in community-partnership research activities.



The University of Alabama launched AERN to enhance rural entrepreneurship with the long- term objective of reducing some of the economic distress in these communities. Plant closings and layoffs have resulted in extensive lost jobs in the AERN service area. Textile/apparel, lumber, food, and paper are industries in the AERN area that have shed a considerable number of jobs in the recent past. This industrial downsizing has, of course, resulted in other layoffs from locally owned businesses forced to downsize after the local economy began to shrink. The original program 10 years ago had no academic research objective. The purpose then was to get business research tools into the grasp of rural entrepreneurs, train them in effectively using the research materials, and stay in touch. It was a good idea; it worked; its success has given us opportunities beyond the original intent. Our advice to others is that evolving goals and objectives are not bad. Stay true to your cause, but certainly add different ingredients from time to time to make the recipe tastier. This idea is expanded later in the paper.


Equipment and Materials

From the beginning (Figure 2), AERN has been a program with three components. One is to make available computers and peripheral equipment, business software, reference books, and other business research resources to chambers of commerce, industrial development agencies, or other nonprofit organizations whose mission includes business development in very rural, low income areas of Alabama. These organizations put the AERN resources in a secure location accessible to the public. The computers and other research materials are used to encourage potential entrepreneurs to start or expand a local business, or for other economic development work in the target area. The second component is a strong training emphasis. The staffs of the partner agencies receive training in how to use the materials and the public is offered seminars and workshops. The third component is AERN’s website. Many online resources are accessible there and the site is designed for ease of use by the lay public.

The program that was piloted in several West Alabama counties has subsequently been expanded fourfold. The small towns in our rural service area do not have a budget to purchase the business research tools provided through AERN; nor have they had the experience and expertise to use business software and printed business reference books effectively. Yet experience shows that when these tools are available, potential entrepreneurs are willing and able to access them for many uses.

The system works because it is a community-university partnership. The University of Alabama provides the service delivery components of the program. The UA-selected business reference materials (printed materials and software) are housed in the offices of partner agencies, but remain on the UA inventory. UA technical staff set up computers, peripheral hardware, and basic software in the offices of the partner agencies. The local partner agencies provide consumable materials (printer cartridges, paper, etc.), office furniture, physical access to the materials, and staff to help people use them.

AERN centers are located within agencies whose mission is economic advancement—chambers of commerce, industrial development authorities, community development agencies, and the like. AERN provides a flexible toolkit for locals who want to bring businesses and opportunities to their areas. AERN creates a decentralized network to bring cutting edge entrepreneurial computing tools and training directly to underserved, rural communities in Alabama affected by economic conditions of downturn and long-term decline. The system has proved remarkably replicable. The project began as part of a strategy to bring prosperity to rural, economically distressed areas and is beginning to produce solid community results. Following are two examples.


Traveling Workshops, Train-the-Trainer Programs.

Training local entrepreneurs to use computers and software for the purposes of adding new jobs and income to the area is done primarily by on-site seminars and workshops, but also through the AERN website. Training topics include researching markets, accessing expert advice, writing business plans, communicating with the public and current and prospective clients, and using technology in business applications.

The staff of the partnering agencies receive training so they can be local resources when UA personnel are not available on-site. Agency staffers learn to use the business software and electronic media. As funds permit, UA upgrades and enhances the resources available to its partners. Our partners have proven to be very entrepreneurial in their own right. They have used the AERN resources not only for helping individual entrepreneurs, but also for industrial recruitment, as a catalyst/leverage for grant proposals, and as a resource for other business development.


Recovering from economic downturn has several possible paths.

In one county, a man whose job had been eliminated at his long-time employer decided he wanted to open a restaurant on the downtown square. His father was willing to give him financial backing. He and his father came to the local chamber of commerce multiple times over the course of several weeks as they worked on a rigorous business plan. Starting a restaurant is risky. In fact, this entrepreneur was moving into a location where a previous restaurant had failed. A year later, he has met all his sales targets and is now open for lunch in addition to his original evening hours. He and his father give much of the credit to the AERN resources for the informed decisions they made, and they are grateful to our AERN partner for helping them through the process.

This story can be repeated again and again in different counties, for a consumer electronics store, an office supply store, an industrial paint contractor and others.

Several of our partner agencies use the AERN resources for local industrial recruitment. This is a use of the system that we never envisioned at the beginning. One county has been able to attract a pipeline company; another has used the socioeconomic statistics available through AERN to document need and write a successful grant for an airport upgrade. Others have used AERN to research an industry group (poultry processing, pulp and paper) before making an industrial recruitment effort.


Web-Based Client Delivery Services.

AERN has a website housed at the University. This website has current program information and news, connects the AERN partners to a variety of UA resources they would otherwise not have, and provides a central point of contact for persons outside AERN to access the program. We post a regular short newsfeed with tips about information resources for entrepreneurs (e.g., highlighting a special feature of one of the AERN reference works or a particularly helpful free website). We deliver this information via RSS or an email list on a monthly basis. We archive the feed on the AERN website. We created Flash (audio/animation) demos showing how to use the various resources located at the centers. (See; especially note the “Ask a Business Librarian,” which gives website users the professional services of University faculty librarians to help research a business problem.

In 2009, we created a DVD that contains the digital tools listed above. The DVD was designed to deliver the tools to the user’s desktop without need for Internet access. Copies of the DVD were made available for distribution from the AERN partner centers because, when the AERN began, access to the Internet was problematic for some of our target audience. To our delight, the DVDs have not been popular. The digital divide is closing. Our rural clients generally have regular, reliable access to the Internet and are getting more and more comfortable about using it.

AERN investments are a catalyst for our partners to build further capabilities. AERN is a “tool kit” for do-it-yourself business building. UA faculty, staff, and researchers will not do any of the “hammering and sawing” for a person who wants to create his or her own business. Instead, the UA team will guide and direct that person in the use of business research tools so that he or she can make good business decisions. The project leaders of AERN are committed to providing ongoing training and upgrading the technology in the local sites, as resources allow. The local partner agencies are the key to the success of the program. Where an agency has recognized the potential of AERN’s resources and made proactive use of them, there has been notable success.


Factors Necessary for Success

Local Partners. In counties where a local partner has not been interested or creative, the program has languished. Where an agency has recognized the potential of AERN’s resources and made proactive use of them, there has been success. Our experience confirms what other engaged community scholars have noted—for a partnership to be successful, it must have buy-in from both the agency’s administrative level and the contact person with whom we work every day. In one county, our contact person was a charming, cheerful woman with an accounting background. She organized AERN workshops; she worked one-on-one with a local black-owned business that expanded to a second location; and she seemed to enjoy this aspect of her job. She and her board didn’t agree and they asked her to discontinue spending time on AERN activities. When we went back to that county to retrieve the resources, everyone in the room was sad. On a different occasion we had a contact person who was also charming, eloquent, and friendly, but not at all interested in AERN. We met with her board members to clarify why the program wasn’t working well. When they discovered the problem, they solved it by reallocating some of the AERN responsibilities to another person who was delighted to have this project to work with. Our original contact person is still a team member, and we appreciate the board’s creative solution.

Money and Staffing. AERN began, as an idea only, in the fall of 2000 with a grant from the state legislature. It became operational in the spring and summer of 2001. So, we have about 10 years of experience. AERN began with no permanent staff, no identifiable home base, and no budget guaranteed beyond the end of the initial fiscal year. The co-directors had other, full-time jobs within the University. Nevertheless, AERN has grown geographically because it was a good idea that was developed in partnership with community-based leaders, and it has grown academically because it is nourished by a research-minded administration.

For the first several years, AERN’s funding base came from a grant that the state legislature gave to The University for the purpose of economic development. The University’s administration was not required to allocate those funds to AERN, and certainly there were competing projects by others within the university. The administration continued to allocate these earmarked dollars to AERN because it was a program with a successful track record and a vocal set of community partners. In the past decade’s lean years of funding for higher education, the University’s administration has continued to support the program because it has become interdisciplinary and research-oriented, as well as being popular with rural constituents.

In the mid-2000s we won a competitive award for economic development activities from a federal agency. We have applied for, and won, several others since then, from a variety of federal departments and agencies. Additionally, the university’s administration has continued to show monetary support, even when the earmarked funds from the state legislature were no longer available. A state consortium devoted to economic development has twice given a grant to AERN. We continue to seek funding from the public and private sectors. There is no line-item funding for this program in anybody’s budget—federal, state, local, public, or private. We have been proactive in asking, and over about 10 years we have been allocated, from one source or another, about $1,045,000.

Documenting the Process. The co-directors try to substantiate the economic differences AERN has had in its counties, not an easy task. Entrepreneurs sometimes let an idea “percolate” for quite a while before acting on it. When they do make a business decision, there’s no legal or even ethical requirement for them to report the results to us. Although attributing a dollar value to AERN’s efforts in rural Alabama is difficult, evaluation has been a strong component of the AERN from the beginning. Partners give regular feedback in the form of formal, quarterly conversations with one of AERN’s co-directors. Additionally, partners fill out an annual report form that asks for numerical information regarding usage of the materials and the results of that usage. We specifically ask our partners to monitor to their best ability the jobs created and jobs saved that can be attributable to the use of AERN resources. We have a continuing sense of the business opportunities that have been made possible by this program and we can describe particular examples.


Lessons Learned

Some initial technology choices for program partners were not popular, specifically training videos, reference books on DVD instead of paper, and scanners for the computers. We bought small televisions and VCR tapes for the very earliest partner agencies. The VCR tapes were commercially produced tapes about small business topics such as financing, management, and the importance of good accounting. We envisioned our partners hosting small groups to watch the videos and discuss them afterward. Or perhaps individuals who came into the centers would want to watch the videos privately. That never happened, anywhere. People were interested in researching their particular small business needs; they were not interested in spending time on general-interest small business topics.

When we began the program we bought one very expensive reference book on DVD instead of in paper. Only one partner agency ever used the DVD. Many lost that expensive disk. Initially, our rural areas had strong preferences for doing business research with books. We have seen a dramatic difference in the decade we have been operating the program. While DVDs are still not popular, finding information on the Internet is. In a very short time, middle-aged residents of rural Alabama have become remarkably more adept at using the Internet. When we began this project, Internet service was not available in all of Alabama’s rural areas. “Last mile” digital divide issues were an early problem that has gotten better as the 21st century progresses.

Even with better Internet access and less Internet anxiety, the basic reference collection of books continues to be important. Reading and taking notes from a book is preferable many times to reading on a screen about a subject. Yet, the information in books ages as time passes. People are tempted to take a book home, and some don’t return it. The AERN reference books are not intended to circulate, but keeping the collection complete and up-to-date is challenging.


Factors Contributing to Successful University-Community Partnerships.

As mentioned earlier, one of the most important lessons we have learned is that buy-in from the local agency is crucial. Our partners must spend time and energy on the ground promoting the program and training its users. Not all partners are equally good at this or willing to spend time on it. Many of our partner agencies have part-time staffs and staffers in all agencies have other pressing job assignments. AERN is most effective in counties where AERN’s goals and the staff person’s job responsibilities are very congruent.

Another lesson not to be overlooked is that a successful program requires time and attention from the administering university. Neglected partners will become disinterested and nonfunctional. It is the job of the administering partner to find ways that the program can be beneficial in both directions; finding those ways is not the job of the community partner. Motivating the community partners is another important function of a successful administrative style. It would be easy for the partners to be passive recipients of university teaching and expertise. Experience has taught them that this is the model most universities prefer. This program aims for a partnership that runs in both directions—both from the university and back to the university (Figure 3).


Successful Engaged Scholarhip Benefits the Partnering University

The benefits to a university that seeks to build a long-term community relationship accrue in several areas—political, public relations, student recruitment, academic research, and interdepartmental cooperation are easy, obvious examples. Other university-related benefits are more subtle. The University of Alabama is not a rural institution and has always had strong attachments to the urban parts of the state. An enhanced UA presence in rural Alabama educates both the UA team members and the rural partners. Sophisticated, well-educated, highly paid, urban academics can be mightily out of touch with rural realities. (One eye-opener is learning about sophisticated, well-educated, highly paid, rural dwellers—whose point of view about nearly everything can be different from the urban scholar’s.)

Developing a successful, sustainable community outreach network in rural areas based on economic development has positive public relations and political benefits to the local partners as well. Local governmental leaders are intensely interested in the health of their local economies and are generally interested in and appreciative of partnerships that foster that growth. Local leaders are also quick to notice a relationship that is not a partnership. A community outreach effort marked by university employees’ insincerity, inconsistency, and short- term commitment is not good for the initiating university’s reputation, the cooperating community, or the careers of anyone on either side.

Building a network that can be used for research and engagement scholarship, as well as for entrepreneurship training, has created intracampus connections and cooperations that are leading to other, more, and different ways to strengthen translational scholarship. In the case of AERN, this program at various times has been engaged with the UA Libraries, the School of Medicine, the College of Human Environmental Sciences, and faculty within AERN’s own home, the College of Commerce and Business Administration, as well as from several other disciplines. Undergraduate and graduate students from many disciplines have worked with our rural partners. Students and community members have like one another and value what each brings to the process.


Successes—and Some Failures

There are several ways to measure success for an entrepreneurial research network. One is a positive impact on the local economy. The formation of new small businesses contributes to the well-being of their local communities, and the ability to attract a new, outside industry provides jobs and additional income. AERN has had a number of those successes and we highlight them in our program’s quarterly newsletter, on our website, and in our annual report.

Another way to measure our success is that the program has continued for a decade and is thriving. University administrators have supported it; so have funding agencies. With no permanent, line-item source of funding and no full-time staff until a few months ago, the program has grown in number of partner counties, expanded in scope, and achieved some degree of recognition.

The ability to bring people together to work toward a common goal is another measure of success. AERN has several examples of this. The partners in our network have frequently met together to discuss, or to engage in, regional cooperation for economic growth. In the past, none of these agencies would have been in touch with each other or would have the possibility of cooperating for the common good. Another well-known benefit of engaged scholarship is moving academic experiences and expertise to the real workplace, and conversely moving everyday realities of community life back to university researchers’ work. AERN continues to bring rural partners together with urban scholars.

Another success AERN has achieved is in building a network of partners in rural counties who are interested in and willing to participate in university academic research studies. What is the attitude of rural residents about the relationship between the business enterprises in a local economy and the local availability of health care? What do new small business owners in Alabama have in common with new small business owners in a different country? What role does the existing business community have in expanding health care options in a rural area? Is there money to be made in that effort, while at the same time improving the general level of health to the community? These are academic research questions that AERN has already been working on in Alabama, in partnership with faculty members from various disciplines within the university. The network of partners AERN has established has begun to make a difference in engagement scholarship and translational science in Alabama.

There have been failures over the years. Our partnerships in two counties have formally dissolved. The organizational infrastructure in those counties was too fragile to sustain the partnership. The agencies in those counties could not continue to provide a place to keep the AERN materials, a contact person, and the support of the governing board. Some of the small businesses that have started have failed. Despite the background research and consultation that preceded the business start-up, some entrepreneurs found the rigors of small business ownership were too difficult and closed voluntarily. Others found they could not sustain their businesses during the economic downturn. No venture is one hundred percent successful. We regret the businesses and relationships that were not long-lasting, but we are able to document a long-term, overall positive effect in rural Alabama because of the program.

We believe this is a portable, easily replicable business development model for other counties within Alabama and certainly in other states or countries with low income, rural, isolated communities affected by economic downturn. Easily demonstrable benefits accrue to local communities, the university at large, and the academic community. Benefits to local entrepreneurs include researching markets; accessing expert advice; writing business plans; and networking with other rural areas in Alabama. Our community partners have training sessions on the UA campus; small group workshops for potential entrepreneurs led by business librarians and small business experts; one-on-one training for staff personnel of partner agencies; and “Ask a Librarian” and other targeted information on the AERN website. Our partners have equally been proactive in the program by hosting, and frequently leading, local seminars using AERN materials.

The University of Alabama has just as surely benefited from its community-based engagement with AERN partners. Students have had experiences they would never otherwise have had; faculty have interacted with community leaders and entrepreneurs they never would have otherwise known; and researchers have learned things they would not have discovered without the AERN network.

The “soft” benefits of AERN are not to be taken lightly—increased visibility; enhanced ability to provide service; encouragement of regionalism; collaborative, community-based academic research. But the “hard” benefits also speak loudly in a low-income, low population density region. Despite some failures, there is solid evidence that AERN has helped create or save jobs in rural Alabama (Table 1).


What’s Next?

At this writing, AERN’s future looks promising. There is both university institutional support and community support and interest. What began as a good idea for providing services, with the potential for increasing prosperity in rural Alabama, is now poised as a model for university/community research. The model is so strong that it could be implemented in all counties, not only rural counties. Funding for that is not in place, but if the money were available, the mechanism would work.

The program partnerships that have been forged lend themselves to cooperative community-based research in areas other than small business formation and traditional economic development. We have made beginnings in these directions. In 2008 and 2009 AERN network partners and university researchers cooperated in a survey research project that looked at the relationship between health care in our AERN communities and economic development. Without question, health care has improved over time in Alabama, but not equally in all areas. The Black Belt (Scholars include 12–23 counties in Alabama’s Black Belt, named for its dark, rich soils in the central part of the state. The area roughly tracks the state’s former plantation region. Counties that make up the region tend to be predominantly African-American) has been an area that has attracted the attention of medical researchers because of its incidences of certain diseases, cancer and diabetes for example, and for health care disparity in the region. The economic and health care service problems of the AERN service area are well known. What is not so well known is the dynamics of the two together. This initial small study gave some insights, but further study is needed, for example to assess the immediate and long-term impact on a community of the opening of a new doctor’s office, hospital, or multi-employee business or industry.

AERN is partnering with the university’s College of Community Health Sciences (CCHS) to seek grant and research opportunities to introduce the latest health innovations into these rural areas. By combining health and business opportunities, AERN and CCHS expect to both enhance the health of the communities and chart the economic benefits of healthcare activities. This intracampus coordination benefits both the university and the AERN partner communities. The cohesive network of AERN partners benefits university researchers who seek to work in the Alabama Black Belt and the Black Belt citizens benefit from the university’s long-term, collaborative relationship with them.

An unexpected benefit has accrued to the University’s Business Library faculty, who report real enjoyment from working with actual entrepreneurs. Ordinarily, their time is spent helping students with their assignments or faculty with their academic needs. Working with business people located in a rural setting has been completely different and very satisfying for the librarians, and now they have taken their work to the next important sustainability level: They published the results of their experience in a refereed library journal (Pike, Chapman, Brothers, & Hines, 2010).

What was initially conceived as a service project is easily moving into the realm of solid community-based academic research, producing publishable results. The service component of AERN has not lessened and will never be replaced by academia’s research and publishing requirements. Continuing our community-based network of local business communities partnered with the university is our main goal. At the same time, that network is potentially interesting to health researchers, social work researchers, undergraduate student service-learning projects, and the academic arts community, as we have seen thus far. Other research opportunities no doubt will reveal themselves.



AERN is a 10-year-old program originally designed to encourage entrepreneurship and build local capacity in rural areas of economic distress. The network now includes 15 partners spread over a large geographic area of the state and provides training, counseling, and business research services through its local community partners. The local partners consist of local economic development agencies, chambers of commerce, and other stable nonprofit entities in the local infrastructure. In addition to promoting prosperity in low-income areas, the program now serves as an opportunistic research network for social science investigations.

Why does The University of Alabama participate in this activity? Building mutually committed community relationships advances the teaching, research, and service missions of the university. Sustaining these kinds of partnerships for the long term has historically been a challenge within many research settings. The partners and the researchers must both perceive inter-related needs that are worthy of time spent working together. The concept of engagement scholarship, as codified by the National Association of State University and Land-Grant Colleges (2004) (Today, the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities), implies reciprocity, whereby both the institution and partners in the community benefit and contribute.

Engagement blends scientific knowledge from the university with real-world knowledge within the community to establish an environment of co-learning. Engagement involves shared decision making. Successful community-based research involves a series of steps that are intended to lead to cohesion among all participants while also sustaining the network. Ideally, the lessons learned from the process will be written up, submitted, reviewed, and published in a journal article, thereby elucidating the successes and failures of a given project upon which future scholarship may be built.

The best community-based research requires that the professional researchers adopt an attitude of humility when entering the community. If researchers seek information from community partners, they need to be honest with the community about their intentions and motives. They must be willing to accept moments of disagreements and resistance. Likewise, the community participants must be willing to be honest and to follow through on activities for which they have agreed to participate. Relationships between communities and the academy should be measured by impact and outcomes on the communities and individuals served, not only by the academic outcomes achieved.

Finding that balance is difficult. The model we suggest here is that a service-based community network with leadership committed to its future is the kind of engagement that enables faculty to be better scholars and provides positive outcomes that are appreciated within the community. Additionally, a long-term, sustainable community network for research projects enhances the learning experience for students and multiplies the institution’s impact on external constituencies. The scholarship of engagement is tied to public accountability. In coming decades all universities will face a redefinition of how they conduct teaching, research, and service in community relationships. As Dr. Heather Pleasants at The University of Alabama put it: “We have arrived at a moment in time when colleges and universities are increasingly engaging in research with communities, rather than research on communities” (Hollander, 2010).

The Alabama Entrepreneurial Research Network is an example of how to form a community relationship that works on several levels. It enables participating community members to seek new paths to prosperity, while allowing university researchers to seek new paths for translational research—research that translates ideas from the ivory tower to the market square, and also in the other direction. Community members are willing to give time and effort to the network because they see ongoing, positive benefits to themselves and their communities. Scholars in many forms of action/engagement research in several disciplines see professional benefits to their fields and their careers. Students have gotten “real world” experience along with academic credit for their projects and service in rural Alabama. People at each of these entry points into the network have learned to appreciate the point of view of the others.



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About the Authors

Annette Jones Watters is the associate director for the Alabama Entrepreneurship Institute; Paavo Hanninen is the program coordinator of the Alabama Entrepreneurial Research Network; and Mike Hardin is the Dean—all in the Culverhouse College Commerce and Business Administration at The University of Alabama.

Call for Manuscripts for a Special Issue of JCES

January 26, 2012

The Journal of Community Engagement and Scholarship (JCES) invites presenters and others to submit manuscripts related to the NOSC 2012 general theme PARTNER. INSPIRE. CHANGE. and any of these three tracks: Voice of the Student/Young Scholar, Voice of the Community-Partner Scholar, and Voice of the Senior Engaged Scholar.

NOSC 2012 will be held on the campus of The University of Alabama September 30–October 3.

Manuscripts should be either research articles on studies of impact, innovations, and practice stories from the field, or reflective essays on current and emerging trends, perspectives, issues, and challenges that fall under the general theme or specific tracks of the conference.

The deadline for submission is March 1, 2013. Submit your manuscripts as a a Microsoft Word attachment, following the formatting and style requirements of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, to

JCES is one of two research journals supported by the Engagement Scholarship Consortium, which is the new name of the National Outreach Scholarship Conference (see It is a peer-reviewed international journal through which faculty, staff, students, and community partners disseminate scholarly works. JCES integrates teaching, research, and community engagement in all disciplines, addressing critical problems identified through a community-participatory process.


August 5, 2011

Praise for Vol. 4, No. 1
“The best issue to date. Congratulations.” Dr. Robert Witt, president, The University of Alabama

“I just received my Spring 2011 issue of JCES. The look is great and the content is substantive. Thanks to you and your staff for great leadership and hard work in making JCES a strong, viable source and voice for engaged scholarship and practice. I am pleased to serve on the JCES Editorial Board.” Theodore Alter, Ph.D. co-director, Center for Economic and Community Development, Penn State University

Praise for Vol. 3, No. 2
“Congratulations to you and your staff on the absolutely first-rate issue of JCES. A nice standard to live up to.” Dr. Hiram E. (Hi) Fitzgerald, president, National Outreach Scholarship Conference; associate provost, Outreach and Engagement, Michigan State University

“Impressed with the appearance and substance of the journal. [JCES is] invaluable to practitioners and includes interesting and insightful contributions.” Theodore Alter, Ph.D. co-director, Center for Economic and Community Development, Penn State University

“I enjoy the journal and ‘kudos to the team.’ I am impressed with the cover and graphics, which are always quite appropriate to the topics therein.” Delicia Carey, Ph.D., mathematical statistician, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta

“The low rejection rates are impressive in that they indicate a commitment to authors success through a constructive review and revision process.” Susan Scherffius Jakes, Ph.D., extension assistant professor and extension specialist, Family and Community Development, North Carolina State University

Praise for Vol. 2, No. 1
“I have enjoyed the process as JCES has grown and matured. The journal fills an important niche and motivates students.” Nick Sanyal, Ph.D., associate professor, College of Natural Resources, University of Idaho.

Praise for Vol. 1, No. 1
“How exciting to get the inaugural copy of JCES! … It was fun to see some of my favorite colleagues on the editorial board and as authors. The format is a nice break away from the usual … refreshing to read. Nancy K. Franz, Ph.D., Virginia Tech University

“It is impressive! Job well done.” Dr. David Mathews, president Kettering Foundation, Dayton, Ohio

“The journal looks wonderful.” Jay Lamar, Caroline Marshall Draughon Center for the Arts & Humanities, Auburn University “Congratulations on the publication of the new Journal of Community Engagement and Scholarship. This journal will provide an excellent opportunity for colleagues in the natural resources education and outreach field to publish their work.” Dr. Susan Donaldson, water quality education specialist; president, Association of Natural Resource Extension Professionals.

“After reading your new journal, I now understand what engagement scholarship is about.” George McMillan, community volunteer, former lieutenant governor of Alabama.

JCES Conference Call Notes 2/23/2011

March 4, 2011

Staff members in attendance

Samory T. Pruitt, Ph.D., Publisher
Cassandra Simon, Ph.D., Editor
Edward Mullins, Ph.D., Production Editor
Heather Pleasants, Ph.D., Book Review Editor
Jessica Averitt Taylor, M.S.W., Assistant to the Editor

Board members in attendance

Marsha Adams, D.S.N., The University of Alabama
Theodore Alter, Ph.D., Pennsylvania State University
Robert Bardon, Ph.D., North Carolina State University
Anna Sims Bartel, PhD, Private Consultant
Delicia Carey, Ph.D., Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Hiram Fitzgerald, Ph.D., Michigan State University
Philip Greasley, Ph.D., University of Kentucky
Susan Jakes, Ph.D., North Carolina State University
Philip Johnson, Ph.D., The University of Alabama
Jay Lamar, Director, Caroline Marshall Draughon Center for the Arts & Humanities, Auburn University
Jacob Oluwoye, Ph.D., Alabama A&M University
Michael Orok, Ph.D., Alabama A&M University
Nick Sanyal, Ph.D., University of Idaho
John Wheat, M.D., The University of Alabama




The meeting was opened by Dr. Pruitt, who expressed deep appreciation to the board members for their time and dedication. Dr. Simon also thanked the board for their work with the journal.

Dr. Oluwoye stated that he had taken his copy of JCES to conferences, and suggested that board members attending international conferences might take along copies of JCES to publicize the journal.

Dr. Fitzgerald said that his quote on our “Call for Manuscripts” flier conveyed his thoughts regarding JCES. He also described JCES as a “well-edited publication.”

Dr. Alter congratulated the editor and staff on getting JCES up and running, and said that he is impressed with the appearance and substance of the journal. Dr. Alter feels that JCES is invaluable to practitioners and includes interesting and insightful contributions. Furthermore, Dr. Alter has colleagues in Australia who might be interested in involvement with JCES.

Dr. Sanyal stated that JCES fills an important niche and motivates students.

Jay Lamar shared that Dr. Mullins’ recent visit to the Auburn campus was inspirational for students and faculty and instrumental in establishing connections. Dr. Alter pointed out the necessity of holding ourselves and our contributors to the highest standards of scholarship. On that note, Dr. Jakes noted that our rejection rate demonstrated our commitment to engaged scholarship scholars. However, she expressed concern about the length of time between acceptance of a manuscript and its publication date.

Dr. Simon stated that we are willing to work with our authors because this is a new area of scholarship. As JCES has become more established, and the field of engagement scholarship more founded, we have seen an increase in the quality of submissions, requiring less time on the production end to bring the manuscripts up to the quality we are looking for.

Our manuscript numbers were reviewed by Dr. Mullins.

Thus, with the final decision still pending on 21 submissions, our acceptance rate for the first three years was 50.8%.

Dr. Pruitt reviewed the many setting at which JCES has been represented Dr. Simon is very excited about our upcoming spring issue. Although not intentionally solicited/planned, we will present two international articles in the spring issue.

According to Dr. Mullins, the quality of manuscript submissions is steadily improving, including more accessible language, applicability beyond the traditional campus setting, and an increase in the number of relevant accompanying graphics. We intend to have video available on the JCES website over the next 18 months. Presented videos will be featured as enhancements to our manuscripts.

We have sent out a “Call for Manuscripts” in connection with the 2012 National Outreach Scholarship Conference (NOSC), to be hosted by The University of Alabama. The theme for NOSC 2012 is “Partner. Inspire. Change.” We hope to receive manuscripts that demonstrate all three commanding verbs in worthwhile projects, and will compile a special issue of JCES based on submission to the 2012 conference.

Dr. Greasley asked if we have a sense of the typical timeline for manuscript submissions to JCES, from receipt of the manuscript to time of publication (assuming acceptance). Dr. Simon replied that manuscripts in need of help tend to take longer (such as many of our earlier submissions), but more recent manuscript submissions have been increasingly impressive and enjoyed a turnaround time of about three months. We do have some residual (older/earlier) manuscripts that we have probably kept for too long due to the amount of effort required by the JCES team and editorial board. However, our more recent submissions are improving. Lately, we have noted that new submissions tend to require less work. This is related to the maturation of JCES and maturation within the field of community engagement and scholarship.

Dr. Pleasants provided an update on the book review section of JCES. Over the issues published so far, we included book reviews from four faculty members and five students. The reviews have tended to come from a variety of places, most notably with strong representation from universities with a stated engaged scholarship agenda. The books reviewed have mostly hailed from the humanities, arts, and social sciences; we would like to see reviews from business, law, engineering, health, medicine, and specific engagement scholarship texts. Dr. Pleasants encouraged the board members to have colleagues and students submit ideas for possible reviews, along with ideas for books to review.

Dr. Carey stated that she enjoys the journal and said “kudos to the team.” She is impressed with the cover and graphics, which are always quite appropriate to the topics therein. Dr. Pruitt noted that Dr. Mullins is responsible for the design and layout, as well as the website and web content.

Dr. Mullins is trying to establish an interactive section on the website so that people can respond to the content and participate in discussions. We have a plan for this and have identified a student to work on a blog and interactive commentary. Any ideas from board members regarding a model website are welcome.

Dr. Simon is very appreciative of the work completed by the JCES board. Members have demonstrated outstanding commitment and really helped to develop the journal.

There are a few minor bumps in the road related to reviews. Sometimes review requests and reminder emails are ignored. Please just let us know if you are unable to complete a review. We prefer to hear from you so that we can extend the deadline or locate another reviewer in a timely manner. We do not have an automated system to send reminder emails. Jessica sends reminder emails one week after missed review dates, and will start sending reminder emails one week in advance of requested review return dates.

Dr. Simon noted that as of November 2010 we began sharing masked reviews with both reviewers once each review has been returned to us. Dr. Jakes stated that she has received such masked reviews, and found it very helpful, especially as the journal progresses. Others agreed.

Dr. Simon said that we are in need of student pieces and commentary from the field (from community partners). We have a few of these in hand, and are very appreciative of those who have encouraged community partners and students to submit.

Dr. Mullins noted that we receive manuscripts from a diverse group of colleges and universities, many of them leaders in the field, but that we still need to hear from some of the biggest names in engaged scholarship.

Dr. Pruitt stated that we have received a recent question about the possibility of manuscripts being submitted by board members. Dr. Simon said that this is perfectly acceptable, and has in fact already happened. Our masked review process maintains integrity throughout the process. The board members expressed general agreement with this opinion.

Dr. Mullins pointed out that most of our student representation (in the regular manuscript section) occurs as students are listed as co-authors with senior scholars as the primary authors. We would like to see more student-authored regular manuscripts. Dr. Fitzgerald said that while he understood the intent of having different types of contributors to the journal, it is critically important to make sure these contributions reflect the highest scholarly standards.

Dr. Wheat said that in reviewing papers for JCES, some had great motive and intent but looked immature and unpolished. As a result, Dr. Wheat spent inordinate amounts of time “tutoring” in order to get the paper to the point of publication. The paper to which Dr. Wheat was able to devote such time was published, while another to which he was able to devote much less time has not made it into print.

Dr. Fitzgerald, who serves as editor for another journal, noted that he is currently essentially rewriting three articles submitted to his journal by international colleagues. The data and analyses are good, but the English is bad. Dr. Fitzgerald asserted that it is his decision as editor to devote large amounts of time to manuscripts with potential promise, and similar decisions must be made with JCES.

Dr. Simon noted that there may be some misunderstanding about our student papers in this discussion. We have two possibilities for student submissions. One possibility is a student essay, submitted for possible inclusion in the “Student Voices” section of JCES. These student essays are typically about 500 words and tend to center on reflections and experiences resulting from an engaged-scholarship project. The “Student Voices” section is completely different from a regular manuscript submitted by a student. A regular manuscript submission that simply happens to have been authored by a student is still subjected to the same rigorous review process and standards. Our reviewers are not aware that the author is a student, and the manuscript is reviewed just as all other regular manuscript submissions. Dr. Simon does not typically look at the author status when making decisions about publication except when she is trying to decide whether to commit her time to insertion of comments and revision requests. The general rule is that Dr. Simon is more willing to commit her time to work with less senior authors, but less willing to commit her time to lengthy revision and reworking of manuscripts by senior authors (associate or full professors). Dr. Simon stated that some board members have emailed her saying that particular manuscripts should not have been assigned out for review at all. She noted that she is typically not heavily involved with manuscripts before the review process. Manuscripts are submitted, acknowledged, assigned out for review based on expertise, and then sent to Dr. Simon along with the completed reviews. This system has been necessary due to time constraints, and manuscripts have been rejected without being sent out for review based on obvious flaws such as lack of literature review or findings. But it might be time to review that part of the review process that occurs before the manuscripts are sent out for review. The time our board devotes to JCES is truly invaluable, and we want to be sure that we respect your commitment.

There was general agreement in a number of comments by board members that the relative newness of the field was good reason to “go the extra mile” to help bring interesting, but unevenly constructed, manuscripts up to the level of quality necessary to be published.

At this point in the meeting, Dr. Simon stated that she is very appreciative of the accolades provided thus far but also seeks ideas about how we can improve Dr. Orok volunteered that he has been keeping up with the number of submissions by practitioners and does not get the feeling that many people outside of academia are submitting to JCES. We need more manuscripts from community engagement experts. Dr. Mullins noted that we have not had many submissions from practitioners apart from partnerships with academy members. We would like to see more manuscripts by community partners, which would of course still need to meet our standards.

An update on the upcoming 2011 NOSC was provided by Dr. Fitzgerald, who stated that this year will present a slightly longer conference than in the past. The emphasis this year will be on accountability and outcomes in our engagement. In addition, the conference will include a formal session for engagement journal editors. Dr. Fitzgerald said that there are now at least six in the field. For more information about NOSC 2011, please visit As previously noted, The University of Alabama will host NOSC 2012.

Dr. Pruitt and Dr. Simon expressed hope that our board members will serve another two-year term. We have transitions approaching with the anticipated implementation of associate editors and a new editor in 2012 (or thereabouts). Associate editors by discipline will handle manuscripts and encourage new submissions. We are considering four to six associate editors, to be announced fall 2012. The position of editor is not a paid position, and at some point we will need to recruit another editor. It is likely that our associate editors, as well as our next editor, will be drawn from the editorial board.

Dr. Fitzgerald strongly urged Dr. Simon to give thought to staying in the position longer than she might be thinking of, despite the “pain and agony.” It is absolutely critical in the first five years of a journal, he said, to establish a perception and reputation of stability among the potential audience. The usual five-year term commitment provides sufficient time for this sense of stability, but JCES is too new to support a transition in the position of editor at the present time. Dr. Fitzgerald noted that the factors of being an editor are mostly sacrificial, and require time and passion for the content and the field. Dr. Fitzgerald currently has eight associate editors and has had opportunity over a five-year span to view their work and diversity. The five-year span has allowed Dr. Fitzgerald to make strong recommendations about the appointment of the next editor, based on his observations and interactions with the associate editors. Dr. Fitzgerald said, “Cassie, you are doing a great job!” Several of the board members joined in with cries of “hear, hear!”

As the meeting time drew to a close, Dr. Pruitt once again expressed his appreciation for the time and commitment of our board members.

Dr. Sanyal stated that he has enjoyed the process as JCES has grown and matured.

Dr. Pruitt informed the board that we will look at establishing an informal time to meet with everyone at the 2011 and 2012 National Outreach Scholarship Conferences.

Our next conference call is scheduled for Wednesday, September 21, 2011, at 2 p.m. CST.

Email Comments

Comments emailed by Dr. Greasley of the University of Kentucky as follows:

As one suggestion that might enhance your book review function, consider writing to major academic publishers dealing in works on university-community engagement and telling them that if they’ll send you complimentary copies of works on engagement, you’ll send them to the leading scholars in the field seeking book reviews on them. Doing so will allow you to solicit reviews on important engagement works by leading scholars and practitioners. And having those leading people doing the reviewing should enhance the overall prestige of the journal.

One more suggestion — while you want to provide venues for students, your first loyalty must be to the quality of the idea. If the idea is excellent, you can give assistance in cleaning it up and/or documentation. If the quality if the idea/concept/approach is not excellent, you need to shunt them off in another direction — perhaps to a website area open to student work that doesn’t meet the standards of publication in the journal itself.

End Note:

The editor welcomes additional comments about any matter of interest to any board member, including comments from those unable to join the conference call on the 23rd. Send your comments to Page 5 reprints the call for manuscripts we sent out earlier. It is included here to remind you to let your colleagues know about the special edition.


February 15, 2011

To the Editor of the Journal of Community Engagement and Scholarship:

“Congratulations to you and your staff on the absolutely first rate issue of JCES. A nice standard to live up to.”
— Hiram E. (Hi) Fitzgerald, President, National Outreach Scholarship Conference,
and Associate Provost, Outreach and Engagement, Michigan State University
When you get an eye-popping endorsement from the most recognizable name in engaged scholarship, you can be excused if your head swells a bit. But then you snap back to reality and realize how much more there is to do.

What Professor Fitzgerald was reacting to was a colorful issue of JCES featuring some of the timeliest and boldest research in the field of engaged scholarship to date. We are proud to say that dozens of community partners and students played big roles in producing the issue.

Everyone at JCES believes we are fulfilling our goal of being a different kind of research journal, which is why we are communicating with you now.

We are asking you to help us sustain our momentum by sending us your manuscript as we plan our next three issues. The closing dates are August 31, 2011, March 31, 2012, and December 1, 2012. The December issue will follow the 2012 National Outreach Scholarship Conference, which we will host. The theme for the conference will be “Partner. Inspire. Change,” and the special issue will draw heavily from conference presentations.

In just three years, JCES has helped to define the young field of engaged scholarship by taking a different approach: The manuscripts we publish must be well written using language accessible to ordinary citizens, not just to trained scholars; presentations must measure up to the highest standards of visual design; and over time the content must move the field forward by appealing to laypeople and academics alike.

We are aware of no other peer-reviewed journal with these requirements. The journal features research from all disciplines using all methods. We have been fortunate to receive many manuscripts from the social sciences, education, and health; we need more from the arts, humanities, science, engineering, agriculture, the environment, and architecture.

Here are brief descriptions of a few of the manuscripts we have published so far to give you an idea of the variety to be found in JCES.

• Students in a Spanish class tutor urban Latinos in English and join them in staging bilingual cultural events. Results? The program is such a success the department makes it a requirement for all majors.

• Biology and psychology departments form a partnership with a community water resource center to clean up a historic but polluted watershed.

• A large medical school demonstrates that service-learning improves health care delivery in at-risk communities while helping their own students grow personally and professionally.

• Universities and local nature groups partner in a program that makes the tools of science accessible and fun to young people.

• A university works with campus Greeks to inform students about the added risks of acquiring HIV/STDs when alcohol and unprotected sex are combined.

Our acceptance procedures are standard for peer-reviewed journals. Submit manuscripts in Microsoft Word and accompanying images by e-mail to For more about the submission and review process, go to

Upon meeting submission requirements, you will receive a confirmation e-mail with your manuscript number. Use this number in all further correspondence. We attempt to match each manuscript with our reviewers’ expertise and make every effort to review submissions in a timely manner. Feel free to send an e-mail any time you have a question.

We also publish analytical essays, book reviews, shorter articles about research from the field, and commentaries on the role of engaged scholarship.

Now, put the finishing touches on that manuscript and send it on its way!

Engagement Scholarship Consortium Member Number Rises to 28

And the new member list is

American University of Nigeria
Auburn University
California State University – San Marcos
Colorado State University
East Carolina University
Iowa State University
James Madison University
Kansas State University
Michigan State University
Montana State University
North Carolina State University
Ohio State University
Oklahoma State University
Oregon State University
Pennsylvania State University
Purdue University
Texas Tech University
University of Alabama
University of Alberta
University of Georgia
University of Idaho
University of Michigan – Flint
University of Minnesota
University of Missouri
University of North Florida
University of Tennessee – Knoxville
University of Texas – San Antonio
University of Wisconsin – Extension

STUDENT SECTION: Volunteerism in a Disaster: A Real-Life Engagement Learning Experience

James Taylor and Jessica Averitt Taylor

Like many of our neighbors, on April 27th of 2011 we sat in our living room watching on live television as menacing tornados destroyed several communities across Alabama. On that April night, the city of Gadsden appeared to have made it through the storm with minimal damage. Therefore, we spent the majority of our evening contacting our peers and colleagues who might have been initially impacted by the Tuscaloosa tornadoes.

We spent the morning after the tornadoes discussing several approaches to usefully assist our community in assessing the relief needs in Tuscaloosa. After consultation with friends and colleagues in Tuscaloosa, we determined that the best option was to address relief needs from our location in Gadsden, a town in northeast Alabama. The Director of The University of Alabama’s Gadsden Center granted permission to use the Center as our relief drive distribution hub. Our goal was to establish a site for Gadsden community members to donate relief goods and items for persons in Tuscaloosa. The relief drive was scheduled for the first two business days following the tornadoes, in order to allow adequate opportunity to advertise the drive and communicate with our Tuscaloosa friends and colleagues about high priority current needs.

Many of our fellow students and colleagues who resided in Tuscaloosa were without power during those first few days after the tornado. However, cell phones enabled some limited access to social media applications such as Facebook. Through such real time reports, we were able to get a better idea of what was taking place on the ground in the Tuscaloosa area. Communication with Tuscaloosa residents was an important aspect of the relief effort. From Friday the 29th to Monday the 1st, the list of needed items changed to include more first aid supplies and toiletries, as opposed to bottled water and non-perishable foods.

The next few days were devoted to contacting local organizations to advertise the tornado relief effort. We called and emailed local Gadsden community centers, including the YMCA, libraries, two local community colleges, the Masonic Lodge, and over 20 nearby churches. The purpose of these phone calls was to notify the organizations about the relief drive, leave our contact information with an organization representative, and have the organizations assist us with advertising the event. The Gadsden Times included two articles about the relief drive, and we also completed an interview with a local radio station.

Interestingly, several community churches were relieved to hear about the relief efforts. We were told by many community organizations that they had already been contacted by people seeking assistance or seeking the opportunity to provide assistance. Our relief drive was a welcome focus for the community organizations that had yet to organize specific efforts.

By the end of the day on Tuesday, hundreds of donations had been made by the members of the community. We delivered much of the donations to Tuscaloosa, but soon learned that an initial outpouring of generosity had left many relief agencies in Tuscaloosa overwhelmed by donations. Because of this, we also delivered donations to previously overlooked communities in northeast Alabama that had also been affected by the tornadoes.

When it was over, the tornado outbreak was responsible for over 243 deaths within our state. The disaster relief efforts following the April 2011 tornadoes crossed socioeconomic, gender, ethnic, and geographical boundaries. For example, in the small community of Monrovia, Alabama, over 2,000 volunteers were documented in a single day, and many were actually turned away (McCarter, 2011). More than 3,000 volunteers came to the small community of Harvest, Alabama during the first week following the tornado (Bonvillion, 2011). There was tremendous diversity in the individuals who came to assist in the relief drive. Many of these individuals indicated to us that although they were impoverished, they wanted to give what little they had for the benefit of their fellow community members.

Through this relief drive, we were able to empower a northeast Alabama community to assist neighbors in Tuscaloosa, and in the process to draw several key lessons from our experience:

• Social media and communication skills were essential to the success of the relief drive, as detailed in the community engagement literature (Johnson, 2010; Shah, Schmierbach, Hawkins, Espino, & Donovan, 2002).

• Coordination provided the essential links between people, places, and resources, each of which was required in all three phases of the operation. In particular, we relied extensively upon our friends and colleagues in Tuscaloosa and the Gadsden Center staff members. The importance of coordination is in keeping with previous findings regarding disaster relief (Zakour, 1996).

• As participants in relief efforts, we were able to initially cope with our shock and feelings of loss. The relief drive enabled our own spiritual and emotional growth (Steffen & Fothergill, 2009).

The events of April 27th were certainly tragic and horrific. However, this real-life experience drove home to us the importance of conceptualizing community engagement as not being a onesided affair, as we realized how much we became dependent on the knowledge, resources, and support of our community members.

We would like to extend our deepest gratitude to Dr. Beverly Dyer, Tena King, Mary Maddox, Donna Pickard, Roger Woodward, David Cochran, Mr. Jerry, Ms. Thompson, and the community members of Etowah and Calhoun Counties who assisted us with the relief drive.



Bollivian, C. (2011, April 30). About 3,000 volunteers show up for Harvest tornado clean-up efforts. The Huntsville Times. Retrieved from show_up.html.

Johnston, K. A. (2010). Community engagement: Exploring a relational approach to consultation and collaborative practice in Australia. Journal of Promotion Management, 16, 217-234.

McCarter, M. (2011, May 2). Overwhelming number of volunteers for tornado relief—let’s keep ‘em coming. The Huntsville Times. Retrieved from number_of_volunte.html.

Shah, D., Schmierbach, M., Hawkins, J., Espino, R., & Donovan, J. (2002). Nonrecursive models of internet use and community engagement: Questioning whether time spent online erodes social capital. Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, 79(4), 964-987.

Steffen, S.L., & Fothergill, A. (2009). 9/11 volunteerism: A pathway to personal healing and community engagement. The Social Science Journal, 46, 29-46.

Streeter, C.L., & Marty, S.A. (1996). Research on social work and disasters. New York: The Haworth Press.

Zakour, M.J. (1996). Geographic and social distance during emergencies: A path model of inter-organizational links. Social Work Research, 20(1).


About the Authors

James Taylor and Jessica Averitt Taylor are both doctoral students in the School of Social Work at The University of Alabama.

JCES Helping to Boost UA’s Engagement Scholarship Reputation

December 1, 2009

By Daniel Hollander, CCBP Intern

With 45 delegates attending and playing key roles in four important community-based conferences this fall, The University of Alabama is rapidly becoming one of the leading engagement scholarship institutions, according to Dr. Samory T. Pruitt, vice president for Community Affairs at the University.

And the Journal of Community Engagement and Scholarship (JCES), published at the University, is a playing a big role in that progress, he said.

“Not only did we have University of Alabama faculty, staff, students and community partners playing major roles at these conferences,” Pruitt said, “we were also able to distribute the latest issue of JCES, which is drawing high praise for its role in advancing engagement research.”

The four conferences were the National Outreach Scholarship Conference (NOSC) in Athens, Ga., Sept. 27-30, which had its largest attendance in history; the Imagining America (IA) Conference in New Orleans Oct. 1-3; the International Association for Research on Service-Learning and Community Engagement (IARSLCE) Conference in Ottawa, Canada, Oct. 9-12; and the National Communication Association (NCA) conference in Chicago, Nov. 12-15.

Graduate student Elliot Knight talks with Kevin Bott of Syracuse University at the 10th Imagining America Conference in New Orleans on Oct. 2. The Black Belt Community Foundation in Selma is a partner in the project. Knight presented a poster and made a research presentation on the project. (Photo: Ed Mullins) Dr. Ed Mullins, director of community research and communication at CCBP, moderates a session at NOSC in Athens, Ga., Sept. 29, 2009. He also presented a poster about JCES designed by CCBP interns at the Athens, New Orleans and Ottawa conferences. (Photo: Andrea Mabry)

“UA faculty, staff and students and their partners in the community have embraced the engagement scholarship concept — which focuses campus and community resources on critical social problems — with great enthusiasm, raising our profile among our peers.”

Pruitt is a member of the NOSC Steering Committee, which sets policy and provides leadership. Dr. Cassandra Simon, associate professor of social work and editor of JCES, made presentations about JCES at both the Athens and Ottawa conferences. Dr. Edward Mullins, CCBP director of community research and communication, is a member of the NOSC implementation committee and transition committee helping NOSC with its growing pains. Currently, 10 universities constitute NOSC, but more than 25 more have applied for membership.

Mullins also presented a poster about JCES — designed and produced by CCBP interns — at the New Orleans and Athens conferences. “Once again, the demand for JCES was greater than our supply. Now, as we move to paid subscriptions for the hardcopy and online versions of JCES, we’ll see how it goes,” he said.

Community Affairs, which has fiscal responsibility for JCES, has formed a partnership with the University of Alabama Press to market JCES. “Having a world-class partner like UA Press to help us get the publication to individuals, libraries and professional associations is a critical part of our business plan. We are most pleased to be joining with the University Press in this endeavor,” Pruitt said.

“Response to JCES at these three conferences shows that it is filling a need,” Simon said. “I want to thank our outstanding local production team and the best editorial board in the nation for their hard work.”

Local team members are Mullins and students Jessica Averitt Taylor, assistant to the editor; Brett Bralley, copy editor; Antonio Rogers, designer; and Andrea Mabry, photographer and JCES website producer. The editorial board consists of 52 academics and community partners representing more than 30 disciplines. “We are now receiving manuscripts from outside the United States and will be adding board members from other countries,” Simon said.

UA sent 36 delegates to NOSC from across the faculty, staff and student disciplinary spectrum. Three delegates attended the IA conference, and five attended IARSLCE.

UA’s delegation to Athens was the largest of any university, other than host University of Georgia. Attending from UA were Laurie Bonnici, Wellon Bridgers, Jackie Brodsky, Carolyn Dahl, George Daniels, Matt Demondrun, Bill Evans, David Ford, Janet Griffith, Karl Hamner, Beverly Hawk, Daniel Hollander, Lisa Hooper, Rick Houser, Felecia Jones [Black Belt Community Foundation (BBCF)], Erin Kane, Natalie Latta, Andrea Mabry, Will McCracken, Kathryn Merritt, Brice Miller, Jacqueline Morgan, Ed Mullins, Jennifer Patterson, Heather Pleasants, Samory Pruitt, Tiarney Ritchwood, Cassandra Simon, Chris Spencer, Joyce Stallworth, Tommie Syx, Jessica Averitt Taylor, Annette Watters, Muriel Wells, Tari Williams and Michael Wynn.

Graduate student Jackie Brodsky stands before a poster prepared by Dr. Laurie Bonnici’s research team that also included Muriel Wells. Bonnici is an assistant professor in the School of Library and Information Studies. The research addresses goals, methods, assessments and outcomes of “Project FIT 4 Retirement,” a student service-learning and community partnership endeavor in which students teach older citizens how to improve their technology literacy. (Photo: Andrea Mabry) Ottawa Parliament Building on Parliament
Hill, the most prominent landmark in
Canada. UA representatives made its
first presentation about JCES to an
international audience in Ottawa.

Elliot Knight, Dr. Hank Lazer and Mullins represented UA at Imagining America. Lazer is UA’s representative to the organization. Knight also was selected as an IA graduate student scholar and made a presentation on the Black Belt 100 Lenses project he is conducting in partnership with BBCF. Mullins presented a poster detailing the development of JCES. UA delegates to the Ottawa conference were Simon, Pruitt, Mullins, Dr. Jane Newman and April Coleman. The first three conducted a session on JCES and the latter two presented their research on the impact of service-learning on traditional learning.

At Athens, UA had four poster presentations and co-administered a panel about UA’s and UGA’s commercial television operations. Dr. George Daniels, UA associate professor of journalism, who summarized his presentation by saying, “WVUA-TV is about teaching logistics, theory, research and online media, not just broadcast journalism and production.” On the panel with Daniels was station manager Roy Clem. Joining them were Dr. Culpepper Clark, former dean of UA’s College of Communication and Information Sciences and now dean of the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia.

Dr. Laurie Bonnici, UA assistant professor in the School of Library and Information Sciences, presented a poster on her work with Project FIT 4 Retirement and FOCUS on Senior Citizens. Muriel Wells and Jackie Brodsky, UA graduate students, worked with Bonnici and presented at the conference.

“Our goal was not only to teach senior citizens how to be computer literate,” said Brodsky, “but also to get them to become more technologically fluent, which allows them to become self-directed rather than dependent on one-track instruction.

At the JCES displays in Athens and New Orleans more than 500 copies of the journal and related brochures were distributed. Copies were mailed to IARSLCE attendees. Copies of PARTNERS, a feature magazine published by CCBP, and brochures of UA’s engagement activities from several programs and submission guidelines for JCES were also distributed at all three conferences.

Dan Waterman of the University of Alabama Press, who attended the annual National Communication Association meeting in Chicago, reported great enthusiasm for JCES among members of the nation’s largest association for communication teaching and scholarship with whom he talked. “You can expect a good number of submissions from this group of scholars for whom engagement scholarship is a very good fit,” Waterman said.

Simon said agreed. We expect to see a large influx of submissions in the future because of all of this exposure.”

These activities and conference experiences are helping prepare for NOSC 2012 when the University will host the event, Pruitt said.

NOSC 2010 will be in Raleigh, N.C., Oct. 4-6, with North Carolina State University as host, and 2011 will be in East Lansing, Mich., with Michigan State as host.

Imagining America 2010 will be in Seattle, Wash., Sept 23-25. The next IARSLCE conference will be Oct. 28-31, 2010, in Indianapolis, Ind.

National Communication Association 2010 will be in San Francisco, Nov. 14-17.

For more information about NOSC, go to

For more on Imagining America, see

For more on IARSLC, go to

For NCA information see

Book Reviews

Finding and Framing a Story

Soep, E., and Chávez, V., Drop that Knowledge: Youth Radio Stories. Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press, 2010. ISBN 978-0-520-26087-0

Review by Sara Cooper

In 2002 Oakland neighborhoods were making headlines, but not for reasons residents would want to brag about. The city’s homicide rates were on the rise. Local news outlets had “daily body counts running like sports scores across newspaper pages” (Soep & Chávez, 2010, p. 30). Reporters from the Oakland-based Youth Radio were in search of a counternarrative, one that would privilege not the death toll but the lived experiences of young people who had grown up in the neighborhoods under media siege. What emerged was “Oakland Scenes,” a multigenre radio story mixing spoken-word poetry with interviews of Oakland residents, many of whom were also Youth Radio participants.

“I’m here today to tell a story,” 19-year-old poet Ise Lyfe announces in Oakland Scenes’ opening track:

A twisted story of ghetto glory. Now, I know you heard of Romeo and Juliet, but I bet you ain’t heard of Rome and Net Net. See, their story’s a bit different. A bit more explicit. So sad, almost all bad. They’re young, beautiful and don’t even know. Society told him to be a thug, told her to be a ‘ho. They victims of a system placed on us years ago (p. 34).

The poem’s opening lines are followed by Youth Radio graduate and mentor, Gerald Ward II, interviewing his student Bianca as they drive down Oakland’s 78th Avenue:

Gerald: What do you see?

Bianca: Liquor stores, nail shops, there’s a whole bunch of people.

Gerald: This your neighborhood?

Bianca: Yeah. I try not to go outside at night. Because you never know [when] you might get killed.

“Oakland Scenes” says there is more than one way of telling a single story. It comments on the cycle and repercussions of poverty in certain neighborhoods as experienced by those who live there. Appearing in Elisabeth Soep and Vivian Chávez’s Drop that Knowledge: Youth Radio Stories, it is emblematic of the kind of work the book aims to describe and theorize. As Oakland Scenes refuses the master narrative about violence, so do Soep and Chávez refuse romanticized notions of projects that ‘give voice’ to young people. Instead, they draw from critical pedagogy and theories of media literacy to both advocate and complicate working with youth. The first task of a youth radio reporter is “finding and framing the story” (p. 50). The story told here is that of Youth Radio, an award-winning organization that produces youth-created stories for National Public Radio (NPR) and online venues. It represents a convergence of perspectives, including those of Soep, the program’s research director and senior producer, of Chávez, a professor at San Francisco State University, and of many of the Youth Radio students. It is also metadiscursive (e.g., “metaphorically speaking”) (Jung, 2005). It challenges its own assumptions. The authors are aware of their subject positions as producer, researcher, storyteller, and comment on the role this plays and ought to play in the building of narrative. They ask both how do we encourage young people to tell good stories and how do we talk critically about the stories they tell? What we find here is a book about process, both the students’ and the authors’, that achieves that rare balance between theory and praxis, all the while giving students space on the page to tell their own stories. The text is accessible. Like Youth Radio, it prioritizes clarity and a good story, but never at the expense of critical engagement with the subject matter. Soep and Chávez draw from Henry Jenkins’s (2006) conception of convergence, or the content that arises “through a range of technologies all housed in one place” (p. 21) and theories of media literacy (Kress, 2003; Ong, 1999) to describe the kind of learning they advocate at Youth Radio. “Convergence literacy,” as they have coined it, brings together the ability to “make and understand boundary-crossing and convention-breaking texts … draw and leverage public interest, and … claim and exercise the right to use media to promote justice” (p. 16). Students face intersections, daily, between their own “intimate” experiences and “public” controversies (p. 27). Through radio stories written in hybrid forms, they probe these intersections in an attempt to represent themselves as political agents and reconcile conflicting notions of place, society, and self. This is in step with composition theorists and feminist scholars who insist on the value of theorizing the personal (Hooks, 1994; Hindman, 2004; Miller, 1996). Encouraging content that is complex and boundary-breaking requires challenging the very boundary that defines many learning spaces: that between teachers and students. To draw from Freire’s (1999) emphasis on prepositions, adults participating in Youth Radio work with students, teaching them to “compose compelling stories” and “critique mainstream media products” (p.53) while listening to their takes on contemporary issues. To this end, the authors advocate “collegial pedagogy,” defined as “two or more people jointly engage[d] in a significant task for a shared purpose” (p. 53).

The students in this text are three-dimensional. They have names and faces (pictured throughout the book). They are granted authorship, with an entire chapter dedicated to personal essays they have written about their experiences with Youth Radio and transcripts of the stories they have created. “Why should their names be replaced with pseudonyms, as is often the convention,” Soep and Chávez ask, “when we are writing about the creative contributions to a field in which they already have to fight for recognition?” (p.8). These students also have critical and emotional responses to a process they take seriously. One student, 17-year-old poet Rafael Santiago Casal, wrote a poem for Youth Radio criticizing America’s obsession with style and mass consumption. The poem included sexual references and explicit language. When told he would have to edit the poem for a radio audience, he opted out of the project, suggesting “perhaps [Youth Radio] had missed the message of the poem … which was about media manipulation of a personal truth” (p. 77). Another student, Rachel, in response to a suggestion from Soep that her story on standardized testing ought to include her own perspective as a student test-taker, responded, “It’s a little condescending to ask me to make it a personal story, as if I don’t have a political perspective that’s not necessarily based in personal experience” (p. 75).

In other instances, Youth Radio mentors guide students through the process of revision, of finding or unburying a story’s “lede.” This is an active task thatsometimes requires refuting a student’s initial instincts. One cannot assume, the authors point out, students will produce meaningful, critical work just by expressing themselves and their opinions. They don’t automatically produce counternarratives. It is a mentor’s job to teach students to read a text and to build one. Intersections, between the personal and the political, between teacher and student, mentor and mentee, can also be defined as points of tension. Soep and Chávez push students to create work that is engaging and audience specific, to demonstrate “humility” alongside their “right to speak” (p. 20). And sometimes the students push back. That the authors are willing to share these points of tension is testimony to their belief in collegial pedagogy and converged literacy. The text refuses the idealized progress narrative (Carrick, Himley, & Jacobi, 2010) for a more nuanced story in which people and places are represented in all their complexity.

A question necessarily arises about the book’s relevancy. In an age in which most students download and even create digital content themselves, what is the role of Youth Radio? The authors argue that in addition to the skills they provide students, such programs also provide “a platform for collective activity,” “opportunities for local organizing” and a chance to “build leadership and advanced skills” (p. 15). Further, “they engage young people who are otherwise marginalized from digital privilege” (p. 15). The latter seems of particular importance as the gap continues to widen between those with technology access and those without. Whether or not radio is losing relevancy, the critical conversation Soep and Chávez introduce could potentially be applied to projects incorporating diverse media and technologies. Their insights are applicable to a wide range of educational settings, largely because they are based in both theory and the very real interactions, and tensions, they occasionally must make to content and style ultimately worthwhile? Interestingly, this is something of which the students seem aware and even use to their benefit as a means of thinking about audience. Student Orlando Campbell writes of Youth Radio, in his reflective essay, “It was basically taking issues that might come up in my raps and delivering them in a way that a middle-class white public broadcasting audience could understand” (p. 166). Whereas it is common to hear adults speaking about how to reach a youth audience, Campbell in a sense turns the tables, identifying the challenges a young person faces in reaching a demographic different from his own. Youth Radio’s King Anyi Howell takes a different approach to the issue, insisting, after a version of his story is censored by NPR, that “multiple platforms means never having to compromise” (p. 97). In other words, what he can’t share with a national audience he can via iTunes, social media networks, and other online venues. Soep and Chávez remind us, however, that there is a difference between “actual and hypothetical audiences” (p. 98). They push back. In this intersection of voices—Orlando’s, Anyi’s, the author’s—readers are asked to recognize the complexity of adults representing students and students representing themselves. Ultimately what is important is students who come to Youth Radio with something to say have the chance to be heard. Sometimes this means changing the message to meet the requirements of a broader audience. The book’s appendix, a collection of resources for educators from the “Teach Youth Radio” online curriculum, draws creative exercises from successful youth radio stories. It includes writing prompts like this one, created after a piece by Youth Radio’s Evelyn Martinez conflating her mother’s memories of guerillas in El Salvador and her own experience of violence in East L.A.: Evelyn’s story starts with a striking visual image:

“My mom says she hated the night sky growing up. It was a place of danger.” Have students brainstorm images, and write them up on the board. Then hold a five-minute free-write that starts with this sentence: “I always hated (nighttime image—fill in the blank). It was a place of danger”… (182).

As an educator who works with youth on creative media projects, I found myself taking notes and marking pages to return to as I use Soep’s and Chávez’s concepts to think through my own pedagogies. The practical suggestions for the classroom are as useful as the theory that backs them up. The authors’ willingness to be critical of their own work and refuse easy answers earns my trust as aneducator who knows teaching is, at best, complicated. Our lives, students’ lives, are multidimensional. We require counternarratives to represent them. Soep and Chávez, and the students of Youth Radio, give us these narratives.


Carrick, T., Himley, M. & Jacobi, T. (2010). Ruptura: Acknowledging the lost subjects of the service learning Story. In T. Deans, B. Roswell, & A, Wurr (Eds.), Writing and community engagement: A critical sourcebook (298-313). Boston, MA: Bedford/ St. Martins. Freire, P. (1999). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York, NY: The Continuum Publishing Co. Hindman, J. (2004). Making Writing Matter: Using ‘the Personal’ to Recover[y] an essential[ist] Tension in Academic Discourse. College English, 64, 88-108. hooks, b. (1994). Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom. New York, NY: Routledge. Jung, J. (2005). Revisionary Rhetoric, Feminist Pedagogy, and Multigenre Texts. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press. Miller, R. E. (1996). The Nervous System. College English, 58, 265-86.

About the Reviewer

Sara Cooper is a doctoral candidate inRhetoric and Composition at the Univeristy of Houston Alta Vista.


A New Paradigm in Parent-School Relationships

Soo Hong, A Cord of Three Strands: A New Approach to Parent Egagement in Schools. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press, 2011. ISBN 978-1934742549

Review by Robert McKinney, Jr.

Soo Hong is passionate about schools, education, and that critical union between schools and the communities in which they operate. In A Cord of Three Strands: A New Approach to Parent Engagement in Schools, her passion for, and knowledge of this union come to life as she deftly articulates what might rightly be described as a new paradigm in parent-school relationships. Through a detailed qualitative case study, Hong focuses on the experiences of one Chicago community as its residents and school personnel struggled to improve the quality of education for students. The process that emerged led to the creation of a strong, active system in which parents and schools come together in a mutually supportive system that brings out the best in their children. Out of the experiences of this community, Hong extracts the three strands (induction, integration, and investment) that she believes are necessary to replicate this parent involvement model in other communities. In the book, Hong articulates how one neighborhood developed these three strands in a joint effort to improve its schools.

The community that serves as the basis for this study is the Logan Square section of Chicago. As in many other communities, parents of school-aged children in the Logan Square community felt disconnected from their schools. Other than cursory knowledge of the names of their children’s teachers, parents had very little information about the school and its inner workings. This dynamic is not unique; unfortunately, this is the norm in many communities across the nation. In A Cord of Three Strands, Hong dissects the education process and points to critical junctions at which parents and schools can or should be able to work together in a symbiotic relationship. Hong sees the underlying theory as an ecological one. “With an ecological perspective on parent engagement, schools design processes for parent participation that actively center around parents rather than limiting them to roles in the periphery” (p. 26). This attitude is the crux of the entire model Hong puts forth.

The model is not a simple one, however. The bar set by the residents of Logan Square is a high one, yet it is not unattainable. For this community, the change took place over the course of approximately 40 years, although the foray into educational reform is a relatively recent one. Their particular paradigm shift began with the efforts of the Logan Square Neighborhood Association (LSNA). This community organization was established in the early 1960s and has served the members of the community well by ensuring that city leaders consider the needs and desires of the community members, by bringing disparate community groups together, and by developing the sense of mutual support that makes communities strong. These activities are similar to those of many other community organizations across the country. It was the change of focus onto the educational system, however, that began to differentiate the LSNA from many other community organizations.

Early school-based activities for the LSNA consisted primarily of local school councils that provided representation for families in the educational hierarchy; however, members of the LSNA began to see the need for something more than mere representation in order to create meaningful, systemic changes in the schools infrastructure. In the mid-1990s, the LSNA began to shift its school-based activities from a representative capacity to a more engaged, hands-on function. At the heart of this effort was the LSNA Parent Mentor program. This was a collaborative effort in which parents were actively involved in the educational process. Parents worked right alongside teachers in classrooms. Members of the LSNA sought ways to become actively involved in the innermost operations of the community schools. Key to the success of their endeavors was the attitude of mutual respect and support that was assumed by people on all sides of the issue at hand. LSNA members made no attempts to usurp the roles of the school personnel; rather, their function was to step in to assist with tasks that schools had not been able to complete successfully.

As might be expected, the process of changing roles from that of a parent of a child in school to that of a Parent Mentor who is intimately involved in the educational process is not an easy one. Hong follows the experiences of one cohort of Parent Mentors at one school and chronicles their successes and struggles as they learn to navigate school policies and familial responsibilities. Some parents find the role of Parent Mentor to be a very difficult one, while others take on the responsibility quite naturally. Through a detailed description of the different processes of parents, Hong illustrates how parents bring their unique backgrounds and interests to the learning environment their unique backgrounds and interests to the learning environment, which serves to add to the overall breadth of experiences for the students. Hong reports the comments of one Parent Mentor about another:

She is like the mother hen. What she does is she holds us all together; she makes me feel that we are capable and can make a difference here. I see her as a leader in this school. And by being with her and getting to know her, it definitely encourages me to think about what I might be able to do, you know, what kind of leader I could become (p. 77).

Hong draws from the examples provided by the Logan Square community to cut to the underlying principles that made this model work. Parents who serve as Parent Mentors are not relegated to the back corners of classrooms to alphabetize the crayons; instead, they are given responsibilities that make them fully invested partners in the educational processes. In this capacity, parents become well acquainted with their children’s teachers and classmates. This interconnectedness extends back into the community and helps to bind residents together outside of the school environment. Additionally, teachers report that the presence of parents in the classrooms helps to motivate and inspire children to perform better. As parents become more involved in the classroom, teachers also begin to experience changes in their attitudes. Instead of seeing parental involvement as a burden, teachers truly think of their Parent Mentors as assets, additional tools to help provide students with positive outcomes. The struggles many teachers face today, including the perfect storm of increasing class sizes and decreasing discretionary funding, reveals how the presence of invested parents an indispensable part of the teachers’ toolkit in the Logan Square community. Hong’s work is a testament to the Logan Square Neighborhood Association and to the schools and students of the Logan Square community. As a study in community activism and parent involvement, it is difficult to imagine a stronger example than the transformation that this community has experienced. Hong’s writing is compelling and clear, even when she elucidates complex theoretical constructs. By organizing the book as a progression through the historical context of the LSNA, the organization’s development of the Parent Mentor model, and individual stories that reveal much of the details of why this program works, Hong provides the reader with the necessary contextual framework to describe the development of the program and still offer the intimate day-to-day details of its successful operation.

As an appendix, she includes a detailed, readable, description of the theoretical underpinnings of her work, in which the work of qualitative researchers Joseph Maxwell and William H. Schubert figure prominently, as well as the particular research methodologies she employed in the writing process, providing a useful component for readers interested in exploring similar approaches in parent involvement and community engagement research. Hong also describes her own particular ethnographic approach, something she calls layered ethnography, in which she employs many of the elements of portraiture concurrently with her basic ethnographic research. This methodological approach allows Hong to describe the broad systems at play (ethnography) and to illustrate how those systems impact particular students at particular locations (portraiture). The combination of these two methodological approaches enables Hong to provide deep, rich understanding of the systems at play.

At the heart of A Cord of Three Strands is Hong’s understanding of the context of the community and the individual experiences of the residents of Logan Square. The depth of her knowledge, gained through meticulous analysis of interviews and field notes collected during her research, comes through as she describes parents’ everyday triumphs and tragedies. The examples she provides help the reader feel the urgency and importance that the parents and teachers experienced as these community schools experienced positive change over time. This work makes a valuable contribution to our current research literature, and is well suited for people who are interested in community development, educational policy, education reform, or community activism.

About the Reviewer

Robert McKinney, Jr., LCSW, ACSW, is a doctoral student in The University of Alabama School of Social Work.


Publisher Samory T. Pruitt Vice President for Community Affairs The University of Alabama
Editor Cassandra E. Simon The University of Alabama
Production Editor Edward Mullins The University of Alabama
Editorial Assistant Jessica Averitt Taylor The University of Alabama
Editorial Intern Brett Bralley The University of Alabama
Design Intern Antonio Rogers The University of Alabama

The Journal of Community Engagement and Scholarship is published at The University of Alabama by the Office of Community Affairs for the advancement of engagement scholarship worldwide. To reach the editor e-mail or call 205-348- 7392. The NASA infrared image on the cover is of Hurricane Katrina as it approached the Gulf Coast in 2005.

Marsha H. Adams, The University of Alabama Jay Lamar, Auburn University
Andrea Adolph, Kent State University Stark Campus Hal A. Lawson, The University at Albany, State University of New York
Katrice A. Albert, Louisiana State University James Leeper, The University of Alabama
Theodore R. Alter, Penn State University Robert C. Liebman, Portland State University
Robert E. Bardon, North Carolina State University Marybeth Lima, Louisiana State University
Anna Sims Bartel, Bates College Hildy L. Miller, Portland State University
Delicia Carey, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Robert L. Miller, Jr., The University at Albany, State University of New York
 J. Robert Krueger, Worcester Polytechnic Institute Mary Ann Murphy, Pace University dt ogilvie, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
Jeremy Cohen, Penn State University Jacob Oludoye Oluwoye, Alabama A&M University
Jan Cohen-Cruz, Syracuse University Michael E. Orok, Alabama A&M University
Richard L. Conville, The University of Southern Mississippi Ruth Paris, Boston University
Susan Curtis, Purdue University Clement Alesander Price, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
Mary Elizabeth Curtner-Smith, The University of Alabama Josephine Pryce, The University of Alabama
David J. Edelman, University of Cincinnati A. Scott Reed, Oregon State University
Barbara Ferman, Temple University Michael J. Rich, Emory University
Hiram E. Fitzgerald, Michigan State University Howard B. Rosing, DePaul University
Philip A. Greasley, University of Kentucky Sunil Saigal, New Jersey Institute of Technology
Susan Scheriffius Jakes, North Carolina State University Nick Sanyal, University of Idaho
Phillip W. Johnson, The University of Alabama Amilcar Shabazz, University of Massachusetts
Lisa M. Hooper, The University of Alabama L. Steven Smutko, North Carolina State University
Rhoda E. Johnson, The University of Alabama Lee H. Staples, Boston University
Mary Jolley, Community Development, Tuscaloosa, Ala. John J. Stretch, Saint Louis University
Kimberly L. King-Jupiter, Lewis University Kim L. Wilson, Purdue University
Diane F. Witmer, California State University
William S. Kisaalita, University of Georgia John R. Wheat, The University of Alabama

Welcome from the Publisher

Samory T. Pruitt

We extend a warm welcome to readers of the Journal of Community Engagement and Scholarship. Many of you were also our encouragers, giving us the extra measure of determination we needed to complete this first edition on a tight schedule.

It certainly wasn’t the smartest thing we’ve ever done, launching a new research journal from concept to completion in one year, but without question it has been one of our most satisfying projects.

Let me say up front: I am the publisher, responsible for financial aspects of the journal, but content decisions are those of our editorial staff and distinguished editorial board.

What were some of those decisions? Since fall 2007, we came up with a name for the journal, inviting our campus and community partners to suggest a name. We recruited a staff and a nationally representative editorial board, whom we met in conference call to incorporate their ideas into the journal’s philosophy, appearance, and operation.

In quick succession we acquired about 30 manuscripts to review for the inaugural issue and reviewed them using standard peer-review procedures. We established the journal’s visual identity, developed a related website, got estimates for printing costs, hired a printer, created a distribution list, and turned the text and images over to our editing and design team.

And here it is. Somehow we did it, thanks to our dedicated staff, fast turnaround from reviewers, some of whom were supposed to be on vacation, and, especially, our university administration.

We are proud of this first issue, but we know the best is yet to come, because the best years of engagement scholarship lie ahead as together we find more creative ways to combine curriculum and research in community settings.

Like many universities, we have a proud history of service, a term that is in our campus’s mission statement and is emblazoned on the sign announcing entry to our campus. But only in recent years have we begun to transform service into engagement, an integrated approach inviting scholars, bright students, and thoughtful community members to pool resources to produce effective, measurable, sustainable, and portable results.

It is the best of this new approach that we pledge to bring to you in the pages of your new journal. Let us know what you think and send us your ideas for improvement.


About the Author

Samory T. Pruitt is vice president for Community Affairs at The University of Alabama, from which he received the bachelor’s, master’s, and Ph.D. degrees. He can be reached at

Editor’s Message: A New Kind of Research Journal

Cassandra E. Simon

It is with great pride, enthusiasm, and anticipation that I invite you to read the inaugural issue of the Journal of Community Engagement and Scholarship — “a new kind of research journal.”

An enormous amount of work has gone into the development of this journal and I believe you will see that effort reflected in this edition and in the impact it will have on the field. It has been an interesting journey, many aspects of which Vice President Samory T. Pruitt shared in his welcome notes. The journey has not been one with a completely charted course. It could not have been, given our time constraints. More importantly, it should not have been. A completely charted course would have been counter to the ideals of authentic community engagement that we have attempted to follow.

It’s a cliché but a useful one in this case: We are a work in progress actively seeking ideas from campus and community in terms of structure, goals, and vision. We remain open to where we are going and how we will get there.

As we look at JCES, it is important to keep in mind that it represents the collective thinking of a group of innovative individuals with whom I am privileged to work. First, we want JCES to be the premiere academic journal in community engagement scholarship. We want it to look different, to be different, to be one journal that, with its related website, will be as dynamic as the work going on in our disciplines, a rarity in academic publishing. Second, we want it to be a vehicle for a new type of conversation about community engagement and its place in the academic review, tenure, promotion, and reward process. Third, we want JCES to lead the way in defining scholarship in the academy, scholarship in which faculty, students, and community members participate from idea to presentation through distribution. Fourth, and please pardon another cliché but I don’t know another way to say it: We want JCES to make a difference, not just on campuses and in classrooms but in communities.

That’s a tall order, but with your help we will make it happen.

JCES intends to be a leader in facilitating a new kind of discussion about engagement scholarship. Believing that engagement scholarship is transformative and that it is time for transformation in academia, JCES will be at the forefront in strengthening relationships between communities and institutions of higher learning.

Transformation and change. These words cause uneasiness. Our endeavor will be no different. As we dare to be a new kind of scholarly journal, questions will arise about our rigor. We are prepared to answer those questions. Be assured JCES, like all quality academic journals, uses blind peer review with rigorous evaluation criteria fully vetted through an editorial board nominated by university presidents, provosts, and accomplished scholars representing a wide range of scholarly achievements. I am extremely

proud of our board members and fortunate to be able to draw upon their individual and collective knowledge, talent, judgment, and disciplinary backgrounds to advance engagement scholarship worldwide.

As you examine the board’s makeup you will see a remarkable breadth of disciplines, experiences, and backgrounds. Without the guidance, support, and feedback of the board, it would have been impossible to offer the selections you will find in this issue.

Just how does JCES propose to be a new kind of scholarly journal? Well, for one thing it has a different size and look. Our designers chose a format that is a blend of the news magazine and research journal. This puts us in the right publication genre but gives us more room and a better canvas for creative layouts. All right, to be entirely transparent, JCES is the exact size of National Geographic. And like that venerable publication, we selected earth-tone colors, appropriate, we think, for the kind of down-to-earth content JCES hopes to feature. We have also stepped up the use of photos and graphics. Is a picture worth a thousand words? Rarely, but that’s not the point. We live in a visual world, something most academic journals haven’t noticed. While we won’t over-do it, JCES will be more visual than the usual research journal. It will feature more color, too, but color is expensive. We’ll have to build color gradually as we acquire more funds and as contributors send us more color images.

Will we be qualitative or quantitative? That’s not the point either. The best scholarship today requires both, along with insightful commentary, informative field reports on practice, teaching, and community participation, all of which are featured in the inaugural edition and will be more evident in future editions. The journal will have a website that eventually will add multimedia to the text and images presented in JCES. Articles will be keyed to the site, adding video, photo galleries, and interactivity. We are especially excited about what JCES online will add to our ability to communicate with broad audiences on matters of health, education, innovation, leadership, justice, finance, the arts, culture, and more.

When it comes to content, JCES will be a hybrid. Research documentation will employ APA style, but you’ll find AP (Associated Press) style, too. That’s because we don’t want style to interfere with content as it sometimes does in academic works. So get ready for single spacing after everything — commas, full stops, etc. Get ready for commas always going inside quote marks. It’s simpler that way, and the majority of printed materials use that style. We will not use single quotes unless they are quotes within quotes. Orphan quotes (clever quotes without an obvious source) will be kept to a minimum. Get ready for research articles that use more narrative style and active voice, something often missing in academic writing. Get ready for a capitalization style that rejects deification by capitalization. We’ll do our best never to capitalize pseudo proper nouns, as in “Cassandra Simon is an Associate Professor of Social Work.” Make that “Cassandra Simon is an associate professor of social work.”

We have gone round and round about it, but we have decided to keep the “serial comma” in keeping with the practice of the majority of journals and books. Thus in JCES it will be, “The American flag is red, white, and blue.” That’s simpler and sometimes without that last comma the meaning is unclear.

JCES will be innovative, providing a venue for scholarly works that report on the integration of teaching, service learning, outreach, community engagement, and research. Students and community partners will be an integral part of the journal, as they are in this first edition, a role that will expand as together we find imaginative ways to engage each other.

In this inaugural issue of JCES you will find an array of works, representing some of the variety JCES promises. Whether discussing how to best establish and evaluate equitable partnerships between universities and communities (McClean and Behringer), or the importance of linking families, communities, and universities (Burbank and Hunter), or how best to engage minority participants in health care research (Janosky et al.)the selections in this issue demonstrate the importance of community partners in our mission.

It is impossible to speak of engagement scholarship and not recognize the central involvement of youth in community engagement work and subsequently its scholarship. From addressing the benefits of engaging youth in citizen science projects to recognizing the overall value of youth-adult partnerships, JCES Volume 1, Number 1 represents work from those who have bridged the gap between the classroom and the community. Emphasizing the importance of authentic community engagement, this first issue includes articles in which youth are equal partners and stakeholders and helped in manuscript preparation.

So, yes, we have high school authors in a peer-reviewed journal. We also have an international author of a field practice article that demonstrates how the world has become our classroom. This latter article, arising from outreach in Peru led by two engineering faculty, demonstrates the truth that engagement scholarship is possible in every discipline. Two other pieces, by a community member and a graduate student, represent past and future reflections on community engagement as they relate to The University of Alabama’s traditional emphasis on service.

On behalf of the JCES staff, I must thank the university administration for its support of this effort. From President Robert Witt to Provost Judy Bonner to Interim Vice President for Research Joe Benson, and Community Affairs Vice President Samory T. Pruitt, we have received support with only one condition attached: Do good work. We also enjoyed the support of UA System Chancellor Malcolm Portera, whose pioneering work in community engagement in the 1980s underlies much of UA’s current commitment to outreach and engagement scholarship.

I must give special thanks to Samory Pruitt, who had the vision to embark on this project. His ability to draw together diverse talents and resources and his confidence that we could actually bring this journal to fruition is the mark of a true leader. I would also be remiss without acknowledging the contributions of Professor Emeritus Ed Mullins, whose expertise in editing and publishing has made this issue a reality.

Finally, I want to thank our students and community members, those we teach and with whom we partner. They make reciprocity a reality. They allow us into their lives and in so doing they teach and transform us and vice versa. I look forward to our journey together as we develop JCES into its fullest potential.


About the Author

Cassandra E. Simon is an associate professor of social work at The University of Alabama. A native of New Orleans, her Ph.D. is from The University of Texas at Arlington. She can be reached at

Members of the JCES development committee (from left): Samory T. Pruitt,
Kyun Soo Kim, Cassandra E. Simon, Mary Allen Jolley, and Edward Mullins.


One University’s Engagement History

Mary Allen Jolley

Institutional history can inform the present and point to a vision of the future. The brief history recalled in this essay emphasizes The University of Alabama’s strong engagement with the state of Alabama and with local communities beginning in the early l980s.

The recession of the l980s left its mark on Alabama. The manufacturing sector alone lost almost 40,000 jobs. Unemployment in Tuscaloosa County, location of The University of Alabama, was the highest in the state. The university, and the state, had experienced several years of prorated budgets.

Taking note of the state’s sagging economy, the newly appointed president of The University of Alabama, Dr. Joab Thomas, in l981 made a commitment to assist in building a strong economic base in Alabama. In his initial remarks to the Board of Trustees, Thomas established three priorities to drive the university’s engagement with the state: (1) The quality of all University academic programs would be enhanced. (2) The university would become a major research enterprise. (3) The research program would relate strongly to the economic development of the state.

An unusual opportunity for faculty and staff to implement Thomas’s vision presented itself in l983. A General Motors plant, Rochester Products Division in Tuscaloosa, employed 200 people in manufacturing automotive components. The plant was scheduled to close if employees could not find $2 million in operating cost savings. In the end, they were short $470,000. They turned to the Tuscaloosa Industrial Board and then, in turn, to the university with an offer to sell the plant to the university as a research facility.

The discussions culminated in a three-party partnership among General Motors Corporation, the United Auto Workers, and the university. The UA Board of Trustees agreed to use the building as a research facility and to pay General Motors the $470,000 needed to keep the plant operating; however, if faculty and staff could identify the additional savings, that amount would be reduced dollar for dollar. The UAW called an election to ratify the plan to establish a trust fund by withholding monthly contributions from their paychecks to be deposited to the fund. As savings were identified, the monthly employee contributions were reduced accordingly, and ultimately their contributions were returned in full.

A three-year time frame was agreed upon, and a management committee consisting of representatives from General Motors, UAW, and the university proceeded to implement the plan.

Within eight months the $470,000 in annual savings had been identified. Encouraged by the success of the project, in l984 General Motors decided to invest $14 million to turn the assembly plant into a highly automated, vertically integrated unit to fabricate carburetors as well as assemble them.

The university received nationwide recognition for its role in the Rochester project. Articles appeared in the New York Times, Harvard Business Review, and Reader’s Digest. Major networks broadcast news about how a university helped save a manufacturing plant.

Here are some of the headlines of the turnaround from Alabama newspapers:

• Future Prospects Bright (editorial, Tuscaloosa News, January 21, l983)

• Efforts Save Tuscaloosa Plant (Mobile Press-Register, January 20, l983)

• U. of Ala. to Save Plant from Closing (Nashville Tennessean, January 21, l983)

• Three-Way Plan Ensures Plant’s Future (Birmingham Post-Herald, February 7, l983)

• GM Factory Is New UA Classroom (Montgomery Advertiser, February 7, l983

• Labor, Brain Power Join in Bid to Save Factory (Chicago Tribune, March 14, l983)

Requests for assistance from communities throughout the state began to grow, and the university responded with a strategic plan to help counties and other groups organize and plan for economic development.

The university’s strategic plan included three goals: (1) Prevent job loss and attract new industry by building world-class programs in manufacturing technology that can be transported to existing and new industry. (2) Assist state and selected communities in creating effective economic development programs. (3) Help Alabama grow more of its own industry.

By l995, the university had assisted in establishing the following economic development partnerships, each with strategic agendas in place: Tuscaloosa County Industrial Development Authority, Etowah County Development Authority (Gadsden), Selma Industrial Development Authority, Shoals Industrial Development Authority (Florence), Barbour County Industrial Development Authority (Eufaula), Phenix City 2000 Inc. (Russell County), Dothan Industrial Development Authority, Escambia County Industrial Development Authority (Brewton), Butler County Commission for Economic Development (Greenville), Covington County Economic Development Commission (Andalusia), and Talladega Industrial Development Authority.

Improving the state’s economy was not the university’s only engagement target. Increasing human capital was also. The Office of Economic and Community Affairs and UA’s College of Human Environmental Sciences formed a partnership to strengthen families, increasing the probability that their children, especially those in communities where large numbers live in poverty, would arrive at school ready to learn. Currently there are 12 of these centers throughout the state. They constitute the Alabama Network of Family Resource Centers. Services are community based and operate from nonprofit agencies.

History is dynamic and ever changing, but these early efforts left in place university centers that remain vital to economic efforts throughout Alabama. They include the University Center for Economic Development, the Alabama Productivity Center, the Alabama International Trade Center, and the Alabama Technology Network. These achievements also left in place a broadening and deepening legacy of engagement from which all disciplines and programs at the university are benefiting today.


About the Author

Mary Allen Jolley was director of Economic and Community Affairs at The University of Alabama from 1985-94. She remains active in community service, serving on the JCES editorial board and with the Council of the Center for Community-Based Partnerships. She can be reached at

Learning by Engaging Communities in Research

Kyun Soo Kim

The experiences I share here with JCES readers will show how my graduate program at The University of Alabama prepared me for a career in higher education, and how it influenced my current thinking about that career.

Given that learning to be a good educator is a lifelong process that does not end at any one point, I have had a rare opportunity to become a well-prepared educator by participating in several community-based scholarship projects as a research assistant in the Center for Community-Based Partnership under the auspices of the Division of Community Affairs.

The role of CCBP as a facilitator of engagement scholarship — a new and rapidly evolving theory-based approach — is to connect student/faculty and community partners in research-based projects designed to solve chronic problems identified by communities. The center creates university/community teams to expand the classroom for students and faculty while addressing quality of life issues locally, nationally, and internationally.

Two projects that were initiated and/or funded in part by CCBP — the Multicultural Journalism Workshop (MJW) and Bama Preparing Alabama Students for Success (BAMA-PASS) — receive special attention here because they directly influenced how I am now designing my courses as a young scholar in my first academic post.

BAMA-PASS helps local schools meet Adequate Yearly Progress standards, fosters democratic dispositions, improves initiative, and builds academic and civic competence. I supervised and advised undergraduate tutors who held tutorial sessions about social studies topics twice a week for one semester at John Essex High School, a K-12 school in Marengo County in the heart of Alabama’s Black Belt, one of the nation’s poorest regions.

In stark contrast with attitudes expressed in initial interactions between the tutors and the high school students, the students by the end of the program voiced significantly higher interest in going to college. Over the course of the semester both the tutors and I developed a deep understanding of the need for education in a poor community. It became clear to us that the at-risk students did not reject college because of a lack of ambition but because of a lack of opportunity, incentives, and preparation. These mutually beneficial outcomes for students and tutors were exactly in line with CCBP’s goals for the project.

MJW is a project led by the UA journalism department with CCBP’s financial assistance and support. It was conceived as a means of introducing both talented and average high school students to the ins and outs of a career in journalism through an intensive 10-day workshop on The University of Alabama campus.

Each year a team of faculty and college students join with visiting professionals to lead high school students in assignments that help them learn what it takes to succeed in a competitive field — skills of reporting, writing, editing, designing, and presenting news in print, on air, and online.

The effects over 25 years of these workshops are impressive for both university recruiting and adding minorities to the journalism profession. About one-third of those who attend the workshop enroll at The University of Alabama, 85% attend college somewhere, more than 50 percent major in journalism or a related discipline, and the majority of these eventually enter the journalism profession. High school media advisers throughout the nation recommend the students and funding for the program is by media and media professional partners.

These examples show how communities partner with higher education to benefit the younger generation and their schools. More importantly, from the standpoint of my personal development, these examples dovetail with what I want to accomplish as a communication scholar.

Fortunately, my teaching career has just begun at Grambling State, a historically black university. In the middle of handling new tasks, I keep in mind that community engagement must be a part of my teaching philosophy because I have directly experienced the insight that engagement scholarship provides students as well as the young scholar. I am obliged to translate what I learned at UA for the Grambling community.

Finally, in my graduate studies at Alabama, I became a fan of Kurt Lewin, who argued that there is nothing so practical as a good theory. I believe that research contributes to theory development, and that theory is eventually for the betterment of our society.It is at the step of conducting research about the projects I participated in at Alabama where I/we fell short. Sound familiar? I admit that my “engaged” experiences fell short of an important component of engagement scholarship because we failed to systematically assess, evaluate, and write up the results in a theory-based manner, though my mentor at CCBP, Dr. Ed Mullins, and a colleague of his in journalism are in the process of systematically assessing the effects of 25 years of targeting groups for a head start in journalism education in partnership with the Dow Jones Newspaper Fund and high school journalism teachers.

Research informs future adjustments in curricular-related activities. Furthermore, it translates the experience of one community into mutually beneficial insights for all relevant parties.

The need for adjustment calls for continuing research activities. Accordingly, a crucial task is to evaluate each engagement project and make the findings available through published research. By doing so, community engagement scholarship will support theoretical advancements in our fields. Without this vital step our efforts will be little more than trial and error.


About the Author

Kyun Soo Kim, a graduate student member of the committee that developed JCES, is teaching mass communication at Grambling State University. A native of South Korea, his Ph.D. is from The University of Alabama. He can be reached at

Citizen Science and Youth Audiences: Educational Outcomes of the Monarch Larva Monitoring Project

Dina L. Kountoupes and Karen S. Oberhauser

Engaging youth in citizen science fulfills several objectives and enables youth to conduct “real” science in community settings. Adult volunteers play key roles and also benefit.



Citizen science projects in which members of the public participate in large scale science research programs are excellent ways for universities to engage the broader community in authentic science research. The Monarch Larva Monitoring Project (MLMP) is such a project. It involves hundreds of individuals throughout the United States and southern Canada in a study of monarch butterfly distribution and abundance. This program, run by faculty, graduate students, and staff at the University of Minnesota, provides research opportunities for volunteer monitors. We used mixed methods to understand contexts, outcomes, and promising practices for engaging youth in this project. Slightly over a third of our adult volunteers engaged youth in monitoring activities. They reported that the youth were successful at and enjoyed project activities, with the exception of data entry. Adults innovations increased the success and educational value of the project for children without compromising data integrity. Many adults engaged in extension activities, including independent research that built on their monitoring observations. This project provides an excellent forum for science and environmental education through investigation, direct and long-term interactions with natural settings, and data analysis.



A growing number of citizen science projects engage the public in observing nature using defined protocols that range from monitoring species abundance to more detailed observations of organisms and their environments (Citizen Science Central, 2008). Most citizen science projects involve networks of volunteers, many of whom participate in scientific research despite little or no scientific training. These programs provide benefits for both the participants and project managers at many levels. Because college and university scientists coordinate so many citizen science projects, they provide an excellent example of community engagement by higher education institutions. They fulfill an important mission of these institutions by offering the opportunity to work collaboratively with the broader community on issues of common interest. Because many citizen science projects address environmental questions, the resulting community engagement often directly relates to environmental health and well-being. From a scientific perspective, public involvement has expanded scientific capabilities and applications, resulting in long-term data covering wide geographic areas (e.g. Swengel, 1995; Wells, Rosenbery, Dunn, Tessaglia-Hymes, and Dhondt, 1998; Goffredo, Piccinetti, and Zaccanti, 2004; Prysby and Oberhauser, 2004; McCaffrey, 2005; Pilz, Ballard, and Jones, 2006). From a science education perspective, citizen science projects provide venues in which non-scientists can engage in the processes of inquiry and discovery scientists use to understand natural phenomena. This engagement meets important science education goals (Ferry, 1995; National Conference on Student and Scientist Partnerships, 1997; NRC, 1996, 2000; Trumbull, Bonney, and Bascom, 2000), giving participants opportunities to ask and “determine answers to questions derived from curiosity about everyday experiences,” and “describe, explain, and predict natural phenomena” (NRC, 1996, p. 22). However, there have been few detailed studies of the educational value of citizen science projects. An exception is Brossard, Lewenstein, and Bonney (2005), who showed that adult participants in The Birdhouse Network, a Cornell University Lab of Ornithology citizen science project, gained science knowledge.

Citizen science projects also address environmental education goals by providing opportunities to engage in outdoor activities that promote connections with nature and by fostering an understanding and appreciation of environmental concepts through hands-on engagement with natural systems. Kellert (2005) found that direct exposure to nature, specifically interactions with “largely self-sustaining features and processes of the natural environment” (p. 65), particularly during middle childhood, helps to develop capacities for creativity, problem-solving, and emotional and intellectual development.

The American Institutes for Research (2005) studied the impact of extensive outdoor education programs on at-risk youth. Students who engaged in these programs exhibited increased mastery of science concepts, enhanced cooperation and conflict resolution skills, and improved self-esteem, problem-solving ability, motivation to learn, and classroom behavior. Taylor, Kuo, and Sullivan (2001) showed that contact with nature helped to reduce the impact of attention deficit disorder in children (see also Louv, 2005).

MLMP is a University of Minnesota citizen science project with well-documented scientific outcomes (Prysby, 2004; Prysby and Oberhauser, 2004; Oberhauser, Gebhard, Cameron, and Oberhauser, 2007; Batalden, Oberhauser, and Peterson, 2007). The project began as part of a graduate thesis project in 1996. Volunteers are recruited via e-mail lists and websites, word-of-mouth, or a network of cooperating nature centers. They learn monitoring protocols from hardcopy or online instructions or in training workshops. Monitoring involves weekly measurements of monarch egg and larval abundance throughout late spring and summer.

From 2001-2005 we conducted train-the-trainer workshops at nature centers throughout the eastern United States. Naturalists and other professional educators who took part in these workshops continue to train new volunteers. Faculty, staff, and graduate students in the University of Minnesota’s Department of Fisheries, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology coordinate the program. They answer questions posed by volunteers and produce an annual newsletter that summarizes findings and spotlights volunteer work. They also publish findings and maintain a project website. University personnel monitor several sites and continue to conduct training for volunteers.

Volunteers choose and describe their own monitoring sites. These include backyard gardens, abandoned fields, pastures, and restored prairies throughout the monarchs’ eastern breeding range (the eastern half of the United States and southeastern Canada). The only requirement is that these sites contain milkweed (species Asclepias), the monarch’s larval host plant. Volunteers examine milkweed plants and record the number of eggs and larvae observed and the number of milkweeds, from which they make weekly estimates of monarch densities. They identify larvae instars (or life cycle stages; monarchs go through five larval instars). Optional activities include comparing characteristics of milkweed occupied by monarchs to randomly selected plants, collecting larvae to rear in captivity for estimates of parasitism rates, and collecting weather data. They enter their data into an online Microsoft Access relational database. Volunteers have contributed to scientific understanding of monarch butterfly population dynamics, predation, and potential responses to global science change.

Here, we focus on the educational values of MLMP, particularly when adults engage youth in informal educational settings in which participants pursue voluntary, self-directed activities not part of a school curriculum (see Falk, 2001). This free-choice learning is self-motivated and guided by the needs and interests of the learner (Institute for Learning Innovation, 2008). While some adults were teachers, they participated voluntarily during the summer, and student participants did not receive credit. Some adults in our study were professional naturalists, but the youth and adults with whom they worked did so on a voluntary basis. Thus, all learning was free-choice. The goals of this study were to determine the degree to which adults engaged youth in MLMP, what their goals were, and what outcomes they perceived for youth participants.



Evaluation Context and Methods

We conducted this research in coordination with a utilization-focused program evaluation (Patton, 1997) that would help to inform this and other citizen science projects that engage youth. An additional assessment was to understand the value of the program, and by extension other similar programs, in promoting educational goals that the adult leaders had for youth. Research questions addressed the contexts in which adults involve youth in this program, how adults implemented monitoring activities with youth, and the value of engaging youth in the project as perceived by the adults.

We used a mixture of quantitative (survey) and qualitative (purposive interviews) methods. All evaluation participants were adult volunteers; we observed, but did not survey or interview, the youth.

We initially conducted a short survey of participants monitoring with children as an addendum to our yearly evaluation questionnaire in 2004. Most participants filled out the survey online; participants without Internet access received questionnaires by mail. The addendum included multiple choice questions that addressed demographics, youth interest in activities, and the context of their participation in the project. As an incentive to fill out and send in the survey, we offered a free book on monarch biology.

We used the survey results to identify a purposive (Miles and Huberman, 1984) sample of volunteers whose answers indicated that they had the most experience monitoring with children. While the group represented a variety of monitoring contexts, our smaller interview group did not proportionally represent all of the contexts identified by the initial survey. Interviewees included teachers monitoring with children from their classes or their community and nature center educators. They were from North Carolina, Minnesota, Texas, and Vermont.

Interviews consisted of a series of open-ended questions designed to elicit data about participant goals and experiences monitoring with children, the context in which these experiences occurred, stories that illustrated their points, what they wanted from the program, and what materials they used. The interviewer used a format that allowed interviewees to speak from their own perspectives during 30 to 60 minute interviews conducted by phone (n = 7), in person (n = 1), and by e-mail due to a hearing impairment (n = 1).

Interviews were recorded and transcribed verbatim. Transcripts and written notes were then analyzed to derive coded categories from important themes and concepts, organizing the data in clusters for further analysis (Miles and Huberman, 1984). Coding, by co-author Kountoupes, entailed three stages: (1) initial exploration of the data to identify broad categories, or open codes; (2) axial coding, or coding to identify relationships between and among categories; (3) selective coding to identify a central story imbedded in the first two stages. This systematic analysis, rather than forcing themes into pre-existing categories, enabled development of themes grounded in data analysis and observation (Ezzy, 2002).



Quantitative Results

Of 141 survey respondents, 52 (37%) identified themselves as participating in MLMP with children. Table 1 summarizes the contexts in which these respondents engaged youth. The three most common types of child participants were family members, neighbors, friends, or students of adult volunteers (Table 1a). Most adults monitored with five or fewer children, although some groups included more than 10 children (Table 1b). Groups tended to include relatively narrow age ranges, and few adults worked exclusively with children under the age of 7 (Table 1c).

Adults were asked to identify three favorite activities of the children. Finding monarch eggs and caterpillars was overwhelmingly the favorite activity (Table 2). We tested for correlations between age and the likelihood that activities were included in the top three, combining single age groups of elementary (ages 5-9) and secondary students (ages 10-16) to increase the sample sizes within each group. There was no age effect on the likelihood that any activities were or were not included among the top three.

Only one activity was rated difficult (identifying the correct instar of a caterpillar) by more than 25% of respondents (Table 3), although many groups did not do the three optional activities with children, and adults completed some required activities without involving the children (the milkweed density survey, filling out the data sheets, and inputting data into the online data base). The age of the children involved in the monitoring had no effect on the likelihood that they did any of the activities except inputting data; 80% of the children aged 5-9 and 43% of those aged 10-16 did not enter data (X² = 3.77, df = 1, p = 0.05).


Qualitative Results

Interviewees included four naturalists who monitored with children at nature centers and five teachers monitoring with children during the summer. One teacher’s children were part of her group, and two teachers, both in Texas, continued monitoring into the school year with entire classes. Nature center groups included families who were trained at nature centers and then continued to monitor at that nature center, youth monitoring with home-school groups or other educational groups, and summer day camps for which monitoring was a focus activity. The sizes of the groups led by teachers in the summer ranged from 5 to 14 students, with up to 20 students working with the teachers who continued during the school year. These teacher-led groups included elementary students (one group), middle school students (three groups), and high school students (one group). Sizes of nature center groups ranged from 1 to 11 children and were often variable from week to week. The children at nature centers ranged from 6 years old to high school students.


Our interviews revealed monitoring logistics and practices to which children responded positively and negatively. When the qualitative data gleaned from interviews allowed, we compared positive and negative reactions to correlated thematic activities (Table 4). For example, children enjoyed carrying and using their equipment appropriately. Responsibility for the equipment generated pride in their work even though it was very simple, consisting of clipboards, field journals, meter sticks, data sheets, hand lenses, and rain gauges.


“[The children] love walking around with their butterfly nets; they love looking with their hand lenses. This is very cool business.” — MLMP volunteer

However, this positive feeling did not apply to all equipment. Two adults remarked that children were not very interested in using the rain gauge. Additionally, most noted that children responded positively to being around and finding monarchs, but the activities that involved milkweed did not engage them as effectively, and they were discouraged when they did not find monarchs.

Adults made modifications to improve the experience for the children with whom they were working, but eight interviewees emphasized the care they took not to veer from the prescribed protocol. They emphasized the importance of teaching children that a key part of scientific research is following the methods exactly to ensure scientific accuracy and validity. Three groups collected data from small sub-sites of 50 or fewer plants and monitored every plant, rather than following the random sampling methodology outlined in the protocol. Two groups only counted eggs and larvae with the children, noting that time constraints did not allow them to do the milkweed counting or the optional weather or milkweed condition data collection.

One naturalist conducted a training for youth only. She found that children could not keep up with adult learning speeds when adults and youth were trained together, and adults lost interest when she took the time needed to practice and teach children the protocol properly. The modified training involved more hands-on learning; they “went out in the field and practiced the monitoring rather than talking about it.”

Five interviewees made changes to the data collection sheets to cater them to their groups’ ability and interest. These changes included simplification (such as using a separate page for each day), adding columns to allow children to write down additional observations, color-coding data sheets, and making multiple data sheets to allow comparisons between sections of a single site.

Six interviewees had children pair up to collect data in the field with one observer and one recorder. Newer monitors were paired with experienced individuals when possible, providing leadership opportunities as well as a way to quickly teach data collection. In three cases, inexperienced children monitored with an adult until they felt confident doing it on their own or with another partner. Many adults separated nonstructured play, or “hang-out” time, from data collection time, resulting in less distraction and playing around when children needed to concentrate on accurate data collection.

Most interviewees added extension activities to MLMP protocol. Depending on the children’s ages, additional activities ranged from reading story books about insects to designing and carrying out independent research. Activities mentioned by at least two interviewees included raising and tagging monarchs, observing and identifying organisms in the field, implementing other outdoor educational activities, and taking science-related field trips. Five groups conducted additional outdoor field research. Three of these five groups designed and implemented independent research projects — coming up with the question, designing methods to answer it, and collecting their own data — in addition to collecting MLMP data. They presented their findings at local, regional, state, and international science fairs and to community groups. The other two groups chose a site-level question, working together to design methods to answer these questions. For example, one group of children monitored two different sites, a restored prairie section and an agricultural field with milkweed, and compared their data to learn if there were any differences in monarch population characteristics between the sites.

Interviewees identified a number of challenges to involving children in MLMP. Online data entry, the biggest challenge, was resolved in a variety of ways. Five adults entered the data weekly without involving the youth. Two groups entered data every week, and two had a data entry party at the end of the season. Three interviewees said that the children simply did not like being inside in front of a computer. Access to computers was noted as a problem by three interviewees and time constraints by two. Adults with access to multiple computers had the most success entering data with groups of children. Because of concern for accuracy, two adults entered all the data themselves.


Perceived Value of MLMP to Children

A comparison of adults’ goals for monitoring with children and their perception of what children gained shows that many of their goals were met (Table 5). All adult interviewees said their principal motivation was giving children an opportunity to make important scientific contributions by participating in “real” science. (Table 5a). Clearly, this goal was met; learning and understanding scientific research was the most commonly noted outcome of participating in MLMP (Table 5b):

“To me there is nothing more exciting than seeing kids turned on to science and to be able to have them turned on doing ‘real’ science.” — volunteer

“It (MLMP) has truly changed the whole thought process of working with kids and giving them science that is real.” — volunteer

Adults nurtured children’s perceptions of themselves as scientists in many ways. For example, some of them recognized youth participants by placing signs at their monitoring sites that explained the project and identified the participants. One group wore “Jr. Lepidopterist” name tags while monitoring, and many showed the children their field data on MLMP’s website, emphasizing the importance of their contributions.

Providing “fun” activities that nurtured a love of science were goals for the adults, and they reported that these social goals were realized (Tables 5a and 5b). Interviewees identified enjoyment of time outside and socializing and meeting friends as important outcomes of the project. They supported social outcomes by providing a social hour each monitoring day to eat, talk, debrief, and become closer (n = 6) and having an end-of-season party (n = 6).

“They (children) get to come to my house and we hang out afterwards and always have goodies on the porch. It’s just kind of hanging out and it’s good. There’s tons of bonding, science bonding.” — volunteer



Many citizen science projects have an explicit educational focus, and when their target is a youth audience, many of them work through schools. For example, GLOBE (Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment) promotes investigations of the environment in primary and secondary schools (GLOBE, 2008), and many classrooms participate in stream monitoring programs (Overholt and Mackenzie, 2005). The values of these programs in formal education settings have been well documented (Bouillion and Gomez, 2001; Juhl, Yearsley, and Silva, 1997; GLOBE, 2008). However, many citizen science projects take place in informal science education settings and youth engagement is primarily through adult volunteers; it is this context that we addressed in our study.

Because monarch butterfly eggs and larvae can be found in urban, rural, and suburban areas, MLMP is accessible to a diverse audience. Additionally, monarchs are familiar, fairly common organisms easy for children to observe and handle. While this project has the benefit of an accessible and familiar organism, our findings are applicable to a broad range of outdoor science research projects, including those that focus on birds, weather, other insects, and even earthworms. Engagement in these projects can increase youth involvement in hands-on science, providing opportunities for keen observations and immersion into natural settings.

Many adults (37% of the participants in our quantitative survey) were engaging youth in this citizen science project. They had clear educational and social goals and perceived that these goals were being met. The large range of ages of children suggests that citizen science projects can provide quality experiences for many ages. Additionally, this age range as well as the variety of group types, sizes, and contexts illustrated how this free-choice learning activity is guided by the varied needs and interests of participants.

Adults identified a number of challenges for children, elected to do some of the more difficult activities themselves, and chose not to do some of the optional activities when they monitored with children. They modified training procedures and activities to increase learning outcomes. Only one project activity was identified as difficult for children by over 25% of survey respondents (assigning an instar level to caterpillars that they found in the field), suggesting that youth are able to carry out most activities, at least with the help of adult mentors.

Both our survey and interview data identified online data entry with children as a barrier, with adults in over half of our survey (59%) and interviews (55%) doing this activity without involving the children. The data provides interesting reasons for and ways of coping with this challenge. In general, children didn’t like being indoors in front of a computer, and access to computers was a barrier for some groups. Some adults were also concerned about the accuracy of data reporting if children entered the data. As we have said, some resolved this challenge by entering the data themselves while others made data entry into a party, illustrating adult creativity in addressing challenges.

Nature of Science

Our interview data identified several aspects of engaging youth in the citizen science project applicable to their understanding of the nature of science (AAAS, 1993). A basic premise of science is that the world is understandable, that through careful and systematic study we can discover patterns in nature. Adults accurately perceived that youth were conducting “real” science. They were engaged in finding patterns during their systematic monitoring with the aid of scientific equipment. In fact, it bears repeating that adults perceived that the proper use and care of this equipment was a source of pride and helped children identify themselves as scientists.

Another key finding was the importance to adult volunteers of maintaining the scientific validity of the research, even as they modified procedures to make them more appropriate to their youth audience. The validity of all scientific claims must be determined by accurate observation and measurements, and adults clearly understood this. They took the science seriously and communicated this seriousness to the children. This attention to detail is key to the success of scientific research and clearly connects this audience to research done in more traditional settings. The adults ensured that the methods were repeatable and the findings meaningful.

A key feature of the scientific process is that answers to one question lead to more questions as we refine our understanding of natural systems (AAAS, 1993; NRC, 2000). In general, citizen scientists follow protocols that they have not designed and submit their data to project organizers. If this were all that they did, they might better be called “citizen technicians” than “citizen scientists.” Interestingly, Brossard et al. (2005) found that participation in The Birdhouse Network did not increase adult understanding of the process of science; the experiential context of the project did not stress this process. Although participants were involved in one part of the scientific process, they were not involved in asking the questions or analyzing the data, and were probably motivated more by their interest in birds than their interest in science (Brossard et al. 2005). However, most adults in our qualitative study took steps to ensure that the youth were engaging in the entire process of science, from asking their own questions to analyzing and presenting their own data. The prescribed protocol focused their observations in a way that coming up with testable questions based on their own interests was a natural next step. This finding suggests that engagement in citizen science is a perfect opportunity to encourage youth to ask meaningful questions.

Interesting comparisons can be made between the science conducted by citizen science volunteers working with children and science conducted in traditional research settings. The focus on the educational value of the research may at first seem different from science done in more traditional settings. However, adult interviewees modified the program carefully, ensuring that the youth had a positive learning experience while preserving their data validity. In many ways, this is not very different from what occurs in research labs. Training the next generation of scientists is a goal in many university and private sector science labs, and protocols must often be modified to meet the practical requirements of available equipment, money, time, and expertise. The connection of this citizen science program to an active university science research program emphasizes the authentic science research aspects of the project findings.


Program Value

The interview data highlighted both the scientific and social value of MLMP to children. A dominant theme centered on participants’ feelings about doing real scientific research; adults perceived that the children felt like real scientists and were proud of their contributions. Another theme centered on giving children the opportunity to connect to nature. When the adults were asked to identify what children enjoyed most about MLMP, many of their answers involved being outside. The children loved to find and discover plants and animals outside, as well as simply spend time outdoors with other children. The value of providing this time for outdoor discovery is well documented in recent literature (e.g. Louv, 2005; Kellert, 2005).

Additionally, interviewees noted the importance of the social aspects of the program. The shared experience allowed children to meet new friends with like interests while enjoying time together outdoors. One interviewee summed it up well when she described the experience for her group of children as “science bonding.” Another emphasized a need for alternatives to just sports and recreation during the summer, giving testimony to the children’s thirst for learning about nature.



Adults in this citizen science project engaged youth in creative and effective ways, clearly recognizing a variety of values in their participation. Our research suggests the following ways to promote more youth involvement in science, increase the quality of this experience, and future venues for this research:

Engaging youth and children. We interviewed individuals identified via our quantitative survey as being particularly successful at engaging youth in MLMP. These adults helped us identify practices for monitoring successfully with children, and it is likely that adults involved in other citizen science projects could make similar recommendations or form volunteer networks, sharing their experiences and resources as well as giving ongoing support. Project organizers could help identify youth-friendly training and enrichment activities that could be produced in print and accessed on the Internet. Our evaluation shows that many adults have developed such activities on their own; project managers could collect, suggest and otherwise facilitate such activities. One way to involve more children in monitoring is to promote partnerships among volunteers, nature centers, summer schools, and summer camps. Several of our volunteers have initiated successful partnerships that are centered on training and promotion, and programs could support these partnerships in a variety of ways.

Future research. Additional research could better inform quality field research programs for children. First, we did not survey or interview youth participants. Triangulation using data from this audience would help us better understand their experiences. Long-term research on youth participants could identify how programs like this affect overall achievement in science, as well as changes in attitudes about the environment or science. We also recommend that future studies address socioeconomic and ethnic differences among children involved in field research projects, since these and many other factors affect the needs, interests, and experiences of youth audiences (e.g. Bennett, 1999). Our focus on teachers and naturalists helped us identify programs and strategies that could inform the smaller, less formal activities of families and friends. However, because a large proportion of children involved, and probably many others, monitor with family members or friends, more explicit focus on these groups would be beneficial. Previous researchers have identified a lack of informal science and environmental education programs that target adults (Ballantyne, Connell, and Fien, 1998), and citizen science programs address this lack. The motivation to engage their children in an educational program might encourage more adult participation. A fruitful next step will be to compare the different adult audiences that engage youth. For example, our interviewees engaged in a significant amount of practitioner innovation, using their experience in an ongoing assessment of what did and did not work. It would be interesting to find out how much of this innovation was based on their prior expertise with youth and science learning.

The Complete Experience. Many of our groups engaged in the entire process of science, from asking questions to analyzing data to sharing their findings. Participation in this process is unusual in most citizen science projects in informal education settings (see also Citizen Science Central, 2008). Perhaps interviewing adults with explicit educational goals for their youth participants made this degree of science participation more likely. The connection between engaging youth in the entire scientific process, and the research resulting from this kind of engagement, is a fruitful area for future research.



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About the Authors

Dina L. Kountoupes is Monarch Larva Monitoring Project Coordinator in the Department of Fisheries, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology at the University of Minnesota, where Karen Oberhauser is an associate professor. Kountoupes can be reached at


Authors’ Notes

We thank the hundreds of MLMP volunteers who have participated in this project since its inception, especially the youth volunteers and the adults who monitor with them. Laura Molenaar, Cindy Petersen, Carol Cullar, Jennifer Weist, Suzanne Simmons, Mary Kennedy, Jess Miller, Annette Strom, and Jane Borland have been particularly inspiring role models, and we thank them for their huge investments in science and children. We also thank the New London, Minn., and Spicer, Minn., schools; Arlington, Texas, schools; St. Hubert School in Chanhassen, Minn.; Duluth, Minn., schools; Cunningham Ranch of Maverick County, Texas; Rio Bravo Nature Center in Eagle Pass, Texas; Schiele Museum in Gastonia, N.C.; Texas Military Institute in Austin; Navarino Nature Center in Shiocton, Wisc; Hitchcock Nature Center in Maine. Nate Meyer provided valuable comments on an earlier version of this manuscript. The National Science Foundation (ISE-0104600), the Xerces Society, the University of Minnesota Extension Service, and Monarchs in the Classroom provide financial support for MLMP.

University Students’ Expectations For Mentoring High-Poverty Youth

Carolyn Hughes and Sara J. Dykstra

Students in service–learning courses represent a source of quality mentors for youth. Pre- and post-mentoring measures confirm high initial expectations.



What are the motivations of college students who mentor youth from high-poverty backgrounds? Our team surveyed university students before and after an elective service-learning course that included voluntary mentoring of high-poverty youth. Mentors were motivated primarily by the opportunity to have a positive impact on youth through (a) being a role model, friend, source of support, and caring adult, and (b) increasing their own understanding of inner-city schools and culture in order to serve youth better. Following the experience, mentors reported having largely achieved these aims. In addition, their responses reflected greater confidence in themselves as mentors, better understanding of the challenges and contexts of high-poverty environments, and a higher level of cross-cultural comfort. Based on these findings, we propose strategies for future mentoring efforts in the context of service learning.



Mentoring programs addressing the healthy development of U.S. youth have burgeoned during the past decade (Rhodes and DuBois, 2006). Their popularity has grown because mentoring is viewed as an inexpensive and effective means of positively influencing at-risk youth (Portwood, Ayers, Kinnison, Warris, and Wise, 2005). At-risk youth — particularly from high-poverty backgrounds — may experience substantial benefits from mentoring (DuBois, Holloway, Valentine, and Cooper, 2002).

Although mentoring at-risk youth has been studied considerably, little is known about why mentors engage in and sustain mentoring relationships. This research gap coincides with the finding that, although an estimated 3 million U.S. youth currently are being mentored, 15 million more are in need of a caring, supportive adult (MENTOR, 2006). Indeed, recruiting and retaining mentors is a prevailing national problem (Wandersman et al., 2006). More information is needed regarding what motivates people to volunteer to mentor and their mentoring expectations and assumptions — particularly with the growing number of at-risk youth (Larson, 2006). The primary goal of mentoring is to address the needs of youth, but if mentors’ expectations of and motivation for mentoring are not addressed, we are unlikely to close the mentoring gap. Because mentoring is a reciprocal, potentially mutually beneficial relationship, it is critical to know mentors’ assumptions and expected benefits.

University students in service-learning courses represent a potential source of quality mentors for youth. Service learning is designed as a reciprocal relationship in which students address a community need and increase their civic engagement and social awareness by reflecting on their service activity (Schmidt, Marks, and Derrico, 2004). Service-learning students are likely to be trained and receive ongoing support in class. Further, there is evidence that the reciprocal benefits experienced through community involvement promote students’ civic engagement and long-term involvement in mentoring after a course terminates (McClam, Diambra, Burton, Fuss, and Fudge, 2008).

Few studies exist of university-based service-learning mentoring programs for at-risk youth (see DuBois et al., 2002; Rhodes and DuBois, 2006). DuBois and Neville (1997) examined the relation between characteristics of mentor-mentee relationships and mentors’ ratings of perceived benefits for youth. However, this study did not give details of the related service-learning course or where or what mentoring activities occurred. Further, despite growing U.S. school dropout rates, particularly in high-poverty high schools (Orfield, 2004), and the potential for university students as mentors, we found no published study of a university-based service-learning program in which mentoring of high-poverty youth occurred in a high school setting. If we intend to increase enrollment is such programs, it is critical to determine why university students may choose to engage in mentoring.

Noting the growing need for mentors of at-risk youth and the lack of research on service-learning mentoring programs for high school students, we conducted an exploratory examination of the assumptions and expectations of university students voluntarily enrolled in a service-learning course designed to mentor youth attending high-poverty high schools. We specifically wanted students who were mentoring voluntarily, not as a course requirement, in order to determine why people may choose to engage in mentoring.

We used a survey to answer the following questions:

1. What are the expected benefits of the mentoring process for mentors and mentees?

2. Do rankings of mentors’ priorities for mentoring change over time?

3. What assumptions do mentors have regarding the mentoring process itself, particularly with respect to interacting with youth from high-poverty backgrounds?

4. What is the mentors’ comfort level in high-poverty environments?

5. To what extent do mentors’ assumptions relate to their racial, ethnic, or socioeconomic background?

Responses to a questionnaire were compared before and after the mentoring experience to determine if expectations were met. In addition, we collected and examined qualitative data.



Service-Learning Class

This study was conducted at a private urban university in the southeastern United States serving approximately 12,000 students of whom 69% were white, 8% black, 6% Asian, 5% Hispanic, and 12% unreported. Most (99%) undergraduates lived on campus.

Participants in the study were enrolled in an elective service-learning class entitled “High-Poverty Youth: Improving Outcomes.” The purpose of the course was to improve outcomes for youth attending high-poverty high schools through mentoring and to increase participating students’ awareness of (a) the effects of poverty on youth, and (b) economic disparities across neighborhoods, schools, races, and ethnicities. Students met in class twice weekly in the 16-week course. The instructor facilitated discussions on mentor training, racial segregation, white privilege, unemployment, the working poor, high school dropout rates, and related topics, augmented by readings, videos, and guest speakers.

Each student mentored a high school student once or twice per week at the mentee’s school. The course required participants to complete ongoing reflective journals and to share their mentoring experiences in classroom discussions and focus groups. The instructor graded the journals based on activities, feelings, and experiences in relation to class content and awareness of the effects of poverty on youth and their families. Although the course required 22 hours of mentoring, over half completed 5 to 10 hours more, as reflected in their journals.

Each university student was matched one-on-one with a mentee based on similar interests and class schedules. Mentoring was conducted during class study time when mentees were allowed to work individually on class assignments. Mentor and mentee typically interacted in a quiet corner of the mentee’s classroom, the school library, or computer center, as directed by the teacher. As identified in mentor journals, activities included befriending, tutoring, supporting mentee class performance, and assisting in the college application process. In addition, pairs spent time attending sporting events, going to the mall, seeing movies, or eating out. Mentors and mentees also communicated with each other via e-mailing, phoning, and text-messaging. Approximately one-third of mentors reported to the class instructor or mentees’ teachers that they maintained their mentoring relationships one year or more beyond the semester either by spending time with their mentees (if continuing to live nearby) or electronically (if having left the area).



All 29 students in the class consented to participate in the study. The class consisted of 4 sophomores, 11 juniors, 13 seniors, and 1 graduate student; 26 were female (18 white, 7 black, and 1 Asian), and 3 were white males; 14 reported having attended a public high school, 13 a private high school, and 2 did not specify. High schools attended were 16 suburban, 7 inner city, 5 urban not inner city, and 1 unspecified. Family income during high school was reported as upper income (15), middle income (11), lower income (2), unspecified (1). Students were not asked to quantify income levels. All but four students reported prior experience with high-poverty youth, typically tutoring. None reported previously serving as a mentor to youth.



Mentees attended one of two comprehensive high schools in the local metropolitan school district of 73,000 students. Both schools offered courses in academic and career preparation and served students from high-poverty neighborhoods. High school A had a graduation rate of 42% and enrolled 1,267 students, of which 78% were black, 19% white, and 3% other ethnicities (Hispanic, Asian, Native American). High school B had a graduation rate of 50% and an enrollment of 1,407 — 70% black, 23% white, 5% Hispanic, and 2% Asian. Both schools were identified as “needing improvement” based on graduation rates and test scores prescribed by No Child Left Behind. Eighty percent of residents in the students’ neighborhoods were black, 40% unemployed, and 44% of families lived below the poverty level. Typically, the head of household was a single female receiving or previously receiving public assistance (U.S. Census Bureau, 2006).


Questionnaire development. We developed a questionnaire to assess expectations and assumptions about mentoring youth from high-poverty backgrounds. First, we chose items from questionnaires used in previous investigations of mentoring relationships (e.g., MENTOR, 2006; Rhodes, 2002). Second, we drew additional items from end-of-semester reflection papers written by former students in the same service-learning mentoring class to ensure relevance of content. Third, we field-tested items by asking undergraduates not in the class to complete the questionnaire and provide feedback, which we incorporated into the final version of the survey. Fourth, we constructed a second survey changing wording to the past tense for the post-mentoring survey.

There were two parts to the questionnaire. In the first part, we asked mentors to provide gender, ethnicity, year in school, major, type of high school attended, type of community lived in during high school, and family income level. The second part contained four sections relating to the mentoring experience. Section 1 addressed mentor assumptions regarding expected benefits to themselves, such as building friendships, experiencing personal growth, and applying knowledge from class to real life experiences. In the pre-survey (11 items on a 1-5 scale where 1 = “not at all important” and 5 = “very important”), we asked mentors to rate, “How important are the following potential benefits to YOU, the mentor?” In the post-survey, we asked, “How important have the following benefits been to YOU, the mentor, during your mentoring experience?” (Table 1).

The second section queried mentors regarding the expectations they held for benefits their mentees might experience, including having a consistent, caring adult, improving academic performance, and completing the college application process. Section 2 asked, “How much do you expect your MENTEE(S) to gain in the following areas?” on the pre-survey, and, “How much did your MENTEE(S) gain in the following areas?” on the post-survey on nine items using a 1-5 scale where 1 = “No gain at all” and 5 = “Gain a lot” (Table 2). Section 3 questioned mentors’ assumptions with respect to the mentoring process, the role of a mentee’s cultural background in the mentoring relationship, and challenges facing inner-city city youth. Mentors were asked, “Do you agree/disagree with the following statements?” for both the pre- and post-survey using a 5-point scale marked “Strongly disagree” (1) and “Strongly agree” (5) in response to 11 items (Table 3). The final section asked mentors to report their level of comfort serving in a mentoring role, interacting with people with different backgrounds, and discussing race-related issues. Mentors were asked, “What is your level of comfort?” on five items on both the pre- and post-survey using a 5-point scale where 1 = “Very uncomfortable” and 5 = “Very comfortable” (Table 4).

Questionnaire administration. We administered the questionnaires to mentors at the beginning of a regularly scheduled class on the university campus. Students filled out the pre-survey during the second week and the post-survey during the last week of class. Surveys were coded to allow a comparison of all students’ pre- and post-surveys, while maintaining mentors’ anonymity. During administration, each student was given a copy of the questionnaire by the course instructor and asked to complete it independently. Questionnaire administration took about 20 minutes.


Data Analysis

We calculated frequencies, means, and standard deviations for all items for both pre- and post-mentoring and for demographics. We conducted independent samples t-tests to determine significant changes across time. We then rank-ordered items on Sections 1 and 2 (expected mentor and mentee benefits) according to mean scores and compared pre- and post-survey results to identify changes in mentor priorities. Frequency of responses and mean scores were calculated for items in Sections 3 and 4 (assumptions about mentoring process and level of comfort) pre- and post-mentoring. In addition, we tabulated these responses per level of response (i.e., 1-5) for each item rather than by rank order to determine agreement among mentors. Finally, ratings of demographic subgroups (e.g., ethnicity, type of high school attended, family income) were analyzed for response patterns.


T-tests revealed no changes from pre- to post-survey across items, indicating that expected outcomes closely matched achieved outcomes. Findings related to (a) rankings of benefits to mentors and mentees, and (b) assumptions about the mentoring process and level of comfort are discussed below. Finally, we bring in qualitative data from journals and interviews.


Benefits to Mentors

Table 1 shows mean pre- and post-mentoring ratings of potential benefits to mentors rank-ordered according to pre-mentoring scores. Prior to mentoring, mentors rated all potential benefits listed as important to them. Mean ratings of all 11 benefits ranged from 3.10 to 4.66 (5 = “very important”). Benefits rated as most important to mentors were those that addressed positive gains to their mentees, either directly or indirectly: “learn the value of positive supports and resources for youth from high-poverty backgrounds” (mean = 4.66), “learn to be a positive role model” (mean = 4.66), “gain an understanding of inner-city schools or community centers” (mean = 4.34), and “gain an understanding of the experience of a different cultural group” (mean = 4.21). Benefits rated as least important to mentors were those that focused directly on benefits to the mentors themselves: “reevaluate my own priorities” (mean = 3.83), “increase self-confidence” (mean = 3.52), and “explore a potential career choice” (mean = 3.10). Despite receiving lower rankings, however, these benefits were still rated as “somewhat important” or higher.

Few changes in ratings on items were found from pre- to post-mentoring. The three highest-rated benefits in the pre-survey, all mentee-focused, retained their ranking in the post-survey (i.e., learning the value of positive supports and resources for youth, being a positive role model, understanding inner-city city schools/community centers).

The benefits valued least post-mentoring (i.e., increase self-confidence and explore a potential career choice), which focused directly on the mentors themselves, remained at the bottom of the rankings post-mentoring. Ratings for all items were examined for differences based on demographic subgroups (e.g., black vs. white, inner city vs. suburban school background, prior experience with high-poverty youth, family income level). No response patterns were found across groups.


Expected Benefits to Mentees

Mentors’ pre- and post-mentoring ratings of expected gains to mentees are displayed in Table 2 as ranked by pre-mentoring ratings. When questioned regarding their assumptions about mentees’ gains from mentoring, mentors had high expectations for the anticipated benefits. Prior to mentoring, mean ratings of potential gains ranged from 3.07 to 4.34 where 5 = “gain a lot.” The top-ranked area in which gain was expected was “improve goal setting and attainment” (mean = 4.34). The next highest-ranked areas of expected gain all focused on benefits to mentees via the mentoring relationship itself: “build a friendship with a mentor” (mean = 4.31), “have a positive role model” (mean = 4.28), and “have a consistent, caring adult to interact with” (mean = 4.07). The areas in which mentors expected mentees to make the least gain were related less directly to the mentoring relationship itself: “increase self-confidence” (mean = 3.62), “improve academics” (mean = 3.34), and “improve social relationships with their peers” (mean = 3.07).

Little change in ratings of mentors’ perceptions of mentee gains occurred from the pre- to post-survey. The three lowest-ranked areas of expected gain, which focused less on mentoring itself (i.e., increasing self-confidence, improving academics, improving peer relationships), maintained their rankings post-mentoring. Mentee benefits ratings were analyzed for demographic subgroup trends, but none emerged.


Assumptions About Mentoring High-Poverty Youth

Table 3 displays responses to items investigating mentors’ assumptions about mentoring high-poverty youth, grouped according to (1) the mentoring process itself, (2) the role of cultural background, and (3) the inner-city environment. Prior to mentoring, responses indicated that mentors assumed that the mentoring process would be reciprocal between mentor and mentee. Specifically, mentors strongly agreed that they could learn as much from their mentees as mentees could learn from them (item 7, mean = 4.76) and that mentoring benefits mentors and mentees equally (item 3, mean = 4.24). Responses also suggested that mentors believed they had the skills to mentor, as indicated by item 9 (“I feel confident that I can be an effective mentor,” mean = 4.62) and item 2 (“the most important part of mentoring is just to be yourself,” mean = 4.48). Mentors were in less agreement that the success of mentoring primarily depends on the willingness of the mentee (item 5, mean = 3.86), that mentoring is a difficult process (item 6, mean = 3.69), and that there are certain skills and training needed to be an effective mentor (item 4, mean = 3.41).

Responses indicated strong agreement that peoples’ cultural backgrounds are an important part of who they are (item 8, mean = 4.72). At the same time, only two mentors “somewhat agreed” and 25 “strongly” or “somewhat” disagreed that to be an effective mentor it is important to be of the same cultural background as a mentee (item 10, mean = 1.59). Mentors also indicated that they felt safe working in an inner-city school (item 11, mean = 4.28) and that they were familiar with the challenges facing inner-city youth (item 1, mean = 4.03).

Few changes in ratings occurred from pre- to post-survey (see Table 3). Some patterns did emerge, however, relative to demographic subgroup responses. Black mentors and white mentors who had attended inner-city schools (n = 9) indicated greater familiarity with the challenges facing the inner city (item 1, mean = 4.78) compared to white (and one Asian) mentors who had not attended school in the inner city (n = 20, mean = 3.70). In addition, black mentors (n = 7) disagreed less strongly with the importance of being the same cultural background as a mentee (item 10, mean = 2.29) than did other mentors (n = 22, mean = 1.36).


Level of Comfort

Mentors’ reported levels of comfort in serving as a mentor and in relation to race and social class issues were notably high prior to mentoring, as shown in Table 4. No mentor reported feeling uncomfortable working with people of a different culture or race (item 4, mean = 4.69) or acting in a mentoring role (item 2, mean = 4.59). Only one mentor indicated feeling “somewhat uncomfortable” working with people from a different socioeconomic class (item 3, mean = 4.62) or understanding the needs of youth from high-poverty backgrounds (item 1, mean = 4.17). Only three mentors indicated some degree of discomfort in discussing issues related to race and race relations (item 5, mean = 4.14).

Few changes were reported in ratings from pre- to post-mentoring. Notably, however, although eight mentors indicated being either “neutral” or “somewhat uncomfortable” in understanding the needs of high-poverty youth (item 1) on the pre-survey, all 29 mentors reported feeling comfortable in this area post-mentoring. Level of comfort in discussing race-related issues decreased slightly to a mean of 4.0 (“somewhat comfortable”) from pre- to post-survey. Demographic subgroup analysis revealed that all seven black mentors and two white mentors who had attended inner-city schools reported being either “somewhat” or “very comfortable” on all five items. Only 1 Asian mentor and 9 of the remaining 20 white mentors responded with a similarly high level of comfort. All mentors who reported “neutral” or lower levels of comfort discussing race and race relations pre- and post-survey were white.


Qualitative Findings

Comments made by mentors during focus groups and in their journals supported the positive mentoring experiences indicated in questionnaire responses. For example, one mentor shared, “The main way I benefited from my mentoring experience is the sense of fulfillment that has resulted from it, because I actually feel as though I have had a positive impact on D.’s life. Reading articles and hearing people say that mentors and positive role models can really make a difference in the lives of high-poverty youth is not nearly as compelling as actually experiencing the difference firsthand.”

And a mentee shared, “Mentoring is a new part of my life now. I encourage all students to do this if someone hasn’t been there for them or if they never had much attention.”

Another offered, “It is not what I expected. When I first started, I thought my mentor would be mean — a person standing over me. But when we met, we just clicked. We joked and laughed and we were serious too. The best thing was when I said I felt stupid and she said, ‘No, you’re awesome. You’re not stupid — you’re my mentee. Just study, and if you need me to come make you, I will!’ Now my chemistry grade went from failing to around a C because of her.”

A teacher said: “V. was just doing what he had to to get by and now that’s all changed since the mentoring. This is very important for so many students — they need pointed in the right direction and shown that they can do more.”

Another teacher added: “People don’t realize how much time the mentors put in. They go beyond the call of duty, helping the students with financial aid, taking them on trips and out to eat, and things like that. What a huge thing it is for the mentees just to get taken out to eat!”

Informal interviews with mentees, mentors, and teachers supported these positive comments.



In this study, students in a university-based service-learning class had high expectations for a semester-long mentoring experience prior to the actual mentoring in high-poverty high schools. Post-mentoring measurements of these expectations confirmed these expectations, as reflected in the nonsignificant differences in mean scores from pre- to post-survey. Qualitative comments in journals and focus groups supported these measurements. These findings are especially important because we found no published study that measured perceptions of service-learning college students mentoring youth in high-poverty high schools before and after the mentoring experience. There is also very little research that examines the assumptions volunteers have about what benefits they might gain from the process for themselves and their mentees (DuBois and Rhodes, 2006).

This research, among other results, helps us understand what motivates people to volunteer to mentor youth and how to retain mentors (e.g., Grossman and Rhodes, 2002; Parra, DuBois, Neville, Pugh-Lilly, and Povinelli, 2002; Wandersman et al., 2006).

University students who voluntarily enrolled in an elective service-learning mentoring course indicated being motivated primarily by having a positive impact on youth by (1) being a role model, friend, source of support, and caring adult, and (2) increasing their understanding of inner-city schools and culture in order to serve youth better. Importantly, mentors also felt after the experience that they had achieved these aims.

Other lessons. In recruiting mentors it may be important to emphasize the expected outcomes our mentors valued highly, such as friendship, rather than lower-ranked ones, such as improving mentees’ academic performance or exploring their career options (see Tables 1 and 2). Further, considering that an estimated one-half of mentoring relationships end prematurely (Rhodes, 2002), it is critical to seek mentors’ views regarding whether they achieved their identified aims. Our findings also support previous research that shows that matching mentor/mentee race and ethnicity are not critical factors in successful mentoring (DuBois et al., 2002). No differences were found with respect to perceived mentoring outcomes based on race or ethnicity of mentors. Blacks were slightly more likely to report greater familiarity with inner-city environments and higher levels of comfort across cultures than whites; however, white mentors from inner-city high schools had ratings similar to blacks on these items. Interestingly, mentors across all demographic groups (white, black, low- to upper-income families) had similar ratings across benefits achieved for mentors and mentees despite mismatches in class and race across the majority of mentor pairs. Most mentees were low-income blacks, and most mentors were higher income whites.

These findings held true despite white mentors’ slightly lower familiarity and comfort levels in inner-city environments. Therefore, from the mentors’ perspective, cross- and same-race pairing was equally effective. In fact, the only item on which the overwhelming majority answered “strongly disagree” was, “It is important to be of the same cultural background as your mentee in order to be an effective mentor” (Table 3, item 10).

Our finding that mentoring programs should recruit from all races and socioeconomic classes is especially encouraging because whites tend to volunteer as mentors more often than other races and because youth most in need of mentoring tend to be minorities (Rhodes, 2002). Still, a perception persists that pairs should be matched by race, class, and other factors (e.g., Diversi and Mecham, 2005). Our findings do suggest, however, that some mentors unfamiliar with predominantly black inner-city environments initially may need additional training.

The most highly ranked pre- and post-survey ratings of benefits focused on benefits for mentees versus benefits to the mentors (see Table 1). Previous research suggests that mentoring relationships are of higher quality, more effective, and longer lasting if mentors do not have their own self-interest as a primary motivator in entering into the relationship but rather the interests and needs of the mentee (Karcher, Nakkula, and Harris, 2005).

However, Rhodes and DuBois (2006) suggested college mentors may be more motivated to fulfill their service-learning requirements than to serve their mentee’s needs. In contrast, mentors in our study place mentee well-being above their own, as suggested by higher ratings on “being a caring adult” and “being a role model” than on reevaluating personal priorities. Qualitative comments also supported this distinction: “Mentoring was a way for me to respond and do something to change the outcome of a student, rather than just study the problems.” Mentors also believed that the benefits of mentoring were reciprocal (Table 3, items 7 and 3). As indicated in post-survey ratings, service-learning effects in our findings are seen in enhanced civic engagement, promotion of positive mentoring relationships, and satisfaction with benefits experienced.

Although black mentors’ ratings of level of comfort and sense of familiarity with inner-city environments were slightly higher than those of whites, mentors’ pre- and post-survey ratings of their own ability to mentor and their level of comfort in cross-cultural environments in general were quite high. For example, no mentor disagreed with the statement, “I feel confident that I can be an effective mentor” (Table 3, item 9) in either the pre- or post-survey, and only one mentor prior to and only one mentor after mentoring “somewhat” disagreed that the most important part of mentoring was to be oneself (item 2). Studies have associated high self-efficacy with effectiveness of mentoring (Parra et al., 2002), suggesting that students who chose to be in the elective service-learning class were those who felt confident about mentoring. Also, the majority of mentors had prior experience with youth from high-poverty backgrounds, a factor that relates to effectiveness of mentoring (DuBois et al., 2002). It may be advisable in future service-learning mentoring programs to assess mentors’ level of confidence in engaging in high-poverty environments and to provide extra support where needed.

A university-based service-learning class may be an ideal setting for promoting effective mentoring relationships with high-poverty youth. Specifically, the class incorporated recommended practices found in the mentoring literature, such as ongoing monitoring, structure, clear expectations, and support (DuBois et al., 2002; Rhodes and DuBois, 2006). In this class, observation of mentoring activities was provided on site by the class instructor’s biweekly supervision, as well as examination of mentors’ journals. Mentoring contact and duration expectations were established and tied to class grades. Class discussions and focus groups addressed mentor support needs, and the instructor provided written feedback to journal entries. Organized mentor/mentee activities like campus tours and trips to sports events were scheduled periodically.

Academic content covered the effects of poverty on youth and their families, as well as race, class, and gender. That may account for mentors’ reported increases in knowledge of the needs of high-poverty youth and the challenges they face. (Tables 3 and 4, item 1). Post-mentoring reflections submitted for class also indicated that mentors better understood the context in which negative outcomes for low-poverty youth may occur. The academic content of the class in combination with daily reflections on the mentoring experience appears to have addressed the issue raised by Rhodes and DeBois (2006) of the “fundamental attribution error,” or locating the problem within the individual rather than considering the context in which a behavior occurs. Mentoring activities, reflective journals, and academic activities may have combined to educate mentors about racial and class disparities beyond book learning alone. In supporting mentors, moving beyond a “blame the victim” perspective may be critical to the success of mentoring relationships, particularly because most potential mentors are white middle-class persons likely to be paired with low-income black or Hispanic youth. A combined academic and service-learning experience may also increase social justice awareness (Eyler, 2002) among students, an explicit goal of service-learning pedagogy, as well as their mentoring beyond the duration of a college class.


Study Limitations and Recommendations for Future Research

A tip-off that research is exploratory is the number of suggestions at the end for followup study. Ours is no exception. Here are our thoughts about further study and research design considerations:

• To validate self-reports more thoroughly, include direct observation of mentoring as it occurs.

• Conduct informal interviews several times in the study instead of just at the end.

• Make the service-learning course two semesters in length.

• Recruit more representative volunteer mentors; ours were primarily white females attending a private university.

• Compare attitudes on race and poverty of students enrolled in general university classes with service-learning students.

• Our study suggests self-efficacy is an important concept in mentoring dynamics. Future studies might make this a central concept.

• Leave some journal entries ungraded, as grading them may have affected content.



According to the literature, mentoring has a positive impact on America’s youth. Moreover, mentoring is gaining in popularity. But there is a gap between the number of available mentors and students in need of mentoring. Although a primary goal of mentoring is to address the needs of youth, mentors’ expectations of and motivation for mentoring are also important. Failing to assess them will further contribute to the mentoring gap. Mentoring programs joined with research-based service learning can stimulate lifetime social issue awareness and community participation by students, mentees, their teachers, and university faculty, adding to our understanding of both mentoring dynamics and cross-cultural issues.



Diversi, M., & Mecham, C. (2005). Latino(a) students and Caucasian mentors in a rural after-school program: Towards empowering adult-youth relationships. Journal of Community Psychology, 33, 31-40.

DuBois, D.L., & Neville, H.A. (1997). Youth mentoring: Investigation of relationship characteristics and perceived benefits. Journal of Community Psychology, 25, 227-234.

DuBois, D.L., Holloway, B.E., Valentine, J.C., & Cooper, H. (2002). Effectiveness of mentoring programs for youth: A meta-analytic review. American Journal of Community Psychology, 30, 157-197.

DuBois, D.L., & Rhodes, J.E. (2006). Introduction to the special issue: Youth mentoring: Bridging science with practice. Journal of Community Psychology, 34, 647-655.

Eyler, J. (2002). Reflection: Linking service and learning — linking students and communities. Journal of Social Issues, 58, 517-534.

Grossman, J.B., & Rhodes, J.E. (2002). The test of time: Predictors and effects of duration in youth mentoring relationships. American Journal of Community Psychology, 30, 199-219.

Karcher, M.J., Nakkula, M.J., & Harris, J.T. (2005). Developmental mentoring match characteristics: Correspondence between mentors’ and mentees’ assessments of relationship quality. Journal of Primary Prevention, 26, 93-110.

Larson, R. (2006). Positive youth development, willful adolescents and mentoring. Journal of Community Psychology, 34, 677-689.

McClam, T., Diambra, J.F., Burton, B., Fuss, A., & Fudge, D.L. (2008). An analysis of a service-learning project: Students’ expectations, concerns, and reflections. Journal of Experiential Education, 30, 236-249.

MENTOR. (2006). The National Agenda for Action: How to close America’s mentoring gap. Retrieved September 12, 2007, from

Orfield, G. (2004). Losing our future: Minority youth left out. In G. Orfield, (Ed.), Dropouts in America: Confronting the graduation crisis (pp. 1-11). Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.

Parra, G.R., DuBois, D.L., Neville, H.A., Pugh-Lilly, A.O., & Povinelli, N. (2002). Mentoring relationships for youth: Investigation of a process-oriented model. Journal of Community Psychology, 30, 367-388.

Portwood, S.G., Ayers, P.M., Kinnison, K.E., Waris, R.G., & Wise, D.L. (2005). YouthFriends: Outcomes from a school-based mentoring program. The Journal of Primary Prevention, 26, 129-145.

Rhodes, J.E. (2002). Stand by me: The risks and rewards of mentoring today’s youth. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Rhodes, J.E., & DuBois, D.L. (2006). Understanding and facilitating the youth mentoring movement. Social Policy Report, 20, 3-19.

Schmidt, M.E., Marks, J.L., & Derrico, L. (2004). What a difference mentoring makes: Service learning and engagement for college students. Mentoring and Tutoring, 12, 205-217.

Wandersman, A., Clary, E.G., Forbush, J., Weinberger, S.G., Coyne, S.M., & Duffy, J.L. (2006). Community organizing and advocacy: Increasing the quality and quantity of mentoring programs. Journal of Community Psychology, 34, 781-799.

U.S. Census Bureau. (2006). 2004 American Community Survey. Washington, DC.


About the Authors

Carolyn Hughes is professor of special education at Vanderbilt University. Sara J. Dykstra is coordinator of special education at Achievement Preparatory Academy in Washington, D.C. Hughes can be reached at

Participatory Research and Community Youth Development: VOICES in Sarasota County, Florida

Moya L. Alfonso, Karen Bogues, Meredith Russo, and Kelli McCormack Brown

By taking on the role of researcher or evaluator, youth experiment with new behaviors and possible identities — a key developmental task.



This article reports a case study of community-based participatory action research conducted as a community youth development activity, demonstrating a trend toward engaging youth in youth development efforts. The project actively engaged middle school youth in their communities and offered an avenue through which they could contribute to matters of importance to them. Youth are presented as stakeholders in the research process. Concrete strategies for collaborating with youth are described and evaluated.



Community-based participatory action research offers an alternative to traditional youth development efforts that “assume youth can be developed separate from their communities and in organizations devoid of community members” (London, Zimmerman, and Erbstein, 2003, p. 34). Community-based participatory action research is an approach that actively engages youth in their communities and offers them a voice in issues that affect them (for a discussion of youth development programs see Roth, 2004). This approach is based on the premises that: (1) “strong communities are built on active participation and civic engagement of members, including youth”; (2) “if youth are able to participate in civic and public affairs as participants, not solely beneficiaries, they tend to experience optimal development”; and (3) “adults can overcome negative attitudes and misinformation about youth if they join with youth to address community concerns” (Camino, 2000, pp. 11-12).

Community-based participatory research offers numerous benefits to youth, communities, and universities (for a summary see Alfonso, 2004), including positive developmental outcomes for youth, healthier communities, increased utilization of community programs and resources, and improved research processes and outcomes (Green and Mercer, 2001; Landis, Alfonso, Ziegler, Christy, Abrenica, and Brown, 1999; Meucci and Schwab, 1997; Minkler and Wallerstein, 1997).

Involving youth in the research process may result in more reliable results because of decreased social distance, broader information scope, increased credibility with the target audience, inclusion of key stakeholders, enhanced intervention attractiveness, greater acceptance of the research design and results, and more accurate assessments of the invasiveness of methods and questions (Alfonso, 2002).

Our study took place in Sarasota County, Florida. Over the past several years, community-based participatory research has been used here to address local public health concerns like tobacco and alcohol use among adolescents (Landis et al., 1999; McCormack Brown, McDermott, Bryant, and Forthofer, 2003; McCormack Brown, Forthofer, Bryant, et al., 2001). The level of involvement of youth in the research process in Sarasota County has varied. For the alcohol and tobacco prevention research, for example, youth were hired and trained to conduct research with the intent of decreasing the social distance between the researcher and the researched; youth development was not the primary goal (Landis et al., 1999). Youth researchers were involved at the level of research assistant and had little control over the direction of the research process and use of results (Kirshner and O’Donoghue, 2001; Landis et al., 1999). In our study, however, youth were actively involved at every level of the research process and collaborated with adults to determine the direction of the research. A case study of VOICES (Viewpoints of Interested Civically Engaged Students) is presented as a community youth development activity. Youth researchers’ thoughts on community-based participatory action research are shared, methods and results are detailed, and lessons learned are discussed. Connections between research and action are demonstrated.


Guiding Research Objectives

In keeping with the Community Youth Development (CYD) Model, the project was organized and led by a youth-adult partnership formed between the second and third authors. The model is used to assess gaps in services and barriers to participation and tries to identify how best to meet needs through creation of programs. Project organizers created VOICES to identify gaps in out-of-school time activities, barriers to participation in existing programs, and specific needs of youth addressed through systemic changes. However, through the course of the project, youth researchers, who were considered partners in the research process, included foci on other issues relevant to teens’ lives, such as transportation, family relationships, and use of leisure time. Ultimately, five domains of middle schoolers’ lives were explored: family, peers, school, neighborhood, and the future.


Youth as Stakeholders in Research

To be involved in research as something other than the object of study, youth first have to be considered stakeholders in the research process. Stakeholders include “the people whose lives are affected by the program under evaluation and the people whose decisions will affect the future of the program” (Bryk, 1983). [For a historical discussion of stakeholder involvement in research see Bryk (1983), Coleman (1976), and Gold (1981).] Research studies designed without the input of key stakeholders are arguably more narrowly focused than they would have been had stakeholders been involved in deciding what questions should be asked (Coleman, 1976) and result in information that is less likely to be used in the decision-making process (Gold, 1981).

Evidence supports youth capacity for functioning as stakeholders in the research process, so long as developmental issues are considered and respected (Finn and Checkoway, 1998; Hart, 1997; Hart et al., 1997; Hartman, DeCicco, and Griffin, 1994; Horsch, Little, Smith, Goodyear, and Harris, 2002; McCormack Brown et al., 2001; Ozer et al., 2008). Within the realm of public health, for example, youth have contributed to research in the areas of wellness (Schwab, 1997), community health (Torres, 1998), HIV/AIDS (Harper and Carver, 1999; Nastasi et al., 1998), sexual risk (Schensul, 1998), tobacco and alcohol use (Landis et al., 1999; McCormack Brown et al., 2001), and physical activity and nutrition (Alfonso, Jenkins, and Calkins, 2003).

Most youth have been involved at the level of research assistant, not as research partners (Kirshner and O’Donoghue, 2001), underscoring a tendency for adults to limit youths’ contributions to the research process.


Participatory Research as Youth Development

Youth involvement in research and evaluation is seen as a youth development opportunity when youth are provided with opportunities for making substantial contributions to the research and evaluation process (Harper and Carver, 1999). Participatory action research provides an avenue through which youth can make substantial contributions to the research process (Kirshner, Strobel, and Fernandez, 2003). Participatory action research is based on the notion that knowledge generated through action and contextual experimentation and participatory democracy will inform methods and goals of the research process (Greenwood and Levin, 2000).

Participatory action research is multi-method and involves participants in each step, from defining objectives to application of results (Greenwood and Levin, 2000). Professional researchers serve as cogenerators of knowledge within the participatory action research framework. Stakeholders’ local knowledge combined with professional researchers’ training and expertise combine to create a more valid, credible, and reliable understanding of the issue at hand (Greenwood and Levin, 2000). Professionally trained researchers serve as important sources of support for lay researchers, especially since stakeholders are, in general, “not sufficiently well organized or not sufficiently affluent” to organize, fund, and manage policy research (Coleman, 1976, p. 308). Participatory approaches to research do not claim to solve power differentials between researchers and the researched. Power is not given to participants, though circumstances that allow for empowerment are created (Carrick, Mitchell, and Lloyd, 2001; Kelly, 1993).

Supportive and caring relationships with adults and peers are key to youths’ learning and development (Vygotsky, 1978). Surrounded by caring and supportive adults, youth can participate as researchers and evaluators and become invested in the health and well-being of their communities (Camino, 2000; Kirshner et al., 2003). The development of ongoing relationships with adults and pairing of youth with experts (i.e., adults or older youth) is an effective method for ensuring that youth understand projects in which they are involved and develop the requisite skills for conducting research and evaluation (Harper and Carver, 1999; Hart et al., 1997; Horsch et al., 2002; Johnson and Johnson, 1985; Vos, 2001; McCormack Brown et al., 2001). Principles associated with youth research and evaluation include respect, equality, empowerment, and collaborating with youth in all aspects of the project (Camino, 2000). Dialogue is an important component of participatory research and community youth development. Adults facilitate youth development by actively encouraging dialogue and allowing youth to answer questions asked of the adult researcher, paraphrasing and soliciting comments from quiet youth (Hart et al., 1997; Kelly, 1993).

By taking on the role of researcher or evaluator, youth experiment with new behaviors and possible identities — a key developmental task (Dworkin and Bremer, 2004). Effective youth development participatory research programs encourage youth to perform beyond their current capacity and take on new roles (Horsch et al., 2002; Roth, 2004; Sabo, 2003). For example, within the research and evaluation context, supportive adults teach youth evaluation or research terms, thus providing youth with access to a script they can use when performing in their new role as researchers (Sabo, 2003). Adults perform in facilitative, as opposed to instructional, roles by guiding and assisting youth and documenting but not directing the process (Sabo, 2003; Schwab, 1997; Vos, 2001). Adults nourish youth’s sense of authority by creating moments when youth are in challenging roles (e.g., teaching, research) and using these experiences to reflect on what the youth have learned (Kelly, 1993).


Community Youth Development in Sarasota County

The CYD of Sarasota County has been the leader in youth civic engagement in Sarasota County since 1995. It is a voluntary collaboration of not-for-profit youth-serving agencies and teens working to address the needs of middle and high school youth. CYD’s core philosophy is to engage young people as vital resources and experts in the process of addressing the needs of their peers. CYD strives to provide youth with an environment that is conducive to positive youth development. (See Larson, Eccles, and Gootman, 2004, and Dworkin and Bremer, 2004, for descriptions of key features.) Youth serve as equal decision makers in all aspects of the program including hiring staff, setting budgets, writing grants, establishing policy and procedures, creating positive drug-free events, and evaluating the program.

CYD has an annual budget of $500,000 and operates with three full-time and three part-time staff, including two teens. CYD serves as a role model for Sarasota County in the practice of youth-adult partnerships and engaging youth as resources. This is accomplished through training youth and adults, developing youth-adult partnerships that focus on specific activities (e.g., National Youth Service Day events) that provide first-hand opportunities for community leaders to work with teens, and advocating for opportunities for youth to be engaged in addressing issues that affect their lives (e.g., law enforcement, education).

Because of CYD’s success, youth civic engagement initiatives have been able to gain credibility and acceptance very quickly within the community. Community leaders who collaborate with CYD are familiar with the CYD requirement that youth must be involved as partners in everything they do.


The VOICES Project

The VOICES project represents an important component of CYD’s Youth Civic Engagement Initiative. The Coalition of Community Foundations for Youth and the Community Foundation of Sarasota County funded the project. VOICES was created as a means of engaging middle school youth in civic life through meaningful participation. Whereas CYD had an extensive civic engagement program in place for high school youth designed to increase participation in civic activities such as voting, civic discourse, and community leadership, leadership and civic engagement programming for middle school youth was limited. VOICES was an effort to empower and engage middle school youth in community decision making by sharing their viewpoints through the research project. VOICES varied from our regular approach by utilizing a research model to gather and assess information collected and engaging middle school youth.

The third author, while in her junior year at a local high school, developed VOICES. A graduate of the Students Taking Active Roles (STAR) leadership training offered by CYD, she developed VOICES after attending a presentation on a similar initiative offered in California through the John Gardner Leadership Center at Stanford University ( The purpose of VOICES was to learn about Sarasota County teens by going to the “experts” — teens. This is central to the philosophy of CYD. By engaging youth in the process of identifying teens’ needs, community organizations learn the most effective ways of addressing teen needs through programming and can expect better participation because teens are promoting the activities and behaviors to their peers.



Recruitment of youth researchers. Students were recruited with the cooperation and assistance of the Sarasota County School District, especially middle school coordinators and faculty and staff from four local middle schools. Middle school coordinators were hired to coordinate prevention activities in the school. One of their roles was to engage youth in prevention activities. Youth were targeted based on their interest in learning new things and making a difference in their community. In addition, adults were asked to identify youth who had leadership potential not being cultivated in another way (e.g., student government). Twenty students applied for the program, 12 attended an orientation meeting, and eight completed the training program and worked on the research project. All eight youth researchers were eighth-graders. Approximately half were actively involved in school or community activities (e.g., Boy Scouts, student government), while the others participated because they were looking to get more involved in their community.

Training and support. Youth researchers received training in leadership, community assessment, and communication skills from staff and volunteers of CYD. Staff and the first author provided training and technical assistance on research skills. Training modules included ethics, question development, focus group guide development, focus group moderation, qualitative data analysis, and survey development, delivered in that order. Youth researchers attended an orientation, one-day of mapping and consensus building training, one day of focus group training, one day of focus group re-training, and two days of survey development. From January through March, youth researches received six days of formal training. Surveys were administered in April, survey data entered over the summer, and the final report presented and delivered in September.

The general training approach involved: (1) presenting information through discussion, brief lectures, modeling of skills, and participation; (2) helping youth make the research their own; and (3) providing opportunities for practice and feedback (Alfonso, 2004). Sole reliance on lecture-based training strategies was avoided (see Takata and Leiting, 1987). Opportunities for reinforcement were provided throughout the project. Specific training strategies included youth-graduate student partnerships, provision of feedback on activities and products, group discussion, team building exercises, experiential learning, and role-playing (Alfonso, 2002).

In addition, research methods were incorporated into the training process. Trainers used environmental mapping and brainstorming to encourage youth to identify and think about issues to address (Schwab, 1997). Focus group facilitation methods were used to encourage dialogue among youth researchers, process training activities, and model skills necessary for facilitating group conversations.

The authors’ prior experience working with youth allowed the training process to work smoothly. It is interesting to note that once the research process was completed, youth researchers and adults realized there were additional questions that they wanted to answer. The biggest barrier to the process was the inability to distribute surveys in the schools. Finding alternative locations was a substantial challenge.

Our team trained graduate students who volunteered to assist with the training of youth researchers to minimize the challenges (e.g., power sharing), risks (e.g., adultism [adult bias against children]), and frustration associated with youth-adult collaboration (Alfonso, 2004; Harper and Carver, 1999; Horsch et al., 2002; Schwab, 1997). As a part of the training, graduate students participated in a focus group discussion designed to orient them to the developmental characteristics of eighth graders (e.g., “What was it like to be an eighth grader?”). This discussion segued into what to expect when working with youth and sensitized them to behaviors to avoid, such as rigid, directive approaches (Lau, Netherland, and Haywood, 2003).

Design and methodology. A sequential mixed-methods design was used to gather information from middle school youth in Sarasota County (Tashakkori and Teddlie, 2003). Qualitative methods, including mapping and focus groups, were used first, to gather thick descriptions (facts in context) of life as a middle school-aged youth in Sarasota County. Mapping was used to identify the domains of interest to be investigated — family, peers, school, neighborhood, and future. Youth researchers used focus groups to explore these domains with other middle school students. Youth researchers developed a survey based on the focus group findings and administered it to other middle school-aged youth in Sarasota County. Qualitative and quantitative findings were synthesized around each key domain of interest, and recommendations for action were made specific to each.

We used community mapping to identify resources in Sarasota County and to help youth discover domains of interest (e.g., family). Eight youth researchers completed a community map of the resources available to support youth in Sarasota County. This was done as part of youth development training to help them understand how communities work and recognize the interrelation of various facets of a community. Youth were asked to use words, pictures, or symbols to describe the positive people, places, or things available in Sarasota County to assist youth.

Results included organizations (CYD, Boys & Girls Clubs, YMCA), institutions (schools, government, hospitals), businesses (movie theaters, mall), and people (teachers, police). Community mapping provided the framework for developing the focus group guide. Youth researchers brainstormed questions specific to each domain of interest and, with the assistance of adults, developed a focus group guide for use with their peers. Sample questions included the following:

• What is it like to be a teen in Sarasota County?

• What kind of volunteer work do you do?

• Think back to your last family dinner. Tell me about it.

Youth researchers conducted 24 focus groups (n = 144) with sixth to eighth grade students at local middle schools. School officials selected individual students from each classroom based on their grade and gender (e.g., sixth grade females). Focus groups were audio-recorded, and youth researchers took notes during the discussion. Youth were provided with an introduction to qualitative analysis and were guided through the analysis process (see Appendix A for worksheets used). Youth researchers worked in teams made up of two youth and one graduate student. Focus group notes and tapes were distributed to the teams. The notes were used as the primary source of information, with tapes used to fill in notes and identify illustrative quotes for inclusion in the final report. Each team was provided with three worksheets to assist in the analysis process (Appendix A). The first worksheet listed questions to be considered when reading the notes and discussing responses. The second asked the team to summarize key themes and suggest quotes specific to each domain for each focus group. Once the teams analyzed each focus group, the larger group used the third worksheet to guide a discussion of similarities and differences across focus groups, key findings, and future research needs.

Youth researchers’ responses to “What else do we need to know?” generated survey items (Appendix A). A large group format was used to create the initial draft of the survey. Youth researchers brainstormed the questions and adults helped youth researchers format the survey. A laptop computer and ability to print questionnaires were key components of this process. Youth researchers pre-tested the survey to ensure it would be easy for other youth to complete and would provide desired information (Appendix B). They pre-tested the survey with middle school-aged youth including family, friends, and alternative school students. Youth researchers discussed the pretest findings in a large group, resulting in a modified survey. The final survey was four pages in length and had approximately 22 items (closed and opened). Item types included demographics, activities done for fun, work experiences, perceptions of treatment by adults, and volunteer experiences.

The final version was distributed at various venues including a local shopping mall, movie theaters, CYD events, the beach, and at local camps and summer programs. Youth researchers collected 578 surveys from sixth to eighth grade students (11 to 14 years of age) from both public and private schools in Sarasota County. Most survey respondents were Caucasian (86%), attended public school (84%), had access to a computer every day (87%), and had access to the Internet every day (82%). African-Americans and students from one area in the southern part of the county may have been underrepresented because of lack of community organizations through which to distribute the surveys.

The first author created a spreadsheet that calculated information for each survey item. Youth researchers entered the data into the spreadsheet and reviewed the results as a group. Project organizers guided the group discussion, asking youth to consider:

• What strikes you as you look at the results?

• What ideas do you have for addressing the issues raised (e.g., transportation)?

Youth researchers discussed the data and compared findings to what was discovered using mapping and focus groups.

Organizers questioned the youth researchers’ assumptions, challenging them to think through their interpretations. After analyzing and interpreting the data, youth researchers and project organizers developed data-driven recommendations for action. Qualitative (focus group) and quantitative (survey) findings and recommendations for action were summarized for each domain (see Table 1 for sample findings and recommendations). In Table 1, the second column displays mixed-method results, and the third column provides a summary of evidence-based recommendations.

With the support of the project organizers, youth researchers presented their results and recommendations at a community meeting at the School Board of Sarasota County. A variety of community stakeholders attended, including local middle school guidance counselors, university faculty, middle school coordinators, parents, community agency representatives, school staff, media, and public transportation representatives.

The presentation focused on the five domains, with students presenting their results and recommendations through oral presentation with slides and videotaped skits. For example, after showing a PowerPoint entitled “The Stat Family,” youth researchers showed a videotaped scenario of youth researchers sitting around a dinner table discussing their findings about families and middle school youth. Each youth researcher played the role of a family member.

Basic facts discovered during the project were mentioned in the scenario and reinforced on subsequent slides (e.g., 20% [of students] never talk with their parents about important issues). A final report, “Into the Minds of Middle School Students,” collaboratively developed with guidance from the first author, was made available to community members in attendance.


Application of Results

The success of the participatory action research process is judged by stakeholders’ acceptance and action based on research results (Greenwood and Levin, 2000). For the most part, VOICES researchers were not in positions of power necessary for implementing their recommendations. However, anecdotal evidence suggested some individuals who attended the community presentation accepted the results as a valid and reliable evidence-base on which to make decisions and pursue changes in the local community and schools. To date, the research team has collected the following evidence that project recommendations are being applied:

1. A local middle school guidance counselor used VOICES data to support the creation of a study hall at the middle school where he worked. The counselor said his job was to “do data-driven guidance,” and the VOICES report provided him with a “list of concrete, data-based” recommendations for action, which he kept on his desk.

2. A local community college and major university agreed to include eighth-graders in college-bound awareness information previously directed only to high school students.

3. Local public transportation (SCAT bus) added stops in rural areas, as well as additional routes that youth researchers recommended, for example, the beach and the mall.

Lessons Learned

Table 2 provides insight into what the youth project leader gained from her experiences with VOICES. But VOICES was a learning experience for all involved, not just those in leadership roles. For example, we learned that:

Middle school youth are able to meet high expectations. CYD staff set high expectations for youth participating in its programs. However, University of South Florida project organizers and staff had not worked with middle school-aged youth in such an intense project in the past and were uncertain about their ability to stay focused and engaged to completion. Through their perseverance and commitment to completing the project (eight months from start to finish), VOICES students met these high expectations. Feeling they were treated as equals and respected for their abilities and ideas, youth investment in the project grew.

Middle school youth develop at different rates. Youth researchers were expected to develop self-confidence and responsibility skills in addition to knowledge of research methods from participation in VOICES. The timing in which the impact of involvement on youth researchers became evident varied across individuals. Some adapted to the expectations and skills quickly, making significant impacts throughout the project. Others took longer to gain the confidence or trust in their skills, resulting in what appeared to be a large jump in ability in a short period of time. In general, youth development occurred in direct proportion to development of the right atmosphere in the experience. Once youth developed trust with each other and the adults with whom they were collaborating, developmental changes were easily detected.

Consider in advance who can and will determine what should be known. Epistemological and ethical issues arise when conducting community-based participatory action research (Clark and Moss, 1996). Ideally, youth help determine research objectives and retain the power to modify and exclude research questions (Kelly, 1993). Failing to include youth in the determination of research objectives can result in time delays and decreased youth investment and ability to perform research tasks (Landis et al., 1999).

However, funding requirements often place constraints on the level of youth control over the research process that is possible (see Green and Mercer, 2001). When VOICES youth researchers changed the research focus from identifying gaps in services, barriers to participation in existing programs, and specific needs of youth to topics they viewed as more relevant (transportation, family relationships, use of leisure time), project organizers were forced to consider the following questions:

• Who decides what should be asked or what is worth knowing?

• How do adults and university professionals, who bring with them funding-related agendas, collaborate with youth and accommodate recommended changes?

• What happens when youth researcher interests or priorities do not match funder or agency requirements?

Ensure good, clear communication with community and school partners. When community-based agencies work in collaboration with school districts, extra care should be taken to ensure good, clear communication. A lack of clear understanding about the project led to discomfort among school district officials regarding the questions used for focus groups and the survey. School district officials were uncomfortable with the segment of the focus group script that focused on family, as follows:

• Now we are going to talk about your family. Tell me about your family. Think back to your last family dinner. Tell me about it.

• How many times a week do you talk to your parents about things that are important to you?

• How many times a week do you talk to other family members about things that are important to you?

• How many times a week do you eat dinner with your household family?

• Where are you when you feel like your parents listen to you the most?

Ultimately, this discomfort precluded the ability to administer the survey in the schools during noninstructional time, forcing the VOICES team to identify other methods for obtaining a diverse sample.

Middle school youth are capable of critical analysis. During the survey analysis and interpretation phase, VOICES participants learned first-hand the need to critically analyze data or information. Youth researchers critically questioned the results of their own survey, especially those findings that contradicted their experience. For example, results indicated 44% of survey participants agreed “not at all” with the statement, “I feel pressured to fit in at school.” After much discussion, youth researchers decided to present this finding along with a caveat that it did not match their experiences. Youth researchers addressed this disconnect in the final report.

We believe that youth may have been influenced to answer questions in a manner that was more socially desirable. While the surveys were anonymous, we believe respondents knew that youth were actually the ones reading these surveys, and they wanted to avoid appearing weak or inadequate in the eyes of the researchers, their peers, or even themselves.



This article presented a case study of community-based participatory action research as a community youth development activity. VOICES demonstrates a trend toward including youths in key roles in prevention programming and youth development.

The project: (1) triangulated qualitative and quantitative evidence to support out-of-school time programs throughout Sarasota County and shed light on key contexts in which middle school youth develop (e.g., school); (2) engaged youth in identifying and addressing the needs of teens in Sarasota County; (3) empowered youth as vital resources in the development of a healthy community; and (4) provided a middle school option for the civic engagement initiative currently operating at the high school level. Youth were presented as stakeholders in the research process, and participatory action research was discussed as an approach that allows for youth to be actively involved in each phase of the research process and to have a voice in decision making. Youths’ thoughts on community-based participatory action research were shared and lessons learned were discussed.

In summary, VOICES was a successful youth development project in which committed adults and youth worked closely with youth researchers. In addition, high expectations were held for youth, they were made to feel that their work was meaningful and significant, and they were set up for success through opportunities to take on challenging roles (Gambone and Connell, 2004; Larson et al., 2004; Lee, Murdock, and Paterson, 1996; Roth, 2004; Sabo, 2003).

Here are two representative comments from VOICES researchers:

“[It is] nice that people listen. [We are] not always taken seriously, and we have a lot of good ideas. It’s good to have people listen.”

“[I am a] better person and feel good for having helped the community.”

VOICES in Sarasota County represents one community-based participatory action research project that involved a small number of youth researchers and adults and only one round of research. One reviewer cautioned against broad conclusions on the experience of so few students and one research round. We agree, and the reader should keep these limitations in mind. What worked in Sarasota County may not be the best approach for others considering participatory action research in their youth development programming. However, this article, along with the broader literature, contributes to what is known about youth participation and community change by emphasizing concrete strategies and tools for collaborating with youth researchers as valued stakeholders.



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About the Authors

Moya L. Alfonso is research assistant professor for the Florida Prevention Research Center and senior research coordinator for the Center for Social Marketing at the University of South Florida. Karen Bogues is executive director of Community Youth Development of Sarasota County, Fla. Meredith Russo was a recent high school graduate from Potter’s Wheel Academy in Sarasota at the time of manuscript preparation. Kellie McCormack Brown is professor and associate dean for academic affairs in the University of Florida College of Health and Human Performance. Alfonso can be reached at


Authors’ Note

Thanks to VOICES youth researchers Nicole Altenes, Lindsey Atha, Eric Brennan, Thomas Cocchi, Chip Kenniff, Liz Liberman, Heather Rola, and Carla Valor; the Coalition of Community Foundations for Youth and the Community Foundation of Sarasota County, who funded the research project; the Sarasota County School District, including Sherri Reynolds (pupil support services), the middle school coordinators and staff and other faculty at Laurel-Nokomis, McIntosh, Pine View, and Venice middle schools; the Triad Alternative School; staff and graduate students from University of South Florida Prevention Research Center; and the local agencies, including the Boys & Girls Clubs of Sarasota County, Sarasota County Parks & Recreation, Sarasota Family YMCA, South County Family YMCA, and Sarasota Square Mall. We also thank the JCES reviewer who provided such a thorough critique of the initial version of this manuscript.