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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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?


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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.

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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.

“We Know We Are Doing Something Good, But What Is It?”: The Challenge of Negotiating Between Service Delivery and Research in a CBPR Project

Fay Fletcher, Brent Hammer, and Alicia Hibbert


Engaging communities throughout the research process and responding to community priorities results in constant negotiation between service and research. Community-based participatory research has well established principles intended to guide both the process and goals of research with community. The authors contribute to the body of literature that speaks to the challenge of achieving CBPR ideals amidst the complexity of community realities. When university-based research is aligned with community-based service delivery, at least three sets of expectations must be balanced – those of the community, the university, and the funding agency. The complexity of achieving balance between the ideal and the reality of CBPR, and balance between service delivery and research, were explored using a cyclical process of debriefs throughout the delivery of a youth life skills program with Métis Settlements in Alberta. The value of the process and lessons learned are presented.

The phrase “scholarship of engagement” (SOE) represents an emergent and therefore somewhat nebulous concept in the current domains of higher education and community-university partnerships (Driscoll & Sandmann, 2001; Giles, 2009). Not to be mistaken for “engaged scholarship” (ES), now ensconced in community-university partnerships (CUP) and community-based participatory research (CBPR) literature (Calleson, Jordan, & Seifer, 2005; Horowitz, Robinson, & Seifer, 2009; Jones & Pomeroy, 2009), the intent of SOE is to represent a reflection on the process of doing ES. Since Ernest Boyer (1990, 1996) described his vision of SOE, there has been a tendency over the past two decades for researchers and academics to get bogged down in terminology while trying to reconcile the study of ES and SOE (Giles, 2008) with the ideals of CUP (Calleson, Jordan, & Seifer, 2005) and guiding principles for conducting CBPR that supports collaborative, equitable partnerships that involve long-term process and commitment (Horowitz, Robinson, & Seifer, 2009; Israel, Schulz, Paarker, Allen, & Guzman, 2003).

The purpose of this paper is to report on an approach for SOE research. The authors present a formative evaluation process designed to document the challenges of developing, delivering, and managing a community service delivery program while balancing the goal of and institutional expectation for academic research rigor. The process and outcomes are explored through discussions of complex issues and events during a CBPR project entitled Métis Settlements Life Skills Journey (MSLSJ). We further explore the challenge of balancing the ideas, guidelines, and rhetoric of research literature with the lived experiences of community partners and research participants.
Whether delivering a community service program or conducting a program evaluation, working with, not for, the community remains a priority in CBPR (Wallerstein, Duran, Minkler, & Foley, 2005). Ongoing multi-dimensional communication and relationship building are recognized as key components to effective CBPR projects (Israel, Schulz, Parker, & Becker, 1998, 2001); yet they also remain at odds with funders’ goals of producing quantifiable results in a timely fashion and academic institutional policies for rewarding achievement (Driscoll & Sandman, 2001; Horowitz, et al., 2009). Academia and project funders largely undervalue sustainable working relationships as outcomes in CBPR projects in general (Shaffer, 2014).

This article explores how a CBPR research team strives to maintain academic rigor in a health oriented CBPR project while addressing the multitude of variables in working directly with people and communities, for example:

You wonder how authentic the engagement is when, in order to meet the academic rigor as they define it, they can’t be responsive to community priorities and community realities in terms of development. So it’s very complicated, right? How do you actually gauge a relationship being authentic and enforce academic rigor that this measures? (principal investigator)

CBPR, CUP, and ES literature clearly articulate their respective principles, in theory (Horowitz, et al., 2009; Israel, et al., 2001; Jones & Pomeroy, 2009). However, in practice, delivering a program with community members and conducting research shaped by their everyday experiences did not fit into prescribed principles and theories. CBPR requires a balance between the ideal and real, and often constant negotiation between service and research. To manage this balance, we created an opportunity to understand the tensions and to garner insight into engagement and capacity building.

Regular debrief sessions were held with the principal investigator (PI), project manager (PM), and research coordinator (RC) at the request of the PI of the MSLSJ project. The motivation came from the PI’s experience across multiple projects where “the elephant in the room” was ignored: politics, power, and prevailing stereotypes that many scholars are uncomfortable addressing. The PI shared the hope that debrief participants would commit to an environment where these issues could be openly discussed. The purpose of these debrief sessions was twofold: first, to provide an information-sharing forum for team leaders during MSLSJ implementation, and second, to provide an opportunity for reflection and reflexive analysis, similar to academic journal writing, now encouraged as a part of performing engaged scholarship. Insights gained from this process would be used as formative assessment and to inform planning. Three team leaders, referred to here as participants, debriefed regularly on the ongoing challenges of negotiating between service delivery and research.

While the participants recognize that the statement “we are doing something good” may not satisfy the rigor of academic research, the phrase speaks to the need for a more in-depth understanding of the characteristics needed to achieve success in both service delivery and research. There is growing acceptance in community engagement studies of the value in collecting stories to shape positive change in communities (Romero, 2013). The participants and facilitator chose an approach that involved collecting and reflecting on personal CBPR research stories through cycles of active participation in debriefs by the research team leaders. The process, lessons learned, and outcomes provide insight into the “elephants in the room,” expediting progress from CBPR principles to action and reflection on common pitfalls in engagement. This paper contributes to the emerging body of literature on SOE.

Project Background and Partners

The primary purpose of the MSLSJ program is to increase life skills awareness in a culturally appropriate manner, with the intent of addressing substance misuse and bullying in Métis communities. The MSLSJ program meets the community’s goal of incorporating their specific community context in programming and meets the goal of funders to foster safe communities through prevention programs in Alberta, enhance the wellness of Alberta’s children and families, and provide skill training for Aboriginal youth. The project employs an interdisciplinary approach by engaging individuals with expertise in education, psychology, recreation and physical education, anthropology, nutritional sciences, and community engagement studies to work with members of the Métis Settlements involved in the project.

The Métis are an Aboriginal group in Canada, some living on self-governed settlements in Alberta. While the Métis have a shared history with First Nations people, they are a distinct group with different lived realities from First Nations communities. The MSLSJ program is part of a Métis settlement research project that builds partnerships with individual settlements and focuses on knowledge exchange with settlement members.

The PI has been collaborating with Aboriginal communities in CBPR projects since 2005 (Baydala, Sewlal, Rasmussen, Alexis, Fletcher, Letendre, Odishaw, Kennedy, & Kootenay, 2009; Baydala, Letendre, Ruttan, Worrell, Fletcher. Letendre, & Schramm, 2011; Baydala, Worrell, Fletcher, Letendre, Letendre, & Ruttan, 2013), supported by the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Extension. Participating authors Fletcher and Hibbert, along with Robertson and Asselin (2013), published on community engagement through needs assessments as part of this ongoing project.

Documenting Engagement: Meshing Methods in Debrief Sessions

The PI initiated weekly debrief sessions as a way to monitor the progress of the MSLSJ project and to provide a forum for reflection on the process of CUP required for engaged scholarship in CBPR projects. This approach follows a simple, yet effective, principle that the people who are doing the work should also reflect upon it (Smyth, 1989). This supports the current movement of academic institutions and faculty professing engaged learning, discovery, and citizenship to demonstrate their public engagement and contribute to the SOE (American Association of State Colleges and Universities, 2002; Brukardt, Holland, Percy, & Zimpher, 2004; Faculty of Extension, 2010; Stanton, 2007). The fact that the participants had taken separate academic journeys but had collectively studied critical social theory, cultural relativism, and reflexivity, led to a shared belief in the importance of creating space for multiple perspectives to inform the research process. It was agreed that journaling provided a valuable experiential learning method for exploring engagement in CUP and CBPR (Douchet & Wilson, 2008). Despite this interest, the time commitment required was impractical, especially during camp leader training and implementation. To overcome the barrier presented by this time demand, it was decided that audio recorded sessions would fill this need. The debrief sessions were used as an alternative approach to journaling; dialogue would encourage active and critical reflection. The debrief process complemented other quantitative and qualitative data collection and evaluation pieces already in place for the overall project.

The term “debrief” was selected for this process, representing an informal sharing activity unconstrained by narrow labels. Similar to the First Nations idea of a sharing circle, the debrief activity fit with the perspective of CBPR being an approach to, rather than a specific research method for, evaluating research outcomes.

The Approach: Cooperative Inquiry

Traditional qualitative methods alone would have been insufficient to meet the goals set by the participants — to explore the “elephants in the room” and document the balance between service delivery and research. Cooperative inquiry stems from action research, participatory research, feminist qualitative research, and appreciative inquiry; it was chosen as the debrief approach since it allows for reflective practice and analysis (Heron, 1996). The data collection methods align with the co-operative inquiry approach, emphasizing reflective practice.

Methods: Debrief Sessions

A doctoral student with experience in qualitative data collection, interviewing, and focus groups was hired to facilitate the debrief sessions. The student was not employed by the Faculty of Extension, was not a project team leader, and was not a member of the Métis Settlement. This enabled the debrief facilitator to assume an outsider’s perspective during discussion of this particular project. However, the student had a shared set of values with the participants; his background was also entrenched in the principles of cultural relativism and reflexivity, a key factor in his ability to facilitate the conversation with this group. The student also had experience working with the participants and was able to meet the expectation for safe and open discussions based on a well established level of familiarity and trust.

The debrief sessions were not conducted using traditional interview or focus group protocol. A typical interview process requires non-reaction from the interviewer, so it is important to note that the debrief facilitator did not maintain a strict interviewer-interviewee relationship with the participants. The lack of structure for these discussions also negates its categorization as a focus group.

In practice, the debrief sessions incorporated many elements of unstructured reflective journaling, which can be audio recorded, as well as autoethnography. In parallel to the goals of unstructured reflective journaling, these sessions involved researchers discussing their experiences, assumptions, and choices throughout the research process, integrating new ideas into daily activities. The group process used during debriefs introduced participants to the elements of co-operative inquiry;

Cooperative inquiry involves two or more people researching a topic through their own experience of it, using a series of cycles in which they move between this experience and reflecting together on it (Heron, 1996, p. 1).

This blend of oral reflective journaling and co-operative inquiry during the debrief sessions satisfied our goal to be informal in our approach and to promote ease and comfort among the participants so that practical issues could be discussed. Creating a relaxed and safe environment encourages honesty and the open exchange of concerns, issues, and new ideas. The sessions were unstructured, allowing participants to provide regular updates to one another and to discuss emerging project issues. At the same time, the facilitator had participants focus on recurring themes. It is important to note that the position of the facilitator, who was familiar with the issues and research approach but not directly involved with the project, proved to be a valuable asset to the process and outcomes. Detailed clarification on actions, issues, strategies, and resolutions was achieved by asking who, why, and how questions of participants. These probes promoted intra-group communication and encouraged personal reflection by participants.

On average, the debrief sessions lasted one hour with a range of 43 to 67 minutes. All sessions were voice recorded to document both the discussion content and process. The facilitator uploaded the voice recorded sessions to a secure computer and transcribed them for further analysis. The following debrief transcripts were summarized using the key issues identified in the project’s needs and readiness assessment (Fletcher, Hibbert, Robertson, & Asselin, 2013):

  1. Barriers and successes in community-university partnerships:
    1. the importance of having a community-specific approach to research
    2. differences among team members (campus/community divide)
    3. reducing the burden of participation among community members
    4. university and funder policies and procedures
  2. Stories of change in training youth facilitators

Early in the analysis of the initial debrief sessions, it became apparent to the facilitator that the debrief sessions were also an opportunity to document insights leading to suggestions and considerations for future planning. The debrief summaries served three purposes. First, they were sent to the PM so that immediate concerns about youth facilitator training, implementation, and evaluation could be addressed. Second, lessons learned about the project, program design, and budgeting were noted for future consideration. Third, debrief summaries were filed with all project documents, ensuring that they would be readily accessible for knowledge mobilization activities, including reports to funders, research publications, and community presentations.

In order to further contribute to the project’s formative evaluation, the debrief summaries were then analyzed using an inductive qualitative approach in order to identify emerging themes (Thomas, 2006). Seven non-mutually exclusive themes were identified: community service delivery (or project management) vs. research; relationship building; roles and responsibilities; assumptions; youth facilitator training; staff hired to train the facilitators in their camp leader roles; and success of the first year. In total, 16 debriefs were held from May 8 to November 7, 2013, allowing participants to reflect on the entire pilot implementation process. This period encompassed facilitator training and implementation for two life skills summer camp programs for 7–10 year olds at two Métis Settlements in Alberta. The debrief session time period also included discussions about program evaluation through pre/post camp surveys with the campers, focus groups with campers and youth facilitators, and interviews with key team members involved in the delivery of these programs. At the conclusion of the debrief sessions in November, the three participants were asked to write their own summary and reflection on the process and submit it to the debrief facilitator. This was done to provide a summative evaluation sample with the goal of informing the overall formative process and future program planning.

Emergent Theme: Balancing the Ideals of CBPR with the Realities of CBPR

Community capacity building has been one of the guiding principles of CBPR and community-engaged scholarship (Horowitz, Robinson, & Seifer, 2009; Israel, Schulz, Parker, & Becker, 2001; Jones & Pomeroy, 2009). Chino and DeBruyn (2006) note that the concepts and terms of CBPR, including capacity building, are brought to Indigenous communities by mainstream academics and call for an indigenous informed approach. In response, the authors of this article have adopted the term co-learning, feeling it abandons a deficit based approach and more adequately captures the “important component of research among Native American communities” (LaVeaux & Christopher, 2009, p. 8) that recognizes individual expertise and community strength. The following comment from the first debrief session illustrates the tension created by the language of capacity building versus co-learning, a tension that has ripple effects on the CBPR ideal of equal community involvement and participation throughout the project:

Yes, there are principles that are supposed to guide your work and your actions, right? And we’ve already, in working up to this point said, you know what? It’s not reasonable to expect everyone to contribute to every aspect and we’re going to use all our strengths and bring all our strengths together in the best way. What’s interesting is the idea of building capacity in individuals is enviable but to do so without patronizing is challenging. (PI)

This passage highlights a potentially problematic assumption in conducting CBPR, and one that researchers are often hesitant to openly discuss and report on: that the community and its members will actively engage in every aspect of the project. As the research team identified in their needs and readiness assessment (Fletcher et al., 2013), it is often difficult to get community members to participate in focus groups designed to collect their input and engage them in a collaborative process. While it is important to obtain Settlement Council’s support for the program, they are not the individuals in the community that are tasked to do the everyday work required for the project to be successful. Council may support the project in their community but the level of commitment and the capacity to participate may not be the same for the community members involved in the day-to-day activities.
The research team reduced the responsibilities of individual community members, especially volunteers, by acting as the central project managers tasked with the day-to-day administration and serving as the buffer between the university and funding institutions. While, ideally, CBPR seeks to incorporate community input into all phases of a project, that breadth of input can be difficult to motivate; the project management team is required to move forward based on what they do know, as the following quote suggests: “You can try to call meetings to gather input [into these] and if you get it that’s great but if you don’t, your only option is to do it based on what you know from your community relationships.” (PI) This illustrates that some communities, although they are aware of the issues and may provide strategies, are also overwhelmed by day-to-day responsibilities, or may not (yet) see the important and valuable insight they may contribute to resolving specific issues.

The debrief sessions revealed that community stakeholders were not interested in taking on particular tasks often associated with capacity-building (as well as the distribution of power), such as handling budgets and reporting or taking on supervision of co-workers in community. Furthermore, community members appreciated having people with the appropriate expertise to take on responsibility for some of these administrative and supervisory tasks. One debrief participant shared that community members she spoke with were “happy to have people from the [university], or wherever, who have expertise in certain areas to come out during camp and lead camp, that would be fine.” (PM) The PI reinforced this position in a later debrief session, stating:

This group has strongly said if you can bring someone from outside the community that has the skills, they actually encouraged that. And we can see that as now we are doing this two-way capacity building, we’re not being isolationists; we’re saying we have strengths as non-community folks that we can bring in.

The PI noted that this experience with the Métis Settlements was distinct from earlier experiences; they exhibited a keen willingness to have “outsiders” enter their community to assist in roles that members knew they did not have the expertise or desire to perform. A community member employed by the project reiterated this when she shared her belief that if a community is serious about change among their youth, they need to be willing to work positively with external partners. The team leaders were more comfortable with the decision to bring additional non-community employees to the project knowing that the community not only encouraged it, but also began to see themselves as mentors to university students, who would have an opportunity to learn about their communities. We were gradually coming to a shared and clear commitment to co-learning between not just the research team but between settlement and post-secondary youth.

The excerpts from debriefs highlight the importance of building relationships through a process of co-learning that takes place over time. Time allows us to recognize the assets that individuals can contribute to the shared goal. It may be less about addressing perceived deficits in capacity and more about building social infrastructure, as the PI said: “Building capacity isn’t [only] building the skills in the community but the relationships and the networks.”

Emerging Theme: Community Service Delivery vs. Research

Inductive analysis confirmed a challenge apparent early in the debrief sessions: the complexity of managing a project that encompasses the creation, implementation, delivery, and evaluation of a community service while upholding the expectations of a research intensive university and multiple funding agencies. Despite the growing recognition of CBPR (Canadian Institutes of Health Research, 2008), priority given to connecting scholarship to the pressing issues and concerns of communities (Barker, 2004; Sandmann, 2006), and expectations for community university collaboration (Community Campus Partnerships for Health, n.d.; Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, n.d.), the structures intended to serve the research mandate of the university do not easily accommodate service delivery or attend to the realities of the community. As a result, CBPR researchers often find themselves in the difficult position of satisfying both community priorities and university and funders’ policies. For example, the primary focus of the team leaders was to develop and implement — with community input — a program that would have a positive impact, making use of funding for the maximum benefit to the community. This is the direct result of a research team, representing community and university, that has achieved a similar understanding of community university engagement. The program must fit the needs of the community first, not the research goals of the university. To better understand some of the challenges of negotiating between service delivery and the research goals experienced, we present in more detail two ongoing foci of negotiation to achieve a balance of service and research: 1) barriers created by institutional (university and funding agency) policies and procedures, and 2) communication barriers created by language use and terminology.

Barriers Created by Institutional Policies and Procedures

The financial agreement between the funder and the PI’s institution was spoken of in 12 of the 16 debriefs, making it the most frequent topic of discussion. This speaks to its significance in achieving both the service delivery and research goals of the project. Openly discussing barriers that result from the policies and procedures of researchers’ institutions or funding agencies may be considered risky for researchers whose livelihood and reputation rely on funding to conduct research. Jeopardizing those grants or approvals by speaking about the challenges they present is not done lightly. However, the lessons learned in doing so may be the difference between future success or failure in maintaining community engagement while meeting community expectations for service delivery and adhering to the principles of CBPR.

The community service delivery side of the project required funds to pay for community facilitator training, summer camp supplies, community transportation, and food services. Project funding was also required to hire community members as staff to assist in the development of the program content and graduate research assistants to complete data collection, evaluation, and analysis.

By the 12th debrief, the summer camp program was complete and research data collected, yet the primary source of funding had not been secured with a signed contract. The ongoing challenges and subsequent success of managing the facilitator training and running the summer camps speak to the creativity and hard work from the project team leaders to essentially complete the first nine months of a 12-month agreement before money was transferred from the funder. It also speaks to the extra time, energy, and stress that was required to manage and successfully deliver a community service project, “If we didn’t have these funding issues, my [goodness] our lives would be so easy.” (PC) It is worth noting that this comment came from the first debrief session and not the 12th.
Were it not for interim funding provided by the PI’s faculty while agreements were written and re-written, all the activities needed to maintain the community trust and project momentum would have been interrupted. When so much time is invested in overcoming historical mistrust, the ability to support activities the community has prioritized (service programs) that also have a research and evaluation component is critical. The potential negative impacts of extremely delayed sign-off of contracts and agreements are a serious threat to successful engagement and CBPR.

The difficulty in signing agreements stemmed from the fact that the funding priority was service delivery, but the credibility and evaluative expertise the university brought to the project was valued by the funder. As a result, the principal funding agency used a service delivery template for the agreement. In short, this contract implied that the project team from the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Extension was providing a service program to the community and that the funder would “own” the program and any and all data generated from that program. Being a research-intensive post secondary institute, the University of Alberta office responsible for research contracts and agreements identified a number of issues regarding intellectual property and ownership. This arrangement would prove unacceptable to the PI and the university as it undermined the research relationship with the community as well as the university’s policies on intellectual property. More importantly, it undermines one of the key tenets of CBPR with Aboriginal people (retaining ownership and control of research outputs) and the decision by the community to make resources open access for settlements throughout Alberta.

The grant agreement reflected funding for service delivery rather than a research program; the intent of the project team was to receive funds for both elements. This again highlights the challenges of delivering a community service program with the research objectives and parameters of university and funder guidelines. The individuals involved in writing legal grant agreements have no social connection to the people involved in the proposed projects. Their obligation is to meet the legal requirements for the institutions they represent. Health care funders and universities are increasingly recognizing the value of qualitative research to long term health benefits for a community. Yet, this example illustrates how funding agencies and communities are often not on the same page. Many of the challenges and frustrations from the first year (tight timelines, training new staff, finding team members with the desired expertise, communication issues, making assumptions, limiting travel to the community, learning on the go) were acknowledged by the team leaders as arising from delays in securing a contract with the primary funder. “The more that we can get funding settled, the more I don’t have to be constantly worried about it.” (PM) Despite these uncertainties and frustration with the funding contract delays, the frequency of their discussion in the debrief sessions allowed the participants to develop a sense of humor around them, “We already think it’s hilarious that we have completely done year one of the program without money.” (PC) A sense of humor, while not on the checklist for professorial evaluation, comes in handy when engaging with community in CBPR projects.

You Say Potato, I Say Potäto: Language Use and Terminology

CBPR is an approach designed to bridge the gap between university and community. This includes the challenge of straddling two linguistic worlds. The terms theory of change, most significant change, outcome mapping, community-university partnerships, engaged scholarship, scholarship of engagement, and their acronyms TOC, MOC, OM, CUP, ES, SOE, considered useful in scholarly publications and academic discussions, have little or no relevance to community members. The project team learned to listen and speak in different languages: the language of the community (regardless of linguistic dialect) and the language of academia. While labels and terms as noted above may serve to position the researcher as expert in the project, they are not likely to foster community engagement and may, in contrast, alienate community partners. Establishing a common language in CBPR is fundamental to respectful and equitable relationships.The language used to engage community members, like the project itself, must be relevant to the community.

In addition, the full complement of the team represented a variety of academic disciplines, also notorious for promoting their own terminology as part of their distinct expertise. Negotiating the service delivery/research balance as well as interdisciplinarity requires finding a common or shared communication style, language use, and terminology.

The community service delivery contract also used the troubling term “clients” to describe community members participating in the various facets of the project:

… they always want to list clients, like on the report, how many clients did you affect. The new funding … we’re not a research project but kind of a service – they are still listed as clients. So at some point I have to report on our clients and what we have done with them. (PM)

To combat this, reports to funders typically contain the terms “participants” for research participants and “partners” for all other community members involved in the project. We strictly avoid the use of the term “clients” in all reports, publications, and presentations, and have not to date received any backlash for doing so.
Regular debrief sessions over the duration of the MSLSJ development and delivery enabled the team leaders to discuss communication issues early and implement immediate corrective measures for community members as well as the expanded program service delivery and research team. Agreeing on accessible terms and labels, and clarifying their meanings, contributes to open communication.

Conversely, data, information, findings, interpretations, and meaning are often not readily accepted in academic circles and publications until given a discipline-accepted label. As the title of this paper — “We know we are doing something good, but what is it?” — is meant to suggest, the struggle to find an appropriate label to capture the first year experiences of the project is at the heart of negotiating a service delivery program with research objectives in a CBPR project. More succinctly, how do you measure the value of the relationships built and the deep meaning conveyed by those relationships? Through regular debriefs, participants, discussed, debated, and reflected on the many issues that arose during the first year of the project and received feedback on their individual activities on a regular basis. Lessons learned while the project was ongoing allowed for adjustments without affecting the research integrity of the overall project, “So we’re doing this constant formative evaluation with a very participatory approach.” (PI)

Lessons Learned

One of the first lessons was the importance of adopting a “learn as you go” attitude when engaging with communities in CBPR projects. As a result, in the discussion that follows, we have chosen to present an example, followed by the lesson learned and then a suggested way to meet the guidelines of CBPR. As managers of service delivery and researchers, you need to be open and adaptable to inter- and intra-community differences and politics and not be overwhelmed when the ideals of CBPR are unattainable. Even the most basic assumptions require more attention than originally planned for. For example, there was an assumption that community members who applied in response to a job posting for camp facilitator positions would understand that a) they would be responsible for teaching children basic life skills in a day camp setting and b) the commitment was to full time work from May through August. Early recognition of differing expectations regarding roles and responsibilities allowed for change to be implemented quickly. For example, schedules were adjusted to accommodate shorter work days and four-day work weeks, rules were set regarding the use of personal cell phone during work time, and more in depth discussions of their role as camp facilitator were incorporated in the training.

Despite extensive CBPR experience with communities believed to have similar dynamics, it was impossible to anticipate how assumptions shaped by previous experiences would be “tested.” In other words, every service delivery and research project will test what we think we know. As we became more familiar with the community members and community dynamics, it was clear that research questions and methods should be revised to get to the root of the challenges faced in delivering the life skills program. We also took in stride the unpredictability of participant attendance and adjusted data collection methods — down to the number of evaluation assistants present and physical location of the children in groups — as required. Flexibility and the ability to improvise on the go are essential skills in this work, as well as the ability to think innovatively about conventional principles of CBPR. Facilitators, being community members, knew the children and brought community knowledge and unique expertise. They also recognized themselves that they did not have the depth of expertise to handle everything that occurred at camp and welcomed more outside supervision from the university team members. The regular debrief sessions allowed the team leaders to address these types of issues immediately, assess the options, and take immediate action as required. This process encouraged creative solutions to specific issues while reducing the burden of individual team members having to make quick decisions on their own.

A second key lesson had to do with the assumptions regarding the composition and size of research team required to achieve the service delivery and research goals. The MSLSJ program proved too complex and multi-layered for the team leaders to manage all details. Subject matter experts from physical education and recreation were hired to give community facilitators the skills and knowledge to teach life skills through play. Research assistants were hired to assist in data collection and analysis. However, hiring undergraduate and graduate students with different disciplinary backgrounds meant that not all of the team members were familiar with the fundamental principles of CBPR and community engagement. This lack of grounding in CBPR is reflected in this comment:

I think the naivete of people entering into community based work [without prior experience] and thinking that – it kind of sounded like we were doing tokenistic community engagement. It was revealing of a lack of understanding possibly and newness to…community based research. (PI)

Co-learning and relationship building among the academic research team deserves as much attention as is given to co-learning and relationship building between the university and the community. Being self-reflective and analytical, while not always a comfortable process, has proven to be essential to serving the needs of the overall project and community partners.

Timely summaries of the debrief sessions enabled the PM to consider lessons learned while in the midst of planning the next year’s program budget and schedule. For example, the following decisions were made with regard to:

  1. Project Management
    1. training should occur in the communities
    2. the PC will teach facilitators, linking life skills concepts and activities
    3. we will hire a camp director who is responsible for supervising facilitators
    4. recruitment will be revised to strengthen the hiring of facilitators
    5. we will enforce clear expectations and consequences for facilitator performance
  2. Research
    1. participant observation during the summer camps would be valuable
    2. if we feel that a relationship with a partner is weak (based on our understanding of community readiness), the program will not run with that community
    3. outside guests make camp more fun, so plan for more to participate
    4. acilitators would benefit from a peer mentorship design with university students
    5. project outcomes could be improved if all members of the team, facilitators in particular, were taught basic principles of CBPR and the project goals

By discussing and reflecting on the program activities while they were happening, the team leaders came to recognize the importance of identifying the daily small ripples of change which could lead to more significant stories of change for future research purposes. They also learned to be realistic in their expectations for the project such as expecting only small ripples of change in the children after a two week summer camp. Teaching life skills and building resiliency is a long term project. It is also impossible to plan for all contingencies when engaged in community-based projects. The significance of using the debriefs to learn lessons is echoed in this statement by the PI: “Well, it informs what we are going to do for next year; definitely it’s changing our strategy and plan for next year.” Subsequent implementation years would have higher quality due to these lessons learned through debrief sessions.

Moving Forward

Regular debrief sessions were acknowledged by the team leaders as a more comfortable and efficient method for reflective analysis than individual journaling; they allow for a place and time to vent frustrations and brainstorm solutions. They were an opportunity to confront assumptions and challenge ideologies and practices, some of those “elephants in the room” that are often not discussed and documented. They were a successful strategy for documenting process and insights for future reference. “So often conversations happen and they are totally forgotten. Like a year from now, some of them [the same issues] will be happening again.” (PI)
The debriefs were a way to recognize and celebrate the many small successes that occurred, sometimes on a daily basis. The regular acknowledgement of positive events or moments served as validation to the team leaders that they were “doing something good” and provided motivation to continue to move forward despite the challenges of balancing a community service delivery program with the rigors of research objectives. This reinforced the idea that motivation should be one of the shared goals for the project and that helping to motivate community members, to see the value of the changes they wish to make in their community, is a critical component of co-learning. Capacity is built by creating networks for community members to use once the university exits the community; simply running the summer camps could build relationships in the community.

The debriefs were an effective way to promote regular information updates, to collect data for formative assessments of the program delivery and research, and to test the potential of co-operative inquiry as a novel and valuable tool for ES and SOE:

You do need to lay out your questions and your methods, all of those pieces that create academic rigor that people are looking for. But we are really trying to explore those other aspects of doing this work that are about the engagement and that do allow the work to make a difference… . That’s the real richness in these [debriefs]. (PI)

The debrief process was a positive experience for participants and contributed to the overall project goals. The team will use the debrief process for the second year of program implementation and evaluation. In addition, a community team member will join the team leaders debriefs and separate debriefs will be held with camp facilitators. The expansion of this debrief approach in our own engaged scholarship and scholarship of engagement is increasingly plausible as the relationship with individuals from the community and the community as a whole strengthens.


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About the Authors

All three authors are with the Faculty of Extension at the University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada. Fay Fletcher is an associate professor and academic director of Community Engagement Studies, Brent Hammer is a doctoral candidate and graduate research assistant, and Alicia Hibbert is a research project manager.

Confronting Resistance: Addressing Issues of Race and Class During Community-Based Research

Detris Honora Adelabu


Community partnerships have the potential to empower and arm students with the tools to positively engage with all members of society. In this study, the author explores how race and class shaped students’ experiences with community-based research. Participants included 44 social science majors enrolled in an undergraduate research methods course. Students partnered with two community non-profits that served socioeconomically and ethnically distinct communities. Findings suggest that although students expressed varying levels of early resistance toward each partnership, they gained a raised awareness of their feelings toward and their unconscious reactions to race and class and began to work through initial resistance.

In the past 20 years, colleges and universities have worked more aggressively to engage students in community-based partnerships aimed at facilitating racial and cultural understanding and at helping students gain a sense of civic engagement (Buch & Harden, 2011; Hogan & Bailey, 2010). While the outcomes of such community engagement activities have been challenged by researchers as further contributing to students’ feelings of power and privilege and, in many cases, of building students’ self-esteem on the backs of the disenfranchised, research also suggests that a socially conscious approach to community partnerships instills in students a greater awareness of societal and structural inequalities and has a tendency to positively shift previously held negative attitudes and stereotypes toward traditionally marginalized groups (Boyle-Baise & Langford, 2004; Conley & Hamlin, 2009; Eyler & Giles, 1999; Marichal, 2010). Buch and Harden (2011) invited university students to engage in a community project working with the homeless and found that by the end of the semester, students reported fewer negative stereotypes regarding the homeless and indicated a greater desire to get involved in efforts aimed at helping the homeless. Similarly, Fenzel and Dean (2011), through a semester long community-based child psychology initiative, reported positive shifts in students attitudes toward race and social justice. At the end of the semester, students reported a greater awareness of white privilege and the existence of racism, and a greater likelihood to engage in social justice work. Ladson-Billings (2006) suggests that by confronting social and structural inequities firsthand students gain broader social awareness.

Community-based research (CBR), a socially conscious approach to the generation of new ideas, is one critical approach to community engagement (Polanyi & Cockburn, 2003; Strand, Marullo, Cutforth, Stoecker, & Donohue, 2003; Willis, Peresie, Waldref, & Stockmann, 2003). CBR, defined as “collaborative, change-oriented research, engages faculty members, students, and community members in partnerships that address a community-identified need” (Strand et al., 2003, p. 5). CBR prioritizes the research needs and interests of the community over traditional academic research while still meeting the academic needs of the higher education community. In keeping with the theoretical work of Dewey (1944), CBR advocates for a civic engagement model of education that moves higher education beyond the notion of “knowledge for knowledge’s sake” toward work grounded in social action and transformation. What distinguishes CBR from traditional research and from historical ideas of charity-based community work is that it engages colleges/universities and communities in reciprocal, egalitarian partnerships where all participants are both teacher and learner. Successful CBR partnerships reconcile what Friere (1993) recognized as the teacher-student pole of contradiction so that all are simultaneously teacher and student.

In an effort to transform students’ understanding of and relationships with power and privilege, CBR uses teaching and learning practices that both confront and destabilize power differentials in society (Conley & Hamlin, 2009). While this justice-based approach to teaching and learning has potential to positively impact all stakeholders, students who engage in CBR particularly benefit. Authentic CBR learning experiences increase students’ awareness of social injustice and enhance their civic engagement and responsibility. Students move from a charity orientation of working in communities toward a socially just orientation of working with communities (Morton, 1995). In a study assessing undergraduates’ beliefs about the benefits of CBR, students indicated that “involvement in CBR allowed us to redefine our education, our communities, and our roles in them” (Willis, et al., 2003, p. 41). Students believed that CBR 1) enriched their traditional academic coursework, 2) empowered them to work with rather than simply serve communities, 3) enhanced their knowledge of social problems and the myriad structural factors that contribute to them, and 4) allowed for successful, authentic integration of academics and community work (Willis, et al., 2003).

With an increasing number of higher education institutions attempting to build authentic community-based learning experiences for students, experiences that are often in communities socioeconomically and ethnically different from the higher education campus community, it is imperative we continue to study the impact of such partnerships on student development. This study examines how race and class shaped students’ experiences with CBR across two community partnerships.

The Course: Community-Based Research Methods

CBR was integrated into two sections of my undergraduate research methods course, a course designed to enhance students’ basic knowledge and understanding of social science research and required of all department majors. A prerequisite to research methods is completion of a year-long introductory human growth and development course. In the year-long course, students complete two 30-hour field placements with a community organization. Therefore, the CBR experience was not the first introduction to community-based learning for my students.

An objective of the community-based research methods course was to help students demonstrate and apply knowledge of diversity (cultural, linguistic, ethnic, gender, socioeconomic, racial, sexual orientation) and to help students consider how their social location might influence the design, implementation, and interpretation of social science research. I believe, like many educators, that education should transform academia and be made relevant to the lives of students. Shor (1987) suggests it is naive “to see the classroom as a world apart where inequality, ideology, and economic policy don’t affect learning” (p. 14). Students “bring with them their cultural expectations, their experiences of social discrimination and life pressures, and their strengths in surviving” (Wallerstein, 1987, p. 33). This suggest that as researchers we bring our whole selves to the research experience, our personal experiences, culture, ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, and more — all of which can help to shape our research interest as well as how we design and carry out our research.

To better support the objectives of the course, students from two sections of Research Methods entered the diverse communities surrounding my institution. Discussions were held with four community non-profits to assess their research and evaluation needs. Two of the four community non-profits were selected as partners prior to the start of the semester. Each community organization provided students with two to three research and evaluation topics to collectively discuss and choose from. Students were informed of the partnerships and of potential research topics for each section of research methods prior to enrollment. Students worked with each community partner to co-create research questions, to design and implement the study, and to engage in data collection and analysis. Ideally, students would have taken part in choosing a community partner; however, due to timing our community partners were chosen prior to course enrollment.

The CBR partnerships were designed to support the needs of the community non-profits, to enhance students’ knowledge of research and evaluation, and to support students’ personal and professional growth and development. The CBR partnerships aimed to support students’ personal and professional growth and development by better preparing students to work with diverse communities, by providing students with real-world experiences and approaches to social change, and by empowering students to establish reciprocal, egalitarian partnerships with ethnically and socioeconomically diverse communities.

Partnership One: Museum Partnership

Section one of Research Methods partnered with a local museum. Students and museum staff received the same readings for the course. On second day of the course, we began meeting with representatives from the museum. As a group we traveled to the museum for a tour and to spend time getting to know the space and the museum community (staff and visitors). On the third day, we began the process of co-creating a research plan to evaluate an exhibit designed to encourage children and their families to make healthy lifestyle choices regarding physical activity and nutrition. Five small groups emerged, with each group examining the exhibit though the use of different research techniques (qualitative and/or quantitative). Projects examined the extent to which families 1) have fun, engage with the exhibit and engage with each other, 2) are aware of the messages communicated by the exhibit, 3) make connections between the messages communicated in the exhibit and their own lives, and 4) how families from different backgrounds (ethnic, socioeconomic, educational) experience the exhibit.
Over 50% of our regular class sessions were held at the museum. Additional visits occurred on Fridays from 5–9 p.m., a time when the museum attracts more ethnically and socioeconomically diverse families.

Partnership Two: Community Center Partnership

Students enrolled in section two of Research Methods partnered with a local community center. Center staff was in the early stages of program development and wanted to learn more about programs/services currently operating in their geographic area and about the types of services community members wanted to see integrated into the new center. The center was to be built in a community where two-thirds of its families live below the self-sufficiency living standard with a median family income of just under $21,000 per year. Prior to partnering with us, the community center held over 100 small and large group meetings in the community to gain support and input. On the second day of class, community center representatives and students came together to discuss background information on the center and to discuss ideas to get more community input regarding the design and operation of the proposed community center. (Community center representatives met us on campus since the community center had not been constructed.) We co-created a plan to conduct a needs assessment of the local community that would help our community center partner identify and understand existing community-based programs providing services within a one-mile radius of where the center was to be constructed. Five small group projects emerged from the partnership. Groups examined the extent to which existing community programs were open to partnering with the new center. They also examined membership structures that support family participation, security needs of families that would enhance engagement with the center, mechanisms to support community volunteerism at the center, and the types of services families were interested in participating in at the center.
Over 50% of class sessions were held in the community. Due to the type of research projects designed for this partnership (projects that required students to survey and interview adults in the community) and since the center had not been constructed, students carried out their projects at a number of locations in the community, including the public library, local schools, and at existing community non-profits. This led to more logistical issues to sort through with the community center partnership than with the museum partnership.



Forty-four undergraduate students enrolled in two sections of Research Methods at a small private college participated in the research. There were 21 students enrolled in section one and 23 students enrolled in section two of the undergraduate Research Methods course. Participants included mostly juniors and seniors majoring in the social sciences. At the time of the study 18% of the students enrolled at the college identified as students of color and 82% identified as white/Caucasian. Both sections of the course were taught by the author, a tenured African American professor who has taught research methods at the college for over seven years.

Data Sources

Data were collected via anonymous pre and post course evaluations, an anonymous mid-semester check-in, journal notes and observations. In addition, ongoing meetings were held with community partners where minutes were taken and one community partner maintained a journal.

Data Analysis

To better understand how race and class shape students’ experiences with CBR, a content analysis was conducted on students’ pre, post and mid-semester evaluations and journal entries. Initial patterns in the data evolved from three readings of each data source by the author and readings by two independent readers (Creswell, 2008; Miles & Huberman, 1994). Patterns yielded evidence of varying experiences/responses to race and class across the two partnerships. Patterns were found regarding students’ attitudes toward the CBR partnerships and toward the value placed on those partnerships.

Students who partnered with the museum engaged with participants who were mostly middle to upper-income and white. Community center partners engaged with participants who where mostly lower-income or working class and of color. Although visitors to the museum were mostly white and economically advantaged, the research developed for the museum had as one of its goals to better understand how families from diverse backgrounds (socioeconomic, educational, and ethnic) experience the museum.


Embedded throughout the CBR experience was a discussion of racial and cultural identities and of the roles race and class can play in the design, implementation, and interpretation of social science research. In essence, I wanted my students to be mindful that we bring our whole selves to the interactions and activities within which we participate, even in the scientific field of research. Like Vygotsky (1978), I believe learning is inherently linked to our interactions with others and should, as Friere suggests, provoke “conceptual inquiry into self and society and into the very disciplines under study” (as quoted in Shor, 1987, p. 24).
The majority of students enrolled in Research Methods had completed or were currently enrolled in a racial and cultural identities course, a course designed to introduce the critical study of race, culture, and identity and to encourage students to examine their own socialization and understanding of race, ethnicity, culture, and identity. Still, race and class helped to shape students’ attitudes toward each community partnership.

Recognizing and Working through Early Resistance

Students enrolled in each section of research methods expressed resistance to CBR. However, differences were found in how resistance toward CBR manifested among students working with each community partner. For example, student museum partners were required to visit the museum on Friday nights (5–9 p.m.) during a time when more families from ethnically and socioeconomically diverse backgrounds tend to visit the museum. As one might imagine, not many college students want to give up a Friday night to conduct research at a museum. A student indicated, “I wish I could visit the museum on Wednesdays. I have a free block that day.” Similarly, another stated, “We should be able to visit the museum anytime it’s open.”

To help students understand the importance of the Friday night visits, during one of our first trips to the museum, 1:00 p.m. on a Thursday, students were asked to simply walk around and observe. Students were again asked to visit the museum, but this time on a Friday night. After the Friday night visit, we engaged in discussion about our overall impressions of the museum. Students saw the diverse representation of families during their Friday night visit and they “got it.” As a student indicated, “I was a little upset with the 5–9 p.m. schedule for the museum. After our Thursday and Friday visits, now I get it.”

The Friday night visit provided a powerful visual representation of how the demographics of the museum shift on Friday nights between 5–9 p.m. when families pay $1 instead of the regular $12 admission fee and when working families have time to attend. Students openly shared their observations and began to critically examine and discuss how economics can contribute to the gaps we see in student achievement — how economic privilege plays a role in creating structural inequalities in students’ learning experiences. The 5–9 p.m. influx of families of color and working class families to the museum suggested to students that these families are interested in and value the museum experience, and that these families attend when the cost of admission is within their financial reach. Student observations led to an even broader discussion about the educational opportunities of lower income and working class families. Students suggested that just as families have affordable access to the quality informal learning experiences provided by the museum, they should have similar access to a quality education for their children, an education not reliant on a lottery, where one lives, or a family’s socioeconomic status.

Following the Friday night visit and reflection exercise, students recognized the value of Friday night visits and no longer expressed this as a concern. Students came to understand that by failing to visit on Friday nights, we would exclude the voices of many ethnically and socioeconomically diverse museum visitors from our research.
Student community center partners also expressed initial concern for their CBR work. However, their concerns were often directed negatively toward the community, with some implying that such a partnership in this predominately lower-income and working class community was a waste of student time and effort. One student indicated, “I don’t think the people will use the center when it is built, so I think they are wasting money on a center in that community.”

It is interesting to note that the community center neighborhood was located within the same city as our college, less than three miles from our classroom and in closer proximity than the museum. Yet, a student indicated, “I really don’t have a connection to the Urbandale (a pseudonym) community because I’ve never heard of the city before.”

I asked my students to map directions to the Urbandale community and students saw the community’s close proximity to the college. We learned that at least two students in the course had completed a field placement in Urbandale and could share their experiences with the class. As a class, we then began the process of assets mapping to engage in discussion of the many positive efforts occurring in Urbandale. Students had the opportunity to learn about a number of community non-profits, two that were nationally recognized for their efforts on behalf of those placed at an economic disadvantage. Students indicated:

The assets map helped me see what Urbandale had to offer. There are good things happening.

I was feeling some discomfort about going into the Urbandale community. … I was surprised by the number of agencies there and their willingness to help.

Students exhibited additional elements of early resistance to CBR as evidenced by their responses to logistical matters regarding the partnership. Both partnerships required students to travel via public transportation. Students traveled in groups to each location.

Transportation worked well for student museum partners. They traveled as a research team to the museum during class time and for Friday night visits. Transportation for the student community center partners was more complicated. Since the community center had not been constructed, students engaged with agencies near the future location of the center. This created logistical challenges for the partnership and sometimes hindered students’ ability to connect with center staff. However, even prior to the start of data collection, student community center partners expressed fear and concern about traveling to the community center neighborhood. The Urbandale community seemed distant, remote. However, distance was not raised as a concern for museum partners even though the museum was farther in distance from campus than the Urbandale community (but perhaps believed by my students to be closer, more similar in ethnicity and socioeconomics). Faculty colleagues also expressed concern for students’ safety traveling via public transportation to the nearby Urbandale community. Due to expressed concerns for student safety, I used the college’s van to carpool students to Urbandale. Implementing the carpool process did not alleviate fears or shift negative perceptions of the partnership. Students commented:

I would rather do research in a place that I’m more comfortable with… . The project as a whole is pointless and stupid in my mind.

Can’t we just do it by email?

This project is a WASTE of MY TIME!

Confronting Race and Class

Appropriate scaffolding, defined as intentional facilitation of students’ learning, helped my students begin to recognize their initial resistance to CBR and helped them move forward. Their feelings were in some ways normal, a knee-jerk reaction to fear. A student commented, “I was scared first, but talking in class and the assets map helped.” From my perspective, it was okay that my students exhibited initial discomfort toward their work in the community. However, it was not okay for them to stay in a place of fear, of resistance. Growth is in working through the discomfort — getting past the knee-jerk, unconscious reaction to resist.

Jones, Gilbride-Brown, and Gasiorski (2005) describe the often unconscious reactions displayed by my students as “a process of struggle, negotiation, and meaning-making” (p. 7), a place where students are attempting to make sense not only of the communities within which they are attempting to engage, but are also attempting to make sense of their personal reactions to working with the community. Events that occurred with each community partnership encouraged my students to consider how race and class influence their interactions with and their openness to engage with individuals from ethnic, and sometimes socioeconomic, backgrounds different from their own. For instance, during one Friday night visit to the museum — just as the demographics began to shift — a small group of six early elementary school aged children of color (children who looked African American/black and or Latino/a by appearance) entered a play space in the museum where children, mostly white, were dancing on a large dance floor. As the children of color entered the dance floor, several white parents who were present in the exhibit began to direct their children away from the dance floor. One parent indicated that the dance floor was “not safe, scary.” One of my students walked over to me and repeated the comment as if she also believed the dance floor had become unsafe. I observed my students in the small group step away from the dance floor as if to coward from the experience. This interaction led to a rich discussion about the role of race and class in our day-to-day interactions. I asked students to describe their observation of what they saw prior to the children of color arriving on the dance floor. They were asked to describe in detail what they saw the white children doing and to describe in detail what they saw the children of color doing and to compare their responses. Students came to see that the behaviors had been the same for both groups – they saw children dancing, no pushing, no yelling – yet people responded differently to the children of color. Somehow the movements, the very presence of the children of color in a space that until 5:00 p.m. had been predominately white conjured up feelings of fear and lack of safety in the minds of some white parents and some of my white students. How we as educators respond to such observations during CBR is critical since these experiences provide opportunities to engage students in critical discourse around the ways in which power and privilege can create fear and contribute to ongoing inequities in society (Darling-Hammond & Bransford, 2005; Delpit, 2006; Espino & Lee, 2011; Fenzel & Dean, 2011). These are experiences my students will encounter in their future roles as teachers, social workers, and youth advocates, experiences that I could not have created within the context of my classroom. The experience allowed me and my students to confront and destabilize their knee-jerk reactions to the children of color joining the dance floor, allowing my students to recognize their unintended, unconscious personal responses to race and class. This critical reflection component of CBR is vital to helping students gain deeper meaning from their community-based experience and to enhancing students’ development (Strand, et al., 2003; Toews & Cerny, 2005; Wasserman, 2010)

Student community center partners engaged with a community that has a large Portuguese speaking population. The fact that we were a mostly English only speaking group partnering with a linguistically diverse community was discussed as a limitation early on in our partnership. We were missing the opportunity to learn from a significant part of the community due to our limited proficiency in Portuguese. However, students saw the language differences as a limitation of the community, not of our skills as researchers. This led to a discussion of who owns the limitation, we as researchers or the Portuguese- speaking members of the community? After all, we had entered as non-Portuguese speakers into a community with a large Portuguese speaking population. These community members had not asked for us and therefore, the limitation was ours. Comments made by students led to a discussion of the roles power and privilege play in defining literacy. What does it mean to view the dominant use of Portuguese as a limitation? For a class of mostly teacher educators, how might our view of Portuguese speakers in Urbandale relate to how we view English language learners in the classroom? Should we all adapt a mainstream discourse of reading, speaking, writing? What does a mainstream discourse look and sound like, and who defines it?

Moving Beyond Resistance

Moving beyond knee-jerk responses to fear and to the less familiar is challenging and ongoing; yet it appears students made some progress in learning how to recognize and confront personal challenges with race and class in their CBR work. Findings suggest shifts in students’ opinions regarding CBR and in their opinions of the communities in which they engaged. These shifts are supported by previous research that has found changes in students’ awareness of issues of race, class, and social justice after just one-semester of community engagement (Buch & Harden, 2011; Fenzel & Dean, 2011; Wasserman, 2010). A student indicated,

I didn’t see why we had to go off campus. I wished I had taken research last semester with someone else. I had heard a lot about Urbandale community — not good. I was scared. …It felt good to learn about the good work of offices in the community. It made me want to do more.

Similarly, a student reflecting on the dance floor incident at the museum, stated,

I never really thought about my social location until that night at the museum. When we talked about the dance floor – at first I didn’t think anything. Now I see what even little things can mean.

However, not all students moved beyond their initial resistance. Six students continued to exhibit profiles of what Jones, Gilbride-Brown and Gasiorski (2005) referred to as politely frustrated volunteers or active resisters in that they tended to only document their opposition to CBR through written work or they openly and actively opposed their CBR experience throughout the course. A student, characterized as a Politely Frustrated Volunteer, wrote, “Race is not a class. It’s not something people can be taught, not a subject. I took the class because it was required to learn about research not about race.” Similarly, a student who can be characterized as an Active Resister, attempted to convince her group that their interactions with the community could be done via email or web-based data collection and that there was no need to enter the community. The student indicated, “What can happen to us? She [the professor] can’t force us to go.”

Missing from the analysis is a better understanding of factors that would have shifted the perspective of the six students who were less interested in engaging in future community-based research. What could have enhanced their experience and encouraged them to shift their perspectives of CBR and of engaging with the community?


CBR encouraged my students to consider the roles of race and class in their work and I believe made a significant difference in the lives of my students. Findings suggest that through critical reflection and analysis of their community-based experiences, students made progress toward recognizing and working through their fears and negative perceptions about working with our community partners. Such CBR experiences provide teaching and learning opportunities that cannot be gained by sitting in a classroom. Students learned that “knowledge is rooted in social relations and most powerful when produced collaboratively through action” (Fine, Torre, Boudin, Bowen, Clark, Hylton, Martinez, Rivera, Roberts, Smart, & Upegui, 2001, p. 173). Studies have indicated that working alongside faculty and community partners provide students a sense of empowerment and an increased willingness to impact society (Willis et al., 2003).

Students articulated the inherent challenges of CBR – that it is time consuming, at many times messy and uncomfortable, and that CBR took them far outside their comfort zone. Yet, 38 of 44 students indicated that if given the opportunity they would engage in another CBR partnership. A student commented,

I feel the experience opened the doors to engaging with families from Urbandale and even elsewhere. It helped me build my confidence in myself to work with the community and maybe even lead a community partnership one day.

As a full participant in the CBR process, I was challenged to help my students come to understand that the work we engage in with communities is critical to their (and my) personal and professional growth as teachers, social workers, and youth advocates. However, while I observed significant growth in my students, this study is limited in that it does not assess the sustained impact of CBR on students’ development. Future studies should assess the long-term impact of community-based research on students’ development. While there are many challenges to such a partnership, such as varying levels of student readiness to work with diverse communities and the enormous time commitment on the part of faculty and students, the importance of partnerships of this nature is the empowerment that results from the learning associated with the experience. Partnerships of this nature have the ability to change how students see themselves relative to the world and to encourage students to become agents of change.


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About the Author

Detris Honora Adelabu is an associate professor of Psychology and Human Development at Wheelock College in Boston, MA.

Challenging Contextual Factors in University-Community Partnerships

Beth Archer-Kuhn and Jill Grant

Civic Engagement

Civic engagement can be a tension for universities as they attempt to navigate their many roles (Fisher, Fabricant, & Simons, 2004) and address contextual factors, including partnership process and stakeholder groups, which influence the outcome of the partnership and require particular attention at the outset of the partnership.

Civic engagement is a process of learning, involving engagement between the University and the community agency. Contrary to Fish’s (2005) position that institutions of higher learning should not participate in service learning or civic engagement, many authors believe that university researchers can successfully collaborate with agencies in a relationship of mutual respect for strengths to support the application of evidence-based practice (Bellamy, Bledsoe, Mullen, Fang, & Manuel, 2008). We reflect on lessons learned from this civic engagement experience and look forward to future projects.

The Project

This university-community partnership developed from a mutual need with goals that were clear to the partners (Varcoe, 2006). The agency was in need of the expertise provided by the university and the university was in need of expanding its community partnerships. The agency collected consumer data through two provincially mandated evidence-based assessment tools (in addition to consumer demographic data) as a part of the agency’s regular practice. Analysis of the data was required to inform service delivery after being informed by the funder that funding increases were not forthcoming. Thus, the partnership in this paper began in response to government (funder) messaging to navigate scarce resources with creativity and independence.

A day treatment program (institutional setting) and a school-based program (community school setting) were offered by the center to elementary age children with comparable consumer demographic and clinical profiles.
The second author completed data analysis and reported findings that both programs were effective back to the agency. The agency used the results of the data analysis to inform program changes to reduce the number of children in the day treatment program and increase the number of children receiving service in the school-based program. The decision would effectively achieve the goal of the funder: no reduction in service, while maintaining the financial status quo. It also supported the agency’s mission and vision to provide the least intrusive services possible to children and families, allowing children to maintain their ties to community schools. The agency met with the funder to discuss the data analysis outcome and proposed changes in service planning. The report was well received by the funder, who encouraged the agency to present the findings to the local children’s mental health community.

Jill Grant presented the findings to the agency’s closest partners. At this stage, there was reaction to the presentation of data analysis and proposed changes for service planning, both in favor and opposed. The oppositional views were spoken most loudly. The negative reaction from some partners was viewed by the university-community partnership as a normal reaction to proposed change. Given that the funder supported the proposed changes, little attention from the partnership was given to the negative reaction by some partners and this turned out to be a significant contextual factor. Suarez-Herrera (2009) suggests that resistance to intentional change can be mitigated through educating people about the research process. This would have needed to occur prior to our project beginning, which is challenging when the data collection is a normal part of an organization’s practice.
The next step was a presentation to the broader children’s mental health community. Unknown to the partnership, discussions had occurred between the members of the first and second group prior to this second presentation. The strength of the negative reaction to the presentation was completely unexpected by the partnership. With the passing of time and presentation of the experience at a national conference, we have begun to counter the reactions. As a first step, we consulted the literature.

Review of the Literature

The literature review begins with a discussion of some recent provincial policy papers in the field of children’s mental health through the lens of Canadian social welfare analysts’ prediction that government would use self-deception to address inadequate funding for agencies (Baines, 2004). The literature review concludes with a review of community and conflict assessment related to the partnership process.


The province of Ontario has recently experienced regionalization of health and mental health care services, the last province in Canada to move to regionalization. All other provinces in Canada made this shift in the 1980s and 1990s (Church & Barker, 1998; Simpson, 2011). Justification for regionalization includes better coordination, reduction in expenditures, and citizen participation in decision-making. Church and Barker (1998) identified a number of significant challenges to regionalization, including the integration and coordination of services, the difficulties gaining access to reliable epidemiological data, citizen participation in decision-making, and increased costs. A study by Weaver (2006) suggests that regionalization in British Columbia could not be described as an effective reform, with information gathering the only success. Baines (2004) predicted that smaller non-profit organizations would have to increase fundraising and conform to accreditation standards, eventually being taken over by larger organizations. She further predicted that the result of downsizing would be an increase in service provision by the private sector, an uncommon situation in the Canadian social welfare context.

Ontario Children’s Mental Health

In 2006, the Ontario Ministry of Children and Youth Services presented its policy framework. Included as one of the five principles for the framework is that the mental health system for children should be evidence-based and accountable. The first goal identified in the policy report called for collaboration, integration, and shared responsibility (Ministry of Children and Youth Services, 2006). Children’s Mental Health Ontario (2011) also supports evidence-informed practices, promotion of effectiveness, and efficiency and promotion of accountability to all stakeholders. The recommendations are intended to improve service effectiveness for consumers.
Agencies trying to navigate the higher demands for service accountability with fewer resources have turned to evidence-based programs as they are perceived to be accepted by government funders and provide the tools to encourage confidence in accountability, for example, well-packaged materials, staff training, and technical assistance (Small, Cooney, & O’Connor, 2009).

Partnership Types

Fisher et al. (2004) describe four types of civic engagement: service learning, local economic development, community-based research, and social work initiatives. This project most closely resembles community-based research, although it is more accurately described as data analysis. The agency did not have the internal capacity to do a thorough program evaluation and wanted the results of data analysis of two programs: day treatment and school based children’s intervention program. The partnership with the second author allowed for data analysis of the agency’s regularly collected data.

Partnership types can be dependent on the relationship between the researcher and community partner; here, a trusting and respectful relationship developed through transparency, communication, and respect for diversity and for the culture of the organization (Suarez-Balcazar et al., 2005). The partners were transparent about the purposes for the partnership: service and community connection (for Dr. Grant), and a means to inform service delivery decisions at a time of financial pressures (agency director).


Social capital, bonding and bridging are identified by Putnam (2000) as relevant factors in university-community partnerships. Social capital has both a private and a public face, meaning the relationships that are gained from partnerships can have benefits for both the person and the larger community. Bonding refers to how the partners will get by or how they need to work together to get things done, while bridging reflects a more future-oriented benefit of getting ahead.

The agency was seeking connections for their own benefit (bonding) to have their programs evaluated; yet they suspected and anticipated that the outcome would have benefits for the wider community of children’s services and children’s mental health. The university was aware of the partnership’s future potential in addition to the immediate connection. Capacity building occurs when systems such as a university and community agency come together in ways that can lead to community development through the coalescence of capacities (Homan, 2011). For example, social networks of each partner have value and that value is enhanced through the reciprocity and trustworthiness inherent in those networks.

Nelson, Prilleltensky, and MacGillivary (2001) envision university-community partnerships as value-based, striving to advance caring, compassion, community, health, self-determination, participation, power sharing, human diversity, and social justice for oppressed groups. Shared values between the university and the agency drove our process: We developed a collective vision of this partnership from the beginning. The community of children’s mental health and the community of children’s services are systems that also have values. For this university-community partnership truly to start with shared values, we now understand, a wider scope may have been required when considering the value-holders.

The value of relationship in partnerships cannot be overstated, and successful partnerships can take time to develop (Baum, 2000). Homan (2011) discusses the power of relationships that requires communication, trust, and mutual interest. The process of this project provided opportunity for dialogue between the agency and university regarding these issues and allowed relationships to take root as collaborative partners. In addition to what Homan (2011) notes as requirements of relationships, these partners brought with them a number of additional attributes that helped to facilitate mutual learning, including power addressed from a perspective of strengths (Grant & Cadell, 2009), an acceptance of difference, a belief in partnership and collaborations, and a willingness to risk.

Partnership Principles

Hudson and Hardy (2002) identify six principles in university-community partnerships: 1) acknowledgement of the need for partnership; 2) clarity and realism of purpose; 3) commitment and ownership; 4) development and maintenance of trust; 5) establishment of clear and robust partnership arrangements; and 6) monitoring, review, and organizational learning. In the initial meeting of our partnership, we established the first three principles. We acknowledged the mutual benefit in that the agency would realize data analysis for service planning while the university would provide a service-learning experience to a graduate student and would also have the use of the data. In addition to the service-learning experience of the graduate student, front-line social workers and managers were involved in the partnership through discussions at the planning stage and data entry. This illustrates both the partnership values of power sharing (Nelson et al., 2001) and the realities of scarce resources within not-for- profit organizations.

Partnership Principle 4, development and maintenance of trust, developed both from the process and from the values of the individuals involved in the process. The process was clearly delineated from the initial meeting, identifying responsibilities and accountabilities for each of the partners (Principle 5) and, as the project proceeded with each partner reliably completing their agreed upon tasks, trust in the partnership was maintained. We acknowledged the strengths of each partner, providing a perception of equal status within the partnership (Hudson & Hardy, 2002). There were a number of agency learnings starting with the outcome of the data analysis. Beyond that, the university-community partnership was further nurtured through the dissemination of the data at an international Children’s Mental Health conference (Grant, Kuhn, & Roper, 2010). Power was further shared in this example, when Dr. Grant encouraged the agency and research assistant to be the disseminators of knowledge at the conference, taking her out of the role of expert.

The role of the expert was shared in additional ways. The partners each possess personal and professional maturity and experience, and a belief in many ways of knowing and many kinds of knowledge. The role of expert can and did shift between the partners at various points in the partnership.

Defining the partners in this university-community partnership as the university and agency meant that our lens was narrow. Within that narrow view, our evaluation of the project is perceived as picture perfect, according to Hudson and Hardy’s (2002) partnership principles. Later, however, we reflected on the challenges inherent in the contextual factors that affected our project.

Partnership Process and Conflict

The literature on community assessment suggests that partnerships begin with a community needs assessment as a form of research (Beverly, 2005; Craig, 2011; Suarez-Herrara, 2009; Norris & Schwartz, 2009). Community needs assessments are perceived as a collaborative, dialectical process, engaging multiple stakeholders including funders, service providers, and service users. It is understood that these varied stakeholders may bring conflicting perspectives; yet there is a belief that the collaborative nature of this approach can increase cooperation through mutual interaction (Suarez-Herrera, 2009). Community needs assessments identify service needs and barriers and illuminate a community’s capacity to meet the needs of its citizens (Beverly, 2005; Norris & Schwartz, 2009). This networking opportunity provides numerous benefits for the community as a whole despite the additional costs and is one of the reasons Beverly (2005) promotes an inclusive stakeholder group.

Participatory evaluations or needs assessments present challenges. For example, when decision-making processes of an organization restrict participation of stakeholders, there may be increased resistance to intentional change by stakeholders (Suarez-Herrera, 2009). For this reason, Suarez-Herrera suggests a process called capacity building for evaluative research (CBER), a means of providing education about research-based evaluation. Weber (2007) identifies vertical (hierarchical) and horizontal (interdependent and collaborative) dimensions of relationships. He concludes that communities require a combination of vertical and horizontal capacity dimensions to develop and maintain relationships of trust toward the achievement of partnership goals.

Conflict may be inevitable in projects that bring together multiple stakeholders. Including stakeholders in collaborative, transparent planning processes is considered an important dimension in managing tensions (Lobosco & Kaufman, 1989; Reilly, 1994; Seghezzo, Volante, Paruelo, Somma, Bulubasich, Rodriguez, Gagnon, & Hufty, (2011). It is vital to recognize that government and other institutions may have a great impact when striking partnerships with the social service sector, either through funding or policy decisions (Bornstein, 2010), particularly in Canada, where three levels of government may be involved.

Bornstein (2010) recommends the use of a peace and conflict impact assessment to assist in identifying interventions that contribute to either peace-building or to conflict. Organizations will then have a better understanding of the impact of their proposed activities. At the same time, community building processes begin through the inclusive nature of this evaluation, particularly when used as part of a strategic planning process.

Partnership Analysis

Having reviewed the literature related to partnerships, we analyze our partnership. Figure 1 demonstrates the three stages of the analysis. Stage 1 is the analysis of existing data and data management suggestions, when Dr. Grant understood the project as the university joining with the agency and therefore having responsibility to the agency. Without realizing it, Dr. Grant was caught in the middle of a process much larger than the original university-community partnership agreement.

Reflections on that process provided important learning for Dr. Grant that now inform future projects and that help to continue to develop our understanding of university-community partnerships. In particular, asking “who else needs to be at the table?” even when just analyzing internal data for an agency, has been clarified as an essential step. Similarly, what starts as an internal project can very easily become influential or conflictual in a broader community context. This is obvious when one is conducting research, but when asked to analyze already collected data, it is similarly important. A community needs assessment may have flagged this conflict and provided a process for dialogue about the project.

Stage 2 involved the presentation of findings: to the agency staff, then the agency’s closest partners, and then the broader children’s mental health community. This stage reflects the nature of the vertical capacity dimension operating in our community whereby the agency responded to the hierarchical processes of the funder/agency relationship rather than relying on a more horizontal capacity dimension. Additionally, the inclusiveness of the stakeholder groups is limited.

Stage 3 includes the presentation to the agency of the report itself. This stage reflects what could have been the beginning of an ongoing collaborative partnership to assist the agency in program evaluation and research and planning. Instead, conflict within the community based on competition for resources made this very difficult. The use of a peace and conflict impact assessment could have illuminated the potential impact of conflict that resulted from our process (Figure 1).

Part of the process of understanding the reactions from the broader community relates to understanding the importance of timing when plans for change are announced. It is always complex to imagine the reactions of stakeholders to new information that one group has been working with for a long time. The reactions we experienced were a good reminder of the importance of carefully thinking through how and when to announce findings and changes. The agency was now requesting something more of the university-community partnership than was originally negotiated. The agency no longer just required the outcome of the project but also needed the support of the university in putting forward a new discourse. At this point, the university partner realized that the situation was much more complex than originally understood.

The definition of university-community partnerships and the identity of the community may help to inform the initial consultation process of partnerships. The development of trust and acquaintance with the setting and culture may well need to include outside stakeholders The process of disseminating the outcome of the project to the stakeholders through local presentations and conferences did not allow for the stakeholders to be part of the decision-making process at the beginning stages of the project for a broader collaboration (Suarez-Balcazar et al., 2005). This may have been predicted had we considered the literature on conflict assessment and instead included peace-building strategies (Bornstein, 2010), ensuring the inclusiveness of a broad range of stakeholders (Lobosco & Kaufman, 1989; Reilly, 1994; Seghezzo et al., 2011). We also needed to consider a more sophisticated analysis of power.

Figure 1. Partnership Analysis
Figure 1. Partnership Analysis


Some researchers support a position that power imbalances are inherent in university-community partnerships (Fisher, Fabricant, & Simmons, 2004). Others suggest that many partnerships maintain their power imbalances, never becoming transformative. This project provided a number of examples of shared power experiences (Nelson et al., 2001). Generally, the power dynamic between the university and community partners appears to vary depending on each partner’s sense of their own power and how the researcher is viewed (Carrick, Mitchell, & Lloyd, 2001). In our project, power was managed in the partnership through sharing and shifting. Power shifted depending on the particular stage of the project.

Michel Foucault analyzed power as a process contained within a relationship, as something that is exercised and not possessed in the traditional discourse of power (Foote, 1986). Foucault also viewed power as a positive and productive process in addition to the traditional view of power as negative and repressive. Foucault’s position about power from this point of view provided opportunity for change, control, and empowerment.

Power can be used to dominate, collaborate, or educate. It has the capacity to move people in a direction to accomplish a desired end (Homan, 2004) and by its nature can be gained or lost (Carrick, Mitchell, & Lloyd, 2001). In our project, the partners had the implicit intent to use power to collaborate and educate by joining together for the purposes of data analysis. The desired end in this situation included the completion of the data analysis, the possibility of future collaborations, introducing research practices, or the shifting of service provision to a less intrusive service for children and families.

Peter Bachrach and Morton Baratz (cited in Lukes, 2005) discuss power from a dominant/subservient perspective, noting that there is an assumption that conflict must always be present with power. The argument they put forward is “the most effective and insidious use of power is to prevent such conflict from arising in the first place” (Lukes, 2005, pp. 26–27). This statement supports the hypothesis that power is value-based or value-dependent and, as a result, the use of power is predetermined by societal value.

Power, then, can be positive, productive, and mobilizing, or negative and repressive. In our project, the process had aspects of power that were both. The fact that the partnership ignored the broader community in our project may represent a dominant/subservient position of power. Another view of this might be that the larger children’s mental health community partners dominated the smaller children’s mental health agency when the changes were not in line with their values and plans for the future. These differences might be supported by the predetermined societal values, placing some community partners at a power advantage over the other (Lukes, 2005).

The intended use of power by the partnership in this project fits better with Foucault’s description in that each partner used power as a way to make change and empower, to produce something more than either partner could produce alone. Power was silent, not as a means of creating barriers, but rather to mobilize or to help the agency move forward.

There were many contextual factors that influenced power in this project, extending outside the partnership and local community to include political, structural, and cultural factors. Some of these include the messaging from policy papers, the inadequate funding capacities, competition resulting from regionalization, and the unknown values on a community level regarding power sharing.

Homan (2011) reminds us that the base of power of the actor must be larger than the issue the actor is working on. In this example, the desired end was not discussed with the community as a whole and some partners had differing ideas about what the end should be. The relationship between the university and agency was solid but less solid were the relationships within the practice community. Interestingly enough, the relationship between some community partners strengthened significantly while rallying against this university-community partnership in an attempt to block the proposed changes. This latent use of power as described by Shermer and Schmid (2007) may result in influencing others even if it may mean a conflict with their own interest.

Within our partnership, the agency was seeking to move forward in challenging fiscal times and we made the assumption that others shared our vision. A community of agencies that share a horizontal capacity dimension may share a common vision and provide opportunity to mobilize communities (Norris & Schwatz, 2009). We considered only a micro analysis of the agency, ignoring the macro analysis and attention to “local capacity and will” (Lobosco & Kaufman, 1989, p. 142), again relying on our assumptions noted above.

Model for Developing University-Community Partnerships

The model developed by Suarez-Balcazar et al. (2005) can be used to understand our university-community partnership experience when considering the two central partners (Figure 2). Using the language of the university-community partnership model, our partnership developed trust and mutual respect as discussed in the partnership principles (Hudson & Hardy, 2002). The model also demonstrated respect for human diversity and, through our planning and implementation, established adequate communication. We were in the process of developing a culture of learning through our project work, as discussed in the section on partnership principles put forward by Hudson and Hardy (2002) and developing an action agenda based on the outcome of the data analysis when we became aware of the challenges inherent in excluding the community partners in our initial planning. Respecting the culture of the setting and the community was an oversight. Our assumption about a pre-existing shared vision in line with the funder’s strategic plan was just that: an assumption.

Our experience calls into question the meaning of university-community partnerships. Diamond (2004) states that power differences will remain within and between organizations. If this is true, we require further consideration of managing power within the broader community, and particularly within multi-agency partnerships. How then, is power shared and collaboration achieved through university-community partnerships, when there are competing conceptions of need within communities, differing professional discourses, varying decision-making abilities and capacities to control information flow (Diamond, 2004)? The literature on community assessment suggests community engagement and community planning is required beyond individual agencies, starting with a needs assessments (Craig, 2011; Norris & Schwartz, 2009; Suarez-Herrera, 2009) to help mobilize communities and gain social capital (Weber, 2007). It could be a parallel process to that which we experienced in our project but on a much broader scale increasing complexity and requiring attention to a common vision. After this experience, the assumption that an entire community of multiple stakeholders and multiple agencies could have a common vision challenges us.

Figure 2. University-Community Partnership
Figure 2. University-Community Partnership

Lessons Learned

As we reflect upon this civic engagement experience, we have come to appreciate the many learnings from our partnership. One of the learnings for both the agency and Dr. Grant was that the relationships beyond the dyad were not explored, (as Putnam, 2000, calls bridging) to more fully understand the complexities of the contextual factors. In retrospect, it is clearer that the partnership would have benefited from broader consultation with the partner agencies. Neglect of the community’s contextual factors played a significant role in the outcome of this project. The peripheral partners’ values turned out to be a significant oversight, and our experience taught us the value of questioning who the partners are in a university-community partnership. Implementation of a process similar to that suggested by Bornstein (2010) may have enabled us to more clearly see the potential for conflict.
From this experience emerged an understanding of the importance of exploring fully the range of stakeholders and their potential reactions. Again, this is common practice in community-based research; yet this experience highlights the importance of this step even when one is simply analyzing data for a community partner. The most important learning was an increased awareness of the need to take time to discuss the other stakeholders who will be affected by potential outcomes of university-community partnerships.

A final learning from this experience is that, because the partnership did not consider the potential impact on the broader community at the initial stage of the project, the synergy of potential between the university and community agency in this project could not be realized. This experience has taught us that there needs to be at least knowledge, through consultation, with other community partners.

Our work has highlighted that a whole new set and level of negotiations may need to occur between the university and community, depending on how wide the lens extends with the following questions in mind:

  • What does the culture of community mean when you include a broad community?
  • Who does the community include? How do you know and who decides?
  • To what extent can you know if you have included all of the potential partners?
  • Considering that each community partner will have their own independent set of partners, is it possible to manage such a large, seemingly endless system?

Our questions lead us to consider the university-community partnership process going forward. An exploration with agencies having the intention of identifying key stakeholders will provide a basis for understanding the scope of the project from the agency’s perspective. At a minimum, the dialogue will allow the agency to reflect on potential outcomes of not including a large stakeholder group. Inclusion of a broad range of stakeholders, such as funders, service providers, and citizens may help to capture a more reasonable community reality and improve stakeholder relationships through understanding and dialogue. The same university-community partnership model (Figure 2) used to describe this project can be applied to projects with larger stakeholder scope: developing trust and mutual respect, respecting human diversity, establishing adequate communication, establishing a culture of learning, respecting the culture of the setting and the community, and developing an action agenda. A number of ideas from the community assessment and conflict assessment literature can assist in this process.

Bornstein (2010) highlights the significance of ensuring consistency between policy and practice. Stakeholder groups, then, need to begin with the decision-makers at each level, or example, policy makers and funders, agency managers, front-line staff and service users. Trust and mutual respect can be achieved when collaborative processes are transparent. The capacity building for evaluative research process put forward by Suarez-Herrera (2009) is intended to establish a culture of learning and can be used to educate the stakeholders at the beginning of the project. This capacity-building process provides stakeholders opportunity “to question agency goals, strategies and assumptions” (p. 334) and gain a better understanding of and commitment to the inter-relatedness of the service system because inherent in this research is an understanding that all participants are evaluators through a critical and reflective process.

The peace and conflict impact assessment (Bornstein, 2010) can be utilized at the beginning stage to highlight potential conflicts to the process and illuminate peace-building strategies. A collaborative process of identifying community needs through a community needs assessment can begin to illuminate the varying stakeholder values and agendas, respecting diversity of stakeholder groups. Bringing together stakeholders at various levels to address the disparities in policy and practice can be part of the community needs assessment. Addressing the challenge of impoverished resources can become a shared responsibility. Through this collaborative process, the stages of Suarez-Balcazar’s (2009) model can be identified by the university partner and tracked throughout the partnership to consider, for example, how trust and mutual respect are being honored. The outcome of this empowering community process can lead to a more effective action plan, one in which stakeholders have a vested interest in the success for each individual agency as part of a larger community plan.


University civic engagement provides opportunity for sharing of resources between a community agency and university while also creating potential challenges inherent in this sort of collaboration.
Our project highlighted the complexity of the process involved in university-community partnerships. Considering partnership types, partnerships, partnership principles, and the partnership project, this paper illuminates the need to consider partnerships from a broadened perspective, including the process of the partnership. It became clear to the community and agency partners through this project that there remains a need to engage community partners in dialogue about service visions and funding challenges.

This suggested approach to university-community partnerships requires clarity of partners and process on a much wider scale than is typically used in a small agency-specific data analysis project. The challenge is for communities to agree on a common vision or perhaps to work across differences when considering a set of values for working with the university and the management of power relations and resources (Ostrander, 2004). The university will need to consider the amount of time and energy that will be required to generate the partnerships they seek. The exercise of mining for common values may involve a larger group and require extended time to ensure all community voices are heard. The model by Suarez-Balcazar et al. (2005) for developing university community partnerships can be used to guide broader partnerships.


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About the Authors

Beth Archer-Kuhn is a Ph.D. candidate in the School of Social Work at the University of Windsor in Ontario, Canada. Jill Grant is an associate professor in the School of Social Work at the University of Windsor.

Predicting Community Engagement? The Carnegie Foundation’s Elective Classification

Andrew J. Pearl


The Carnegie Foundation’s elective Community Engagement classification is valuable for colleges and universities seeking to demonstrate a mutually beneficial relationship with the community. This study uses logistic regression analysis to identify predictive institutional characteristics for applying for and receiving the Community Engagement classification. The findings suggest that publicly available institutional financial variables are not predictive of an institution applying for and receiving the classification.


In 2006, the first set of institutions was granted the elective Community Engagement classification from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. The Community Engagement classification represents the first of a proposed line of elective classifications that are intended to serve a descriptive purpose for colleges and universities. The traditional Carnegie classification system was originally developed to aid researchers in higher education, but has since been used for a variety of other purposes not directly related to objective research, including rankings of institutions (McCormick & Zhao, 2005). The Carnegie Foundation has continuously evolved the classification system to keep with the original purpose of objectively providing information for research, but the drive for maintaining and moving up the rankings has made this difficult. To move the classification system forward, the Carnegie Foundation sought to “fill some of the gaps in the national data” by developing elective classifications to capture more of the work done by colleges and universities (McCormick & Zhao, 2005, p. 56).

The community engagement classification was the first of these elective classifications and was intended to “respect the diversity of institutions and their approaches to community engagement; engage institutions in a process of inquiry, reflection, and self-assessment; and honor institutions’ achievements while promoting the ongoing development of their programs” (Driscoll, 2008, p. 39). In other words, this elective classification process was designed to bring a greater degree of nuance to how colleges and universities report their activities. The institutions that choose to participate in this elective classification process would have a Carnegie-sponsored endorsement of their engagement with the community. The institutional applications are evaluated by a National Advisory Panel made up of leading experts in the field of community engagement.

The first group of institutions to receive the elective classification was named in 2006, with a second round coming in 2008. In these first two cohorts, institutions could be classified as community engaged through curricular engagement, outreach and partnerships, or both (Carnegie Foundation, 2012). Curricular engagement refers to the integration of community engagement with the institution’s teaching and learning. Outreach and partnerships required documentation of established and productive partnerships with the community. Applicants could choose to apply for either or both subcategories. The next time the classification was awarded, 2010, there were no longer subcategories; institutions had to demonstrate community engagement at all levels of the institution. In 2015, the institutions that were awarded the community engagement classification in either 2006 or 2008 will be required to reapply to maintain their classification, and the institutions that received the classification in 2010 will reapply in 2020. In addition to receiving the formal designation, the process of applying has shown to be instructive on many campuses, serving as a self-assessment tool. This has helped institutions to identify opportunities for improvement of their community engagement practices (Zuiches, 2008).

In order for colleges and universities to either continue with their community-engaged classification or to become classified for the first time, it is important for them to understand what is necessary for a successful application. The application form requires institutions to document and report their community-engaged activities. These applications are thoroughly evaluated by a review committee with regard to how well community engagement has been institutionalized. The purpose of this study is to examine elements related to community engagement on campus that are not reported on the Carnegie Foundation’s documentation form. Specifically, this study examines publicly available financial data that are theoretically related to community engagement to determine whether those indicators can be predictive of an institution being awarded the classification.

Conceptual Framework

This study is guided using multiple theoretical and conceptual lenses. First, the scholarship of engagement explains how community-engaged work is viewed in higher education. The scholarship of engagement sets the stage for the community-engaged relationship that the Carnegie Foundation is seeking to reward. Second, this study examines how resources are allocated in higher education, relying primarily on the process described by Massey (1996). According to Massey, resources are in part allocated where they will do the most good and where the institution places its priorities. However, universities undertake complex processes in order to judiciously allocate resources. This theory will partially help to explain how institutions decide how much money to allocate to engagement initiatives. Finally, academic capitalism (Slaughter & Leslie, 1997) plays a role in the allocation of resources. Academic capitalism describes how colleges and universities have taken on characteristics of the market in order to remain competitive. These market forces have largely led to an increased emphasis on research and other activities that increase institutional prestige in higher education.

The Scholarship of Engagement

In Scholarship Reconsidered, Boyer (1990) outlined four areas of scholarship in higher education. The scholarship of discovery is associated with advancing new knowledge through research. The scholarship of teaching is associated with the transmission of knowledge from an expert (the professor or instructor) to a novice (the student). The scholarship of integration refers to scholars reaching across disciplinary lines in order to bring new perspectives to solving academic problems. Finally, the scholarship of application means answering the question, “How can knowledge be responsibly applied to consequential problems? How can it be useful to the individual as well as institutions” (p. 21). In other words, how can colleges and universities use their collective resources beyond the ivory tower and move beyond basic research that advances knowledge for the pure sake of advancing knowledge?

Boyer continued to develop his ideas regarding the scholarship of application, and the concept is now more commonly referred to as the scholarship of engagement (Boyer, 1996). Engagement extended what Boyer discussed with application. Whereas application refers to institutional resources being applied to consequential community problems, engagement takes this idea further and involves a greater role for the community in identifying and solving the problem. The scholarship of engagement means, “Connecting the rich resources of the university to our most pressing social, civic, and ethical problems…creating a special climate in which the academic and civic cultures communicate more continuously and more creatively with each other” (pp. 19–20). The key transition was the movement from the idea of the university doing work for the community, and instead doing work with the community. An engaged relationship between the institution and the community is now also seen as mutually beneficial (American Association of State Colleges and Universities, 2002). It is this type of engaged relationship that the Carnegie Foundation is interested in recognizing through the elective Community Engagement classification. For an official definition, the Carnegie Foundation states that “community engagement describes 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” (Carnegie Foundation, 2012).

Resource Allocation in Higher Education

Massey (1996) discussed the fact that the allocation of funds in higher education goes beyond simply investing in the programs the institutions believe are the most important. While this is a simple solution, the practice of allocating resources is a process that involves actors with expertise and knowledge making informed decisions about the priorities of the institution. The actual process that is followed has a significant impact on where resources are allocated, and can provide insight into where the institution places its priorities. The process can help a college or university align its institutional mission and purpose with the demands of the market. Both of these elements are of crucial importance to the university: Proper response to the markets allows for an institution to remain competitive for the best students and the best faculty and staff, leading to greater rewards in terms of more diversified streams and increased prestige. Keeping consistent with its mission allows the university to remain true to its core values and many of the factors that make the institution unique.

According to Massey (1996), budgeting and allocating resources is often used strategically by universities and colleges. This framework applies to this particular study because of the decision-making process that is necessary when deciding the extent of the institution’s financial commitment to community engagement. While receiving the Community Engagement classification may align with the institution’s commitment to its mission, the amount of money may not necessarily reflect that commitment. Institutions can employ multiple strategies of resource allocation, and because of this, there are several paths available for institutions to be able to engage with their respective communities.

Academic Capitalism

The process of resource allocation has been influenced by the growing trend of academic capitalism, which is the theory that guides higher education’s growing involvement in markets and market-like behaviors, with diversified streams of revenue (Rhoades & Slaughter, 1997; Slaughter & Leslie, 1997). This idea of academic capitalism stems from resource dependency, which dictates that an organization is beholden to its environment and the resources that environment makes available (Pfeffer & Salancik, 1978). In the current higher education landscape, research has often become the mechanism for increased institutional prestige, and investment in this arena has often come at the expense of other areas seen as less prestigious, or that generate less revenue.

Public service activities have not traditionally been seen as activities that increase the prestige of the institution, and are therefore slighted when institutions prepare their annual budgets as they decide how to allocate financial resources as the tendency toward academic capitalism increases (Jaeger & Thornton, 2005). As public service work (of which community-engaged work is a part) continues to take on an increasingly diminished role in higher education, the funding continues to decrease. This is a troubling trend, as stable funding is seen as crucial to maintaining a community-engaged institution (Kellogg Commission, 1999). If institutions are dedicated to community engagement to the degree that they are applying for the Community Engagement classification, then it should follow that the financial support of public service and community-engaged work is sufficiently supportive. In this study, financial variables associated with public service and community-engaged work are examined in order to see if they can serve as predictors of an institution receiving the Community Engagement classification. This study asks are market-like trends in fact diverting funding away from public service and community engagement, and are institutions still able to perform work the Carnegie Foundation deems worthy of the Community Engagement classification?

Within these conceptual frameworks, this study addresses the following research question: Can financial variables (both in terms of revenue and expenses) serve as significant predictors of whether an institution applies for and receives the Carnegie Foundation’s elective Community Engagement classification?

Review of the Relevant Literature

In 2009, a special issue of New Directions for Higher Education was dedicated to lessons learned from the first group of institutions receiving the Carnegie Community Engagement classification (Sandmann, Thornton, & Jaeger, 2009). The articles in this compilation addressed issues related to leadership and engagement (Sandmann & Plater, 2009), rewards associated with community-engaged scholarship (Saltmarsh, Giles, Ward, & Buglione, 2009), improving service-learning and other curricular-based engagement (Bringle & Hatcher, 2009), benchmarking and assessment (Furco & Miller, 2009), enhancing partnerships (Beere, 2009), engagement and institutional advancement (Weerts & Hudson, 2009), institutional understanding of engagement (Thornton & Zuiches, 2009), and the future of community engagement in higher education (Holland, 2009). However, these are not research studies per se, and rely primarily on the authors’ experience and expertise with the institutions classified as community engaged to provide a set of best practices and theoretical implications for readers. Those who worked on successful Community Engagement applications have shared lessons that they learned during the application process (Zuiches, 2008), but those reports are largely anecdotal in nature and do not include empirical tests.

There have been multiple qualitative research studies involving the Community Engagement classification. For example, researchers have examined issues such as the adoption of engagement in higher education, how institutional characteristics and control influence approaches to engagement, and external understanding and evaluation of engagement (Weerts & Sandmann, 2008). Researchers have also qualitatively examined promotion and tenure policies as reported in the 2006 Carnegie Community Engagement classification applications (Saltmarsh, Giles, O’Meara, Sandmann, Ward, & Buglione, 2009). The Community Engagement classification has also been used to provide insight and commentary on how health collaborations have been encouraged in higher education (Sandmann & Driscoll, 2011).

While these qualitative studies and essays have been useful resources for those seeking to understand more about the elective Community Engagement classification, there is a paucity of quantitative research studies on the subject. This is understandable from the perspective that the application and documentation form largely requires narrative descriptions of programs that demonstrate connections and partnerships with the community as well as institutional commitment. However, in order to gain a different perspective of the Community Engagement classification, quantitative analysis should also be employed in order to begin to identify national and generalizable trends. This study seeks to begin to fill that gap in the literature by analyzing publicly available institutional data to determine whether these indicators are predictive of institutions receiving the Community Engagement classification.


This study employs logistic regression to determine whether a set of publicly available institutional financial characteristics can be predictive of the maximum likelihood of an institution applying for and receiving the Carnegie Community Engagement classification. The information provided in this study will lend insight as to whether there are factors other than the reporting application at play in the granting of the Community Engagement classification.


The institutions selected for this study are all four-year public colleges and universities. This study examines a cross-sectional sample of data from the academic year 2009 and uses that data to examine institutions that received the Community Engagement classification as a part of the 2010 cohort. The final sample includes 366 institutions, 47 of which received the Community Engagement classification and 319 which did not. Institutions that had previously received the designation in either 2006 or 2008 were omitted.

Variable Selection

The data for this study are publicly available from the Delta Cost Project (, which was initiated to help researchers learn more about the spending and revenue practices of colleges and universities. Specifically for this study, several measures related to public service spending are examined as independent variables to determine whether they are potential predictors of the Carnegie Community Engagement classification.

Dependent variable. The dependent variable for this study is whether an institution was awarded the elective 2010 Carnegie Community Engagement classification. Institutions had to go through a rigorous application process in order to be considered. This study is only able to account for institutions that applied for and received the classification.

Independent variables. All independent variables used for this study are from the academic year 2009, which would have been the current academic year as the institutions were applying for the classification. The first independent variable used for this analysis is a categorical determination of whether the institution is a land-grant college or university. Leaders at land-grant colleges and universities have been working to return their institutions to their roots and give back to the state and communities in which they exist (Kellogg Commission, 1999; National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges, 2008). Land-grant institutions have a traditional commitment and service to their states and communities, and therefore, land-grant colleges and universities may be more likely to be awarded the Community Engagement classification.

One independent variable is related to revenue; however, there are no national measures of institutional revenue directly related to community engagement. To fill this gap, this study examines state appropriations to institutions. State appropriations are related to community engagement because links have been established between institutional commitment to outreach and engagement and state appropriations (Weerts & Ronca, 2006). To control for differences in total revenue among institutions, state appropriations as a share of total revenue will be examined. Initial analyses also included state appropriations per full-time equivalent student as an independent variable, but this was later dropped due to a high correlation (0.85) with public service spending per full-time equivalent student.

Two independent variables will be examined that are related to spending. While no national data exist that are dedicated solely to community engagement, the Delta Cost Project does have data related to overall public service spending. Community-engaged activities are public service activities, so they will generally be included in these data. To control for variances in enrollment, public service spending will be examined per full-time equivalent student. Public service spending as a share of total spending was initially examined, but omitted from the final analysis due to high correlations with other variables. The Delta Cost Project also has data that track costs related to public service. The final independent variable related to public service spending is devoted to human resources. This variable is the proportion of total public service expenditures that are spent on salaries and wages.

The descriptive statistics for each variable are shown in Table 1. The Pearson correlation matrix for the independent variables is shown in Table 2. Spearman’s rank correlation test was also run, but the results are consistent with the Pearson correlations and are not reported. Table 3 provides mean comparisons between the classified and non-classified institutions for the independent variables. As shown, the differences between the means for these independent variables are all insignificant.

Based on the variables, multiple logistic regression models were used to estimate whether an institution is classified as Community Engaged. Stepwise regression analysis was utilized to build toward the final model. The first model included the public service spending, the second model added the two variables related to state appropriations, the third model added the spending related to human resources, and the final model included land-grant status. The progression of the four models is shown below:


Several other independent variables available from the Delta Cost Project were also initially examined, but were not used in the final analysis because very high correlations were found. These variables were eliminated in order to prevent multicollinearity (Menard, 2002).

Methods of Analysis

Logistic regression is the primary, and appropriate, method of analysis for this study because the dependent variable is dichotomous (Hosmer & Lemeshow, 2000). The goal of logistic regression is to determine a maximum likelihood fit for the data. In other words, the independent variables are used to predict the maximum likelihood of the dependent variable in the sample of data being observed being true (joint probability of Y1…YN).

Table 1. Descriptive Statistics
Table 1. Descriptive Statistics

For this study, the following null and alternative hypotheses for the entire logistic model are designated below:

H0: β1 = … = βk = 0
HA: At least one of the k coefficients is non-zero

The two-tailed hypotheses tests for each of the individual j-th variables determine if the independent variables have a significant effect on the dependent variable holding all other independent variables constant. For each j-th variable, the null and alternative hypotheses are shown below:

H0: βj = 0
HA: βj ≠ 0


For the purposes of comparison, the findings from both logistic regression models are shown. Table 4 shows the results from the four logistic regression models, built stepwise toward the final model as described above. Results are presented in terms of b coefficients as well as odds ratios. As shown in Table 4, the results are consistent in terms of the significance of the findings.

The most striking result from the logistic regression analysis is that none of the models as designed for this study are good fits for finding the maximum likelihood of whether an institution was awarded the Carnegie Community Engagement classification (p > 0.05 in all four cases). Even in the final model, only about 2% of the maximum likelihood is explained, as shown with the progressive pseudo R2 values. In addition, none of the subsequent models represents an improvement over the previous model, as none of the chi-square values were statistically significant. In addition to the entire model being statistically insignificant, each individual variable was also insignificant in each progression of the model. The Delta P method was used to approximate the probabilities of the variables for each model. The Delta P method estimates the overall change in the dependent variable (Cabrera, 1994). The Delta P estimates are shown in Table 5.

Based on the Delta P estimates, several elements stand out. First, in both models, the independent variable with the greatest impact is state appropriations per full-time equivalent student, although it is important to reiterate that this variable is not statistically significant in any of the models. Delta P estimates are useful for understanding the impact of independent variables in a logistic regression model; however, in this study, none of the independent variables are statistically significant in any of the models, so it is imprudent to use the Delta P estimates to say anything definitive about the independent variables’ impact on whether an institution is classified as community engaged.

Table 2. Pearson Correlation
Table 2. Pearson Correlation
Table 3. Carnegie Classified Institutions
Table 3. Carnegie Classified Institutions
Table 4. Logistic Regression Findings
Table 4. Logistic Regression Findings
Table 5. Delta P Estimates (Final Model)
Table 5. Delta P Estimates (Final Model)

Discussion and Implications of the Findings

The findings of this study indicate that the logistic regression models developed are not predictive of an institution applying for and receiving the Carnegie Foundation’s elective Community Engagement classification. These findings can have several important implications for policies at the Carnegie Foundation, institutions of higher education, and the state systems of higher education.

For the Carnegie Foundation, these findings indicate that a great deal of emphasis is placed in the documentation and reporting form. The application form is focused primarily on the actual practice of community-engaged work, not on the amount of money that has been allocated. Financial indicators and other quantitative measures play a role in the all-inclusive Carnegie classification system, but the elective classifications are intended to provide an additional level of insight into what colleges and universities do and “recognize important aspects of institutional mission and action that are not represented in the national data” (Carnegie Foundation, 2012). From this perspective, the initial findings suggest that the Carnegie Foundation has achieved this goal to a degree. By and large, the nationally available data do not appear to serve a predictive function for an institution receiving the Community Engagement classification. It is largely the practice of community engagement that leads to being awarded the elective classification.

For the institution, there are also important implications that can be drawn from the findings. First among these is that those involved in community-engaged activities are often asked by the institution to do more good work with fewer financial resources. There is no clear and consistent connection between financial indicators and being rewarded for community-engaged activity by the Carnegie Foundation elective classification.

The Carnegie Foundation Community Engagement classification is just one way for a college or university to demonstrate its commitment to its community. Simply spending more money at the state level or the institution level does not necessarily mean that the institution is taking the necessary steps to fully commit to community engagement. For institutionalization to occur, engagement must become a priority on campus with a fully developed plan for achieving this goal that includes interdisciplinary activity and proper incentives for faculty involvement (Kellogg Commission, 1999). This study indicates that among the sample, more is at work in higher education community engagement than finances, and that institutions may be working toward achieving institutionalization at multiple levels.

Limitations of the Study

This study is limited by several factors. First, the Carnegie Foundation makes it clear that the Community Engagement classification is not intended to be comprehensive, largely because it is a voluntary classification (Carnegie Foundation, 2012). Institutions are not required to document their community-engaged work and apply for the classification. Therefore, there is a strong possibility that many colleges and universities are engaged with their communities, but have not taken the initiative to apply for the classification. This lack of comprehensiveness is further emphasized by the relative newness of the classification. The first cohort of colleges and universities designated as Community Engaged was named in 2006, and there have only been two subsequent classifications since then. As the Community Engagement classification gains traction in higher education, it is possible that more institutions engaged with their communities will apply for the classification. In addition, information is only available for institutions that applied for and received the classification. The Carnegie Foundation does not make available the institutions that began the process but did not submit a completed application, or the institutions that completed the process but did not receive the designation.

This study is also limited by the national data available for analysis. There are no national measures of community engagement, so this study utilized variables that are theoretically linked to public service, but may not paint a complete picture. For example, public service spending includes community-engaged work, but also a variety of other activities related to serving the public. Institutions may also have different reporting structures, and community-engaged work may not always be reported as public service work in the national data. Until there is mandatory national data available, a study like this will be limited by the availability of data.

Finally, this study is limited by the sample. Only investigating public four-year institutions leaves out private institutions and community colleges (and other two-year schools) that participate in community-engaged work. Many of these institutions have been awarded the Community Engagement classification, but because of the inherent structural differences, it is difficult to make comparisons, especially when examining spending and revenue sources.


The Carnegie Foundation’s elective Community Engagement classification is an important first step in recognizing a greater variety of the work done in higher education that is not encompassed in the general Carnegie Foundation classification. It is an encouraging sign that the national data available through the Delta Cost Project is not predictive of an institution receiving the classification. This implies that the elective classification is indeed serving its purpose of telling a more complete picture of colleges and universities. If the national data were predictive, the Community Engagement classification would simply be telling the same story in a different way. Telling the complete story of higher education is important. Without being able to effectively communicate the full range of university activity with all stakeholders, institutional competitiveness can suffer, and mission drift can occur.


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About the Author

Andrew J. Pearl is a doctoral candidate in the Institute of Higher Education and a graduate assistant in the Office of Service-Learning at the University of Georgia.


An earlier version of this research was presented at the 2012 National Outreach Scholarship Conference in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. The author would like to thank Dr. Robert Toutkoushian and the anonymous peer reviewers for their valuable feedback and helpful comments on earlier drafts of the manuscript.

Community as Agency: Community Partner Experiences with Service Learning

Paula Gerstenblatt


The bulk of research on service learning has focused on student outcomes; however, there is a scarcity of research examining the lived experiences of community partners. Additionally, the few studies that exist to date involve agencies and have not included informal networks and civically active citizens. This study consisted of interviews with nine community partners, a combination of agency employees, and active citizens. All of the partners resided in a rural Southern town that worked with a network of service-learning classes on a variety of community-identified projects. The current study supports the contribution of service learning to communities, the importance of investing in reciprocal relationships, and the value added of including community partners who are members of informal networks and civically active residents. Recommendations for further research and strategies to support reciprocal and meaningful community engagement are discussed.

Service learning and its core principles of study, reciprocity, and reflection has gained prominence in higher education as a signature pedagogy that places equal value on mutually beneficial outcomes for students and community partners. (Bringle & Hatcher, 1996; Eyler, Giles, & Astin, 1999; Harkavy, 2004). Service learning is one of the most valuable ways to support community-university partnerships and requires an investment in relationship building as part of collaborative problem solving (Bringle & Hatcher, 2002). The bulk of research on service leaning has focused on student outcomes, with little attention given to the communities with which they work (Cress, Burack, Giles, Elkins, & Stevens, 2010). Additionally, existing research on community partners does not include the perspective of informal networks or individual residents involved with service-learning students (Cress et al., 2010; Driscoll, Holland, Gelmon, & Kerrigan, 1996; Gray, Ondaatje, Fricker, Campbell, Rosenblatt, Geschwind, Kaganoff, Robyn, Sundt, Vogelgesang, & Klein, 1998; Littlepage, Gazley, & Bennett, 2012; Sandy & Holland, 2006). To address this gap in the literature, a hermeneutic phenomenological approach was used to examine the experience of community members who worked with students on a variety of service-learning projects in a rural community.

The lived experiences of community members involved with service-learning students can assist in the further development of best practices that support mutually beneficial community-university partnerships.The research question that guided the study was: What was the lived experience of community members working with university service-learning classes? Phenomenology is a method that seeks to understand the meaning and essence of a phenomenon (Grbich, 2007). Therefore, this method is well suited to a study investigating the common experience of community members who worked with university students on projects to improve the conditions of their town.


Very few empirical studies have focused on the impact of service learning on community outcomes or the identified community partner (Bringle & Steinberg, 2010). Research done to date indicates positive outcomes for the agencies involved with service programs; however, the literature is scant and dated and does not include informal networks or individual civically active citizens. Driscoll et al. (1996) conducted a comprehensive case study of four service-learning classes at Portland State University that used both qualitative and quantitative methods including surveys, interviews, and focus groups with community partners. As a result of participation in service-learning programs, community agencies perceived a positive effect on their capacity to serve clients, felt they had received economic and social benefits, and were satisfied with student interactions.

Sandy and Holland (2006) conducted a qualitative study of focus groups with 99 community partners across eight California campuses. Partners discussed their perceptions regarding benefits to the academic institutions, the organization’s impact on student learning, and ways to improve the partnership. Community agencies identified ways that service-learning students contributed to client outcomes and the increased capacity of the agency to take on new projects. The community partners also expressed a dedication to student learning as a reason for their participation with service-learning classes (Sandy & Holland, 2006).

In a quantitative study, Littlepage et al. (2012) surveyed non-profit and religious agencies in two Indiana counties to learn about the ways community agencies use volunteer management tools and how they differentiate various forms of student involvement, including service learning. Service-learning students required more agency time than other volunteers because of the expectation of reciprocal benefits to students and the agency; however, they also reported the students brought other benefits such as increased visibility and client outcomes. Results also showed a willingness to continue to work with service-learning students (Littlepage et al., 2012). Similarly, in a mixed methods study by Gray et al. (1998), a majority of community organizations gave high marks to student volunteers and felt the benefits of working with students outweighed the costs.

One critique of service learning has been that the benefits to students outweigh those of the community (Beran & Lubin, 2012; Butin, 2010). Yet, research engaging the experiences of community partners working with service- learning students is scarce. This study addresses gaps in the literature by investigating the lived experiences of community partners that included both agency staff and individual residents who worked with university students.


The interviews were conducted with community members who partnered with university students on a variety of projects. In this study I was a participant observer, co-instructor of one of the service-learning courses, the founder and director of a community development initiative, and family member by marriage to several extended family members residing in the town. Located two hours away from our campus, the rural community has an estimated median household income of $32,000, a per capita income of $15,050, with 21% of the residents’ income below the poverty level. District wide, 74% of the students are considered economically disadvantaged and 39.8% of children under 18 are living below the federal poverty level. While many residents contend with poverty and unemployment concerns, the African American neighborhood, still referred to as “black folk’s town,” has suffered the consequence of the economic decline more severely. The legacy of segregation is evident in the lack of African American representation in city government, community boards, businesses, and the school district where there are no African American teachers or administrators. In addition to the overall economic decline, there are few civic, cultural, or recreational engagement opportunities for youth and residents other than a variety of sports events. Youth centers and programs that provide social or recreational activities for young people are largely absent. Similarly, the elderly lack crucial support services, and there is no public transportation to the nearest major city 20 miles away.

The network of courses included electives in social work, writing and rhetoric, and art at a major university. Over a two-year period approximately 130 students from a range of disciplines worked in the town including social work, psychology, English, government, film, theater, engineering, political science, architecture, and art. Projects included a campaign to restore a historical building, a community garden, supporting an art co-op, a high school essay workshop, a teen social support group, writing a National Endowment of the Arts grant, a youth art exhibit, a public transportation project, establishing a subcommittee with residents and the City Council, an oral history project, design mapping projects, multimedia documentaries, public art projects, and a cultural enrichment program for young African American girls. Students worked with the library board, school district, churches, local artists, civically involved residents, and the African American Prince Hall Masons.

Interviews were conducted over a 4-month period. Hermeneutic phenomenology was selected as a method of analysis to gain descriptions of the lived experience of the community members working with a steady stream of university students — a first time experience for the town. Hermeneutic phenomenology focuses on the interpretive role of the researcher. To address this, researchers are expected to contextualize the factors that influence their interpretations through a candid and rigorous process that includes descriptive audit trails, documenting assumptions and relevant experiences, peer readers, and extensive interviewing (Grbich, 2007). Having multiple roles in this project and town, adhering to these procedures in a transparent manner was important to maintain integrity. Phenomenology provides a rich and descriptive source of data and is well suited to better understand the meaning of the experiences of community members though their words and descriptions (Creswell, 2007). Phenomenological inquiry helps researchers gain understanding of the essential meaning of lived experiences from participants’ perspective and descriptions; therefore, this method was employed in this study.


Criterion sampling was used in this study. The criterion was residency in the town and involvement with university students in at least one project over the course of one semester (n=9). Community partners worked with students on a variety of projects, often more than one at a time, and for more than one semester. The sample included the school district superintendent, high school principal, two high school teachers, a pastor/city councilman, local newspaper editor, and three civically active residents. The breakdown by gender and ethnicity was 67% female, 33% male, 56% white, and 44% African American.


A semi-structured interview guide was designed to gather the community member’s description of the experience of working with the university students. The questions were drawn from the literature as well as my experience as a participant observer and comprised of nine items about the community member’s experience working with university students (see Table 1). I conducted the interviews, which lasted between 25–45 minutes and immediately after each interview I wrote field notes. The university Institutional Review Board for research with human subjects approved this study as part of a larger investigation of the impact of the community-university partnership in this town.

Table 1. Interview Schedule
Table 1. Interview Schedule

Data Analysis

All audio recordings of the interviews were transcribed verbatim. Procedures associated with phenomenological analysis (Creswell, 2007; Moustakas, 1994) were used in the analysis. As a participant observer, I focused on the lived experiences of community members working with students. However, my position as the founder of the community development initiative, co-instructor of the service-learning course, and family member was taken into account through the phenomenological procedures of writing assumption statements, bracketing, writing field notes throughout the analysis process, and peer review. The steps of phenomenological analysis were as follows: (1) recording a list of assumptions about the community partners and their experience working with students; (2) bracketing my experience working in the community; (3) conducting a naive reading to absorb the entirety of the data; (4) reducing and eliminating data that did not pertain to the lived experience of working with university students; (5) creating meaning units from the significant statements (Table 2); (6) eliminating repetitive and overlapping meaning units; (7) categorizing meaning units into clusters of meaning (themes); and (8) testimg themes against the entirety of data (validated by the full text of transcripts). The reliability of themes was assessed with two peer readers familiar with the methods and topic.

Table 2. Example of Significant Statements and Meaning Units
Table 2. Example of Significant Statements and Meaning Units
Table 3. Example of a cluster and associated meaning units
Table 3. Example of a cluster and associated meaning units

The clusters of meaning resulted in the five essential themes. Table 3 contains an example of a theme cluster that emerged from their meaning units. The validated themes were used to write a textural description or “what” the participants experienced. Additionally, the themes were used to write a structural description of the setting and context — also referred to as the “how” participants experienced the phenomenon (Creswell, 2007). From the integration of the textural and structural descriptions, a composite description of the essence of the phenomena was constructed, synthesizing the common experiences of the group as a whole (Table 4). Social construction provided a wider frame for this analysis and is well suited for phenomenological research (Grbich, 2007). Humans are constructing meaning through interaction and experiences with their environment, inclusive of a historic and social perspective (Crotty, 1998). Constructionist research assumes subjectivity and that reality is not fixed, rather it is always in flux and experienced differently depending on the person and their perception (Grbich, 2007). Recognition and insight into the meaning making of the community participants contributes valuable knowledge for building effective service-learning practices and pedagogy.

Table 4. Synthesis of Community Partners' Experience
Table 4. Synthesis of Community Partners’ Experience


Five essential themes emerged from the interviews: (1) encouraging community involvement; (2) students as inspiration; (3) community learning; (4) community response to students; and (5) lasting imprint of students in the community.

Theme 1: Encouraging Community Involvement

As a result of working with the students on specific projects, community partners increased their involvement in the town’s revitalization and attempted to enlist others to do so as well. They discussed determination to overcome obstacles and use their social capital to ensure projects were successful. Participants in the study remarked on how their relationships with students had engaged them and others in the community; however, they expressed a desire to “see more residents involved in the community.” They also described how the demands of their lives at times prevented them from working with the students, for example, one said: “Due to health reasons I have been kind of out of touch. I am not in contact with what’s in the now. I want to catch up on things.” One community member spoke of his conflicting obligations and yet he still made time to work with students, saying:

[I haven’t] been able to go as much as I would like to due to work and activities. I have put as much as I can; I stop by and support and try to get people to go out and support what is going on. (Bill, pastor and city council member)

For some community partners, their involvement increased their determination to overcome obstacles,

After two years, I am the one looking for the different ways to make things work… . I don’t want them [students] to hit a roadblock now and I am the one trying to get them around the corner. (Jim, school superintendent)

The community partners recognized the value of relationships in encouraging community involvement, particularly in a small town, as one noted by saying: “They have done a really good job of working and interacting with people. That’s not easy. There is a natural distrust that’s overcome now, I really believe that.” The local newspaper editor spoke of using her position and platform to publicize the students and projects, saying, “I always promote them and help them. I am very positive as to what they are doing for us.”

Theme 2: Students as Inspiration

Community partners felt students inspired them to become more civically active, try new things, awaken the possibly of higher education for youth, believe in positive change, generate new energy and ideas, meet new people, and be more proactive. Community partners in the study described a newfound optimism for positive change. According community partner: “I see that we have something to build on; they [students] have shown us ways we can improve and how we can get things to happen for the city.” One community partner spoke of how the students helped her recognize the potential of maximizing existing social capital, saying: “If you want {things to get better], there are plenty of people here that can make it better. I think the students and the whole program shows [the community] that.”

One resident spoke of how the students inspired her to “get out of her rut” and try new things:

If they never came I probably would never have gotten into this stuff here. I would just see myself coming home and cooking and just looking at TV. Makes you get up and go, constantly keeping you going…whereas when they came I enjoyed getting out because there were new people and I got to learn different things. (Sara, stay at home parent)

A community member described her renewed commitment to the community:

I couldn’t believe it myself because I am the change; these people have inspired [me] to where I know I am the change. There was a time I felt like I needed to get the hell away from here, married or not, because there was nothing here, dead, nothing here. But seeing the students come in with different ideas and listening to students here [in the town], seeing the smiles on their faces, changed my mind, saying you need to stay and do what you can. (Iris, community advocate)

Students working in the town inspired fresh ideas and new approaches. A community partner from the school district spoke of the “new perspectives” that students brought and the “propensity to be stagnant when you don’t have people from the outside come in and provide some input. Yeah, I think it stirred my thoughts.” All of the participants in the study spoke of how the university students inspired youth in the community to consider higher education as well as expose them to a world beyond the town. The high school principal described the university students as “a very positive impact to our students to say, no you can do it, you can go on to college.”
The local newspaper editor articulated her decision to involve her work more directly with the students:

I [began to] think that my energy and my thinking could actually make a difference of changing something, trying to revive the chamber and do some projects, get some younger people into town. A lot of my deciding that it was possible to do has to do with my meeting the students and seeing they are interested in helping the [town]. (Carrie, local newspaper editor)

Theme 3: Community Learning

Community partners in the study described a number of ways they learned and grew as a result of working with the university students including meeting new people, becoming a better community advocate, youth learning about life outside of the town and the possibilities for college, technology, art activities, and teaching techniques. For example:

I grew from it. How I grew was getting to be around different types of people and get well versed in what they do, and just pick up on things. I have learned by looking and listen and seeing what’s going on. (Bill, pastor and City Council member)

For older community partners there was an opportunity to learn as well: “Even at my age I learned some things…experience I had was great.” Another active citizen spoke about becoming “more patient” at City Council meetings “because these things didn’t come about overnight, and they are not going to go away overnight, so I have learned patience.” A school district official noted: “I have learned a lot from the resilience of these students who come here.” School district staff and residents spoke repeatedly about the learning benefits of youth in town, specifically about working side by side with university students and visiting the campus. They all felt that the relationships they formed, participating in projects, and having local high school students visit the university campus exposed the youth in town to the possibility of attending college, and “allowed students to be on a university campus that otherwise wouldn’t have gotten the opportunity.” Another area of learning that was attributed to the university students was knowledge about technology, particularly for school district staff, for example:

I am just now embracing technology in education for the classroom. To also realize that it is here to stay, and that we might as well now set up Facebook for high school is from listening to [the university student] and just knowing that it’s here to stay. He helped me get rid of some of my fears of technologies. (Lori, high school principal)

A high school teacher described his professional development as a result of working with the university students:

When you are a school teacher you spend so much of your time within these four walls … it was neat to get out and see what’s happening beyond here, some of the new trends, particularly talking with [the university student] about the digital revolution and media. … I was really impressed with the energy that the university students brought to the town. The whole concept of the blog … . I know on our campus we have a couple of teachers who are incorporating blogging into the curriculum. (Brad, high school teacher)

Increased civic mindedness was not only for the adults in the community. As one said, “It’s given them [youth] outlets for their creativity and their particular skills and they are thinking in terms of public service and higher education, when perhaps before they might not have.” Another teacher who worked with a university graduate student in her classroom over the course of an academic year spoke of her professional growth: “If nothing else, it gave me a few more tools in my arsenal to teach. It was really good.”

Theme 4: Community Response to the Students

When asked about the community’s response to the students, participants in this study described a mostly welcoming and favorable reception; however, an element of resistance was also identified. This resistance was explained differently depending on the community partner. The explanations ranged from power struggles, lack of awareness of the students and projects, and general mistrust of outsiders and change. The participants in this study expressed appreciation and a hope that students will continue to come to the town, and felt most of the community was in agreement. According to one, “I think they were received by most that I know with an open heart, open head, gracious and friendly.”

A member of the City Council spoke of those in power feeling their position compromised by the students’ presence and infusion of new ideas:

It shifts the balance all the way around. Everything should be on an even keel, but some people don’t see it that way. They felt like we allowed these people to come in and make things better and then others will be able to progress; then they will lose power. It’s a power struggle type thing, and it’s an ego type thing. (Bill, pastor and City Council member)

Resistance was expressed in a number of ways. For example, a school district employee talked of anticipating resistance from certain sectors in the community when he was first approached about the prospect of service-learning projects and a new university presence in town, saying, “I knew they [people with power] would be apprehensive and unhelpful. I think they were and they still are, and the people that I thought would be open and ready for some change and hope were.” Despite what one community partner described as “naysayers,” the resistance to new ideas was something participants in this study saw being chipped away over time as trust was built. When asked what made the partnership and projects successful, one participant replied, “I would have to say trust.” Another community partner felt a permanent space would address resistance and increase involvement:

The one failure that we have had, and there is nothing we can do about it, I talked about this from the onset … I wanted a permanent home, a permanent base for this project downtown, so that when new students came, it … didn’t matter… . If [certain] people could see some type of permanence, I think the people who are skeptical would be less so. (Jim, school superintendent)

Overall, there was a deep sense of gratitude expressed by the community partners in this study for the commitment and contribution of the university students:

I haven’t seen anything really negative. It’s gotten people thinking, maybe even ideas that didn’t take hold, ideas that were mentioned at a city council meeting or chamber of commerce meeting I thought was wonderful that people from outside were actually giving us ideas that could actually be implemented here. (Brad, high school teacher)

A retired teacher who was active in several projects described her experience with the students, saying: “The students were there and we had a good time. They were up at the school working with the kids. We think that that was a wonderful thing.”

Theme 5: Lasting Imprint of Students in the Community

Participants spoke of student projects having a “lasting effect” that continues to live on. They also discussed the need for community members to “carry on, keep up the work” and “get enough people to fill in the gap” to ensure continuity after the semester concluded. There was a strong belief that “If you can reach a few people, it’s worth the time,” particularly when it came to the youth. The school superintendent spoke of the long lasting impact the university students had made on the school district students:

You know they are going to leave so it’s not a shock, but you don’t really leave when you leave the impression. You stay infinitely and you put thoughts in the minds of kids, things they would not have been exposed to. I think that you leave a little bit of a legacy when you reach a kid. (Jim, School Superintendent)

When high school students visited the university campus, school district staff and other community partners in the study spoke of the imprint it made on those who participated, for example:

They went to the campus and that made [for] a memorable experience to them. If we impact one it’s a success. Just that there is world outside the town — not that it is bad, but to really be a productive citizen, viable citizen, you have to broaden your horizons and experiences and that’s one of the avenues this program has offered kids that would not have the opportunity. That’s the essence of it. (Lori, high school principal)

A social support group started by university students for high school youth was a program frequently mentioned in these interviews as a successful program. Examples: “Students are still asking me today that were part of that group if they were ever going to start it back up.” “I have seen a smile on their faces [when they] talk about how their participation was [in the group].” “I would love to see that [social support] program continue, that really made an impression…it really made an impact.”

Youth frequently asked the community partners, particularly school district staff who interacted with university students, if the students would be back. They were told: “I just say next year is next year and there are budget issues we are dealing with them, and I said I can’t make any guarantees. There was a void though, knowing that it’s gone.” A high school teacher who worked with one university student over the course of the academic year spoke of having to explain to her students why university students would not return:

I do know that the students would [ask] when is she coming back, and I would say she’s not coming and they would say “What? Why not?” and wanted to know why she wasn’t coming back because she had become a part of them. (Susan, high school teacher)

The participants in the study spoke of a sense of loss they felt when the students left: “I miss them terribly when they go on and look forward to them being here every year. I will be extremely sad if you decide not to come.” Community partners expressed hope that a designated space for students would ensure their return: “I would love to see us use that space somehow to have you guys come in all the time.” Another community partner who worked on a variety of projects reflected on his experience with the students:

It’s just been a good journey. It could have been better, wish it would have been, with more support from people that have authority and able to financially help. All together it’s been good; I would do it all again. If we started from scratch I would be right there on board. No matter that it’s a cliché, an old psalm they used to sing, “Ain’t no stopping us now.” (Bill, pastor and City Council member)


A core principle of service learning is the establishment of reciprocal relationships that result in mutually beneficial outcomes for both communities and students (Bringle & Hatcher, 1996). Research on service learning has primarily focused on student outcomes with very few studies examining the community’s experience (Cress et al., 2010). The relatively few studies to date are informed by agency staff and have not explored the involvement of informal networks or individuals who are active in their community; therefore, this study engaged a wide range of community partners, school staff, civic organizations, agencies, and civically involved residents.

While previous studies that include community partners focused on their perception of the effect of service-learning students on their organization, clients, and the students themselves (Driscoll et al., 1996), agency satisfaction with students and ways to improve the partnerships (Gray et al., 1998; Littlepage et al., 2012; Sandy & Holland, 2006), this study was concerned with the community partner’s lived experience and the meaning of having university students involved in their community. Findings from the current study suggest that communities partnering with service-learning students receive a range of potential benefits including increased civic participation, the opportunity to gain knowledge, inspiration to try new things, an infusion of fresh ideas and energy, and experience a lasting positive effect beyond the students’ time in the community.

The study’s results are limited to nine participants who were very involved in the partnership; however, there were many other residents who engaged with the students over the course of the three years. Restrictions of time and resources prevented increasing the number of participants, a second round of interviews, or focus groups. Future studies would benefit from a larger sample of involved community partners, and a longitudinal study to track the long-term impact of service learning and community-university partnerships.

The community in which this study took place is a small, rural town that has experienced a severe economic decline that has taken its toll on both the quality of life and infrastructure. Many residents lament the passing of a more prosperous time when the town was a thriving railroad and agricultural hub, and the condition of the infrastructure was attractive. Power, class, and racial divides run deep throughout generations, and often include a distrust of outsiders and their motives. The distrust expressed by some residents when we began this partnership has been discussed in the literature that indicates the benefits of service learning are focused more on the best interests of students and the university over the community (Ringstad, Leyva, Garcia, & Jasek-Rysdahl, 2012; Sandy & Holland, 2006; Stoecker, Loving, Reddy, & Bollig, 2010). The arrival of the first cohort of university students was met with mixed reactions from a warm welcome and a feeling that help was on the way to skepticism and worry about broken promises. Over the course of two years, relationships were built and trust evolved. While participants acknowledged challenges such as the time limitations of the semester, the difficulties of enlisting community participation, and a void once students left, they felt the benefits outweighed the shortcomings.

Community members in the study increased their involvement as a result of working with students and made efforts to engage others in projects they worked on with students. One of the reasons they felt the projects and students were successful in engaging the community was the relationships students built with them and other residents. These relationships developed over time and eventually helped to minimize distrust and skepticism toward the students and the motives of university involvement. Participants in the study leveraged their position and social capital to encourage other residents to work on projects with the students. While students made consistent efforts to publicize projects and invite community participation, the community partners felt they were in a stronger position to convince neighbors, friends, and colleagues to get involved.

Students working in the community inspired participants to “get out of a rut” to try new things and meet new people. As a result, community partners forged new relationships and became more optimistic about the possibility of positive change. They saw themselves building on the energy and commitment of the students, and “becoming the change.” The intention of service learning is not to do for but to do with. Through collaboration with the students, community partners began to see themselves as the ultimate change agents whose bore responsibility for carrying on the work. Participants in the study were most impressed with how the university students exposed youth in the town to the possibility of attending college and venturing beyond the rural town through project activities, including visits to the campus.

While research has demonstrated a variety of ways students grow and learn as a result of participation in service-learning experiences (Conway, Amel, & Gerwien, 2009; Eyler, Giles, & Braxton, 1997; Finley, 2012), the current study suggests non-student participants increase knowledge and personal growth as a result of engagement with university service-learning programs. For some it was overcoming a fear of technology and learning new skills they applied in their professional and personal life. Teachers discussed new pedagogical methods modeled by the university students that they later employed in their classrooms, such as blogging, communication exercises, and technology. In addition to learning new skills and techniques, participants spoke of improving their ability to advocate through their work with the students, particularly by developing more patience and resilience.
While the participants in this study expressed appreciation for the university students, and generally felt the town’s reception to them was welcoming, they spoke of a resistance toward the students by certain members of the community. Resistance was attributed to fear of the unknown, lack of awareness, long-standing power disputes, and small town mistrust of outsiders. There was a degree of anger and frustration when the participants spoke of the resistance; however, it was not unexpected or something they had not encountered before in other civic or professional efforts. Despite the resistance, participants overall felt the town welcomed the students and valued the projects’ contributions, particularly for the youth.

One of the challenges of service learning is the eventual departure of students when a semester concludes; however, the duration of a relationship is not always the indication of its value (Bringle & Hatcher, 2002). Participants in the study responded to questions about the semester timeframe and the number of students coming and going, specifically if it was worth them being there even though they would leave at some point. While they recognized the drawbacks of forming attachments with students and the possibility that much needed programs may not continue, participants felt the work and presence of the students lived on in a positive way. For participants in this study the value of working with university students transcended a particular set of outcomes; rather they spoke of an imprint that could positively shape one’s life or even the direction of the town. Participant comments also speak to several related criticisms of the artificial timeframe of the semester, including insufficient time to engage with community partners, lack of ability to transfer knowledge (Tyron, Stoecker, Martin, Seblonka, Hilgendorf, & Nellis, 2008), trails of unfulfilled promises, and a sense of abandonment in the community (Bringle & Hatcher, 2002; Stoeker, Loving, Reddy, & Bollig, 2010). This study suggests that community members felt engaged with the students, having learned enough from the experience to go forward, realized a sense of completion, and with an understanding of the fitness of the students’ departure.


The current study supports the value service learning offers communities and underscores the importance of investing in relationships with community partners. Additionally, the study also elucidates the potential value added of including community partners who are members of informal networks and civically active residents to service-learning experiences and research. Further research is needed to build a useful understanding of the lived experience of community participants in service-learning projects, and might include focus groups, arts-based methods and multimedia documentation, and longitudinal studies to explore the long-term effect of this type of community-university partnership. Qualitative research methods that utilize a variety of data points, including personal and archival documents, allow for in depth investigation that captures nuance and provides social, cultural, and historic context. This is especially important in working with diverse populations that have been marginalized and overlooked.

The study supports the importance of relationship building with a range of community partners and paves the way for future research that delves into the meaning and impact of relationships between students and their community partners and the potential for sustainable civic engagement despite the inevitable departure of students at the end of the semester. Additionally, the findings make a case for long-term investment in the time consuming activities required to develop reciprocal and authentic partnerships. Such understandings will assist in the development and support of best practices for engaging the community in service learning programs and address gaps in research about community partners.

The results of this study suggest that the community gained direct benefits when students engaged informally with individual community members in addition to the formal institutional/agency based engagement. Those benefits included increased civic participation, gaining new knowledge and skills, inspiration to try new things, new ideas and energy, and recognizing a positive effect beyond the students’ time in the community. Additionally, this study can inform service-learning pedagogy by encouraging faculty to dedicate sufficient time to exploring the pitfalls as well as advantages of working in communities. This implies not focusing solely on project outcomes or learning objectives, but rather on how the value community members place on getting to know students and the inspiration and impetus they provide can last after the semester is over. Recommendations for increasing the benefits of service learning for community-university relationships include the intentional provision of opportunities for informal relationships between community members and students, as well as recognition of the meaning making of community partners as an important project resource.


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About the Author

Paula Gerstenblatt is an assistant professor in the School of Social Work at the University of Southern Maine at Portland.

University and high school students are shown here working on a variety of mapping projects in an art and design class. The high school students traveled to the university and the university students traveled to the town (an hour and a half away) several times over the semester to on work on joint projects.
University and high school students are shown here working on a variety of mapping projects in an art and design class. The high school students traveled to the university and the university students traveled to the town (an hour and a half away) several times over the semester to on work on joint projects.

Planting the Seeds for Change: A Case Study from York University’s Knowledge Mobilization Graduate Student Internship Program

Naomi Nichols, David Phipps, and Walter Johnstone


This practice-based article describes the academic and non-academic outputs and outcomes of community-academic research collaboration. The collaboration began with a university-sponsored knowledge mobilication internship. A doctoral student spent four months as a knowledge mobilization intern with a youth shelter. With additional funding, the internship evolved into a multi-year collaboration that positively influenced employment opportunities for local youth workers, the shelter’s economic stability and reputation in the local community, young people’s sustained transitions out of the shelter, and academic growth and development on the part of the doctoral student.

There is consensus in the literature on community-engaged scholarship that community-academic collaborations have the potential to stimulate positive social change (Pearlman & Bilodeau, 1999; Roche, 2008; Research Triangle Park, 2004; Office of Community-Based Research, 2009). The term “engaged scholarship” encompasses any strategy or activity that fosters engagement or collaborative relations across academic and non-academic settings. Community-informed, collaborative, and participatory research approaches are central to engaged scholarship, but engagement – in its broadest sense – is not limited to research-related activities. Service-learning opportunities, bridging organizations, resource and asset-sharing structures, community-academic colloquia and knowledge sharing ventures, capacity-building opportunities, shared advocacy initiatives, and public forums/debates represent other activities that can contribute to mutual learning and engagement across institutional settings.

The literature is less clear about how specific engagement strategies engender positive social, cultural, economic, or environmental change. For example, while the implementation of a service-learning component in a post-secondary education program is seen as a way to institutionalise a partnership between an academic institution and a community organization (Eckerle-Curwood, 2011; Vazquez Jacobus, Baskett, & Bechsteinb, 2011), questions remain about the impact of students’ short-term involvement in community settings. Service-learning opportunities require significant investments (for training and supervision) on the part of community organizations. A short-term commitment between a student and an organization does not necessarily engender the conditions of mutual trust (Pearlman & Bilodeau, 1999) that are required to support impactful change (Northmore & Hart, 2011).

For senior graduate students (e.g., doctoral students embarking on their dissertation research), however, short-term involvement with a community organization can set the stage for ongoing collaborative research and the generation of mutually beneficial knowledge. With sufficient funding (Austin, 2003; Cherry & Shefner, 2004; Flicker & Savan, 2006; Israel, Schultz, Parker, Becker, & Adam, 1998; Lantz, Viruell-Fuentes, Isreal, Softley, & Guzman, 2001) and support from a community outreach partnership center or community engagement office (Cherry & Shefner, 2004; Hart & Northmore, 2011; Northmore & Hart, 2011), collaborative relationships between graduate students and community professionals can indeed influence positive social change.

This article explores the impacts of a 16-month (2007–2008) research and knowledge mobilization partnership between an emergency shelter for youth and a doctoral student at York University. The collaboration began with a four-month knowledge mobilication internship, which was coordinated and sponsored by York University’s Knowledge Mobilization Unit. Subsequently, the doctoral student received a Canada Graduate Scholarship from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, which allowed the collaboration to continue beyond the initial internship.

York University’s knowledge mobilication internship is distinct from traditional service-learning opportunities. The internship has an explicit emphasis on the co-production of knowledge relevant to community and academic purposes (Van de Ven & Johnson, 2006); it is a paid work opportunity, rather than a credit-based learning opportunity; and it expressly targets graduate students. While the internship program differs from traditional service-learning opportunities, it also seeks to accomplish some of the same objectives. The internship program provides graduate students with an opportunity to: apply theoretical and/or research knowledge in a workplace setting, provide a service to the community, and learn with/from community professionals and community members (Hynie, Jensen, Johnny, Wedlock, & Phipps, 2011). While service-learning opportunities and paid internships both fall under the umbrella of engaged scholarship, they employ distinctive mechanisms in support of engagement between community and academic stakeholders.

The Knowledge Mobilization Unit at York University provides services to faculty, students, and their non-academic research partners that support collaborations and the co-production of research so that research can inform decisions about public policy and professional practice (Phipps, Jensen, & Meyers, 2012; Phipps, 2011). The staff recognises that the long-term impacts of knowledge mobilization are not always immediately visible to stakeholders. In order to capture the wider impacts of the knowledge mobilication internship program, staff members have been following up with internship participants in order to engage them in discussion about the immediate and longer-term effects of their collaborative activities. One key observation from these follow-up discussions is, while internships have resulted in scholarly outputs (e.g., conference presentations and academic articles) on the part of graduate students, the outcomes (i.e., local changes) and impacts (i.e., broad social changes) of collaborative activities are experienced in the communities where the internships were situated. The internships represent one of a number of drivers of a particular social change. As such, qualitative research conversations are an effective means for capturing the various social, economic, and political context features, which also influence the efficacy of any collaborative endeavor.

This paper conveys the non-academic and academic outcomes of a knowledge mobilication internship and subsequent collaboration between Nichols (York University) and Walter Johnstone, executive director of the Youth Emergency Shelter of Peterborough in Ontario, Canada. It explores the wider influence of the collaboration on the economic stability of the shelter, training opportunities for community college and undergraduate university students, labor market conditions in the youth sector, and life outcomes among young people who are homeless or precariously housed. It concludes with key recommendations for a) graduate students; b) leaders of community-based organizations; and c) university knowledge mobilization or engaged scholarship units.

Assessing the Impacts of Knowledge Mobilization

Traditionally, knowledge transfer refers to the dissemination and uptake of research knowledge in policy or practice – that is non-research – settings. More recent conceptualizations of knowledge mobilization reference the multidirectional exchange of knowledge between diverse stakeholders (e.g., institutional decision makers, researchers, community members, policy makers) (Bennett & Bennett, 2008; Nutley, Walter, & Davis, 2007; Cooper & Levin, 2010). The York University knowledge mobilication internship program was intended to facilitate learning and knowledge exchange processes between faculty members, graduate students, and people who work in community, non-profit, or non-governmental organizations. The organization also brokers relationships with government and private sector organizations.

The knowledge mobilication internship program has been in existence since 2007. Each year, the university funds a number of these graduate student internships in community and non-profit organizations, hospitals, public institutions, and environmental organizations. The goal is to develop students’ research and knowledge mobilization capacities, while simultaneously fulfilling the knowledge needs of various non-academic sectors. To date, the internship program has supported 40 graduate student internships in a wide variety of organizations. A recent evaluation of the university’s knowledge mobilization programs (Hynie et al., 2011) indicates evidence of knowledge co-creation between faculty, students, and non-academic partners. Non-academic partners increased research skills as a result of partnership activities. Students report gaining a variety of new skills and, in some instances, increased labor market participation. The increasing numbers of applicants for the internship program indicate increased interest in knowledge mobilization among academic and non-academic partners. Moving forward, evaluation participants expect to see further returns from their participation in the internship.
A review of the literature on assessing and supporting university-community engagement reveals few standardized assessment tools or outcomes-focused evaluations (Hart & Northmore, 2011). While university benchmarks and performance indicators have been developed to measure socio-economic and cultural contributions, these have not yet been linked to a systematic evaluation of community-engagement strategies/activities. Further, the benchmarks fail to adequately capture community perspectives on evaluation activities. Hart and Northmore (2011) suggest that the paucity of outcomes-based evaluation of engagement may be linked to timing. A long-term timescale would be required to capture higher-level institutional outcomes and broader social or community-level impacts.

In contrast to community development, which is understood as service to/for the community, community engagement is a reciprocal relationship based on reciprocal social, political, and institutional relations (Pearce, Pearson, & Cameron, 2007). As such, evaluating engagement requires more than a quantitative (numeric or economic) measure of the work. Pearce et al. (2007) suggest that rigorous qualitative methods (i.e. interviews, focus group discussions, participant observation, and questionnaires) as well as the implementation of simple output data-collection systems can be effectively used to track engagement outputs over time.

In order to explore the longer-term effects of the knowledge mobilication internship program, the executive director of Research & Innovation Services at York University (Phipps) has been conducting follow-up telephone interviews with former knowledge mobilization interns and the community, non-governmental, or non-profit agencies with whom they worked. In June 2012, Phipps, Johnstone, and Nichols engaged in a conference call to talk about Nichols’ 2007 knowledge mobilication internship with the Youth Emergency Shelter. The focus of this conversation was the changes, which Johnstone and Nichols observed as a result of their collaborative activities. Subsequent sections of this paper explore the various changes Johnstone and Nichols attribute to the internship and the additional 12 months of collaboration that followed it.

Shared Goals for Collaboration

A clear description of the internship’s central problematic – that is, the research and knowledge mobilization issues it sought to address – is central to our ability to convey the project’s impacts. In Ontario, Canada young people are considered “independent minors” when they live outside the care of parents or guardians and are between 16 and 18 years of age. Until they are 16 years of age, the province’s child protection system is responsible for providing care and guardianship to young people who require permanent or temporary care outside their familial homes. Once they are 18 years of age, they are no longer considered minors. The two-year gap – between 16 and 18 years of age – is a particularly vulnerable time for young people.

Services for youth have been designed for young people who live with, or have the support of caregivers; services for adults are not designed to accommodate the learning curves of newly independent youth nor their urgent and evolving service needs. Where services for independent minors exist (e.g., the Ontario Works [OW] social assistance system has an application process designed for approving and monitoring funding for applicants/beneficiaries who are between 16 and 18 years of age and live outside the care of a parent or guardian), the application and monitoring processes require considerable institutional literacy on the part of applicants. Further, service utilization requires that young people adhere to strict eligibility criteria and engage in relations of compliance with service delivery organizations. For example, in order for young people to maintain their eligibility for OW, their school attendance records and bank accounts are monitored to ensure ongoing eligibility for benefits. In addition, they must attend regular meetings with an OW worker as well as bi-weekly monitoring meetings with a community service worker (Nichols, 2008; forthcoming).

Establishing Grounds for Collaboration

Nichols started doctoral studies in 2006. She wanted to engage young people in a social change-oriented investigation of public and social services, which began with their experiences living as independent minors in the community. Her goal was for young people to engage in participatory research in the institutional settings where they were actively attempting to get their needs met. In this way, they would learn how the different systems worked and point to specific policies and programs that do not work for youth living independently in the community. When a call for applications for a four-month knowledge mobilication internship came across her faculty listserv, Nichols decided to look for an institutional partner with whom to submit an application.

Having just returned to live in the small city where she was raised, Nichols had limited familiarity with the human service sector and relied on social networks to make a connection to a local youth-serving agency. A family friend and professional colleague offered to introduce her to the executive director (Johnstone) of the local youth shelter (The Youth Emergency Shelter [YES]). Nichols met with Johnstone and explained the nature of the internship. She shared her own research interests and asked whether Johnstone had research, policy, or program needs that a knowledge mobilication internship could support.

Right from the start Johnstone and Nichols sought to identify mutually beneficial target outcomes – that is outcomes that would satisfy Nichols’ research interests and doctoral program requirements, Johnstone’s fund-seeking needs, and their shared desire to influence better institutional outcomes for young people living outside the care of parents or guardians. Young people’s ineffective engagement with human service institutions is an issue that many youth-serving professionals identify impacting the life outcomes of young people who are homeless, street involved, and/or precariously housed. In addition, staff at the shelter had been collecting demographic data during shelter intake processes (i.e., where a young person requests admittance at the shelter), but these data had not been collated or analyzed. As such, the data were not being used to support the shelter’s ongoing fund-seeking work. Johnstone identified that the organization and analysis of internal data would be an additional outcome he would like to see from a knowledge mobilication internship.

Nichols went home that night and began writing a research and knowledge mobilization plan that would address the following questions: 1.Who is accessing the Youth Emergency Shelter, and for how long? 2. What other institutions are shelter residents engaging? 3. What knowledge do residents have about accessing social, public, and community services? How can this knowledge inform service provision? 4. What knowledge do residents need to more positively facilitate their engagement with social services and/or various public institutions?
The internship was intended to generate knowledge that would increase the efficacy of young people’s engagement with human service organizations. Johnstone and Nichols hoped the internship would be a catalyst for knowledge mobilization among young people and between young people and service providers. The ultimate goal was to use this knowledge to support better social outcomes among young people who are homeless or precariously housed.

Collaboration Facilitators: Funding and institutional support

Johnstone and Nichols were awarded four months of internship funding in the spring of 2007. Also in the spring, Nichols received a three year doctoral fellowship, which would begin that fall. In order to support Nichols’ ongoing academic writing and conference participation and the time needed for her to establish trusting relationships with shelter staff and youth, she and Johnstone planned for her to spend three days per week at the shelter for four months and then continue to spend two or three days per week throughout the fall term.
In the end, the partnership proved so fruitful that Nichols remained deeply involved in shelter activities as a volunteer researcher, grant-writer, program-developer, and staff educator until the end of the following summer, 2008. At this point, Nichols began a two-year term as a volunteer board member on the shelter’s board of directors. In the next sections, we recount the details of partnership activities – that is, the collaborative process – and explain how these activities led to key outcomes and ultimately created impact in the community.

Collaborative Activities

Collaborative activities began with relationship building between Nichols and shelter staff, youth, and administration. Nichols shadowed the shelter workers and learned from them about their interactions with youth. She participated in the shelter’s recreation program, going climbing at the local climbing gym with youth and serving as a volunteer lifeguard for a youth summer day program. The first four months enabled participant observation and key informant research on the part of Nichols. All of these research activities were grounded in ongoing discussions with Johnstone and other professional leaders in the community (e.g., senior leaders at the local Youth Services Organization).

During interviews with shelter workers, Nichols discovered that one of the workers was already aggregating the shelter’s intake data. These data were then made available to Johnstone for his fund-seeking purposes. Interviews with shelter workers also fundamentally shaped how research findings were mobilized. Shelter workers expressed concerns that the shelter no longer provided programming to support life-skills learning among youth. As such, they observed what they described as a “revolving door syndrome,” where the same youth cycled through the city’s social services. Nichols discussed this finding with Johnstone, who explained how municipal funding formulas shape the shelter’s ongoing economic difficulties and precluded a solution within the shelter’s existing funding programs.

Using Research to Identify Knowledge Mobilization Needs and Resources

The shelter’s funding relationship with Ontario Works and the city means that it receives all of its funding on a per diem basis (i.e., when a bed is full). Further, the funds that it receives only cover two-thirds of the cost of an occupied bed. A relationship with the local child protection agency (the Children’s Aid Society or CAS) makes up for much of this funding shortfall. At the time of the internship and subsequent collaboration, the shelter provided temporary and semi-permanent housing to the region’s “hardest to house” youth in CAS care. In order to reserve the shelter’s entire first floor for CAS-involved youth, CAS paid for the beds whether they were occupied or not. The relatively stable nature of this funding allowed the shelter to ensure that there were at least two paid shelter staff at all times. But neither CAS, nor Ontario Works funding were enough to pay for programming for youth. As such, placement students from the local college or university, volunteers, and other local service providers (e.g., public health nurses) offered programs and activities on an ad hoc basis.

All of the shelters across the province are funded using the same formula (although most will not have the additional influx of funds from child protective services). In order to provide more than a bed and a meal, shelters have to engage in extensive program-based fund-seeking work. Given that Nichols had studied Revenue Canada legislation for charitable organizations and Ontario’s non-profit funding regimes as part of her master’s thesis work, she and Johnstone determined that they should collaborate on a research proposal to the Ontario Trillium Foundation. The goal was to seek support for a life-skills learning program for shelter youth, a need identified by the shelter staff as previously mentioned.

Nichols began by examining existing programs and assessment devices. In most instances, standardized paper-based life skills evaluation tools were used to assess young people’s knowledge of predetermined life skills (e.g., whether a youth knew the correct temperature for ironing a cotton shirt). Given Nichols’ preliminary research (e.g., participant observation and in-depth interviews) with youth at the shelter, she could see that existing assessment devices would not elicit robust descriptions of young people’s knowledge. A multi-paged, pen and paper-based assessment would have been excruciating for most of the youth who used the shelter. Many had not progressed very far in school and school participation became even more difficult when they were experiencing periods of homelessness or housing instability (e.g., when they had to leave the city where they were attending school to stay at the only youth shelter in the five county area it serves). A number also reported having learning disabilities. More troubling, however, was that the standardized indicators of life skills knowledge did not account for the diversity of non-standard knowledge and skills young people brought to the table, nor did they allow them to self-determine their learning goals.In terms of existing life skills programming, most programs used a group-learning model. As with the standardized assessment protocols, instructors predetermined life skills learning objectives, and they did not take into account the diverse experiences/needs of participants. Some youth had been feeding their families since they were themselves young children. Others had been caring for younger siblings. Still others were exceptional managers of small budgets (ending up at the shelter after an eviction for other reasons, e.g., drug use). The content of the life skills programs Nichols observed did not take young people’s prior learning into account; nor did the program processes attempt to mobilize knowledge among youth.

Working collaboratively with an educational assistant at the alternative school, which adjoins the shelter, Nichols drafted a summer program to support life skills learning among youth in the care of CAS. This program was rooted in the principles of experiential and peer-to-peer learning. Young people had substantial opportunity to collectively determine the specific foci of their program. Ultimately, the outline for this summer program was transformed into the Transitioning Life Skills program, an individualized life skills program designed for each youth and carried out between a young person and his or her mentor
The assessment process involved an interview with a program coordinator, a role Nichols took for the first few months. The interview revolved around a series of conversation topics. Young people were invited to share their prior learning, experience, and goals for a number of life skills areas (e.g., education, healthy relationships, housing, cooking, and healthy eating). The content of these interviews informed the development of individualized life skills plans for each youth.

Seeking Funds

In order to implement the program, Nichols sought three years of seed funding from the Ontario Trillium Foundation, a grant-making agency of the Government of Canada. As a former educator, Nichols was confident in her ability to develop a sound social-educational program, but required Johnstone’s considerable financial management experiences and institutional leadership to devise an appropriate financial plan for the program. A key component of the application is the development of an itemized budget and a compelling budget justification.
Working collaboratively – and with input from a Trillium granting officer – Johnstone and Nichols developed a financial structure intended to produce a self-sustaining program within three years. The shelter would sell the program to local youth serving organizations (like CAS), using a fee-for-service structure. A fee-for-service structure requires other youth serving organizations to purchase the program for their young clients and would not only provide services to other clients but also provide a revenue stream to YES.

With sufficient enrollment, the program was designed to operate on a cost recovery basis. The program needed to generate enough revenue to pay for the youth mentors as well as a program coordinator. At the time of Nichols’ research, the shelter had no frontline leadership positions. There were frontline staff and an executive director, but given the executive director’s involvement in fund-seeking and managerial work, there was little ongoing professional development and mentoring of frontline staff. The Transitioning Life Skills Program was designed to a) support young people’s sustained transitions out of the shelter (i.e., reduce shelter recidivism); b) provide an additional income stream for the shelter; and c) create a frontline leadership position and ensure ongoing training for staff.

Collaborative Outputs and Outcomes

Non-academic Outputs and Outcomes

In 2008, the Ontario Trillium Foundation awarded the shelter $130,000 over three years to support the development and implementation of the Transitioning Life Skills Program. Johnstone and Nichols requested diminishing funding over the three years to support their goal of creating a self-sustaining program (due to increased numbers of fee-for-service clients) by year three of operation. In 2008, a program coordinator was hired, and fee-for-service contracts were established with the local CAS. Over the next four years, Ontario Works, the John Howard Society, Peterborough Youth Services, and other CAS agencies purchased the program for their young clients, effectively turning the Youth Emergency Shelter into a social enterprise. The Transitioning Life Skills Program and a work skills development program led to the shelter being named one of the province’s success stories in the 2008 Ontario Ministry of Child and Youth Service’s, Breaking the Cycle, Ontario’s Poverty Reduction Strategy (

A 2007/2008 Shelter Newsletter featured an article on the Transitioning Life Skills Program with excerpts from an interview with one of the first youth (Max ) to participate in the program. In the article Max describes how he and Nichols – who was voluntarily acting as the program coordinator – “talked about whether I knew how to cook, if I knew about budgeting, if I had all the things I would need when I moved out.” Max explained that he “already knew about most of those things”; he went on to identify that what he “really need[ed] to know is how to keep my friends out of my house.” As such, he and his mentor created a plan for how to deal with someone who doesn’t want to leave his place. If his plan doesn’t work, he can call his mentor. “There is support there when I need it,” Max said, which was different from other programs he has participated in.
Although the program coordinator position has not been able to be sustained beyond the three years that were funded by Trillium, the shelter has employed program leaders, who act as youth mentors as well as team leaders, but without all of the additional responsibilities of the coordinator’s role. Fifteen youth workers (graduates from local community college programs) have been employed as mentors in the program, and the program has served 120 youth to date. These youth workers gain meaningful one-on-one youth work experience – experience that differs considerably from much entry-level frontline work with youth (e.g. traditional shelter work and group home work).

The shelter has not evaluated the outcomes of the program, but Johnstone indicates that he has observed two central changes resulting from implementation of the program. The first change is that young people develop close relationships with shelter staff in general, and their mentors in particular, that support their positive navigation of life’s “hiccups.” While the Transitioning Life Skills Program did not end recidivism, it has created a framework for supporting young people’s sustained transitions out of the shelter. It also reduced the average length of stay in the shelter from 37 to 28 days. While former shelter residents do contact the shelter in a crisis situation (e.g., seeking respite from an abusive partner), this brief stay or meeting is seen by the youth as one piece of a larger plan to remain living independently in the community. Johnstone notes that the goal of ending recidivism came from staff; youth, on the other hand, want caring adults and community supports that they can access over the long term. The program has addressed youth’s desires for accessible supports and caring adults. The second change is in the quality of the staff seeking employment opportunities at the shelter. Many child and youth work positions offer limited opportunities for youth workers to engage one-on-one with youth. Yet it is in the context of their one-to-one relationships with youth that youth workers describe observing the biggest changes among their clients. As such, child and youth workers with considerable experience have elected to work in the Transitioning Life Skills Program as a way to connect meaningfully with youth and see the day-to-day effects of their work. Recognizing the value of these opportunities for staff, Johnstone sought to include placement students from the local college social services programs in the Transitioning Life Skills Program.

The placement students job-shadow youth mentors, develop and lead programs and workshops, and participate in staff meetings. Upon graduation, the strongest placement students are offered employment opportunities as paid mentors within the program. In this way YES has created a training ground for potential future employees who are more prepared for shelter and youth work and has created a pool of more highly qualified personnel, benefiting not only YES but other social service agencies as well.

Academic Outputs

During her doctoral studies, Nichols published three article that convey findings from her research at the youth shelter. In 2011 she defended her doctoral research – an applied institutional ethnographic research project on service provision for homeless youth – and her dissertation won her faculty’s annual award for Best Doctoral Dissertation. Since then the research has informed an additional article, which has been submitted for peer review, as well as two forthcoming chapters in edited volumes. She also has a forthcoming book with the University of Toronto Press. Her doctoral research findings inform her teaching practice as an instructor of pre-service teachers and shape her her continued research on the coordination of education and other services for at-risk youth and community academic research collaborations.

Contributions to Social Impact

The collaborative relationship between Johnstone and Nichols, supported first by York University and later by the government of Canada, led to the creation of a social entrepreneurial venture that contributes to the shelter’s ability to hire and retain talented staff.It has also increased its public profile as a key provider of education and social supports – not just a bed and a meal – for homeless youth. YES has recently received $60,000 funding from Ontario’s Ministry of Training, Colleges, and Universities for the program, and Johnstone is currently undertaking discussions with another agency in Ottawa about the possibility of replicating the program there. The program has opened up a new funding stream for YES beyond the OW funding.

Additionally, the program offers young people a structure through which to pursue ongoing learning in the context of their rapidly evolving lives. Because of the close relationships they develop with their one-on-one mentors and other shelter staff, young people return to the shelter throughout their adolescence and early adulthood, often just dropping in to say hello or phoning to convey an update. The presence of stable and caring adults in their lives contributes to their abilities to live independently in the community, particularly when they encounter a hurdle or just need to talk. Furthermore, the program’s flexible and responsive structure has proven to be particularly effective with the community’s “hardest to serve” and “hardest to house” youth. These are young people with complex social-emotional, physical, and/or learning needs. Increasingly Johnstone observes that service providing agencies are paying to have these young people participate in the shelter’s holistic and individualized life skills program. This further contributes to the success of the shelter as a social enterprise. According to Johnstone, “None of this would have been possible without Nichols and the support of York’s Knowledge Mobilization Unit.”

Conclusions and Recommendations

Working in partnership, community organizations and institutions of post secondary education build capacity for knowledge mobilization among graduate students. An explicit focus on learning to engage knowledge mobilization processes enables graduate students to develop skills (e.g., communication, research application, and non-profit grant-writing) that further their scholarly careers and/or prepare them for labor market participation outside of academia. At the same time, the community organizations that host the internship benefit from the additional capacity to support areas such as research, data-analysis, and/or writing where they may not have sufficient capacity in-house.

While a four-month knowledge mobilication internship may not provide collaborators with enough time to enact a mutually beneficial knowledge exchange and social change agenda, it does provide a structure for ongoing collaborative activities at the inter-institutional level – that is, between a university and a community organization. Viewed from this perspective, individual knowledge mobilication internships represent phases of collaborative activities between the university and the community. Graduate students have an opportunity to apply their academic training and theoretical knowledge, and community organizations benefit from the students’ grounding in current theoretical knowledge and/or increase their organization’s capacity to generate/apply research.

As this article illustrates, internships also contribute to significant collaborative benefit when the collaboration extends beyond the four months of the paid internship. For graduate students hoping to engage in community development work or community-based research, the knowledge mobilication internship is a way to build relationships with various community leaders, learn about community members and practitioners’ research needs/desires, and co-develop a collaborative research agenda. For community organizations wanting to engage in evidence-based program development and/or grant-writing, a long-term relationship with a senior level graduate student can generate fruitful outcomes.

This article concludes with key recommendations for a) graduate students; b) leaders of community-based organizations; and c) university knowledge mobilization or engaged scholarship units.

Graduate Students

  • Be prepared to compromise. In order to meet the needs of a community agency, the people it serves, and your university’s degree requirements, you will need to be flexible in your research plans, timelines, and deliverables.
  • You will learn more than you teach. Practice humility and openness in your interactions with community members, practitioners, and organizational leaders. They have much to teach you.
  • If you want to pursue a community-engaged research agenda, consider doing an internship as a pilot project or a relationship building exercise with a community organization.

Leaders of Community-based, Non-profit, or Non-governmental Organizations

  • Take seriously this opportunity to mentor the next generation of community-based researchers and knowledge mobilizers. Graduate students are primed for learning. A service-learning or internship opportunity represents a chance to train graduate students to work respectfully and responsively with community and provides access to potential future employees.
  • Each discreet internship or service-learning circumstance represents an opportunity to build and sustain links between a community organization and an institute of post-secondary education. Rather than viewing an internship or service-learning opportunity as a one-off activity, these activities are more fruitfully understood as opportunities for ongoing collaboration for mutual benefit.
  • Feel free to engage directly with your local university engagement unit and find out about the types of services it offers and opportunities for participation in knowledge exchange activities.
  • Knowledge mobilization activities including internships is a way of accessing academic research to inform new programs and services and contribute to improving the lives of your stakeholders and constituents.

University Knowledge Mobilization Units

  • Paid internships are important opportunities for graduate students to apply their academic training in non-academic settings. Research assistantships support graduate student development as researchers; knowledge mobilication internships support their development as users and translators of research knowledge and prepares them for valuable careers outside of academia.
  • he coordination and oversight of a successful internship program is paramount to its success. A productive internship process is facilitated when the university offers training and supports for graduate students, coordinates payment, and ensures accountability to knowledge mobilization work plans.
  • Knowledge mobilization is a process that supports research and knowledge based collaborations. Some of those collaborations produce innovative outcomes that have a beneficial impact on the lives of clients. Knowledge mobilization is a process that enables social innovation.


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About the Authors

Naomi Nichols is a research associate at York University and an applied scientist at The Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto, Canada. David Phipps is executive director, Research and Innovation Services at York University. Walter Johnstone is executive director of the Youth Emergency Shelter of Peterborough in Ontario, Canada.

Girls’ Development in Tanzania: Empowering Girls Through Creative Exploration

Rachel Hagues and Hunter Parker


In 2009, we went to a remote Tanzanian island to lead a program for adolescent girls. The purpose of the program was to educate girls on their rights and provide them with support in overcoming many of the disparities they face. Theatre of the Oppressed (Boal, 1979), one tool used, was adapted to fit the girls’ needs. It proved to be useful across cultural and language barriers. Programs such as this that empower girls to value themselves and discover solutions to challenges is one way to begin bringing gender equality to the community level. Herein, we discuss the program and lessons learned as graduate students from the West working in a developing country.

Two dark-skinned, lanky, attractive teenage girls stroll past the fishing village. They are supposed to be in school. The fishermen cannot resist taking notice of the girls’ full figures. They strut over to the girls, their words full of flattery and compliments, bringing them fish as gifts. The ultimate goal of these fishermen is to take advantage of the seemingly naive girls. To the fishermen’s dismay, the girls reject the gifts and stand up for themselves. Later, the girls meet some of their friends, who advise them to return to school and avoid walking past the fishing village. They declare: “A girl without an education is nothing.” (An example of a skit developed by Tanzanian girls we worked with, summer 2009.)

In the summer of 2009, we headed to a remote part of Tanzania to complete a service-learning project. As graduate students from the University of Georgia (UGA), we collaborated with local women leaders to implement a program for adolescent girls. Our work there originated out of the University’s partnership with Ambassador Gertrude Mongella, former district representative to Tanzania’s Parliament and past-president of the Pan-African Union Parliament. Ambassador Mongella began this partnership after receiving The Delta Prize for Global Understanding (, an award from UGA that recognized her as a strong advocate for world peace and one whose initiatives have brought greater understanding and cooperation between cultures and states.

Ambassador Mongella and the Tanzanian community identified several priorities in advance. The ultimate goal was that the community and the university participants would establish a long-term sense of trust and continue working together. Ideally, the local people would identify a need, and someone from the university with expertise in that area would agree to partner with the community to create a solution together. Students would also be part of the solution-development process, applying what they learned in the classroom to people in the real world.

Some of Ambassador Mongella’s priorities included girls’ educational achievement, career awareness, and personal development (Nickols, Mullen, & Moshi, 2009). We addressed those priorities through a service-learning project designed with a specific purpose: to provide adolescent girls with a safe place to discuss some of their personal challenges, ensure that girls understand their rights, make connections with other girls and women in their community, and together, develop ways to overcome some of the challenges they identified. A goal of service-learning is that it empowers participants to determine and meet their needs (Marullo & Edwards, 2008). Students do not simply enter the community, do a good deed, and leave; this ultimately changes nothing and likely benefits no one long-term. We approached the partnership from a critical service-learning perspective, recognizing that we could contribute to social change and that this experience could potentially prompt a community response to injustice we were uncovering (Mitchell, 2008). Critical service-learning also possesses the mindset that community partners should be actively engaged in the design of the service-learning experience (Mitchell, 2008). We used Theatre of the Oppressed techniques to accomplish some of these goals, despite time constraints and language and cultural barriers. In this article we present some of the challenges faced by the local girls, barriers to working internationally, and finally, the usefulness of Theatre of the Oppressed for development work, particularly from a social work perspective. Also presented are lessons we learned as graduate students from the West working in a developing country.

Historical Background: Why Girls Are a Priority

In Tanzania for years, women and girls have not been valued or guaranteed the same rights as men. Historically, children were to be sources of help to their parents, and girls in particular were supposed to help their mothers with household duties and chores. As girls grew older, they were married off to “bring wealth to the family by way of bride price” (Omatseye & Omatseye, 2008, p. 163). Legally in Tanzania today, women are supposed to be equals, but in reality, women and girls are not yet treated equally in all aspects of society. Cultural practice still lags behind the law at multiple levels. For example, Ishengoma (2004) studied accessibility of resources by gender in the Morogoro region and found that “male dominance and control of resources limits women’s decision making, efficacy and productivity at household and societal levels” (p. 55). In another study, Muganyizi, Kilewo, and Moshiro (2004) reported that of 1,004 women interviewed in Dar es Salaam, 20% had previously been raped and that known perpetrators were responsible for 92% of those rapes (2004). Additionally, 50.5% of those raped reported a repeated rape.

One area where girls’ opportunities still lag behind boys’ is in their access to education. Girls are often required to take on a greater amount of household chores than boys due to cultural expectations of gender roles (Evans, 2005). This results in girls starting school at a later age than boys typically do, or girls not being able to attend school regularly, or not having sufficient time to study due to their heavy load of chores. This has a negative effect on girls’ educational performance. Sometimes girls are taken out of school at an early age, either to get married or because of an early pregnancy (Gilbert, 2004).

Huisman and Smits (2009) studied household- and district-level determinants of primary school enrollment for 220,000 children in 30 developing countries within 340 districts. They found that in most of the countries observed, there has been an increase in enrollment from the second half of the 1970s to the second half of the 1990s. However, of the countries studied, Tanzania was one of three where the opposite occurred. The situation in Tanzania worsened in the 1990s, with 14.3% of primary school aged boys and 24.8% of primary school aged girls out of school during the mid-90s. In 2000, an estimated 3 million, out of almost 7 million children were not enrolled in school (Ward, Bourne, Penny, & Poston, 2003). In 2002, the rate of females completing primary school in Tanzania’s Kilimanjaro area was only 62% (Vavrus, 2002). The problems facing primary education vary among regions but include “shortage of essential resources, irrelevant curriculum, late school enrollment, and lack of qualified teachers…poor learning environment and lack of confidence among parents in the relevancy and quality of primary education” (Education For All Report, 2000).

In response to such gloomy statistics, Tanzania developed the 2002 Primary Education Development Plan, creating strategies with a focus on enrollment expansion in primary school. By 2007, enrollment had reached 97% for girls and 97.6% for boys. However, this data do not take into account the very high dropout and repetition rates (Okklin, Lehtomaki, & Bhalalusesa, 2008). From 2000 to 2005, according to Woods (2007), repetition increased more than three-fold for students in Standard 1 (first grade). Yet, Tanzania’s secondary education sector “has been one of the smallest in sub-Saharan Africa,” (Okklin et al., 2008, p. 66). Woods (2007) claimed the transition from primary to secondary school in Tanzania was the lowest in sub-Saharan Africa. As well, after truancy, pregnancy was the second leading cause of dropping out of secondary school (Okklin et al., 2008). Finally, as the education level increased, so did the level of disparity between boys’ and girls’ achievements (Okklin et al., 2008; Woods, 2007). For example, in 2004, 75.7% of boys passed the Form 2 (secondary school) examination, while only 56.8% of girls passed (Woods, 2007).

Poverty is a major inhibitor of children’s secondary school attendance (Ward et al., 2003; Woods, 2007). One of the reasons for poor performance in Tanzania’s education sector is that between 40% and 50% of the population live in severe poverty (Ward et al., 2003). According to Tanzania’s Education For All (EFA) report the poverty rate in the rural areas was as high as 60% (EFA Report, 2000). Sometimes children are withdrawn from school early to help contribute to the family income, or so that money going to school fees or supplies could be applied to other family needs (Gilbert, 2004).

But poverty does not impact all children the same way. When a household suffers from poverty or economic pressure, girls are usually the first to be withdrawn from school, especially secondary aged girls (Evans, 2002). World Bank researchers (Beegle, Dehejia, Gatti, & Krutikova, 2008) used longitudinal data collected in the Kagera Region of Tanzania (the western part, near Uganda) from the Kagera Health and Development Survey to study children’s behaviors. They found that girls do an average of 2.5 hours more chores each day than boys. This difference becomes more pronounced as the girls age. They also found that participation in childhood labor caused a significant increase in the likelihood of girls’ marrying young.

Finally, in some school settings in Tanzania, as is the case all over the world, male teachers are guilty of sexually harassing their female students. “A girl’s refusal to have sex can lead to public humiliation, unfairly low marks, exclusion from class or corporal punishment” (Evans, 2002, p. 57). This creates a learning environment for girls that is more than just unfriendly: Girls are sometimes insulted, teased, discriminated against, and even beaten. This inequity and harassment clearly breaches girls’ rights to education (Evans, 2002).
Legislation alone cannot bring true gender equity. Along with legislation, discriminatory mental and social attitudes toward the rights of women and girls can and need to be eradicated at the community level through advocacy, communication, education, and information (Annan-Yao, 2004). Society must see women and girls as equal in status to men and boys if girls are going to find equal opportunity in education, and ultimately in life.

As research indicates, many factors inhibit girls’ success in school and their ability to obtain their right to be educated. In the current project, we wanted to empower the local girls to challenge those factors. As stated, the purpose of our activities with the girls was to provide a safe place to discuss some of their personal challenges, make connections with other girls and women in their community, and together, develop ways to overcome some of the challenges.


Context, Setting, Etc.

The program was centered on an extremely isolated island located in Lake Victoria. Only two ferries visit each day. A ride from the mainland takes more than three hours.

We partnered with local women leaders to implement the program in an already existing club that focused on encouraging the positive development of girls. We conducted informal, unstructured interviews with some of the women leaders to gain a deeper understanding of the community and the practical issues the girls regularly face. Feedback from the women, along with the previous year’s experience, subsequently informed the service-learning program. Additionally, we were not sure exactly what “personal development” included, but it was one of Ambassador Mongella’s specific priorities. The informal interviews helped us understand much of what was meant by “personal development” in the community; the women seemed to consider it to mean that girls would be prepared to know what to do when faced with many of their daily challenges (e.g., saying “no” to sexual advances of older men, staying in and working hard in school).

The women reported that one of the most common issues for girls in this community is early sexual activity, sometimes beginning as young as 12 years old (personal communication, June 1, 2009). Teen pregnancy is a common problem in secondary school, and once pregnancy occurs, girls commonly leave school and never return. Often, girls drop out of school due to too many chores, which do not leave enough time for school. According to the women, some girls drop out as young as age 10. It is also common for girls who become orphans to drop out. Once orphaned, survival becomes more important than an education.

The monetary investment it takes to be enrolled in school is another reason children drop out (personal communication, June 1, 2009). Though the government did away with school fees for primary school, students still have to purchase a standard school uniform and any supplies they might need. And all children have to pay secondary school feels. Some families cannot afford those fees.

The Team

We, graduate students from different disciplines, collaborated to implement the program. Hagues had her master’s degree in social work and was earning her Ph.D. in Human Development and Family Science. She had experience working with youth at summer camps and working with girls in impoverished neighborhoods in her hometown. As a young researcher, she was broadly interested in poverty and policy. Parker had formerly been a high school theatre arts teacher but had gone back to school to earn her master’s degree in Fine Arts and Dramatic Media. Our combination of skills was unique because of our varied, yet overlapping backgrounds and experience in working with adolescent girls. The background of both collaborators blended an integral mix of research and practice.

The Girls

The girls who participated in the program were from impoverished families. According to statistics from the World Bank, the Gross National Income in Tanzania was only $430 (U.S. ) in 2008, and this likely was less for the people on the island because of their isolation. They only began to get electricity in 2005, and in 2009, the schools still did not have any. The participants had many responsibilities at home. Many had to walk a long distance to participate in the program, but every day they came. Some days more than 60 girls participated. They made sacrifices to be there. Ranging from as young as 7 years to as old as 18, most were in primary school, but a few secondary school girls participated. All wore long dresses or skirts and all except for a few of the older girls kept their hair closely shaven to their heads. Because of the short haircuts, it was often the dress that let us know that the younger ones were girls since they had not yet gone through puberty. Most of the girls at the beginning of the week were quiet and seemed shy, but a few were outgoing and sometimes even goofy. These girls helped lighten the atmosphere, which helped some of the other, shyer girls relax. All of the participants were recruited by the women leaders with whom we were working. The program took place on the campus of a local school; school was not in session because the schools were on a short summer break.

There are strengths in the community that benefit the girls. Specifically, women leaders were meeting with the girls on a regular basis. Girls were valued, encouraged, and uplifted by these women. More and more strong female leaders are emerging from the community, some of whom have gone on to become teachers and politicians (such as Ambassador Mongella). The girls look to these women as role models.

The Program

In the summer of 2008, Hagues spent two and a half weeks with many of the same girls and women co-leading a similar program in 2009. Other students from UGA spent up to four weeks with the women and girls in 2008, so trust was already established with the women leaders and many of the girls before the 2009 program began. In contrast to the 2009 program, the 2008 program was adult designed and driven, and much of it was shaped before we arrived. The 2009 program was based on the needs the girls identified, using Theatre of the Oppressed techniques (described later), and thus, allowed them to have a stronger voice in the program structure. For example, we asked open-ended questions such as, “Describe your life as a girl living in this community.” Many of the things the girls identified were challenges. Recognizing they were the experts on their lives and the changes they would like to see, we followed-up by asking, “What is something about life for girls in this community that you would like to see different? What needs to happen for that change to take place?” We wanted the girls to identify these changes; the girls knew their lives better than we did and we did not want to bring in a “West is best” attitude.

Girls wrote their ideas down together in groups, and then would be asked to demonstrate, through the creation of a short performance, both the current situation and the change they envisioned. The initial 2008 program laid a foundation that allowed much more to be accomplished in 2009 than would have been possible if we had just shown up in the community for the first time,implemented the service-learning program in a week’s time, and left.

The girl participants were adolescents. They were not only physically changing, but were making decisions that would impact the rest of their lives. The majority of participants ranged from as young as 10 to as old as 18. While growing up in a developing country may limit some of the choices these girls are able to make (due to lack of options, cultural expectations, etc.), some choices remain universal for all adolescents. During adolescence, a young person develops the capacity to think in new ways. She begins to think systemically about hypothetical situations, imagining the possibilities of who she can be, and develop the capacity to think futuristically, to plan, and to consider the consequences of her actions (Steinberg, 2005). Yet, an adolescent sometimes needs an adult’s assistance to imagine what is possible.

As the ability to reason, plan, and consider one’s self begins changing, adolescents are entering a stage of moratorium. This is the time when an adolescent is trying out different identity options (Low, Akande, & Hill, 2005). During moratorium, an adolescent may experiment with values, roles, ideas, etc., in an attempt to decide what is right for her. At the end of this time, an adolescent is thought to have achieved her identity (Low et al., 2005).

The adolescent stage of moratorium is an ideal time for adults to implement interventions into the lives of at-risk adolescents. Adults can provide adolescents with a safe place to “try on” the various identity options they may be considering. Providing a safe place for the girls to work through some of their challenges was one of the major goals of the service-learning program. Theatre of the Oppressed was used as a framework for doing that.

Theatre of the Oppressed

Augusto Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed encourages the use of drama and theatre techniques to “give people an alternative language to discuss, analyze, and resolve oppressions” (Low et al., 2005, p. 220). Use of Theatre of the Oppressed is compatible with service-learning in that both see the community members as experts on their own lives and the best people to develop solutions to their challenges. Those in the community who are there to serve may bring expertise or knowledge to the situation, but they are primarily there to collaborate with community members, not to bring their own outside solutions. Some would call this service-learning that is focused on “doing with” not “doing for” (Ward & Wolf-Wendel, 2000).

Theatre can be a mode of life rehearsal (Boal, 1992). Using techniques such as Image Theatre, Invisible Theatre, and Forum Theatre, Boal encouraged the people with whom he worked to reflect and evaluate as they learned about themselves, each other, and established community. These techniques invite participants to act out experiences, concerns, and cultural and community issues that may be more difficult to put into words (Blair & Fletcher, 2010). Our goal was to get the girls actively thinking about possible solutions to these issues, and either act them out, journal about them, or describe them to their audience (the other girls) after acting out the scene. According to Low et al. (2005), “…participants come to understand that if people want to make change, they must engage the problem and find solutions” (p. 220). Boal used drama as an expressive and communicative tool for various groups of people from a plethora of backgrounds who desired to bring change to a situation in which they were living. His methods remove any need for prior experience in performance, and sometimes are more effective when used with persons that are not skilled or trained actors. Many of his most practical methods and exercises are laid out in his book Games for Actors and Non-Actors (2002), which proves a highly useful and relatable guide for facilitators from different disciplinary backgrounds.

Michael Rohd is a theatre artist and educator who believes “education is dialogue” (Rohd, 1998). Many Boalian techniques and games are incorporated into his own book, Theatre for Community, Conflict, and Dialogue: The Hope is Vital Training Method (1998). While preparing for the program, we had the chance to speak with Rohd about using his techniques with the girls in Tanzania. His advice was to remain flexible and start by getting to know the girls and giving them a chance to get to know us before moving onto the issues or scenarios. Rohd mentioned that listening to the issues the girls brought up to find a way into a conversation about these issues, rather than imposing ideas and discussions, would build trust (M. Rohd, personal communication, April 29, 2009). This is what we were aiming to do. The program in Tanzania was designed using Rohd’s framework as presented in his book, which outlines specific games and exercises to use over the course of a week-long workshop in a manner that builds trust and ensemble skills before creating what he terms “activating material” that sparks problem-solving dialogue and positive change. Trust is the basis for any group — and this was no exception. The girls had to learn to trust each other, the women leaders, and us in order to feel comfortable opening up about some very personal issues. The majority of the first day and beginning of each subsequent day began with playing games as a group, allowing the girls a rare opportunity to laugh together and have fun. After a certain comfort level was established, girls were able to open up about serious topics, at which point drama became a tool for the adolescents to use to explore possibilities, talk about issues they were dealing with, and find solutions to challenges they faced. While the girls were assisted in thinking about their options, ultimately they were in charge of the topics and the potential outcomes.

Boal’s and Rohd’s ideas can be used to provide adolescents with tools and opportunities to explore themselves in a safe place. Boal developed many games meant to build trust and develop group cohesiveness. Many of these games were used and sometimes tweaked to be suitable for the Tanzanian adolescents, such as “Columbian Hypnosis” and “Apple Dance” (modified to “Orange Dance”). For example, in Columbian hypnosis, partner A and partner B take turns exchanging roles as the “mirror.” The mirror must follow the leader’s motions and facial expressions. Both partners should take a turn at being the leader and being the mirror. In the orange dance (modified from apple dance), two partners put an orange between their bodies (arms, back, forehead, etc.) and dance or move. The goal is to keep the orange from falling to the ground.

These games focus on building relationships, getting to know each other, and establishing trust. They helped ease anxiety in the group so the girls could be themselves and have the freedom to communicate openly and honestly about their lives. Girls were also led to create journals where they could express themselves and respond to regular assigned journal topics that directed their thoughts and prepared them for the next days’ activities. Games, activities, and journaling also gave insight into the expressive possibilities of the group. They were able to form ideas that served as the basis for short skits and songs they eagerly developed and shared at the end of the week.


The first day of the program, the girls were asked to write in their journals about things they liked about school, things that they feared at school, and some of the challenges they faced in attending school. The following day they discussed their responses in small groups and then reported to the larger group. Girls willingly shared challenges such as: male teachers “falling in love” with girl students and soliciting them for sex, lack of teachers or materials, receiving harsh punishment, and getting pregnant and as a result, being expelled from school. The girls were then divided into teams and asked to use these topics to develop a short skit that would tell the entire group about the challenge. It was only on the second day of the program that the girls developed these skits. They were able to do this because they were willing to be honest — and even vulnerable — in front of their peers and the women. This allowed us to not only talk about sensitive issues, but gave the girls the opportunity to take charge of issues they regularly faced and work through these issues to find solutions.

As the week drew to a close, the girls were again divided into groups and asked to develop skits that focused on changes they would like to see in their community. With a wide-open topic area and very little guidance, the girls came up with powerful messages to communicate to each other. For example:

  • A girl begins the habit of skipping school. However, her friends track her down and encourage her to come back and to stay in school. The lesson communicated was: “good friends are those that give you good advice.”
  • A woman challenges her husband because he is not able to meet the needs of his family, so he leaves home to look for food. While he is gone, the woman goes to look for money. In the process, several men pursue her, and she invites them (on separate occasions) into her home. Her husband finally comes home drunk, but the other men happen to be there and he discovers what his wife has done. The lessons the skit conveyed were that married women should be faithful to their husband and not cheat on them, and married men should care for and provide for their families, not squandering their money on alcohol and not leaving their wives destitute.
  • A girl is doing poorly at school. At the same time, older boys approach her with money for sexual favors. She refuses them on multiple occasions. During this time, she also realizes that she is not studying enough and decides to work harder in school. Her grades immediately go up once she decides to work hard. The lesson was do not be distracted by others, but focus on your education and you will succeed.


The girls were willing to talk about heavy issues because they were in a supportive environment; they cultivated relationships with each other and with the women leaders who were present, and because of the established sense of trust from the previous year. Such success could not have happened if all of these factors had not been in place.

Many Lessons Learned

We went into the community expecting to primarily serve and teach, but came away with our own lessons learned. First, we did not expect that the women and girls would already be meeting together and be so well organized. Several local women were (and continue to be) heavily invested in working with the girls. The women even had officer positions (president, secretary, etc.) and designated duties. In the past, these women have given the girls lessons on HIV/AIDS, have taught them about the dangers of having sex with older men, and have encouraged them to continue in school. Because of the women’s investment, the girls already had a good foundation of knowledge that equipped them to think and strategize about how to overcome some of their daily challenges and face some of their trials.

We were also encouraged to see that drama is a very usable, effective, and empowering tool in programs designed to foster leadership and personal development with youth. In particular, when informed by Theatre of the Oppressed and given a safe place to express themselves, these school-aged girls were not only willing to share information about their lives, but were also able to develop and articulate solutions without much assistance from anyone besides each other. The girls identified with games involving rhythm and movement, and particularly enjoyed working in groups. In smaller groups, they readily disclosed many of the pertinent issues in their lives, and successfully illuminated them through improvisation, songs, and rehearsed performances.

Not only did drama prove to be an effective tool, but also a practical tool across language barriers. Though we had a translator from the community (with strong relationships with the local girls), there were days when, with only basic instructions, the girls were able to produce amazingly realistic, compelling skits that communicated a message, where language was not necessary.

Journaling was also a special activity for the girls. We brought paper, colored pencils, and supplies that the girls used to make journals. Because school supplies are expensive and hard to come by on the island, the girls treasured these homemade journals. Journaling gave the girls the freedom to express their ideas in writing which gave them a starting point when working in groups.

One surprise was how much the women leaders (who came regularly to watch and assist) respected us as graduate students. The secretary of their group came daily to take notes and document what was done. This was intimidating in many ways, but at the same time, it was extremely humbling. The women wanted to keep a record of what was done so that they could use some of the same tools later.
We were careful to include the women as partners, asking for their advice and input in the open-ended questions we asked in responding to the skits created. We recognized that while we were in the community short-term, ultimately these women who were invested in the lives of the girls were the ones who needed to be upheld as role models and mentors.

We would have been better prepared if we had studied issues of power across class, race, economic status, and in particular, taking into account colonialism and the perceptions of “the Other” that are still held on both sides – those of former colonialists and the colonized. This would have better equipped us to consider our own perceived power and would have helped us recognize preconceived frameworks from which the women may have been operating (Heron, 2004). Such power, both given by the community and assumed by the students, may have had the unintended consequence of quieting some of the needs of the girls.

The last day of the program, the girls performed for the women leaders and us. The final performances were transparent and revealed some of the realities of their lives. While the language barriers may have hindered us from completely understanding what was said, the basic messages the girls conveyed through their performances were complex and understandable despite the language barriers. This depth of engagement and dialogue exchange was not anticipated due to the relatively short program length, but was a rewarding outcome that will serve as an impetus for future program success.

Potential Long-Term Impacts

This program could potentially impact the girls for years to come. It allowed them to build relationships that required them to work together to come up with solutions to common problems. If they maintain these relationships, the girls will likely be able to continue supporting each other to overcome challenges many of them face, such as resisting the sexual advances of older men. This could result in a delayed age for pregnancies, an ability to stay in school longer, a more highly educated female population, and ultimately could boost Tanzania’s economy as women are able to obtain higher paying jobs.

While on the island, we were able to visit several politicians and government workers. Each welcomed us and strongly encouraged us to come back and bring more students. We are hopeful that partnerships between this community and the University of Georgia will be further bridged in the future.

Implications for Future Programs and Research

Theatre of the Oppressed is a practical tool that could be used by other practitioners where language and cultural barriers exist. Not only is it usable, but it is also a method that can be easily taught to community members that they can continue to use on their own. It does not cost money so it may be used in communities with little monetary resources. Many of the tools and techniques can be used by laypersons with only a little practice. Books by Augusto Boal, who first created this method, are readily available at any university library.

For social workers or other helping professions, Theatre of the Oppressed is a tool one could take into any setting. Besides being useful internationally, it can be used in community development work, family counseling, schools, and could be adapted to use with individuals. The point is that it empowers clients to think about the challenges they are facing, envision their desired solution, and figure out how to make that solution happen. Additionally, Theatre of the Oppressed aligns with social work values, as the facilitator recognizes that the clients or community members are experts on their own lives and are often seeking to overcome injustice.


Although this partnership initially had much support from University administration as well as from this Tanzanian community, with the economic crisis in the United States it has been hard to maintain the same level of commitment. While the University would likely otherwise have stayed committed, the budget and lack of affordability of travel to and from Tanzania on the part of students has been a hindrance. We have continued to remain involved with this community (both authors returned in 2010 for a longer period of time and one again in 2012 for a nearly six-month stint) are hopeful that the University as a whole will be able to renew its commitment to this community in the future.

There are, of course, additional limitations (such as language and cultural barriers, limited time in the community, etc.) but university buy-in seems to be the most pertinent. Communities where universities are engaged need to know that the universities will do what they say they will do. University follow-through breeds a deeper level of trust on both ends and is helpful rather than harmful in the communities long-term. Donaldson and Daughtery (2011) would go so far as to say that the university’s responsibility to the community after the service-learning project is over is one that needs to be addressed as an ethical issue. What is the extent of the relationship? Will it be a single project or an ongoing partnership? These are things that need to be discussed and agreed upon in the planning stages. One additional limitation that needs to be addressed is the short amount of time we were able to spend in the community. Despite the advantage we had since Hagues already knew many of the women and girls and was familiar with the community, a deeper level of understanding could have been obtained if we could have been there for a longer period of time.


Programs such as this one that empower girls to value themselves and discover solutions to challenges is one way to begin bringing about gender equality at the community level. The work of justice, we are reminded, includes an educational component as part of the empowerment process where the community partners are treated as equal partners in determining the need and the solution (Marullo & Edwards, 2000). In this case, both the partners and the graduate students were empowered through this service-learning experience the girl participants recognized cases of injustice they experience and were able to define their solutions, while the graduate students were empowered to lead. This program demonstrates the possibility for development when partnerships are embraced through creative dialogue. As well, when students are given opportunities to lead such programs, they gain a greater grasp of the needs of impoverished communities on an international scale, and become more equipped to address those needs as they become the leaders of the next generation.


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About the Authors

Rachel Hagues received her Ph.D. in Human Development and Family Science from the University of Georgia. Hunter Parker earned her M.F.A. in Dramatic Media from the University of Georgia and is currently the director of education for training at the School of the Performing Arts in the Richmond Community in Richmond, Va.


The authors would like to recognize Dr. Mick Coleman, Dr. Lioba Moshi, Dr. Sharon Nickols, and the women and girls of Ukerewe, as well as Ambassador Gertrude “Mama” Mongella. The project was made possible by funding from vice president of UGA’s Public Service and Outreach, College of Family and Consumer Sciences, African Studies Institute, Ideas for Creative Exploration, and Carl Vinson Institute of Government.

Community Engagement in Social Work

Jessica Herald, L. Faye Perkins, and Hannah Powers

As first year Master of Social Work students, we were introduced to community engagement through our Communities and Organizations practice course. Our class participated in the Mayerson Student Philanthropy Project (MSPP), housed at Northern Kentucky University. We focused on a local community, and ultimately awarded $4,000 to nonprofit agencies serving that community.

The MSPP seeks to educate students about service and nonprofit organizations in the community through hands-on service-learning, with the goals of fostering a student commitment to community service that persists beyond graduation, and developing a mutually beneficial relationship between the university and the community. The MSPP is funded by a grant from the Manuel D. and Rhoda Mayerson Foundation and other community donors. Faculty members apply for MSPP funding through the Scripps Howard Center for Civic Engagement at NKU. The application process is designed to mentor and support faculty and students, and involves syllabus and course content review and planned meetings with community agency representatives and other engaged faculty. Each class selected to participate is given a sum of money to award as a grant to a community nonprofit agency that the class deems most deserving of the award. Under the guidance of the class instructor, students visit nonprofit organizations of their choosing and meet with agency staff to learn about the various programs. Students are involved in requesting and evaluating grant proposals from these agencies to assess which agency will make the best use of the grant funds. Following critical analysis of the proposals and debate among the class, the students determine to which agency the grant will be awarded. Each section of our class was given $2,000 to award to the organizations we felt would best meet the community needs.

In order to research and select appropriate community nonprofit agencies, we needed to understand the needs of our chosen community, Census Tract 505, the westside neighborhood of Newport, Kentucky. The first step in this process was a walking tour of the region, organized by students and guided by the leader of the neighborhood coalition. This walking tour enabled us to gain a greater appreciation of the area’s physical characteristics, community needs, and residents. The community is home to approximately 6,000 residents within an area of less than 3 square miles. Despite a rich history of industry and a wealth of architecturally beautiful buildings, this neighborhood struggles with generational poverty, drug abuse, and crime. Over 15% of the housing units are vacant, and of that number, almost half are abandoned (U.S. Census Bureau, 2010). Children living within the area attend a school district with the highest rate of poverty in Northern Kentucky and a graduation rate below the statewide average (Kentucky Department of Education, 2013). Despite these weaknesses, we discovered that one of the major strengths of this community is a wealth of nonprofit agencies that serve its residents.

The process of awarding the funds involved many steps, guided by assignments provided by our instructor. Students were organized into teams, each of which selected three nonprofits on which to focus our research. We personally visited these organizations and interviewed the staff regarding the agency history, mission, structure, budget, and nature of services. For many, these agency visits were the highlight of the course, as we were able to witness firsthand the passion these agency staff have for the individuals and community they serve.

Our teams then issued requests for proposals to each of the agencies we visited. Teams used a standard rating tool provided by our instructor to review the proposals, and narrowed the candidates to one agency per team. At that point, representatives from each agency were invited to present their grant proposal to our class section. Each team was able to advocate for their chosen agency, which resulted in lively debate among our classmates. In addition to advocating for an agency based on the organization’s missions and goals, students discussed the sustainability of the proposed projects, the number of individuals served and the ways in which they would be served by the projects, and the current funding structure and budget of the agencies. Finally, each section selected the community agencies we determined most worthy of the grant funding.

In total, between the two classes, $3,000 was awarded to the Henry Hosea House. Founded in 1991, the Hosea House is located in the heart of Census Tract 505 and has been the only soup kitchen in Northern Kentucky to serve an evening meal seven days a week, 365 days a year. Each night they serve approximately 175 hot meals to individuals and families of all ages and backgrounds. The money awarded to the Hosea House contributed to the creation of a garden in an effort to lessen the problem of nutritional poverty in the community. Due to a combination of factors, Census Tract 505 is considered a food desert. Lack of financial resources, transportation, and fresh food retailers in close proximity prohibits many residents from accessing a nutritionally balanced diet.

With the help of the MSPP, Henry Hosea House has treated the soil of the garden and has planted a variety of fruits and vegetables, as well as a “living fence” of greenery to surround the garden. Two tons of fresh produce were cultivated and distributed to Hosea House patrons in the first year. According to Hosea House Executive Director Karen Yates, “The plants include blueberry bushes that were planted where our guests sit and wait to come in. They loved being able to sit there and eat right off the bush as they waited.” One client was surprised to learn he liked blueberries, as he had never been exposed to them before they were grown at Hosea House. This year, they expect to double the harvest of the previous year, as they reserved some of the Mayerson funds for additional plants this summer.

The remaining $1,000 grant was awarded to Brighton Recovery Center for Women (BRCW), located in Florence, Kentucky. BRCW is a 100-bed residential substance abuse recovery facility serving adult females who experience substance abuse, poverty, and homelessness. While it is not physically located within Census Tract 505, it serves the community directly; many of BRCW’s clients are residents of Newport, Kentucky. BRCW utilizes a peer-driven model for recovery that seeks to help women maintain sobriety and to reintegrate clients successfully as productive members of their communities. The $1,000 grant awarded to BRCW was used to fund medical services and prescriptions for clients. With the grant funds, numerous residents will be able to access individual mental health counseling services, dental services, prescription medications, and other necessary medical services.

Participation in the MSPP greatly enhanced our learning experience in several meaningful ways. We had the opportunity to engage in charitable giving and were inspired by the investment made in our community through student philanthropy. We were exposed to nonprofit structure and operations, and we participated in the solicitation and review of grant proposals. We expanded our knowledge of nonprofit agencies and their services within our community and were able to advocate among our peers for agencies whose missions are important to us. Many of us maintain a connection to these agencies and have volunteered our time or made monetary donations as a result of this project. This hands-on approach to learning has provided us with an experience we will remember long after our graduate studies are complete.


American FactFinder, U.S. Census Bureau. (n.d.) 2006–2010 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates. Retrieved from
Commonwealth of Kentucky. (n.d.). School Report Card: 2011-2012 Academic Year, Newport High School. Retrieved from


The authors would like to thank Dr. Jessica Averitt Taylor for her support and guidance throughout this project.

About the Authors

The authors are students in the Master of Social Work program at Northern Kentucky University. Faye Perkins received her B.A. in psychology from the University of Kentucky. Hannah Powers received her B.A. in psychology from Northern Kentucky University. Jessica Herald received her B.A. in psychology from Miami University.

Art to Life: The Preservation of Personhood

Emily Broman

A sawmiller, veteran, and father from Pickens County, Alabama, Lester Potts was a practical man grounded in his faith and love for his family. But the handiness and helpfulness that had been the hallmark of his persona began to diminish with the onset of Alzheimer’s disease at age 70. In the midst of his cognitive impairment and physical debilitation, Lester was losing elements of personal autonomy and sense of self. Because of his condition it was suggested to his family that he visit Caring Days, an adult daycare center specializing in artistic therapies. Lester was reluctant to do so and was only acquiesced into a visit under the impression he would be performing manual labor. And then, Lester Potts began to paint.

As someone who had never before held a paintbrush, his creativity blossomed, and the disinhibition of his cognitive impairment unleashed a previously untapped artistic ability. Memories lost in conventional communication manifested through depictions embedded in Lester’s artwork, idiosyncratically familiar objects representing themes within his own life story. His work has since been displayed in galleries across the United States, including the David W. Streets Gallery in Beverly Hills. But more importantly, the artistic process provided a mechanism through which Lester could again participate in the core components of the human experience: learning and engaging in dignifying activity and self expression.

Inspired by his father’s transformative experience, Dr. Daniel Potts founded the nonprofit organization Cognitive Dynamics, which focuses on bringing artistic therapies to those with dementia and cognitive impairment. In search of a vector through which a volunteer program could be established, Cognitive Dynamics partnered with the University of Alabama Honors College. Pillars of the Honors College include civic engagement and innovative scholarship, and thus the idea for a service learning course came to fruition as Art to Life, pairing Honors College students with dementia patients who learn to tell their story through original artwork. In order to prepare for their volunteer experience, students enroll in a semester-long three credit hour seminar. Lectures in this seminar range from symptoms and underlying mechanisms of dementia to theories of art therapy and principles of effective caregiving. Relevant readings and writing assignments provide benchmark opportunities for reference and reflection. One of the primary preparation experiences is the Virtual Dementia Tour®, during which we undergo a dementia simulation to grasp the physical impairments of the adult participants. Appropriately frightening, the simulation is critical to encourage sensitive interactions in order to understand a dementia patient’s sensory experience. After five weeks of training, weekly lectures are supplemented with an eight-week art therapy experience, during which we are paired with an adult participant in the community for weekly sessions facilitated by a licensed art therapist employed through the Honors College. Maintaining participant dignity is of the utmost importance; to this end, age-appropriate art materials such as oil pastels, watercolor paints, and clay are utilized as opposed to colored pencils and crayons.

The culmination of our course is a final project in the form of a synthesized life story. Created as a DVD or a story book, the life story project compiles shared memories that surfaced through art therapy as well as family input and personal memorabilia. During the art therapy portion of the semester, lectures focus on life story extraction, authorization, and production. Ultimately, we present our projects to our adult participants and their families in a celebratory dinner at the end of the semester.

Adult participants are identified in partnership with Dr. Potts, as the neurologist from whose patient pool our adults are recruited. As the course director, Dr. Potts also conducts a majority of the lectures and guides course content, while other partners speak to artistic therapies, elements of life story creation, and practices for effective caregiving. Additional partners from the Telecommunications and Film Department — associate professor Dr. Rachel Raimist and a team of student interns — have taught the basics of documentary film making and relevant technology to design projects of the highest quality. In fall 2012, these film students worked in conjunction with Art to Life to produce a documentary and promotional materials. To handle student recruitment, course logistics, and scheduling, I serve as the course facilitator on behalf of the Honors College; I inherited this role as a previous student, profoundly inspired by my experience.

As a pre-med freshman, I gravitated toward this course in hopes of gaining invaluable patient interactions and an enhanced understanding of Alzheimer’s disease. But full engagement in Art to Life required my elevated and truly personal investment in my participant’s life story; I exercised vulnerability to a new degree in learning to speak with utmost sensitivity and immerse myself into the world of a dementia patient’s wishful perceptions and cruel realities. Such experiential learning unequivocally promoted empathy, distanced from the self-promoting learning in a typical classroom and yet uniquely preparing me for a future in healthcare. Truthfully, though our goal remains to validate our adult participants, as a student I felt validated knowing my involvement held transitive value: bending the trajectory of a life toward the dignity of human experience and honoring an individual’s present identity.

Because of the multi-faceted nature of the course, Art to Life attracts students of all disciplines. Aside from the student partners from the Telecommunications and Film Department, my classmates’ areas of interest range from medicine and nursing to dance and art history. Ultimately, every student background is valued as each experience functions as a ground upon which they can relate to another individual. As the course director and course facilitator, Dr. Potts and I conduct interviews with prospective students, such that all participating students understand the wholehearted commitment and mature interpersonal skills required to participate.

The course embodies engaged scholarship in that students learn to exercise communication skills and utilize scientific and artistic preparations to fully actualize service potential. Additionally, we are solidifying a research component so that students might reciprocally augment their outreach experience by better understanding the cognitive and behavioral effects of art therapy and the life story preservation uniquely characteristic of Art to Life. Presently, the research employs a pre- and post-quantitative survey assessment from the vantage point of the caregivers, concerning four relevant parameters of interest: care partner emotions, care partner behaviors, care partner affect, and caregiver responsibility. In identifying the true efficacy of Art to Life, optimizing course components or improving elements of the experience will facilitate a continually dignifying and enriching experience for all involved.

Of course, not all participants will undergo the transformation characteristic of Lester’s story, and until valid outcomes can be ascertained, we measure the success of Art to Life on the grounds that participant feedback is marked by a renewed sense of self and enjoyment in connecting with students. And while our adult participants regain some autonomy and livelihood in the process of art therapy, I feel the students remain the ultimate beneficiaries. In our crucially formative undergraduate experience, we practice the art of listening to life stories, assimilating into a new community, and connecting in intergenerational relationships. Ultimately, it is through the investment in promoting awareness and effective caregiving tools to younger generations that Art to Life can continue to advocate for those with Alzheimer’s disease.

About the Author

Emily Broman was a University Fellow majoring in Chemical Engineering and Psychology on the premedical track at The University of Alabama when she submitted this article. She is now a student in the Boston University School of Medicine.

Advancing Intercultural Understanding and Personal Development Outcomes Through Service-Learning: Insights from an International Student

Neivin M. Shalabi

Knowledge, experience, and reflection are mutually dependent and interconnected. The things people do comprise their experiences which then become the source of their knowledge. Unless people reflect on their experiences, they are less likely to learn from them (McCarthy, 2003). With this in mind, this essay is a critical reflection account of my experience in a service-learning course I took as a graduate student in a U.S research-based university. The essay is organized into four main sections. The first provides an operational definition of service learning and briefly discusses past research pertaining to the effects of this pedagogy on student service-learners. The second describes my experience, introducing the goal, nature, and structure of the service-learning course. The third highlights my engagement in the service-learning experience, providing examples of the course activities. The final section of the essay discusses the significance of this service-learning experience, elaborating on some academic, social, and personal gains.

Service-Learning: Definition and Impact

There exist many definitions for service-learning (e.g., Eyler & Giles, 1999; Furco, 2003; Jacoby, 1996); each definition emphasizes a specific orientation or aspect of this pedagogy (Bringle, 2013). In this essay, service-learning is defined as

course-based, credit bearing educational experience in which students (a) participate in an organized service activity that meets identified community needs, and (b) reflect on the service activity in such a way as to gain further understanding of course content, a broader appreciation of the discipline, and an enhanced sense of civic responsibility (Bringle & Hatcher, 1995, p. 112).

Research documents a wide range of academic, social, and personal gains of service-learning for the student service-learner. On the academic side, there is evidence that service-learning has positive impacts on students’ learning outcomes (Eyler & Giles, 1999; Strage, 2000; Vogelgesang & Astin, 2000) and it is positively associated with increased ability to apply course concepts to new situations (Eyler & Giles). At the social level, Astin and Sax (1998) reported that participation in service-learning positively affects students’ civic responsibility: increased commitment to serve the community, interest in influencing the political structure, and helping others in difficulty. With respect to students’ personal development, studies suggest positive impacts of service-learning on students’ sense of personal efficacy, personal identity, spiritual growth, and moral development (Astin & Sax; Eyler & Giles; Vogelgesang & Astin). The following sections describe the service-learning course and my engagement in this experience.

Service-Learning Course

The service-learning experience under examination in this essay was part of my graduate studies. In particular, I took this course to fulfill a part of the requirements of my cognate that focused on not-for-profit organizations management. The overarching goal of the course was to enable students to acquire practical knowledge and experience on successful management of not-for-profit organizations. To that end, the course addressed several management issues as they relate to not-for-profit organizations, including organizational vision and mission, strategic planning, goal setting, program evaluation, leadership, and the co-ordination of staff and volunteers.

In the beginning of the course, the instructor presented the class with study proposals from not-for-profits addressing several causes, asking that students form groups based on their selected organizations. Given my interest in youth issues and prior volunteer experience with disadvantaged members of this age group in Egypt, I chose a youth-based organization. Two other classmates chose the same organization, and thus we formed a group. Structured reflection was integrated in the course; the instructor encouraged student teams to reflect on their service-learning experiences at the end of class sessions. Additionally, each student developed an individual reflection paper to fulfill part of the course assignments. The service component of the course was designed to allow students to apply the knowledge gained in the course in addressing the issues facing and/or enhancing the opportunities presented to a not-for-profit organization in the local community. Specifically, groups of students were charged with providing consultancy services in the form of written and oral reports to the management of their respective organizations. Each report included a summary of the study process, an explanation of the major findings, and a list of the recommendations and their rationale. The following section briefly describes the selected organization.

Overview of the Organization

The youth-based not-for-profit was a small organization whose mission was to provide experiential and outdoor learning opportunities that encourage personal empowerment, leadership, and community participation so that clients reach their potential at home, in school, and within their community. The organization’s activities were targeted to middle- and high-school students from low-income and racial minority backgrounds. To break the economic barrier to students’ participation, the organization offered its services with no fees. Examples of the organization’s activities, included swimming, rock climbing, and hiking training sessions in addition to assistance with homework. Besides these activities, the organization arranged a weekend wilderness adventure once a month.

Engagement with the Service-Learning Course

After a series of discussions with the organization’s director, my team decided to conduct an evaluation that could be used for developing a letter of analysis and recommendations. Examples of our work included conducting field trips; interviewing the executive director; developing a survey questionnaire to assess clients’ perception of the organization; examining and analyzing documents pertaining to the not-for profit, such as its mission, bylaws, board members’ rights and responsibilities; and reviewing the organization’s website.

Using the collected data, we conducted a strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWAT) analysis. The outcomes of our research and analysis indicated that the major challenge was how to strike a balance between expanding the organization financially and programmatically while enhancing its visibility in the neighboring community. Accordingly, my team focused its work on three major areas: marketing, volunteer recruitment, and board of directors. By the end of the course, we submitted a report including recommendations pertaining to these areas and rationales for each suggestion to the not-for-profit management. Additionally, we presented our work in class.

Critical Reflections on the Value of the Service-Learning Experience

This service-learning course was distinct. Before discussing my gains from this experience, I would like to stress that this course was more engaging and enjoyable to me than courses that focus solely on theory within the walls of the classroom. The practical nature of this educational experience was instrumental in making it exciting. I especially enjoyed the field trips my team made to the not-for-profit. Additionally, this experience was significant to me in other ways. First, while the course materials increased my knowledge base of the third sector (not-for-profit organizations), the study process and the development of the team report enabled me to gain practical experience in addressing issues pertaining to the management of not-for-profit organizations. Equally important, the structured reflection activities throughout the course afforded me valuable opportunities to reflect on the whole experience and draw lessons that have informed my attitudes and practices since then.

Second, I very much appreciated the opportunity to apply already learned materials in completing the assignments of this course and enriching my teamwork experience. For example, I utilized my research skills in designing the survey used to gauge clients’ perception of the not-for-profit. Also, I used my specialized academic knowledge on diversity to offer recommendations for diversifying the organization’s Board of Directors, thus attracting members who reflect the demographics of its clients. These gains support research indicating that service-learning enhances students’ ability to apply what they have learned in the real world (Eyler & Giles, 1999). Moreover, this experience consolidated my previously gained knowledge about the value of experiential learning and reflection, thus strengthening my commitment to incorporating active learning and reflection activities into my teaching practices to enhance student learning and build their characters.

Third, this experience led me to change some of my preconceived notions about life conditions in the United States. Given the U.S. common image in Egyptian media as a prosperous country, I, as an outsider based on my status as international student in the U.S., was under the impression that everyone in the U.S. leads an easy life and enjoys prosperity. But, this experience opened my eyes that despite the overall prosperous nature of the U.S., poverty still exists in the nation. Specifically, I was surprised upon seeing the not-for-profit facility, which was housed in a basement of a small building. The facility was disorganized, dusty, gloomy, under-equipped, and understaffed. Although I saw several grassroots organizations in Egypt, it was difficult for me to believe that such a modest space existed in the United States. The physical appearance of the facility was so striking to me that I kept recalling the sharp contrast between the reality of what I saw at the organization and the typical pictures portrayed in Egyptian media about the prevailing conditions in the U.S.

Experience Changed Perceptions

Beyond the perplexity I felt upon seeing the physical appearance facility, I came to realize that not everyone in the United States, as I used to think, enjoys “the good life” life. Rather, there exist disadvantaged populations who struggle in their daily life in a country commonly known as the land of opportunity. Specifically, I came to see how minority youth suffer from lack of quality educational services, among other issues, similar to their Egyptian counterparts. Furthermore, my direct contacts with the organization’s multiple constituents allowed me an invaluable opportunity to realize how people, irrespective of their demographic characteristics and geographic locations, have many things in common. For example, during reading youth completed survey forms, I was struck by the similarity between these young people’s thoughts and those of the disadvantaged youths with whom I interacted in Egypt before starting my graduate studies in the U.S. My newfound understanding of the realities of life in the U.S. consolidates previous findings that service-learning has a positive effect on reducing stereotypes and facilitating cross-cultural understanding (Baldwin, Buchanan, & Rudisill, 2007; Berry, 1990; Boyle-Baise, 1998).

I felt privileged to have gone through this and other genuine experiences that enriched my intercultural experiences. Unfortunately, however, such opportunities are not afforded to all international scholars. As such, I offer this experience to higher education professionals, urging them to maximize service-learning opportunities for students, both domestic and international. These activities, though, should be well-designed such that they incorporate sufficient preparation; reflection; and intervention plans during the experience and adequate debriefing after the experience (Bringle, 2011; Lou & Bosley, 2008; Vande Berg, 2007). Through such thoughtful opportunities, students are more likely to challenge their preconceptions, form more complete and realistic picture about others from different backgrounds, and develop feelings of empathy for people with different values and lifestyles. Significantly, such service-learning projects could enable students to help make a positive difference in the global community while honing their multicultural competencies through interacting directly and adequately with diverse community members.

International Students’ Importance in Promoting Intercultural Understanding

While offering these opportunities to college students in general is a good practice, attracting international students to such activities is especially crucial. Given the privilege and uniqueness of this body of students in several aspects, including possessing multilingual skills and the likelihood for them to hold positions in international arenas, international students are better situated than their domestic peers to promote intercultural understanding between their native and host cultures. They could serve in formal and/or informal capacities as ambassadors who spread the values of mutual understanding and peaceful co-existence and stress how people, regardless of their cultural background, relate to each other as members in the global community. Therefore, concerted attention should be paid to engage international students in well-designed service-learning projects. These efforts are especially important given Deardorff and Edwards’ (2013) claim that “the human race must confront in the twenty-first century” (p. 178).

Contribution to Personal Development

In addition to promoting my intercultural understanding, this service-learning course contributed to my personal development in several ways. Specifically, it provided me with practical opportunities to exercise my leadership and professional communication skills while playing the role of a consultant, strengthening previous research findings that demonstrate positive effects for service-learning on leadership and communication skills development (Astin & Sax, 1998; Dugan, 2006; Eyler, Giles, Stenson, & Gray, 2001). Also, this experience was instrumental in shaping my identity as a team player and enhancing my collaboration skills. In particular, it afforded me a valuable opportunity to practice the process of coordinating the schedules of and handling conflicts among team members. Furthermore, my work with two classmates enabled me to learn strategies for successful collaborations among diverse team members. For example, I recognized the value of discussing the goals of the group and the responsibilities of each member for achieving these goals at the initial phase of collaboration. Also, I realized the importance of agreeing on the channels of communication among group members, and between the group and external stakeholders in ensuring timely and effective communication among all involved parties. Additionally, I appreciated the value of distributing responsibilities among group members based on the unique skills and talents each member possesses in order to benefit from their diverse resources for achieving the team’s goals and maximizing its success. Moreover, I better understood the importance of providing constructive and timely feedback for team members and showing appreciation for them in establishing good working relationships, generating a positive atmosphere, and energizing team members to exert more effort while enjoying the work. This experience really helped me grow as a collaborator and enabled me to better understand the opportunities and challenges presented by collaborative work. Given my academic, social, and personal gains from this course, I strongly advise college students to engage in service-learning opportunities as an effort to get the optimal benefit from their collegiate experience.


The intent of this essay was to reflect on my service-learning experience as a graduate student. The first section revealed that service-learning is a type of experiential education that aims to connect classroom instruction with its application in the real world. It also showed that reflection is a key component of this pedagogy. The second section described the service-learning course under examination. This part showed that the service-learning course aimed to familiarize students with management issues facing not-for-profits and prepare them to successfully lead such organizations. It also explained that the course was designed for students to work in teams to provide consultancy services to management and reflect on their overall experience through structured opportunities for reflection throughout the course. The third section outlined the service activities associated with this experience, providing examples of the research and analysis activities my team conducted. This part indicated that my team focused primarily on exploring strategies for enhancing the organization’s visibility in the community, attract more volunteers, and increase the effectiveness of its Board of Directors. The final section discussed the personal impact of the course on me. This section presented examples of my academic, social, and personal gains from this experience. For example, it deepened my understanding of the not-for-profit world and affected my sense of efficacy in that I had an increased sense that I could address issues facing not-for profits and make a concrete effort toward their improvement. This effect is especially important given Bandura’s (1995) remark that beliefs about one’s efficacy are crucial to social change. Also, it showed how this experience informed my teaching philosophy such that it reinforced my plans to integrate experiential learning into my teaching practice and offer opportunities for students to reflect on their learning experiences, and practice outdoor activities. Additionally, this experience afforded me valuable opportunities to exercise and advance my leadership, communication, and collaboration skills.

Significantly, how this service-learning influenced me is consistent with past research exploring the impacts of service-learning on student participants. For example, similar to my experience, prior research suggested positive impacts of service-learning on self efficacy (Stewart, 2009), developing students’ interpersonal development, communication, and leadership skills (Astin & Sax, 1998; Eyler & Giles, 1999; Keen & Keen, 1998). Since my reflections reinforce outcomes of past research on the positive effects of service-learning on students, it is my hope that these reflections add evidence for the value of service-learning to college students, thereby encouraging faculty members to integrate it into their mainstream teaching practice and urging institutions of higher education to reconsider faculty reward structures such that they recognize the faculty who engage students in addressing authentic community issues while advancing their learning in the classroom.


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Astin, A.W., Sax, L.J., & Avalos, J. (1999). Long term effects of volunteerism during the undergraduate years. Review of Higher Education 22(2), 187–202.
Baldwin, S., Buchanan, A., & Rudisill, M. (2007). What teacher candidates learned about diversity, social justice, and themselves from service learning experiences. Journal of Teacher Education, 58, 315–327.
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Bringle, R.G., Hatcher, J.A., Jones, S.G. (Eds.). (2011). International service learning: Conceptual frameworks and research. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing.
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Deardorff, D.K., & Edwards, K.E. (2013). Framing and assessing students’ intercultural competence in service-learning. In P.H. Clayton, R.G. Bringle, & J.A. Hatcher (Eds.), Research on service learning: Conceptual frameworks and assessment (pp. 157–183). Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing.
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Furco, A. (2003). Service-learning: A balanced approach to experiential education. Introduction to service-learning toolkit (pp.11-14). Providence, RI: Campus Compact.
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About the Author

Neivin M. Shalabi is a lecturer in the Basic Sciences Department at Delta University for Science and Technology, Gamasa, El-Dakahlia, Egypt.

Book Reviews

Ninth Volume in Service-Learning Series Focuses on Identity and Integration

Reviewed by Kajsa Larson

Creating Our Identities in Service-Learning and Community Engagement. B.E. Moely, S.H. Billig, and B.A. Holland (Eds.). IAP-Information Age Publishing: Charlotte, NC, 2009, 282 pages. Hardcover. ISBN 978-1-60752-289-8

As the ninth volume of the Advances in Service-Learning Research series, an initiative that began in 2002, Creating Our Identities in Service-Learning and Community Engagement addresses an area of research that has not been widely discussed: the topic of identity in relation to service-learning and community engagement. Each of the authors of this edited volume touches upon different aspects of identity theory, described as “an organizing concept around which the individual is able to integrate varied aspects of the self and aim for consistency in behavior” (p. x). This volume appeals to a wide readership, including university faculty and staff, community partners, students, or any other service-learning stakeholder that is interested in the topic of creating and sustaining identity through service-learning and civic engagement partnerships.

The book is organized into four parts. The three chapters in Part I examine the role of service-learning in higher education institutional identity through the examination of promotion and tenure guidelines, institutional websites, and critical reflection mechanisms developed by faculty. Chapter 1 analyzes survey responses to the 2006 applications for the Elective Classification for Community Engagement from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. The authors found that most of these institutions place community engagement in the category of service in the evaluation of promotion and tenure. In Chapter 2, the authors reviewed online websites of 25 “research-extensive” universities to see how engaged scholarship was promoted. Then, the authors developed a matrix of this material to stimulate a national effort to collect, maintain, and share information about programs, activities, and policies to grow the field of practice. Chapter 3 utilizes case study methodology to examine data from a faculty initiative using the DEAL Model of Critical Reflection (Description, Examination, Articulation of the Learning). The conclusion of this case study points to the benefits that faculty gained through collaboration and how their “pedagogy” was transformed. Six themes also emerged: the role of institutional support; the rationale for using reflective writing; the importance of structuring assignments; the necessity of facilitating feedback to students; evidence of effectiveness; and challenges for faculty. The studies in this section suggest that universities are more widely recognizing service-learning initiatives but this approach is not often fully integrated into the system.

The two chapters of Part II explore the topic of partnership identity through the lens of the community partner. In Chapter 4, the research of five cases seeks to address whether faculty-community partnerships are capable of developing organizational identities, guided by the principles of partnership: “a shared understanding of ‘who we are’ as a [partnership] entity” (p. 75). Through the analysis of the organizational attitudes about partnership (the mission, organizational structure, expectations), the author concludes that partnership identity may help those organizations make sense of what it means to be a partner with each other. Chapter 5 discusses the results of a questionnaire sent to campus and community partners, as well as interviews that were conducted about university-community partnerships, in order to show how to create and sustain meaningful relationships between these two entities. The authors discuss the success and pitfalls of partnerships and point to the importance of frequent communication and that the vision, mission, purposes, and expectations of the partnership should be formalized in writing. The authors of both chapters conclude that a mutual identity can be achieved through service-learning initiatives between university and community partners through open communication and dialogue.

The three chapters of Part III focus on the student perspective through comparative studies of student performance between learners who engaged in service-learning and those who did not. Chapter 6 provides a literature review on this topic and then presents an analysis of the K–12 standards associated with middle and high school programs implemented in a school district in Philadelphia, along with the positive outcomes. The results of the study pointed to how students involved in service-learning had higher test scores and had improved behavior. In Chapter 7, the authors present a two-year investigation of an after-school mentoring project through a middle school-university partnership. The study addresses both the perspective of the mentor and that of the student and compares group mentoring with one-on-one mentoring. The results show that middle school youth improved both emotionally and academically and benefited the most from group mentoring. Mentors felt that they developed teaching skills, knowledge of youth, and community understanding. Chapter 8 addresses “cultural-based service-learning,” defined as “a pedagogical approach that intentionally integrates race- or diversity-related content with community service by providing students with opportunities to learn about social disparities associated with diverse communities” (p. 190). By administering a pretest and posttest to an albeit demographically homogenous group of students, the authors found positive changes over the semester in their problem-solving skills, awareness of racial privilege and blatant racial issues, ethnic identity, and racial attitudes. From the research presented in this section, readers can see that students benefit from community or service-learning projects that take place during and after school.

The four chapters in Part IV provide a synopsis about the past, current, and future research initiatives of service-learning and civic engagement, including the international perspective of scholars from several countries and the differences between research in K–12 and university settings. Chapter 9 examines the interdisciplinary nature of service-learning through library and information science research. The authors examined literature represented in journals such as the Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning and the Advances in Service-Learning Research series, as well as masters’ theses and dissertations on service learning published between 2004 and 2006. The results show a wide range of departmental affiliation of service-learning scholars and diversity in the research from which they draw. The authors noted differences between those writing theses and dissertations versus those writing articles. The conclusions of the study point to the importance of cross-collaboration among disciplines as an opportunity for tapping a wider range of sources.

Chapters 10 and 11 are transcriptions of presentations given at service-learning conferences. In Chapter 10, Lori J. Vogelgesang gave a plenary address at an unnamed service-learning conference. Vogelgesang suggests that motivation is a strong reason for faculty commitment to service-learning and offers five tips for researchers to help them address the interconnectedness of service learning and what it means to live in a multicultural world: network, do good work, practice what you preach, publish and disseminate your work. Chapter 11 consists of a transcription of a plenary panel session during the Eighth International Research Conference. The speakers represented the United States, South Africa, Mexico, Australia, and Canada. They were asked to discuss and provide tips about service-learning and community engagement research. All of the panelists were in agreement about the importance of building community and being mindful of the context where this research takes place. An analysis of the individual presentations reveals both commonalities and differences among panelist responses. Chapter 12 summarizes the process by which K–12 standards for service-learning were developed with the end goal of encouraging the development of similar standards in the realm of higher education. The authors reconfirm several important themes from other chapters: the usefulness of interdisciplinary collaboration, the need to foster a shared sense of community through service-learning and community engagement, and developing standards for this type of work. The authors address the ways in which research can better inform practice: “As the field develops, researchers need to develop broader research questions that go beyond program evaluation” (p. 275).

The investigative aspect of service-learning takes precedence in this volume, with the most amount of material found in Part IV. Part II, on partnership identity, has the fewest chapters. Nonetheless, the authors of this compilation provide excellent literature reviews on service-learning and identity theory by citing both influential scholars in the field (Boyer, 1996) as well as more recent studies about the long-term effects of service learning and identity (Spring, Dietz & Grimm, 2006). Most of the chapters also include information about research limitations. Those most commonly discussed were the small number of institutions or partnerships that were studied, demographic or geographic limitations of the research participants, or a narrow research scope (web-based only or for a brief amount of time).

This volume provides an engaging and inspiring assessment of the interplay between service-learning and identity from all angles, thus paving the way for enriched conversations about the impact of community engagement on self, other, and collective. It can be placed within a larger trajectory, ranging from John Dewey’s seminal works about identity, service, and democracy (1916; 1927) to Saltmarsh and Hartley’s recent compilation To Serve a Larger Purpose: Engagement and Democracy and the Transformation of Higher Education (2011).


Boyer, E.L. (1996). The scholarship of engagement. Journal of Public Service and Outreach, 1(1), 11–20.
Dewey, J. (1916), Democracy and Education: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Education. New York: Macmillan.
Dewey, J. (1927). The public and its problems. Chicago: Swallow Press.
Saltmarsh, J., & Hartley, M. (Eds.), (2011). To serve a larger purpose: Engagement and democracy and the transformation of higher education. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
Spring K., Dietz N., & Grimm, R. (2006). Youth Helping America—Education for active citizenship: Service-learning, school-based service and youth civic engagement. Washington, DC: Corporation for National and Community Service.

About the Reviewer

Kajsa Larson is an assistant professor of Spanish at Northern Kentucky University.

Canadian Scholars’ Book Moves Engagement from “How to” to Socio-Political Aspects

Reviewed by Marc Felizzi

Engaged Scholarship: The Politics of Engagement and Disengagement. Lynette Shultz and Tania Kajner (Eds.). Sense Publishers: Boston, MA, 2013. IAP-Information Age Publishing: Charlotte, NC, 2009, 200 pages. Hardcover. ISBN 978-94-6209-290-7.

Rather than dryly delineating what community engagement is and should be, editors Lynette Shultz and Tania Kajner add life to this concept in their wide ranging compilation Engaged Scholarship: The Politics of Engagement and Disengagement. The editors attempt to move the discussion of academy involvement in the community from a description of how to engage the citizenry to one of how to comprehend and develop awareness of the socio-political aspects of the community, as well as the importance of service-learning and the scholarship of engagement. Shultz, an associate professor and co-director of the Centre for Global Citizenship Education and Research at the University of Alberta, and Kajner, a Ph.D. candidate in Educational Policy Studies at the University of Alberta, have extensive experience in the scholarship of engagement, global policy, and international education. Shultz and Kajner have included contributions from writers in the areas of global citizenship, community engagement, educational policy, sociology, anthropology, and human services to produce a compilation of studies and essays that address various perspectives of community engagement, service-learning, educational policy, media studies, deliberative democracy, and more in a lively and incisive book.

They offer articles that review the community engagement movement of the past 20 years. Struggling under a constant push and pull to define the ethereal concepts of community engagement, both editors hold that effective engagement requires a move away from an economy of knowledge (often held within the halls of higher learning) to a citizenship of knowledge, whereby the public contributes heartily to scholarship and academia.

This concept of knowledge as a privilege has been addressed in earlier literature, for example, Whitford and Strom (2013), state that “…engaging with communities is not the way universities have functioned traditionally. More often universities have been physically embedded in the geography of the local communities, but not in the real world lives of their residents. This split, sometimes referred to as the ‘town and gown’ separation, was often a reflection (and cause) of mutual distrust and dislike” p. 73). Shultz and Kajner attempt to address this ideological gulf by providing active examples of not just engaging through pedagogy, but of learning from community members, which in turn enhances praxis and builds relationships between universities and communities.

Several chapters were particularly intriguing and thought provoking. In “Beyond the Binary,” Kajner challenges the assertion that most scholarship is the primary fiefdom of the university. She asserts that scholarship must be viewed in the context of a new paradigm, one that encompasses Boyer’s (1990) “four interlocking functions of the scholar;” discovery, integration of these discoveries in the larger social and intellectual contexts, sharing of discovery, and application of this knowledge to the problems faced by individuals and society. Consistent with the perspectives on engaged scholarship articulated by other (Boyer, 1990; Frey & Carragee, 2007; Peterson, 2009). Kajner elaborates on her concept of a citizenship of knowledge by stating that information gathered and shared experiences in the community is research owned by the academy and the participating citizens and students, not solely the university. Kajner’s concept of community engagement extends beyond a unidirectional focus of outreach to fully embrace the idea that engagement is an exchange of ideas, data, and knowledge, a bi-directional flow of learning, not simply telling the community what is best.

To wit, in order to bridge the academy- community gap, Su-Ming Khoo asserts in her chapter, “Between Engagement and Citizenship,” that there indeed is a space between the two, and this space is best crossed by integrating a service component into university curriculums by encouraging and expecting students to disseminate what they have learned into the community. This expectation of sharing what is learned builds upon the reflexive component and opens the learning process to enable students to learn from one another and from those to whom they deliver newfound information. Additionally, Khoo contends that such a paradigm allows students and universities in developing countries to promote the use of digital technology in learning and pedagogy and allows universities to work with groups that may be especially interested in engaged scholarhip, specifically non-traditional and geographically isolated students.

Co-editor Shultz, in her article “Engaged Scholarship in a Time of the Corporatization of the University and Distrust of the Public Sphere,” addressed the trend of the “commercialization of learning” often promoted by multinational corporate interests. Shultz maintains that research emanating from corporate sponsored departments is often, not surprisingly, driven by the agenda of the funding conglomerate. Such research may be suspect, and Shultz contends that desires by universities to ally with corporations is troubling and may lead to an over commercialization of knowledge and a colonization of communities. Indeed, if the university is providing resources, data, and knowledge driven by a corporate agenda, how can the community truly benefit or remain independent? Shultz discusses various corporations that have disrupted local communities and environments, in the name of “furthering education.” She asserts that in order to be truly engaged, the scholar must push back and “disrupt the logics of discipline pressing corporatism onto the universities” (p. 43) by engaging in scholarship within a paradigm of “pluralversality,” which enables the university to attend to the options of a true global vision.

Several chapters address civic and community engagement in both sub-Saharan and South Africa. Both Ali Abdi and Catherine Odora Hoppers examine the role of the university in deconstructing colonialist and apartheid-based epistemologies in the African community. The potential to merge the concepts of African thought and ontologies into an educational system that encompasses traditional and emerging beliefs is unlimited. Abdi mentions that despite the best efforts of developed countries, the educational systems foisted upon African nations may have done more damage, and may have caused more civic disengagement than engagement. These essays are strengthened by Makkawi’s (2013) assertion that “In post-apartheid South Africa, many university departments have been intensively involved in community engagement initiatives, devoting their academic knowledge and expertise to various community-focused development and processes of reconciliation and reconstruction in a post-conflict society” (p. 91). This statement is reinforced by Catherine Odora Hoppers’ work, which discusses the creation of the South African Research Chairs Initiative (SARChI) in order to develop a more community engaged and knowledge based pool of instructors and students in South Africa. Hoppers analyzes the role of SARChI in creating such learners and teachers and discusses what South Africa’s universities must do in order to engage the richness of their village and tribal culture into their curriculums. Rather than relying on new technology to promote the university, Hoppers writes that “the information revolution is not a revolution of technology, machinery or techniques, software or speed, but a revolution in CONCEPTS and thus THE WAY WE THINK” (p. 150).

Linda Herrera and Peter Mayo in “Digital Youth, the Arab Revolution and the Challenge of Education of Work,” provide vivid and intimate portraits of the protagonists of a revolution that toppled several oppressive regimes in the Middle East. The editors included this powerful essay to describe engagement in a larger sense, in this case, a revolution that was largely created and fashioned out of the use of social media and digital technology.

The role of social and electronic media in pedagogy and engagement is addressed in Paul Carr’s essay “The Mediazation of Democracy.” While most universities promote the idea of critical thinking and the development of students who use such skills to analyze society and history, Carr maintains that modern media is actively engaged with democracy and education, and therefore, the media play a role achieving more evolved and ethical forms of self-government in the community. Rather than negatively criticize social media and downplay its utility, Carr writes that society should embrace it as a vessel to promote democracy and to engage, enlighten, and energize the community at large.

Shultz and Kajner have done an admirable job in presenting the work of a diverse group of scholars and writers who together add a critical piece to the epistemology of pedagogy and community engagement. The articles within this collection bring forth many questions and opportunities for rich and stimulating discourse both in the classroom and community.


Boyer, E. (1990). Scholarship reconsidered: Priorities of the professoriate. Princeton, NJ: The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.
Frey, L.R., & Carragee, K.M. (2007). Communication activism as engaged scholarship. In Communication Activism, Vol. 1, pp. 1–64. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press.
Makkawi, I. (2013). Community engagement from the margin: Zionism and the case of the Palestinian student movement in the Israeli universities. Arab Studies Quarterly, 35(2), 91–109.
Peterson, T.H. (2009). Engaged scholarship: Reflections and research on the pedagogy of social change. Teaching in Higher Education, 14(5), 541–552.
Whitford, L., & Strom, E. (2013). Building community engagement and public scholarship into the university. Annals of Anthropological Practice 37(1), 72–89.

About the Reviewer

Marc Felizzi is an assistant professor of Social Work at Millersville University of Pennsylvania.

Authors Make Case for Engaged Scholarship in Social Work Research Methods Guide

Reviewed by Kala Chakradhar

Qualitative Methods for Practice Research (Pocket Guides to Social Work Research Methods). Jeffrey Longhofer, Jerry Floersch, and Janet Hoy. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012, 216 pages. ISBN 9780195398472.

Qualitative Methods for Practice Research is a pocket book guide to social work research methods, one of a series of two dozen pocket guides written by various authors covering a variety of topics on research methods. This particular book is co-authored by Jeffrey Longhofer and Jerry Floersch, both associate professors of social work at the State University of New Jersey, Rutgers, and Janet Hoy, assistant professor of social work at the University of Toledo. In coproducing this 200–page 8.5 x 5.5 easy-to-carry guide, the authors offer beginning and experienced social work practitioners a way to understand the qualitative research process of knowledge-building and meaningful application to the practice context of which they are a part. This collaborative work also offers academic researchers ways to sensitize themselves to the practice contexts and the stakeholders in the various client systems. The authors make a strong case for engaged scholarship in which the researcher-practitioner interaction is interdependent and there is an ongoing dialogue toward knowledge advancement and mutually beneficial ends.

A search for the origins of the idea of engaged scholarship leads to Boyer’s seminal work (1990) calling for a reconsideration of the definition of scholarship in academe. In taking a critical look at the reward system for faculty in higher education primarily through research and publishing, he laments the isolated nature of this academic endeavor. As he described in later years, (Boyer, 1996): “The scholarship of engagement also means creating a special climate in which the academic and civic cultures communicate more continuously and more creatively with each other, helping to enlarge what anthropologist Clifford Geetz describes as the universe of human discourse and enriching the quality of life for all of us” (p. 20). What began as a serious recommendation for scholarship within universities to be connected to the realities of the world outside has today culminated in several disciplines working toward strengthening the research-practice interface. The creation of knowledge that can be suitably applied to real world practice settings is increasingly being recognized as an interactive process between the researcher and practitioner through the phases of problem formulation, conceptualization, creating a design for investigation, executing the study, and utilizing the results (Calleson, Jordan & Seifer, 2005; Hughes, Bence, Grisoni,O’Regan, & Wornham, 2011; Kielhofner, 2005; Wilson, 2006).

Longhofer, Floersch, and Hoy, in this innovative piece on qualitative research methods, exemplify this researcher-practitioner partnership and the value of engaged scholarship in social work practice settings. They subscribe to Van de Ven’s (2007) framework for engaged scholarship where knowledge is to be coproduced through collaborative work and challenging, differing perspectives through an interactive evolving process called arbitrage. The authors foresee this form of engaged scholarship as ushering in a new era in social work research, interdependent as opposed to autonomous and parallel. Besides the introductory chapter, which sets the stage for the purpose and focus of the book, there are five chapters. A “Notes” section gives a chapter-wise elaboration of some of the implicit content. The book ends with a glossary of the conceptual terms used as well as a list of references.

The philosophy of critical realism is introduced and discussed in detail in Chapter 1 wherein attention is drawn to what goes on in the open systems in which social workers practice. The authors see critical realism as best suited for engaged scholarship. A distinction is made between empirical, actual, and real domains where the real is beyond what knowledge can explain and fathom and is part of the complex experience of the practitioner’s discoveries through reflection in practice situations. In the same vein, the contrasts drawn between brute and institutional (contextual) facts, closed and open systems, downward and emergent causation, and the necessary and contingent demonstrate what constitutes critical realism. In enlightening the struggle that exists in connecting theory and practice, deductive and inductive processes, the concept of phenomenological practice gap (PPG) is elaborated. By the authors’ own admission, this chapter makes for challenging reading but does admirably address the limits of variables-based research, especially when critically looking at the process of implementing evidence-based interventions in mental health practice settings. The authors’ interpretation of the critical realist perspective to causation in social work practice situations is worth a read.

The second chapter illustrates the use of qualitative methods in projects involving engaged scholarship beginning with problem formulation, framing aims and questions to data collection and analysis. Interspersed with examples from practice situations as well as day-to-day experiences, the narrative offers clarity in understanding the stages of research including sampling, recruitment of participants, and the role of the Institutional Review Board. The chapter explains the nature of qualitative data including use of audio-visual media, describes three analytic strategies (thematic, grounded theory, and narrative), and also offers a simplified introduction to the data analysis software, Atlas.ti. By providing screenshot illustrations of sample data and preliminary coding instructions, the authors give readers an opportunity to get started right away. All this is brought together at the end with a case illustration of youth and psychotropic medication retracing the steps from formulation to findings.

Institutional ethnography as a qualitative method was developed by sociologist Dorothy Smith in the third chapter. The focus of this method is on the web of social processes and relationships in a practice context. This method specifically lends itself to the study of the effects of policy or interventions where, in reality, multiple dynamics come into play and multiple networks of individuals are impacted in different ways. The application of this method is illustrated by the effects of policy on the everyday experience of case managers and clients in community mental health settings. Coproduction of knowledge through researcher-practitioner engagement and identification of PPG is also demonstrated through the illustration.

Chapter 4 discusses how an engaged scholarship approach is used to adapt evidence-based interventions. The authors offer examples from literature where such adaptations were made to incorporate the strengths and needs of the context, which they term positive variance. In examining seven of these adaptations, the authors draw their inferences on the iterative adaptive process and the methods used. An illustration of a jail setting is used to especially affirm the need to anticipate the “particularity” of the setting and the “nature of open systems” (p. 137). The inevitability of phenomenological practice gaps is underscored and practitioners are urged to “reject the premise that experts make knowledge and transfer it downward” (p. 137).

In the final chapter, the multiple aspects of engaged scholarship are tied together by what the authors exalt as the single most important concept in social work practice and research namely “reflexivity” (p. 139). These “internal conversations” (p. 140) or reflections in relation to the contexts are discussed in terms of how they are processed. In addition seven components of reflexivity suited to engaged scholarship are detailed.

The authors’ effort in the form of this concise guide to qualitative research is indeed commendable. The presentation of the rationale to pursue knowledge building in mental health practice settings informed by critical realism and engaged partnerships is a novel perspective in bridging the gap between researchers and practitioners. As the authors envision, this does open up the potential for collaborative research and learning. The real world practice illustrations make for ease in understanding the range of possibilities in the qualitative research process. A unique feature is the inclusion of resource links and references within the narrative of the chapters. At the same time, however, qualitative research today has gained its own level of sophistication such that the initial chapters make for challenging reading and comprehension. Although the authors have made an effort to integrate the concepts in their illustrations, these concepts do beg for more clarity and depth of explanation.

Professional social workers, in their role of intervening with individual, groups, and communities, are not only governed by the profession’s ethics but also by a set of expected competencies. One key competency is practice that is evidence-based and guided by research and in turn informs research (Lietz & Zayas, 2010). This book and its philosophical orientation supports this expectation. Lastly, the companion site for the Oxford University Press Pocket Guides to Social Work Research Methods offers additional links and resources related to the content of this book (Pocket Guides to Social Work, n.d). Longhofer and Floersch offer readers a good experience in qualitative research and a worthy read in the understanding of the intricacies of the researcher-practitioner interface.


Boyer, E.L. (1990). Scholarship reconsidered: Priorities of the professoriate. Princeton, NJ: Carnegie Foundation.
Boyer, E.L. (1996). The scholarship of engagement. Journal of Public Service and Outreach, 1(1), 11–20.
Calleson, D.C., Jordan, C., & Seifer, S.D. (2005). Community-engaged scholarship: Is faculty work in communities a true academic enterprise? Academic Medicine, 80(4), 317–321
Hughes, T., Bence, D., Grisoni, L., O’Regan, N., & Wornham, D. (2011). Scholarship that matters: Academic-practitioner engagement in business and management, Academy of Management Learning and Education, 10(1), 40–57.
Kielhofner, G. (2005). Scholarship and practice: Bridging the divide. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 59(2), 231–239.
Leitz, C.A., & Zayas, L.E. (2010). Evaluating qualitative research for social work practitioners,.Advances in Social Work, 11(2), 188–202.
Pocket Guides to Social Work Research Methods (n.d). Retrieved from
Van De Ven, A.H.( 2007). Engaged scholarship: A guide for organizational and social research. New York: Oxford University Press.
Wilson, E.J., III (2006). Engaged scholars and thoughtful practitioners: Enhancing their dialogue in the knowledge society. Information Technologies and International Development, 2(4), 89–92.

About the Author

Kala Chakradhar is an assistant professor in the Department of Community Leadership and Human Services, College of Education and Human Services, Murray State University.

Digital Storytelling: A Technological Approach

Reviewed by Katherine E. Perone

Digital Storytelling: Capturing Lives, Creating Community. Joe Lambert. Routledge: New York, N.Y., 2013, 206 pages, ISBN: 978-0-415-62703-0.

Lambert’s Digital Storytelling emphasizes the use of storytelling as a cultural artifact and tool for personal growth and community support. Communicating thoughts and emotions through stories strengthens the ability to engage individuals, groups, organizations, and communities worldwide. Storytelling creates an environment where language is power. Combining technology and storytelling to create digital storytelling results in a new medium to interrelate with others.

Digital Storytelling describes the use of technology to tell one’s story. Throughout the book, Lambert challenges the reader to think about the questions “What shapes our stories?” and “How can we tell our stories in today’s technological world?” An additional question to consider when reading the book is “What is the value of digital storytelling?” These questions address Lambert’s central themes and he answers these questions throughout the book by sharing stories told by “common” individuals. Chapters 1 through 4 provides excellent examples of stories that shape one’s life. His examples include stories about obstacles, achievements, people who have made a difference in one’s life, and life changes. Many of his chapters conclude with a personal story followed by the author’s interaction with the storyteller. This subtle but powerful tool engages the reader in the phenomenological experience of the collaboration involved in the process of creating digital stories. These personal stories describe the “soul of community” and how the story can be used to invoke community activism and education (Sandercock & Attili, 2010). Chapters 5 through 11 describe the tools used to tell stories using modern technology and address the question regarding how to tell a story through the use of technology. These tools include pictures, storyboards, and audio programs. The value of digital storytelling is depicted throughout the book but chapters 14 and 15 detail specific uses of digital storytelling.

Readers from diverse backgrounds will enjoy Lambert’s easy to read instructional approach. Chapter 5 illustrates this approach by explaining the seven elements needed, as determined by the author. These elements include ownership of insights, ownership of emotions, finding the moment, seeing the story, hearing the story, assembling the story, and sharing the story. These elements would not be considered evidence based, but a reflection of the author’s lived experience of facilitating digital storytelling workshops over the past two decades. This chapter gives the reader an excellent recipe for digital storytelling, including the emotions evoked, the importance of visual, audio and tactile response, and the methods to tell the story. To illustrate the importance of the audience in sharing the story, Lambert describes how the “permanency story” of foster children can be used in social work training. Lambert’s seven elements provide the reader with diverse approaches to digital storytelling, which includes audio, visual, and kinesthetic learning styles. Also included in this chapter is scholarly information about copyright issues when using other authors’ material and providing useful information to academicians as well as lay people.

Lambert’s mastery of storytelling and the rationale for digital storytelling is evident throughout the book. Although his examples are taken from his workshop participants, the reader gains a sense of how useful digital storytelling is in other arenas such as education, community activism, counseling, and healthcare. Chapter 14 is devoted to the application of digital storytelling in a healthcare setting. In this chapter, he describes a program called Patient Voices, which uses storytelling to advocate change in health care, and he incorporates a question and answer session with the founders of the program. They describe the value of digital storytelling in end of life care. This chapter demonstrates how digital storytelling gives terminal patients control to decide what story they want to share and what visual aids will be used to tell the story. Used in this way, this medium can provide closure for the patient and family.

The use of digital storytelling in higher education is discussed in the last chapter of the book. The chapter is authored by academicians from four state universities representing the East and Midwest. The chapter’s authors provide examples of how digital storytelling can be used in the classroom as well as with faculty development. For example, Jacobs describes how digital storytelling strategies used in his course “Digital Storytelling in and with Communities of Color,” required students “to think about the ways that the media had represented them and their communities” (p. 177) and to “speak back to those representations, to make their own representations about themselves and their communities” (p. 177). The chapter engages and challenges readers to brainstorm ideas on the use of digital storytelling in program coursework. Current articles written about digital storytelling emphasize the significance of the tool in education (Czarnecki, 2009; Morgan, 2014), and although the chapter was specific to higher education, digital storytelling can be used in all educational settings (Czarnecki, 2009; Morgan, 2014).

Links between theory and practice are a limitation of the book, especially for those who may wish to delve more deeply into the epistemological and methodological frameworks connected to digital storytelling pedagogy and outcomes. Lambert’s descriptive terminology postulates narrative theoretical perspectives. These concepts include constructing and reconstructing one’s story based on his or her worldview (White & Epston, 1990). Descriptive terms from narrative theory such as co-constructed, reframing, and identity construction to explain the importance of storytelling within the community framework are used within the book. Narrative theory gained prominence in the late 1980s and early 1990s (Bruner, 1987; Polkinghorne, 1988; White & Epston, 1990) and is a framework that encompasses the use of story as a tool of empowerment (White & Epston, 1990). Narrative theory is built on the idea that people’s lives and relationships to others are shaped by their life stories. The uniqueness of the person is defined by his or her story and the interpretation of their stories. Issues related to self-concept, interpersonal relationships, and personal growth are explored, deconstructed, and reconstructed to develop a new story (White & Epston, 1990). This storytelling approach mimics the book’s design and linking the theory to his chapters would have strengthened the book’s framework.

Another limitation of the book is its ongoing reference to the Center for Digital Storytelling (CDS). CDS is a non-profit organization that provides workshops on digital storytelling. Chapter 6 is devoted to the CDS workshop model, and although relevant to the topic, the redundancy to the author’s proprietorship may limit the reader in seeing digital storytelling beyond this particular framework (see Alexander, 2011, and Ohler, 2013, for example, for media and education-oriented perspectives on digital storytelling). If the reader can look beyond the strict adherence to the CDS model of digital storytelling, the book provides readers the tools needed to tell a story enmeshed in emotion, logic, and reflection.


Alexander, B. (2011). The new digital storytelling: Creating narratives with new media. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger.
Bruner, J. (1987). Life as narrative. Social Research: An International Quarterly, 54(2), 11–32.
Czarnecki, K. (2009). How digital storytelling builds 21st century skills. Library Technology Reports, 45(7), 15–19.
Morgan, H. (2014). Using digital story projects to help students improve in reading and writing. Reading Improvement, 51(1), 20–26.
Ohler, J.B. (2013). Digital storytelling in the classroom: New media pathways to literacy, learning and creativity (2nd Ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.
Polkinghorne, D. (1988). Narrative knowing and the human sciences. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.
Sandercock, L., & Attili, G. (2010). Digital ethnography as planning praxis: An experiment with film as social research, community engagement and policy dialogue
Planning Theory & Practice, 11(1), 23–45. doi: 10.1080/1464350903538012.
White, M., & Epston, D. (1990). Narrative means to therapeutic ends. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.

About the Author

Katherine E. Perone is an assistant professor/director of field education of Social Work at Western Illinois University.