From The Field: Can Our Service Change Us? Bringing the Classroom to Service Learning in the Southern African Kingdom of Lesotho

Scott Rosenberg




Based on a decade’s worth of service-learning trips to Lesotho, this paper focuses on the role of nightly discussion sessions in achieving our learning goals. It also examines how we carried out our community-service projects in conjunction with class material to help students move past negative stereotypes and objectification of the Basotho (an ethnic group whose ancestors have lived in southern Africa since around the fifth century) toward a greater understanding of the Basotho as people. During our community service, students often expressed feelings of pity for the Basotho as well as a sense of frustration at why they do not do more to help themselves. This paper will also address how the trip helps students move from feelings of pity to that of empathy, as well as creating an environment that helps break down the barriers between those performing community service and the communities they are working with.


Whether domestic or abroad, service-learning trips are designed to benefit underserved communities, contribute to the education of our students, create understanding, and, ideally, produce a lifelong commitment to service as a result of the experience. As these kinds of trips often expose students to different communities and cultures, as well as extreme poverty, they have a significant potential to fail to achieve their goals and instead end up reinforcing negative stereotypes about impoverished communities. Given the many preconceived notions that students have about Africa upon entering college, one might expect these challenges to be especially daunting. However, with that risk also comes a significant potential to have a profound and life- changing impact on the intellect and emotions of students. Although our trip was to one of the poorest countries in the world, this paper seeks to discuss how we navigated the potential pitfalls and maximized student growth in a manner that will benefit those leading trips both in the United States and abroad.

The impetus behind the program was born out of my experience as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Lesotho from 1989–1991, my Fulbright experience there from 1995–1996, and my continued professional and academic work in Lesotho. My particular interest in service started as an undergraduate at Kenyon College and continued through my work with Habitat for Humanity over a period of 20 years. During a visit to Lesotho in 2001, I participated in discussions with executives from Habitat for Humanity about their starting work in Lesotho. It was out of this conversation that I first conceived of a service trip to Lesotho. Returning to Wittenberg University the following fall, I broached the idea of a service trip to Lesotho with several members of the student Habitat for Humanity club. In many regards, it was their enthusiastic response that led to the very first trip in 2003. Since then, as part of 10 different trips, we have taken over 330 students from Wittenberg University on a month long service-learning trip to the Southern African Kingdom of Lesotho. In 2003, we took all 22 students that applied to participate in the program. However, as the demand for the program grew, eventually reaching 130 in 2011, we began to require that students submit both a faculty recommendation letter as well as a personal statement. In deciding which students to select, we give the personal statement tremendous weight, while little attention is paid to GPA. In reflecting on applications over the years, we have come to feel that GPA is not the best indicator of which students will benefit most from this experience, whereas the authors can point to numerous weaker students who became much more engaged after participating in this program. We further look for students who express a willingness to come out of their comfort zones, while shying away from those who want “to save those poor starving Africans,” because they tend to be more resistant to the core values of the program.

In an effort to better facilitate and expand student learning, the nature of our projects have evolved over time. Initially we spent much of our time assisting Habitat for Humanity in building homes for female-headed households and community service at an orphanage in the capital city, Maseru. However, over time as different non-governmental organizations in Lesotho approached us and we began to develop new contacts, the nature of our service gradually changed during the third and fourth trips, in 2006 and 2008, as we began to focus on projects such as building houses, community centers, greenhouses, and chicken coops as well as planting fruit trees and digging gardens, designing classrooms, and building playgrounds. All of these projects are with local partners and are designed to help vulnerable children, especially orphans and HIV positive children. Focusing on our nightly discussion sessions, this paper will explore the way we manage each project in relation to student learning and will discuss student responses to their participation in different projects. Furthermore, this paper will seek to elucidate the questions and emotions generated by different types of projects and how students measure the perceived impact of our projects.

Our experience in developing a service-learning program may be of more benefit to faculty from fields not traditionally associated with service learning, as well as for faculty who are not well versed in the literature. The alterations made to our program were often based upon observation and discussion among the authors. The leaders of the program evaluate its successes and problems on a yearly basis in response to observations about an ever-changing student body as well as the changing dynamics of service in Lesotho. In many aspects, the changes are similar to ones that are made in the classroom when evaluating the success or failure of certain assignments. Furthermore, our nightly discussion sessions provide daily student feedback, which helps shape the ever-changing nature of this program. Lastly, the rationale behind the nightly discussion sessions stems from the author’s own teaching style.

Historical Background

The current borders of Lesotho were established in 1868 when the British Empire extended protection to the Basotho and prevented them from becoming part of South Africa. Since then, Lesotho remains only one of two countries in the world entirely surrounded by another (the other is Vatican City). Although Lesotho was a separate nation, under colonial rule it was managed in such a way that the Basotho people became dependent on migrant labor in the South African gold fields for their survival. By 1977, nearly 130,000 Basotho men worked in South African mines, and their remittances constituted nearly half of the nations GNP (Rosenberg & Weisfelder, 2014). For young Basotho men, working in the mines became a right of passage, and part of the transition into manhood. While at the mines, Basotho men often engaged in likota, an unbecoming type of behavior toward women (Maloka, 2004), which included having multiple girlfriends and frequenting prostitutes. By the 1980s it had become a common and accepted part of mining culture that men cheated on their wives and girlfriends with women living near the mines. In 1984 the first case of HIV/AIDS was reported in the South African gold mines, and it would not be long before Basotho miners brought the disease home. By 1990 there were already 5,500 people living with HIV/AIDS in Lesotho. By the end of the decade, it would be estimated that 25% of adults (15–49) were positive, and that over 20,000 children had contracted the disease from their mother. During the first decade of the 21st century, Lesotho would suffer from the third highest per capita death rate from HIV/AIDS of any nation in the world. As it was mostly young adults dying from the disease, Lesotho, a nation of 2 million people, would have over 160,000 orphans by 2011 (Rosenberg & Weisfelder, 2014).

Lesotho’s economic situation became significantly worse after the ending of apartheid in 1991. During the last decade of the 20th century the South African government made a concerted effort to hire more black South Africans, which came at the expense of Basotho miners. In less than a decade the number of Basotho men working in the gold mines dropped from over 130,000 to its current level of about 54,000. Since then, the only jobs that have become available are low paying jobs for women at local textile factories. Faced with massive unemployment and land that can barely produce 11% of the country’s food requirements, Lesotho is currently facing serious challenges to its survival. Last year the government announced that over 500,000 children were facing severe malnutrition and stunting if immediate food aid was not delivered (Rosenberg & Weisfelder, 2014). Additionally the ending of apartheid witnessed a massive exodus of foreign aid as many donors moved to South Africa. In the words of one government official: “Lesotho became out of sight and out of mind to the donor community.” Although Lesotho was initially chosen as the destination for Wittenberg University’s service trip because of my familiarity with the country, the plight of children in Lesotho also attracted students to the program.

Reflection and Confronting Stereotypes

One of the challenges of a service trip designed to help those who are economically disadvantaged in a given region or African nation, is that students often make judgments about the larger group of racial or regionally related people, thus reinforcing stereotypes. These beliefs can also be a product of students trying to help manage their own guilt or frustration at the situation and consequently they end up dehumanizing the individuals they are trying to help. Being exposed to some of the poorest people on earth in Lesotho can reinforce preconceived notions about Africans. As students struggle to come to terms with the poverty before them, some find it easier at first to blame Africans for not working hard enough while others conclude that Africans are content with their current living standards. The purpose for our nightly discussion sessions is to help students process their thoughts, feelings, and emotions on a daily basis as part of a larger group.

One of the most effective mediums we have found to facilitate student learning is our nightly reflection sessions. Usually held between 5 and 6 p.m., these sessions provide students an opportunity to ask questions and seek clarification on things they saw or witnessed, but more importantly they provide students with a forum to reflect and process their experiences in the moment. Our philosophy throughout the entire trip, but especially during reflections sessions is to try and not force students to come to any specific conclusion or set of beliefs. During these meetings we see our role as that of facilitator and mediator, as well as providing factual information and or contextualizing certain experiences. The idea of playing the role of mediator and facilitator is partially based on the Sesotho concept of the Morena, which the British translated as chief, but whose main functions for the community more closely resembled that of a negotiator and facilitator during public forums known as pitsos (Rosenberg, 2008). However, although we provide guidance, we try to avoid directing the conversation, and refrain from telling the students how they should interpret or feel about a certain situation. Our approach to the reflection sessions is based on the Socratic method of teaching that I employ in the classroom. However, instead of providing a forum for students to discuss a reading or lecture, we will usually start the session by bringing up one or two instances that occurred during the day, after which we allow students the opportunity to provide the topics for discussion. We create an experience, and allow students to engage with it at their own level and reach their own conclusions.

Staying on top of students’ emotions is important so that the experience does not become so overwhelming that they shut down or withdraw. Furthermore, the projects and lectures are laid out in a fashion that should keep the conversation always moving forward. Although there is often repetition, in general the nightly discussions tend to build on each other more then hash over the same ideas. We usually start by having all of the students meet together as one large group (this is often 35–38 students and 2 facilitators) so that they can hear more perspectives as well as bond together as a group. We think that it is important that students hear as many other voices as possible during the first half of the trip to help them process their experiences. During most trips we notice that there is often a group of students who do not speak during meetings; this is often the result of their being intimidated by the large group. Thus usually near the start of the third week we will break out into three or four smaller groups, each led by a trip leader. This allows quieter students to participate, but it also allows for deeper and more personal discussions. It is our belief that these smaller discussion groups might not be as effective early in the trip because the students who come from all aspects of campus life might not yet be comfortable enough with each other to share some of their more personal feelings.

By discussing their experiences with their peers students are able to release many of the anxieties they are experiencing as well as many of the negative responses they may be harboring internally, and are gradually able to put their experiences within a larger framework as well as to begin to understand the lives of other people without judging them. Our students learn to become critical thinkers, gaining a deeper understanding of the realities that the people in Lesotho face, all the while gaining a greater understanding of our common bonds.

We have noticed over the years that most groups struggle with similar sets of issues (guilt, pity, frustration, and resentment) and often tend to objectify the Basotho during our discussions. Thus, service has the potential to reinforce many negative stereotypes about Africans and poor people. One of the ways we help students see the Basotho as human beings and help them move past preconceived notions is by helping them navigate the difference between pity and empathy, by moving away from the initial feelings of being sorry for “those” poor people, toward a sense of empathy and understanding of the daily obstacles that many Basotho face. It has been our experience that in the early stages of the program students tend to objectify the Basotho and verbalize feelings of pity. However, as the trip progresses we hear the dehumanizing objectification gradually replaced with a sense of shared humanity and empathy towards the Basotho (not all students reach this at the same time, but we have observed that as a group they reach certain intellectual markers at the same time). Students’ frustration and resentment often manifests itself in phrases like “why don’t they (the people of Lesotho) do more to help themselves?” In response to this we challenge students to think about who “they” are (and that referring to the Basotho as “they” objectifies them as all being the same) and to take into account larger socio-economic factors that have shaped Southern Africa.

Students often note that the Basotho seem happy, and thus conclude that the Basotho are either happy being poor or are unaware that they are poor. We try to confront this objectification of the Basotho by explaining that the Basotho are aware that they are poor, and try to gently lead our students towards the idea of how we are projecting our own perceptions as well as discussing the correlation between poverty and happiness. It is our hope that students will come to understand that poor people can be happy, with the understanding that happiness does not derive from their being unaware or from being unencumbered by material goods. We try to help the students appreciate the value of their service while simultaneously guiding them to move beyond the “I helped save poor orphans,” or “I am so thankful for what I have,” interpretations of their experience, and to become more understanding, compassionate, and empathetic people with a greater appreciation of the realities faced by people living in another country. It is our belief that these discussions help students learn, and help create “a life-changing” experience through community service.

Learning from Service

During our service-learning trip to Lesotho, we try to avoid creating an experience that resembles academic or service tourism by removing the barriers between the Basotho and us. Although we are in Lesotho for a month, there is a potential to build artificial barriers between our students and the people of Lesotho, barriers that would make us tourists who happen to be doing community service. Driving in our private buses to and from a worksite, working by ourselves on given projects could put up walls between us and the Basotho, and turn the Basotho people into objects on display for us to view. To avoid such outcomes, we have developed a number of mechanisms in the trip from working with local communities, partnering with local youth groups, and organized activities designed to help students engage one on one with the local population.

Importance of Local Partners

Since the first trip in 2003 we have partnered with the Lesotho Youth Work Camp Association, which provides several local volunteers who are of similar age to our students. The initial reason behind the partnership was to add a distinct element to our cross-cultural experience. We felt that by working with people their own age, who share similar experiences as young adults, such as taste in music and clothes that American students would come to see their similarities with people living in Lesotho. The nature of our construction projects coupled with a lack of skills and written directions forces the two groups to have to communicate in order to complete the projects. There is often significant down time at the worksites and this provides further opportunities for the groups to interact. As our groups often tend to outnumber the Basotho volunteers 5 to 1, only a handful of our students were actually getting to know the Basotho volunteers. Furthermore, I am sure that our large group presented a challenge for our Basotho hosts. However, over the years, as the same Work Camp volunteers showed up, they began to be more comfortable with our students, and the leader of the group became an excellent mediator and facilitator of group interactions. Our students benefited greatly when the Work Camp volunteers joined us on all the projects because it allowed students to develop genuine friendships with the Basotho. As the students and Work Camp volunteers begin to discover shared tastes in music and clothing, as well as issues of ‘dating’ they began to see their counterparts as peers and not as “Africans.” In one particular case, the walls were broken when one of my students introduced feminine hygiene products and instructed her new Basotho friend on their proper use. As they began to see them as friends, it began to change the way they viewed the Basotho. The participation of the Work Camp was one of the more successful approaches to helping students see the Basotho as people.

Service Time and Learning

Since the inception of the Lesotho Field Experience in 2003 it has always been a service-learning trip, however, over time both the projects have changed as have the connection between the community service and more traditional academic components. During the 2003 and 2005 programs nearly half our time was spent digging pit latrines for Habitat for Humanity, which allowed the skilled builders to focus on building the houses. Over time, we gradually transitioned to building greenhouses, chicken-coops, piggeries, gardens, and orchards, as well as painting classrooms and building playgrounds for organizations that work with orphans and HIV positive children. The changing emphasis of our projects in Lesotho was done because of the desperate need in Lesotho, but also to create a more powerful experience for the Wittenberg students. These new projects also confronted us with new learning challenges, especially in regards to how to maximize the learning potential. Over the next few years, we learned to be more deliberate in the order of the projects that we undertook while in Lesotho. We discovered that certain projects answered more questions early in the trip, while other projects drew greater meaning if done later. We also noticed that the amount of time spent at a given site had consequences for student learning. As many of our projects involved difficult physical labor, we noticed that working on one project for several days led to not only physical exhaustion, but could also start to generate negative feelings towards the project and the Basotho. In response to this, we tried spending less time on any given project, working at a site for only 2-3 days and then moving on. However, these short stays left students feeling disconnected from the project and without a sense of accomplishment or any real connection to the Basotho at that location. The limited time frame did not allow students to develop personal connections with the Basotho they were working with or helping, producing a more superficial experience, which further contributed to the objectification of the Basotho. The model that seems to work best for us, and keep students invested in the project is one week at a given site with a day off in the middle (this is usually used for lectures or some cross-cultural activity). We have found that this balance provides enough time for students to feel invested in the project as well as being able to develop personal connections with our local hosts while avoiding burnout and the subsequent resentment that its seems to generate.

In 2008 we had the problem of students not feeling connected to the projects due to our shorter stays at any given project and thus in response
in 2009 developed a model of 5 days at a project with a day off for cross-cultural and academic activities in the middle, in order to not burn out students and to give them time to feel more connected to their projects. However, in 2009 we ran two consecutive trips, and thus group one started many projects that would be completed by group two. Not seeing projects through to their completion led to similar feelings of being unfulfilled like those expressed by students who had spent only 2–3 days on a given project.

Back in 2008, four orphans between the ages of 17–19 approached me for help; they said they were inspired by the community center we were building and that they wanted to do something to help their community. After hearing their business plan, we gave them about $200 without high hopes for success. Our lack of confidence was driven by our belief that handouts rarely work. However, by the time we returned in 2009 the four young men had established a thriving chicken business and were selling almost 800 chickens a year. We shared this story with our students on the 2009 trip and had them meet the young men. It was at this time that we came up with the idea that with our community service “we are planting seeds,” and that although you may not see them grow to maturity that is the reality of doing community service in Lesotho. The concept seemed to help many students process their frustration and move towards a more accepting place.

The idea of planting a seed allowed students the opportunity to discuss and reflect on their work in a new way and helped remove the American need to see instant results. Also, as they began to understand the difficulties that many projects face after we leave, the planting a seed concept also helped remove resentment and possible frustration that their work may not succeed. Framing our work in terms of seeds, some of which have failed as well as those that have blossomed, helps students conceptualize the diversity of the Basotho and the realities they face. Seeing that some projects survive while others fail teaches us not to lump all of the Basotho together, but rather to consider every project as distinct and separate as are the people who we are working with on any given site. Inside one of the community centers we built, the students decided to paint the phrase “planting seeds,” and then made drawings on the wall illustrating their growth over time. The painting serves multiple purposes as it generates an element of hope for both our students as well as for the Basotho. The illustration shows that change is constant, and like the growth of seeds, it is often a slow process that must be given time to come to fruition. Although the failure rate may be much higher in Lesotho, this dichotomy allows students to identify more with Lesotho and its people.

Selecting the Right Projects to Facilitate Learning Goals

During our 2006 trip, which was the first to involve more direct projects designed to help orphans, and HIV positive children, and also led to greater interaction with the Basotho, we noticed that many of the students were vocalizing their frustration with the Basotho and why they did not do more things to help themselves. This resentment continued to fester during our 2008 program when students saw that one of the projects undertaken in 2006 had not been well maintained. We tried to explain the economic and technical problems that confront Lesotho, and the challenges faced by the Basotho, which cause so many projects to fail. We still felt that our explanations were not achieving our goals as many students continued to harbor frustration and resentment. As a result we sought to find a more effective approach to alleviate this problem in future trips. Since 2009, our first project has involved building one or two houses for orphan headed households. Often the first task we have to undertake is to carry thousands of cinder blocks that have been left by the side of the road to the location where the house is being built. Now when asked during the early days of our trip “why don’t the Basotho do more to help themselves,” or those who think that it should be easy to fix Lesotho’s problems, we ask them to talk about what they did today. Students often start with something like “we carried blocks up a hill,” to which we reply, “why did we do that?” Students begin to realize what they know would be done by machines in minutes in the United States is done by hand in Lesotho and often takes days. As they carry those blocks up hill the following day (and it is always uphill), it is my hope that they develop a greater sense of the challenges faced by the Basotho in getting things done. Other students have commented on the arduous process of flattening the floor prior to the pouring of concrete, and what took several students days could have been done by a machine in minutes at home. Working under local conditions helps students understand that the Basotho are not lazy, and that getting things accomplished in Africa is not the same as completing them in the United States. Hopefully, by walking up the hill, the students begin to experience the challenges faced from the perspective of the Basotho, and gain a greater empathy for their circumstances.

During our second week we tend to undertake projects at orphanages that are designed to generate self-sufficiency through food production (greenhouses, chicken-coops, fruit trees). By moving from houses for two families to orphanages that house anywhere from 30–50 children, students are gradually exposed to the scope of the problem in Lesotho. Even though many of the children living in orphanages are better fed and clothed than those in the village, the experience of working in an orphanage is a very powerful one for most students. One of the more challenging emotions that we are confronted with is feeling pity for the Basotho. One of the points made in our pre-trip meetings is that students are not allowed to bring candy to give to the children. However, once we arrive in Lesotho and they see the children, many of whom are asking for candy, students feel a strong impulse to hand out candy the children. Beyond explaining that candy will not solve malnutrition, nor make a significant impact, it is the emotion behind the action that is most important. Students are often driven by pity for what they see as thin, poorly clothed children. In most cases the desire to hand out candy is done in an attempt to assuage their own guilt at seeing the children as well as providing a momentary relief from that feeling through the smile on a child’s face after receiving candy. The act of handing out candy helps remove guilt in the moment, but does virtually no long term good for the student or the child. It helps neither achieve their long-term goals, nor does it actually bring the two parties closer together. If anything, the act of handing out candy builds up even greater walls, as the relationship is now defined by the act of giving out of remorse, undermining any chance to develop a relationship as equals. Under apartheid, white South Africans would occasionally drive through the Lesotho countryside on holiday and throw candy out the window to the children. Witnessing this myself during my time in the Peace Corps, I remember feeling anger at the tourists’ actions because it resembled throwing peanuts at the zoo. When I explain that the tourists often saw the children as faceless animals that came running for candy, students began to reflect on their own desire to hand out candy. We begin to discuss how pity does not help the Basotho, but also how it also objectifies them.

Breaking Down Barriers

One of the challenges doing service in Africa, and perhaps in other communities, is that students tend to lump together all of the people from that area. In our case, students often assume that all Basotho are poor and in need of help. One of the ways that this tends to manifest itself during our nightly discussions is that students tend to say “they” when talking about the people of Lesotho, or about a given issue in the country. This is both a product of our pre-trip lectures, which generalize the problem in Lesotho and are compounded by the fact that most of the people we are working with are in need. Usually after this has happened a few times we will ask who are we talking about when we say “they” or “them”? We try and challenge students not to lump all Basotho together, because that fails to acknowledge the diversity of people living in Lesotho (they are all not poor, orphans, or HIV positive) and removing the individual element, in turn, is an act of dehumanization. We try and frame the issues confronting the country as a whole, yet not each and every individual will suffer from the same afflictions, as each person is an individual with their own history and worth. Helping students see that not all Basotho can be lumped together, (there are different classes and groups of people, and that while most Basotho are poor, and many are HIV positive, not all Basotho suffer from these afflictions) opens the door allowing us to see the Basotho as human beings. And once they see them as human beings, it also allows for deeper and more meaningful connections to be made, because we move beyond the poor starving African stereotype seen in infomercials.

What Do People in Need Look Like?

The dichotomy of personal situations in Lesotho allows students to see that the problems that exist in Lesotho tend to be the same problems that we have back home. At some point during our meetings the conversation will turn towards the city of Springfield, Ohio where Wittenberg is located. Students will begin to discuss some the challenges faced by Springfield, such as childhood hunger and poverty, which are similar to what they are encountering in Lesotho. They often acknowledge that they tend to distance themselves from seeing the poverty at home, and often view poor people in their community in “us” and “them” terms. They are more open and driven to help those impoverished in Africa, because it is seen as more exotic and fits our cultural norms. Furthermore, because African poverty is so removed it does not threaten them or their notions of the United States. Yet, being confronted with African poverty in many cases allows students to see the poverty around them at home and motivates many of them into volunteer work once they return.

Almost every group we have taken has commented on how happy the Basotho are, in part as a result of the reception that we receive every time we are in the village. In recent years, a significant number of students have sought to try and figure out how and why the Basotho are happy. As mentioned above, the Basotho are often seen as poor (and in most cases those in the villages tend to be, and the living conditions make this evident), and thus the students have a more difficult time understanding how they can be happy living in what they view as impoverished conditions. This view of the Basotho as all being impoverished is reinforced by the very nature of our program as well as the rural community in which we stay. As many Basotho are seen smiling or laughing, or are just very welcoming to our students, a conclusion that has recently been voiced in our discussions is that they are happy because they are poor. When asked to elaborate, we tend to receive responses such as “they are not burdened with the same material desires as us,” “or they have simpler lives not complicated by modernity and are thus happy,” or that the Basotho are simply “unaware that they are poor.” What we seemed to notice is that often poverty or ignorance of the outside world was being equated as the reason for happiness. The notion that the Basotho are happy because they are poor is an example of the dehumanization that can take place on a trip such as ours. To help students revisit this, we tend to help them understand that many Basotho are keenly aware that they are poor, and regardless of their poverty they are well aware of all of the material and consumer goods available in this world. We also feel compelled to make clear that virtually nobody is happy because they are poor. Thus, once the ignorance argument is removed, students are force to grapple with the idea that some people know they are poor, know they don’t have things, and yet still manage to be happy. Moving the discussion to the next level, students are once again placed in a position in which they can stop objectifying the Basotho and begin see them as human beings, and that a human being does not entirely define themselves and all their actions by wealth. Furthermore, just because we are greeted by smiling Basotho where ever we go does not mean that all Basotho are happy all the time. We hope that through discussion and cross-cultural interactions they can begin to see the Basotho as people, people who can be both happy and sad depending on their given situation and individual feelings. This allows us to reach a point in our discussion where we can discuss the notion that the Basotho can be happy even if they are poor as one’s economic status does not define them as human beings.

Why Don’t They Help Themselves?

During the trip the causes and consequences of poverty are a frequent topic.

As discussed earlier, students often assume that all Basotho are poor, and many think poverty in Lesotho is product of Basotho culture or a lack of a strong work ethic. Students understand poverty, but rarely the structural conditions behind it; they can pity poor people, but not really understand them. As a result, students have a tendency to see the Basotho as authors of their own misfortune, and conclude that poverty has created a culture in which the Basotho have stopped trying. This interpretation in many ways resembles the “Culture of Poverty” argument put forth by American academics in the 1960s in an effort to explain urban poverty. (Lewis, 1968) In many respects, the nature of Lesotho being surrounded by South Africa resembles that of the inner city in the United States. Furthermore, the economic relationship between Lesotho serving as a labor reserve for South Africa and the chronic unemployment of the inner cities creates similar conditions. In general, the Basotho are not authors of their own poverty because they are lazy; rather they have adjusted their expectations to meet the economic realities of Lesotho, which can be perceived as being lazy. However, as Massey and Denton (1993) note in their discussion of the “culture of segregation,” it is the larger economic and social context that shapes behavior. Since the loss of access to jobs in South Africa, the reality in Lesotho is that the overwhelming majority of people will never find stable wage employment because there are simply no jobs available, which creates the perception that they are not trying to find work. Furthermore when students see empty fields as we drive to and from the worksites they cannot fathom why the Basotho simply do not farm. It is not until they become aware of the full range of obstacles that impede agriculture in Lesotho can they grasp the futility of trying to support oneself off the land and thus begin to have a deeper understanding of the economic behavior of many Basotho.

During our time in Lesotho we visited a textile factory owned by Chinese companies. As a result of the African Growth and Opportunities Act (AGOA), passed in 1998 (and renewed twice since), which allows African-made textiles to enter the United States duty free in an attempt to jump start industrial development, Lesotho has become one of the larger exporters of denim to the United States, exporting nearly $500 million worth in 2007. However, rather than advancing African industry, all of the textile factories in Lesotho are foreign owned, mostly by Chinese and Taiwanese companies. What the Basotho get are low paying jobs on the factory floor, which pay less than $1,000 dollars a year, require 60 hours a week, as well as forced overtime. In addition to seeing the environmental pollution, students tour a sweatshop first hand. After seeing the women standing in front of huge piles of jeans, on cardboard boxes to keep their bare feet warm on the concrete floor, many students gain a profound new insight into the nature and causes of poverty. Additionally, many of the stereotypes and assumptions about poor people are removed through the humanization of workers in the factories. By seeing the women working in the factories, students are exposed to the fact that the Basotho are not lazy, but that the larger economic structure is designed to keep them that way. Usually the trip to the factory leads to a significant amount of anger and frustration with the situation. Generally, the conversation will drift towards what can be done. Some students raise the idea of boycotting jeans, which then raises the catch 22 of whether it is better to be exploited or starving. This allows students to imagine themselves in the position that many Basotho women find themselves in, which leads to empathy and understanding. We feel that this discussion brings the reality of Lesotho and its people home. Furthermore, the experience in the textile factory then helps students with the larger picture within which our service is conducted.

From Feelings of Resentment and Pity To Developing Empathy

A challenging situation that we encounter occurs at the compound where we stay as children from the village often gather at the gate waiting for the students. During our last few visits the children from the village will often be waiting at the gate the day we arrive, and almost immediately begin to engage the students. They play games, hold hands, braid hair, and just sit sometimes. In recent years, the children from the village have often begun to produce notes, asking a certain student to be their friend. In some cases, the children have fought over various students, claiming the student as their friend. Usually by the second or third week many of the children, begin to ask for gifts, either: money, school fees, or material possessions. For some students these requests can reinforce the desire to help a child by giving into the request, while others feel that they are being used. Both of these responses can create walls between our students and the community as well as reinforcing many of the perspectives that contribute to the objectification of the Basotho. When asked what they should do, we do not have a blanket answer or dictate, but rather we engage in a broader discussion regarding the complexity of personal relationships and expectations. Many students initially feel compelled to give something because they are driven by a sense of guilt and feel obligated to give something. Feelings of guilt and obligation often stem from students feeling sorry for the children at the gate. One of the questions we ask is whether they want to give a gift to feel better about themselves or is the desire coming from a place of empathy, and based on a genuine relationship between the two. However, during the course of our discussions students began to move past feelings of pity and as they get to know different children personally, and their decision to leave a gift tends to be driven by empathy. We try to help students realize that they do not have to experience the depth of poverty or loss that a Basotho child may have faced in order to empathize with their position and to understand what that child may be facing. Removing the emotional walls allows students to start viewing children in Lesotho not as African children, but just as children.

A similar challenge was faced in 2009 when one of the community organizations we were working with asked us to help hand out food parcels and blankets in addition to planting fruit trees in the yards of fifty orphan headed households. Although I was uncomfortable with this request, we participated in handing out the items. Although our local partner had a representative from each family tell their story, I think in an effort to humanize them, the brevity of the stories coupled with the act of handing out items made students feel guilt and pity towards the families they came into contact with. As this was during the last week of the trip, most students had already begun to develop a sense of empathy and friendship with many Basotho at the time of this service, however without fully understanding the situation of each family, and not having developed any kind of relationship with those families, students felt very detached and frustrated by this experience. This suggests that most of our students were no longer driven by pity or guilt, but that rather they had come to see themselves as assisting out fellow people.

Prior to the trip many students expect to “save Africans,” and during our discussion sessions after completing a project or event students sometimes phrase their accomplishment in terms of having “saved” those we were working with. Without minimizing the accomplishments or the positive impact of our project, it is important that students discuss and realize that we are not “saviors,” and that a mural or playground, or even a greenhouse will not save the country, nor will it completely alter the lives of specific children. To think that our actions have the ability to “save” a country or a group is naïve, but it is also ignorant and condescending. We need to discuss the real impacts of our projects in terms of the realities in which real people live in order to have a greater understanding of how things came to be and why they are the way they are today. The idea that our small contributions can truly “save” others makes ourselves more important then we are and minimize the hardships that the people we are working with face. The feeling of being a savior not only places us above those who we are working with, but it also reinforces the idea that they are somehow at fault for their present situation. If we seek to gain an understanding of others, and empathy for their situation then we need to place our actions within the proper context.

The initial feelings of pity and guilt often make students feel uncomfortable, and it is this discomfort that helps stimulate change that evolves into empathy. Change tends not to happen when people are comfortable, rather discomfort often acts as a catalyst or desire for things to be different. Being uncomfortable helps students reflect on their own motivations during the trip, and as they begin to develop personal relationships, the discomfort removes many of the walls that were in place when they arrived in Lesotho. As they seek to come to terms with powerful and difficult emotions as well as trying to reconcile the lives of the Basotho who they meet on a daily basis, many students will open up to the Basotho and make an effort to better understand them as people as well as the hardships they face.

One of the few activities that we undertake that does not involve construction or labor is a carnival that we hold at the Baylor Pediatric AIDS clinic in Maseru. Opened in 2005, by 2008 the clinic was treating over 3,000 HIV positive children free of charge. Although the long-term impact of the carnival is not as tangible as our other projects, we have felt that it is important to provide the children at the clinic, many of whom are very sick, and most are under 8 years old, with a fun day, hopefully one that they will remember the next time they visit the clinic. After a few failed carnivals that included food and gifts, which created chaos and a dynamic that we hoped to avoid, in recent years the carnival has not given away things but rather has focused on stations where children can use crayons and coloring books, get rub-on tattoos, play with bubbles, make bracelets, play with parachute and ball, as well as jump ropes and play soccer. Perhaps more than any particular activity, what many of the children seem to enjoy the most is being held or playing with the students. Despite the language barrier, the play and the smiles generated by the carnival are universal. One of the most amazing things to witness is the transformation from a somber and quiet waiting room, to 80–100 children running around outside laughing and screaming. Almost all the students tend to get caught up in the moment and forget that these are sick children, but rather they become children wanting to play. Prior to our visit, we have a long conversation with students about the day, and the limitations of some of the children (as well as safety). As we start talking about the clinic, and HIV positive children, many of the students will begin to tear up, yet we encourage them not to cry while we are there, but rather to enjoy the moment and have as much fun as possible with the children. Despite the tears that are shed, the carnival helps remove many of the labels placed on HIV positive children and allows students to interact with them as they would any other child.

Prior to our visit, the students learn about the problem of HIV/AIDS from our pre-trip classes as well as from the guest lecturers and they have probably already helped build a house for an orphan family. Despite this, the reality of HIV/AIDS in Lesotho still seems a bit abstract or difficult to fully grasp until one is confronted with nearly 100 HIV positive children. Usually, the discussion session the night after we visit Baylor is one of the most emotional and powerful sessions we have. When students hear that there are 160,000 orphans in Lesotho, or that nearly 25% of the population is HIV positive or that over 8,000 children are born every year with the disease, they are often overwhelmed and tend to view them more as statistics then people. However, after spending a morning at Baylor, they are no longer faceless numbers, but students feel the humanity of the crisis for perhaps the first time. Beyond the tears and anger that many of them express, for the first time we have a meaningful discussion about the human reality of HIV in Lesotho. Having played with an HIV positive child often changes students’ perspectives, because when they are playing, they could be playing with any child, they laugh and run just like children at home. The carnival atmosphere helps students stop defining them as “HIV positive” or “HIV positive children.” The carnival humanizes the children at the clinic, and in doing so, we can move beyond viewing them as objects to be pitied, but rather as humans who we can empathize with. In turn, the experience at the carnival impacts our future projects working with orphans because we have learned to identify with those we are helping.

The Importance of Class Room Learning in Support of Service

After taking eight service-learning trips, in 2012 we tried a trip that was exclusively service, without guest lectures, or some of the cross-cultural activities that we implement as part of the more traditional academic component of the trip. During the first 8 trips we had 8–10 lectures from the local university (National University of Lesotho) and representatives from local NGOs come and speak on a variety of topics such as: gender, health, development, history, political science, education, HIV/AIDS, economics, religion, and culture. Often these lectures were timed to coincide with a certain work project that allowed students to view the reality of the topics being discussed. Some of our most engaging discussions came on the nights after lectures, as students were often able to make the connection between what they heard in the classroom and what they were seeing in the field. Sometimes they agreed with the speakers, and on other occasions they felt as though their experience and interpretation was different than that of the guest speaker. These were stimulating discussions, which allowed students to develop their own opinions. In addition to no lectures, the scavenger hunt that we usually have students participate in during or fifth day in Lesotho was also dropped. The scavenger hunt is designed to force students to engage with the Basotho without an instructor in order to help students become more confident in approaching the Basotho. Additionally, due to unforeseen circumstances the Work Camp was unable to join us. Without these cross-cultural and more traditional academic components, we believe that students had a more difficult time getting to know the Basotho as individuals.

In 2012 there were no guest lectures as part of the service trip, but during the course of our three-week trip, we did retain the nightly reflection sessions. However, it became evident by the second week that the discussions during this trip were not reaching the intellectual depth that previous trips had reached. Every trip is different and some reach greater intellectual depth than others, and almost every one of the previous trips had tended to focus more on one prominent issue. Yet, this group of discussions fell well short of any of the previous trips, and often left the leaders frustrated. In hindsight, we do not believe that it had anything to do with the given group of students, but rather without the academic and structured cross-cultural components, they did not learn as much from the service, and the overall experience was not as powerful as previous programs. Previously, I had assumed that even without the traditional academic features, the service and discussions alone would be enough to generate a service-learning experience that generated deep thought and reflection on the part of students. Thus we learned that the traditional academic component including: readings, lectures, and cross-cultural activities are vital to transforming a service experience into a true service learning experience.

For many years we have encouraged students to read Jim Wooten’s (2004) book We Are All the Same about Nkosi Johnson, a boy in South Africa who was born with HIV. Based upon that book title, and a comment made by one of the Basotho we worked with, near the end of the trip in 2008 some of the students took that as their motto and painted it onto the back of the community center we had built. More than a painting, for many students that phrase had come to symbolize the trip for them and what they had learned. Since then, future trips have seen the words on the back of the wall at the community center and have chosen to adorn many of their projects with those words. In many ways We Are All the Same, has become the motto of trip, and for many students it is one of the most powerful and lasting memories that they take away from the experience. During one of our pre-trip meetings I teach the students that in the Sesotho language there is no word for stranger. Afterword, we usually try and discuss the cultural significance of this and what it tells us about the Basotho. Hopefully, by the end of the trip, through the personal relationships they have made with individual Basotho they are fully able to grasp the true meaning of the phrase. Through the fulfillment of personal relationships made with the Basotho the goal of empathy and understanding emerges through the eyes and experiences of a personal connection. It is our hope, that through service we are not only able to help the Basotho, but that we can help our students come to the conclusion that regardless of skin color, socio-economic situation, or being HIV positive, that at some level as humans we are all the same, with the same basic feelings, wants, and humanity.


Trying to make sure that students do not finish the experience with resentment, preconceived stereotypes, or objectifying all the Basotho as poor and helpless is one of the greater challenges of this service experience. By working with the Basotho, they come to understand the lives of individual people, people whom they can see as individuals, and for whom they can feel empathy. If we can help students move beyond those superficial interpretations, we hope that the meaning of the experience will be more profound and longer lasting. Those who grasp these concepts often go on to do volunteer work in their local communities or to join programs such as AmeriCorps, Teach for America, and the Peace Corps. However, in our final reflections it is not uncommon for students to state that what they are taking away from the experience is that they are thankful for what they have. While such sentiments may be noble, they are often superficial, and suggest that the individual is still stuck in the “other” and “us” paradigm that objectifies the Basotho. Because the goal is not to be thankful for what you have, but rather it is to understand what others have without seeing them as lesser or wanting, which is how we develop a genuine empathy and understanding. Lindsay Pepper as student on the 2009 program reflected that this trip taught her “how to feel.” This is an example of the kind of empathy we hope to generate during the program.

Over the last decade we have worked to develop a service-learning experience based on the belief that by taking students out of their comfort zone they are more receptive to overcoming prejudice and negative stereotypes and develop a greater sense of empathy on their own terms. During our nightly meetings we do not try and force students to come to certain conclusions or beliefs, and we do not preach to them, but rather we create an environment that allows each student to engage the experience on their own level and to reach their own conclusions. In order to accomplish our goals, we have carefully arranged our projects in conjunction with lectures and cross-cultural activities to help students see the humanity in the people they are working with and to develop a better understanding of the conditions and realities of those living in poverty. Although not all students reach these goals, our model has proven to be extremely successful.


Lewis, O. (1968). The culture of poverty. In Moynihan, D. (Ed.), On understanding poverty from the social sciences. New York: Basic Books.

Massey, D., & Denton, N. (1993). American apartheid: Segregation and the making of the underclass. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.

Maloka, T. (2004). Basotho and the mines. Dakar, Senegal: CODESRIA.

Rosenberg, S., &Weisfelder, R. (2014).Historical dictionary of Lesotho (2nd edition). Plymouth, UK: Scarecrow Press.

Wooten, J. (2004). We are all the same: A story of a boy’s courage and a mother’s love. New York: Penguin Press.

About the Authors

Scott Rosenberg is professor of history at Wittenberg University.

Community Voices: Reducing HIV-Related Stigma Among Undergraduate Students: A Collaboration Between the University of Alabama and West Alabama AIDS Outreach

Billy D. Kirkpatrick



Issues in Stigma Reduction

Reducing stigma within the local community is an important, yet abstract, goal for an AIDS Service Organization. It is rarely clear what methods are most effective in alleviating stigma and if/when stigma has been significantly reduced. Over the last five years, the staff and Board of Directors of West Alabama AIDS Outreach (WAAO) have sought to actively address stigma and to develop stigma-reduction methods that can be practically and consistently applied.

As the executive director of WAAO, I participate in a large number of public speaking engagements related to HIV and to the services provided by the agency. Early in the eighth year of my tenure, I believed that by accurately describing our clientele (many of whom do not fit the generalized “face” of HIV) and by refuting myths about the disease, stigma in the local community could decrease.

My speeches, though seen as informative, did not appear to have the intended effect. I am not HIV positive, nor am I representative of the general demographic of the WAAO clientele. These factors served as obstacles to having community members grasp who individuals with HIV truly are. There also did not appear to be any legitimate insight into the life of someone living with the disease. Remembering that interaction breeds familiarity those of us at WAAO decided to provide opportunities for interaction between the HIV positive community (clients of WAAO) and the community at large.

As of 2010, only two clients (out of 230) were willing to speak publicly about living with HIV. These two clients appeared to have a powerful influence on community members; yet they were unable to represent the diversity of our clients. Clients identified several factors as contributing to their reluctance to publicly identify as and speak about being HIV positive. Among these were: past experiences of confidentiality breaches by staff at medical clinics, distrust of service providers, poor treatment by family members and friends after disclosing their HIV status, and varying levels of exposure to judgmental and ignorant comments. Taking these factors into consideration, we discussed the potential benefits and risks and how to prevent clients from experiencing negativity should they meet with community members through WAAO. Given a strong volunteer base, whose time and service are immeasurable, and the willingness of our clients to meet with community members, we decided to move forward with attempts to reduce stigma and improve relationships through inter-group interaction.

Inception of the Ajani Groups

Ajani is an African word which means “He who wins the struggle.” Given the cultural relevance to many of our clients and the struggles which they’ve overcome, the group of clients selected to meet with community groups in WAAO-sponsored activities referred to as the Ajani Groups. Clients were selected by WAAO staff based on the following criteria: potential to be sincerely supportive of other clients, willing to commit to attending the groups on a regular basis, and the potential positive engagement with the community. We at WAAO were deeply appreciative of our clients and community members, who trusted us to provide a safe environment for the Ajani groups. The bravery of the original participants cannot be overstated.

The groups, which met between noon and 2

p.m., were held at the WAAO office on a monthly basis. The community members consisted of members of churches, civic clubs, or student groups. These groups not only provided food, but engaged in discussions and played board and card games with clients. Up to 15 clients were invited to participate in each group. Each group followed the same basic format. All attendees (students, staff, board members, and clients) would introduce themselves, and students were asked to provide one interesting fact about themselves. Lunch was then served, and roughly 25 minutes was allotted for all attendees to get their food, find seating, and begin talking. Efforts were made to strategically arrange the seating arrangement so as to encourage participants to interact with one another. Headbanz, a charades-type game, was often the popular choice, with clients and students on the same teams. They would spend the remainder of the time playing the game, with good-byes at the end.

Ajani Groups have been conducted since September 2012. The groups continue presently at the agency.

Student Involvement

With the 20–24 age group accounting for the most new cases of HIV (CDC, 2010), WAAO makes great efforts to collaborate with the college students in the area to provide prevention education, testing services, and stigma-reduction activities. In the last three years, students from Social Work, Counseling, Criminal Justice, Nursing, Public Health, and the Honors College have attended Ajani Groups.

For some students, participation in the groups has been an optional service project during the semester. For others, participation has been completely voluntary and unrelated to coursework. Although most community groups that attend Ajani Groups purchase or cook food for the clients, students were not expected to do so. Students’ sponsorship of a meal is covered by WAAO. Additionally, prior to participating students are informed of the importance of confidentiality and sign confidentiality forms. The emotional safety of our clients is also discussed. Students are reminded of verbal and non-verbal communication that could be offensive to persons who are HIV positive.

Participants in the Ajani Groups are challenged in many ways. In partnership with faculty members, students are given an opportunity to interact with persons who were quite often very different from them. Data is collected and while reporting this data is beyond the scope of this piece, it appears evident that personal stigmas regarding HIV, race, homophobia, and poverty are being questioned by the students. WAAO clients, including those who attend Ajani Groups, are predominantly African Americans who live below the federal poverty level, while the majority of students are white and middle-class.

Reasons for Client Involvement

Ajani Groups are designed to decrease the effects of stigma on WAAO clients themselves. It was hoped that positive interactions with students through the Ajani Groups would allow clients to view the outside world as less threatening, which, in turn, would improve their self-esteem and social well-being.

Impact of Student Involvement

By all accounts from students, clients, and WAAO staff, Ajani Groups have been successful in breaking stigma-related barriers. Comments by students reflected that perceptions of those living with HIV/AIDS had become more positive and less stigmatizing due to their participation. Students also stated that the overall Ajani experience was enjoyable. Overwhelmingly, clients enjoyed the unique social offering that Ajani Groups provided and were willing to have students join them again. Staff members felt that students were enthusiastic participants, were actively engaged for the entirety of groups, and that they made special efforts to include all clients in conversations.


Initially, I had concerns about working with students, especially undergraduate students. Any fears I had about student involvement in Ajani Groups were unwarranted. Overall, student groups have had higher-energy participation and more in-depth conversations with clients than the majority of non-student groups. The quality of student participation was not determined by whether participation was a mandatory facet of a service project or a volunteer activity scheduled by one’s major program. Many students could have opted out of participating, citing scheduling conflicts, but the vast majority of each group attended. Some, even with legitimate scheduling conflicts still worked out time to attend. We have been very pleased to see such willingness by the younger generation to spend time with those living with HIV/AIDS. As we have had 10 distinct student groups and over 100 student participants thus far and, since

the number of participants is ever-growing, it is clear that Ajani Groups has given us a powerful and consistent tool for linking our clients with the student population, thus decreasing stigma among the students and providing them with a rare and enlightening educational opportunity.

With focus on the students, it was easy to overlook the contribution of the clients. Their bravery in disclosing their status has been noted, but, for the groups to be successful, they must be as willing as the students to engage fully. In many ways, the Ajani clients are the face of WAAO to the community. If they had kept themselves emotionally isolated from the students or had come across as cold or uninviting, they may have reinforced negative stigmas held by students and may have lessened the likelihood that future student groups would ask to participate. These clients, however, represented the agency and their fellow clients spectacularly. They made each student feel welcomed, showcased their unique personalities, and were even willing to discuss their personal struggles to students when asked. They deserve as much credit for the success of Ajani Groups as the students.

Areas for Improvement

We always hoped that student-client relationships that blossom at Ajani would continue to grow. That is, we would like students to attend multiple times in order to get to know clients more fully. Or, we encourage students to build relationships with clients outside of the Ajani setting. However, these opportunities rarely materialized as few post-Ajani meetings occurred. Busy student schedules often prohibit further Ajani participation, and, given the transiency of many students, consistent face-to-face meetings have not proven to be a practical goal.


As an AIDS Service Organization, WAAO has unique access to a stigmatized population, providing the opportunity to develop substantial stigma-reducing activities. Ajani Groups represented a major step forward in alleviating stigma for WAAO’s clientele. University students and WAAO clients have demonstrated the ability to have enjoyable and informative interactions. Students seemed to have reduced stigma after participation in Ajani, and clients seemed to benefit as they witness the compassion of those who are not typically in their social circles. WAAO recommends this type of activity for any AIDS Service Organization seeking to decrease stigma in its local community. I encourage community organizations to reach out to academic institutions in partnership. There are many ways in which such collaborations can be mutually beneficial to all groups involved. In this one example, an innovative partnership resulted with all groups involved—clients, students, and the academic institution.

About the Author

Billy D. Kirkpatrick is executive director of West Alabama AIDS Outreach in Tuscaloosa, Ala.


Student Voices: Some Powerful Event: Civic Engagement And Storytelling as Tools for Addressing Privilege

MacKenzie Lovell



Scholars have argued that institutions of higher education have a responsibility to cultivate students into citizens who are engaged with the social injustices facing the populace. This idealistic view, however, does not confront the myriad ways in which White privilege affects students as they enter higher education classrooms. The central argument herein is that student involvement in civic engagement initiatives, namely social justice oriented education and service-learning experiences, are key facets to the exploration of privilege and identity. Through the use of storytelling, students will be able to recognize and begin digesting the significance of privilege in their daily lives, with the ultimate goal of conscientiously engaging with greater community by becoming engaged citizens.

College is a time of great personal growth for many students, as they encounter, perhaps for the first time, perspectives on the world which are different from their own. For some, this will be the first time that they interact with a person of color. While this statement seems out of place in 2015, it remains true, and is inextricably tied to White privilege. Understanding White privilege in the higher education classroom is important in order to tease out concepts of racism, anti-racism, multiculturalism, and engaged citizenship. The tradition of civic engagement is used to provide an entrée into racial identity construction for many of these White students, as these pedagogies put students in direct contact with racial otherness, allowing them space to recognize their own race and the privileges that accompany it.

Contact with the racial other can take many forms. Serving the consumers at community service partner sites, or community partners, is one way to allow college students to begin thinking about privilege. Civic engagement initiatives, such as service-learning experiences or classes with a focus on social justice, trigger an awakening in students that allows them to begin thinking about systematic oppression of identities. Specifically, students can begin to deconstruct the hegemony of Whiteness and move toward a greater understanding of society as they continue to encounter otherness through their academic and social careers.

When discussing civic engagement initiatives, it is important to understand the inherent economic gap, and often racial divide, between those serving and those served. It is paramount for students to be open to experiences with the community while being critical of their prejudgments. Lechuga, Clerc, and Howell (2009) refer to this as an “encountered situation.” An encountered situation has three key components: education, activity, and reflection. In a social justice oriented classroom, or service-learning experience, these components are necessary for the success of the project, and for the identity development of the students.

Social Justice and Service Learning

Social justice education is critically conscious education focused on examining the root causes of inequality and working toward corrective solutions, as described by Freire (1970). It introduces participants to the politics of recognition, or the argument that lack of recognition is the crux of social injustice. This politic allows students to bear witness to the defense of identities, work to end cultural domination, and to win recognition for non-dominant groups (North, 2006). Service-learning is a subcategory of social justice education, wherein students are involved in community service and reflection as components of their graded coursework. Through service-learning initiatives, students open themselves as witness to suffering of others, physical, material, and psychological (North, 2006). The purpose of these two styles of education is to “promote knowledge, skills, and habits of mind necessary for engaged citizenship,” (Ben-Porath, Pupik-Dean, & Summers, 2010, p. 1). These pedagogies put students in direct contact with “the other,” often a racial other, and produce internal change processes, while simultaneously allowing students to reexamine their own realities. Using these types of educational policies and practices works to view social injustices on the macro-level (North, 2006).

Telling Stories: The Narrative of a Racial Identity

Storytelling is an important part of communication. Indeed, most communication revolves around the sharing of stories. One of the easiest ways for students to discuss their race (and racial privilege, even if they would not use those terms) is by sharing stories. People ascribe meaning to events by forming them into a narrative (Apple, 1997; Green, 2003). The ways in which the intersection of race, class, and gender can take form in students are numerous and complex, as described by Critical Race Theory (Collins, 2009; Freeman, 2012). Using narratives to navigate these social identities and hierarchies is a good way to make sense of these disparate pieces, as stories serve as social representations of each of us (Bonilla-Silva, 2010). These narratives can take several forms: the personal fable, the memoir, the victim’s story, and the color-blind narrative.

Personal fable. Dunlap (1997) refers to a concept he coins the personal fable, or the impression that each person has of her own unique heroic purpose. Adolescents and late-adolescents (18-22 year olds) grapple with the struggles of the people they serve while attempting to better the situation of those they are serving with and for. As students move through the process of a service-learning experience, they move from a heroic vision to one of feeling guilty about their privilege. This shift is an important first step towards identity restructuring. When students face issues such as racism, poverty, and socioeconomic oppression they react with feelings of guilt and anger. These feelings, serve as an important tool in moving forward with identity restructuring.

As students move away from the heroic personal fable from the resulting guilt and anger (Dunlap, 1997), they begin to become aware of the societal and structural oppressions occurring to keep the people they serve in a position of need. This stage of consciousness is the goal for all service-learning and social-justice-oriented work, as it is the place where students can begin to reconstruct their societal perceptions around these new ideas.

Memoir. Students may also participate in the creation of a service memoir. Ellsworth (1997) provides one example of how this memoir could take shape. Students work to string together important instances from their service experience in order to draw a greater meaning from it. Ellsworth creates a memoir of her racial identity through a discussion about her family’s racist past. Ellsworth concludes from her story that Whiteness is “always more than one thing” and “never the same thing twice,” (p. 260). In other words, Whiteness is a performance, one that is neither the same as the performance before nor will ever be the same again. Race is a flexible, man-made category, and therefore can be embodied differently in different locations and contexts (Freeman, 2012). This is the moral of Ellsworth’s piece, an acknowledgement that Whiteness is ever changing. In the memoir paradigm of storytelling, students work towards finding their own moral for their narrative of service, working to make the experience real and tangible for themselves and others.

By working to create meaning in this way, students are priming their stories to be shared. This type of service memoir helps students retell their encounters, and process the experience along the way. Unfortunately, this service memoir is lacking in one important way; it does not encourage students to see the structural oppression that they have worked within and against. By turning their service experiences into a story to be shared, students are, in many ways, sanitizing the story to make it universal. Universalizing their stories is useful when trying to recruit others, or sell someone on the personal value of service. However, this universalization or sanitation of the memoir is not useful when trying to explore the racial implications of service. These devices work directly against the context-specific ways in which service-learning confronts racial inequality.

Creating a victim’s story. Students often fall into the trap of creating a victim’s story. This narrative can take two forms. A student can write about how they are ashamed to be White, hence they are victims of their birth (Thompson, 1999). The second form of the victim’s story comes when students turn away from critical self-reflection and create a narrative of being the victim because of “reverse racism.” Reverse racism is a controversial term. It signifies the perceived discrimination or prejudice against the traditional dominant group, in this case White middle-class Americans, although it is experienced by other, non-dominant classes of White groups members as well. This term is controversial because members of the dominant group often use it to explain away feelings of being jilted. In the minds of White students, reverse racism is occurring when students of color receive opportunities that White students do not because of racial difference. One popular example that White students cite is affirmative action policies (Perry, 2002). This argument, however, does not recognize the racism that has allowed the structural oppression which created the need for policies such as Affirmative Action. Additionally, students participating in service may claim to experience reverse racism if they do not feel accepted by the population they are serving due to their racial difference. Feeling like an outsider is a normal occurrence for many people of color, but can cause strong feelings of discomfort in white students (Carter, 1997; Ellsworth, 1997; Frankenberg, 1994).

Color-blind narratives. Blum (2002) speculated that ceasing to use racial terms would, in turn, stop racism. If there is no race, how can we be racist? However, this idea does not take into account the ways in which a person’s culture is tied to her identity, racial identity included. This is the trap that students fall into when creating a color-blind narrative.

Students telling their story from a color-blind vantage point once again eliminate critical examination of the experience (as in the victim’s story). Pollock (2006) refers to this as color muteness, implying that people do not use racial terms because they believe it makes race less important. However, this model is different from the victim’s narrative because students employ a variety of rhetorical moves in order to convey that they do not believe that racism is a contemporary issue. Color-blindness is commonly held to be a strategy for promoting social justice, because people believe that if we do not discuss race then we must be post-racial (Helms, 2008; Pollock, 2006). Color-blindness is a societal problem, however, and a social justice education should challenge this practice.

Bonilla-Silva (2010) writes extensively on the language that students use to downplay the effects of racism on their peers of color. The most common example is the “trinity formula” (Bonilla-Silva, 2010, p. 95). This method employs three segments of storytelling through which the student conveys their color-blind narrative. In the first segment, students confess to knowing a racist, or to seeing prejudice performed by someone close to them. In the second segment, students give an example of the actions of the person they described in segment one (e.g. my dad told me he didn’t want me hanging out with “those kind of people,”). Finally, in segment three, students use the presentation of segment one and two to suggest that they are not like the racists that they know (Bonilla-Silva, 2010). Cliché phrases such as “My best friend is black,” and “I’m not a racist but…” are frames traditionally used by White individuals to discuss matters of race in decidedly nonracial terms (Bonilla-Silva, 2010, Frankenberg, 1993; Helms, 2008). Bonilla-Silva (2010) refers to this model as laissez faire racism, intimating the way that race and racism are allowed to persist because dominant groups simply refuse to address them.

Students will each weave a unique story of service and identity through their civic engagement experiences. Much of the important work to be done comes in connecting the stories of the students with the stories of others (Hartley, 2010). Multicultural education works to bring many diverse narratives together in order to confront institutionalized racism (Hu-Dehart, 1994). However, creating a civically engaged identity means struggling for a more emancipatory, anti-racist form of education (Apple, 1997). Indeed, it means struggling for a more emancipatory, anti-racist form of ourselves.

By putting students in direct contact with racialized others, they are entering into an opportunity to develop an anti-racist identity. Through guided reflection exercises facilitated by the course professor or members of the professional civic engagement staff, students can examine social injustices, structural race-based discrimination, and possible solutions for these issues. The importance of civic engagement lies with its ability to transform popular discourse and to awaken the critical consciousness within students through interaction with otherness and storytelling. Only in creating a space where these two practices can occur can we begin to deconstruct hegemony in the classroom. This is not an easy undertaking, as it requires much work and self-reflection for all members involved, but it is an important one.


Apple, M.W. (1997). Consuming the other: Whiteness, education, and cheap French fries. In M. Fine (Ed.), Off white: Readings on society, race, and culture (pp. 121–128). New York: Routledge.

Ben-Portah, S., Pupik-Dean, C., & Summers, M. (2010). An institutionalized approach to service-learning. (Unpublished paper). University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA.

Carter, R.T. (1997). Is white a race? Expressions of white racial identity. In M. Fine (Ed.) Off white: Readings on society, race, and culture (pp. 198–209). New York: Routledge.

Collins, P.H. (2009). Black feminist thought. New York: Routledge Classics.

Dunlap, M. (1997). The role of the personal fable in adolescent service-learning and critical reflection. Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning 4(1), 56–63.

Ellsworth, E. (1997). Double binds of whiteness. In M. Fine (Ed.) Off white: Readings on society, race, and culture (pp. 259–269). New York: Routledge.

Frankenberg, R. (1994). Whiteness and Americanness: Examining constructions of race, culture, and nation in white women’s life narratives. In S. Gregory and R. Sanjek (Eds.), Race (pp. 62–77). New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

Freeman, D. (2012, January 11). Tenets of critical race theory. Lecture conducted at University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education, Philadelphia, PA.

Freire, P. (1970). Cultural action and conscientization. Harvard Educational Review, 40(5), 452–477.

Green, A. (2003). Difficult stories: Service-learning, race, class, and whiteness. College Composition and Communication 55(2), 276–301.

Helms, J.E. (2008). A race is a nice thing to have: A guide to being a white person or understanding the white persons in your life (2nd ed.). Hanover, MA: Microtraining Associates, Inc.

Ladson-Billings, G. (2004). It’s not the culture of poverty, it’s the poverty of culture: The problem with teacher education. Anthropology and Education Quarterly 37(2), 104–109.

Lechuga, V.M., Clerc, L.N., & Howell, A.K. (2009). Power, privilege, and learning: Facilitating encountered situations to promote social justice. Journal of College Student Development 50(2), 229–244.

North, C.E. (2006). More than words? Delving into the substantive meaning(s) of “social justice” in education. Review of Educational Research 76(4), 507–535.

Pollock, M. (2006). Race wrestling: Struggling strategically with race in educational practice and research. In G.D. Spindler and L.A. Hammond (Eds.) Innovations in educational ethnography (pp. 83–126). Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Thompson, B. (1999). Subverting racism from within: Linking white identity to activism. In H. Girox (Ed.) Becoming and unbecoming white: Owning and disowning a racial identity (pp. 64–77). Westport, Connecticut: Bergin & Garvey.

About the Author

MacKenzie Lovell is a doctoral student in Urban Education at Temple University.

STUDENT VOICES | Service Learning and Community Engagement in Graduate Social Work Classrooms: One Student’s Perspective


Christian J. Messer Gaitskill

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Appalachian Ohio is a unique community with a rich history, which presents both strengths and challenges for community engagement initiatives. This paper describes a service-learning project that offered cultural diversity training to professionals in Appalachia as a foundational component of a social work program focus on community engagement. Service learning in social work classrooms has been examined for many years (Bringle & Hatcher, 1996; Lemieux & Allen, 2007; Lowe & Clark, 2009; Mink & Twill, 2012; Mitschke & Petrovich, 2011). By definition, many service-learning projects necessarily involve community engagement.

Integral to this paper is the definition of community engagement. The Carnegie Community Engagement Classification defined community engagement as “the collaboration between institutions of higher education and their larger communities (local, regional/state, national, global) for the mutually beneficial exchange of knowledge and resources in a context of partnership and reciprocity” (Campus Compact, 2015, para. 4). Community engagement involves students spending time in their larger communities, with the broad goal of both learning and having a positive impact.

Texas Tech University defined service learning as “a pedagogy that links academic study and civic engagement through thoughtfully organized service that meets the needs of the community” (Lowe & Clark, 2009; Texas Tech University, 2002, para. 2). Service learning, an active form of community engagement, can be used in the social work classroom in a variety of ways, including in the promotion of hands-on experience within the safe context of academic supervision.

Primarily, the literature in the area of service learning reflects instructor analyses of student projects in bachelor of social work classrooms (Lowe & Clark, 2009; Mink & Twill, 2012). However, there is limited literature available regarding the experiences of a Master of Social Work (MSW) student, from the student’s perspective. This article seeks to share an MSW student’s perspective regarding a service-learning project conducted in an agency in Appalachian Ohio, as well as describe the impact to the overall community.

I work as a guardian ad litem (GAL) for Court Appointed Special Advocates for Clermont Kids (CASA), in Clermont County, Ohio Juvenile Court. I have worked with the abuse, neglect, and dependency docket in that court since February of 2011. This work with families in difficult situations is extremely rewarding. In order to serve as a GAL, I was required to attend a 40-hour training. In addition, I am required to complete 12 hours of continuing education each calendar year. I am also currently a MSW graduate student in Kentucky.

Upon entering a graduate level social work class in multiculturalism, I learned that service-learning projects would comprise one of our focus areas for the course. Furthermore, each student would be allowed to pick an agency with which to work. One of the ways in which social workers can expand their cultural competence is to learn about their own culture and the experiences of others in that culture (Clay, 2010). Therefore, I chose to complete my project by expanding my knowledge of the culture of poverty experienced by Appalachian people. This community experiences poverty at a rate of 111.5% of the poverty rate of the United States overall (Appalachian Regional Commission [3], n.d.).

The broad focus of my project was a Culture of Poverty and Appalachian Cultural History training class that I developed and taught for other GALs at CASA. The purpose of this class was to provide an in-depth look at the population served by GALs in that area, the Appalachian community. This paper discusses the project completed, and advocates for the implementation of service learning as an effective means of community engagement in graduate social work classrooms.

CASA is an organization of community volunteers that advocate for the best interests of children in the foster care system (CASA for Clermont Kids, 2015; Royalty, 2014.) The concept behind CASA came about in response to children “slipping through the cracks” of the legal system (Royalty, 2014). In many instances, “slipping through the cracks” indicates that a child’s case has not received proper attention, and that child may be at increased risk as a result. GALs in Ohio are appointed by a judge to advocate for the best interests of a child by making recommendations to the court in the form of a written report (CASA for Clermont Kids, 2015). The major advantage of having a CASA GAL appointed on a case is the more individualized attention the CASA volunteer can provide to each case, as they typically only work on one to two cases at any time.

This branch of CASA works exclusively in an Appalachian county, but does not always have workers who may identify as Appalachian (Royalty, 2014). Clermont County, Ohio serves as the most western border of Appalachia in Ohio (Appalachian Regional Commission [1], n.d.). In 2010, Clermont County had a population of 197,363 with a per capita income of $34,786 (Appalachian Regional Commission [2], n.d.). For 2010, the unemployment rate in Clermont County was 9.7%, with 18,790 people living below the U.S. Federal Poverty Guidelines for 2007—2011. This indicates that, in 2010, Clermont County had a poverty rate of 9.6% (Appalachian Regional Commission [2], n.d.).

CASA for Clermont Kids served 232 children in 2013 (Royalty, 2014), all of them from Clermont County. While many of the clients served by CASA are among those included in the lowest income families in the county, many of the GALs come from more middle class or upper middle class backgrounds (Royalty, 2014). This creates an obvious disconnect between the experiences of the families served and those serving them. For this reason, it was determined that a community need would be filled by educating GALs about the culture of poverty and Appalachian culture and history.

For my project, rather than risk the possibility of revealing confidential information regarding real clients, I made the decision to use a case example from the popular documentary “The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia” Video excerpts from the documentary were used in the training class. One of the people featured was Susan White, who discovered she was pregnant after stabbing her boyfriend with a knife. Susan had a problem with prescription painkillers, and the baby also subsequently tested positive for painkillers at birth. The documentary shows Susan crushing and snorting pills in the hospital prior to her release after childbirth. Local authorities were notified, and the child was placed in the custody of the local children services agency (Taylor & Nitzberg, 2010).

I chose to use this example because an overwhelming majority of the cases in which CASA becomes involved have an element of substance abuse listed as the primary reason for the removal of the child. Clermont County is currently experiencing an epidemic of heroin abuse. From January through June 2014, 68 children were removed from their homes and placed in the custody of Clermont County Children’s Services. Of those, 47% of the cases were related to substance abuse (Royalty, 2014). Every case that I have handled in my time with CASA has been either directly or indirectly related to substance abuse in some way.

After choosing the video excerpts, I began building a PowerPoint presentation that included a general discussion of poverty, situational versus generational poverty, and a brief history of the exploitation of Appalachian populations and the prevalence of negative Appalachian stereotypes in popular media. I then related all of this information back to the ways in which GALs can support Appalachian families to promote the reunification of the family following a child’s removal from the home.

A fundamental tenet of service learning is that it should be mutually beneficial, with “…two main goals- enhancing student learning and civic responsibility while also providing a benefit to the local target community” (Mitschke & Petrovich, 2011, p. 97). In concurrence with this standard, this project was both beneficial to the community as well as myself. Nine practicing GALs participated in this training, which equals roughly 20% of the CASA GALs in the county at that time. Those who attended the training class completed a survey based on their experiences, and reported that they felt more comfortable working with a population with which they were previously unfamiliar. This is a benefit to the local target community, as the professionals gained knowledge of the population with which they work.

As for the impact on me as a student, I learned how valuable it can be to share information in a formal agency setting. I was excited and honored to be able to share a topic I am passionate about with a group of individuals whose primary goal is to improve outcomes for children in our county. I have been able to see the long-term effects of this training in questions from participants that I have received since the training. Being able to get out in the community and impact a population that holds a special place in my heart allowed me to see the struggles Appalachian populations must face in working with people who do not understand their culture. It was a very enlightening experience that I may not have had without the opportunity this project afforded me to become further engaged in the community in such a deep way.

Looking back on my experiences with this class project, there are several things I would change for a future project. Because we were allowed so much freedom in picking our projects and agencies, it would have been nice to have one semester’s worth of advanced notice of the project. That would have allowed students to really think about the projects they would like to complete, and if not already affiliated with an agency, to identify and partner with an agency that appeals to the student’s area of interest. One semester to partner with an agency, get a project approved, and complete the actual project seemed a bit rushed.

Additionally, this project assignment would have been more beneficial to the target population of children and families if more CASA GALs had attended, and if this training class had been offered to all guardians working in Clermont County. Participants were offered the opportunity of earning three credit hours toward their yearly-required 12 hours. However some other type of incentive, such as a drawing for a gift card or books, may have made a difference in the attendance numbers, thereby potentially making a larger impact on the community.

Following my experience with this project, I decided that more work needed to be done with regard to the impact of the training class. Because “service learning in social work education is a pedagogical approach in need of more rigorous evaluation research to advance knowledge and to inform practice in the field” (Lemieux & Allen, 2007, p. 321), I approached my advanced research professor as well as the professor who assigned the original service-learning project about conducting a study on the overall effectiveness of the training. They both agreed to further develop and evaluate this project, and the continued project is an ongoing effort.

After completing this project, I feel that the impact of service-learning projects on both MSW students and the larger community is greatly beneficial. Organizations have the ability to benefit from a knowledge base they may not otherwise be able to access. Furthermore, it allows students to work on a project and immediately see the benefit in real-life situations. Because both of these combine to help create stronger communities and more civic-minded professionals, I feel that service-learning projects that incorporate a strong community engagement emphasis should be part of the educational experiences of MSW students across the country.


Appalachian Regional Commission (1). (n.d.). Poverty rates in Appalachia, 2007–2011. Retrieved from

Appalachian Regional Commission (2). (n.d.). Socioeconomic data: Clermont County, Ohio. Retrieved from

Appalachian Regional Commission (3). (n.d.). Poverty rates, 2008-2012. Retrieved from

Bringle, R.G., & Hatcher, J.A. (1996). Implementing service learning in higher education. Journal of Higher Education, 67, 221–239.

Campus Compact. (2015). Carnegie community engagement classification. Retrieved from

CASA for Clermont Kids. (2015). About us. Retrieved from

Clay, R. A. (2010). How do I become culturally competent? gradPSYCH Magazine, 8(3), 24. Retrieved from

Lemieux, C.M., & Allen, P.A. (2007). Service learning in social work education: The state of knowledge, pedagogical practicalities, and practice conundrums. Journal of Social Work Education, 43(2), 309–325.

Lowe, L.A., & Clark, J. (2009). Learning about social work research through service-learning. Journal of Community Engagement and Scholarship, 2(1), 50–59.

Mink, T. & Twill, S. (2012). Using service-learning to teach a social work policy course. Journal of Community Engagement and Scholarship, 5(1), 5–9.

Mitschke, D.B., & Petrovich, J.C. (2011). Improving social work students’ understanding of health and social justice knowledge through the implementation of service learning at a free community health clinic. Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment, 21(1), 97–108.

Royalty, A. (2014). Personal interview with the executive director of CASA for Clermont Kids. February 4, 2014.

Taylor, S., & Nitzberg, J. (2010). “The wild and wonderful Whites of West Virginia.” United States: New Video Group.

Texas Tech University. (2003). Definitions and guidelines. Retrieved from


The author would like to thank Dr. Willie Elliott for assigning such an inspiring project, as well as for his unwavering support and discussion. I would also like to thank Dr. Jessica Averitt Taylor for her continued support, guidance, direction, and advice. Behind any great student are great teachers and mentors. I have some of the best. And to Dr. Patricia Friel: For everything.

About the Author

Christian J. Messer Gaitskill completed her master of social work degree at Northern Kentucky University in May 2015. She received her B.S. in paralegal technology from the University of Cincinnati.

Academic-Community Partnerships: Effectiveness Evaluated Beyond the Ivory Walls

Rosemary M. Caron, Jessica D. Ulrich-Schad, and Catherine Lafferty

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Community-based participatory research (CBPR) has furthered our understanding of the working principles required for academic-community partnerships to address persistent public health problems. However, little is known about how effective these partnerships have been in eliminating or reducing community-based public health issues. To contribute to the literature in this area, the authors conducted a survey of U.S. schools and programs in public health and community groups working with these academic partners to: (1) identify the most common local public health issues addressed; (2) examine the characteristics of the partnership and the actual or perceived benefits and challenges for each partner; (3) assess the perceived effectiveness of the partnership and their evaluation techniques; and (4) analyze the intent to continue or dissolve the partnership and the associated factors that influence this decision. The authors provide recommendations that can improve the development, functioning, and effectiveness of academic-community collaborations aimed at addressing a variety of public health concerns.


Winslow (1920) defined public health as:

        …the science and art of preventing disease, prolonging life and promoting physical health
and efficacy through organized community efforts for the sanitation of the environment,
the control of community infections, the education of the individual in principles of
personal hygiene, the organization of medical and nursing services for the early
diagnosis and preventive treatment of disease, and the development of the social
machinery which will ensure every individual in the community a standard of living
adequate for the maintenance of health; … (p. 183).

Winslow’s critical work still accurately reflects the mission of public health today. An essential, modern tool in fulfilling the public health mission is the academic-community partnership. Academiccommunity partnerships are relationships between community organizations and academic institutions with the goal of building the community’s capacity to address community-level issues, including public health matters that may affect a population’s quality of life (Lesser & Oscos-Sanchez, 2007; O’Fallon & Dearry, 2002). By engaging multiple stakeholders with common interests in a specific community, these partnerships are better equipped with the financial resources, human and social capital, and organizational resources to address local public health concerns (Green, Daniel, & Novick, 2001; Chaskin, Brown, Venkatesh, & Vidal, 2001).

However, there is limited evidence of the effectiveness of academic-community partnerships in alleviating the public health concerns they seek to address (El Ansari & Weiss, 2006; El Ansari, Phillips & Hammick, 2001; Kreuter, Lezin, & Young, 2000; Wallerstein & Duran, 2006). There have been many studies that document the purpose, or goals, of such partnerships and the best practices required for effective partnerships, but few either systematically or empirically evaluate the impacts of these interventions on public health outcomes. Some studies have assessed the perceived effectiveness of programs in alleviating public health concerns, but even fewer use experimental or quasi-experimental research designs to rigorously test program effectiveness. The studies that have assessed the effectiveness of academic-community partnerships are often focused on a select number of health concerns, lack a truly experimental design in their evaluations, and focus on a small number of communities or particular sub-populations.

The lack of evidence about the effectiveness of academic-community partnerships in addressing public health matters stems in part from the difficulties associated with disentangling the effects of other factors from the effects of the partnerships themselves. For example, it is difficult to discern, without using experimental evaluative methodologies, whether the practices implemented by the collaborations themselves or other extraneous factors, such as changing social norms, economic fluctuations, availability of resources, etc. are having a greater effect. It is also challenging to evaluate the effectiveness of some programs because public health benefits can take a long period of time to be realized (Eisinger & Senturia, 2001; Israel, Schulz, Parker, Becker, Allen, & Guzman, 2005). Additionally, because local contexts matter in communitylevel research, it can be challenging, and time and resource consuming, to use comparative research methods (e.g., control and experimental groups) to assess program outcomes. Finally, what is defined as an indicator of collaboration success is sometimes up for debate (El Ansari, et al, 2001; Wallerstein & Duran, 2006). Specifically, El Ansari et al. (2001) consider the primary challenges confronting the evidence on effective collaborative efforts to include: the diversity of perspectives, multiplicity of conceptual facets, difficulty in measurement of notions, selectivity of macro- or micro-evaluation, variety of proximal or distal indicators, array of short and long-term effects, assortment of individual-level or collective outcomes, measuring a moving target, suitability of randomized controlled trials, and requirement of mixed methods evaluation.

CBPR is a common method implemented by academic and community partners to address community-level issues. It is defined as:

        …a collaborative approach to research that equitably involves all partners in the
research process and recognizes the unique strengths that each brings. CBPR begins
with a research topic of importance to the community, has the aim of combining
knowledge with action and achieving social change to improve health outcomes
and eliminate health disparities (W.K.Kellogg Foundation, 2001).

CBPR has furthered our understanding of the working principles required for academic community partnerships to address persistent public health problems together. However, little is known about how effective these academic-community partnerships, particularly those using CBPR, are at eliminating or reducing community-based public health issues. To contribute to the literature in this area, we conducted an online survey of both academic and community partners throughout the U.S. to evaluate: (1) the development and functioning of academic-community partnerships that address public health issues; and (2) the perceived effectiveness of academic-community partnerships in reducing public health issues pertinent to their community. By conducting a survey of both academic and community partners, we gain a better understanding of the local public health issues being addressed, the characteristics of partnerships working to address these issues, including whether the partnership utilizes CBPR principles, and most importantly, whether or not the partnerships have been able to alleviate public health concerns. The overall purpose of this work is to: (1) inform the development and functioning of new collaborative relationships between communities and academic institutions aimed at addressing important community-based issues; and (2) provide recommendations that can improve the effectiveness of academic-community collaborations in solving a variety of public health concerns.


Survey Sample and Design
Survey Sample and Design To assess the effectiveness of academic-community partnerships in addressing public health concerns, we developed and conducted a formal, online, anonymous survey of directors of all Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH)-accredited schools and programs of public health, as well as leaders of community organizations. Based on an extensive literature review of academic-community partnerships addressing local public health issues, survey questions were prepared regarding the development, functioning, and effectiveness of such partnerships. The surveys were pilot tested among a small group (n=10) of academicians in the public health field and community organization representatives (n=10) across the country. The reviewers provided feedback on survey content and length that improved the content validity of our survey instrument before its implementation. Appendices A and B include the survey instruments for academic and community partners, respectively.

Sampling Methodology
The e-mails for directors of schools and programs of public health were collected from the CEPH website and individual accredited public health program and school websites. The sample of academic partners included 48 directors of CEPH-accredited schools and 82 directors of CEPH-accredited programs in public health in the U.S. The sample of community partners was compiled by sending announcements on publicly available and moderated CBPR listservs for academic-community partnerships. The survey was created by employing SurveyMonkey, an electronic survey tool. The invitation letter to participate in the survey was e-mailed to each director and posted on the CBPR listservs. If directors or community representatives were unable or unwilling to participate, we asked them to refer us to other representatives of their school/organization who were knowledgeable about the partnership(s) their school/organization was involved in. The respondents accessed the survey by clicking on a hyperlink that would open the electronic survey. The participant’s responses were downloaded and saved to space designated on the University of New Hampshire’s server. The survey took ten to fifteen minutes to complete. We used skip logic to allow respondents to skip over questions that they determined were irrelevant to their situation. Therefore, the denominator for responses to each question only reflects respondents that chose to answer that question.

The survey was implemented during the Spring 2012 semester, traditionally a busy time for academic institutions. The survey remained accessible for respondents to complete for ten weeks. Every two weeks a reminder was e-mailed to directors who had not yet taken the survey. Reminders to complete the survey were also posted every two weeks on the CBPR listservs for leaders of community organizations.

Survey Instrument
The study was approved by the Institutional Review Board at the University of New Hampshire. The survey was comprised of 25 various question types including closed- and open-ended questions. While the general content of the survey questions for the academic and community partners were equivalent, question wording varied for appropriateness and context. The survey was divided into six sections comprised of questions that attempted to: (a) identify the local public health issues being addressed; (b) examine the characteristics of the partnership; (c) assess the actual or perceived benefits and challenges for each partner; (d) determine the perceived effectiveness of the partnership; (e) assess the methodology implemented by the partnership to determine its success; and (f) analyze the intent to continue or dissolve the partnership and the associated factors that influence this decision.

Data Analysis
Data from the completed surveys were downloaded and analyzed using Statistical Package for Social Sciences, version 17.0, and Microsoft Excel 2007. Quantitative responses were evaluated using descriptive statistics. Qualitative analysis was used to evaluate open-ended response questions. The text from these responses was examined using content analysis software, QSR NVivo, version 9. Nueundorf (2002) defines content analysis “…as the systematic, objective, quantitative analysis of message characteristics.” This method codes the text into manageable categories by theme. Specifically, the responses to the following survey questions were quantified via percentages: identification of partners for both academic institutions and community organizations; main public health issue the partnership is addressing; role of the partner in the partnership; utilization of CBPR principles in the partnership; method of conflict resolution implemented; type of activity necessary to sustain the partnership’s work; the types of activities utilized to address the public health issue in the community; partner’s perception of a positive outcome in their community as a result of their partnership; perception of the effectiveness of the partnership; challenges encountered by the partnership; and whether or not the partners planned to continue their partnership. Qualitative analysis for the following survey questions were analyzed via thematic identification: positive outcomes of the partnership; the evaluation of the perceived effectiveness of the partnership; challenges encountered by the partnership; and lessons learned to date from the academic-community partnership. Both quantitative and qualitative results are presented throughout the results section.


One hundred and seventy one survey responses were received: 131 respondents represented academic partners and 40 respondents represented community partners.

Academic partners identified that their community partners (multiple communities in some cases) primarily came from non-profit organizations (55.4%), community coalitions (55.4%), community advisory boards (42.1%), and local health departments (32.2%). Community partners identified that their academic partners (multiple academic partners in some cases) primarily came from schools of public health (47.4%), medical schools (34.2%), programs of public health (23.7%), and departments of community health (26.3%). Academic and community respondents identified chronic disease (15.2%), childhood obesity (11.7%) and access to healthcare (7.0%) as the top three public health issues their partnerships were working to address.

The majority of respondents (academic partners, 69.0%; community partners, 66.7%) reported serving in the role of “convener” for the development of their specific academic-community partnership. Using a closed-ended survey question, about two-thirds of academic partners (72.2%) reported that their partnership operated via CBPR principles, whereas only one-third (33.3%) of community partners reported that their partnership operated via these participatory principles. One academic partner reported that CBPR principles were used in their partnership, “…but not in all phases” of the work. One community respondent stated that “Although academics tend to think in specific content areas, community members think in terms of the whole health of their neighborhoods. Academics interested in this type of work really need to understand this.” Furthermore, one-third (33.3%) of community partners engaged in an academic-community partnership reported not knowing about CBPR principles. One community partner reported that “The answer is yes and no [to using CBPR principles] due to the fact that the academic-community partnership does not have a clear understanding of CBPR; and [how to take] the community on as an equal partner.” In addition, academic (79.5%) and community partners (61.8%) reported that for conflicts that arose in their partnership, consistent attempts by both partners via face-to-face communication were the main method of resolution. Lastly, for both partners, applying for grants offered by federal agencies was the primary method by which to obtain the resources necessary to conduct their work (academic partner, 68.2%; community partner, 76.5%). Application to funding opportunities from private foundations and organizations was another common approach to acquire the necessary resources (academic partner, 51.8%; community partner, 50.0%).

Table 1 presents the types of activities academic-community partnerships utilized to address public health issues in their community. The most common activities included the use of surveys (60.2%), focus groups (57.9%), interviews (61.4%), and working with healthcare providers (52.0%). Other activities (28.7%) included conducting community forums, implementing leadership training, and intervention development and evaluation.

        When academic and community partners were asked whether or not they perceived a positive outcome in their community as a result of their partnership, both partners believed there was a greater awareness of the public health issue in the community (academic partner, 79.2%; community partner, 76.5%), as well as opportunities for funding (academic partner, 53.8%; community partner, 47.1%) as a result of their work (Table 2). Other positive outcomes identified by academic and community partners included new legislation, policy development, grant writing skills, peerreviewed publications, and increased participation community-wide in addressing public health issues. Several respondents reported that their academic-community partnership resulted in an actual outcome of the public health issue being addressed in their community. For example, “… teen pregnancy rates have gone from 50% to 20% [among] high school girls in 4 years”; “declaration of city as HIV disaster area”; “increased screening of children for lead exposure”; and a “measurable decrease in substance use in the community in question.”

Table 1. Representative activities academic community partnerships engage in to address public health issues
Table 1. Representative activities academic community partnerships engage in to address public health issues
Table 2. Percentage of respondents who report positive partnership outcomes
Table 2. Percentage of respondents who report positive partnership outcomes

        Table 3 illustrates the challenges encountered by academic and community partners. Both partners identified a lack of financial resources (academic partner, 70.2%; community partner, 70.6%), lack of time for the project (academic partner, 51.0%; community partner, 52.9%), and building infrastructure (academic partner, 38.5%; community partner, 29.4%) as the main challenges experienced by their partnership. Additional themes that academic and community partners identified as being challenges to their work included the geographic distance between the academic institution and the community, institutional risk, sustaining involvement, attrition, and lack of acknowledgement of community-based work for academic promotion. One academic respondent shared a specific challenge: “…it’s hard to find academic partners who are adequately trained in community engagement, who are culturally competent, and who are able to utilize principles of CBPR and PAR [participatory action research] in a truly collaborative way. Most academic partners remain hierarchical, and some of our more visionary partners are junior faculty who face significant pressure from their tenure committees to stick to ‘traditional’ research (particularly for fields outside of public health).”

        Using an open-ended survey question, academic and community partners were asked to identify how they evaluate the effectiveness of their partnership. Several themes emerged regarding evaluation methods utilized by the partnerships including the number and extent to which partners were involved as determined by their attendance at meetings, types of stakeholders with whom partners were sharing information, increased utilization of services by community members, number of requests to develop partnerships with new partners, and partnership sustainability and retention.

Table 4 presents the overall perceived effectiveness of the respondents’ academic-community

Table 3. Percentage of respondents who report challenges in partnerships
Table 3. Percentage of respondents who report challenges in partnerships

partnership. The majority of academic and community partners reported that they perceived their partnership to be “somewhat effective” (academic partner, 54.8%; community partner, 55.9%) or “very effective” (academic partner, 24.0%; community partner, 23.5%) at addressing public health issues in their community. One academic respondent stated an actual improvement as a result of their partnership, “We have been able to enhance the knowledge, skills, abilities and competence of our public health workforce. We have also been able to strengthen partnerships between community members. We have been able to build trust of the academic institution in the community. We have been able to bridge public health and primary care.”

Academic and community partners reported that they planned on continuing their partnership in the future (academic partner, 90.6%; community partner, 82.7%). The majority of respondents reported that their partnership had either met some of the objectives it had established (academic partner, 62.1%; community partner, 41.4%) or they were still in the process of meeting their objectives (academic partner, 23.2%; community partner, 31.0%). One academic respondent stated, “Our goal is to establish academic/community partnerships that are on-going, not just based on one project….” Another community respondent stated an actual outcome: “I’d like to say [our goals have been] completely reached, but that would imply there’s nowhere to go from here, which is impossible. We’ve exceeded the goals we’ve set for ourselves at this point, but are always creating new ones.”

        Academic and community participants were asked to describe the lessons learned to date from their respective academic-community partnership. The overarching theme that emerged from the participants’ responses was the importance of implementing the working principles of CBPR. Other themes included the role of funding, effective communication, adaptability among partners, partners as co-learners, and working from a common ground and towards a common goal. Table 5 highlights these main themes. The academic

Table 4. Effectiveness of academic-community partnership at addressing public health issues in the community
Table 4. Effectiveness of academic-community partnership at addressing public health issues in the community
Table 5. Representative Activities Academic Community Partnerships Engage in to Address Public Health Issues
Table 5. Representative Activities Academic Community Partnerships Engage in to Address Public Health Issues

community partners were also asked about how their partnership could be more effective. Both partners agreed that accessing more financial resources (academic partner, 55.1%; community partner, 44.8%); accessing more human resources (academic partner, 44.9%; community partner, 34.5%); and spending more time on the project (academic partner, 36.7%; community partner, 17.2%) may improve their effectiveness.


“They are very time intensive but the outcomes/ improvements can be very rich and long-lasting.” – Community Respondent

Recent research has evaluated the effectiveness of community partnerships in addressing public health concerns. These studies have focused on issues such as cancer and heart disease, reducing tobacco use (Green, Daniel, & Novick, 2001) and increasing vaccination rates (Coady et al., 2008). Evaluation of the effectiveness of community organizations that partner with academic institutions to address local public health issues are beginning to appear with more frequency in the peer-reviewed literature. One example includes work conducted by Ndirangu, Yadrick, Bogle, & Graham-Kresge (2008) that assessed the effectiveness of academiccommunity partnerships involved in implementing nutrition interventions in three communities in the Lower Mississippi Delta. A second example is work conducted by Levine, Bone, Hill, Stallings, Gelber, Barker, Harris, Zeger, Felix-Aaron, & Clark (2003) that provides evidence for empirically evaluated positive outcomes of academic-community partnerships in a four year randomized clinical trial investigating the effectiveness of a health center partnership in decreasing the blood pressure levels among an urban African-American population.

Despite the difficulties surrounding the rigorous evaluation of the interventions implemented by academic-community partnerships, our work contributes to this body of knowledge by examining the development and functioning of such partnerships that address public health issues, as well as evaluating their perceived effectiveness in reducing specific public health issues pertinent to the community.

Our findings highlight that academiccommunity collaborations are comprised of partners that represent multiple aspects of academia (e.g., departments, schools, institutes) and community (e.g., community-based organizations, community advisory boards, health departments). Each partner views the public health issue in the community through a different lens based on their experience, knowledge, skills, and ability. Thus, we propose that each partner involved in the collaboration should have a clear understanding of the expectations and governance of a multi-stakeholder partnership. To facilitate this proposal, we recommend that CBPR principles be implemented when such partnerships are just forming so that potential misunderstandings may be avoided at a later stage of the work. Training and the practice of the CBPR principles of open communication, trust, and mutual respect for the knowledge, expertise and resources of all partners involved takes time to develop so training on these working partnership principles should be instituted early (Wallerstein & Duran, 2006). Similarly, Maurana & Goldenberg (1996) reported principles they found essential for their academic-community partnership experience in improving the health of residents in Ohio. These principles include leadership, partnership, and empowerment among all participants (Wallerstein & Duran, 2006).

Every community is different and we propose that more can be accomplished in addressing community-based public health issues by utilizing the strengths within that community. Academiccommunity partnerships represent a part of the “village” it takes to improve community health and we recommend that the time necessary for such relevant collaborations to foster should be built into the academic-community partnership development process. The amount of “time” it takes for such a collaboration to function will vary community by community due to the dynamic nature of the population and the existing public health issues.

A majority of academic-community partnerships reported that they were “somewhat” or “very effective” in addressing public health issues in their community. Examples of their effectiveness included “a greater awareness” of the public health issue in the community. We recommend that implementing a measure of effectiveness be considered by such partnerships that are conducting time- and labor-intensive work. We argue that raising the awareness about a public health issue is often the first step needed to initiate sustainable change and should be viewed as a milestone in the progression and evaluation of the academiccommunity partnership’s work. Certainly a sustained intervention that reduces or eliminates the public health issue of concern would also be considered a great success (for example, the significant decrease in the teenage pregnancy rate as reported by one respondent; and the increase in lead screening rates among children as reported by another respondent), but it is important to acknowledge and evaluate those accomplishments that may not appear major at first glance.

It is also important to note that these varied academic-community partnerships reported their work as being “somewhat” or “very effective” in the face of barriers also experienced by the private and not-for-profit sectors, i.e., a lack of financial resources, a lack of time for the project, and a lack of building infrastructure (e.g., memorandum of understanding, standard processes, communication methods). There are no easy solutions to these barriers that are far too common. However, we propose that a consistent pooling of resources, in terms of building on the strengths and talents of multiple stakeholders could be productive. Maurana and Goldenberg (1996) report that based on their academic-community partnership experience, they worked to diversify their funding sources and have complemented their academic institution’s resources with the community’s resources so they are a united team applying for limited grant dollars.

We propose that academic-community partnerships hold great potential for expanding the breadth of public health issues that are able to be addressed at the local level. Public health is a very broad and diverse discipline and such collaborations could focus on matters related to land use management, workforce development, and community revitalization initiatives. However, as one academic respondent mentioned, academic institutions often do not acknowledge this community-based work because of the time needed to produce a peer-reviewed result that may not coincide with the academician’s schedule for academic promotion. Seeing the potential for such academic-community partnerships to improve the quality of life for populations, we recommend that academic institutions need to reconsider the value placed on such work and adjust the promotion schedule for those faculty engaged in academiccommunity partnerships. Maurana and Goldenberg (1996) report, in their experience, “…a restructured reward system that values professional service and applied research” outside of their academic institution was developed. As the outcomes of such unique and productive partnerships become more visible, we anticipate more academic institutions will adopt a similar approach.

Academic-community partnerships reported several means by which to assess the effectiveness of the partnership itself. Most partners reported several basic measures including the number of attendees at meetings, contributions of partners while at these meetings, extent of information disseminated, etc. We encourage academic-community partnerships to engage in a regular assessment of their partnership in addition to the evaluation that occurs with the established public health intervention the partnership has implemented. We propose that regular evaluation of the partnership itself will allow for adjustments in the operating principles, if necessary, and should contribute to the partnership’s sustainability. The partners should develop an assessment tool for their partnership that is right for them — a “one size fits all” evaluation tool would not be appropriate but general components may include an assessment of the knowledge and utilization of CBPR principles by all involved partners.

Although the findings from this exploratory analysis provide valuable insight into the characterization of academic-community partnerships working on public health issues, several limitations to this work should be noted. The sampling bias associated with a non-probability sampling technique limits the generalizability of the findings from this study to other academic-community partnerships. Missing data occurred randomly across the surveys. In addition, the results were limited by the cross-sectional study design and compliance to the authenticity of self-reported information. Similar to other studies, our work, in many instances, was challenged by collecting data that pertained to the perceptions of individual partners. Despite these limitations, our findings have been appropriately qualified and we propose they provide valuable insight into the development, functioning, and effectiveness of academic-community partnerships that address public health issues.

As academic and community collaborations become increasingly common for addressing challenging public health concerns, we propose that evaluating the effectiveness of academiccommunity partnerships should include an evaluation of the partnership itself. We argue that the process of partnering is just as important as the public health intervention’s outcome. This partnership evaluation should move beyond the ivory walls and also encompass the community’s benchmarks for success. Furthermore, our findings provide some evidence that using CBPR principles in the partnership may be beneficial, and the results emphasize the need for funding, communication, and flexibility when conducting complex yet rewarding work. Future research should include the empirical evaluation of whether the collaborations themselves are actually having the desired effect on the public health concerns they were developed to help alleviate.


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The authors would like to express their gratitude to the directors of schools and programs of public health and community leaders for taking the time to participate in the survey.

About the Authors

Rosemary M. Caron is an associate professor in the Department of Health Management and Policy in the College of Health and Human Services at the University of New Hampshire. Jessica D. Ulrich-Schad is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Sociology in the College of Liberal Arts at the University of New Hampshire. Catherine Lafferty is an honors graduate of the Department of Health Management and Policy in the College of Health and Human Services at the University of New Hampshire.

Delivering Value to Community Partners in Service-Learning Projects

Shannon B. Rinaldo, Donna F. Davis, and Josh Borunda

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Service learning is a pedagogy wherein students engage in providing a service to the community that is linked to the academic objectives of a course. There are multiple stakeholders in the service-learning experience, including students, instructors, and community partners. A significant body of research investigates experiences of students and instructors, exploring the impact of service learning on student learning and describing how to effectively design service-learning courses. While community partners are indispensable stakeholders in service learning, there are only a few studies that examine their experiences and needs. The present study addresses this weakness in our understanding by conducting a qualitative study that examines the value of service learning to community partners. Findings describe the service-learning experience from the viewpoint of community partners and report the dimensions of value created for our community partners.


Service learning engages students in course-related community service and enhances the classroom learning experience by requiring students to participate in activities that integrate course material with volunteer service (Petkus, Jr., 2000). Zlotkowski (1996) distinguished service learning from traditional internships by defining service learning as an experienced-based pedagogy that serves a community need and requires student reflection on the project. The structure and reflective component have been said to offer students “an effective curricular balance” (Post, Kundt, Mehl, Hudson, Stone, & Banks, 2009, p.18) to enhance ethics and values of a given area of study. Student tasks associated with service learning range from volunteering time with a community organization’s clients to crafting business strategy with the organization’s administration (Burns, 2011; Geringer, Stratemeyer, Canton, & Rice, 2009). Thus, service learning offers a valuable opportunity for students to implement their new skills in a real-world environment while also learning the importance of volunteerism (Astin, Sax, & Avalos, 1999; Burns, 2011).

Student learning outcomes associated with service learning include developing the ability to apply basic course-related concepts, honing skills for problem solving, learning to work within a team, and developing an appreciation for diverse needs and challenges of organizations (Klink & Athaide, 2004). Previous research demonstrates the value of service learning for students’ mastery of course concepts (e.g., Astin & Sax, 1998; Carson & Domangue, 2012; Hagenbuch, 2006; Shaw, 2007) and development of moral sensibilities (e.g., Warnell, 2010; Wilson, 2011). In addition, previous research provides guidance to instructors who wish to implement service learning in their courses (e.g., Klink & Athaide, 2004; Metcalf, 2010; Petkus, Jr., 2000), and examines the importance of matching community partner goals with project goals (Lester, Tomkovick, Wells, Flunker, & Kickul, 2005).

For students and faculty, the value of service learning can be measured in terms of students’ knowledge, skill, and attitude development as well as their satisfaction with the experience. However, it is possible to create value for students and faculty not only in successful service-learning projects, but also in projects that are unsuccessful in meeting all pre-stated goals. For example, Furlow (2010) reported on lessons learned in a class project where students designed a website for local businesses devastated by Hurricane Katrina. Gaining media attention for the website failed, but students were still enlightened by many aspects of the project, including the analysis of communication difficulties that led to the failure.

Service-learning projects require substantial investments from community partners who are typically involved throughout the course in planning, implementing, and evaluating the project (Conville & Kinnell, 2010; Schwartz & Fontenot, 2007). Projects that fail to meet the needs of community partners, or do not add value in other ways, may discourage future engagement. In contrast, projects that are valuable to community partners can result in positive word-of-mouth that broadens the base of potential community partners and strengthens the viability of service learning. Given the importance of community engagement to service learning, it is surprising to find that service-learning research continues its heavy emphasis on student learning and pedagogy at the expense of community impacts (Vernon & Ward, 1999; Sandy & Holland, 2006). Thus, instructors are left with little insight on how to engage community partners in ways that deliver value, even though the ongoing commitment of our community partners is critical to the success of the service-learning pedagogy.

The purpose of this research is to contribute to the existing community engagement literature by examining the value of service learning from the perspective of community partners. To that end, we report the results of a qualitative study aimed at answering two questions: (1) What is the nature of our community partners’ experiences in service-learning projects? (2) What is the value of service learning for our community partners? We begin with a review of the literature that examines the role of the community partner. Next, we describe our research method, and then we present our results. We conclude with a discussion of the implications of findings for designing service-learning courses that deliver value to community partners.

Community Partners in Service Learning

A defining characteristic of service learning is student engagement in activities that meet actual needs of the community partners (Campus Compact, 2003). Participating in a service-learning project involves extensive preparation for the community partner and the instructor prior to beginning the project. Together, they define objectives for student learning, design a structure for interaction between students and the community partner, and select assessment methods to monitor success. Then, students engage with the community partner to discover, define, and meet the community partner’s needs. The final component of the project, student reflection, takes place both while the project is ongoing and after the project is complete. Reflection encourages students to link the project with course concepts and to consider the importance of the project (Campus Compact, 2003).

The groundbreaking study by Vernon and Ward (1999) focused exclusively on the community partner in service learning. Using a multi-method research design, they examined the views of community partners related to service learning. Their findings indicated that community partners experience both benefits and challenges in working with service-learning students, and that agency personnel desire more coordination and communication on the part of their campus counterparts. They concluded that campuses are advised to move away from the “charity model approach” of service learning toward a social change paradigm in which the campus and community are equal partners (Vernon & Ward, 1999, p. 36).

Community partner benefit is mentioned in studies that consider the viewpoints of multiple stakeholders in service learning. For example, Hagenbuch (2006) collected data from community partners in his investigation of how service learning contributes to student benefit. Likewise, Lester et al. (2005) measured community partners’ perceptions of global benefits for both students and their organization’s clientele. Benefits of service-learning projects are described as mutual between community partners and students (Geringer, Stratemeyer, Canton, & Rice, 2009), where at a minimum students gain workplace skills and partner organizations gain access to those skills and knowledge. Most studies regarding service learning do not consider the financial benefit of service-learning projects, but Schwartz and Fontenot (2007) reported that the cash benefit to Habitat for Humanity equaled $3700 after marketing students worked to develop a fundraiser.

More recently, scholars have turned their attention to the nature of relationships between community partners and universities. Miron & Moely (2006) found that community partners reported higher levels of benefits to their agencies when they took a more active role in service-learning projects. Similarly, Sandy and Holland (2006) examined community partners’ views of campus-community partnerships and reported that community partners revealed a “surprising depth of understanding and commitment to student learning” (p. 30). Clayton, Bringle, Senor, Huq, & Morrison (2010) reminded us that “the terms ‘relationship’ and ‘partnership’ are not interchangeable” (p. 5). Stewart and Alrutz (2012) echoed their concern by urging universities to engage in transformative relationships with their community partners, rooted in shared understanding and reciprocity, rather than one-off, transaction-based projects. In transformative relationships, community partners decide jointly with instructors what the learning outcomes and service activities should be in order to simultaneously address classroom objectives and the needs of the community partner. This theoretical lens shifts the notion of service learning. Instead of one-way flows from universities to community partners, this theoretical lens advocates reciprocal resource flows between equal partners.

While it is clear in the literature that service learning has value for community partners, the nature of that value and its contributing factors are less clear. The goal of the current study is to develop an understanding of the value of service learning for community partners. The following section describes the research method employed to give voice to community partners’ views on the value of service learning.


We designed a qualitative study to examine the value of service learning to community partners. The study involved in-depth exploration and comparative analyses across diverse experiences (i.e., different types of community partners, multiple instructors, various courses) to fully describe the phenomenon (Creswell, 2007; Strauss & Corbin, 1998). Theoretical sampling was used to identify community partner informants. The aim of theoretical sampling is to “maximize opportunities to compare events, incidents, or happenings to determine how a category varies in terms of its properties and dimensions” (Strauss & Corbin, 1998, 202). Sample size is determined as the study progresses. The goal is to reach theoretical saturation, that is, the point where reports of the phenomenon are redundant and analysis of additional data would offer no new theoretical insight.


Nine community partners participated in the study. All nine community partners engaged in service-learning projects conducted at the same southwestern university within a 12-month time frame. Service learning is a point of distinction for the university, which is listed on the Carnegie Classification for Community Engagement and the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll. While all community partners participated in service learning at the same university, the projects spanned multiple disciplinary areas: three in business, two in art, two in family studies, one in architecture, and one in nutrition.

The sample comprised key community partners from three organizations providing social services for children, three agencies supporting families in crisis, an arts community, a food facility, and a hospital foundation, for a total of nine organizations. Five of the nine organizations are affiliated with national service organizations. The organizations range in size from 6 to 41 employees and serve as few as 18 corporate clients and as many as 12,000 individual clients per year. Community partners held managerial positions and served their organizations for an average of 11 years, with a range of 2 to 23 years. Four projects were discrete projects conducted in one semester, four were ongoing relationships spanning multiple semesters, and one was a new relationship expected to continue for more than one semester.

Data Collection and Analysis

A semi-structured interview protocol guided interviews (see Appendix A). Interviews were conducted face-to-face at the community partner’s office and ranged from 30 to 45 minutes. All interviews were audio-recorded and transcribed verbatim. A content analysis of interview transcripts was conducted to categorize descriptions of community partners’ service-learning experiences. Content analysis is a research method for the objective, systematic analysis of verbal data (Berelson, 1952; Kassarjian, 1977). Pre-defined codes were developed by the three-member research team, and coding rules were established to ensure consistency in the coding process. The interview protocol supplied 10 categories used in the content analysis. During the coding process, an 11th category emerged — the benefits of service learning to students — that was subsequently defined and coded in all transcripts (Table 1). The unit of analysis was a complete sentence; each unit could be coded under multiple categories.

Each transcript was independently coded by two members of the research team. The researchers were trained in the use of a software tool specifically designed for coding, indexing, and searching qualitative data (NVivo, 2010). The software tool ensured systematic organization of the data, consistent application of codes throughout the coding process, and the ability to retrieve entire categories of content. A training transcript was independently coded by all three researchers, and category definitions were subsequently refined as needed to assure clarity of category definitions and consistency in coding. Overall, the coders achieved 86% agreement across the nine transcripts. Although there is no absolute threshold for the level of inter-rater reliability, agreement in excess of 70% is deemed reliable (Kurasaki, 2000). Differences were reviewed and resolved by consensus.

The research team applied standards for rigor in interpretive research to evaluate the trustworthiness of the data (Lincoln & Guba, 1985). The four criteria of the trustworthiness approach (i.e., credibility, transferability, dependability, and confirmability) correspond to the objective measures used in confirmatory, hypothesis-testing research (i.e., internal validity, external validity, reliability, and objectivity). Credibility was ensured through the use of member checks in which researchers’ interpretations were examined and confirmed by community partners. Transferability was accomplished by collecting data from multiple types of agencies, projects, and disciplines. The use of software for reliable storage and systematic coding of data, tests of inter-rater reliability in coding, and the use of written protocols in data collection and data analysis provide evidence for dependability of findings. Confirmability was addressed through the use of multiple researchers to minimize bias.


The Community Partner’s Experience

Interviews began with a grand tour question that allowed community partners to describe a specific service-learning experience, from beginning to end. Their responses depicted a step-wise process of five stages that progress from initial contact through the wrap-up of a project.

Stage 1 — initial contact. Community partners were asked directly about their motivations for engaging in service learning and involvement during the course of the service-learning experience. In some cases the projects were initiated by the community partner. For some, the impetus was school loyalty: “I graduated in the architecture department and so I went back to a couple of [instructors] that I had. … I requested assistance with a project.” Another stated, “I’m a [university] grad and while I was in both undergraduate and graduate school, I was very involved with a particular [instructor] who was a lot about community service.” Community partners also found instructors through the university-wide service-learning office: “Originally when the call was made to the Service Learning Center, it was to discuss the need that I had to have some help to teach a pre-natal education class…and as I talked to [the staff person], she told me about the college of art and she said, ‘Do you ever need any artwork done for anything?’ and I said, ‘Oh, yes. That would be amazing.’”

In other cases, organizations were contacted by instructors who were searching for service-learning projects for their courses: “When the first class started with us…they did contact the current volunteer coordinator at that time.” Also, “When [the instructor] actually contacted me, he heard about us and I had direct communication with them, and we just kind of set up what the parameters would be for the class.” In one case, the students contacted the community partner at the request of the instructor, “[The students] said that they were assigned by [the instructor] to do a community-involved project and they chose us.” Outcomes and enthusiasm for individual projects did not vary based on who initiated the relationship.

Stage 2 — establishing expectations. In most cases, the instructor and community partner met in advance of the semester to discuss needs, set expectations, and define the plan for the semester. Community partners frequently commented on the need for continued faculty oversight throughout the semester as a key to a success: “[We] started off in the spring, talking about expectations and what we were looking for in terms of needs of our marketing campaign. We identified some of those strengths, and [the faculty member] worked on passing those to the other [instructors], so that worked really well to have that advanced kind of planning session.”

Stage 3 — engaging students. In most cases, community partners met directly with the students who would be working with the organization to introduce the organization, explain how the organization works, and discuss the needs of the organization. In some cases this was done in the classroom: “We actually came in and did an orientation with the class, and there were probably about 30 or so students, and that really helps to educate them a little bit more about what [the organization] does.” In other cases, community partners met with smaller groups or one-on-one: “We began to meet [with the students] and form our ideas and we noticed that this was a need that we had at [the organization] and so we developed the mentoring program.”

Stage 4 — implementing the project. Community partners reported multiple levels of interaction across the project time frame. As previously stated, the three primary stakeholders in service learning are the instructor, the students, and the community partner. The interviews revealed interactions with a fourth stakeholder — the client of the community partner — which is discussed in more detail subsequently. Community partners described ongoing coordination between themselves and the instructors: “[The instructor] was very thoughtful of us, and he coordinated with us, and was very easy to work with. Good professors are key, I think.”

The community partners described contact throughout the semester between themselves and the students: “[A student] was always helping us rearrange the seating for our shows, and helping find cost effective ways of selling our tickets for our auditorium.” Interaction was also reported between the students and the clients served by the community partner’s organization. One community partner had this to say about a mentoring program set up by a group of MBA students: “These kids [the organization’s clients] see these college students coming and interacting with them…the more interaction with the kids, the better it is, even for us.”

In describing how the projects unfolded throughout the semester, the majority of the community partners commented on how eager, creative, smart students make all the difference. This statement sums it up well: “I could just see light bulbs going off in their heads as they were listening and whenever they went off to their teams and talked about things.”

Stage 5 — wrapping up. Depending on the nature of the project, some community partners were presented with final reports, while others did not see the students again after the projects were completed. One community partner listened to nine proposals and voted on which was best: “We had to attend all of their final presentations that culminated all of their knowledge, so it was kind of working hand-in-hand with classroom experience.” Another listened to three presentations: “I think it went really well, it was really fun, and the last three sessions they brought us in and they did their pitch to us as if we were a real client.” A few community partners discussed having a debriefing session to discuss what did and did not work: “At the end of the semester we did a wrap-up. I went to their class and spoke, and we talked about what the experience had been and how they helped us.” While a wrap-up was not reported by the majority of community partners, those who had this experience reported it to be a very valuable component of their service-learning experience.

Although many community partners said they did not receive a tangible outcome from the project, at least a few did: “They gave us a campaign book with their slogan, their strategy, a budget, and we also gave them a mock budget, so that is what they built their campaign around.” Of those who did not receive a tangible report, some expressed a desire for closure after the project. One community partner stated,

It would be kind of nice to get a little bit of feedback from them [the students], even if it is some type of generic survey that we come up with or something, really, about their time here, and see if it really benefited them, and to see what they got out of it.

Another said, “I would like to know where they end up and know if they are using some of the knowledge they gained while they were here and in their professional lives.”

The Value of Service Learning for Community Partners

Community partners were encouraged to report the value of service learning to their organizations as well as to themselves. In doing so, they readily talked about direct benefits to the organization and the organization’s clients. While there was no question to elicit their views on the benefits of service learning to students, they readily expressed their appreciation for the opportunity to contribute to student learning.

Direct benefits of service-learning projects. Community partners often described the immediate benefits of service-learning participation in terms of the extra hands of volunteers to carry out the daily work of their organizations in the face of resource constraints: “We’re a nonprofit organization, and so we have a small staff, and so the … relief that they’ve been able to provide in the normal daily tasks has been great for the organization.” Student volunteers were described as energetic and willing to do whatever needed doing, often going well beyond the community partner’s expectations by helping with fundraisers and awareness events.

In addition to volunteer hours, community partners recounted the benefit of access to expertise beyond the capabilities of their organizations: “Working in a college community has a lot of perks because any of those research questions you have, you don’t have to do it yourself; you can use a student or class.” One project specifically addressed the use of social media to raise brand awareness for the organization:

Our expectation was to really help us look at new social media strategies … and to, as far as brand recognition, to see if people knew about us or not. … We also were hoping to glean from them some new ideas of how to spin volunteering for [this agency] to the public.

Community partners expressed great appreciation for the opportunity to “engage young minds … and recruit some creative thinkers” to address issues facing their organizations. Even when projects did not produce the expected results, community partners reported that the process provided new perspectives and information to “chew on in our staff meetings.” As one community partner summed up: “Strategies some of us had never even thought of before are now going through our minds.”

Supporting the organization’s mission. The most powerful stories told by community partners described the value of service learning in helping their organizations to achieve their missions. The students themselves were described as invaluable resources that facilitate “life-changing experiences” for clients:

Because the children here … face extreme hurdles, and part of what assists them in overcoming those hurdles is having a positive role model, and so … we’re able to provide such a life-saving, or life-changing, experience for our kids here that it really has had positive impacts on the families.

Service learning provided the necessary support for one agency to launch a mentoring program with university students as mentors to children from dysfunctional homes:

One client, for example, did not have custody of her children … her child was coming to the mentoring room and therapy …. And [because of] the positive impact that the mentoring program was having on her son … she regained full custody of her son. They are still coming to mentoring, still coming to counseling, and their lives are rejoined. So that is one specific instance in which mentoring saved a relationship between a mom and her son.

One agency completely reorganized to incorporate the availability of students engaged in service learning into its business model in order to serve clients more efficiently and effectively: “We would have waiting lists that were just endless. … Now with the program revamped, … we usually don’t have a waiting list …. This has been wonderful for our clients because they have been able to get the services they needed quickly.”

Serving the students. An unexpected finding was the extent to which community partners readily talked about how much they valued the opportunity to be involved in students’ learning and development. As one alumna said, “I wanted to come back … and help students learn just like I did whenever I was a student.” Another reported that service learning was “an extremely valuable experience for me, so I like to be the promoter of continuing that sort of actual hands-on type of community learning experience for students.”

Non-alumni also valued the opportunity to provide “real-world” experience for students: “I did want to get those students that experience of actually doing a presentation in front of someone who was a businessperson … I wanted them to have that opportunity.” Community partners described the intrinsic satisfaction gained in guiding students as they discover their vocations:

I enjoy watching them grow, and start to think about, ‘Am I really about to do this?’ And really make some decisions here about what they are going to do once they finish. So that is really wonderful to watch that process.

Although the majority of community partners reported positive outcomes and evaluations, the service-learning experience was not without challenges. The most frequently mentioned frustration was students who waited until the last minute and did not follow deadlines: “It seems at the end of the semester, [the students] all show up at the same time to get their credit in.” Another contact person for a project said the students were “not very good at planning, so they would wait until the last minute to ask for assistance…they would contact us Friday night and want to know if we could answer the questions for them.” The community partners were careful to communicate that this was not the case for all students, “there were just some of those instances, but it wasn’t that many at all.” Another called it an “age-old problem.”


The goal of this research was to understand the value of service learning to community partners. Community partners described five stages in their experiences of service-learning projects: (1) initial contact; (2) establishing expectations; (3) engaging students; (4) implementing the project, and; (5) wrapping up. In describing this process, community partners provide insight into factors that set the stage for a valuable service-learning experience from their perspective. First, they expressed the need for continuous faculty oversight of projects. Competent faculty members who conscientiously plan for and monitor the project are crucial to success. Faculty should, therefore, be prepared to commit the necessary time to coordinate activities with the community partner and to supervise student participation in the project. To prevent misunderstandings, instructors are advised to clearly outline the time commitment in advance for all parties including the community partner, the instructor, and the students. Second, community partners reported the value of participating in the initiation of the project by conducting an orientation for students. Engagement early in the course results in clear communication about expectations for the service-learning project.

Community partners described three dimensions of the value of service-learning projects: (1) direct benefits to the organization; (2) support of the mission, and; (3) serving the students. Direct benefits included volunteer hours and access to expertise. For community partners with limited resources, service-learning projects provide assistance that the organization otherwise could not financially afford. However, the benefit of additional volunteer hours and access to expertise is sometimes diluted by the cost of managing students’ propensity to procrastinate. Faculty can address this issue by structuring deadlines within the project. For example, volunteer hours could be distributed across the course with bi-weekly deadlines to avoid the end-of-semester rush. Similarly, problem-based projects with tangible outcomes can be staged to require students to submit portions of final reports as the semester progresses, instead of submitting everything at the end of the term.

The most important dimension of value for community partners was the extent to which service-learning projects support the organization’s mission. When community partners were in need of solutions, students brought fresh perspectives and new energy. Service learning delivers the highest level of value for community partners when there is synergy between the mission of the organization and the goals of the service-learning project. Thus, faculty are advised to design service-learning projects with careful attention to the relationship between the project and the community partner’s mission.

A significant finding is the value community partners place on their role as mentors and co-teachers in service-learning projects. Community partners expressed a sincere dedication to the students and their learning experiences. Similar to faculty, community partners value the opportunity to design and implement projects that deliver high-quality learning experiences for students. Hence, it is important for faculty to provide feedback on the knowledge and skills the students are gaining from the projects. Community partners value closure on the projects. Therefore, instructors are advised to design service-learning courses in a way that allows students to report their learning to community partners, such as formal presentations or final reflection papers. Moreover, it is desirable for instructors to schedule debriefings with their community partners to close the loop on the experience. Giving community partners closure increases their perception of value, which, in turn, facilitates an ongoing relationship with the community partner and ensures positive word-of-mouth to other potential community partners.

Limitations and Further Research

The limitations of this study point to directions for further research. Findings suggest multiple dimensions of value for community partners as well as a set of factors that contribute to creating value. A survey could be developed to measure the various dimensions of value and to test the relationship between value and contributing factors. Survey research could address the limitation of generalizability of findings that is inherent in the qualitative design employed in the present study. The present study was conducted in a southwestern U.S. university town. Findings could be different for similar studies conducted in other regions of the country, or other countries, with different underlying cultural norms and values. Such studies might discover additional dimensions of value or identify other factors that predict value creation for community partners.


Based on the preliminary findings of this study, courses involving service learning should include the following:

• Early involvement of the community partner; a meeting prior to the start of the project to establish expectations in recommended.

• Close attention to the alignment of service- learning project goals with the mission of the organization.

• Continuous faculty oversight of the project.

• Providing closure to the community partner; communicating how the project benefited students is warranted.

• Formal distribution of student volunteer hours and/or staggered deadlines across the semester to avoid the end of semester rush.

Service learning is pedagogy with the potential for powerful impact on students, faculty, and community partners. It is our hope that findings in this study will be useful in advancing our understanding of how to design service-learning projects that deliver value to all stakeholders.


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About the Authors

Shannon B. Rinaldo is an associate professor of marketing in the Rawls College of Business at Texas Tech University. Donna F. Davis is an associate professor in marketing in the College of Business at the University of South Florida. Josh Borunda is a research assistant in the Rawls

The Spoken Word Project: Using Poetry in Community Dialogue and Mobilization for HIV Prevention

By: Malika Roman Isler, Guarav Dave, Heather L. Jones, Doris Stith, Tiarney Richwood, Turquoise Griffith, Leslie Atley, and Giselle Corbie-Smith


        Spoken word, a form of performance poetry, is a promising approach to HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention, as it has the potential to encourage dialogue among and within communities and address concerns regarding the social stigma present in rural communities. The purpose of this study is to describe the development and implementation of the Spoken Word Project (SWP), an HIV/AIDS pilot intervention in rural North Carolina designed to improve HIV-related attitudes and self-efficacy and decrease stigma through the use of performance poetry. Spoken word is a collaborative effort between residents of two rural counties in North Carolina and Project GRACE (Growing, Reaching, Advocating for Change and Empowerment), a community-based participatory research collaboration aimed at reducing health disparities in African American communities. The project included 15 adult and youth participants. Results indicated that spoken word has the ability to build upon local resources, generate community reflection, and engage a broad spectrum of performers and audiences. Our findings also showed that the effect of stigma and limited community conversations about HIV in rural communities can be abated through the use of spoken word.
        Of all U.S. regions, the South has the highest rates of HIV diagnoses — 23.8 per 100,000 (Reif, Whetten, Osterman, & Raper, 2006); and 64% of people living with AIDS in rural areas reside in Southern states (Reif & Whetten, 2012). As these rural areas continue to disparately experience the burden of HIV/AIDS, limited community conversations about HIV severely hamper prevention efforts (Hovey, Booker, & Seligman, 2007; Lichtenstein, 2005; McEwan, Bhopal, & Patton, 1991)). The social challenges of HIV stigma, fear, and denial impede the delivery of prevention messages and efforts to mobilize communities most in need of intervention (Darrow, Montanea, & Gladwin, 2009; Foster, 2007). Prevention efforts in rural communities are further challenged by prevalent poverty that is linked to less HIV-related knowledge and a tendency to stigmatize those affected by the condition (Des Jarlais, Galea, Tracy, Tross, & Vlahov, 2006; Foster, 2007; Hovey, Booker, & Seligman, 2007). In 2010, a report released by the White House Office of National AIDS Policy further described stigma as adversely impacting willingness to be tested for HIV, to disclose their serostatus to sex partners, and adherence to antiretroviral therapy among people with HIV/ AIDS. The report recommended strategies to reduce stigma, which included community engagement to support people with HIV/AIDS and developing new public health approaches to HIV prevention (White House Office of National AIDS Policy, 2010). One such innovative approach, performance poetry, holds promise to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS, foster dialogue among communities, and overcome the social stigma present in rural communities.
        Poetry, along with other artistic forms of expression, has a rich history as a tool for community mobilization and has the potential to provide an innovative approach to dismantling social challenges (Niba & Green, 2005). Performance poetry, a form of poetry often performed as a dramatized monologue in the presence of an audience, provides a platform to transcend stigma and marginalization associated with HIV/AIDS, both of which are significant challenges to rural HIV prevention (Pietrzyk, 2009). In addition, the use of performance poetry can have both individual and community level benefits. Performers often report a sense of individual empowerment and self-healing from the process of self-reflection and sharing of their life experiences (Chung, Corbett, Boulet, Cummings, Paxton, McDaniel, Mercier, Franklin, Mercier, Jones, Collins, Koegel, Duan, Wells, & Glik, 2006; Des Jarlais et al., 2006; Valente & Bharath, 1999). For the audience or broader community, performance poetry encourages dialogue around HIV; dispels stigma by encouraging community-wide empathy and social responsibility; and creates opportunities to discuss strategies for communities to engage in HIV prevention (Moyo, 2010). In addition to stimulating community interest in socially relevant issues, performance poetry also promotes peer-topeer camaraderie and social relationships through critical reflection and exchange of ideas. This in turn encourages greater community mobilization and cohesion around an issue of importance (Pietrzyk, 2009; Valente & Bharath, 1999). For both performers and communities, performance poetry serves as a vehicle to disseminate information, dispel misinformation and myths that may be common to a local setting, and provide educational messages about transmission and protective barriers (Hovey, Booker, & Seligman, 2006; Lichtenstein, 2005; Moyo, 2010; Pietrzyk, 2009).
        Performance poetry is well suited for communicating messages within African American communities (Banks-Wallace, 2002). Oral traditions in U.S. black communities have a long history as intergenerational vehicles of expression, from slavery through the Harlem Renaissance, to the Civil Rights movement and current popular culture (Ashe, 2002). Performance poetry, colloquially referred to as spoken word, combines elements of music and literary expression that can appeal to audiences of varying ages, literacy levels, and socioeconomic classes. Given the ability of spoken word to attract large crowds (Chung et al., 2006; Valente & Bharath, 1999) and reach broad audiences at once, this art form circumvents many of the resource challenges that may be present in rural communities. In addition, the process of developing and delivering performance poetry is closely aligned with participatory approaches to addressing health in underserved communities. Developing spoken word within communities builds upon the local expertise and experience, and supports communities in generating local solutions to improving health. Performers who are in and of the community increase the impact of performance poetry, as audiences are more likely to identify with the performer and their message. In addition, in studies with youth poets, students identified with the performers and their experiences based upon similarities in age (McEwan et al., 1991). By building upon local community assets, the development and delivery of poetry builds collective self-efficacy to address HIV/AIDS, and creates a sustainable network to reinforce de-stigmatization and ongoing positive local change. The local investment and enactment of performance poetry promotes long-term sustainability that is similarly seen with other creative and participatory media methods, such as photovoice (Yonas, Burke, Rak, Bennet, Kelly, & Gielen, 2009).
        While performance poetry effectively engages individuals and communities in social and health issues, few examples exist in the literature around methods to use it for HIV prevention in rural communities. Here, we describe the development, implementation and evaluation of SWP, an HIV/ AIDS pilot intervention in rural North Carolina that aimed to improve HIV-related attitudes and self-efficacy and decrease stigma through the use of performance poetry.

Study Background
        The SWP is a collaborative effort between residents of Edgecombe and Nash Counties of NC and Project GRACE (Growing, Reaching, Advocating for Change and Empowerment), a community based participatory research (CBPR) collaboration aimed at reducing disparities in health in African-American communities. Conversations with community partners in Project GRACE highlighted the need to raise social consciousness and awareness about HIV in the local community, increase individual and collective self-efficacy to prevent HIV/AIDS, facilitate dialogue about HIV, and decrease stigma towards HIV in the local community. Both Edgecombe and Nash counties have three-year HIV disease rates above the state average; Edgecombe at 31.4 and Nash at 17.4 cases per 100,000 (North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, 2013). In response, Project GRACE and local community members engaged adolescents and adults, who had participated in an HIV prevention intervention, in the SWP. The institutional review board of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill approved this study.

Recruitment and Data Collection
        We recruited adolescents and adults who: 1) self-identified as African-American, 2) were living in Edgecombe or Nash counties, and 3) were youth ages 10–17 years or caregivers at least 18 years of age. Recruitment postcards were sent to all eligible participants who had previously participated in another HIV prevention project, and consent was obtained before the project began. The SWP consisted of two phases: spoken word training and spoken word performances.

Spoken Word Training
        The materials for the SWP drew from curricula previously developed for photovoice projects and in consultation with spoken word poets. Training sessions were led by trained facilitators and co-facilitators selected by Project GRACE’s community partners. All facilitators were trained poets with prior experience in performance poetry. Additionally, we recruited four guest poets from diverse geographic regions, representing a range of performance styles and genres. The guest poets also served as a motivational force for participants in the poetry-forming process. Adolescents and adults participated in six three-hour sessions held at a local community hospital, one of the partners in Project GRACE. Transportation to and from the program was provided along with a $10 cash incentive for each of the six training sessions. Each session was designed to prepare participants to deliver a spoken word piece during a local showcase and a regional showcase on World AIDS Day.
        The training sessions employed Freire’s (1973, 1993) theory of critical consciousness to support individual and community understanding of the root causes of HIV/AIDS and in turn build selfefficacious behavior. We supported participants in matriculating through three stages: 1) apathy, where participants begin to care about the problem through discussion with facilitators, peers and trained poets, 2) social responsibility, where participants engaged with others directly affected by the social issue to gain a sense of empathy, and 3) action, where participants were armed with skills to produce influential change in their communities (Wallerstein & Berstein, 1998).
        Six session topics were chosen: (1) Introduction to Spoken Word; (2) What HIV/AIDS Means to Me; (3) How HIV/AIDS Has Affected My Community; (4) What My Community Can Do to Prevent HIV/AIDS; (5) Spoken Word — Putting It All Together; and (6) Community, advocacy, and spoken word (see Table 1).
        The first training session introduced participants to the performance poetry art form and how it can work as an advocacy and awareness tool within their communities. The next three sessions focused on eliciting participants’ local experiences with HIV and guided participants in creating their own spoken word pieces. The fifth session gave participants the opportunity to plan a showcase to feature each participant’s piece, using a video recording of a previous spoken word showcase as an example. The sixth session focused on advocacy and creating solutions for community issues through the use of poetry, and rehearsal for the showcase performances.
        During the first session, participants received a journal to record their thoughts and assignments, and to facilitate the writing process for the poetry. Each spoken word training session was designed and facilitated using WORD (Write, Our, Relating, Do), which is an adapted form of the SHOWED method that is commonly used in photovoice (Gubrium & Torres, 2013; Kubicek, Beyer, Weiss, & Kipke, 2012; Wang & Burris, 1994, 1997). WORD guides participants through a process of posing problems and critical thinking by using group dialogue and writing exercises. WORD answers these questions: What can we write down about what is happening in this community related to HIV? How does HIV relate to our lives and how does the issue make us and others feel? How can I explain my feelings to others in a way that they can related to my emotions about the issues surrounding HIV? How can I use spoken word to demonstrate what others can DO to improve HIV awareness and attitudes, decrease stigma, and promote community mobilization? Before starting the WORD process, each group listened to and experienced a performance poetry piece, presented by a guest poet. Following the WORD process, participants received a homework assignment to create their own poetry around the topics discussed during each session. To assist participants in developing the poetry pieces, the group engaged in a brainstorming session to generate words and ideas that could be used in their poetry. However, due to limited literacy in the adult class, the facilitator guided the group in the development of one group poem instead of individual poems. After the fifth session, each participant selected one of the pieces they developed during training to deliver during the showcases.

Spoken Word Performances
        The SWP participated in one local and one regional showcase for the participants to deliver their performance poetry pieces. For the local showcase, participants created an invitation list of community members, elected officials, family and friends. Based upon discussion during the training sessions, participants also decided on the color scheme, attire, decorations, and program for the showcase. Publicity for the showcase included a press release and advertisements in a local newspaper. On the day of the local showcase, participants completed a practice performance of their poems before performing live. The facilitators served as Mistresses of Ceremony introducing each poet (participant) and the title of their poem. Each poem was intended to raise awareness about HIV, dispel stigma, and advocate for change in the community around the issue of HIV. For the regional showcase, the SWP participants opened the program with their poetry pieces, followed by performances by a nationally renowned

Table 1. Section Spoken Word Training Components
Table 1. Section Spoken Word Training Components

motivational speaker, a national recording artist, and a national spokesperson.

Data Collection and Management
        Outcome evaluation. Participants in the SWP completed self-administered pre- and post-test surveys at the beginning and end of the entire training program. The survey included three domains: selfefficacy, attitudes and beliefs, and stigma. The 9-item collective/individual self-efficacy domain, which was comprised of items adapted from Chung, Jones, Corbett, Booker, Wells, and Collins (2009) and the study team, measured one’s ability to address the burden of HIV/AIDS within one’s community, both individually and collectively. Example items include, “I feel comfortable talking about HIV/AIDS” and “I feel that I have the ability to make change in my community.” The 13-item attitudes and beliefs domain, comprised of items adapted from Chung et al. (2009), measured one’s beliefs and attitudes about issues related to HIV/ AIDS. Examples from this domain include “I think HIV/AIDS is an important issue in my community” and “I think poetry is a better way to teach people than lecturing them about HIV/AIDS.” The 13- item stigma domain, comprised of items adapted from Chung et al. (2009) and Van Rie, Sengupta, Pungrassami, Balthip, Choonuan, Kasetjaroen, Strauss, and Chongsuvivatwong (2008), measured negative thoughts associated with HIV/AIDS. Examples from the stigma domain include “People with HIV/AIDS should not play with other people’s children” and “I view people with HIV/AIDS as unclean.” All the domain-specific responses were structured using a 5-point Likert scale (5=strongly agree to 1=strongly disagree).
        For the showcases, we asked all attendees to complete self-administered pre- and post-test surveys that included 7 items from the self-efficacy domain, 8 items from the attitudes and beliefs domain, and all 13 items from the stigma domain. Showcase responses also used a 5-point Likert rating scale (1=strongly disagree and 5=strongly agree).

Process evaluation. In addition, SWP participants evaluated each training session. Participant responses were rated on a 5-point rating scale (1=very poor to 5=excellent). Following each training session, staff from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, also members of Project GRACE, led a structured debriefing session with the facilitator and co-facilitator to discuss any process or emergent issues from the session. Debriefing sessions lasted no longer than 30 minutes. The sessions were recorded and transcribed verbatim. An independent reviewer crosschecked the transcripts to ensure accuracy. To ensure confidentiality, all identifying information was removed from the transcript. Immediately following the fifth youth session, we also conducted a focus group and gathered information about youth perceptions of the process and impact of the SWP experience. Focus group questions further explored the concepts included in the process evaluation (e.g. perception of the guest poets, likes and dislike about the program content and structure, and perceived benefits and barriers to SWP participation, etc.). The focus group session, which lasted approximately 45 minutes, was recorded and transcribed verbatim.

Data Analysis
        We used IBM SPSS Statistics 21© software for statistical analysis and reporting. The final sample excluded individuals if they had missing data. The participants’ demographic characteristics and self-reported information were described using frequencies, means and percentages. A paired-sample t-test was used to examine whether change in the self-efficacy, attitudes and beliefs, and stigma scores (pre to post) differs significantly from zero. All other data were summarized using descriptive statistics such as means, medians, proportions, and standard errors, with 95% confidence intervals. The statistical significance for all analyses was based on the conventional alpha level of significance of 0.05.
        For the debriefings and focus group, two team members reviewed the transcripts independently to familiarize themselves with the data, and identify conceptual patterns and groupings of the text, commonly referred to as themes (Braun & Clarke, 2006). The themes were shared with the research team, including the facilitators, for verification of the themes.

Demographic Characteristics
        A total of 15 individuals (adult n = 7, 47%; youth n=8, 53%) participated in the spoken word training sessions. All participants were African Americans and more than half (n = 9) were males (see Table 2). The showcase attendees were primarily African American (77.8%) and most had at least some college-level education (64.4%).

Table 2: Demographic Characteristics of Participants* and Showcase Attendees
Table 2: Demographic Characteristics of Participants* and Showcase Attendees

Impact of SWP Training on Participants
        All 15 participants (100%) completed the overall pre-test survey and 14 participants (93.3%) completed the overall posttest survey. In general, participants in the SWP training demonstrated improvement in self-efficacy and reduced stigma towards HIV, while attitudes and beliefs remained relatively unchanged (see Table 3).

Table 3. Pre-Post Mean Differences in the Spoken Word Project, NC 2012 Participant Training Outcomes* (n=14)
Table 3. Pre-Post Mean Differences in the Spoken Word Project, NC 2012
Participant Training Outcomes* (n=14)

        The overall domain-specific mean for self-efficacy increased from 3.19 at pretest to 4.44 at posttest, though this difference was not statistically significant. However, two individual items in the self-efficacy domain showed statistically significant improvement — I know how to talk to my community about HIV/AIDS (p<0.05) and I think about how my surroundings are connected to HIV/AIDS in my community (p<0.05). For attitudes and beliefs towards HIV/AIDS, the overall domain-specific mean decreased from 4.21 at the pre-test level to 4.16 at the post-level, though the mean difference of -0.42 was not statistically significant. None of the mean ratings for individual attitude and belief items were different between pre and post-test surveys at a level of statistical significance. For stigma, the overall domain-specific mean decreased from 2.72 at the pre-test level to 2.46 at the post-test level, indicating an improvement in stigma scores. While the overall mean difference for stigma was not statistically significant, two individual items showed statistically significant resultsPeople with HIV/AIDS should not play with other people’s children and I would want to keep my distance from people with HIV/AIDS (p<0.05).

Table 4: Training Session Evaluation Outcomes — Mean Ratings* in the Spoken Word Project, NC 2012
Table 4: Training Session Evaluation Outcomes — Mean Ratings* in the Spoken Word Project, NC 2012

SWP Training Process Feedback
        On the training evaluation surveys, participants indicated that all sessions were either good or excellent (see Table 4). Specifically, sessions received a rating of 4 or higher, indicating that participants believed that sessions provided clear examples, facilitated a better understanding and application of spoken word in their performance poetry pieces, and facilitated better understanding of the journaling assignments. They also rated discussions during each session as helping them think through the issues [related to HIV/AIDS] (mean > 4.0) and felt that the facilitators/co-facilitators answered all their questions clearly, making the sessions enjoyable to attend (mean >4). After training session 6, participants reported that they were confident in carrying out their assigned tasks for the community during spoken word showcase exhibits (mean = 4.2).
        Participants offered positive feedback, as well as opportunities to improve the Spoken Word Program. Overall, youth participants appreciated the peer-to-peer learning environment. Youth participants noted, “I like being in an environment with people around my own age”, “My friends want to see me perform” and “It [spoken word training] builds your confidence”. Facilitators noted during debriefings that working in small groups gave both youth and adult participants an opportunity to receive constructive feedback on poetry efforts, to work together to brainstorm themes and ideas outlined during training sessions, and learn from each other’s poetry styles.
        Most of the participants had no previous experience performing spoken word. Facilitators noted the benefit of audio-video examples of previous showcases that “worked well and helped as a reference point.” For participants with limited exposure to spoken word, “asking them to come up with something they’ve never done is hard and asking them to decide how [to develop performance poetry} would have been an issue. The video was very helpful.” In addition, the diversity of guest poets enhanced the training experience as youth participants described the poets as “inspiring” and offering “different experiences to draw from”.
        Youth also described challenges to participation that included a desire for more incentive money, conflicts with the day of the week the sessions were held (six consecutive Saturdays), and the burden of completing evaluations. While engaging participants in the planning of the showcases was meant to foster ownership and empowerment for participants, some facilitators noted challenges with participant’s ability to plan a public event. Given the wide range of cognitive and literacy abilities of participants, facilitators observed opportunities to modify some of the language used in the training and the strategies used for delivering the information. Specifically, one facilitator noted difficulty among adult participants with lower functional literacy in developing spoken word and the need for more practical examples to support the adult’s creative process. Adults also needed more affirmation to be comfortable performing spoken word.
        Overall, facilitators noted that participation in the training and showcase experience helped youth participants with their performance poetry skills as “they recognized rhythm, rhyme, tone, sound, movement and discussed posture and how it can keep or lose your audience.” As a result of participating in the spoken word training, youth participants expressed that they “understand they have a voice in the community.”

Themes of Spoken Word Poetry
        The SWP participants developed a total of 36 poems during the spoken word training and chose 14 of those to perform for the showcase. Participants used poetry to cover a range of themes related to HIV. As part of the apathy stage of the SWP training, over half (8 out of 14) of the individuals described risk behaviors that contribute to risk for acquiring HIV; ranging from using “dirty needles” and having unprotected sex to not getting an HIV test and being unaware of one’s sero-status. Consistent with the “action” stage of the SWP training, most (6 out of 8) of these individuals also offered strategies to individuals to protect themselves from HIV infection by “being aware”, using clean needles, and practicing sexual abstinence. Half of the participants (7 out of 14) reflected the “apathy” stage of training through their focus on the personal experiences of people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA) and the impact of HIV on PLWHA’s significant others. Participants referred to the loss of friends who died from AIDS, the need for PLWHA to take pills every day, and even the pain of mothers seeing their children cope with living with HIV. One participant’s poem described the sexual risk behaviors that can lead to HIV infection, the personal awareness of becoming infected, and issued a warning to other members of the community to encourage others not to become infected:

I woke up this morning, happy as I could be,
not knowing that I had HIV.
It is something that I did not want to happen to me.
My mother warned me, “Son, be careful out there because of HIV,
it is easy to get,” but I did not listen.
I know the things that I didn’t do:
I know I got caught up with me using bad
needles that weren’t cleaned,
having sex with every woman that gave it
up free with no protection thinking that I
didn’t need it [protection].
Feeling bad and saying, “Man, it couldn’t have been me,
taking pills everyday though saying to myself, ‘What can I do?’”
I heard a voice say, “Pray, and I’ll pray for you.”
So remember, people, don’t do what I did!
Using needles that wasn’t cleaned.
Laying with every woman that give it up free.
If you do that, you won’t catch HIV.
Oh my God, it happened to me!

        Two participants spoke directly to the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS, and one described the subsequent need for communities to “respect those with HIV.” Several participants incorporated faith principles as part of the coping experience for PLWHA, and described “God watching over those with HIV” and “His love and strength” helping PLWHA to cope. Interestingly, a couple of participants also noted the critical role of PLWHA in generating apathy by sharing their personal experiences with others, and demonstrating their stories of perseverance and survival. As part of their social responsibility, some participants also used their poetry to describe action steps that individuals within the community can take to promote HIV prevention (i.e. be a community spokesperson, get the word out, make your voices heard, do your research, be unified, etc.)
Spoken Word Showcase Outcomes
        We reached approximately 200 adults and youth through the national showcase, which took place on World AIDS Day in Raleigh, NC through sponsorship from Black Entertainment Television’s Wrap It Up Campaign. Overall 33 individuals completed the pre and posttests assessments. The self-efficacy of the showcase attendees to address the burden of HIV/AIDS in their community remained relatively unchanged from pre (4.41) to post (4.39) and the difference was not statistically significant. The attendees had very positive attitudes and beliefs towards HIV/AIDS with a mean rating of 4.52 at pre-test, which remained unchanged at the end of the showcase. In assessing stigma associated with HIV/AIDS, we found that the mean ratings decreased from 1.72 at the pretest level compared to 1.67 at the posttest level. While this mean difference was not statistically significant, the decrease in mean ratings suggests an overall improvement in attendee’s stigma associated with HIV/AIDS. None of the mean differences for domain-specific individual items were statistically significant.

        The purpose of the SWP was to facilitate community conversations about HIV/AIDS, to improve self-efficacy, attitudes, and beliefs about HIV, and to reduce stigma within a rural community. Participant representatives and other stakeholders guided the development of the SWP components thereby enhancing shared norms, common values and desire to address a mutual need — HIV prevention. This pilot relied on existing community resources and strengths by recruiting poets, facilitators and co-facilitators for the training sessions from within the community. We built upon the inherent social relationships and experiences within a rural community by involving community members, academic researchers, community organizations and local public officials in supporting community dialogue and decreasing stigma around a significant health concern identified by members of this community: HIV/ AIDS.
        Artistic forms of expression have often been used to identify issues of concern to a community and their use has the potential to lead performers, as well as their audiences, through a process that promotes social change (Fliegel 2005). The participants in the SWP appeared to move through the process of critical consciousness, which has been described as a process through which marginalized individuals interpret their social conditions and consider ways in which they could respond that might facilitate change (Freire, 1973, 1993). As demonstrated in other community interventions that utilized creative forms for expression, through poetry, performers in the SWP were able to engage with the issue of HIV in their communities and both performers and their audience were able to reflect on their role in addressing it (Gray, Oré de Boehm, Farnsworth, & Wolf, 2010).
        The demonstrated effect of the Spoken Word Project is similar to other applications of CBPR and the arts. For example, researchers using photovoice have successfully created “voice” among rural populations to tell their stories in their own words, and shifted participant roles from learners to teachers in their communities (Gubrium & Torres, 2013; Kubicek et al., 2012; Wang & Burris, 1994, 1997). The use of narratives and the transition of community members to leaders is necessary to bridge communication with local policymakers who develop governance for HIV prevention and treatment services. For both showcases, participants invited and shared their perspectives with influential people to whom they might not normally have access. Previous research has also suggested that poetry, in particular, can be a powerful means to allow groups that have been marginalized to express their perspectives and engender empathy for their concerns (Nyamathi, Slagle, Thomas, Hudson, Kahilifard, Avila, Orser, & Cuchilla, M. 2011).
        The SWP demonstrated benefits for both participants and the local community by improving some aspects of self-efficacy among participants and reducing HIV-related stigma among both participants and showcase attendees. These findings indicate that performance poetry may be an effective vehicle to raise awareness about HIV and support individuals to take action to address HIV associated stigma in their communities. The preliminary effectiveness of the SWP rested in its ability to effectively train local youth and adults to deliver messages using an innovative, culturally relevant, and sustainable approach. Consistent with this idea, others have shown that HIV interventions that are interactive by design, including those employing small groups and community-level engagement, have been shown to be the most effective in facilitating behavioral change and risk reduction (Albarracin et al. 2005).
        In addition to local performers, a contributing factor to the success of this intervention included the participation of the facilitators and co-facilitators, who were trained poets and selected by GRACE community partners. Other studies demonstrate that community-engaged interventions tend to be more successful when the facilitators share characteristics, such as age, ethnicity, and other demographic factors, with participants and target consumers, as was the case with the SWP (Crepaz et al., 2006). In addition, community-based interventions often face the challenge of sustainability (Minker, 2005); however, by building a cadre of local spoken word trainers and performers, SWP helped to create a local resource for continued community conversations to support HIV prevention and further reduce the local stigma surrounding HIV.
        Despite the overall success of SWP, there were some limitations. First, we experienced significant challenges with collecting data during the course of the showcases. In order not to disrupt the flow of the arrivals, only attendees who visited the project table during the pre-show exposition had the opportunity to complete the pre and post assessments. In addition, participants that arrived close to the start of the showcase or late were unable to participate in data collection. This logistical challenge limited our ability to determine effects of the SWP among attendees. Second, self-efficacy, attitudes and beliefs among showcase attendees completing the pre and posttest surveys were relatively high at pretest, which left little room for improvement (i.e., ceiling effect). It is also possible that attendees who self-selected into data collection may be more interested in and sensitive to the issues surrounding HIV within this rural community. Completion of the pre and posttest survey among a broader range of attendees may have presented a better understanding of community measures prior to and after participation in a spoken word showcase. In addition, we recruited the participants from a previous HIV prevention study — Teach One Reach One project. As a result, spoken word participants began the training with largely favorable attitudes and beliefs towards HIV/AIDS at the pre-test level, here again a possible ceiling effect. Future applications of spoken word in community settings will need to ensure participation by individuals that represent a broader cross-section of the community.
        While the SWP was designed as an intergenerational training, facilitators noted challenges to developing performance poetry that were specific to adult participants. The opportunity to stimulate dialogue around HIV/ AIDS prevention is clearly beneficial across all age groups; however, youth in this setting may feel more comfortable using the arts to facilitate community conversations. In addition, both counties have fewer residents with at least a high school education than is reported for the state overall (84.1% compared to 77.9% and 81.9%, respectively), which may explain some of the challenges with literacy that we encountered with adult participants. We felt it was important to make sure all voices were heard and made modifications to help individuals translate their ideas into individual written pieces. Given the strength of performance poetry as an oral art form, it may be particularly important that future programs employ activities and assignments that rely less on written formats (i.e., use of audio recording, videos, etc.) so that those most affected by health inequities can participate fully.
        Performance poetry builds upon local context and resources, generates community reflection and mental imagery regarding a health issue, and engages a broad spectrum of performers and audiences. Our findings show that the effect of stigma and limited community conversations about HIV in rural communities can be abated through the use of spoken word. As a form of performance poetry, spoken word provides channels of communication and benefits for those directly engaged in training and those who attend performances. As a strategy that leverages local experiences and capacity, performance poetry is a promising approach to raise HIV awareness, promote community conversations, and improve stigma in rural African American communities.


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About the Authors

        Malika Roman Isler is an assistant professor in the Department of Social Medicine, School of Medicine at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Tiarney Ritchwood is a postdoctoral research associate at the Center for Health Equity Research at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Guarav Dave is the administrative director of the North Carolina Translational and Clinical Sciences Institute at the Center for Health Equity Research at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and evaluation chair of the Southeast Genetics Regional Collaborative. Heather L. Jones is a medical student at the School of Medicine at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Doris Stith is the executive director of the Community Enrichment Organization in Rocky Mount, NC. Turquoise Griffith is a former master’s student at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Leslie Atley is the project coordinator at Project Grace and social clinical research specialist at the Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Giselle CorbieSmith is a professor in the Department of Medicine and Center for Health Equity Research at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Developing Conceptual and Methodological Foundations in Community Engagement

David P. Aday, Jr., Joanna K. Weeks, Christiana E. Sherman, Robert A. Marty, and Rebecca L. Silverstein


        We describe the efforts of two related undergraduate projects to promote lasting social change in marginalized communities in the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua. The projects represent a test of the premise that undergraduate projects can engage academically based strategies and transcend good intentions to achieve effective community partnerships to improve health and health care. The projects proceed from a perspective and theory of marginalization and its consequences. Specifically, marginalization undermines individual and collective capacity to meet basic needs and efforts to thrive. Through strengthening social infrastructure, communities can overcome the effects of marginalization. Project work begins with annual medical clinics and, with the permission of community residents, team members conduct ethnographic descriptions of the communities and their health and health care concerns and resources. We use social network analysis (SNA) and geographic information system (GIS) techniques to describe social infrastructure. Working from those foundations, both projects have enabled increased social infrastructure. To date, we have observed increased communication among community residents, facilitated the development of community-endorsed five-year plans, and established partnerships with regional and international groups.

Community Engagement: Conceptual and Methodological Foundations
        Writing from a student perspective, Bessaw, Gerke, Hamilton, and Pulsipher (2012) sketch issues that dog those committed to community engagement and scholarship in higher education: constraints on time, energy, and talent; compressed time frames; community apathy; and issues of trust. Over the course of the semester, these ambitious graduate students in bioregional planning hosted five community meetings. They reported that a core of about 10 residents attended meetings regularly and that they struggled to communicate effectively with residents throughout the community. Some residents expressed concerns about sustainability and some recalled earlier failed attempts at organizing. Still, Bessaw and her colleagues report that none of the locals stepped into active roles of leadership and that residents remained discouraged about prospects for the future.

        To be certain, community engaged scholarship in higher education faces challenges in addition to these, including institutional resources and academic values. Still, the issues identified by Bessaw et al. (2012) are sufficiently daunting and pervasive to warrant unpacking, closer examination, and some effort toward resolution.

        Often, students and scholars are drawn to community engagement by their concerns for inequities and injustices of various sorts, including those that involve health, the environment, employment, and human rights. For example, Bessaw et al. (2012) responded to issues of high unemployment in Priest River, Idaho. It is unlikely that these students expected to accomplish fundamental economic change. Instead, they articulated the following goals: (1) to establish a common vision; (2) to create a toolbox for the community to use in future projects; and (3) to identify leaders to ensure project sustainability. These students, and others who pursue community engagement research and action, share in common with contemporary students of international development certain philosophical predispositions (cf. Handler, 2013):

  • Intentional social change or development can be progress toward a better life,
  • Community-engaged work and development should entail cooperative, egalitarian social relationships.
  • Good communications are central to community-engaged social change and development

        Undergraduate students at William & Mary combined these predispositions with concerns about health disparities in marginalized communities to form two independent but closely related projects: the Student Organization for Medical Outreach and Sustainability (SOMOS, working in a barrio near Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic) and Medical Aid Nicaragua: Outreach Scholarship (MANOS, working in communities in the microregion of Cuje, Nicaragua). With the guidance of a faculty mentor (co-author Aday), students in the two projects confronted the challenge of figuring out what undergraduates could offer to those who lack even the most basic health services. Working with the communities, SOMOS and MANOS sought to respond to the health problems that confront people in countries around the world: water, flooding, nutrition, and non-communicable diseases, among others.

        Over time, the projects have taken shape, emerging as variants of community-engaged scholarship. They are grounded in theories of marginalization, alienation and an evolving model of participatory development. The work proceeds through community-based research that is based in a developing partnership between the communities and the projects (Minkler & Wallerstein, 2011). Students at William & Mary compete for selection and remain with the project until they graduate. All team members take a required seminar each semester of their tenure, which has necessitated the creation of a pedagogy that takes into account the needs of both new and seasoned members. These arrangements answer some, but not all, of the issues raised by Bessaw and her co-authors. For example, the problem of constrained time is mitigated somewhat because team members work in the same communities (in each country) over years — now nearly a decade in both countries. Project teams travel each year for week-long trips (SOMOS during the semester break and MANOS during the spring break). Smaller teams do field research, project development and implementation during the summer and at one other time each year (i.e., semester break for MANOS and spring break for SOMOS). The summer work typically consists of several weeks to two months of continuous engagement. In total, project teams are in the communities in each country for seven to 10 weeks each year. In addition, we remain in phone or internet communication with our community partners throughout the year, in spite of the fact that both communities lack convenient access to even the most basic infrastructure (e.g., telephone lines or reliable electricity).

        Inadequate resources continue to nag but some partnering strategies are providing modest hope for progress. For example, both projects, in partnership with the communities, have submitted successful proposals for collaborating with Engineers Without Borders (EWB). Beginning with very limited engagement by residents and with widespread discouragement in both communities, our efforts have focused on nurturing collective capacity. The EWB proposals were advanced through community committees comprising elected or selected representatives from each of the block or focus groups in each community. The committees were selected by groups of residents, and these groups were identified through multiple rounds of social networks analysis, as described below. The committees are gaining status as standing arrangements to act on behalf of the communities on matters concerning access to water in Nicaragua)and flood mitigation in the Dominican Republic. EWB teams have visited the communities, collected data necessary to engineering proposals, and are working through community arrangements that have been nurtured through SOMOS and MANOS efforts in the communities.

        What follows is an account of the framing theory, evolving model of development, and basic methods of research of the SOMOS and MANOS projects. An overarching hope of this work is that students, professionals, and, most of all, community residents will see that intentional social change is possible through effective partnerships that combine systematic knowledge and local wisdom.

From Philosophy to Perspective
        SOMOS and MANOS began through the initiative of undergraduate students whose understandings of community engagement were enlightened by direct experience in service and humanitarian projects. In both cases, students returned from “health brigade/duffel bag medicine” (Roberts, 2006) trips with a strong sense of futility: “Like putting a Band Aid on cancer,” observed a founding member of SOMOS. However, none of the original student members had clear notions about what could be done to satisfy their sense that good intentions are not sufficient, or to tap the power of knowledge and research of their university setting.

        From the start, we agreed to some mantras:

  • Good intentions are dangerous things
  • Every helping act is a political decision
  • Change is not sustainable unless it creates new resources

        It was clear that improving health and health care would be the central focus of our work. We began by hosting annual free clinics in both communities. SOMOS established a relationship with an alumnus physician, and he became the medical director in the Dominican Republic. The team partnered with a health foundation (Fundación Sol Naciente), whose founding director also is the director of Physicians for Peace for Latin America and the Caribbean. Medical providers are recruited annually and oftentimes more than half-a-dozen medical professionals accompany the project. In Nicaragua, MANOS contracted with a physician from Managua. In exchange for salary and travel expenses, this medical professional has provided clinical services and leadership from the beginning. More recently, American-trained medical professionals have joined the clinical staff and provide expertise for the clinical aspect of the project work.

        The medical clinics do not yield the envisioned improvements in health and health care. Rather, they provide entrée to the communities: SOMOS and MANOS offer annual clinics and then ask residents if they may conduct research in order to find more continuous and sustainable strategies for improving health and health care. This practice of offering a concrete and needed resource provides initial credibility and encouragement about the prospects for change.

        In the first years, students approached the work with a variety of notions about the causes of observed problems of health, safety, and well-being, including the following:

  • Lack of information and education
  • Unemployment and limited job skills
  • Discrimination on the basis of national (e.g., Haitian) and ethnic (e.g., Chorotega indigenous) status
  • National and international economic exploitation
  • Poverty

        As the seminars continued, students expressed suspicions that these problems did not exist as separate entities but instead represented recognizable symptoms of a greater and more systemic issue. In the course of studying literature on service, voluntarism, community, and social change, and through descriptive field research (ethnographic and GPS-based observations of the community), a perspective emerged that focused attention on marginalization.2 To illustrate how the current theory and model developed from these initial hunches, early research findings are summarized below (2007–2009).

        SOMOS students made early and thoughtprovoking observations about Paraiso, a region consisting of multiple barrios, or communities. For example, although Paraiso sits within a twentyminute walk of a major metropolitan center with access to most parts of Santo Domingo, many parts of the area are rural. The transition from urban to rural occurs abruptly as the traveler leaves a major urban street (paved) and turns onto a rough and rutted dirt road that leads to the main sub-community of Altos de Paraiso. From these observations, SOMOS appropriated the term “paraurban” to describe the locality of the Paraiso region and to characterize aspects of Paraiso’s physical and socio-economic location.3

        Esfuerzo is one of the barrios that comprise the area known as Paraiso, and is the focus of our current research and development projects. It provides a micro example of social and geographic positioning of community.4 It is cut off from the rest of Paraiso by a flood control canal that either reduces or worsens the effects of flooding for members of the Paraiso community, depending on where they live. Those who benefit most from the canal live in the community of Altos, which means “high.” Altos is adjacent to Esfuerzo, but as its name suggests, it enjoys both higher elevation and better access to basic resources, including water, electricity, and our own annual medical clinics, which are hosted in the Altos public school. In a significant sense, the SOMOS team discovered Esfuerzo as residents of Altos attempted to guide field research away from the locality, expressing the opinion that the area is not part of the larger community (Paraiso). Over the next years, it was determined empirically that Esfuerzo actually was and is part of Paraiso. The municipal government identifies it as “Esfuerzo de Paraiso,” though early on, residents of the local barrio were uncertain of its official designation, even referring to it by various derogatory names.

        Most of the residents of Esfuerzo have lived in the community for about 10 years and were displaced from their earlier residences by the expansion of tourism (as part of larger, national economic shifts and changes in agricultural labor (especially increased employment of Haitian sugarcane workers; cf. Gregory, 2006). There are few extended family ties in the community and the residents are not able to find steady work with the low-level farm-labor skills that they have.

        The MANOS team works in a micro-region called Cuje, which comprises eight remote and widely dispersed communities. Our research and development projects are centered currently in Chaguite. Some of the communities are geographically identifiable by proximity to a school that bears the community name. Otherwise, there are few local features to signify collective identity.

        The historical, political, and economic sources of marginalization in Chaguite center on the clearcutting of the evergreen forests that characterized the region until the 1960s. At that time, residents of the micro-region mostly engaged in hunting and fishing for their livelihood. With accommodating national policies, foreign corporations purchased land resources rights5 and proceeded to cut trees. With few remaining trees, the ponds and lakes dried up and the small game stocks were exhausted quickly. Within a decade, the region began to experience alternating flooding and drought and residents turned to subsistence farming without the knowledge or skills needed and with little arable land beyond the rapidly eroding hillsides (Manachon & Gonda, 2010).

        The faculty advisor for both SOMOS and MANOS had the advantage of observing across the projects and noted important similarities in both clinical and research findings. For example, while the localities are disparate (para-urban vs. extremely remote, rural, and sparsely populated), the communities share core health issues: flooding; lack of access to clean water for drinking, cooking, and cleaning; poor nutrition; and high rates of diabetes and hypertension.

        Field research, consisting of house-to-house interviews and geo-coding in Esfuerzo and in Chaguite, yielded descriptions of housing, water resources, sanitation, flooding, and health resources and risks. The projects’ goals were to: (1) learn about residents’ health and health care concerns; (2) identify collectively shared priorities; and, (3) use the resulting understandings to encourage community engagement in collective efforts through a sense of commonality. Responding in part to conventional and common sense notions about social change and community organization, SOMOS and MANOS proceeded with efforts to identify leaders. More specifically we sought local residents who could help to communicate and to catalyze participation and engagement. Some of the early responses proved to be revealing. For example, in Esfuerzo, when we asked, “whom do you trust in the community,” the most common response was “no one,” followed by “God.” Next, we piloted interviews to determine the appropriate form and construction of questions that might help to identify local informal leaders and opinion-makers. Based on that study, researchers asked, “Who fights on behalf of the community?” Residents identified locals who had been part of the junta de vecino (a neighborhood association sanctioned by the mayor’s office, which is very far removed from the locality). However, probing further, interviewers learned that some of those same people had been discredited by allegations of graft. While these former junta members were identified as people “who fight for the community,” many residents did not trust them to do so. The interviews revealed widely shared sentiments of discouragement: “people are lazy and will not work”; “people are selfish and do not help others”; “little can be done without help from the government, and worse, the government never helps” (Aday, Owning change …, under review).

        Early work in Chaguite revealed similar patterns. In the first round of interviews, residents identified mayor representatives as local leaders, but many made clear as well that the representatives only worked with people of their own political party (the party of the incumbent mayor). They reported that these representatives were in touch with the mayor’s office only rarely and that the representatives would not likely be able to help much in any case. Residents identified brigadistas (health care volunteers) as leaders, but they were uncertain of the role and the responsibilities of those who were so designated — except in the case of acute medical emergencies (e.g., to help in summoning the ambulance from the municipal clinic). Many residents noted that they are not in communication with anyone and that they must rely on themselves and God.

Emerging Perspective and Theory
        Thoughtful reading of the literature of international politics and economics, development, and public health reveals that the poor and underprivileged around the world share health problems similar to those in Chaguite and Esfuerzo, in addition to other issues such as limited access to education and high rates of unemployment, drug and alcohol use, and domestic violence. This systematic understanding of the literature combined with direct observations in two distinct countries and cultures suggest an over-arching and framing perspective that highlights marginalization, both geographically and social structurally. Drawing from Vasas (2005), we define marginalization as “a process that pushes people, groups, communities, regions, and nations to the edges of spaces (physical and social), resources, and efficacy (ability to affect and to effect activities necessary to survive and thrive” (Aday, under review). The concept served to sensitize subsequent research, but observations suggested a need for finer articulation. We drew from Seeman’s (1959) analysis of alienation. He notes that alienation is a central theme in the classical works of Durkheim, Marx, and Weber and it continues to occupy the attention of contemporary sociologists. More importantly for current purposes, Seeman points to five distinguishable meanings that can be derived from work on the concept: powerlessness, meaninglessness, normlessness, isolation, and selfestrangement. Though we have not yet analyzed the data fully through this articulated framework, the concepts of marginalization and alienation form the basis of a general theory and an emerging model of participatory development (cf. Jennings, 2000; Chambers, 1995; Kapoor, 2002).6

        Our general view is that marginalization produces alienation and that, together, these social, structural, and geographical forces undermine individual and collective capacities for meeting basic individual and collective needs and hinder individual and collective efforts to thrive.7 As noted, some residents of Esfuerzo have experienced marginalization as they have been pushed from agricultural settings (including sugar cane plantations) and from other localities with the development of the tourism economy. Many residents report that they will remain in the community only until they are able to find some more viable residence. The residents of Chaguite have experienced the effects of extractive economies, beginning most clearly in contemporary time with the exploitation of land resources (including timber), and clear-cutting of their evergreen forests by foreign logging companies. Marginalization of the Chorotega indigenous people of the region began many centuries earlier with the arrival of the Aztecs and Spanish conquistadors (Manachon & Gonda, 2010).

From Theory to Model and Strategy
        Residents of Chaguite and Esfuerzo have experienced marginalization and live in communities that are marginalized. Geographically and social structurally, the communities are cut off from services enjoyed by other localities, including access to fresh water, sanitation, and electricity. They also do not enjoy effective representation in municipal decision-making and lack social infrastructure (social, political, and economic organization) that would enable collective and collaborative effort. From these observations, the projects moved towards embracing a role as partners with the communities with the goal of nurturing individual and collective capacities, defined initially as “the ability to achieve individually and collectively defined goals and objectives through sustainable infrastructure” (Aday, 2012, p. 1).

        The SOMOS and MANOS teams worked independently (but collaboratively) to articulate a community-based strategy to promote improved health and health care. We drew from the developing literature on participatory development (cf. Chambers, 1995; Kapoor, 2002; and Jennings, 2000) to conceptualize a role and a relationship to fit the theoretical view. Our goal was not to impose a paradigm based in American middle-class notions of success or achievement, but to foster a relationship that would allow the communities to articulate their own goals and develop their own methods for pursuing those goals.

        Working through annual medical clinics in both communities, we made clear our apprehensions about the limited efficacy of these episodic clinical efforts. Researchers engaged residents in discussions about their health and health care issues and concerns. Residents expressed appreciation for the clinics and agreed that there are certain fundamental issues that undermine health: access to clean water, nutritional deficiencies, and long-term effects of environmental degradation and flooding. They must have wondered — as we did initially — what student groups from an American college could offer by way of partnering to solve these crucial problems.

        Residents expressed appreciation for the careful efforts we made to get to know them. Early ethnographic studies communicated interest, concern, compassion, and attention to detail. Project students eagerly embraced basic training in field research methods and pursued fieldwork diligently. We incorporated Global Positioning System (GPS) and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) techniques because of the theoretical (geographic) perspective on marginalization and to facilitate systematic description. The field research provided opportunities for building interpersonal relationships. Residents of both communities have great capacity for hospitality, but they are not automatically welcoming to strangers. They have reasons for suspicion and even fear, but project team members express authentic interest in learning from residents and listening carefully to their issues and ideas for finding solutions.

        Summarizing, the SOMOS/MANOS model, as described to this point, includes the following elements:

  • A preconception of the possibility of positive social change through cooperative and egalitarian relationships and effective communication
  • A theory of marginalization and alienation and their consequences
  • A focus on community as the unit of analysis and the source for sustainable change
  • An unconditional contribution to the community that provides a service valued by the community (annual clinics)
  • Social science and geographic-spatial research methods (a) to describe the community and its resources and risks, (b) to identify and document shared concerns as part of a process for constructing social problems, and, (c) to map interpersonal relationships as part of a process for promoting organized collective action.

        Beginning in the summer of 2008 (in Esfuerzo, Dominican Republic) and in March 2009 (in Chaguite, Nicaragua,) project team members built from previous field-work and began to conduct interviews focused more specifically on identifying community leaders: residents who might help to organize collective efforts to achieve goals related to health and health care priorities. Drawing from sociological theory on how personal troubles become public issues and emerge as collectively defined social problems (cf. C. Wright Mills, 1959; Hilgartner & Bosk, 1988) team members sought to both identify household-level health concerns and, subsequently, to communicate information that revealed the extent to which these concerns were shared within the community. The projects adopted the analytical techniques of SNA (see Tichy & Fombrun, 1979; Marsden, 1990; Haythornthwaite, 1996; Hanneman & Riddle, 2005), interviewing residents within their homes and asking them to identify people who work on behalf of or for the good of their community.8

        The goal of the social networks studies was to identify organic interpersonal networks of communications, collaboration, and leadership. Interviews generated information about how residents relate to one another. Based in matrix algebra, SNA techniques allow researchers to see patterns of interpersonal ties among individuals, identified as nodes. Our ethnographic research had suggested that there was little communication or collaboration in either of the communities and that geography played a central role in interpersonal connections in both communities. Our first efforts focused on leadership relationships (“who works or ‘fights’ on behalf of the community?”). Our later efforts attended to the possibility that there are geographic locations where people communicate more regularly (intersecting footpaths or small markets, for example).

        In addition to describing patterns of association, communication, and leadership, we wanted to test our understandings about marginalization and alienation: To what extent do people help one another, collaborate for mutual aid, or support efforts to meet collective needs? Our emerging theory was that residents are able to engage collective efforts in part dependent on the extent to which they are connected through communications, collaboration, and leadership. We saw measures of network density as one promising empirical indicator of this possibility. Network density refers to the the proportion of interpersonal connections that respondents report as compared to the total of all possible dyadic relationships in a community (Hawe, Webster, & Shiell, 2004; Hanneman & Riddle, 2005; Scott, 2011; Wasserman & Faust, 1994). Logically, socio-centric density (the proportion of interpersonal ties for a community) has a maximum value of 1.00 — or, 100%; that is, all possible dyadic pairs are connected. There is not sufficient descriptive research in this field to allow characterization of variations in density, but conceptually and practically, density should be related to communication flow, collaboration, and prospects for organized efforts: the more interpersonal ties, the better the flow of information across a network, and the greater the prospects for collaboration and organization.. In both Esfuerzo and Chaguite, reported ties constituted less than three percent of the possible relationships. It is important to note that there are methodological problems with the data that ground this conclusion. To date, a population survey of the communities (for example, all households within each community or all adults within each community) has not been completed, but studies have included almost the entire population of households in both communities. Still, it seems almost certain that these low levels of density in communities that are relatively stable (low transience) and geographically bounded (about 90 occupied dwellings in Esfuerzo and fewer than 50 in Chaguite) support the projects’ conception of marginalization.

        Findings from early SNA explorative studies coupled with the evolving perspective, theory, and model suggested a focused strategy: nurture awareness of shared understandings of health concerns and promote increased communications to enhance individual and collective capacities. Drawing from SNA studies done subsequently (2008–2010), project teams identified subgroups within each community that involved central “nodes” (individuals within a network analysis) who are connected to others via reported interpersonal ties.

        Figure 1 is a representation of network ties in Chaguite in 2010. The seven blue squares in the upper left corner of the figure are respondents who named no one and were not named by anyone in interviews in which we attempted to identify patterns of communication and collaboration. In network terms, they are isolates. Recognizing that there were 53 respondents representing the same number of households, the analysis suggests that 13% of the population (of households) is not connected to others in the community. The larger red squares identify those residents named most frequently as people who work on behalf of the community and with whom they discuss matters of community concern, and the size of the squares reflects the relative number of ties, or interpersonal connections associated with each. Cleary, resident #38, was identified most frequently. Four other residents constitute network nodes with high reachability scores; that is, these individuals connect either directly or indirectly to a relatively large number of others within the community. Examining those subgroups and displaying the results spatially using GPS and GIS techniques helps identify clusters of households that optimize existing ties. In follow-up interviews, researchers asked residents if they thought it would be useful for them to meet in the identified groupings for the purpose of discussing common concerns about health and health care. In Chaguite, the residents not only endorsed the groupings,

Figure 1. Network Structure in Chaguite, 2010
Figure 1. Network Structure in Chaguite, 2010
Figure 2. Chaguite 2010 Paths, Households, and Groups
Figure 2. Chaguite 2010 Paths, Households, and Groups

they proceeded almost immediately to discussions about electing leaders for the groups. Figure 2 provides a geographic and social network characterization of the resulting organizing arrangement.

        It is clear that the networks and the pathways are related. This is not surprising, given the remoteness of the area, the absence of transportation, the reliance on footpaths, and the difficulty of traveling in any straight line between points within the region. Those who share a common path are more likely to know one another, to share a water source, and to communicate with one another.

        The SOMOS project followed similar methods to map Esfuerzo both geographically and using SNA. The resulting groups, based in organic ties, have become the organizing frameworks for community collaboration. Issues are discussed within these regional groups to increase opportunities for everyone to participate and to express individual opinions. Agreements reached in these groups are brought forward to community meetings. Through these arrangements, SOMOS and MANOS have built partnerships with the communities and collaborated to craft and gain community approval for five-year plans to improve health and health care. The plans include priorities, goals, objectives, and methods. They have formed the foundation for a community/MANOS partnership with Nicaraguan universities to improve access to clean water for some households. In both Chaguite and Esfuerzo, the project teams have facilitated the development of proposals for partnerships with Engineers Without Borders (EWB) and those proposals have been approved by EWB. The Chaguite project has been adopted by athe EWB chapter at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, School of Engineering.

        Stated simply, the strategy is to understand community issues of marginalization as expressed in low-density scores (limited interpersonal ties across the community), to identify organic networks of interpersonal ties, and to nurture those as organizing elements. These organic networks have become the locus for discussing community health concerns. With some encouragement from the project team members, the groups engage practices of discussion and collaboration that result in increased capacity for collective action at the community level.

        Bessaw et al. (2012) raise significant questions about the impact of student-organized community engagement, questions about the sufficiency of time and other resources and about engaging community members in ways that yield sustainable solutions. Their brief article does not provide details about their approach, and we do not presume their orientation, perspective, or methods. Rather, we use the questions as a starting point for describing two projects in different countries, asking how we have fared, and more generically, whether it is possible for students to pursue community engagement beyond well-intentioned voluntarism. Are the challenges and roadblocks necessarily beyond the scope of students?

        We believe that the theory of marginalization and alienation help us to better understand the context in which we find the observed problems of health and health care. This theoretical understanding prepares us to ask better, more focused questions about our own role in the communities in which we work. Seeing manifestations of marginalization and alienation, we did not embrace common sense strategies such as collaboration and endorsement of formal leaders. If these leaders are not trusted or if they do not participate in effective communications arrangements, their role may contribute little to reducing marginalization or increasing capacity. The use of GPS and GIS techniques to develop descriptions of the community and the arrangement of interpersonal networks provided important clues about how to encourage inclusive communications and discussions at regional levels. SNA studies provided empirical indicators of community organization (and, by inference, marginalization) and helped us to identify meaningful organic interpersonal and communications networks.

        Our projects have faced challenging moments, including poorly attended meetings, failed communications, and momentum lost due to efforts that were poorly organized (by us and by various project partners). We continue to have too few material resources and fewer dollars than we need. We have worked self-consciously to articulate our theory, our methods, and our role in the community, and new students enter projects that are complicated. We face the significant challenge of ensuring that new students come up to speed and understand the foundations and history of the work — and that they feel empowered to question, challenge, and bring new ideas and perspectives.

        To date, we have measured project success in the following observed outcomes: (1) improved communications; (2) emerging regional organizations that promote inclusive conversations about health and health care issues; (3) the development and ratification of five-year development plans in each community; (4) the development of successful proposals for partnerships with Engineers Without Borders; and (5) the implementation of community committees to undertake specific projects, including health and health care planning and flood mitigation. In the near future, we will undertake, with our community partners, projects that are intended to improve directly the health and health care in the communities. If our theory is correct, our efforts to increase community capacity should produce strategies and tactics that reflect local wisdom and that benefit from the investments of those who are expected to benefit.

        Throughout, we have been determined to stay focused through the best of systematic research and theory. We hear residents’ expressions of hopelessness and dependency and we understand them through the structure and consequences of marginalization. These concerns challenge us to find strategies that will promote individual and collective capacities and to avoid those that will nurture dependence. We see signs of enhanced engagement in residents’ willingness to take on collective responsibilities, in attendance at community meetings, and in inclusive and reliable communications.

        SOMOS and MANOS are testing the proposition that students can pursue community engaged scholarship through academic and disciplinary foundations, exceed the limitations of good intentions, and participate authentically with community partners in fostering positive social change.


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Cambridge University Press:

About the Authors

David P. Aday, Jr. is a professor of sociology and community studies and co-director of the public health minor at the College of William & Mary. Johanna K. Weeks is a graduate of William & Mary and a medical student at the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University. Christiana E.P. Sherman is a recent graduate of William & Mary. Robert A. Marty is a recent graduate of William & Mary and a graduate student in operations research and public policy at William & Mary. Rebecca L. Silverstein is a recent graduate of William & Mary.

University-Community Partnerships in Providing Relationship Education: A Longitudinal Qualitative Case Study

J. Mitchell Vaterlaus, Linda Skogrand, Kay Bradford, and Brian J. Higginbotham


Relationship education (RE) has gained much public attention as classes have been implemented through state relationship initiatives. Developing university-community partnerships in implementing RE has been thought to increase access to underserved populations and increase awareness of healthy relationships in a community. Evaluation of these partnerships is just beginning. This three year longitudinal qualitative study represents five Cooperative Extension faculty members’ experiences with university-community partnerships in providing RE on a county level. Faculty members described their experiences identifying partners and outcomes from establishing partnerships and forming and sustaining partnerships. Results are discussed in terms of interdisciplinary university-community partnership literature and implications.

Healthy romantic relationships have been associated with positive outcomes for adults, their children, and for the larger community (Adler-Baeder, Shirer, & Bradford, 2007). Many couples who have had relationship problems do not seek professional assistance from marital therapists (Larson, 2004). However, Relationship education (RE) has been identified primarily as a preventive intervention that helps to improve relationships and reaches a broader audience (Larson, 2004).

RE represents a broad category of programs that vary in dosage including one-time events, skill-based programming, and series of classes (Hawkins, Carroll, Doherty, & Willoughby, 2004). RE has gained public attention due to the unprecedented amount of funds that have been allocated for the promotion of healthy relationships in the United States (Brotherson & Duncan, 2004). A primary focus of these funds has been to provide RE for underserved populations (Ooms & Wilson, 2004). Reaching diverse and low-income audiences requires educators to use more creative approaches for participant recruitment (Vaterlaus, Skogrand, Bradford, & Higginbotham, 2012). Developing meaningful university-community partnerships with organizations that already provide services for these populations create opportunities for collaborating agencies to refer clients to RE programs or provide relationship educators with an existing audience (Ooms & Wilson, 2004; Vaterlaus et al., 2012). The current study will add to existing literature by examining how Cooperative Extension faculty members have developed university-community collaborations in providing RE over time to low-income participants as part of a statewide healthy relationship initiative.

Hawkins and colleagues (2004) concluded that promoting healthy relationships should be a community-wide effort. When relationship educators build university-community partnerships with agencies and organizations within different sectors of the community, there is increased support for establishing and sustaining healthy relationships. Futris (2007) indicated that community collaboration is essential in providing high quality RE programs. His suggestions for identifying community partners included considering the skills and resources needed, recognizing organizations that have these skills and resources, and ensuring that there is a representation of the various services available for relationships in the community. Futris (2007) and The Lewin Group (2003) suggested that once they are formed, community partnerships are maintained through establishing structure (leadership), goals (including plans for these goals), and ongoing evaluation of the collaboration.

Few evaluative studies have been published specifically related to university-community partnerships (also known as collaborations) regarding the implementation of RE. Evaluation of collaborations can include identifying process, impacts, and outcomes (Futris, 2007). Evaluating the process of the collaboration involves recognizing the quality of the relationships, the roles and levels of involvement of the parties of the membership, and sustainability of the collaboration. Evaluating the outcome of the collaboration also requires identification of the results of the collaboration (e.g., the number of people served, the provision of the RE course itself), whereas the evaluation of impact focuses more on the influence of the collaboration on the larger environment (e.g., decreased rates of domestic violence; Futris, 2007).

One study used an ethnographic case study approach to identify how people (n = 9) from university-community partnerships managed challenges in collaboration within a regional healthy relationship initiative (Carlton, Whiting, Bradford, Dyk, & Vail, 2009). Semi-structured interviews were used to identify challenges and successes in the initiative’s collaborations. From these interviews, researchers identified four points that are key to collaboration — (a) people: participants commonly mentioned that it was the people in the university-community partnerships that made the program work; (b) relationships: the strength and duration of the relationships depend on the purpose of the relationship; (c) vision: common goals of the university-community partnership; and (d) structure: the operationalization of the goals and vision of the program. Carlton and colleagues (2009) also found that each of these factors were further influenced by elements in the collaboration’s process like communication, conflict resolution, and flexibility.

Purpose of the Current Study

Providing RE at a community level is a way to improve not only couple relationships, but the lives of children and the larger community (Adler-Baeder et al., 2007). University-community partnerships are thought to increase access to underserved populations (Ooms & Wilson, 2004; Vaterlaus et al., 2012) and community support of healthy relationships (Hawkins et al., 2004). The listed benefits have promoted the establishment of collaborations and now evaluative research on university-community collaborations is emerging (Carlton et al., 2009). The current study is a longitudinal qualitative process and outcome evaluation of collaborations between RE educators in a statewide healthy relationship initiative and organizations within their community. The longitudinal nature of the study allowed for understanding of the development, structure, and maintenance of these collaborations over time.


Healthy Relationship Initiative
The current project is part of a statewide Healthy Relationship Initiative (HRI). County Cooperative Extension faculty members, also referred to as Extension agents in some states, applied for funding from the initiative by proposing RE activities designed to meet their individual county needs. To obtain funding, Extension faculty proposals were required to provide services for low-income couples and identify partnerships in the community to assist in program implementation and sustainability. In 2009-2010, 14 county Extension faculty members implemented RE activities throughout a western state. Between the years of 2010-2011 the number of faculty members implementing RE increased to 19, and in 2011-2012 the number grew to 21. The RE activities included one-time events (e.g., experiential date nights, lectures from relational experts) and more formal series of RE classes. Evaluations of the larger HRI have detailed the specific outcomes (Bradford, Higginbotham, & Skogrand, 2014), the successes and challenges of providing RE (Bradford, Huffaker, Stewart, Skogrand, & Higginbotham, 2014), risk of intimate partner violence in RE (Bradford, Skogrand, & Higginbotham, 2011), and providing RE for diverse and low-income populations (Vaterlaus et al., 2012). The current study focuses on evaluating the university-community partnerships in RE implementation.

At the conclusion of first year of the grant, five Extension faculty members who were actively forming university-community partnerships and reporting on their experiences in grant-related reports/ interviews were identified. The five faculty members were invited to participate in the optional longitudinal study through email, and there would be no penalty for declining. All five faculty members elected to participate. The faculty members in the final sample were all female, married, and had earned master’s degrees. The faculty members lived and worked in rural (n = 3) and urban (n = 2) counties.

        Pseudonyms were given to each of the participating county Extension faculty members to protect confidentiality. To provide some context for each of the faculty members’ counties, ethnicity and poverty levels are provided (U.S. Census Bureau, 2010, www. Laura lived and worked in a predominantly rural county with about 28% of the population living in poverty.

Table 1. Qualitative Data Sources by Grant Year
Table 1.Qualitative Data Sources by Grant Year
Laura’s county also included an American Indian reservation and American Indian residents represented nearly half of the population in her county. Cathy and Melinda also lived and worked in rural counties. Both counties were predominantly Caucasian and approximately 10 percent of their populations were living at or below the poverty level.

In contrast, Alisa and Natalie lived and worked in urban counties. Alisa’s county population included 10 percent of people who identified as Latino/ Hispanic descent and approximately 11% were identified as living in poverty. Natalie’s county similarly had 11% poverty rate in her county, and more the 16% of the residents identified as Latino/Hispanic.

Data Collection
The five Extension faculty members completed three proposals, 12 quarterly reports, one interview, and one emailed questionnaire during the three years of the HRI. IRB permission was granted for the study. Faculty members each completed a demographic form. Table 1 shows the different data sources used in this longitudinal study by grant year.

Grant proposals. Faculty members had the opportunity to apply for funding various RE activities through grant proposals each year of the grant. Grant proposals were used in this study to identify how faculty members changed/maintained their community partnerships over the three years of the grant. This was done because the proposals required faculty members to specifically identify the community partners that they would use and/or form to make their RE programs successful, in addition to other information such as proposed RE activities, budget, and number of people to be served.

Quarterly progress reports. As part of the grant requirements, faculty members completed quarterly activity reports that were submitted to grant administrators. These reports included specific information concerning progress, successes, and challenges experienced in implementing the RE activities, as well as university-community partnerships. These reports were submitted via email or fax to grant administrators.

Semi-structured interviews. At the conclusion of the first year of the grant in 2010 faculty members were invited to participate in interviews. One of the co-investigators and/or one research assistant conducted the interviews in person. Interviews were semi-structured in nature and asked about a variety of topics, but allowed faculty members flexibility to talk about topics that they identified as important. Faculty members were asked about their partnerships and also discussed them throughout the interview process. The interviews usually lasted 25–30 minutes for each faculty member. Interviews were recorded and professionally transcribed.

Emailed questionnaires. In 2012, the five selected Extension faculty members were invited to complete an online questionnaire. Questionnaires were personalized for each faculty member and included four of their own respective statements about university-community partnerships from their quarterly reports or transcribed interviews from the first year of the grant. Faculty members’ previous statements were highlighted in red and open space which asked faculty members to “Please re-read your past statement and under each statement write about how your ideas/thoughts about building and maintaining partnerships have stayed the same or evolved.”

Design and Data Analyses
A longitudinal qualitative case study approach was selected to “capture through long-term immersion” (Saldaña, 2003, p. 16) Extension faculty members’ experiences of working with community partners and to identify any changes of their perceptions of these collaborations over time. There is not a prescribed way for conducting a longitudinal qualitative case study; however, it is recommended that data be collected prior, during, and after the participant’s experience (Saldaña, 2003) and this recommendation was used in this study (see Table 1). Following data collection, all data were compiled into individual datasets for each participant. Information concerning university-community partnerships was identified and separated into a separate data set for each faculty member in time-order—organizing the experiences from beginning, middle, to end (Saldaña, 2003).

The time-ordered data sets were read and re-read several times for each faculty member individually. Each data set was used to construct an individual case study for each of the five Extension faculty members. Case studies were constructed in time order—listing experiences from beginning, middle, and to the present. This meant that information from all data sources was used throughout each case study.

Following the construction of individual case studies representing each Extension faculty member’s experience, themes were identified. Each of the case studies were read and re-read by one researcher, specifically focusing on how experiences evolved or remained similar over time. Four themes emerged and a second researcher validated the themes. When disagreements emerged, the two researchers consulted the data and case studies to ensure the themes were consistent with the faculty members’ shared experience. A new data file was created by taking information from each of the case studies and categorizing the information by themes. This data file was used to construct the results section.

To ensure the accuracy of the data in this evaluation of collaborations, triangulation and member checking were implemented (Vaterlaus & Higginbotham, 2011). Triangulation was implemented using multiple data sources and methods of data collection (e.g., emailed questionnaire, multiple interviewers, written reports). Also, to ensure the trustworthiness of the data, a variation of member checking was used (Cho & Trent, 2006). First, portions of the data from the first year of the grant were sent to each faculty member in the emailed questionnaire. Faculty members were asked to check their transcribed responses. Additionally, after case studies were complete they were sent to each faculty member who were then asked four structured questions to identify the accuracy of the presentation of their experiences. Minor suggestions and changes were implemented into the case studies.

The results are derived from the five case studies. First, the themes identified across the case studies are presented. Following the presentation of the themes, two of the case studies were selected to provide the reader with a relatively richer, more in-depth understanding of benefits and challenges of partnerships for two of the five participants. After reading and re-reading the longitudinal case studies, four major themes emerged: (a) faculty members commonly described their process of identifying organizations in their community with whom they could partner— typically beginning with a broad perspective of potential partners and then narrowed partnership options based on faculty members’ specific RE goals; (b) forming community partnerships was discussed in terms of reciprocity of needs between the faculty members and the partnering organization, pre-existing relationships, experience, and challenges; (c) faculty members discussed their methods of sustaining their university-community partnerships as well as the challenges of sustaining these relationships; (d) finally, faculty members discussed the positive outcomes from forming community partnerships. All five faculty members’ experiences were represented in each of the themes.

Identifying Potential University-Community Partners
When the Extension faculty members submitted their first grant proposals, they used a shotgun approach in identifying university-community partnerships. Each faculty member listed several potential partnerships on their grant applications, but many of the listed partnerships were never mentioned again or developed over the three years of providing RE. As faculty members began to plan their specific RE activities, they began to identify the needs they had and started to look for partnerships that could meet these needs. Some were identified in the grant proposal, others were newly identified community partners. Faculty members were not just interested in general audiences, but had specific goals for reaching “target audiences.” Natalie and Melinda wanted to provide RE for adolescents, and both identified local school districts or high schools with which they could partner. Alisa and Laura intended on providing RE for minority populations and both considered organizations or agencies that could increase their access to these populations. Over time, faculty members were more specific in the grant proposals, even interweaving their community partners’ roles in their RE activity proposals for the following two grant years.

Common attributes faculty members looked for in partnerships included “existing audiences” and “already-existing” organizations. All five faculty members talked about the importance of having an existing audience and the faculty continued to recognize the value of this over time. Natalie explained, “Partnerships continue to be the ideal way to find participants for classes.” Forming university-community partnerships with existing organizations was valued because of existing structures and, in some instances, the existing relationship between the faculty member and organization. For example, Alisa identified a partnership to reach Latino residents she had made prior to providing RE in her county. She stated, “This group is an already-existing advisory council formed … in 2008 to assist and advise the Latino finance classes in [the county].” Many of these existing organizations identified by the faculty members were local churches, which had access to and rapport with the targeted audience.

After faculty members identified the community partnerships they sent letters, provided presentations, planned a dinner meeting, and met with these desired collaborators. Faculty members identified common goals that could be accomplished between the university-community partnerships. Cathy explained that she had an existing marriage coalition in her county with representation from many organizations (e.g., religious, mental health). Their original purpose was to strengthen marriage through a onetime event held in the county. Cathy’s leadership of the marriage coalition has increased the coalition’s efforts to strengthen marriage. The coalition has now grown to include planning, advertising, and teaching a variety of RE in the county. Cathy explained, “[The coalition] probably only meets about four times a year. They are very good to come and help with our marriage celebration and I’ve got four of them that teach [RE] classes for me now.”

Faculty members also used pre-existing experience working with target audiences as a way to form university-community partnerships. Laura decided that she wanted to provide RE for American Indian people in her community. Prior to providing RE for American Indians, Laura implemented a research study with American Indian participants. She explained:

It’s absolutely essential to have Native partners if you’re
doing a Native program. And it’s essential to have them
involved in the planning of the whole thing. And that’s why
I feel like the planning for this program was our research
study because we had their Native partners who helped us all
through the program.

Laura not only used existing partners to provide RE, but also implemented the skills she learned from her previous research experience with American Indians to form new university-community partnerships.

Faculty members also considered the people who would be the best contact to form their university-community partnerships. For example, Melinda wanted to increase healthy relationships for adolescents in her county. Melinda identified student body officers at a local high school and their advisor. In her first quarterly report she wrote:

[I] met with [high school] student body officers and their
advisor to provide incentive funds and brainstormed activity
ideas to promote and provide healthy dating and relationship
education with supplemental curriculum for the entire student
body of 617, plus administration, teachers, coaches, advisors,
counselors, and staff assistants.

Through the relationships with the student body officers and their advisor, Melinda was able to reach the students in the school. This university-community partnership met Melinda’s need to provide RE and the student body officers’ need to provide activities and leadership for their peers.

Faculty members did not ignore the challenges that arose in the process of forming community partnerships. Melinda reported that partnership formation was a time consuming process, “Networking and brainstorming sessions have taken a tremendous amount of time and effort, but will hopefully pay off in the long run. Local buy-in [for the RE activities] is extremely critical for successful programming at the community level.” Melinda specifically spoke about the challenges of “matching ideas of local agencies” and “maintaining the integrity and value of local support.”

Natalie also partnered with the schools to offer RE. There were some frustrations getting the RE curriculum approved by the school district. When Natalie reflected back on this experience, she said:

I have realized at the [local] school level that they get
rather frustrated with the district level because they get
the run around like I did and so often times teachers do
whatever they want. Since I did go to the district level and
ask permission initially, I have made an effort to respect
the district level wishes—but it can be challenging when I
have a teacher asking me to do the opposite.

Natalie was able to reach hundreds of adolescents through the university-community partnership with schools in her community.

Sustaining University-Community Partnerships
Over the course of three years, the Extension faculty members talked about the evolution, maintenance, and dissolution of community partnerships. All of the faculty members utilized the old saying, “If it’s not broke don’t fix it” with at least one of their university-community partners. Alisa continued to hold dinner meetings annually to maintain her relationship with the Latino Advisory Council (LAC) in her county. Melinda continued her relationship with the student body officers through their advisor at the school. Most talked about “making contact,” “sending emails,” and “attending meetings” as ways to maintain their community partnerships.

Cathy reported that the county marriage coalition, which included multiple partners, changed and evolved over time. Cathy indicated that the marriage coalition had become self-sustaining in membership recruitment because of the word-of-mouth referrals that came from the university-community partnership. Cathy reflected on her three years of partnering with the marriage coalition:

Our coalition has remained strong. Most of the members are
still on the coalition. Some changed. I have not had to
recruit new ones, because they come to me when they hear
about us. … We have a great community support from private
practice, schools, service organizations, church groups,
etc. Four of our marriage education classes are taught by
coalition members using the curriculum they helped design.

Not all of the partnerships originally established by faculty members were sustained over the three years of the grant. Challenges in sustaining university-community partnerships related to changes in the actual organization with which the faculty members partnered or challenges in the structure (e.g., leadership) of the partnership. Laura explained that needs and structures of some of her established partnerships changed, which made it difficult to maintain the relationship. Natalie talked about a partnership she formed with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to provide RE for their employees. The partnership was successful during the first year and because of the popularity of the RE classes Natalie was invited to additional sites. Following completion of the first year, Natalie’s original contact person was no longer working at the IRS and no courses were offered with this partnership in the second year. However, someone at the IRS had her name and contacted her a year later to provide RE.

Outcomes of Forming University-Community Partnerships
Throughout the three years of the project, county Extension faculty members continued to evaluate the benefits of forming community partnerships. They used words like “essential” and “helpful” to describe the role of university-community partnerships in providing RE. Faculty members specifically talked about outcomes in terms of participant recruitment, program implementation, and creation of new RE opportunities.

Participant recruitment. As stated previously, one of the major reasons faculty members sought to develop partnerships was to gain access to an existing audience. In some instances the partnership itself provided the audience and in others they became essential for advertising. Natalie acknowledged the importance of community partnerships in terms of recruitment for RE. She stated, “Partners often provide a set audience for presentations or at least can help to get the word out about classes and encourage participants to attend. It would be challenging to hold classes successfully without partnerships.”

Alisa explained the importance of her LAC in providing culturally appropriate advertising materials and existing trust between LAC members and the Latino residents in her county. Melinda worked closely with the student body officers at a high school to provide relationship education for adolescents and she also worked with the Local Interagency Council (LIC), which is similar to a marriage coalition, to provide RE for adult couples in her county. Melinda rallied her university-community partners to disseminate information about her programs. Melinda explained:

Flyers were prepared and shared with LIC participants to
distribute around the communities, and to their co-workers,
clientele, friends and neighbors. … Flyers were also
presented to and shared with [high school] student body
officers and their advisor to disseminate information to
entire student body, administration, counselors, teachers,
coaches, and staff assistants.

Program implementation. Over the three years, faculty members commonly talked about the importance of partnerships in implementing programs. They agreed that their partnerships provided culturally appropriate recommendations for curriculum and advertising, instructors, and locations for holding RE classes. Cathy specifically talked about the increased buy-in by the marriage coalition she partnered with over time. She explained that she collaboratively developed a marriage curriculum with people on the coalition and now members from the coalition are teaching the curriculum in the county.

Alisa described her partnership with the LAC as important for ensuring cultural sensitivity. Alisa presented her RE curriculum for the council’s review and their recommendations were implemented. Alisa also had members of the council serve as instructors at her RE events. This process was similar for Laura who worked closely with the American Indian population. Laura partnered with an organization that exclusively served American Indians in her county and through this partnership identified an American Indian who was qualified to provide her culturally sensitive RE curriculum. Laura said:

Our success I attribute 100 percent to the fact that this is,
first of all, sanctioned by [American Indian Partnership] so
they allow their employees to participate. And number two that
they authorized [their qualified employee] to be the one to
deliver the program.

Creation of new relationship education opportunities. One of the major benefits from forming community partnerships captured in a longitudinal perspective was that new RE opportunities emerged from established partnerships. Melinda talked about how her partnership with the LIC opened opportunities to provide RE for three additional organizations. Natalie explained that her partnerships with teachers provided new opportunities for providing RE every year. She said, “Because teachers generally have new students yearly, I have created some long lasting partnerships where they plan on including me each year as part of their coursework.”

All of the faculty members described how partnerships helped them increase their RE opportunities. They also, however, recognized how their established partners learned the value of RE and began to look for their own opportunities to increase RE in their counties. For example, Melinda said this about the student body officers with which she partnered:

The high school and the student body officers have come a long way,
and over time have became so invested in the value of healthy
relationships, they looked this year for ways to incorporate RE
programming and efforts throughout the entire school year, in addition
to the entire month of February.

Case Studies
Two case studies are presented to provide an indepth understanding of the identification, formation, maintenance, and outcomes of community partnerships over time. Laura’s experience included the dissolution of some of her most promising community partnerships, which provided a perspective of some of the specific challenges in maintaining community partnerships. In contrast, Alisa’s experience included working with the same community partnership over the three-year period. Together, the case studies highlight both positive and challenging aspects of the themes previously identified from the five Extension faculty members.

Case Study: Laura

In her first proposal, Laura said she would work with members of an American Indian Tribe, the tribal health care organization, the local Domestic Violence Coalition (DVC), the school district, the county’s council on aging, a fine arts organization, a women’s health resource team, the local university, and the Office of Rehabilitation. Laura received funding to provide marriage education for the American Indian population and RE for adolescents and young adults.

In Laura’s second quarterly report she stated, “I called the director of [a local health system serving the tribe] to propose a collaboration.” Her intention was to use their building and provide education for the employees. She also indicated that she attended the American Indian tribal meeting in her county. Laura also stated that she held a luncheon for the DVC to educate them on the progress of providing RE on the reservation and to solicit their recommendations on how to make this program successful.

It took more time than expected to build the university-community partnership with the health system. However, the wait was worth it and the chief executive officer agreed to collaborate and offer these classes to her employees. The health system even offered to have one of their employees who specializes in behavioral health and American Indian culture teach the RE classes. In her final quarterly report in 2010, Laura wrote, “Our greatest success was forming strong working partnerships with two significant organizations within two [tribal] communities. These collaborations provided not only cultural insights, but also opportunities to reach participants from the [American Indian community].” One frustration Laura explained was that the leaders of these organizations never attended the RE classes, so they really did not get to see the value of the program.

Laura’s second proposal again included RE activities for tribal members and young adults. Laura experienced some challenges with resuming collaborations formed during the first year of the grant. She explained:

Last year, we had an outstanding partnership with [the tribal health system]
to deliver marriage classes on the reservation. However, after meeting with
their representatives earlier this month, I learned that they are no longer
interested in having marriage classes offered through their clinics. So, I am
searching for a new partnership and a new venue for delivering our Strong
[American Indian] Marriages/Strong Relationships— Strong Lives curriculum.

Laura was disappointed, but also did not give up on the university-community partnership. She stated, “I have not given up on this partner, and will look for another possible format for presenting marriage activities so that we can salvage this partnership.” Despite the setback Laura formed a new collaboration with the director of student life at the local university to provide RE for young adults and she continued with the support of the DVC.

As the second grant year continued, success with the partnership increased and several young adults participated in RE activities. In her third quarterly report Laura wrote, “I regret not being able to identify [tribal] partners and venues on the reservation.” However, in the end she found a different organization within the American Indian community to partner with, and she was able to provide RE.

In Laura’s 2011–2012 proposal for providing RE, she proposed three activities that were not specific to the American Indian population in her county. She partnered with the DVC, the local university, and added the largest local high school in the county. In her first quarterly report of the grant year, Laura stated:

Coalition members feel dating violence prevention is badly needed in our high
schools. I explained that this year’s grant allows for healthy relationship
classes to be provided at the county’s largest high school. The coalition wants
to be involved and will help get healthy relationship classes into other high schools.

Laura and the DVC attempted to get the RE curriculum approved for implementation in the high school. The high school rejected the proposal because the curriculum included sensitive information. Laura felt support from the DVC during this time. She wrote, “I reported this barrier at our last DVC meeting and members expressed their surprise and support of the program.” A brainstorming session ensued and new ideas for getting the program into the high schools were devised collaboratively. Despite Laura and the DVC’s best efforts, the high school did not approve the RE offering. Laura indicated disappointment with this outcome, but she also stated that she felt support from the DVC and she continued to be committed to finding a partnership that would allow her to provide RE for adolescents in her county.

Case Study: Alisa

When considering providing RE for couples in her county, Alisa considered pre-existing university-community partnerships and several new ones. Alisa proposed including RE programming into the work of a pre-existing LAC in her county:

Members of this council are either leaders and well-known among the Latino community
or are actual Latino members of the community. Because of the diverse and, yet,
cohesive nature of this group and the work with low-income audiences, in addition
to being members of the Latino community, we believe that they will be perfect to
serve as the advisory council for the entire RE project in our [county].

The LAC included prominent local church leaders, educators or liaisons with schools, members from other community programs for Latinos, and people from government funded programs (e.g., Head Start). To begin to gain council support for RE in the community, Alisa planned a dinner meeting. She wrote in her first quarterly report, “We sent nearly 100 letters to current and potential LAC members notifying them of our dinner meeting in January, 2010. We also requested help in finding a location for the series.”

Alisa found some immediate successes from her partnership with finding a location for her event. She wrote, “[Four members of our advisory council] offered to let us use their buildings for the series. After touring these sites, we chose [the final site] because of its location and setup for the workshops, child care, and dinner.” However, Alisa was originally disappointed with her response rate for her dinner meeting. She stated, “Our response to attending the LAC meeting has not been as successful as we had hoped. Only about 20 members of this council have made reservations to attend this meeting.”

When Alisa did meet with the advisory council, she acknowledged in her quarterly report that they were supportive in identifying the cultural sensitivity of the curriculum and identifying respected people from the Latino community to provide the RE. Alisa also reported the usefulness of the advisory council for advertising her events with flyers, on the radio and through word of mouth. Alisa explained, “We are relying heavily on our advisory council to assist with helping us get the word out to members of the Latino community.” When the actual RE was implemented, the advisory council followed through. Alisa reported, “Workshops were held in April and May. They were taught by members of our LAC and our … Extension intern.”

As Alisa reflected on her first year providing RE in partnership with the LAC, she focused on the members/organizations on the council who were most helpful. She stated that the local church partners on the council were especially helpful in the advertising for RE to the Latino community. Alisa also indicated that through her council’s partnership she was invited to hold future RE in the local building that houses a variety services for Latinos families in the community. When asked if there were partnerships she would not use in the future, Alisa replied, “I don’t think so.”

During Alisa’s second year of providing RE in her county she, again, stated that she would partner with her LAC. In her proposal she stated that she wanted to increase her council membership utilizing more representation from organizations at the local university. Alisa also stated that members of her council contacted her about the classes this year. Representatives from the organization that invited them to hold the RE classes contacted her in July. Alisa said, “We were delighted to be invited to this beautiful facility!” Through this more specific partnership Alisa and her team had more access to Latino migrant farm workers.

Alisa held a dinner meeting in September, 2010 with her LAC. She took the opportunity to evaluate the program from the year before with the members and identify ways to improve the classes to be held in the Spring of 2011. She explained in a quarterly report:

… we met with our Latino Advisory Council to critique the Latino program from
last spring and to discuss changes we might want to make to the upcoming series.
They also helped us fine-tune our advertising. Many members of the Advisory
Council took copies of the flyer to share with the members of the Latino community
with whom they work.

Alisa reported strong turnouts to her Latino RE courses in the second year. She said, “The Latino relationship classes were very successful. To be able to reach an average of 80 adults and children who are members of the Latino community is a satisfying accomplishment.” The partnerships continued to prove positive for future RE opportunities. The two organizations that provided the facilities for RE in 2010 and 2011 both invited Alisa to hold classes in their facilities in 2012.

The LAC remained important to Alisa’s RE offerings in her county in her third year (2011-2012) providing RE as well. Alisa proposed similar RE activities and Alisa followed her previous pattern used for maintaining her relationship with the council. She wrote:

January 24, 2012—We were pleased to have 32 people attend the LAC meeting at a
restaurant. This group was able to assist us with fine-tuning our plans for the
Latino Relationships Series in April… . Several people volunteered to teach
and/or knew of others who would be willing to teach a workshop. The group also
helped us make our advertising more Latino-friendly. Everyone agreed to advertise
for us as soon as the updated flyer was available. I believe that this council is
the key to successful Latino programming.

In reflecting on her partnerships over three years, Alisa, again, focused on the benefits of individual members of her LAC. Alisa stated, “Local pastors and church leaders in the area … seem to be doing a great job of getting the information out to their members. On evaluations, many participants indicate that they heard about the program from their church.” Alisa also focused on the current status and value of her LAC in general:

Our LAC continues to actively help us make our Latino programming a success. We have
approximately 40 active members who meet annually to help us tweak our advertising,
identify speakers/workshop presenters, approve curriculum, and recommend topics for
the workshops. In addition, they provide locations such as schools, churches, etc. to
hold the Latino programming. Each member of the LAC takes a very active role in helping
us advertise the program.

Alisa concluded her thoughts on her experiences with partnerships in providing RE by saying, “Our collaboration with other agencies and organizations is essential to our success.”

The results illustrate that university-community partnerships are vital in offering RE, and that these partnerships constitute an evolving process. The case studies provide contrasts in quality and maintenance of partnerships. Laura’s partnerships evolved due to changes in the community organization. In her interview, Laura mentioned that the size and remoteness of her county made for challenges in travel and even in communication; an aspect that would likely be different in an urban setting. Alisa capitalized on her partnership with the county’s Latino Advisory Council, a group with regular meetings and whose purposes included not only RE but other issues. Together the Extension faculty members articulated their experience with the identification, formation, sustainability, and outcomes of their university-community partnerships.

Identifying potential partners is obviously a key step in the process, but the data from this longitudinal study makes it clear that some proposed partnerships came to fruition and others did not. It is clear that these participants had to become comfortable with change and uncertainty when it came to collaborations. Moreover, partnerships changed over time as the vitality of the partnering organization itself evolved. Futris (2007) indicated that process of identifying community partners requires university faculty to identify their needed resources and skills and then to recognize community organizations that meet these needs.

The Extension faculty members in this study identified their needs primarily as audiences and organizations with existing structure. Schools, churches, and existing coalitions were identified as desired community partners. This is consistent with previous research on university-community partnerships (Jackson & Reddick, 1999; Prins, 2006). For example, Jackson and Reddick (1999) identified churches as community partners to develop early health detection and prevention networks for African Americans residents. Also, Prins (2006), in her case study of key members in a university-community partnership developed to plan a community park and provide youth development services in a rural California town, identified schools as effective partners. Schools have been identified to be ideal community partners for implementing university programs that are designed for eliminating social and economic problems in rural settings, because schools are both civic and social centers.

The themes from all five agents and the two case studies make it clear that partnerships help in terms of tapping into existing audiences, as well as gaining access to existing organizational structures and even physical facilities. The methods of initial contact were not surprising (e.g., letters or email, presentations), but the study results also highlight the importance of identifying the right contact person within a given organization. In their study of university-community partnerships, Carlton et al. (2009) similarly found that “having the right people to do the job is critical to anyone’s success” (p. 34).

Faculty members involved their community partners from the beginning of the program which allowed many of the community partners to catch the vision of RE in their community. They did this through holding meetings and seeking advice on cultural sensitivity of recruitment and program implementation. Jackson and Reddick (1999) indicated that successful university-community partnerships were formed when the community organization was involved early in the planning process. Community organizations may have limitations in resources, such as money, education, to provide large-scale projects. By involving partners early in the planning they can catch the vision about how reciprocal needs can be met through the university-community partnership.

Power differentials may arise in university-community partnerships because of the imbalance of resources, knowledge of the community, education, or skills (Prins, 2006). Sorenson and Lawson (2012) developed university-community partnerships to revitalize a city with services such as landscape architecture, community clean-up, and the establishment of computer labs throughout the city. One identified challenge was that community members in the partnership did not have the skills to allow them to collaborate on an equal level with students and faculty. Formal training sessions were implemented for community members and also knowledge was transferred through working/participating together. This may be similar to the process of faculty members in the current study, they involved their partners in identifying the purpose of RE and over time partners participated in the events, began to teach at events, and even found ways to provide RE independent of the university. This also sounds consistent with Hawkins and colleagues’ (2004) recommendation to make RE a community wide effort.

Laninga, Austin, and McClure (2012) implemented community design and development projects in three rural communities in Idaho through university-community partnerships. They explained that forming university-community partnerships was a time-intensive process. Faculty members in the current study validated this challenge in the formation process. Different than results in the current study, Laninga et al. (2012) described their formation process as contractual—a formal contract was developed outlining responsibilities, key roles, and financial contributions from the community and the university. Faculty members did not address the structure of their community partnerships beyond frequency of meeting and who served as members on coalitions. Additional research on the structuring of university-community partnerships and RE is necessary.

Futris (2007) suggested that the structure, leadership, goals, and evaluation are the qualities that sustain university-community partnerships. The faculty members illustrated that, once formed, partnerships benefited from ongoing maintenance. In some cases, this was accomplished via formal coalitions that held regular meetings, and in other cases, check-ins were less frequent and less formal. This is again consistent with the results from Carlton et al. (2009), specifically regarding not only the strength but also the duration of collaborative relationships (including interpersonal respect). Faculty members indicated that many of their partnerships were self-sustaining and that they continued to work with partnerships that seemed to be working well. It may be that the interpersonal relationships developed with these community partners helped sustain the university-community relationship. Jackson and Reddick (1999) concluded, “It appears that a core system of personal interactions sustains the relationship and serves as a foundation for building strong ties and effective collaborations” (p. 673).

None of the faculty formally talked about their leadership, structure, or evaluation of their partnerships. It was implied that many faculty members perceived that their community partners did value their own role in providing RE in their community. Israel and colleagues (2006) formed university-community relationship to address issues of public health in three urban communities. They identified that sustaining community partners required a clear evidence of community benefit and a public recognition of the contributions of the community partners. Faculty members acknowledged the value of partners in their reports, but there was no mention of formal recognition of their partnering organizations accomplishments.

Conclusions and Implications
The current study provided a rich understanding of the processes involved in identifying, forming, and sustaining university-community partnerships to provide RE over time. Through university-community collaboration unique audiences were reached, support was provided for program implementation, and increases in RE involvement were apparent at a community level. It appears that current practices within this sample are close to the best practices identified in the broader university-community literature (e.g., Jackson & Reddick, 1999; Sorenson and Lawson, 2012). A strength of the particular study was that both urban and rural counties were included in the analyses. Prins (2006) indicated that the majority of university-partnership studies have focused on only urban counties. There are limitations to this study because of the homogeneity of the sample, and only the university side of the partnership was evaluated. Future research should investigate the process of university-community partnerships from RE facilitators who represent different ethnicities, gender, and locations. Also, collecting data concerning the partnering community agency would be essential.

Practice and research implications can be derived from results from this study. It appears that facilitators of RE are identifying community agencies with which to partner that meet their needs. It is unclear whether formal structure or leadership is present in the university-community relationships. Models of effective university-community partnerships have suggested that structure and leadership is needed for sustainable partnerships (cf. Futris, 2007). Formal structure and leadership is apparent in university-community partnerships in different disciplines (Laninga et al. (2012) and perhaps additional training and research of how to formally structure these relationships in practice is needed in applied family science. Structure, leadership, goals, evaluation (Futris, 2007), interpersonal relationships, and community partners recognition of the benefits of the partnership (Israel et al., 2006) are the proposed qualities for partnership sustainability. The current study provided some evidence of common goals and strong interpersonal relationships. However, there was not a clear understanding of how faculty members evaluated their partnerships beyond continued contact and participation or how community partner’s accomplishments were publicly recognized.

This study adds to the current literature about university-community partnerships in that, although these partnerships were not very structured or formal, they did work. It might be useful to explore in more detail, with future research, why they worked. Is it the interpersonal relationships that sustained the relationships? Is it what could be described as somewhat of an intuitive approach to partnerships, rather than formal structure, leadership, and evaluation that held them together? If so, what is that process, and how can others be trained to use it?


Adler-Baeder, F., Shirer, K., & Bradford, A. (2007). What’s love got to do with it? The role of healthy couple relationships and marriages in promoting child, family, and community well-being. The Forum for Family and Consumer Issues, 12(1). Retrieved from

Bogdan, R., & Biklen, S. K. (2003). Qualitative research for education: An introduction to theories and methods. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.

Bradford, K., Higginbotham, B.J, & Skogrand, L. (2014). Healthy relationship education: A statewide initiative case study and outcome evaluation. Marriage & Family Review, 50(2), 93-106. doi:10.108

Bradford, K., Huffaker, S., Stewart, J.W., Skogrand, L., & Higginbotham, B.J. (2014). Successes and challenges in a statewide relationship education initiative. Family and Consumer Sciences Research Journal, 42(3), 252-266. doi:10.1111/fcsr.12059

Bradford, K., Skogrand, L., Higginbotham, B.J. (2011). Intimate partner violence in a statewide couple and relationship education initiative. Journal of Couple and Relationship Therapy, 10(2), 169–184. doi:10.1080/15332691.2011.562468

Brotherson, S., & Duncan, W. (2004). Rebinding the ties that bind: Government efforts to preserve and promote marriage. Family Relations, 53(5), 459–468.

Carlton, E.L., Whiting, J.B., Bradford, K., Dyk, P.H., Vail, A. (2009). Defining factors of successful university-community collaborations: An exploration of one healthy marriage project. Family Relations, 58(1), 28–40.

Cho, J., & Trent, A. (2006). Validity in qualitative research revisited. Qualitative Research, 6(3), 319– 340. doi:10.1177/1468794106065006.

Futris, T.G. (2007) Building community collaborations to support healthy and stable marriages. The Forum for Family and Consumer Issues, 12(1). Retrieved from

Hawkins, A.J., Carroll, J.S., Doherty, W.J., & Willoughby, B. (2004). A comprehensive framework for marriage education. Family Relations, 53(5), 547–558. doi: 10.1111/j.0197-6664.2004.00064.x.

Israel, B.A, Krieger, J., Vlahov, D., Ciske, S., Foley, M., Fortin, P., Guzman, J.R., Lichtenstein, R., McGranaghan, R., Palermo, A.G., Tang, G. (2006). Challenges and facilitating factors in sustaining community-based participatory research partnerships: Lessons learned from the Detroit, New York City and Seattle Urban Research Centers. Journal of Urban Health, 83(6), 1,022–1,040.

Jackson, R.S., & Reddick, B. (1999). The African American church and university partnerships: Establishing lasting collaborations. Health Education & Behavior, 26(5), 663–674. doi:10.1177/109019819902600507.

Laninga, T., Austin, G., & McClure, W. (2012). University-community partnerships in smalltown Idaho: Addressing diverse community needs through interdisciplinary outreach and engagement. Journal of Community Engagement and Scholarship, 4(2), 5–17. Retrieved from

Larson, J.H. (2004). Innovations in marriage education: Introduction and challenges. Family Relations, 53(5), 421–424. doi:10.1111/j.0197-6664.2004.00049.x.

Ooms, T., & Wilson, P. (2004). The challenges of offering relationship and marriage education to low-income populations. Family Relations, 53(5), 440–447. doi: 10.1111/j.0197-6664.2004.00052.x.

Prins, E. (2006). Individual roles and approaches to public engagement in a community-university partnership in a rural California town. Journal of Research in Rural Education, 21(7), 1–15.

Saldaña, J. (2003). Longitudinal qualitative analysis: Analyzing change through time. Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press.

Sorensen, J., & Lawson, L. (2012). Evolution in partnership: Lessons from the East St Louis Action Research Project. Action Research, 10(2), 150–169.

The Lewin Group (2003). Coalition building for a healthy marriage initative. Retrieved from

Vaterlaus, J.M., & Higginbotham, B.J. (2011). Qualitative evaluation methods. The Forum for Family and Consumer Issues,16(1). Retrieved from

Vaterlaus, J.M., Bradford, K., Skogrand, L., & Higginbotham, B. J. (2012). Providing relationship education for low-income and diverse audiences: A phenomenological investigation. Family Science Review, 17(2), 40–61.

About the Authors
J. Mitchell Vaterlaus is an assistant professor in the Department of Health and Human Development at Montana State University. Linda Skogrand is a family life extension specialist and professor in the Department of Family, Consumer and Human Development at Utah State University. Brian J. Higginbotham and Kay Bradford are family life extension specialists and associate professors in the Department of Family, Consumer, and Human Development at Utah State University.

From The Editor: Diversity of Engagement Scholarship Demonstrated

Cassandra Simon, Ph.D. – Once again I welcome the opportunity to share with your some of the most impressive engagement scholarship research around. Whether a community partner, student, or university representative, there is something in this issue of JCES that will resonate with you. I guarantee it. Review of the manuscripts in this issue caused me to pause and reflect on the array of social issues with which we as a society are presented and their relationships to engagement scholarship. While I am still reflecting on this, and will for a while, I did conclude that one of the primary benefits for me of being involved in engagement scholarship is that the work fulfills so many aspects of my life. The connections that are easy to see are how engagement scholarship connects with me in my professional, academic, and scholarly roles. What might not be as apparent to some is how engagement scholarship helps me fulfill that humanitarian part of me that has a responsibility to contribute to society in a positive way. I find that most people would like to have their lives matter. Most people would like to know that their having lived somehow made a difference in the world. Engagement scholarship provides one mechanism through which that can be done. Engagement scholarship has the potential to change lives for the better, improve quality of life, have unheard voices heard, and yes, possibly change the world, no matter how small. Despite its relatively new position in the research arena, engagement scholarship is well positioned to do these things. The current issue of JCES is reflective of these possibilities. This issue has diversity in a variety of ways, including methodology, thought, purpose, participants, and geography to name a few. One longitudinal, qualitative study examines community-university relationships developed through, relationship education, while another addresses community-university partnerships within the context of a survey study and recognition of the inter-professional nature of such collaborations. From the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua to South Alaska and throughout the United States, this issue confirms that JCES recognizes the importance of community engagement within an international context. Also included in this issue are manuscripts that examine innovative ways for addressing community health through engagement scholarship.

The current issue of JCES is reflective of these possibilities. This issue has diversity in a variety of ways, including methodology, thought, purpose, participants, and geography to name a few. One longitudinal, qualitative study examines community-university relationships developed through, relationship education, while another addresses community-university partnerships within the context of a survey study and recognition of the inter-professional nature of such collaborations. From the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua to South Alaska and throughout the United States, this issue confirms that JCES recognizes the importance of community engagement within an international context. Also included in this issue are manuscripts that examine innovative ways for addressing community health through engagement scholarship.

One project reports on the use of spoken word, a form of performance poetry, to address HIV/AIDS and another discusses the use of “girl power” photovoice to address relevant health in communities. Several of the manuscripts focus on lessons learned, providing valuable insight on diverse aspects of engagement scholarship. Recognizing the importance of service learning to engagement scholarship, we include several manuscripts reporting on service learning efforts. I would also like to highlight that many of the manuscripts in this issue appropriately give particular attention to the cultural aspects of relevant communities and community partners. Given the importance of community partners to engagement scholarship, cultural (widely defined) nuances must be given attention to across all levels of the process, ideally from inception to dissemination, when possible. I was especially pleased to see this attention to culture highlighted in many of the manuscripts in this issue, along with the elevation of the role and levels of involvement of community partners.

As always, we look forward to receiving your feedback. What you have to say is important and will be valuable to JCES going forward. Please feel free to contact me at

Book Review: Community Engagement: A Natural Evolution of Higher Education’s Traditional Missions of Service

Review by Kimber Quinney, California State University, San Marcos

Lorilee R, Sandmann, Courtney H. Thornton, and Audrey J. Jaeger (Eds.), Institutionalizing Community Engagement in Higher Education: The First Wave of Carnegie Classified Institutions: New Directions for Higher Education, Number 147. San Francisco: Josey-Bass, 2009, 112 pages. ISSN 0271-0560, electronic ISSN 1536-0741

Institutionalizing Community Engagement in Higher Education: The First Wave of Carnegie Classified Institutions identifies a renewed purpose for higher education at the turn of the 21st century. The editors explain that, as the century opened, U.S. colleges and universities “increasingly turned to community engagement as a natural evolution of their traditional missions of service to recognize ties to their communities along with their commitments to the social contract between society and higher education” (p. 1). Community Engagement provides an essential foundation and institutional framework for universities and colleges to both define and measure their impact as change agents, not merely analyzing, but intentionally seeking to affect, social change in the 21st century.

It is in this context that a new classification for Community Engagement was extended through the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. The elective (voluntary) classification was first offered in 2006 (and again in 2008 and 2010; the most recent invitation to participate was extended in 2015).1 This unique classification involves data collection and documentation of relevant aspects of an individual university’s mission, identity, and commitments to community engagement. Although participation requires substantial effort (it is not a task to be taken lightly), the elective classification is not an award; rather, it is an evidence-based documentation of institutional practice to be used to assess the university’s role—and higher education’s role—in affecting community. The Carnegie classification is part of a larger call, in other words, that puts the onus on institutions of higher learning to contribute to the public good.2

Institutionalizing Community Engagement comprises 10 chapters, each of which contributes to a better understanding of the then-new classification by addressing different qualities and challenges that surface in the applications submitted by institutions that earned the inaugural elective classification. The overall effect is to identify correlations, offer insights, and reflect on long-term and prospective transformation.

Setting the context for the exchange, Chapter 1, “Carnegie’s New Community Engagement Classification: Affirming Higher Education’s Role in Community” provides an overview of the history and origins of the classification itself. A. Driscoll highlights the intentional emphasis in the Carnegie framework, as well as the focus on community engagement as curricular engagement, outreach and partnerships, or both (as was the case for the first wave of classifications). In her purview of the various campuses, Driscoll identifies common areas yet to be explored—including assessment, promotion and tenure policies, and communication and collaboration with community (p. 9-11). Many of these same issues continue to be identified as gaps for further research and development—and thus it is of little surprise that fellow contributors to the monograph address each of these challenges in more detail. 3 To the authors’ credit (and presumed satisfaction), significant work has been done since 2009 to address various aspects of these challenges.

Assessment is especially tricky. In A. Driscoll’s survey of institutions, she found that assessment of community engagement was “in dire need of development. Even the simple tracking and recording of engagement activities,” she acknowledges, “appeared to be difficult to maintain with a systematic institution-wide process” (p. 10). A. Furco and W. Miller dig deeper into the challenges of assessment in Chapter 5, “Issues in Benchmarking and Assessing Institutional Engagement.” In their survey of the first wave of classified institutions, the authors discover that the tools of assessment vary widely by institution. Regardless of the approach used to conduct an assessment, the process of assessment is invaluable in setting the university on the right path toward the development of institutional goals and strategic plans for community engagement. Furco and Miller observe that, “Assessment must be coupled with action planning, whereby the information garnered from the assessment is used strategically to make decision that can advance community engagement at the institution” (p. 53).

Part of the problem is that institutional impact can be experienced internally, as well as in community. The characteristics and choices of institutional leaders; the role of advancement and other offices such as extended learning, in providing the necessary resources; and the ways in which organization theory can help to maximize institutional understandings are three areas addressed by respective contributors to the volume. For example, in Chapter 2, “Leading the Engaged Institution,” the authors assert that advancing engagement requires staying on message as well as setting institutional direction through strategic planning and employee evaluation processes, for example. A wide variety of organizational structures exist to promote community engagement in higher education; no single structure seems to be better than another. However, Sandmann and Plater assert that leaders who are personally committed to the values inherent in a community-engaged university are far more likely to steer their institutions authentically toward that mission. Personal mission is as important, if not more important, than dominant, executive leadership of the university mission. “By engaging themselves, leaders engage their whole institution” (p. 15). Moreover, effective leadership cuts across the campus, not top-down. “Truly engaged universities have leaders in many roles, all of whom can interact with a shared commitment because they are also personal commitments” (p. 23).

The role of campus leadership in defining an “engagement culture” and an “engagement brand” is emphasized in other contributions to the volume as well. Citing supporting research, C.H. Thornton and J.J. Zuiches observe that institutional culture plays a significant role in a university’s commitment to public service and engagement, as well as in garnering the commitment of its organizational members.(Chapter 8, “After the Engagement Classification: Using Organization Theory to Maximize Institutional Understandings). In “Engagement and Institutional Advancement” (Chapter 7), D. Weerts and E. Hudson assert that by redefining institutional organization (and organizational culture) through a lens that considers the “bigger picture,” traditional university advancement practices are being reconsidered in light of the new emphasis on community engagement. The “engagement brand,” they argue, has been leveraged to increase both private philanthropic and public legislative and state funding. In their survey of the Carnegie institutions, they found that internal financial commitment was matched by fundraising and marketing efforts. Weerts and Hudson reiterate that campus leadership—and campus presidents, in particular—may be “the most important marketing tools to shape the civic identities” of their respective institutions. Presidential communication, they argue, “is critical to reinforce the engagement brand” (p. 72). Weerts and Hudson conclude that the prospective benefits of collaboration between leaders of community engagement and the advancement offices on their respective campuses are “enormous.” Whether this relationship is as potentially fruitful as the authors suggest, they demonstrate that the Carnegie classification has played an undeniable role in helping institutions of higher education assess institutional impact across the campus.

But even when institutions demonstrate institutional commitment, what is engagement without community? “Creating a productive, healthy, and sustainable partnership is hard work and time-consuming,” asserts C. Beere, who sets out to discover the results of partnership-related data. In “Understanding and Enhancing the Opportunities of Community-Campus Partnerships” (Chapter 6), Beere describes the fact that partnerships vary widely, and that in the first wave of Carnegie classified institutions, these partnerships were affected by the university’s history, size, mission, and overall nature; areas of expertise; and demographics of the neighborhood. With respect to best practices, Beere observes that genuine partnerships begin in community. “In determining which partnerships to establish or embrace, campuses should consider the significance of the problem that will be addressed and the resources and commitment needed to make a meaningful impact” (p. 61).

With respect to community partners, Beere’s recommendations are slightly less salient. She suggests that the university’s focus on generating knowledge implies that the partner should be “open to accommodating such interest and participation in work alongside campus partners to establish action or engaged research agendas” (p. 62). Increasingly, leaders in community engagement celebrate the recognition that genuinely mutually reciprocal campus-partner relationships involve the shared, co-generation of knowledge: Knowledge originating in community is seen as equally valid (if not valued) as that generated in the academic institution.

This point is echoed in “Rewarding Community-Engaged Scholarship” (J. Saltmarsh, D.E. Giles, Jr., E. Ward and S.M. Buglione). The authors focus on the extent to which engaged universities embed values of community engagement in the institutional reward policies that define faculty roles of teaching, scholarship, and service. Serving as the foundation is the reconceptualization of scholarship to include the scholarship of engagement, which is based on reciprocity and genuine collaboration with community. Essential to best practices is a concrete definition of engaged scholarship; a more integrated conception of scholarship across faculty roles of research, teaching and service; a clear prioritizing of reciprocal campus-community relationships; and a reconsideration of “publication” and who is considered a “peer” in the peer review process (p. 34). The faculty rewards system continues to be an issue of utmost concern among Carnegie classified institutions, but as the authors assert, it is a process that demands a culture of engagement—in genuine collaboration with community.

A shift toward “engagement culture” is more likely to be realized as engagement is implemented more widely across higher education, according to B. Holland in “Will it Last? Evidence of Institutionalization at Carnegie Classified Community Engagement Institutions” (Chapter 9). Holland makes the case that community engagement inherently involves others outside academia; the result is that higher education must inevitably “develop new skills and capacities of collaboration and cooperation…” (p. 97). In other words, the process of institutionalizing university-community engagement is in itself leading to cultural and organizational change.

R.G. Bringle and J.A. Hatcher assert that curricular engagement, such as service learning, correlates with a community-engaged university in “Innovative Practices in Service-Learning and Curricular Engagement” (Chapter 4). Acknowledging that many manifestations of civic and community engagement exist, the authors observe that service learning classes are “core components as campuses progress beyond traditional models of engagement…[to] develop broader and deeper impact across the campus and within communities” (p. 37).

With the exception of Chapter 4, on service learning, overall the editors give little attention to discussion of democratic engagement and civic learning as core components of a Carnegie-engaged institution. Yet, democracy is central to community engagement. In the first part of the last century, Dewey (1916) asserted that the core mission of the university is civic engagement. Although the inaugural wave of institutions may not have demonstrated the relationship, contemporary literature seems to suggest that subsequent Carnegie classified institutions are indeed likely to be more explicit in their emphasis on and assessment of the university’s civic responsibility (Ramaley, 2000).

The essays in this volume raise as many questions as they answer. To their credit, the editors and authors of Institutionalizing Community Engagement make no false claims: The collection does not pretend to serve as a “how to” guide; rather, as the editors acknowledge in the concluding chapter, the analyses are “only the first step required on the path of recognizing and defining the meaningful and useful best practices [of community engagement] that many desire to know” (p. 100). As each of the essays makes clear, there’s still plenty of work to do! The editors conclude: “What is fairly unknown about the engagement efforts described by classified institutions is who is benefiting the most and the least, whether these engaged efforts are the most efficient way to address community issues and concerns, and whether these efforts are leading to sustained community change” (p. 101).

This collection of essays is invaluable for any institution of higher learning that is either toying with or seriously considering participating in the Carnegie elective classification. Indeed, the essays are equally relevant for any institution of higher learning that is making a new (or renewed) commitment to community engagement, quite apart from the Carnegie classification. Readers eagerly look forward to a successive and updated collection in the series to learn more about the subsequent waves of Carnegie Classified institutions, and the many ways higher education is responding to the call to contribute to the public good and demonstrating a commitment to affect community change in impactful and sustained ways.

1 The framework has changed since the inaugural wave of Carnegie classified institutions. Beginning with the 2010 classification, campuses needed to provide evidence in both Curricular Engagement and Outreach and Partnerships in order to be classified. In 2006 and 2008, however, campuses could choose to be classified in one area or in both. For a listing of 2010 and 2015 community engagement classified institutions, see

2 Two publications are worth noting because, as is the case with the collective essays under review here, both are reports that result from collaborative efforts to identify “best practices” in responding to the call to contribute to the public good through community engagement. Kellogg Foundation (2002) and National Center for the Public Policy and Higher Education (2008).

3 Indeed, in the concluding chapter, the editors return to areas that were and continue to be identified as challenging, including the authenticity and reciprocity in community partnerships and validating and documenting such partnerships for the benefit of faculty rewards; a revisit to and revision of (in some cases) the language of engagement; and—not surprisingly—assessment.


Dewey, J. (1916). Democracy and education: An introduction to the philosophy of education. New York: Free Press.

Kellogg Forum on Higher Education for the Public Good. (2002). Practical strategies for institutional civic engagement and institutional leadership that reflect and shape the covenant between higher education and society. Retrieved from

National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education. (2008. Partnerships for Public Purposes: Engaging higher education in societal challenges of the 21st Century. Retrieved from

Ramaley, J. (2000). Embracing civic responsibility (2000). Higher Education. Paper 123. Retreived from

Book Review: The Application of Publicly Engaged Scholarship to Graduate Education

Review by Jed Metzger, Nazareth College, Rochester, NY

Amanda Gilvin, Georgia M. Roberts, and Craig Martin (Eds.), Collaborative Futures: Critical Reflections on Publicly Active Graduate Education. Syracuse, NY: The Graduate School Press., 2012, 409 pages. ISBN: 978-0-9777847-5-2

How best to educate and train graduate students in the 21st century is both a pragmatic and complex dilemma. On the one hand the next generation of scholars will face an ever-changing job market both in and outside of academia. Competition and fiscal realities demand that these graduate students bring a host of competencies with them to address the challenges of the day. The editors of Collaborative Futures: Critical Reflections on Publicly Active Graduate Education make the case that for higher education to be relevant it must be constructed to address public concern. One critical aspect is how the graduate students themselves are engaged into their education. This volume makes the case that the best way to engage graduate students is via what is happening around the campus’ physical boundary. The editors have compiled a volume that addresses the historical development of publicly engaged scholarship. It clearly articulates the essential elements of this scholarly approach and gives a platform for the voice of the engaged new American graduate student.

From a practical perspective, this text fills a literature gap in that it is directed at graduate education. Having spent 15 years teaching in a place with roughly the same number of undergraduate and graduate students, I am amazed by how much more attention is given to undergraduate education. In a similar way the literature base on publicly engaged scholarship has a stronger undergraduate focus, which makes this text refreshing and vital. The book’s perspective addresses both issues for these modern age graduate students and for their instructors. As an instructor, one great question I have is how to be purposeful in academia. Frankly, I imagine that many in academia are similar in that they face the challenge of doing more than keeping the wheels of the institution churning; it is a question of being purposeful. Publicly engaged scholarship is one way to address this concern. This is especially true for those scholars who possess the critical consciousness to see the world outside of academia as really struggling to address the modern society challenges of poverty, homelessness, racism, and veteran reintegration to name but a few.

One core idea running through the text is that “Big C” culture remains America’s defining issue in 2015. Teaching graduate students to speak academia is insufficient; there is at the least a need for a bi-lingualism where graduate students need to speak the language of the people. At the same time graduate students need to remain optimistic, to not let negativity drag them down into complacency. One clear strength of this volume is the depth of writing that is infused across many of the articles related to this skill set. The reader is repeatedly challenged to consider questions of privilege, power, and race, while maintaining a proactive activist mindset.

Collaborative Futures gets off to a fantastic beginning by Timothy Eatman. He is such a leading voice with deep knowledge of publicly engaged scholarship. Eatman sets the tone by imploring us to be leader/activists in disseminating critical ideas. Highlighting that engagement by definition means inviting diversity to the table, diversity that is as underrepresented at the academic table as it is in positions of power outside higher education. Eatman directs us to work the horizontal plane of relationships by linking and bridging. This question of positioning is made throughout this volume: Are we helping our graduate students to be intentional in the space they create? Can they work with an understanding of their role as people of privilege and power? As the next generation of scholars, have they developed the ability to address the “wicked problems” (Rittle & Webber, 1973)? The clear answer provided throughout the text is that power and position need to be considered on the front end of our scholarship activities so that the new scholars can attempt to successfully address these critical questions.

The first section of the volume is dedicated to an integration of the history behind publicly engaged scholarship. Timothy J. Shaffer, in addition to giving a fine history on the development of the land-grant system, makes a strong argument for publicly engaged scholarship as living the mission behind the very creation of a land-grant system: That there be access for all to the ladder of opportunity via the most historically successful of means—education. Positioning is a central concept in formulating engaged work (an idea later expanded upon nicely by Susan Curtis, Shirley Rose, and Kristina Bross). The question of how graduate students are taught positioning, and if graduate work that is informed at all times by positioning are important considerations given proper attention throughout the text. To this end, is the inclusion of a 1968 paper by Ivan Illich. The paper warns against the paternalistic thinking of American idealism. Brief in terms of length but long in terms of depth, it is a required reading for anyone thinking of doing public engagement work. Another great historical document is an early Kellogg Commission piece. To my mind the inclusion of the original seminal works in the first section of this volume not only sets the stage for the work but makes the text essential. Knowing from whence one comes helps the graduate student prepare for the realities of today. In a practical way, the seven-part test at the end of the chapter is a great tool to run before any of us dive into a project; it is a “checks and balances” tool to ensure the positioning that is essential in proper engaged scholarship. Another strength of the book is the way that AAUP is tied to publicly engaged scholarship (Nicholas Behm and Duane Roen’s chapter in particular). Exploring the limitations of a public/private binary is a requirement to avoid neo-liberalistic messes while maintaining the requisite academic freedom to do this work. I also credit the editors for including the AAUP statements as reference material. The history section closes with the most seminal of writings in this field, Ernest L. Boyer’s “The Scholarship of Engagement” (1996). Sure one can get the article elsewhere but including it just adds value.

The middle section of the volume focuses on present day application of publicly engaged scholarship to graduate education. Readers will find these chapters directly useful, coherent, and applied. Day and colleagues begin the second section by using examples to further the call to promote graduate students transitioning into both the new academia job market and the traditional job market, successfully arguing that engaged scholarship develops the required skill set for later success as an activist and engaged human. Part of this success is the skill set that is required in real cross-cultural exchange. Neither academia nor our graduate students get a pass in today’s society. We run the risk of being seen as charlatans if we do not have the ability to work alongside communities of color from an empowerment mindset (Solomon, 1976). George Sanchez picking up on Eatman’s thesis discusses the critical intersection provided by many engaged scholarship graduate course applications in which graduate students can wrestle with real diversity—“rubber hits the road learning.” Specifically, Sanchez extends the discussion to the role urban institutions have with the communities around them, strenuously arguing that we as faculty have a role in transforming our institutions of higher education so that they are more reflective of the diversity in America today and that we need to work to ensure that our community projects do not become feel good projects. (I struggled with the same in a recent community gardening project where my students consistently asked to work with the children over the more sticky work of engaging the adults who lived bordering the garden). This line of thought pushes the conversation into one of how do we educate in a democracy verses educate in a capitalist system? How are we positioning ourselves and our graduate students to be intentional?

These essential and thorny questions dominate the middle section of the text. Meighan uses the lived metaphor of “getting outside” the classroom to demonstrate how activist engaged graduate course work can directly transfer to post graduate life direction. Arguing against seeing publicly engaged scholarship as elective or add-on coursework, she frames it as the most vital of teaching pedagogy. Special kudos for her inclusion of syllabus material to show what full engagement in a semester really looks like. Linda S. Bergmann, Allen Brizee, and Jaclyn M. Wells use post dissertation analysis to provide rich example-driven content on how an engaged dissertation is actually possible and what is needed in terms of institutional support to sustain such. Articles by Jan Cohen-Cruz, Marcy Schnitzer and Max Stephenson Jr., and by Ron Krabill all give direct testimony to the vital nature for both graduate students and community partners of democratic, roots-oriented engaged scholarship. Collectively, they debunk myth and challenge old-school higher education tradition and publication ideologies to posit a voice for a more democratically minded engaged approach.

There is a brief but fantastic “interchapter” between the second and third section on specific skills from the kind folks at Imagining America – honest, useful stuff in a few short pages.

The final section is dedicated to walking the talk by providing opportunity for direct voice. Sylvia Gale challenges us with discussion but most importantly a tool to use for ourselves and with our students to get them to slow down and connect to what they truly want. There is nothing wrong with a goal such as “I want to be a full professor” but what Gale helps us do is to deconstruct that desire and then look at the intersecting pieces that make up what is behind that goal. It is a question of intentionality. Intentionality is about space. Space is useful in directing sustained engagement energy. Space is useful in addressing the role of power and privilege. My guess is that the readers will put this particular chapter into practice as a self-correcting tool. While there are several chapters in this final section, four are worth particular mention: Chris Dixon and Alexis Shotwell offer direct advice on how to maintain an activist mentality while in graduate school with balance and creativity. This is useful stuff for faculty to read lest we forget what the crazy juggling act of graduate school is like. Ali Colleen Neff takes us even further down this colorful rabbit hole. The final two articles, one by Damien M. Schnyder and one by Amanda Jane Graham conclude the text with stories of their deeply personal work. Exceptionally well written, they are examples of this new scholarship, not the dry dusty road stuff, but the living American engaged scholarship and without going over the top provide perfect examples of the type of real work that pushes way past “do-goodism” into honest connection and usefulness to those connected.

In summary, this is a highly useful volume on several levels: It works as a reference guide; it is directly practical with regard to teaching today’s graduate student; and there is clear example of what successful engaged scholarship artifacts look like from today’s emerging scholars. That said, the biggest room in the house is the room for improvement. Specifically I was surprised a few voices were not included, most glaringly, I would say, KerryAnn O’Meara, who is such a modern champion, and while referred to and cited, her original voice would have added strength, as would that of Dwight Giles and Sarena Seifer. This concern aside, the editors are to be congratulated for this well-articulated and much needed volume.


Boyer, E.L. (1996). The scholarship of engagement. Journal of Public Service and Outreach 1(1), 11–30.

Rittle, H., & Webber, M. (1973). Dilemma in a general theory of planning. Policy Sciences, 4(2), 155–169.

Solomon, B. (1977). Black empowerment: Social work in oppressed communities. NY: Columbia University Press.

Book Review: On Becoming Change Agents in Education through Service-Learning and Empowerment

Review by Valerie Kinloch, The Ohio State University

Vera L. Stenhouse, Olga S. Jarrett, Rhina M. Fernandes Williams, and E. Namist Chilungu, In the Service of Learning and Empowerment: Service-Learning, Critical Pedagogy, and the Problem-Solution Project. IAP-Information Age Publishing: Charlotte, NC, 2014, 276 pages. ISBN 978-1-62396-544-0. Paperback.

The authors of In the Service of Learning and Empowerment: Service-Learning, Critical Pedagogy, and the Problem-Solution Project beautifully present the results of their long-term, collaborative teaching and research project on service learning, critical pedagogy, and democratic practice. They focus their attention on the ways teacher educators, in-service teachers, and pre-service teacher education candidates can use an empowering pedagogy, referred to as the “Problem-Solution Project,” to democratically engage in teaching and learning with students, even under some of the most challenging of situations (e.g., scripted curricula, rote forms of learning, lack of teacher and student autonomy inside classrooms, the increasing top down focus on standardized testing, non-participatory learning environments, etc.). To address the importance of an empowering pedagogy, they explicitly discuss lessons learned from a required assignment for teacher education candidates in the Urban Accelerated Certification and Master’s Program (UACM) at Georgia State University. The lessons highlighted throughout this book reveal the value of recognizing the need to empower “teachers and their students who are often recipients of services but who are seldom encouraged to take action” (p. xix).

The book is organized into five parts. “Fostering Empowerment through Service-Learning, Critical Pedagogy, Constructivism and the Problem-Solution Project” is the title of Part I. It comprises one chapter that introduces readers to the historical and philosophical tenets of the work, beginning with a brief discussion of the distinctions between traditional and empowering pedagogy. To begin, the authors cite critical pedagogue Ira Shor (Empowering Education: Critical Teaching for Social Change, 1992) who asserts: “The difference between empowering and traditional pedagogy has to do with the positive or negative feelings students can develop for the learning process” (p. 23). Shor’s sentiments can be felt throughout the first section of the book, particularly in relation to how the authors detail and describe the overall purpose of the Problem-Solution Project (PSP). That is, they insist that PSP advocates for teachers and students to be empowered inside and outside schools and for them to become involved in service initiatives that critically and intentionally promote social change and social activism. Thus, the authors focus on an empowering pedagogy and not a traditional pedagogy in relation to service learning, which allows them to make the case for why the intersection of service learning, critical pedagogy, and constructivism is significant to teaching and learning. In fact, their utilization of the definition of service learning from the National Service-Learning Clearinghouse point to their understanding of service learning as a process that both “enhances the community through the service provided” as well makes available “powerful learning consequences for the students or others participating in providing a service” (p. 4; see also see the National Service-Learning Clearinghouse). Additionally, their uptake of critical pedagogy is grounded in the need to provide opportunities for people to collectively participate in action (e.g., sociopolitical and educative) that challenges the status quo and produces emancipatory results for improving the overall nature of our living conditions and learning contexts. Finally, their view of constructivism recognizes the significance of involving students in meaningful hands-on learning and collaborative problem-solving projects that their teachers help facilitate” (p. 13). In other words, a constructivist approach to service-learning values experiential learning and engagement, and acknowledges the importance of teachers and students collaborating with each other to produce new and extended forms of knowledge. Taken together, service learning, critical pedagogy, and constructivism are foundational to how and why PSP is an empowering pedagogy that is multidisciplinary, generative, and attentive to issues of power and resistance in education.

Part II, “The Problem-Solution Project Assignment with Inservice Teachers and Their Pre-K to 5th Grade Students,” contains three chapters. In Chapter 2, the authors provide a macro view of PSP with new in-service teachers working in PK–5 classes. They share specific information about the pedagogy/assignment, how it was implemented inside classrooms, and examples of how PSP led to teacher and student empowerment. As teachers were introduced to PSP, they gained strategies for aligning it with curricular requirements and for introducing it to their own students. They brainstormed with students, created project webs, conducted pre-assessment surveys, supported students in making decisions about their projects, and determined ways to integrate curriculum standards with project goals/action. In Chapter 3, the authors build on the previous chapter’s framing of PSP to discuss how one of the co-authors (E. Namisi Chilungu) implemented PSP shortly after being hired into the teacher education program. Chilungu openly admits to experiencing initial resistances from teacher education candidates and to feeling disempowered since she had no prior experience working with PSP. Overtime, she began to see the impact of PSP for teachers and their students, which led her to write, “The more I saw the impact…the more I valued the project and imagined ways I would continue to adapt it for my own instruction” (p. 50). Chilungu’s discussion of the value of PSP leads nicely into Chapter 4. There, another co-author (Rhina M. Fernandes Williams) reflects on lessons learned from teaching elementary-aged students and from implementing PSP with veteran teachers. Williams describes how teachers were encouraged to try on PSB and to determine ways to align it with content area standards. In so doing, Williams and the teachers came to realize that “within the confining context of schools in today’s society, [PSP] is one way in which teachers can reclaim a piece of themselves and teach in the way they imagined they would” (p. 54).

“Voices of Inservice Teachers Engaged in Problem-Solution Projects with PreK-5 Grade Students” is the title of Part III, which contains eleven chapters. Each chapter opens with a reflective story on PSP from a participating teacher. In Chapter 5, a new pre-K teacher, Aliya Jafri, writes about her hesitation to implement PSP with much younger students who were still gaining English skills, and a new kindergarten teacher, Danny Johnson, describes his initial struggles with helping students understand definitions of “problems” and “solutions.” Overtime, Jafri and Johnson, in addition to other teachers featured throughout the book, realized that their students were not too young to become change agents in their schools and local communities. Similarly, in Chapters 6, 7, and 8, the authors share scenarios on PSB and using a language of possibility and empowerment when working with young students. From veteran teacher Brooke Eppinga’s PSP with kindergarteners on preventing excessive amounts of sun from shining into their classroom (see Chapter 6), to new teacher Melissa (Gerry) London’s project with first graders to acquire new tables for the school’s courtyard area (see Chapter 7), and new teacher Crystal Perry’s project with fifth graders on securing enough chapter books for students that met their reading interests and levels (see Chapter 8), the examples of PSP demonstrate the valuable role of listening to and working with students to identify problems and implement solutions in ways that connect service to learning. The remaining chapters in this section, Chapters 9 through 15, offer specific examples of PSP within school and community contexts, with special attention placed on working with students to better understand local and global concerns, as well as direct and indirect forms of service learning. Collectively, these chapters emphasize the importance of establishing relationships in communities and collaborating with community groups to affect positive, small- and large-scale social change. What strengthens these chapters is the inclusion of recommendations for action for administrators, teachers’ perspectives on PSP and how to connect it to content area standards, and strategies for beginning with but moving beyond curricular requirements in order to center PSP in teaching and learning.

There are three chapters that comprise Part IV, which is titled “The Preservice Teacher Cohort Experience.” In this section, the authors shift their focus from in-service teachers to pre-service teachers enrolled in the very first year of the UACM program. Chapter 16 opens with a vignette from one of the co-authors (Vera Stenhouse) that chronicles some of her early attempts to implement PSP as a teacher educator. She explains why it is necessary for pre-service teachers to become so inspired in their practice that they are willing “to take action or [be] given opportunities to explore the demands of being an empowered educator themselves” (p. 167). Her vignette leads into a more detailed description of the university course on culture, education, and community that pre-service teachers were required to take, and highlights examples of projects that emerged from the course across each of the cohorts. In Chapter 17, the authors explore particular outcomes that resulted from the course, and how the utilization of service learning and critical pedagogy points to the need for an empowering pedagogy in pre-service teacher education programs. While there were some observable moments of hesitation—“the teachers observed that elementary students were more facile in engaging the process than they were themselves as a cohort” (p. 202)—there were other moments of comfort and confidence with the process, where “the teachers seem confident and willing to share power with the children” (p. 203). Finally, in Chapter 18, two of the authors (Vera Stenhouse and Olga S. Jarrett) engage in a dialogue about the challenges they faced with teaching and implementing PSP, and they reflect on how their practice transformed overtime. They consider Ira Shor’s argument for educational empowerment and its possibilities for transforming the practice of teaching and learning for students, pre- and in-service teachers, and teacher educators.

In Part V, “The Problem-Solution Project and an Empowering Education: Implications,” the authors present two closing chapters on the larger implications of PSP for practice and policy. In Chapter 19, they encourage pre- and in-service teachers, teacher educators, and staff who work in teacher education programs to use PSP. To do so, they highlight the promise of Shor’s eleven principles for empowering education: problem posing, participatory, situated, multicultural, dialogic, democratic, researching, interdisciplinary, activist, affective, and desocialization. Their argument in this chapter is clear: “However, if there are no risk takers who initiate change, then an inequitable status quo remains unchallenged and unchanged…[empowerment] is more a function of teachers’ abilities to create opportunities to present experiences that are situated and dialogic that can lead to the activism necessary in a Problem-Solution Project” (p. 227). This sentiment extends into the final chapter, Chapter 20, in which they argue that PSP is empowering, relational, and dialogic, especially during these difficult times of budget cuts and the negative, undermining narratives of teachers that circulate throughout mass media. Some of their recommendations for practice and policy include the following: 1) Placing increased attention on sociopolitical concerns inside our classrooms in ways that lead to teacher and student empowerment; 2) engaging in justice-oriented work that is grounded in social action; 3) encouraging open dialogue among different groups of people; and 4) proposing educational policies that promote student engagement in the learning process, and that value teacher and student autonomy, power, choice, and voice.

Overall, this book provides a rich, detailed, and inspiring assessment of the intersections among service learning, critical pedagogy, and constructivism in relation to the Problem-Solution Project. The authors take great care with including a variety of perspectives from in-service teacher education candidates, pre-service teachers, students, and from their own perspectives as teacher educators. The book should be placed within a larger trajectory that includes important scholarship by John Dewey, Paulo Freire, and bell hooks. In fact, this is one of those books that we can read, learn from, and return to time and again if we seek to remain committed to engaging in service-learning work, fostering an empowering pedagogy, and addressing issues of power in critical, insightful, and purposeful ways. As Ji Park, a fourth grade teacher writes, “One of my students shared how she thought only adults could do something for others. But, discussing the processes of developing and implementing the project, my students referred to themselves as change agents” (p. 233). And this is one of the main goals of the book—to promote an empowering pedagogy and to encourage students (and teachers) to become change agents.

Book review: University Engagement for Community Economic Development: The Role of Anchor Institutions

Review by Glenn A. Bowen

Barry University

Rita Axelroth Hodges and Steve Dubb, The Road Half Traveled: University Engagement at a Crossroads. Michigan State University Press, East Lansing, MI., 2012, 238 pages. ISBN: 978-1-66186-046-7. Paperback.

The economic development role of higher education institutions has come into sharp focus in recent years. This was prompted in part by the recommitment of state and land-grant institutions to engagement that is responsive to the social and economic needs of surrounding communities (Kellogg Commission on the Future of the State and Land-Grant Universities, 1999). Boyer’s (1996) clarion call for institutions to participate more vigorously in partnerships that address economic and other pressing problems also provided impetus for community engagement.

In general, colleges and universities—public and private alike—may provide economic development support through employment, purchasing, and resource sharing; human capital development; and knowledge transfer (Wittman & Crews, 2012). In particular, many institutions have contributed to community economic development through service learning, the pedagogy that integrates community service into the curriculum (Bringle & Hatcher, 1996; Steinberg, Kenworthy-U’Ren, Desplaces, Coleman, & Golden, 2006).

The Road Half Traveled: University Engagement at a Crossroads assesses economic development initiatives and partnership programs of colleges and universities as anchor institutions in low-income, urban communities. Coauthored by Rita Axelroth Hodges (University of Pennsylvania) and Steve Dubb (University of Maryland, College Park), the book situates community economic development in the broad context of community engagement and clarifies the concept of anchor institutions. The book draws attention to effective practices among colleges and universities that convene stakeholders, facilitate programs, and lead initiatives designed to improve the economic and social welfare of the communities in which the institutions are anchored.

The Road Half Traveled is divided into four parts consisting of 11 chapters complemented by three appendices. A set of case studies form the core of the book. The cases feature 10 institutions that have pursued an anchor institution mission—“the conscious and strategic application of the long-term, place-based economic power of the institution, in combination with its human and intellectual resources, to better the welfare of the community in which it resides” (p. 147, italics in original). The featured institutions reflect diversity; they include public and private, four-year and two-year, research and liberal arts, Ivy League and land-grant.

Part 1, “The Past and Present of University Engagement,” encompasses four chapters. In the opening chapter, Hodges and Dubb trace significant developments in university-community engagement such as the establishment of land-grant colleges, cooperative extension, the settlement house movement, and service-learning programs. In Chapter 2, the authors outline three roles of anchor institutions: facilitator, leader, and convener. Explicated in Chapter 3 are six major areas in which urban colleges and universities have worked with communities: comprehensive neighborhood revitalization; community economic development through corporate investment; local capacity building; public school and health partnerships; academic engagement; and multi-anchor, city, and regional partnerships. The authors then discuss, in Chapter 4, some of the challenges that institutions face in their engagement efforts. These include securing funding and leveraging resources, building a culture of economic inclusion, and sustaining participatory planning and robust community relationships.

Three comprehensive case studies comprise Part 2. The first, in Chapter 5, examines the facilitator strategy as exemplified at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI), Portland State University, and Miami Dade College. The second, in Chapter 6, profiles the University of Pennsylvania (Penn), the University of Cincinnati, and Yale University employing the leadership strategy. The final case study, in Chapter 7, illustrates the convener strategy at Syracuse University, the University of Minnesota Twin Cities, LeMoyne-Owen College, and Emory University.

The single chapter in Part 3 identifies “best practices” in relation to the major areas of engagement (described in Chapter 3), together with an outline of associated strategies and their key features. Salient practices include IUPUI’s alignment of academic resources with community development goals; Penn’s multipronged neighborhood revitalization, which draws on academic, “corporate,” and human resources; and LeMoyne-Owen’s establishment of a community development corporation. An additional example is Miami Dade College’s “Opportunity for All” strategy aimed at building a culture of economic inclusion, which involves reaching underserved populations through an open-door policy, job training, small-business development, and employment. Two of the key features of this strategy are workforce training of low-income residents for available jobs and micro-entrepreneurship training in a minority business corridor.

Part 4, “Envisioning the Road to be Taken: Realizing the Anchor Institution Mission,” offers readers clear-cut information on how to build internal constituencies for partnership work (Chapter 9), catalyze change through philanthropy (Chapter 10), and provide policy support for the anchor institution mission (Chapter 11). In a concluding section, the authors provide a table—the last of the book’s 32 tables, all labeled less precisely as figures—outlining specific recommendations for fulfilling the anchor institution mission.

The full title of the book gives a mixed signal. While the main title implies a half-accomplished goal (on a single “road” to be traveled), the subtitle suggests that there are different directions in which to go. At the same time, it is relevant to note that for many (perhaps most) institutions, the “road” has not been taken at all. As Charles Rutheiser points out in the book’s foreword, a relatively small number of universities have adopted an anchor institution mission.

It seems that the “road” is “half traveled” because the current travelers (anchor institutions) have not fully realized their anchor mission. Colleges and universities that play the role of facilitator have exhibited a high degree of collaboration with community groups but have made only small institutional investments in community development. While the “leaders” have made large corporate investments and comprehensive community development efforts, they have mostly “consulted” with communities rather than foster true partnerships. For their part, the “conveners” have relied heavily on external sources of support to implement vital capacity-building work in the community. To get to the destination, institutions must “develop internal organizing strategies that consciously engage their comprehensive resources—human, academic, cultural, and especially economic—with their communities in collaborative and sustainable ways” (p. 144).

One could fault the authors for not designing their research intentionally to yield hard, quantitative data on the community economic impact of anchor institutions. However, Hodges and Dubb anticipated such a criticism by acknowledging this shortcoming. They have, moreover, offset the criticism by presenting in-depth, comprehensive cases that demonstrate the effectiveness of certain practices among the institutions in their study.

The Road Half Traveled makes a substantial contribution to the community engagement literature in at least three ways. First, it unpacks the anchor institution concept by identifying related roles and pertinent practices in a community development context. Second, the book features a cross-section of anchor institutions providing engagement models that can be pressed into service. Third, it shows how colleges and universities can go about adopting anchor institution strategies for pursuing economic development goals in collaboration with community partners.

In effect, The Road Half Traveled helps us to understand better what an anchor institution is, what it does, and how it works. Institutional leaders, community engagement administrators, and local development planners will find this book useful as they embrace engagement designed to build and sustain the economic vitality of communities and concomitantly improve the well-being of residents.


Boyer, E.L. (1996). The scholarship of engagement. Journal of Public Service & Outreach, 1(1), 9–20.

Bringle, R.G., & Hatcher, J.A. (1996). Implementing service learning in higher education. Journal of Higher Education, 67(2), 221–239.

Kellogg Commission on the Future of the State and Land-Grant Universities. (1999). Returning to our roots: The engaged institution. Washington, DC: National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges.

Steinberg, M., Kenworthy-U’Ren, A., Desplaces, D., Coleman, S., & Golden, R. (2006). A service-learning approach to community economic development: The University of Hartford micro business incubator. International Journal of Case Method Research & Application, 18(2), 200–208.

Wittman, A., & Crews, T. (2012). Engaged learning economies: Aligning civic engagement and economic development in community-campus partnerships. Boston, MA: Campus Compact.



ESC 1ESC red banner

Dr. Rajesh Tandon is an internationally acclaimed leader and practitioner of participatory research and development. In 1982 he founded the Society for Participatory Research in Asia (PRIA), a voluntary organization providing support to grassroots initiatives in South Asia. He has been its chief functionary since then. Under his leadership, PRIA has developed numerous methodologies of participatory learning and training, participatory bottom-up micro planning, and participatory monitoring and evaluation. His Ph.D. is from Case Western Reserve University; he has additional degrees in engineering and management. Tandon’s specialty is social and organizational change. His contributions revolve around issues of participatory research, advocating for people-centered development, policy reform, and networking in India, South Asia, and beyond. He has advocated for a self-reliant, autonomous, and competent voluntary sector in India and abroad. Another area of his work is building alliances and partnerships among diverse sectors in societal development. Tandon has served on numerous government task forces and committees and the boards of many civil society organizations. He is the founder and has been chair of the board of directors of CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation; of the Global Alliance on Community-Engaged Research network; and of the external advisory committee of the Office of Community Based Research at the University of Victoria, Canada. In Paris in 2009, he chaired the session on University–Community Engagement for Societal Change and Development: Possibilities ESC Dr Rageshand Challenges at the UNESCO World Conference on Higher Education. He is currently chair of the board of directors of the Montreal International Forum. He was awarded an honorary doctor of laws degree by the University of Victoria in 2008.

(Dr. Fitzgerald) Welcome to everybody on behalf of the thirty members of the Engagement Scholarship Consortium, especially our two newest members, Virginia Tech University and Tarleton State University.

It is fitting at our first meeting outside the United States to draw attention to the strong international efforts to build connections between institutions of higher education and the diverse communities that comprise society. These efforts are increasingly focused on efforts to solve complex problems, advance social justice, and enhance the welfare of all humanity.

ESC DR. FitzgeraldThere are now at least twenty-two organizations that focus on various aspects of this work, and an increasing number of journals available for the dissemination of the knowledge gained about the processes that contribute to the success of partnerships and the sustainable outcomes from effective evidence-based practices. This international effort is well illustrated by the efforts of the Global University Network Innovation (GUNI) meeting in Barcelona in May 2013. Three hundred and fifty individuals from 70 countries assembled to discuss the diversity of approaches to engagement in higher education and its contribution to social change.

The editors of the volume produced in conjunction with the conference included two that are a link to our conference today. Budd Hall at the University of Victoria is frequently recognized as the founder of community-based participatory research. He is a passionate champion of social justice, and he’s also a poet. You will find one of his poems in the program. The second editor here today is Rajesh Tandon, equally committed to social justice, equity, and community-based research.

You will shortly hear more about Rajesh and then he will give us an inspirational start to our conference. In your packets your will find a flyer that provides information about the volume that was produced in February 2014 by that group of folks who met in May 2013; 350 individuals from 70 countries gathered in Barcelona to discuss issues related to knowledge, who’s knowledge, how to blend knowledges of community with knowledges of universities in ways that we can co-create solutions to many of the world’s most vexing problems.

I hope you will establish friendships here that will expand your network of colleagues committed to community-engaged scholarship. Welcome, and have a good conference.

Screen Shot 2015-11-09 at 11.16.40 AM(Dr. Young) Good morning. On behalf of the University of Alberta, it is my great privilege to welcome you to the 2014 ESC Conference and to our University of Alberta community. Our province, city, and university are relatively young, all tracing our roots back 110 years. Although our original early European trading settlement goes back 220 years in Edmonton and, of course, our aboriginal people have used this Saskatchewan River Valley for millennia. I understand our poet laureate gave you some background of that last evening. Our Faculty of Extension celebrated 100 years several years ago, and has been one of our main instruments for community engagement at our university, playing an instrumental role in the success of our university over the past 110 years. Chancellors around the world have many different levels of responsibilities. As chancellor of the University of Alberta, I have several key responsibilities. First, I am the titular and honorific head of the university and I confer over convocation. Secondly, I serve on the board of governors as a governor of the university. And third, and perhaps my most important role, is as chair of the University Senate, comprised of 62 members of our community, 31 of whom come from the broad community across Alberta and 31 because of their university position. Our senators are there to represent the community interest and to encourage community engagement, so I think it is very fitting that I was asked to provide some opening remarks to you this morning and also introduce our guest speaker. (Regarding) community engagement, our Senate has recently engaged a task force on connecting communities. Our goal with this task force is to exchange ideas that will strengthen the university and community relationships across our city and province. We’ve been very grateful to Dean Katy Campbell and the Faculty of Extension for their partnership and helping us conduct this task force, which is important to our Senate’s undertakings. We’ve had great support and a great partnership and appreciate the wonderful relationship and the research capabilities they have brought to our Senate. As chancellor, one of my roles, in addition to presiding over convocation ceremonies, is to represent the public interest in the university. As a proud alumnus of the university, it is a privilege I take with great enthusiasm. It is in this spirit, and with public interest top of mind, I welcome you here to Edmonton today. The scholarship of engagement is extremely important to communities we serve. Your work is vital to the future of secondary education here in Canada, indeed, around the world. So, I wish you much success with your conference.

And, it now gives me great pleasure to introduce our distinguished keynote speaker, Dr. Rajesh Tandon. This is the first time that this annual conference ESC been held outside the United States, hosted by a member of the newly formed international region. So, it is very appropriate that our keynote speaker should be Dr. Tandon, who is based in India but whose name and accomplishments are known throughout the world. He is perhaps best known as the president of the Society for Participatory Research in Asia, a voluntary organization he founded in 1982 that supports grassroots initiatives in South Asia. He is also the founder and has been the chairperson of the board of directors of CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation. He is a chairperson of the Global Alliance on Community-Engaged Research network, and he was also inducted into the International Adult and Continuing Education Hall of Fame in 2010. He is currently the chair of the board of directors of Montreal International Forum, which is also referred to as the Forum for Democratic Global Governance. He received an honorary doctorate from the University of Victoria in British Columbia to go with his earned doctorate from Case Western Reserve University. He is also co-holder of the UNESCO chair in community-based research in higher education, which he holds with Dr. Budd Hall of the University of Victoria, who wasn’t able to attend in person. This morning we are very fortunate to be able to host the other half of that long-term friendship and collaboration, Dr. Rajesh Tandon. He is here to speak to us on a topic “Community-University Engagement and the Challenge of Change.” Please join me in welcoming Dr. Tandon.


Namaskar, good morning. It is about bedtime (audience laughs), and that is why I have prepared a 75-slide PowerPoint, so that you can go to sleep along with me. Thank you very much for inviting me to be with you on this very important occasion. I have been an admirer of the work that many fellow North Americans have been doing. As Hiram (Fitzgerald) has mentioned over the course of the last three years, we have worked very closely together to produce that wonderful unique report that Dr. Fitzgerald brought to your attention. I do have a have a PowerPoint presentation and I will take you through at least six slides of that, but let me start by sharing with you, very briefly, the history of my journey to North America, because I seem to be found more in North America these days according to some comments made last night over at the reception by fellow Americans and Canadians.

I came to Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland to do a Ph.D. in organizational science in the School of Management. Having done electronic engineering as my first degree and management education as my second degree, I began a career as an assistant professor, a lecturer of management. And—my, that was 1974—I arrive in Cleveland, (realizing) my dream of visiting America, the land of gold and honey. The drive from the airport to the university residence shattered that dream in half an hour. While I was in the U.S, a political emergency was declared in India. Along with some other fellow Indian students on the East Coast, we decided to go back and find out what was going on back home. The only legitimate way to go home in those days was to pretend that you would do field work for your dissertation. And I managed to find a reasonably flexible committee which allowed me to go and do field work on rural development. By a series of strange coincidences, I ended up in the Southern Rajasthan area, which was inhabited by indigenous peoples; we called them tribals. And (I) spent about a year basically figuring out how I could make myself comfortable in those rural surroundings. It was in the course of that experience that I discovered several things, which my formal, one of the best formal educations I could have had in India, did not allow me to understand. Firstly, I discovered that illiteracy did not equate itself with ignorance. Illiterate farmers and women in those villages were extremely knowledgeable about a large number of things, including what has now come to be called holistic health. In those days we used to call it voodoo science, because, you know, you would drink some water, you would pluck some leaves, and you would chew them, and all that; now they’re packaged. In the mornings some of them would go out and, you know, stretch in various strange ways. Nowadays it is called yoga. And despite the fact that I had electronics engineering as my background, I did not appreciate all this mumbo-jumbo that was going on in the village. It took me awhile to figure out that there is a body of knowledge outside the universe in which I was schooled and trained. It also took me awhile to figure out that the research methodology which I knew so well—and I knew SPSS package at that time and the use of computers at that time—that research methodology was reasonably alienating to people, because whenever I would approach (someone) with a questionnaire they would run away or negotiate their age with me. We would start with a man with about five kids saying, “I’m a man of 20 years old,” and I would say “Come on” and he would say “OK, 25.” By the time we were finished he will be about 43 years old!

That was the methodology of finding out information; we use to call them data. So, I discovered that there was a body of knowledge residing in those people, and I also discovered that there was a way of narrating and sharing that knowledge which I was not very familiar with. So, I had this rather difficult task of producing a Ph.D. thesis based on this rather messy and tension-filled experience, after which I learned that all of you that have got a Ph.D. have had messy and tension-filled experiences; but those days I felt lonely. So, when I returned to Cleveland to write my thesis, the chair of my research committee and my doctoral committee rejected all the so called data I had and said I must repeat my thesis in an American community in and around Cleveland. That was terrifying. First of all, that would have meant that I had failed in doing what I did, wasted about 15 months of my life and some other people’s money, and so I was rather shattered. At that time, I found a fan not far from Cleveland in Toronto in the International Council for Adult Education, Dr. Budd Hall.

I dialed a number that was given to me, and he said, “Oh yes, I have been thinking about participatory research.” So, I said this is what I was doing. On the phone we agreed that there was, potentially, a logic to what my messy experience was. And he agreed to send me a copy of his first write-up on this, which appeared in Emergence in 1975–76. I needed a reference in order to justify what I was saying. As you all know, unless you have a reference you can’t be making sense. So my friendship with Dr. Budd Hall goes back to 1978. I stand here before you today remembering that friendship, but most importantly, being a part of one leg of a UNESCO chair rooted in the world of practice and very happy to be sharing the other leg of a UNESCO chair rooted in the world of academe. I believe that our model of the UNESCO chair—one leg rooted in Indian South Asian practitioner organization and another rooted in a university in North America is a classic example of how engaged scholarship can be pursued in the 21st century. I do want to share with you my thoughts and experiences this morning, but also do so in a spirit of humility, because I am quite aware of the vast body of expertise, practical knowledge, and critical rigor that exists in this auditorium today. I am quite aware of the work that several of you have been doing and I cherish my deep friendship with many of you in this hall and look forward to strengthening new friendships in the coming period. The poem to which both the chancellor and Hiram refer to written by Budd Hall talks about turning of the world.

Let me bring to your attention what is some of this turning of the world that we are referring to. In my view, humanity is at a crossroad. And that crossroad is perplexing in some ways, because we have enormous prosperity in the world today. The levels of prosperity, of comfort, of ease, of travel from India, Portugal in less than twenty-four hours is unparalleled in human history. But we also live in a world where a good 30 percent of our people are living on less than $1.25 a day. This contradiction is shameful, is painful, and it is unsustainable. We live in a world of plenty. We have produced food grains of a level that never were produced. We have processed food grain of a level that never was produced, but we also have malnutrition among our children, not just in sub-Saharan Africa or India or South Asia, but also in Eastern Europe, in Central Asia, in parts of the Arab world.

Why is there a scarcity in the face of plenty? Rapid economic growth. Asia has become the economic fulcrum of the last decade. But 10 percent annual GDP growth rate is a complete myth, with high level of degradation, pollution (of our) air, water, and soil, as well as destruction of ecosystems. The debate in U.N. General Assembly on the 23rd of September this year was just a symptom of the malaise we are facing in pursuit of economic growth. We have enormous military power in our hands today, but a small bunch of people can terrorize the whole world as we are witnessing in what is going on on the borders of Syria and Iraq these days. Surprisingly, or not so surprisingly, the guns and bullets they are using are actually manufactured in countries like ours. And, we are living in a period of history where many more societies have democratically elected governments than ever before. The aspiration for that democracy is growing (faster than) ever before, but formal institutions of democracy elected political representatives, parliaments, and judiciaries are losing faith in the eyes of our young people. Witness the demonstrations on the streets of Hong Kong these days. That upsurge of youth demanding a way of engaging with society different from formally elected representative democracy is not limited to Hong Kong; it has happened in Myanmar, in Cambodia, and many other parts of the world, not just in Asia. So the question for us really is that will humanity at this crossroad move ahead in a ways that, as Hiram said, would contribute to equitable, just, and free societies, which are providing access to the same levels of happiness and comfort to all its citizens. Today the population of the world is seven billion; by the end of this century it may well be 10 billion, but is it conceivable that we will move later in the century towards peace and justice or not? And it is at this crossroad that I feel higher education, and higher education institutions, have an enormous responsibility. What can higher education institutions, therefore, do in this context? What is their sense of responsibility that we need to stand up to, live up to? In order to position this, let us also look at the 21st century. We are living in world of growing knowledge economy. The discourse on knowledge economy is universal today. All countries have set up knowledge commissions in order to become competitive; they are investing in hardware and software knowledge. Within knowledge economy there are knowledge elites; several of them reside in the Silicon Valley with their counterparts in Bangalore, India and then there are knowledge workers, of course, those who are doing data entry jobs in BPOs or KPOs around the world. We also had an enormous competition knowledge production 20-25 years ago; 30 years ago universities and higher education research institutions were the sole sites of knowledge production. Now business has been setting up think tanks around the world. Media has become a major player in producing knowledge. If you are in today’s world of television, bite-size netizens are the sources of knowledge, however so superficial it may look like. And of course, civil society, particularly through its movement around the question of justice, inclusion of women, indigenous people, and rights to a sustainable and safe ecological environment, has also been contributing to knowledge. So we are living in world of competitive knowledge production. The information society, here more than anywhere else you will know, has the power of knowledge represented through the Yahoos, the Googles, the Twitters, and the Facebooks, the SMS, the mobile. There are 900 million mobile connections in India. It’s a separate matter that less than 500 million have access to toilets. There are countries like Russia and Brazil where on average 1.5 mobile connections per citizen exist today. It is estimated that by the end of 2014 there will be 7.2 billion mobile connects, a little more than the population of the world.

Therefore, this is a different era. This is an era where libraries in the form of resource books have an increasingly challenging environment to face. And finally, it is also an era where knowledge has become a commodity. The intellectual right has been aggressively pursued by WTO and others, and it is no longer a public good. Knowledge has become a private good, it can be traded as a commodity; it can be used as money, and many universities and higher education institutions around the world are being challenged by their governments and policy makers to partner with industry in order to mobilize resources from their knowledge products. So in this context, where we are living in a world of knowledge economy with all its manifestations of competition, regulation, commodification—what do citizens of the world expect from higher education and higher education institutions? Many of you have been party and partners in the promotion of higher education around the world, in your own institution but also through your network and alliances as this consortium represents. There has been, in many parts of the world greater massification of higher education; more and more people want to go to post-secondary educational institutions. Many more governments around the world are now investing in post-secondary education than was the case a decade ago. As massification of higher education happens, as larger and larger young people enter post-secondary educational institutions, as increasing larger middle career professionals return to post-secondary educational institutions for retooling, for learning new skills and competencies, there is a substantial shift in the expectations from higher institutions today.

The first in my view is a shift towards preparing a kind of citizens who are aware of the world they are a part of and behave in manners which are ethical. It is recognized that post-secondary educational institutions bring students, transforms them into learned products of some sort. But the question is how aware they are of the world they are a part of. Even if you are a civil engineer, do you know what is happening around the world? Increasingly, the question of ethical citizenship (is important), not just (in) expectations of ethical behavior from leaders of companies or governments or institutions of higher education, but ethical citizenship in the global context. Are higher educational institutions also preparing global ethical citizens of tomorrow? The second expectation is are they mobilizing knowledge for driving social change. The GUNI book that Hiram showed you, copies of the flyer available in your folder, is all about mobilizing knowledge to drive social change. Higher educational institutions, despite competition in knowledge economy, have to be at the cutting edge of producing knowledge, which is driving social change not only in our own communities and societies, but globally. There is an expectation that post-secondary education is not just a private good, irrespective of what economists may claim or theorize. Higher education is a public good, higher educational institutions are public institutions. Scholars in higher education institutions, like all of you found here, are public intellectuals. You have a role to stand up and speak on issues that confront our society. And higher education institutions can become spaces. They can reclaim spaces for public discourse. Remember the campuses we were all a part of when we were going to our education institutions? Whatever happened to those campuses? Whatever happened to that public space? There is a growing expectation that higher education institutions can convene dialogs across various divides in our society: divides across institutions, divides across communities, divides across politics, ethnicity, religion, gender. Can higher education institution convene dialogs across divides in order to engage with each other and engage with different perspectives and knowledges? Higher education institutions can do so, they’re expected to do so; they were doing so in many parts of the world earlier; we need to reclaim that role once again. In some unique ways, higher education institutions are the only institutions in our society which provide connectivity locality and globality. Locality in the context, in here Edmonton, in the river valley of Edmonton and around, but also the global connection that this river valley represents, that arena of Edmonton represents, that the citizens of Edmonton represent today. This connection higher education institutions can make more organically. Whenever media makes take connection, it leaves out a lot in that connection. Most newspaper reports or television news items do not produce that connectivity in the same way that higher education institutions can do. And therefore, they can create circles of community engagement, locality and globality—coterminous —not something which is separate. Higher education institutions can also, in my view, move beyond knowledge economies to create knowledge society. In fact, higher education institutions can be at the cutting edge proclaiming that knowledge is a public good, knowledge commons is public commons. And it should be available for the benefit of addressing those challenges for all humanity so that we move forward from those crossroads which I referred to a few minutes ago. By building knowledge societies I mean higher education institutions can value diversity of knowledge. They can bring together—Hiram used a wonderful phrase, a blending of community indigenous knowledge with the knowledge of academic rigor produced in universities. They can appreciate plurality of knowledge forms beyond the written word: the storytelling idea workshops here and a number of presentations focusing on narratives of storytelling as forms of expressions of knowledge. It is wonderful to see such presentations being made in an academically rigorous conference like this one because we are willing to include them as forms of expressions of knowledge.

I discovered among those tribal farmers in Southern Rajasthan 40 years ago that they had the capacity to critically think for themselves. That critical thinking was not something you acquired only when you received a Ph.D. or master’s degree. How do we respect that criticality, that critical thinking function? And many of them would start by saying, We don’t know, you are highly educated, you are the learned one, you tell us what we can do. And we many times get seduces. We start telling them what to do. I think we need to stand up to say: Yes, we have got some formal education, but you have knowledge from your experience, your experiential knowledge, practical knowledge, knowledge going through your generations. You also contribute to analyses of this problem and its solutions, because I alone cannot do so. I think we are therefore expecting higher education institutions to work towards integration of a knowledge society which is somewhat distinctive from the current race towards knowledge economy. It will be an attempt to include various forms of knowledge, various expressions of knowledge, and treat them all with respect. As one of our indigenous elders last night said, “It’s all about respect.”

Knowledge-driven social change, this conference is Engaged Scholarship Consortium. Engagement also happens in the communities, with the communities. At the moment the equation is somewhat unbalanced. The outreach from universities and higher education to the communities is far greater around the world than the other way around. Communities around the world are not making the same degree and the same frequency of demands on higher education institution as they should be doing either. And part of the reason they are not doing is because individual engaged scholars all of you here and many you know around the world, they are committed towards engagement but our institutions sometimes are not. Our institutions sometimes are designed, created, administered, and presented in a manner to the larger public in a manner that makes it difficult for communities to make demands on our institutions for engagement. In my view, therefore, engaged scholarship is the stepping stone towards engaged institutions of higher education, and engagement is essentially the core of excellence. If we are engaged, we are excellent. So how can we change to engage? A wonderful theme for this conference: Changing to engage. What does that mean? Institution-wide engagement. Not just in departments and faculties of extension, adult lifelong learning, community outreach, social work, nursing, indigenous education, ecology, gender studies, mental health. Yes, all these disciples are important. But civil engineering, nuclear physics, literature, biotechnology, nanotechnology, institution wide—all disciplines must be encouraged and supported to engage, institution deep. The core function of higher institutions is teaching and research. Can we integrate engagement with these core functions? Can we make the teaching engaged in such ways that the quality of learning for our students improves through engagement, that engagement gives them (students) credits, grades, but also sensitivity, deep appreciation, and profound knowledge. Likewise, engagement in the core function of research, what Hiram called blending, knowledge available inside academe with the knowledge available in community, and doing it, of course, with respect as our elder reminded us last night. Therefore, integrate engagement in the mission and mainstream it in the core functions of teaching and research. Institution-long engagement actually implies commitments over decades. I know we like measurement, I know we need to show results, but please results of engagements cannot be shown in 18-month-long frames.

We are talking about changing the culture of our institutions, not only the culture of higher education institutions, but the culture of community organizations, because they need to come forward an engage with higher education, as well. This shift in culture in not going to happen in 18-month or three-year time frames. I know we need to show results, we need to show progress, we need to have metrics, important as they are, but the commitment has to be over decades. It cannot be that a new president, or chancellor, or vice chancellor comes in and says, I will now design a new strategic plan for the next five years, and by the way we have dropped engagement now. Partnerships of trust, mutual benefit, partnerships outside higher education institutions must recognize that community organizations are small, weak, fragile do not have the same level of resources as higher institutions may have. But they have social capital, they have networks, they have practitioner knowledge, they have experiential knowledge, and at times they may have faith, a faith for change, which skeptical as we are as academics, we may not want to acknowledge, because how can we believe in anything unless it is empirically proven.

Finally, it co-creates capacity and structures for engagement. Our studies have begun to show institutional structures are critical to incentivize engagement. This means the structures within higher education institutions on the boundaries of higher education institutions with engagement with communities, but also building capacities not just of those inside, but also those outside. I believe in situ joint capacity enhancement with community leaders and organizations and students and scholars would go a long way in strengthening this possibility that institutionalization of engagement could happen both inside higher education as well as outside, just as institutionalization inside will not yield the results we are looking for. Finally, the book that Hiram showed you, the GUNI book at the conference last May, came up with a phrase: be “knowledgiastic.” You can’t find it in an Oxford dictionary, but so what, none of us are doing what we were trained to do anyway. We are all creating the road as we walk. And therefore what does being knowledgiastic mean? Co-create transformative knowledge which drives social change which provides means for addressing some of the problems of our times, but which also brings various other actors together. I believe higher education institutions have the possibility, and in fact perhaps are the only set of institutions available in our societies today with the capacity to bring together divergent, conflictful actors in our societies, to arrive at a consensus that will drive a desirable future for all humanity in the 21st century. And I look forward to being with you in the next two days to explore how you are doing it in your own ways in your part of the world. Thank you very much for your patience.

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First Place — Integrating High-Impact Scholarship into a Large General Education Class

Dr. Careen Yarnal and Hsin-Yu Chen

The Pennsylvania State University

Engaged scholarship is defined at Penn State as out-of-classroom academic experiences that complement classroom learning. Research has found that experiences like internships, study abroad, service learning, and undergraduate research are high-impact practices, providing students with opportunities to reflect on life choices and experiences, to improve time management skills, and to apply in-class learning to real world contexts and settings. However, issues of scalability, cost, enrollment limitations, time commitment, and implementation frame these practices. To provide an alternative engaged scholarship model, while at the same time addressing some shortcomings associated with providing high-impact experiences, we embedded a three-phase time diary into a large undergraduate general education class. The three phases of the diary consisted of 1) intensive data collection about personal time used in various activities for seven consecutive 24-hour periods, conducted at the beginning of the semester; 2) rigorous data entry and analysis in an Excel file specifically designed to calculate statistics on daily and weekly time use, conducted mid-semester; and 3) extensive self-reflection about time use and college life in the form of an 8–10 page paper, conducted at the end of the semester. Providing multiple applied learning and engagement experiences for the mix of majors, genders, ages, and academic classifications and spacing three phases over the semester, the project also provided students with opportunities to:

• Examine what their data collection and analysis demonstrated about daily and weekly time use.

• Reappraise personal goals in college life.

• Engage in greater self-reflection on life choices and time management.

• Deepen understanding of class concepts and apply this knowledge to daily life.

• Use time more meaningfully.

Qualitative analysis of the self-reflection papers (n=111) revealed that self-reflection urged students to cognitively review personal goals, values, attitudes, behaviors, and time use. Results demonstrated that the diary project made learning more meaningful for students because they applied what they learned in the classroom to out-of-classroom contexts and settings. The diary project also helped students deepen learning, bring values and beliefs into awareness, and facilitate better understanding of self and others. In addition, it led to an appreciation of how class concepts helped them understand the importance of choices, priorities, and decision-making during free time. Indeed, some students were inspired to positively engage in meaningful activities, such as volunteering and civic engagement. This study’s results suggest that integrating innovative engaged scholarship models like the time diary into a general education curriculum not only provides engaged scholarship opportunities to more students, but also holds cost-effective, large-scale potential to harness out-of-class engagement opportunities that contribute to students’ academic, personal, and social development.

Second Place—The Impact of Homelessness and Incarceration on the Health of WomenScreen Shot 2015-11-13 at 3.12.07 PM

By Louanne Keenan and Rabia Ahmed

University of Alberta

This study used participatory action and mixed methodology to explore the health-seeking experiences, perceptions of risk, and the medical, mental health, and housing needs of females during incarceration. Four focus groups were conducted during the incarceration period in groups of four to six inmates.

Additionally, 300 health surveys were completed by female inmates. Focus group and survey questions focused on the following themes: 1) access to medical and mental health care; 2) medical and mental health needs; 3) housing needs; and 4) perceptions of risk to one’s health and safety during the transition from corrections to the community. Women described how they enter incarceration in poor health and how incarceration was viewed as a time to improve overall health through accessing health services. However, maintaining health as they transition back into the community was dependent on housing status. If women were released into unsafe or unstable housing, they described increased risk for returning to poor health and recidivism into crime. Female inmates described a number of healthcare challenges, knowledge deficits, lack of housing resources, and barriers to moving forward in life. These findings support the development of gender-sensitive health and housing programs for preventing or reducing drug and alcohol use, recidivism, and poor health among this vulnerable population.

Third Place—Does Service-Learning Make Graduates (Feel) More Employable?

By Paul H. Matthews and Jeffrey H. Dorfman, University of Georgia

Two hundred and thirty-nine graduates who took service-learning coursework at the University of Georgia were surveyed three years post-graduation to assess how they believed service learning had influenced their employment across a range of factors, including salary, job field, and promotions. Consistent with earlier studies, the largest perceived benefit of having taken service-learning courses was in terms of helping students determine their field of interest. Graduates’ open-ended comments also suggested more global benefits from these courses, which may have had indirect impacts on their job skills, competitiveness, and performance.

third place

Honorable Mention with Distinction—Illustrating the Impacts: Global Community Engaged Design. By Rebekah Radtke and Travis Hicks (University of North Carolina-Greensboro).honorable mention

Subthemes—What impact are we having? How do we measure impacts or outcomes of community university engagement?

Abstract—How can we validate the learning outcomes of global community engaged experiences beyond the intuitive? This presentation shares a framework that illustrates how to effectively measure the impact of engaging in community-based projects abroad.

Question—Community engaged experiences provide students with the ability to experience the global context of design outside of the classroom. These opportunities enrich the learning landscape by providing students interactions with a variety of viewpoints from varying cultural contexts. But how can we validate the learning outcomes beyond the intuitive? This presentation seeks to share a framework that illustrates how to effectively measure the impact of studying abroad by engaging in community-based projects. Based on a study abroad program to Brazil, the author will discuss the measures and results of a study conducted in the summer of 2013.

Framework—A study abroad program to Brazil prompted research with nine students from interior design and architecture that participated in a community-engaged design build project with a local village outside of Sao Paulo. The research was comprised of multiple levels of engagement; methodologies required students to complete a survey about global citizenship and academic development prior to departure, immediately upon arrival home, and ten weeks after their return. The study required students to complete exploratory sketching, responsive writing, and an independent research project to chart learning based on standards for global understanding and collaboration. This data was analyzed to assess how well students met learning objectives for the course and how they were impacted both personally and professionally by the global experience.

Conclusions—Systematic assessment of the data collected reveals how community engagement can enrich the learning experience and provide evidence for student learning outcomes. Data showed students exhibited understanding of working with multiple stakeholders and a whole systems approach to sustainability by participating in community engaged design processes abroad. Students showed evidence of awareness to varying socio-economic conditions within other cultures through active engagement with community members. Ideas will be shared to assist educators in making student travel demonstrate the impact of community engaged design within a world context.

Honorable Mention with Distinctionhonorable mention

Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service—Building an Intercultural Competent Community: First Year Assessment

By Maria G. Fabregas Janeiro and Jorge H. Atiles, Oklahoma State University

Oklahoma State University is aware of the challenge of preparing Cooperative Extension educators to work with people from different cultures. To face this challenge it has proposed a project “Build an Intercultural Competent Community (ICC).” the goal of which is to develop a community, which works effectively in multicultural environments. During the first year of the project, two assessments were conducted, 1) needs assessment of intercultural competence training by Extension personnel, and 2) assessment of intercultural competence using the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI). The needs assessment survey was designed by the researchers and used Qualtrics platform to collect the data. 685 Extension personnel were asked to complete the assessment; 132 (19.28%) answered the survey. The evaluation showed that OCES personnel are interested in attending intercultural training and developing their own intercultural competence.

Extension personnel are having problems reaching multicultural audiences and are concerned about offending people from other cultures due to the language barriers and unfamiliarity with cultural manners. The second evaluation, the IDI, was sent to the same 685 individuals; 55 (8.03%) answered the instrument. The group studied showed a perceived orientation of 119.68, corresponding to the acceptance stage of the Intercultural Development Continuum (Hammer, 2012). Group Perceived Orientation “reflects where the group places itself along the continuum” (Hammer, 2015, p. 5). On the other hand, the group developmental orientation of 90.91, corresponding to the minimization stage of the continuum, “indicates the Group Primary Orientation toward cultural differences and commonalities” (Hammer, 2015, p. 5). The group believed, at the time of the assessment that “recognizes and appreciated patterns of cultural differences and commonalities in one’s own and other cultures” (Hammer 2015, p. 4). However, their Developmental Orientation shows that the group “highlights cultural commonality and universal values that may also mask deeper recognition and appreciation of cultural differences” (Hammer, 2015, p. 4)

These assessments are helping to design intercultural competency trainings according to the Extension educators’ levels of intercultural competence and specific needs. According to the data, trainings should discuss topics related to cultural superiority or inferiority (right from wrong), and continue focusing on cultural differences and commonalities and the ways that those differences could be accepted and respected. Training included a variety of modalities such as face-to–face workshops, lectures, online via Adobe Connect or Desire to Learn (D2L) platforms.


Hammer, M.R. (2012). The intercultural development inventory: A new frontier in assessment and development of intercultural competence. In M. Vande Berg, R.M. Paige, & K.H. Lou (Eds.), Student learning abroad (pp. 115–136). Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing.

Hammer, M.R. (2015). Intercultural development inventory v. 3 (IDI). Group profile report. See


Honorable Mention with Distinction—Characteristics of Effective Practice by Faculty in Service-Learning Courses. By Paul H. Matthews (University of Georgia) and Andrew J. Pearl (University of North Georgia).

Abstract—Academic service learning (SL) is a high-impact educational practice with demonstrated student benefits ranging from increased understanding of course content to enhanced civic outcomes. However, not all SL courses are equally effective at bringing about positive outcomes for participants. Undergraduate and graduate students (n=546) from 42 unique SL courses participated in one university’s end-of-course survey across multiple semesters. Regression analyses of their responses investigated the influence of course elements, particularly those under the control of the instructor, on composite student outcome variables.

Recipients of the 2014 Engagement Scholarship/W.K. Kellogg Foundation Engagement Award and Finalists for the 2014 C. Peter Magrath University/Community Engagement Awardrecipients of the 2014...

Recipients were announced at the ESC Conference at the University of Alberta, Canada, on October 8, 2014.

WINNER: The Virginia Commonwealth University School of Pharmacy. Title: Working Together to Transform Lives through Pharmacist Collaborative Care and Outreach in the Community” was produced through the Pharmacist Collaborative Care and Outreach in the Community (PCOC). The winning project was the work of Dr. Leticia Moczygemba, assistant professor in the School of Pharmacy, and Dr. Sallie Mayer, assistant professor, VCU School of Pharmacy. The VCU School of Pharmacy’s PCOC is composed of initiatives that include seven academic-community partnerships with independent senior living facilities and underserved clinics, five large-scale community outreach programs, and programs to train the next generation of health professionals. PCOC initiatives focus on underserved populations, including the uninsured, older adults, homeless individuals, and those living in rural areas. The scope includes providing students with high-quality learning experiences, advancing research and clinical practice, preparing students for careers that advance health, and creating university-community partnerships to improve healthcare access. Fourteen faculty members, 500 students, and 35 residents have provided more than 20,000 patient care encounters in the Greater Richmond area. PCOC initiatives are integrated with service learning courses, advanced pharmacy practice experiences, electives, and inter-professional education experiences.

FINALIST—Purdue University. Purdue Kenya Program (PKP) is the work of Ellen Schellhase, clinical associate professor, Department of Pharmacy Practice, and Monica Miller, clinical associate professor, Department of Pharmacy Practice. In 2003, the Purdue University College of Pharmacy (PUCOP) joined the Academic Model Providing Access to Healthcare (AMPATH) consortium in Eldoret, Kenya, and established the Purdue Kenya Program with a mission of building a sustainable access to high quality care for nearly 3.5 million people in the AMPATH catchment area while fostering development of globally engaged students. This partnership includes Kenyan patients and pharmacists as well as AMPATH and Purdue University faculty and staff. PKP has created a sustainable clinical pharmacy infrastructure to provide patient care programs, coupled with funded research programs that investigate understudied characteristics of patients in sub-Saharan Africa. PKP has also established a unique experiential training program that builds pharmacy leaders from the United States and Kenya. This is the only clinical pharmacy training program in sub-Saharan Africa with more than 200 trainees, including PUCOP students, University of Nairobi pharmacy interns, and PUCOP Global Health residents. These trainees provide more than 80 clinical interventions daily while working on the inpatient wards. PKP has received approximately $50 million in product donations, grants, and program support. It has contributed 18 peer-reviewed publications and 110 poster and invited platform presentations demonstrating how clinical pharmacy services can be effectively established and sustained in a resource-constrained setting.

FINALIST—University of New Hampshire. The New Hampshire Lakes Lay Monitoring Program (NH LLMP) is the work of Jeff Schloss of the Natural Resources Program in the UNH Cooperative Extension and Patricia Tarpey, executive director of Lake Winnipesaukee Watershed Association.

The NH LLMP, a volunteer water-quality monitoring program, has been used as a model to create and improve similar programs in 35 states and 12 countries. To date, the program has trained more than 1,250 volunteers, worked on assessing 118 lakes, and monitored more than 1,670 lake and tributary sites. The program grew out of an expressed community need for understanding environmental changes noticed by lake users. By engaging volunteers to identify questions and concerns about their lakes and training them to be active participants in data collection and analysis, large quantities of reliable data can be gathered in a cost-effective way for multiple research initiatives. The findings can then be used to make sound local, state and regional management decisions. For more than 35 years, UNH Cooperative Extension, faculty, and students from UNH’s Center for Freshwater Biology have worked with lake associations and communities to collect data on NH’s lake quality. Receiving timely data on a large spatial scale allows researchers to better understand how climate and human activity on the landscape affect our water resources.

FINALIST—Oregon State University. Working Together to Transform Lives through Pharmacist Collaborative Care and Outreach in the Community (PCOC) is the work of Connie Green, president, Tillamook Bay Community College, and Paul Navarra, vice principal of Madras High School in Madras, Oregon.

In the Oregon Open Campus (OOC) initiative, Oregon State University serves as a convener of community partners who address educational needs unique to individual Oregon communities. Under the OOC banner, OSU partners with K–12 schools, community colleges, businesses, and governmental interests to provide and coordinate educational opportunities—both credit and non-credit—that specifically meet the needs identified in individual communities. When refined and proven to be successful, these innovations are made available to other communities. Oregon State, with a statewide mandate as Oregon’s land-grant university and the Carnegie Foundation’s top designation for research institutions and Community Engagement classification, is a logical choice to address these issues. In 2009–2010, after conversations with community leaders looking for greater access to the university, Oregon State launched three Oregon Open Campus pilot sites. OOC served more than 1,200 learners in each of the first two years, and 2,499 learners in FY 2012. The OOC goals match and support Oregon Legislative goals: college and career readiness, increased off-campus degree completion, and improved local economic development and business vitality. After an initial “proof of concept” investment by the university, increased investments by community and campus partners helped expand OOC to six sites, reaching nine rural counties in 2013.

EXEMPLARY PROJECT—Montana State University. Title: “Towne’s Harvest Garden: Locally, Sustainably, and Educationally Grown Community Engagement.”

Towne’s Harvest Garden (THG), MSU’s farm and community supported agriculture (CSA) program, is a dynamic outdoor classroom, a living laboratory for research, and a primary venue for community engagement. THG was initiated by a student organization in 2007 in partnership with the Gallatin Valley Food Bank (GVFB), and has been sustained by curricular integration and institutional support. THG’s mission is to be a source of locally, sustainably, and educationally grown food for the campus and members of the surrounding community. Students in the Sustainable Food and Bioenergy Systems degree program spend their first summer at MSU participating in a hands-on THG practicum course designed to teach all aspects of small-scale food production. THG also provides service-learning opportunities for MSU students from other disciplines such as architecture and engineering. THG students distribute the food they have grown through a CSA (where members pay an upfront fee for a weekly share of the harvest); at a weekly campus farm stand; and through the Community Food Truck (CFT), a mobile farm stand created in partnership with the GVFB. THG activities have attracted external funds, formed the basis of countless conference presentations, and been featured in numerous peer-reviewed and outreach publications.

EXEMPLARY PROJECT—North Carolina State University. Title: “Community Engagement Through the Helps Education Fund (HEF).”

The mission of the HEF is to support educators (including parents) and improve learning outcomes for K–12 students locally, nationally, and internationally. To achieve this, HEF facilitates collaborative partnerships between education researchers and school-based professionals to develop and evaluate educational strategies and materials, and then provides free research-supported materials and services to educators and parents. HEF also offers support to underperforming schools. All HEF programs are developed and disseminated with three main principles: (1) authentic collaboration between researchers and practitioners; (2) evidence of effectiveness; and (3) access to HEF programs and services for free or at minimal cost. The HEF and its community partners have created eight complementary programs, which are being used by more than 20,000 educators in more than 40 countries around the globe. In the past few years HEF has also offered more than $200,000 in donated materials and services, in addition to thousands of hours of direct intervention support for struggling learners. University students and faculty, as well as many community partners, have also authored more than 30 scholarly publications, more than 80 presentations, and numerous grants based on their collaborative work and research-supported programs.

EXEMPLARY PROJECT—University of Missouri. Title: “MU Adult Day Connection.”

In 1986, Boone County citizens saw the need for adult day health care services in Columbia, MO. The University of Missouri (MU) School of Health Professions (SHP) saw the benefits of creating a service that provided research potential for MU faculty and service-learning for students. Twenty-five years ago SHP established the MU Adult Day Connection (ADC) through a university-community partnership. Since ADC began, more than 600 participants and families have benefited from the more than 37,000 days of health care provided by staff and students. Caregivers, through the annual evaluation, report less stress when their family members attend the center. The partnership provides faculty a great location to test research, and the program reflects best practices developed or endorsed by faculty. Every year more than 100 students from MU and other health professions volunteer at the center. Many students begin college wanting to work with children, but after spending time at the center they also discover the value of working with seniors and individuals with disabilities. This is a life and career changing time for them, and MU has an obligation to ensure that competent health practitioners are available to care for increased numbers of elders and individuals with disabilities.

From the Editor: Examining the Commitment of Engaged Scholars: A Call to Action

It is my pleasure to have this opportunity to return to the editor’s page and share my thoughts with the engagement scholarship community. Many of you may have observed that Associate Editor Dr. Nick Sanyal provided the last editorial comments, as I was unable to do so due to a family emergency that took me away from JCES for about four months. My sincere appreciation is extended to Dr. Sanyal, editorial assistant Vicky Carter, and the rest of the JCES team who stepped in and provided leadership for JCES, making sure it met its production schedule. Being home for an extended period of time in the neighborhood in which I grew up (a neighborhood many would consider less than desirable, but will always be home) deeply affected me in relationship to civic engagement, community engagement, and engagement scholarship. I was starkly reminded of the personal impact of societal disparities on individuals’ quality and longevity of life and how these disparities connect to the well-being of families and communities.

Today’s society is one plagued with issues of racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, ageism, classism, health disparities, genocide, hunger, homelessness, peonage (convict labor), and violence, domestic and otherwise. Unfortunately, this short list could continue on indefinitely. For example, recent poverty statistics for 2013 released by the U.S. Census Bureau (DeNavas-Walt & Proctor, 2014), show that young children continue to be the largest group to live in poverty, leaving them vulnerable to insufficient nutrition and inadequate health care. Shootings of unarmed African American men, current day use of debtors prisons for the poor, bombings that kill innocent children and adult civilians, and international public beheadings leave us feeling fearful, confused, and, in many ways, helpless.

Boyer (1996) refocused the responsibility of institutions of higher education to address societal conditions: “Increasingly, the campus is being viewed as a place where students get credentialed and faculty get tenured, while the overall work of the academy does not seem particularly relevant to the nation’s most … pressing problems” (p. 15). Boyer made a strong case for those of us in the academy to take ourselves out of the proverbial “ivory towers” and “… become a more vigorous partner in the search for answers to our more social, civic, economic, and moral problems … (p. 12). Many of these are the issues highlighted above. The question we must ask is how well are academic institutions addressing the issues of our nation and the world? It is a privilege to be an educator, especially at the post-secondary level, where we are entrusted with shaping the minds of the next generation. With that privilege comes a responsibility and with that responsibility comes the mandate to be beacons of integrity. We must be certain to move beyond credentialing students and getting tenure while playing politics to promote our own personal and academic interests. What do we see as the tangible results of our “engaged scholarship”? How committed are we to truly promoting civic engagement, including establishing true partnerships with students and/or communities? How much does the work that we do really contribute to addressing the problems of our nation and the world at large? Are we truly, as engaged scholars, improving the quality of lives of those so negatively affected in this world, and if so, how sustainable are those improvements and changes? At what expense are we willing to move on to pursue that next grant or sole authored article for our dossiers? How do we really define “partnerships” with students and communities who are essential to the work of engagement scholarship? These are complex questions with no easy answers. Yet, we must ask them, no matter how difficult, and seek honest answers to them.

Are we capable of doing more? Are we capable of doing a better job? I say yes. And not only are we capable, we are obligated to do so if engagement scholarship is to be more than a popular trend, clouded by rhetorical talk and practices. This is not to say there is not good engagement work being done or that there are not those who are truly committed to the engagement work that they do. In almost eight years as editor of JCES, I have met many engaged scholars who are committed to the work that they do, and JCES has published much of their work. This issue is no exception. In this issue of JCES, you will find a wide variety of engagement scholarship. With manuscripts representing work conducted in Haiti, Canada, and Tanzania, theoretical and practical contributions to engagement scholarship are provided. Several of the articles address the many complexities and challenges of working with community partners, providing practical suggestions for addressing these challenges, culturally, contextually, and otherwise. We are quite pleased to have three Student Voices manuscripts in this issue that present the thoughts of one arm of the engagement scholarship triad. Dr. Heather Pleasants, book review editor, includes a strong collection of books on which excellent book reviews are provided. What you may note missing from this issue is a community piece, which I think is partially related to the issue of how much we, engagement scholars, truly value our community partners’ voices. Again, I know we can do better.

As always, I hope you enjoy this issue of JCES and extend a thank you for all whose contributions make JCES the stellar publication into which it has developed and continues to grow. That would not be possible without your contributions and feedback. So, please share your thoughts, ideas, and insights with us at


Boyer, E. (1996). The scholarship of engagement. Journal of Public Service and Outreach, 1(1), 11–21.
Denavas-Walt, C., & Proctor, B.D. (2014). U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Reports, Income and poverty in the United States: 2013. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Haiti: Sustaining Partnerships in Sustainable Development

Anthony Vinciguerra


How can universities organize their international community engagement to optimize both student learning and community impact? This article describes the St. Thomas University/Port-de-Paix, Haiti, Global Solidarity Partnership, and provides one model of how a project-focused scaffolding of engaged scholarship opportunities can enhance student learning, empower local communities, and support long-term development.


St. Thomas University is a small, urban, archdiocesan Roman Catholic university located in Miami Gardens, Florida. The Diocese of Port-de-Paix (geographically equivalent to the Northwest Department of Haiti) is the sister diocese of the Archdiocese of Miami and is one of the poorest and most isolated regions in Haiti (Mogisha, 2011). Since 2006, St. Thomas has worked with partners in the Diocese of Port-de-Paix to develop the St. Thomas University/Port-de-Paix, Haiti, Global Solidarity Partnership (STU GSP), a collaboration aimed at providing concrete faculty research and student-learning opportunities in the developing world, while supporting long-term, Haitian-led, sustainable development projects in the region.

Due to the limited resources of the university and the difficulties of working in rural Haiti, a model had to be developed that would focus the university’s limited means into specific projects that had the greatest potential of making a long-term, sustainable impact. As such, a geographically centered, project-focused model of collaboration was chosen that would include an interdisciplinary scaffolding of engaged scholarship opportunities at the university. The hope was to offer a wide array of research and learning options to faculty and students, while also bringing a broad spectrum of academic resources to bear on the specific needs of the projects as defined by the Haitian partners. Concrete faculty/student research projects, intensive internships, community-based learning courses, and volunteer opportunities have all taken place within this context.

An overview of the historical development, pedagogical model, and community impact of the STU GSP illustrates one example of how a geographically focused, interdisciplinary, multi-tiered community engagement model can both enhance learning opportunities and contribute to long-term community impact – even in one of the poorest regions in the Western Hemisphere.

Historical Context and Project Inception

In 1980, in response to waves of Haitian immigrants arriving on the shores of South Florida, the archbishop of Miami, Edward McCarthy, traveled to Haiti with hopes of addressing the reality these individuals were risking their lives to escape. Leaders from the Haitian episcopal conference sent Archbishop McCarthy to the Diocese of Port-de-Paix – an impoverished, extremely remote region in the northwest of Haiti. While the Northwest Department is Haiti’s oldest region (Columbus arrived in Haiti’s most northwestern point, Mole St. Nicolas, in 1492), its geographic and political isolation from Port-au-Prince has deprived it of the modest level of development that has occurred in other regions. Due to its extreme poverty, and geographical proximity to Florida, the Diocese of Port-de-Paix became one of the main launching areas for Haitian refugees fleeing to the United States.

Upon witnessing the desperate economic, political, and ecological situation of Haiti’s northwest, Archbishop McCarthy immediately established a sister diocese relationship between the Archdiocese of Miami and the Diocese of Port-de-Paix. His hope was that people of the Archdiocese of Miami would build strong relationships of solidarity with the people of Port-de-Paix, dedicate themselves to bettering the social conditions of the area, and in doing so ameliorate the root causes of this dangerous migration (Sherry, 1978).

Amor en Acción, a lay-led missionary group based in Miami, was given responsibility for the sister diocese relationship and spent the next 30 years supporting schools, providing emergency relief, and serving as some of the only consistent aid to this very remote region (Amor en Accion, 2011).

Over the next 30 years, however, Port-de-Paix remained one of the poorest regions in Haiti. With a population of over 600,000, its dry and deforested terrain exacerbated the extreme poverty. The area is accessible by road from Port-au-Prince; however, travel can take between six to nine hours due to poor, unpaved roads and the lack of bridges to cross several rivers. The diocese is centered in a mountainous area with no public water, few roads, and little to no electric power. The population suffers from numerous diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis, and typhoid fever. Three-fourths of the children in the diocese are malnourished and have parasites. Though the area has consistent health crises, medical attention is rare. For example, there are only 10 doctors for the 100,000 people in the township of Port-de-Paix. Only 18% of children in all of Haiti will go on to high-school and, though precise figures are not available, it is widely believed that this percentage is much lower in Port-de-Paix (United Nations Children’s Fund, 2010). Because of the almost complete lack of infrastructure, aid from international relief and development agencies has remained rare in this remote northwest region (Amor en Accion, 2011; IHSI, 2009; Mogisha, 2011).

In 2006, St. Thomas University was undergoing a restructuring and, as part of this transition, was reviewing both its institutional mission and its international engagement programs. As a Roman Catholic university, St. Thomas had a particular call to address issues of economic inequality in the developing world (John Paul II, 2009). Integrated into its mission and programs were the principles of Catholic social thought – a body of teaching intended to guide just relationships between an individual, institutions, and society. Among these principles are “the dignity of all human life,” a “preferential option for the poor and vulnerable,” and a “commitment to global solidarity” (Mitch, 2011, pp. 8–9). St. Thomas had established a Center for Justice and Peace with the explicit purpose of integrating these values throughout the curriculum and activities of the university. Furthermore, as a specifically archdiocesan-sponsored university (as opposed to a Catholic institution founded by a religious order such as the Jesuits or Franciscans) St. Thomas had the unique institutional commitment “to be of, and serve, its locality” (Iannone, 2010, p. 1).

Despite this institutional commitment to social justice, global solidarity, economic development, and serving its region, St. Thomas in 2006 had no institutional relationship with its own sister diocese of Port-de-Paix. The university had small programs in Spain, China, and Costa Rica, and yet had never sent a delegation to visit Port-de-Paix. Upon reflection on this unfulfilled calling, the Center for Justice and Peace initiated a process aimed at focusing the university’s international engagement specifically on its sister diocese. To begin this process, a small team of faculty and staff was recruited to explore the possibility of a fruitful collaboration between the university and the Diocese of Port-de-Paix.

Listening Process and Establishment of Collaborative Project Criteria

The steering committee of faculty and staff first held meetings with the Amor-en-Accion leaders who had helped build the sister-diocesan partnership over the prior 30 years. These early meetings laid the groundwork for what would become key elements in the future St. Thomas/Port-de-Paix partnership. To begin with, Amor-en-Accion staff recounted the deep distrust that existed in Haiti’s northwest for outside organizations coming to “help.” For years international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) had arrived in the region with promises of assistance, only to pull out once difficulties were encountered or project funding ended. Amor-en-Accion made clear that working in northwest Haiti would not be easy, and that if the university was serious about developing an authentic relationship with the region, there must be a long-term commitment to the process. Furthermore, those who had worked in the Northwest Department for years underlined the need for an attitude of “listening and accompaniment” rather than “project creation.” Their experience was that the only lasting projects in Haiti’s northwest were those that were rooted in long-term, deep relationships, and that long sessions of listening, discernment, discussion, and debate would have to take place with Haitian partners well before any specific project plans were made.

With these guiding thoughts, a number of visits were made to Port-de-Paix with the university steering team during 2006 and 2007 to explore possible areas of collaboration. Meetings were held with local church officials, community leaders, and grass-roots organizations throughout Haiti’s northwest. After two years of travel between the regions, a small group of Haitian leaders (representing community leaders, church leaders, and local Haitian organizations) coalesced as key partners for the university’s collaboration. Amor-en-Accion’s warning about reticence toward outside organizations was well merited, and the Haiti-side partners made clear that any collaborative projects between the university and the region would have to abide by three criteria:

Criteria 1: Empowering/Civil Society Building

From the perspective of the partners in Haiti’s northwest, Haiti’s history was a history of outsiders imposing their ideas on the country’s development. From colonial powers, to dictators, to today’s foreign NGOs, they had experienced outside powers as completely uninterested in local, Haitian-led programs of development. If this was to continue, they explained, Haitians themselves would never take responsibility – or learn how – to identify their own problems and implement their own solutions.

An experience on one of St. Thomas’s early delegations to the Northwest Department brought this message home very clearly, and became a key cultural memory that has helped guide the university’s partnership to this day. The following is a recounting of that event, as it is presented in formation sessions for St. Thomas faculty and students traveling to Port-de-Paix for the first time.

The St. Thomas team had been visiting a number of towns in Haiti’s northwest and listening to community leaders about possible areas of partnership. The group decided to visit the remote mountainside village of Ma Wouj, an area where the Archdiocese of Miami had never worked before. A meeting was called under a thatched hut with Caritas Ma Wouj, the local Catholic church’s relief and development committee. A Haitian priest traveling with the university team explained to the Caritas members that the university was there to learn about any ways they might be able to partner with the community.

After the explanation there was a long silence. Finally, the Caritas leader stood up and asked very seriously, “Why are you here?”

The priest reiterated that the university team had come to learn about possibilities for partnership, that they had been meeting with numerous other locations, etc.

There was again a long silence. The Caritas leader then once again slowly asked the group, “Why are you here?” He continued:

We know how it works. You come here with your ideas for our community. You come with your research projects and plans. You come with your nice backpacks and water bottles — but if you took a drink of our water you would be in the hospital tomorrow, if there was a hospital here….

His voice broke off. Then he continued: “And we know how it will end. You will leave, with those same backpacks and that same water. Nothing will change.”

He sat down and there was a long silence. Then slowly, a very elderly nun stood up and scowled.
“You treat us like dogs!” she exclaimed, pointing at the group. She continued:

All of you — you blan! [derogatory word in Haitian Creole for foreigners of European descent], you white people from America. You come with your projects and your ideas. From when people are children here, they are raised to think only about what the foreigners are going to give them — whether it be a piece of candy, a dollar, or a development project. This is not what the Church calls us to! This is not development! This is not solidarity!

The elderly nun sat down, and there was again a long silence. Finally, the Caritas leader stood up and began to speak again:

We are from this community. We know the problems of our community, and we have our own solutions. And yes, there are areas where we have need, and there may be areas for partnership…. But if you have come with your own projects, with your ideas about what our community needs, then you may leave right now.”

Again there was a long pause. The university team’s leader then began to speak, thanking the group for their honesty, and explained that this was exactly the type of relationship they had hoped for (St. Thomas University/Port-de-Paix, Haiti, Global Solidarity Partnership, 2006).

This initial experience in the town of Ma Wouj proved formational for the university partnership. After this, and numerous other meetings, a clear agreement was made between the university and the Haitian partners that any collaboration would focus on projects led by the local Haitian community themselves. A principle goal of the initiative would be to not only create economic development, but to empower local community initiatives and, in doing so, support the development of an indigenous civil society in the region. As a symbol of this commitment to an empowering relationship, the collaboration would be officially named The St. Thomas University/Port-de-Paix Haiti, Global Solidarity Partnership, drawing on the term “solidarity” as a central tenet of the Catholic social tradition that calls for models of mutual, empowering, collaborative development (Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, 2005).

Criteria 2: Long-term Development.

In further conversations, Haitian leaders expressed their dismay that foreign institutions were quick to offer emergency aid in times of crisis, but unwilling to commit to long-term social or economic development projects in the region. In their own words, they wanted partners who would focus on “auto sufficiency” for their community. There was widespread sentiment that many international partners were involved in these collaborations simply to feel good rather than really focus on the community’s future. Some leaders did not see the motives as so benign. They argued that the international NGOs were really in this work for their own benefit — that if the community’s problems were truly addressed then the NGOs would be “out of work” — and that the NGOs actually had a self-interest in the community’s underdevelopment.

While seemingly extreme, this critique is actually quite common in rural Haiti and has come to the forefront as international partners deeply examine their motives and commitment (Schwartz, 2010; Klarreich & Polman, 2012; Watkins, 2013). In light of these critiques, and as building the long-term sustainability of the community was part of the university’s goal as well, an agreement was made that the university’s work would focus on long-term projects aimed at building the self-sufficiency of the region.

Criteria 3: Relationships of Mutuality

Finally, the Haitian partners expressed their sentiment that while there was extreme poverty in Haiti’s northwest, there was also much to offer the university as a context for learning. Haiti in many ways is a microcosm that reflects the structural challenges facing other developing nations, and the local community’s voice about these challenges (and the solutions they have developed over the years) was presented as an opportunity to educate and develop globally aware, civic-minded students. As mentioned earlier, the growing literature on international community-based learning (CBL) supports this perspective (Bringle et al., 2011; Ibrahim, 2012).

At the same time, as a small university, St. Thomas did not have the resources that might be needed for all forms of potential collaboration. As such, a final criterion to the partnership was added that any potential projects must be a good match between the community’s self-identified needs and the university’s current academic resources.

Project Identification

After two years of meetings and discussions at both the university and in Haiti, it was decided that three projects had the greatest potential for partnership. These will be detailed below.

The Café Cocano Fair-Trade Coffee Project

One of the first possibilities identified by the Haitian partners was a collaboration in the export and marketing of coffee from Haiti to the United States. Northwest Haiti has some of the oldest coffee-growing traditions in the Americas, as coffee was introduced to the area by the French in the early 1700s and it quickly became one of the first major export commodities from the Caribbean. By the late 18th century Haiti was the world’s single largest producer of coffee, and it remained Haiti’s largest export commodity for the next 200 years (Dunington, 2001).

By the mid-20th century, however, Haiti was having difficulty competing on the world coffee market. Haiti’s weak domestic infrastructure was driving up the cost of production, while international coffee prices were plumeting due to overproduction in Latin American and Asia. Furthermore, the speculator-exportation system that had existed for generations in Haiti kept payments to farmers at a minimum and concentrated profits in the hands of regional coffee brokers. These factors created prices so low for rural Hatian farmers that they began to uproot their coffee trees and in their place plant corn, beans, and root vegetables to feed their families. Unlike coffee, however, these crops did little to maintain soil on hillsides, thus contributing to the deforestation and leading to mudslides during the rainy season. Mud would then pool along the coastline, killing off reefs and destroying the fishing economy of many seaside villages. This collective process only worsened the extreme poverty of the region, and led to the abandonment of much of the northwest’s coffee (INESA, 2001).

Contemporary farmers of the region knew that their coffee was organic, and of a very high-quality, heirloom variety. They also knew that farmers would save their coffee trees, and in fact plant more, if they could get a better price for the beans. The challenge, however, was that they did not have a mechanism for getting the coffee to foreign markets in a way that would ensure them a fair price.

While St. Thomas University had no programs in agriculture or agronomy, the university did have programs in marketing, management, accounting, and international business. It was agreed that the university’s STU GSP team would join with the newly formed Cafeiere et Cacouyere du Nord’Ouest (COCANO) coffee cooperative to begin to research the development of a direct/fair-trade partnership. The goal was to develop a long-term business plan and infrastructure that would support the farmers in getting the coffee directly to foreign markets, while ensuring them a price at or above international fair-trade standards.

There was much skepticism about the probability of success. Haiti has a long history of failed cooperatives. Never in the history of the Haiti’s northwest had there been any such direct/fair-trade export system, and there would be significant opposition from the speculators who had for years benefited from the current arrangement. With these challenges clearly in view, the university team began its work.

The Atelye Thevenet Fair-Trade Artisan Project

In addition to the coffee collaboration, another Haitian-led project was proposed by communities in the most western regions of the Northwest Department – areas so deforested that they could no longer produce coffee. Haiti has a rich and varied artisan production tradition and northwest Haiti is part of that tradition. A network of Haitian women had come together with the assistance of a local religious community to develop an artisan workshop that would provide job training, be collaboratively run, and offer economic independence to Haitian women of the region. A partnership was soon developed between the university and the Atelye Thevenet artisan cooperative in Jean-Rabel, a small town about 25 miles west of Port-de-Paix. As with the Cocano partnership, the university team would work with the artisan cooperative to research areas of potential market growth and develop a system for the import, marketing, and sales of the artisan items to foreign buyers.

The St. Thomas/Port-de-Paix Solar Energy Initiative

Finally, as noted earlier, access to reliable electricity is an ongoing barrier to development in the northwest of Haiti. There is only limited public electricity in the region’s capital of Port-de-Paix and none outside of this area. As such, lighting is most often by candle or lamp, and cooking most often by charcoal – another significant contributor to the deforestation of the land. St. Thomas University electrical engineering and solar physics faculty agreed to work with local leaders to develop two projects that would provide sustainable energy to the area and train community members in the implementation, use, and maintenance of solar energy systems, while providing concrete research and learning opportunities for St. Thomas faculty and students.

Finding an Effective Model of Engagement

While criteria had been established and projects identified, there was still the problem of how to organize the university’s involvement in a way that would best utilize its limited resources. As noted earlier, St. Thomas is a small, inner-city university with very limited financial support. The university’s Center for Justice and Peace had only one staff member at the time, and no institutional funding was available to support the Haiti collaboration. Student academic engagement would also be a challenge: Over 55% of St. Thomas students came from disadvantaged economic backgrounds, many of whom entered the university with weak high-school preparation and worked second jobs while studying (St. Thomas University, Office of Institutional Research, 2011). The university was both a predominantly African-decent and Hispanic-decent serving institution, due to the large Latin American, African American, and Afro-Caribbean descent communities in South Florida. How to engage such a diverse student body, many of whose families had left impoverished countries themselves, would be a considerable challenge.

Similarly, the challenge of working in rural Haiti was not taken lightly. Haiti has the second largest number of NGOs per-capita in the world, and yet has seen only modest gains in development over the last 30 years (Ratnesar, 2011; Doucet, 2011). As discussed earlier, the Northwest Department has remained one of Haiti’s most isolated regions, and even the world’s largest NGOs have been unable to effect substantive change in the area. For a small university with such limited resources, the challenge of making a significant impact in the region would be a daunting task.

A decision was made early on to adopt a community-based learning/engaged scholarship approach to the partnership. While not all of the project needs would fit into a traditional research model (some would have specific research questions, while others would involve the production of sales models, business plans, etc.), they would have the common thread of using the university’s research and teaching to meet the needs of the collaborative projects. At St. Thomas, engaged scholarship would come to be broadly defined as:

A structured academic partnership with a local community in which faculty and students: participate in an organized activity that addresses needs identified by the local community; learn from direct interaction and cross-cultural dialogue with others; and reflect on the experience in such a way as to gain further understanding of course content, a deeper appreciation of global and intercultural issues, a broader appreciation of the host country and the discipline, and an enhanced sense of their own responsibilities as citizens, locally and globally. (Adapted from Bringle & Hatcher, 2011, p. 19).

The pedagogical benefits of such an engaged research and learning process have been well documented in the literature (Eyler & Giles, 1999, 2000; Fitzgerald et al., 2010). Beyond these academic benefits, however, utilizing such an approach was also simply the most practical decision given the reality of St. Thomas. Due to heavy teaching loads and students’ competing interests of work and school, both faculty and student involvement in co-curricular activities was very limited. Quite simply, it was unrealistic to expect faculty or students to commit significant time to projects outside their academic commitment. Conversely, an approach that could enhance faculty research and teaching, while also providing students with credit, made the projects more appealing to both parties (Eyler & Giles, 1999, 2000).
As noted earlier, the collaboration was strictly focused on one geographical region of Haiti (the Diocese of Port-de-Paix), and within this region it was focused on addressing the needs of these three specific collaborative projects. The hope was that focusing the university’s research and teaching in such a targeted way would create a deep (as opposed to wide) level of engagement, and thus maximize community impact despite the challenges.

A steering team called the “Global Solidarity Committee” was formed to bring faculty, staff, students, community-members, and Haitian partners together to identify the long-term aims of the overall initiative. From this larger group, subcommittees were formed to (a) create goals and objectives for each of the three projects, and (b) oversee their ongoing implementation. Finally, a scaffolding of five levels of university engagement in the projects was envisioned, with the aim of offering faculty and students different engagement opportunities with differing levels of commitment and responsibility. The hope was that this would give faculty and students the chance to increase their engagement incrementally throughout their university career, while also offering a broad range of resources to meet specific project needs (see Martin, Bekken, & Poley, 2011). These five levels of engagement were identified as: 1) faculty/student community-based research projects; 2) intensive for-credit internships; 3) full community-based learning courses; 4) courses with a partial community-based learning component; and 5) volunteer opportunities. This model is roughly approximated in Figure 1.

Figure 1. Model of University Engagement
Figure 1. Model of University Engagement

The collaboration is still in development, and not every level of engagement has been realized for each of the projects. That said, there has been significant progress, and this scaffolding of engagement levels has proven a useful way to organize the various community-based research and learning activities, while meeting the multiple needs of each of the projects. We will now turn to concrete examples of each level of engagement, and detail how it has served, and is serving, the development of the projects. While the following is true for all three of the projects’ implementation, for sake of brevity we will focus our attention on the coffee and artisan initiatives.

Examples of Project-Based Scaffolding

1. Faculty/Student Community-Based Research Projects

Faculty/student CBR projects played a key role in laying the foundation for much of the coffee and artisan projects’ implementation. The Cafe Cocano steering committee worked with a St. Thomas business/marketing faculty member to develop a multi-tiered CBR partnership with the farmers that would: (a) identify the cooperative’s strengths/weaknesses and support its organizational development; (b) identify the coffee varietals and consult with the farmers on U.S. and foreign market opportunities given Haiti’s unique coffee cultivation history; and (c) develop a large-scale CBR project to integrate St. Thomas academic research and course offerings in a way that would facilitate the import, roast, and distribution of the cooperative’s coffee in the United States.

Similarly, the Atelye Thevenet steering committee worked with business faculty and students to develop a multi-tiered CBR project/collaboration with the artisans that would: (a) identify a variety of artisanal market opportunities; (b) work in product development, pricing, and market/value niche; and (c) develop an import/sales structure to bring and market production goods in the United States.

The coffee team’s research showed that cooperatives in Haiti had historically failed when they were overly dependent on one export chain and source of support (Dunnington, 2001). A relationship was built with Pascucci Torrefazione, an Italian coffee roaster that would export to the European market, as well as Panther Coffee Roasters, a specialty coffee roaster in Miami that would work with the university in the U.S. market. Simultaneously, in collaboration with groups such as Catholic Relief Services and the Just Trade Center, technical assistance was provided to the cooperative to support its organization and production planning.

In order to the bring the coffee to market, the coffee CBR team developed an integrated process where St. Thomas business students would work with the cooperative to directly import, roast, and sell the coffee in the United States. This would give hands-on learning opportunities to university business students in international trade, marketing and sales, while also increasing profits for the farmers of the region.
A similar process was designed by the artisan team, with art management students focusing on sales opportunities for the Haitian paintings, while other students focused on selling more traditional artisan goods through online and direct retail outlets.

A St. Thomas communications faculty member launched a CBR public relations/marketing team involving a number of undergraduate and graduate communications students. This team was divided into two subsections: one to integrate faculty/student marketing expertise with the research/production needs of the STU GSP projects (developing marketing and promotional materials for the coffee and artisan initiatives, creating websites, event notifications, etc.) and the other (called the “Blooming Hope” documentary project) to organize a CBR/production of a full length documentary highlighting the projects. Employing a participatory-action model, the work integrated faculty research, student learning, and community voice/partner development. The documentary’s release and distribution were planned to serve as a second CBR project focused on using the documentary as a tool for promoting sales/opening new markets in the United States, as well as promoting and building co-op participation in Haiti. This process inspired a St. Thomas doctoral dissertation focused on the transformational power of this collaborative film-making initiative (Moyano, 2011).

2. Intensive For-Credit Internships

Internships proved to be key to the development of the projects as well. Once the structures for both the coffee and artisan projects had been researched and developed (import processes, customs clearance, pricing, opportune sales markets, accounting mechanisms, etc.), interns were recruited to function as the core staff for the day-to-day operation of the projects. These students were generally business or communications students who, under the guidance of both the steering committee and a faculty advisor, planned the semesterly activities of the projects, held sales events, generated reports on the sales, and consulted Haitian partners in the process. While not CBR in a traditional sense, the interns would face questions that needed to be addressed on a weekly basis, drawing on their academic resources to address these challenges.

These internships have become regular offerings at the university, and each year there are marketing, sales, and accounting interns from the university’s school of business who earn credit by integrating their learning into the coordination of sales, marketing, accounting, and inventory management of the coffee and artisan items. Similarly, a public relations intern is recruited from St. Thomas’s communications department every year to coordinate PR and media outreach for the projects, as well as to further the expansion of the documentary film initiative.

3. Full-Course Engagement

Early on, the steering committee also saw the opportunity to develop a three-credit course that would integrate the needs of the projects with student research and learning. An upper-division, interdisciplinary Social Entrepreneurship course based in the St. Thomas School of Business was soon developed. First offered in the spring of 2009, it continues to be offered today with an ever increasing number of student applicants (two sections of the course were needed to meet student demand in 2013 and 2014).

Students in the Social Entrepreneurship course study business management and development models that include a “double bottom line” of both profit and social-responsibility, while applying their learning to specific tasks needed by the coffee and artisan projects. The course incorporates faculty lecturers from disciplines as varied as communications, philosophy, economics, theology, environmental law, psychology, and management – all with the aim of giving a broad orientation to best practices in socially responsible enterprise.

Specific research questions or projects that can be completed in one semester are identified for the course by the coffee and artisan steering committees. Students in the course then choose one of these issues and throughout the semester utilize their learning to address these issues and further the projects. Integrated into this process is the opportunity for students in the class to travel to Port-de-Paix to meet with their Haitian counterparts and complete project tasks that might require person-to-person contact or site-based work.

Many of the discreet next-steps of the projects have been completed in this way. For example, one year a student group researched socially responsible web design and applied this learning to the creation of a website for the coffee project. A group of students studying art management developed a project in which they researched pricing guidelines for the artisan paintings, while building relationships with local art galleries. Another group researched and helped expand artisan sales beyond handcrafts and into custom tote-bag production. Yet another group researched coffee grading techniques and prepared a report and classification system to aid the coffee farmers in their coffee sorting process. In each case, the community engagement projects were small but concrete, and integrated student learning with real project needs identified in collaboration with the Haitian partners.

4. Partial Course Engagement

There are also projects that do not require a full semester of research or student work but can still serve as a basic level of engagement and student learning. For example, sales events need informed staff, outreach efforts require a group of committed members, and partner meetings require Haitian Creole translation. In light of this, a number of courses were developed that provide faculty and students with an introductory level of information and engagement in the projects, while also meeting some of the projects’ basic needs.

For example, a philosophy professor teaching Introduction to Business Ethics expressed interest in orienting his students to the moral issues of international commodity trade. The GSP steering committee worked with the professor to redevelop his course with a new unit focused on coffee trade as an example of global commodity supply chains. Students in the class now study fair-trade and coffee as one of the world’s most-traded global commodities and then apply their learning through interactions (via Skype) with partners in the Cafe Cocano coffee project. The students are then offered the opportunity to work with the project at local coffee sales and promotional events.

Similarly, introductory courses in the St. Thomas School of Theology and Ministry have looked at ethical consumption from the perspective of Catholic social thought, with a specific focus on coffee as a common beverage of college students. After considering various trade models through the ethical lens of the Catholic tradition, students are offered the opportunity to take part in promotional events for the coffee project in the local Haitian Catholic community. Students then reflect and integrate their learning from this partnership in light of their experience and in-class study.

Other partial-engagement courses have included introductory level radio and film classes. In these courses students have taken on production of short public service announcements (PSAs) within the class. The PSAs give students the hands-on opportunity to integrate their learning about the projects with actual radio/film production, while also providing the projects with valuable PR materials to support sales. In each case, the engaged learning component is not the entire focus of the course, but it contributes to concrete student learning outcomes and builds needed support for the projects.

5. Volunteer Opportunities

Finally, volunteer opportunities have been integrated into the ongoing work of the projects. While these opportunities entail virtually no research, they have offered a first-step into the work for faculty and students who want to learn about the projects without academic credit or research commitment. Often this takes the form of simple coffee packaging or assisting in promotional sales events. If the volunteers express further interest, they are then encouraged to follow-up by working with the steering committee to find a connection between their teaching and research and the needs of the project (for faculty) or enrolling in a course that works in closer collaboration with the projects (for students).

This flexible, project-focused, multi-tiered model of engagement has been applied to each of the projects and has helped organize the engagement of the university in a way that brings faculty from a number of disciplines together, offers multiple levels of engagement opportunities for students, and provides numerous resources to serve the various needs of the projects. While still in development, it has proven to be a helpful structure in organizing, and achieving, both academic learning and community impact.

Community Matters: Output, Outcomes, and Impact

In their recent work, Mary Beckman and her colleagues have introduced a framework for achieving community impact that includes three critical components: (1) commitment to a long-term process of change with a specific goal, (2) a process of evaluation and revision to stay focused on this goal, and (3) the involvement of multiple contributors, including the affected community, in this process (Beckman, Penney, & Cockburn, 2011). Though the STU GSP collaborations were not designed with this framework in mind, in many ways their implementation reflect these components: (1) the projects were developed with a commitment to long-term economic self-sufficiency in northwest Haiti, and with the specific goals of developing fair/direct-trade coffee and artisan import processes, as well as sustainable solar-energy initiatives; (2) the STU GSP steering committees kept the long-term goals in mind, clarifying research needs as they became apparent, and constantly evaluating and revising the projects’ direction in light of project results; and (3) the projects included multiple voices and input of faculty, students, community partners, and perhaps most essentially, the Haitian partners. In retrospect, it seems likely that these components were key in the project’s success to date.

In the same work, Beckman and her colleagues also make clear the importance of differentiating three stages in the community change process. These are: (a) outputs — referring to the initial results of a CBR/CBL initiative; (b) outcomes — referring to the effects of the application of the CBR/CBL results; and (c) impact – referring to the long-term contribution of this collaboration over time. While these categories were not used in the initial planning of the projects, they are useful to describe some of the planned, as well as some of the unforeseen, community changes that have come about as a result of the STU GSP collaboration. These will be briefly summarized below.

The Café Cocano Fair-Trade Coffee Project


  • With university support, the COCANO cooperative created a functioning infrastructure for both coffee production and cooperative management that included space for expansion and collaboration with multiple export partners.
  • Multiple technical assistance projects were created in collaboration with the university that brought in agronomists from Italy, Burundi, Brazil, and the United States to work with the cooperative in coffee cultivation and processing.
  • A five-fold, interdisciplinary scaffolding model of engagement was developed to integrate St. Thomas business and communications students into the import, marketing, sales, and accounting of the coffee project.
  • A faculty/student communications CBR team developed a full-length documentary, “Blooming Hope,” that was produced using a participatory-action/production model to promote the work of the Haitian partners.


  • Coffee farmers in Haiti’s northwest are exporting coffee in a direct fair-trade partnership for the first time in history (see,, and
  • Over 120,000 pounds of coffee have been exported by the cooperative in the last three years, with production growing significantly year-to-year.
  • The cooperative is now earning $4.16/lb on exports to the United States — more than twice the current international fair-trade standards of $1.85/lb (Fairtrade International, 2014).
  • Approximately 20 delegations from the university have traveled to Haiti to work on-site, and over 200 students have been involved in for-credit CBR/CBL activities connected to next steps on the projects.
  • The National Association of Haitian Cooperatives has identified COCANO as a leading new cooperative in Haiti, and the Hudson Institute’s Index of Global Philanthropy highlighted the St. Thomas/Café Cocano collaboration as one of its projects of success in 2010 (Hudson Institute, 2010).


  • Over 300 farmer-families, and close to 2000 individuals, are currently employed in the cultivation, harvesting, and processing of Cocano coffee in six areas of the Diocese of Port-de-Paix (La Croix, Guichard, Gaspard, Jean Claire, Anse-a-Fleur, and Ma Wouj).
  • The cooperative has begun coffee nursery programs, with thousands of seedlings planted in what is, in effect, an economically incentivized reforestation effort for northwest Haiti.
  • The cooperative provided employment to individuals displaced to northwest Haiti following the 2010 earthquake in Port-au-Prince, thus supporting the much-needed decentralization of the Haitian economy (United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 2010, 2012; Stevens & St. Hubert, 2010; Ministry of the Interior of Haiti, 2011).
  • In response to the 2010–2011 cholera epidemic, the cooperative saved hundreds of lives by organizing its own relief efforts in the remote northwest mountains, essentially functioning as an independent relief organization in areas not served by foreign NGOs (MSPP & WHO, 2011; St. Hubert, 2011).
  • he cooperative has taken on increasing responsibility as a conduit between coffee farmers and the Haitian government, thus supporting the development of social capital in its members, and further strengthening its role as a functioning unit of civil society (Froehle, 2013).

The Ateyle Thevenet Artisan Initiative


  • he same five-fold, interdisciplinary scaffolding of engagement opportunities was created to integrate student research and learning with the import, marketing, and sales of hand-made artisan crafts in the United States.
  • The Haitian artisans’ workshop was strengthened and developed into a formal atelier (studio) production unit and three-year training facility to develop future artisans in the community.
  • Business models, including pricing indices based on market standards, were developed to aid planning for future sales.
  • New artisan items such as high-quality, hand-crafted, custom tote-bags were developed in a collaboration between student market-research efforts and the atelier’s own artisan training staff.


  • The first large scale fair-trade artisan project has been established between Port-de-Paix and the United States (see
  • Over $65,000 worth of Haitian artisan products have been sold in the United States.
  • Over 200 women in five artisan centers have been employed throughout Haiti’s Northwest Department (Bombardopolis, Jean-Rabel, St. Louis du Nord, Bonneau, and Anse a Fleur).


  • After the 2010 earthquake, like the coffee cooperative, the artisan cooperative played an important role in absorbing displaced individuals into the local economy of Haiti’s northwest.
  • Beyond simply a source of employment, the artisan cooperative has come to serve as a source of technical educational in its community, and a forum for addressing local women’s issues.
  • The artisan cooperative has begun a new initiative to support women who have graduated from the co-op and gone on to start their own businesses.

The St. Thomas/Port-de-Paix Solar Energy Initiative


  • With university support, a large-scale solar oven was implemented in the poorest parish of the Northwest Department to cook for the community school without the need for charcoal.
  • A collaboration was created with Haiti Tec (a technical training school in Port-au-Prince) to work with the university and the Cathedral of Port-de-Paix in the design and implementation of a 10kw solar energy system for the Cathedral and community center of the region.
  • A steering committee was created with St. Thomas physics/solar energy faculty, electrical engineering students, and community electricians to work with the Haitian partners in researching and developing the appropriate technology for the community’s needs.


  • Three-hundred school children in Baie-de-Henne — the poorest, most deforested parish of Port-de-Paix – are currently fed by a large solar oven provided by the collaboration.
  • A 10kw solar energy system for the Cathedral of Port-de-Paix has been designed and installed by the St. Thomas/Haiti Tec solar team in collaboration with community leaders in Port-de-Paix.


  • The solar oven in Baie-de-Henne is supporting sustainable cooking methods, while raising awareness about charcoal/tree conservation in one of Haiti’s most critically deforested areas.
  • The Cathedral of Port-de-Paix solar project is providing light to thousands who come to this key community center in the capital of the northwest region, offsetting 12,479 pounds of CO2 pollution annually and has provided hands-on learning experiences for St. Thomas and Haiti Tec students, as well as for the local Haitian electricians trained during the process in Port-de-Paix.
  • Haiti Tec partners, already commissioned by the Haitian government to develop electrical codes for the country, have received a level of training in international standards that they had not previously received working only with domestic partners.

For all three projects, it has been the development of the Haitian community’s capacity to (1) define its own problems, (2) create its own solutions, and (3) implement its own plans that the university partners have seen as most promising in terms of a contribution to long-term, sustainable development for the region.

Lessons Learned and Areas for Growth

The positive experience of the STU GSP collaboration to date suggests that three main lessons can be learned from the university’s partnership in Haiti:

  1. A geographically centered, community-led, project-focused collaboration can help maximize benefit for both partners, as university resources are optimized, local leadership is empowered, long-term collaborative relationships develop, and impact (both community and student) synergize.
  2. Engaging individual projects from multiple disciplines adds breadth to student learning, increases faculty interaction, and increases impact by providing multiple resources to meet project needs.
  3. Offering a scaffolding of engagement levels provides pathways to engagement for faculty/students at different points in their career, while also meeting multiple project needs (from research questions, to day-to-day operations, to one-time volunteers, etc.)

Though there has been significant success, a number of weaknesses/areas for growth have been identified by the project partners:

  1. Ongoing funding has been a challenge for the project, as many funders focus their support either on internationally based development operations or domestic higher-educational initiatives, but do not have a category for projects that integrate the latter with the former.
  2. Use of standardized logic models that visually map out required resources (inputs), activities to take place (processes), assessable outputs, and desired outcomes is quickly becoming a best-practice in university-community engagement planning. While logic models had not been historically used by the STU GSP teams, in 2013–2014 the project committees began using such models with their partners to map out ideal (1) community impact outcomes, (2) academic learning outcomes, and (3) civic learning outcomes for each of the five levels of project engagement (Howard, 2001; Finley, 2013).
  3. Standardized assessment of each of the three principal outcome areas mentioned above (community impact, academic learning, and civic learning) is a future goal as the projects aim to take their efforts to an even higher level of accountability and efficacy.

While the results of the above changes remain to be seen, the hope is that a more structured planning and assessment process will enhance long term the impact of the collaborations, both for the university and the community.


As programs of engaged scholarship become more widespread, universities will continue to consider how they can use their limited resources to maximize community impact while offering a variety of meaningful community-based research and learning opportunities for faculty and students. The St. Thomas University/Port-de-Paix Global Solidarity Partnership was born out of just such an effort to leverage the minimal resources of a small, urban, Catholic university into long-term development in one of the Western Hemisphere’s poorest regions. While the programs are still young, the experience so far suggests that significant impact can be attained by adopting a model that is geographically centered, community-led, project-focused, interdisciplinary and utilizes a multi-tiered scaffolding of engagement opportunities to address the varied needs of the university-community initiative.


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About the Author

Anthony Vinciguerra coordinates the Center for Community Engagement (formerly known as the Center for Justice and Peace) at St. Thomas University in Miami Gardens, Florida.

Semilfort St. Hubert, president of the COCANO coffee cooperative, inspects green coffee cherries with St. Thomas University professor of Global Entrepreneurship Dr. Justin Peart in La Croix St. Josef, Haiti.
Semilfort St. Hubert, president of the COCANO coffee cooperative, inspects green coffee cherries with St. Thomas University professor of Global Entrepreneurship Dr. Justin Peart in La Croix St. Josef, Haiti.
Anthony Vinciguerra walks with children at the site of STU GSP solar oven initiative in Baie-de-Henne, Haiti.
Anthony Vinciguerra walks with children at the site of STU GSP solar oven initiative in Baie-de-Henne, Haiti.
Emmanuel Buteau, St. Thomas doctoral student, speaks with COCANO coffee farmers (from left) Petit Frere Lafontant, Eliocoer Beaubrun, and Ferdinand Louis in San Louis du Nord, Haiti.
Emmanuel Buteau, St. Thomas doctoral student, speaks with COCANO coffee farmers (from left) Petit Frere Lafontant, Eliocoer Beaubrun, and Ferdinand Louis in San Louis du Nord, Haiti.