Keynote Address—The Civic Engagement Imperative: Higher Education and the Public Good

Ambassador James A. Joseph

Dean Francko

I’d like to welcome to the podium Felecia Jones, director of the Black Belt Community Foundation, who will introduce our keynote speaker.

Ms. Felecia Jones

Good afternoon. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said that not everybody can be famous but everybody can be great because greatness is determined by service. If you would, journey with me through the life of Ambassador James A. Joseph. The ambassador is emeritus professor of the practice of public policy and leader in residence for the Hart Leadership Program at the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University. He is also founder of the United States Southern Africa Center for Leadership and Public Values at Duke and the University of Cape Town. He joined the Duke faculty in 2000 after a distinguished career in government, business, education, and organized philanthropy. He was appointed to senior executive or advisory positions by four U.S. presidents, including Under Secretary of the Interior by President Jimmy Carter and U.S. Ambassador to South Africa by President William Clinton.

In 1999 the Republic of South Africa awarded Ambassador Joseph the Order of Good Hope, the highest honor bestowed on a citizen of another country. In 2008 he was honored as a Louisiana Legend and inducted into the Louisiana Political Hall of Fame. The founding chair of the Commission on National and Community Service that established AmeriCorps, he was honored by the U.S. Peace Corps in 2010 for his lifetime contributions to voluntarism and civil society. From 1982–1995, Dr. Joseph was president and chief executive officer of the Council on Foundations, an international organization of almost 2,000 foundations and corporate giving programs.

After graduating from Yale Divinity School in 1963, Ambassador Joseph began his career at Stillman College in Tuscaloosa, where he was founding co-chair of the local civil rights movement. A frequent speaker to academic, civic, and religious audiences, he is the author of three books. He is the recipient of 19 honorary degrees and his undergraduate alma mater, Southern University, has named an endowed chair in his honor. He has also served as chair of the Children’s Defense Fund and as a member of the board of directors of the Brookings Institution, the National Endowment for Democracy, the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, and City Year South Africa, a youth voluntary service and leadership development program. One thing that was not included in what he sent me and was shared during our time together, which I’ve been most fortunate to have with him, is that he was chair of the Faculty Board for the Duke University Center for Civic Engagement.

I cannot leave out the fact that the Ambassador is married to the former Mary Braxton, who is an Emmy Award winning television journalist, and he has two children and two grandchildren. I hope that after hearing him speak today you will agree with me that he’s great, because he definitely has served. Join me in welcoming Ambassador James A. Joseph.


Let me say at the outset what a delight it is to return to Tuscaloosa. I have not been back since 1964, a year after three local ministers and I launched the Tuscaloosa Citizens Action Committee. Those were difficult and those were dangerous times, but the movement we organized not only desegregated this community, but also opened the door for many of the advances that followed. And I say that because we could not have done it without the students at Stillman. So when I think about civic engagement, higher education, and the public good almost fifty years later, I think of those students; and when I think of those times, and today’s theme, I am reminded of the ancient historian Tacitus, who defined patriotism as praiseworthy competition with one’s ancestors.

I recall that definition of civic virtue today because it reminds us that each generation has an opportunity, indeed an obligation, to contribute something as significant and even as extraordinary as the generations that preceded them. And so the questions I would like to examine today are these: One, what role should higher educational institutions play in developing, nurturing, and sustaining the civic values that lead to civic engagement? Secondly, what do these institutions need to know and teach about the modern idea of civil society, especially the civic habits and traditions of the many population groups who are changing our civic culture? And three, what can these institutions do to help define and develop civic engagement as a strategic form of social change rather than simply a form of charitable relief?

What I am suggesting is that there should be three components to what we teach, what we research, and how we promote or facilitate civic engagement. The first has to do with civic values, the second has to do with civic knowledge, and the third has to do with civic habits. This encapsulates civic engagement into three powerful metaphors: being, knowing, and doing.

Civic Values 

Let me begin with the being, or values, component and offer the observation that an institution is what it rewards. I have been in business. I’ve been in government. I’ve run a lot of organizations. And one of the things I learned is that an institution is not so much what it says in its value statement or what it says in its press releases. It is what it rewards its people for being. If civic engagement is an important university priority, there needs to be both guidelines and incentives that reflect what the university considers to be its values, what it claims as its values. It is not enough to simply provide incentives for students through service-learning; there must be incentives to unleash the research capacity of the university as well. I was here and heard what the presidents panel said, and I am so pleased that they represent institutions that “get it.” But as I travel around the country, I find an institutional culture that seems to regard practical investigation into practical community needs, as Dr. Wilson said, as the “dumbing down” of research. Too many of our faculty colleagues tend to regard those who teach about civil society and those who call for civic engagement, in Robert Louis Stevenson’s phrase, as “practitioners of an obscure art.”

Universities That “Get It” 

I am pleased, as I said, that there are universities that “get it.” They are the ones that understand that one of the missions of universities is to put knowledge at the service of society. But one of the things I’ve learned over the years is that the best universities are also those that put the community at the service of knowledge. There are an increasing number of universities that have actually tied academic incentives to community outreach. They are the ones who understand that in order to unleash the full potential of the university, the institution will have to re-think what it rewards.

The second point I want to make about civic values is that we need to be very clear about what values we need to cultivate. I taught ethics at a number of universities and for too long those who teach ethics have focused on the private virtues that build character to the exclusion of the public values that build community. It may be that what we need most at this unique and almost apocalyptic global moment is to help both our students and our society understand how best to think about, and how best to apply, values to public life without getting caught up in the politics of virtue or the parochialism of dogma.

I have been living in South Africa full or part time for the last sixteen years and there is much we can learn from a concept of community the South Africans call ubuntu. It is best expressed by the Xhosi proverb, “People are people through other people.” It is this powerful sense of the shared interdependence of people that lies behind the spirit of forgiveness and reconciliation reflected in the work of Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu. It is the ability to say that your pain is my pain that has allowed them to say that if your humanity is assaulted, my humanity is assaulted; if your dignity is denied, my dignity is denied. It is not “I think, therefore, I am.” It is “I am human because I belong. I participate; I share because I am made for community.” At the heart of this spirit of ubuntu is the willingness to take risks and to act justly and with compassion to one another.

So what does it mean to speak of values that build community in a world that is integrating and fragmenting at the same time? The more interdependent we become the more people are turning inward to smaller communities of meaning and memory. While some find reasons for despair, it may be that remembering and regrouping are part of the first stage of the search for common ground. As I travel around the world, I hear more and more people saying that until there is respect for their primary community of identity they will find it difficult to embrace the larger community in which they function. We will thus find it difficult to form a more perfect union in the United States as long as we emphasize the myth of individualism to the exclusion of the tradition of community that saw people come together to build each other’s barns and to ensure that there was a public safety net for those in some way disadvantaged.

The second principle in which our idea of community needs to be grounded is one I often quote from the African-American mystic, poet, and theologian Howard Thurman, who was a mentor to Martin Luther King at Boston University. Dr. Thurman was fond of saying, “I want to be me without making it difficult for you to be you.” Can you imagine how different our world would be if more Americans were able to say “I want to be an American without making it difficult for Arabs to be Arabs, Asians to be Asians, and Africans to be Africans?” Can you imagine how different our communities would be if more Christians were able to say, “I want to be a Christian without making it difficult for a Jew to be a Jew, a Muslim to be a Muslim, or a Buddhist to be a Buddhist?”

So how do we build community? It is has been my experience that when neighbors help neighbors, and even when strangers help strangers, both those who help and those who are helped are transformed. They experience a new sense of connectedness. Getting involved in the needs of the neighbor provides a new perspective, a new way of seeing ourselves, a new understanding of the purpose of the human journey. When that which was “their” problem becomes “our” problem, the transaction transforms a mere association into a relationship that has the potential for new communities of meaning and belonging.

In other words, getting people to do something for someone else—what John Winthrop called making the condition of others our own —is the most powerful force I know in building community. When you experience the problems of the poor or troubled, when you help someone find meaning in a museum or creative expression in a painting, when you help to dispel prejudices or fight bigotry directed at a neighbor, you are far more likely to find common ground, and you are far likely to find that in serving others you discover the genesis of community. So the moral imperative of civic engagement is to help transform the laisez-faire notion of live and let live into the principle of live and help live.

Civic Knowledge

This brings us, then, to the second question we need to ask. It is about civic knowledge: What should we know and what should we teach about the modern idea of civil society? Resurrected in the 1970s by the Polish Workers Movement and later in debates about perestroika in the former Soviet Union, the idea of civil society is rooted in three very different visions of public life.

The first was the idea of civil society as government. Civility, for Aristotle, described the requirements of citizenship rather than private sensibilities or good manners. It was organized around the face-to-face relationships of friends whose leisurely aristocratic benevolence enabled them to discover, articulate, and promote the public good. The second was the idea of civil society transforming government, often in opposition to government. I was standing on the edge of a crowd in the former Soviet Union when an upstart named Boris Yeltsen made his first speech calling for major social reform. I was standing in a crowd outside of Parliament in Cape Town when Prime Minister de Klerk announced that Nelson Mandela would be released from prison and the African National Congress unbanned. On each occasion, people spoke of the rebellion of civil society against the state. They did not so much want to replace the state as they wanted to transform it. The third idea of civil society has been the notion of civil society transcending government. Unlike the private sector driven by the market and the public sector driven by the ballot, the so-called third sector is driven by something deeper and more noble, a spirit of compassion and commitment to the common good. It is in many ways the conscience of the other two sectors. It is even possible to argue that since civil society preceded government, it may be more appropriate to think of it as the first sector.

The attractiveness of the concept of civil society lies in its conjoining of private and public good. But in what should be its finest hour, the idea of civil society is in danger of being distorted and hijacked by those who emphasize its potential in order to bolster arguments for a more limited social role by government. Some of the strongest advocates of civic engagement are people with an uncivil state of mind.

While it is clear that it was people power that led to the collapse of communism, the dismantling of apartheid, and even the fall of the Berlin Wall, there are now those who exaggerate the potential of civil society in order to bolster their claims about the role of government. Those of us, and I spent fourteen years as a spokesperson for Benelovent Wealth, who understandingly and necessarily emphasize the potential of civil society have a responsibility to also point to its limits. It is also important to remember that civil society includes more than simply the non-governmental organizations that serve a public good. As Thomas Carothers reminded us in a Foreign Policy magazine article, civil society everywhere is a bewildering array of the good, the bad, and the bizarre. The hate groups that have used the Internet to become transnational and the criminals who operate across national borders are only a few of the groups that use the civic space between the state and the market for less than noble purposes. In short, civil society carries the potential to re-shape and unite a divided world, but we must guard against overselling its strength or over-romanticizing its intentions.

Another of my concerns about civic knowledge, what we know and what we teach and what we research about civil society and civic values, has to do with the many ways in which American civic culture is changing. Alexis de Tocqueville, Robert Bellow, and many others have painted wonderful pictures of what they described as the habits of the heart of the American people. Unfortunately, neither de Tocqueville nor Bellow included in their reporting and analysis the extent to which voluntary activity and civil society in racial minority communities served as a vehicle of self-help, social cohesion, and positive group identity. As president of the Council on Foundations, 2,000 foundations from around the world, I cringed every time I heard some new guru on civil society speak of American voluntarism or American generosity as if it were somehow unique to those citizens who traced their ancestry to Europe. Very disappointed in what I kept hearing, I began the research on the civic traditions of America’s racial minorities for The Charitable Impulse, which I published in 1995. What I found were remarkable manifestations of civic feeling that in many instances pre-dated, but was consistent with, the civic habits practiced and the civic values affirmed by the larger society.

Emulate the Iroquois

As early as 1598, and long before Cesar Chavez started organizing farm workers, Latinos in the Southwest formed “mutualistas” and lay brotherhoods to assist members with their basic needs. Long before de Tocqueville, Benjamin Franklin became so enamored of the political and civic culture of the Native Americans he met in Pennsylvania that he advised delegates to the Albany Congress in 1754 to emulate the civic habits of the Iroquois.

Long before Martin Luther King wrote his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” or gave his “I Have a Dream” speech, African-Americans in the 19th century formed so many voluntary groups and mutual aid societies that some Southern states enacted laws banning black voluntary or charitable activity. Long before Robert Putnam published his first article on social capital, Neo-Confucians in the Chinese community were teaching their children that a community without benevolence invites its own destruction. The point I am making is that it is no longer possible to speak of American civic culture without reference to and respect for the varied traditions that are now shaping our civic life.

We have also seen the globalization of civic engagement. People around the world are coming to realize that a good society depends as much on the goodness of individuals as it does on the soundness of government and the fairness of laws. They are reclaiming responsibility for their lives through neighborhood associations in squatter settlements, farming cooperatives in rural areas, micro-enterprises in urban areas, housing associations, mutual aid associations, and various other forms of self-help groups to improve local conditions.

The events of the last decade have caused us to think often and deeply about whether transnational community is really possible. I am convinced that it is, but it will require us to think and act differently. Our students who are engaged in community outreach locally and those who work abroad must be taught to respect local traditions, local cultures, and even local concepts of community. While not as well organized and not as well supported abroad as in the United States, the idea of helping neighbors in need, the idea of service to others as an essential part of the pursuit of happiness, can be found in many countries and communities. The absence of a service movement does not necessarily mean the absence of a service ethic. What we can bring is experience in how to mobilize and even how to motivate, how to communicate an existing ethic, and how to coordinate existing energy. But there is much we can learn about the service ethic that comes out of the notion of ubuntu, for example.

Civic Habits

We come now to my final concern, what I have called civic habits, the idea that we tend to promote a rather limited approach to civic engagement. We are told with frequency that the world would be better off if more of us worked in soup kitchens, delivered meals to the elderly poor, or tutored kids who are at risk. Those are very important contributions, but they are ameliorating consequences when the university could also help eliminate causes.

The most often cited example of charitable relief is the story of the Good Samaritan. We are told that a traveler finds someone badly beaten along the side of the road and stops to help. Suppose that same man traveled the same road every day for a week and each day he found someone badly beaten at the same spot on the road. Compassion requires that he give aid, but eventually compassion requires that he ask, “Who has responsibility for policing this road?” What started out as an individual act of charitable aid leads to a concern with public policy. The first response was to ameliorate consequences, but the second response must necessarily be aimed at eliminating causes. One is charity, the other is strategic civic engagement. Civil society has often been most effective when it has dared to go beyond charity, when it has helped provide both understanding and meaning to the social problems that trouble us.

My second point about civic habits is that the university can help to inform and enrich the public policy process. I know that many of your institutions are advised by its donors and legal counsel that it is unwise, illegal, or too risky to get involved in public policy, but I’ve served over the years on the boards of many universities, so I know about which I speak. But I also served on the U.S. Treasury Department’s Task Force that struggled with how to distinguish between permissible advocacy and impermissible lobbying and I can tell you that there is much that can be done by a university to objectively inform and objectively influence policy.

And finally, a third point about civic habits is that civic engagement should mean investing in the empowerment of those who are economically and socially marginalized. The university can help educate its publics, both locally and nationally, on the policies and practices needed to make our society work for all of its citizens, but it is not enough to be simply advocates who speak in behalf of the marginalized groups in our communities. We must help empower them to speak for themselves. If racism was the original American sin, the persistence of paternalism is its most enduring counterpart. One of the most striking and fundamental lessons coming from around the world is that when we empower the historically excluded to be active participants in the programs designed for their advancement, we are likely to have not only new ideas and wider ownership of strategies, but increased effectiveness as well. Moreover, it is much better to empower communities than to simply provide service or engage in advocacy in their behalf.

We have all too often asked the wrong question in dealing with those in our communities whom we seek to help. We have been asking what can we do about their predicament, or what can we do for them, when we should have been asking what can we do together. Self-help is a principle all groups admire and often desire, but too many people assume it means that those disadvantaged by condition or color should be able to lift themselves by their own bootstraps, even when they have no boots. I like the concept of assisted self-reliance or participatory empowerment, where the affected groups provide leadership but they are supported by outside resources.

Let me, thus, conclude by making the point that if you are to involve your students and your faculty meaningfully in your communities, they must understand that how they are engaged is as important as in what they are engaged. There is a story told about the exit of the British from one of its former colonies. On the day in which colonial officials were preparing to depart, the Governor General was overheard to say, “When we came here these people had few roads, few hospitals, and few schools. We built new roads, we built new hospitals, and we built new schools, but now they ask us to go. Why?” A peasant, on overhearing the conversation, interrupted to say, “It is easy to understand, your honor. Every time you look at us you have the wrong look in your eyes.” Civic engagement aimed at eliminating poverty or advancing equity must begin first with a look at the policies and practices of our own institutions. Unless you have the right look in your eyes, your efforts will not only be in vain, if left unattended could damage the institution’s image, diminish its influence, and defer the dreams of those who gave birth to the vision you seek to advance.

And so we need to step back and ask what assumptions, what social analysis lies behind civic engagement, what theory of change informs our practices and priorities, how often is the promotion of equity a consideration in what we conclude is successful, and finally do we have an organized and disciplined way of learning what truly works in closing social gaps. When we provide answers to those questions, we may find that civic engagement itself may need to change. We cannot allow ourselves to become advocates of an obscure art, preoccupied with the potential of civil society and not its limits. Someone has to ask the difficult questions that too easily go unasked, and if asked unanswered. I hope that you will be the one to return to your institutions and ask those difficult questions. Someone has to probe beyond the conventional wisdom that avoids controversy by closing rather than opening minds. You are part of a moment in history where an increasing number of universities have chosen to put knowledge at the service of society.

I hope, therefore, that you will be able to elevate the idea of civic engagement to both a craft and a calling, both a discipline of study and a field of practice.

Archimedes is reported to have said, “Give me a lever long enough and I can move the world.” Those of you in this room have been given the lever. I hope you will use it not only to move your institutions and your communities, but also to move the world. You are engaged in a very noble enterprise. For when you provide help, you also provide hope. And the gift of hope is as big a gift as the gift of life itself.

Thank you very much.

Ambassador James A. Joseph presenting the Keynote Address at NOSC 2012 at The University of Alabama.
Ambassador James A. Joseph presenting the Keynote Address at NOSC 2012
at The University of Alabama.

University Presidents See Growing Role for Scholarship of Engagement

Guy Bailey, William V. Muse, Lee T. Todd, and David Wilson, moderated by David A. Francko, Dean of the UA Graduate School


Constituting the Presidents’ Panel were Dr. Guy Bailey, President of the University of Alabama; Dr. William V. Muse, former president of Auburn University; Dr. Lee T. Todd, Jr., former president of the University of Kentucky; and Dr. David Wilson, president of Morgan State University.

Dr. Bailey

It’s a great pleasure to have you here. I am in my fourth week on the job, but this is not my first sojourn in Tuscaloosa. I came here 40 years ago as an undergraduate and left here after six years — I like to point out to students that I got two degrees during that time — never knowing that I would come back in the role I’m in today. It is truly an honor. It’s also an honor and a privilege for us to host this conference. This is the largest gathering in the world of engaged scholarship faculty, staff, students and community partners.

We are particularly happy to host this conference for a couple of reasons. It’s the first time a non-land-grant institution has hosted it. And if that doesn’t tell you where engaged scholarship has come, nothing will. We think of engaged scholarship and community outreach as part of a land-grant university’s mission. I was chancellor of [an urban university] and we saw that as part of our mission. But for a traditional university like the University of Alabama to see that as part of our mission tells you how far the field has come. We are also happy to partner with Auburn University in doing this. Most people think that Auburn and Alabama don’t do much in common. I have to tell you it’s not true. I have a daughter who has three degrees from that school, so they have a lot of my money. They have been great to work with. If you wonder about the relationship between the two institutions and the fact that friendships run deeper than battles over football, you simply remember what happened after the tornado last year. As many of you know, Tuscaloosa was devastated by a tornado. When the call for student participation in helping to clean up and rescue people came out, our students were there. Auburn students came as well. It was gratifying to see Auburn students and our students working together. If you ever want to see the meaning of student engagement, that’s it. Anyone who wasn’t committed to outreach and engagement before this incident certainly is now.

I think it is particularly appropriate for us to host the conference here in Tuscaloosa. I am looking forward to hearing the presentations. And I want to offer some special thanks to the people who’ve made this conference possible. Dr. Hiram Fitzgerald from Michigan State University, president of the Engagement Scholarship Consortium board, and the entire ESC board, would you raise your hand? Thank all of you very much (applause). And Dr. Carolyn Dahl, dean of the College of Continuing Studies, and her staff for their extensive work in planning and implementation, and Dr. Samory Pruitt, vice president of Community Affairs, who keeps me focused on the issue even when my mind tends to wander somewhere else. And thanks to all listed in the conference program. The weather is going to clear up and you are going to enjoy beautiful October days in Alabama. Again, it’s a delight to have you here.

Dean Francko

We anticipate a lively discussion with our presidents. We might begin the conversation by asking our presidents two simple questions, which are not all that simple. Why do your respective campuses see engaged scholarship as an important part of their mission? How does your respective campus support engaged scholarship and what are the challenges to such support?

Dr. Muse

I had the opportunity to serve as president or chancellor of three universities over a period of about 20 years. For 15 years prior to that I worked in academic administration. So my comments will be focused on a composite of all of those experiences in terms of engaged scholarship. But I have to tell you my philosophy about engaged scholarship was shaped much earlier.

As a young boy, I became captivated by the sport of baseball. I read every book I could find about how to play the game. But I learned very quickly that in order to play the game I had to venture onto the field, and that is where the real learning took place, in practice, and this shaped my educational philosophy. As a student I found that I learned as much, or more, from my out-of-class experiences than I did from inside the classroom. So as a faculty member later — my field was business administration — I used in-class exercises like the case method and assigned projects in order to help students implement or learn more about what they had been taught. As a business school dean I established internships for students, brought practitioners from the business world into the classroom to teach, and established one of the first small business centers in the nation.

As president I encouraged all academic programs, with admittedly mixed success, to provide opportunities for their students to apply what they had learned. I’m very proud of one of the examples, the Rural Studio, implemented by the School of Architecture at Auburn in the Black Belt of Alabama, and you will have an opportunity to visit that as part of this program. I came to conclude that there are three very distinct stages to the learning process. I call them my Triple A’s: acquisition, assessment and application. Our traditional focus has been on the acquisition stage, where we help students acquire knowledge they need to know through lecture, demonstration and other methods. This is usually done by an individual professor who is responsible for the second phase of assessment, determining to what extent the student has gained an understanding of what is important.

The third stage, that of application, which is central to certain disciplines like medicine, but in too many disciplines is what we get to if we have time. The world of higher education is changing rapidly. I believe that these changes will bring engaged scholarship and the application stage to the forefront. And I will say more about that in our discussion.

Dean Francko 

Thank you.

Dr. Wilson 

Bill, thank you for your remarks. I would like to come at this a little differently. I actually assumed the presidency [at Morgan State] because of my career in outreach scholarship and engagement. I want to give you some sense of how that happened. I had a traditional tenure in higher education until I got to Rutgers-Camden in roughly 1988. When I arrived at Rutgers-Camden, it was one of the more challenging urban areas in the United States. As I walked the campus, it was truly an enclave. There was an understanding that Rutgers was in Camden but not of Camden. They saw this tremendous disconnect. The provost and I had a conversation that the institution would not only be in Camden but could also be of Camden, and could also extend its tentacles into south Jersey and bring about needed change.

It was at that point that I began to understand the transformation that could occur when an institution looked beyond its boundaries and beyond itself and began to challenge the faculty and others to begin to think about their scholarship in ways that would actually bring about that transformation. And while having the time of my life at Rutgers-Camden, my telephone rang and, of course, it was the gentleman to my right, Bill Muse, who was president at Auburn and who had come to Auburn with the same kind of perspective in terms of the role of an institution that I had been a part of at Rutgers-Camden. Bill convinced me he was also about extending the tentacles of Auburn across this state, particularly in the Alabama Black Belt, and to work with faculty who, if they followed along, their research and their scholarship would count in the tenure and promotion process. For a very long period of time, seven years to be exact, we worked assiduously with the faculty, with the Senate, with others at the university to bring about a reform of the tenure and promotion process at Auburn to reflect the fact that if faculty actually engaged in this research and applied it, they would be promoted in the tenure and promotion process. With that kind of backdrop, let me just say a word or two about what I do now and then I’ll bring this to a close.

I am the president at Morgan State University in Baltimore, and for those of you who don’t know much about Morgan State, we are an institution of roughly 8,200 students. We have a number of “firsts” associated with us. We are No. 1 in the United States in producing African American electrical engineers. We are No. 3 in the United States in producing African American engineers overall. By the way, North Carolina A&T is No. 1, Georgia Tech No. 2, and we are No. 3. We are No. 3 in the United States in producing African American doctoral recipients, Howard University being No. 1, the University of Michigan No. 2, and we’re No. 3. When I came on board, the institution, much like Rutgers-Camden, found itself having paid a whole lot of attention to producing those graduates to lead the nation in innovation, but had not paid a lot of attention to how the institution could transform the area where the institution is located, in northeast Baltimore, and that area too was beset with a number of challenges.

So for an entire year we engaged in a strategic planning process to think about how this research institution, as it continues to grow and mature, would not just do things for the sake of becoming just another research institution. How could we do it with applied scholarship in mind? We have introduced at Morgan what we are calling the “Morgan Community Mile.” We have drawn a circle around the campus extending a mile in all directions and that’s going to be our focal point for the next 10 years. We are now conducting an extensive analysis of everything within that mile: unemployment, nature of small businesses, educational attainment. We are looking at innovation, the amount of crime. And we are bringing those results back to our faculty and saying, if you join us in bringing about reform in northeast Baltimore, with Morgan as the anchor institution, when you are up for tenure and promotion, it is going to count, and you can come back at any point in your life and look at what your work has led to in terms of the difference in the lives of the people that it has made. I have much more to say about that, but I will stop there.

Dr. Todd

I’m eager to hear that. I’ll give a personal story about why I thought engagement was important. I had been in business about 18 years when I started the presidency at UK. My wife and I are native Kentuckians from rural Kentucky. We started first grade together and cared about the state. I made a comment when I interviewed that I did not want to be the president of a university, I wanted to be the president of this university, partly because I thought that the University of Kentucky could change Kentucky, and it needed it. Later in my first year I came up with a term I called “Kentucky Uglies.” It just hit me one day when I was attending a health conference and I looked at the statistics and I said, “This is ugly. If we don’t face up to it. If we don’t count this stuff. If we don’t measure this stuff, we’re never going to solve it.”

We did a bus tour the next year to talk about our research challenges. I looked through a book the other night and there must have been 100 headlines about that trip, and all of them had “Kentucky Uglies” in the headline. It at least drew attention to the things that were holding us back. We are leaders in lung cancer, heart conditions, poor oral health, and so forth. When I took the job, it appeared to me the university was already acting like it was a big research university, stiff-arming the K-12 system and not doing much, not working within the shadows of our dormitories on any of the problems that were eating at our city, with the gap between them and the students in our population. I made the comment that we needed a higher purpose. We’d been challenged by the governor to be a top 20 public research university. And we could do that. Let’s just hire a bunch of scientists and engineers and let’s go after the federal grants. Let’s forget about Arts and Sciences, the Arts and some of these other colleges and we can be a top 20 measurably by 2020. But we would have failed the state of Kentucky. We needed to change Kentucky. I’d like to see our best minds working on our toughest problems. That attitude, and I think you hear it from these two presidents — it helps when it comes from the President’s Office, it makes people at least listen. It’s unfortunate, but that’s the way it works. I realized that we were a land-grant university. We had an ag-extension network that had done a tremendous job. I call them our trusted ambassadors. Everybody knew them. They were out there and they were doing agricultural and family nutrition very well, but I thought they were undervalued for what they could do. We had a conference for all the ag agents my first year and I asked six of our deans, from business and engineering, health care and so forth, to speak to that group of agents about how they could use their network for research in their fields.

After that, the six deans lined up at the table, and the biggest line was behind the Fine Arts dean. The rural ag agents were saying, “We need arts in our communities.” And I am proud to say we have probably the only fine arts ag agents in the country. Right now I think we have four, and the counties pay for them. I told the agents, you can be a conduit for us. You don’t have to understand everything we do, but you have to know how to make contact on behalf of a need in your community. Once I got talking about it, several people popped up and wanted to do something. And then I figured out we ought to put this together, because I can’t handle it. Presidents have about that much time [small space between thumb and forefinger] to spend on anything. Many of you know Phil Greasley. Phil is doing well. As many of you know, he’s had a health problem. I put him as associate vice president of engagement. We defined what we called the Commonwealth Collaboratives.

I told the faculty to send me a proposal about some problem that Kentucky has where you feel that your research can have an impact. I’m only going to give you $10,000 for in-state travel and part of a graduate student. Find something you can measure — that’s my engineering and business background — so we can see whether we’re making progress or not. We got 47 proposals in that effort. Phil oversaw those. I’ll get into the assessment of all those in just a few minutes. They took on problems like pre-term births, which is 18% in my home county, and they got it down to 4%. They took on methamphetamine training for police forces. They took on tobacco-free communities to try to rid a tobacco-generating state of some of the lung cancer issues that we’ve had. They took on real problems.

Pragmatically, there were two things that drove me. One, I thought it made sense and that people would want to do it; two, we needed to be covering the state politically, because all the regional universities were vying for cash just like we were, and if we were the University of Lexington, that didn’t make much sense. Even the ag network we had was a bit discounted because “that’s extension, that’s not really UK,” it’d be here anyway. And so we now have stories to tell all the politicians when we go to their local counties about things we have done in their region using our research and using their people. It was an effort to try to get some of the faculty not engaged anymore in research reengaged, to take on something that they felt in their heart and soul they would like to be involved in. That has worked to some extent as well, but I just think it was the right thing to do, not only for a land-grant university but as you have already heard, for any university to get out and use our knowledge to solve problems that inflict our people.

Dr. Bailey

I would just add one thing to that. I think as a president, because the public is one of your constituents, you see issues out there. You see problems. Pretty soon you begin to realize, as all of these gentlemen said, that you have human capital resources in your university that can help deal with those. Couple of mentions here about the Alabama Black Belt. I grew up in the Alabama Black Belt, so I am well aware of the issues there. Coming back to the University, you know what those problems are. The issues are in your state and you realize that you have talent, you have talented resources. You may not have all the money in the world, but you have a lot of brainpower that you can bring to bear on problems, things that other people can’t. Once you see that it becomes your responsibility. It’s easier to see in some places than others. When I was at Missouri-Kansas City, we straddled the line between what was the historically African American community and the white community in Kansas City. We understood that we needed good relationships with both groups for us to be successful. It was real apparent from our physical location the kind of things we needed to do.

Now we sit at the northern and western edge of the Black Belt and Auburn, of course, at the eastern part. You understand that while the state has made much progress, that part of the state has not made that progress. You understand that as a citizen of that area, you owe the area something. I think all of these gentlemen will understand there are faculty members waiting to be asked and waiting to be engaged. So you see that as your responsibility going forward.

Dean Francko

Gentlemen, you touched on two really important points, as I was listening to what you said. First of all, universities playing a central role in the region in which they are located. It can be a mile away from campus. It might be the whole state, but having a vested interest in improving things that are going on in the environs of the university. You also talked about outreach and getting involved with folks outside the university to make significant changes. But as we know one of the significant things in engagement scholarship is moving from the concept of outreach to the concept of engagement, where you are actually partnering with folks in the community and they are active agents with faculty, staff and students to effect those changes. Do you have any tips on how best to accomplish that? I think some of you touched on that. And secondly, you touched on the notion of making this work count among faculty and students, that it counts for promotion, that it counts for tenure, that it counts in evaluation. Any tips on how you have done that as your respective institutions moved to engagement and developed a culture of rigor?

Dr. Wilson

I have relied upon a strategy that I developed at Auburn. We went all over the state and had statewide conversations. We invited into those conversations various constituents. We asked two or three basic questions: What are some of the challenges you are facing in this region of the state? Are there programs coming from the institution that perhaps have been in place for 20-25 years that are not working to meet those challenges? What is it we can take back to the institution in order to excite our faculty about working with you to identify the challenges you have raised? That strategy worked very, very well for us when I was at Auburn to produce this sense of engagement, not just the sense that we are the university, we know it all, you are the community, you know nothing, so to speak, and therefore we are coming to treat you. Engagement is just the opposite. You have a series of challenges that the community understands as well as, if not better than, the university. The university has certain kinds of expertise. So how do you bring those two things together and make them work for the betterment of all?

I used the same strategy when I was chancellor of the University of Wisconsin Extension and the University of Wisconsin Colleges. We went all over that state engaging all constituents in the same kind of way. At the end of the day the constituents felt that their voices were heard. Whatever came about as a result of that conversation in terms of a strategic plan it was with them in mind. The faculty felt that they had a part to play in that. So that worked very well there. Then at Morgan I do something a little bit different. I actually have community walks. I walk the neighborhoods at 4 o’clock in the afternoon, 6 o’clock at night. I have residents gather in their homes and we have coffee and tea and we talk about what the challenges are on this block, what are the challenges in a three- or four-block area. I take faculty members with me so they can hear those things directly. When I got to Morgan, the neighborhoods didn’t trust the university at all because they had seen the university develop. The construction projects were enormous, $500 million in construction. They are seeing all of these wonderful buildings go up but nothing in terms of how they are seeing the world. I recognized that, so now we have the great support of all those neighborhood associations. The faculty who are part of those walks, who are part of those conversations, they understand as well how to work with the communities in order to promote the kind of reform that I spoke about earlier.

Dr. Todd

I want to take up on one thing that President Bailey said. You actually had faculty out there who want to do this and think about it and had contacts. When I got in office, I said I’m going to take the lid off the place. Get out there and find something that you want to do in the community and let’s see what it looks like.

It was enough that we had to form the vice provost’s office. After we let the lid off, if some of them don’t jump, we’ll have to figure out what to do with them. But we had a lot of jumpers. The other piece was that we ended up putting up a website where you could go to any county in Kentucky, click on your county and it would show how many engagement contacts we had in that county and the telephone number for each one of those contacts. They would either call Phil Greasley’s office and get somebody if they didn’t know anybody, or they could call the project director. We did write a lot of community proposals with areas. They don’t know how to submit proposals, how to do budgets — some of them do better than others. In the eight years we had this going we put in $470,000 — $10,000 a year for 47 of these collaboratives. They brought in $51 million in funding.

We tracked it every year. So when you get to promotion and tenure, there is a real concern. When I sent the first request for proposals out, I only sent it to tenured professors because I didn’t want to capture some poor assistant professor doing something that was really great, I thought, but the committee didn’t think so. Some of the assistants got involved anyway and have done very well. We did put through a process of following the Michigan State model of trying to measure engagement, to make it a quantifiable plan. Part of that was the map, part of that was counting the grants and getting the statistics. We have moving through the Faculty Senate a promotion and tenure policy now, but I haven’t tracked it in the last year. I retired a year ago, so I’ve been traveling. I hope it gets through. It had a lot of momentum when we left. People realize we are making some significant progress.

The last thing I would mention is about giving people access. We started a network called the University of Kentucky Advocacy Network where we chose people throughout the state, many of them not alumni of UK but they were leaders in their community and they wanted attached to the university in some way. We would call that group together to campus once a year to tell them what we were looking for, especially in terms of the Legislature. We would have a meeting of that group in our state capital the day before the first legislative day and pump them up in the morning, have them have all of their individual legislators to come over for lunch. We had a really good turnout. We would always let a couple of students speak and they would win them over pretty quickly.

That Advocacy Network heard about the types of stories we had. Stories are powerful. We were on our trip and this hospital director stood up and said, “Your health care group came down and trained our local physicians how to deal with stroke. We had a 35-year-old have a stroke last week. Thanks to that training she was treated and back to work within two weeks.” The Advocacy Network did help us get the word out. Then they could point to that map and that map would help them find a contact point. So that’s one of the ways we did it.”

Dr. Muse

My experience has been that for significant engagement to take place on the part of faculty two conditions have to exist. First, there has to be the opportunity for engagement, and second, it has to count. When I went to Auburn, a land-grant university, Auburn had a well-developed system through cooperative extension of connecting to local communities. But unfortunately it was limited to agriculture and related disciplines. In almost every case there was very little student involvement in that as well. I was very fortunate, as David indicated earlier, in attracting him to come to Auburn. He was the first vice president for outreach the university had. He worked very diligently in creating those opportunities, opportunities for disciplines throughout the university, not just agriculture, to engage communities all over the state. It was a tough battle but we got engagement to count.

At many universities, particularly those that are research oriented, left to their own preferences, faculty would count only articles published in refereed journals. We cannot afford to do that as universities today. We could not afford to do it many years ago. We’ve got to develop that constituency, if we are to have the kind of work that is done by faculty when they engage communities and help them understand what they know about problems they’re dealing with. When they engage their own students in helping to solve that problem, they create tremendous support for the university that is very important, particularly in terms of attracting state funding. You have to have leadership from the top. You have to create the opportunity and you have to make sure it counts.

Dr. Bailey

Just two quick things. I want to emphasize what President Wilson said. I think you can’t overemphasize listening to community members. They have insights you can’t get any other way. As presidents, it’s our inclination to talk, but the truth is that’s the situation where we need to be listeners lot more than talkers. I think the strategies he mentioned there are really right on the money. Same thing is true with tenure and promotion guidelines. My previous university, Texas Tech, just revised those, and Valerie Paton [vice president for planning and assessment] can tell you in great detail about the struggles and successes of doing that. You do have a constituency among your faculty who are committed to this and being able to empower that constituency. And by the way, you also have a significant number of your students who want to be engaged as well, and I think empowering them is really a key thing. At some other point, Valerie can give you all of the details of the recent revisions of the tenure and promotion guidelines.

Dean Francko

Thank you, gentlemen. We have about 10 more minutes yet. I want to give us time to focus on maybe one of the key questions that all of us are interested in. What do you see as the future of engaged scholarship, both within the United States but also internationally, where many of our projects are moving? What do you see are some of the future benefits, challenges, whatever, in the last 10 minutes?

Dr. Muse

I think there are two major changes occurring in our society that are going to bring engaged scholarship to a more central position. The first is that of technological change and the second is economic pressures. The ability today to present information online in an interesting and engaging way is going to move us very rapidly in the first stage of education, the acquisition of knowledge, to the online or video disk stage. I fully believe a major part of that acquisition stage in higher education is going to take place in that manner.

That then pushes the university into a counseling and assessment center mode, a different role for the faculty in assessing whether students have met certain objectives or standards as to what they know. The stage that comes to the forefront very quickly is that of the application stage. You’ve mastered this body of knowledge we say is important. We’ve made an assessment. We are convinced you know that. Now can you apply it? Can you apply it in the laboratory? Can you apply it in the field? I see emerging for almost every discipline the idea of the teaching hospital for the medical school, a lab school for education. Everyone’s got to have that constituency where they are much engaged in helping students understand the discipline that they’ve taught them. A major part of that is not just information that relates to employment or job but in preparing students to be good citizens. That’s a major role for colleges of liberal arts to engage in.

Dr. Todd

I’m going to touch on an area that some don’t think is engagement. It’s economic development and jobs. When I interviewed for [the presidency of UK], one faculty member said I scared her to death because I talked about entrepreneurship and economic development. She said, “I’m in the philosophy department; you could ruin these kids minds.” I said, “Well, we need to have a philosophical conversation about the future of our state. If we don’t change the economy around here, coal, tobacco, whiskey and horses aren’t going to be our savior. We track economic development, and it is a form of engagement. You have to inform potential investors out there to put money up to start companies and to hire your graduates. You have to involve the lawyers, CPAs, the professional community, who’ll help those people found their company. You also have to let the lid off of your faculty, to let them know it’s OK to be involved. We got a first-year dean when I was teaching at UK. I had started a company with these patents I had. He called me to the office, and asked me “How can you be a professor and have a company?” I said, “If I was still at MIT and I didn’t have a company I’d be called into the office and asked ‘Why don’t you have a company?’ So I’ll leave if I have to” and the next year I did.

But I let the lid off when I got back [as president]. We track start-up companies at UK now and we have 80 in the Lexington area now that brought in $67 million worth of outside venture capital last year. That’s an indication that they’ve got something people will invest in, because there’s not a lot of venture capital in Kentucky. You talk about international, we’re going to have to let these kids know they’re going to be working internationally. They’re going to have to take more foreign language and learn more about other cultures than in the past. I think higher education is the solution to that, and we have to work with the industries that are out there. That’s a form of engagement I think is going to become more and more important.

Dr. Wilson

I’ll just piggy-back on that. I think we have come a long way in 25 years in terms of outreach and engagement. I like to think around 1995-1997 we had the support of our presidents in driving reform on our campuses. I think we were trying to convince faculty, particularly the faculty in the discovery camp, that we were not dumbing-down the university as we promoted the scholarship of application. I think we have come a long way in 25 years, so much so that for me personally it’s very hard for me to take seriously a major research university today that does not have outreach and engagement at the forefront of its agenda [audience applause]. I realize I might very well not be speaking for the entire chancellorial or presidential group in this commentary, but it just seems to me that we’ve come so far in two and a half decades that we are not having the same conversation today. I think the future of outreach/engagement is pretty much centered in two camps. One camp may be somewhat of an unlikely camp. This is the way I would characterize it.

What we are seeing in this country right now is a shifting of the population. We are seeing a huge demographic shift in the country. We are seeing the largest growth in the population occurring in the minority sector —particularly the African American and Latino population. Those populations are the least well-represented populations in college degree attainment. Outreach and engagement is going to be absolutely critical to ensure those pockets of the population, that are the fastest growing pockets that are not as well prepared to enter colleges and universities, are well prepared.

As Lee and Bill and President Bailey have indicated, I don’t think the country is going to be competitive long term [unless] the major research universities make a different kind of argument about outreach and engagement. We really do need to get out there and connect with these communities and connect with those populations. If we don’t, then who is going to be on our campuses in 15-20 years? So it’s almost self-serving on the one hand, but it’s also about national competitiveness on the other. The second camp is what I see as a dwindling of state support of public universities. Increasingly as I go to Annapolis to argue for support for my institution and others, we hear, “What are you doing for the state of Maryland? What are you doing for the city of Baltimore? What are you doing for my district?” It has to go beyond simply enrolling students from that area. They are looking for real concrete things that you are doing to tackle some of the intractable problems in the state and the district and the city. If you cannot make a convincing case, that money is going to go to transportation, it’s going to go to corrections, it’s going to go to those other areas at the table making a more convincing argument. For public universities, in light of dwindling state support, it’s in our best interest to sharpen that argument and make sure that our universities are indeed anchor institutions in our state, in our cities, and our regions.

Dr. Bailey

I couldn’t agree with your more. I think that point is really well taken. Increasingly our states expect us to be anchors of economic development and solvers of community problems, and those two things aren’t unrelated. If you think about it, much of economic development requires a highly educated workforce, it requires areas with health care, it requires a lot of the things that we as institutions can either deliver or spur.

When I was in Kansas City several years ago as chancellor of Missouri-Kansas City, one of the interesting things I found was that the Kauffman Foundation, a large local foundation, supported two broad initiatives, one was entrepreneurship, and there was a real focus on developing new companies, developing startups, and teaching entrepreneurship as part of a college of business. They also supported K-12 education and STEM disciplines, especially in districts with large numbers of under-represented kids. When you saw those at first you might think they were unrelated, but they really are not. You are not going to get much of the first without the second. The Kauffman Foundation understood that these two things go hand in hand.

One of the most important things we will do in becoming anchors for economic development is help with the education of our workforce and outreach in that way. Increasingly, as President Wilson said, it’s not just our obligation, it’s what’s expected of us. It’s not just what we expect of ourselves or what we want to do, but what the states expect for us. So to be successful I think we have to develop good strategies for meeting those expectations.

Dean Francko

Thank you. Well, I don’t know about anybody else but I’d like to keep talking. Unfortunately, we’ve run out of time for this part of the plenary. Could we give our panel a round of applause? Thank you. Thank you very much.

Editor’s Note

On October 31, 2012, after two months on the job as the 37th president of the University, President Bailey announced his resignation, citing the illness of his wife. The next day, the Board of Trustees appointed long-time University of Alabama Executive Vice President and Provost Judy Bonner as president, the first woman to hold that position. Dr. Bailey, a respected sociolinguist, will remain as a member of the faculty in the English Department.

The Future of Morality: What Role Should Colleges and Universities Play?

Stephen F. Black

Dr. Carolyn Dahl, Dean, College of Continuing Studies

Good morning. Thank you for being here so bright and early. Some of you in this room have a crazy idea. That is that students can change the world. In fact, most of you may have this idea. Many of you have invested your personal and professional energies in this notion. You get up every morning determined to make it happen, to make progress toward this crazy preposterous idea.

Stephen Foster Black, our keynote speaker this morning, shares this idea with you. Stephen Black is the personification of engaged learning, of that powerful idea that learners, scholars, and communities armed with a shared purpose can and do change the world. What an honor for us to spend the morning with him.

Stephen Black is the grandson of United States Supreme Court Justice Hugo L. Black. He grew up in New Mexico after most of his family left our state in the 1950s and ’60s following his grandfather’s controversial role in civil rights decisions, including Brown v. Board of Education. Despite growing up over 1,000 miles from here, from a very early age Stephen has always been connected to Alabama through the legacy of his family’s commitment to public service. Stephen Black received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania, where he graduated magna cum laude, and his juris doctor from Yale Law School. Following graduation from law school, he returned to Alabama to join the Birmingham law firm of Maynard, Cooper & Gale. After three years with that firm, he was called to public service, serving briefly as assistant to the governor of Alabama, focusing on policy and economic development.

During his experience in the governor’s office, Stephen was struck by the enthusiasm of the thousands of students he encountered when speaking around the state. Stephen then came to the University of Alabama and convinced the president and provost to create the Center for Ethics and Social Responsibility and a related statewide organization, Impact Alabama, also housed at the center.

Through the work of the center, students are supported in developing a personal definition of moral and civic maturity. The center is dedicated to making the values and skills of citizenship a hallmark of a University of Alabama education through authentic experiences in communities that, as Ambassador James Joseph framed for us yesterday, make the plight of others our own. Impact Alabama is a statewide service-learning effort, unique nationally, a nonprofit staffed by 30 full-time college graduates who have provided more than 3,000 college students with opportunities to participate in structured service-learning projects that promote learning and leadership development.

Since the Ethics Center and Impact Alabama began, students and staff have provided more than 3,600 hours of service to the Tuscaloosa Pre-K initiative. Through Documenting Justice (see Table 1) they have written and produced films focused on subjects of social justice of both state and international significance. They have provided advanced placement in science and math for high school students throughout the state. They have prepared tax returns for more then 17,000 working families, claiming $31 million in refunds and saving approximately $4.7 million in commercial preparation fees. And through FocusFirst (see Table 1) they have provided comprehensive vision care to more than 175,000 children. In 2008, Black received the prestigious Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Community Health Leaders award for his work with FocusFirst. This national award is given annually to individuals who demonstrate creativity and commitment in addressing society’s most pressing health issues. Ten recipients were chosen from among 800 nominations.

The Birmingham News says of Stephen Black: “Black is bright and energetic and he speaks persuasively on such broad issues as tax, constitution and education reform. Black exhibits a new spirit of leadership that Alabama desperately needs.” What I predict you will say about Stephen Black is “Wow! Amen!” Dear colleagues, it’s my great honor to present Stephen Foster Black.

Stephen Black told a plenary audience at NOSC 2012 that student civic engagement is essential to a college education and to the nation’s progress.
Stephen Black told a plenary audience at NOSC
2012 that student civic engagement is essential to
a college education and to the nation’s progress.


Thank you, and what an incredible introduction. That sets the bar way too high. Have you been listening to the news about the debates from the presidential campaigns? They’re so worried about underperforming they’re acting as if they’re going to be lucky to make it through with complete sentences. That’s the way I feel after that introduction.

In the short time I have I’m going to talk fast because I’ve got a lot to say before my time is up. At the risk of saying things we all know, I still think it’s worthwhile to step back and go back to the reason why any of us do work tied to universities relating to communities. With all the talented and educated people in the room, there’s a risk of developing such an expertise and focus on one specific area that every once in a while we need to lift our heads up, step back, breathe deeply and acknowledge again why what we do is so important.

Reason to Care about Citizenship 

There is a reason for colleges to care about citizenship: They’re entrusted with the lives of young human beings growing into adults with a moral and ethically engaged life in front of them. I don’t think there’s ever been a time when there was a greater call on universities to be thoughtful about their responsibilities. I would argue that we face a bigger challenge right now in regard to the future of ethical and engaged citizenship than at any time in our country’s past.

I want to talk to you about the biggest single challenge confronting ethical progress today. And let me be clear, I’m defining progress in a way that everyone can agree, meaning a non-ideological definition. The idea, as corny as it sounds, a conception from our founders, the idea of an America as a country worth dying for that gives you the right and the liberty and the privilege of caring about your children, working hard, having some sense of commitment to your community, and, based on those ingredients, having a rational expectation that your children will realize a better life than you had and your grandchildren a better life than them. That is what I refer to as the transcendent trajectory of progress of our nation. In this incredible experiment in democracy, as messy as it is, the biggest challenge before us is here right now, live and in living color, in a way we’ve never seen before, a bigger threat than terrorism, another banking crisis, bigger than a double-dip recession. Bigger than all that, I think, is fundamentally what happens to a nation whose citizens year after year become less and less personally engaged with people unlike themselves. Sort of Robert Putnam moving forward, a whole body of scholarship and concern over what happens in an increasingly competitive world economy where more Americans and all kinds of Americans are working longer than ever before, at least trying to find the hours to work longer than ever before.

Demographic Changes 

When you couple the phenomenon of fewer and fewer people engaged with others unlike themselves with demographic changes and the reality of a majority suburban nation, the majority of Americans don’t have any sense of the challenges to citizenship that comes with these conditions. Fifteen years ago marked that point for us, the first time in our history that a majority of us lived in the suburbs, which means we have added onto our daily burden, in addition to longer work hours, commuting. The drive goes up. There are some jobs in the suburbs but the majority are not. To realize their understanding of the American dream, more and more Americans are suburbanizing further and further out. Buying a home with a lawn and some trees puts them on the highway more hours every year.

Articles written 15 years ago about Atlanta’s response to the longest average daily commute in the western world referred to it as “the revolt of the commuters” —beautiful loft projects coming up in downtown Atlanta. We’ve got some great ones in Birmingham, too, and there’s some cool loft projects in downtown Tuscaloosa. Beautiful story, but statistically an anomaly.

We continue to be a more suburbanizing nation.

If you lay a demographic track over the highway system of America, you’ll see Americans continuing to segregate themselves in $30,000 to $40,000 a year income brackets along the highway systems of America, spending more time in the car, more time at work, and less time engaged in relationships with people, especially those unlike themselves or in relationships aimed at causes and purposes beyond their own family’s immediate needs.

Rotary, Kiwanis, Lion’s clubs, 4-H, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, PTA … those organizations have two things in common: One is they’ve had a dramatic and positive impact across generations in our nation, and two, they’ve all declined dramatically in the last two generations. And you think to yourself: Fewer mothers showing up for their children’s PTA meetings than 30 years ago … do they just not care about whether their kids and their schools thrive? And you have in your head: “No idiot, that’s not it. It’s because they’re working.” And in fact you would be right.

In fact the vast majority of women would love to be at their school’s PTA, but they are working every hour they can find because they want to feed their children. And I think that’s an understandable perspective to have. But it also means fewer of us are engaged in projects beyond our own immediate needs. As I tell college students all over the nation, whether you are Republican or Democrat, the building block, the core of ethical citizenship, the ability to decide things well on behalf of other human beings, the ability to invest your own time and talent to the betterment of a community or society — is compassion.

And not as a sound bite, as an idea that you as a human being develop, or fail to develop, that allows you the gift of seeing the world through someone else’s eyes, of being able to feel what it would be like to lead someone else’s life. Fortunately for us all, it’s human nature to have compassion, if sparked properly by putting people in situations where they’re exposed to others unlike themselves in real-life vulnerable situations where they can gain insight and return to a safe place to reflect, to read about the structural basis for the situation they just witnessed, and you start to see the flames of compassion sparking. Unfortunately, statistically, this is happening for fewer Americans and we see it play out in dramatic ways.

I remember, you all remember, Katrina coming through. I remember the images after the water broke through the levies and rose. Do you remember the images from news helicopters, of hundreds and then thousands over that two-day period holding up signs, “Help,” “Drop Food,” “Need Water”? The semester after that I took a sociology of religion course at Emory. The professor brought in a survey, a three-night national phone survey. It was fascinating to read. Perspectives on all sorts of issues. We’re turning through this thing, and we get to a page where one of the questions said, “Did these images sadden you?” And one of the students across from me, an African-American Ph.D. student, noticed the breakdown of answers by race. And the black column was 99 percent, which in my mind I think the 1 percent didn’t hear the question right. Of course they were saddened at the images, at least 99% of African Americans were. But only 54 percent of white Americans were.

Next question, “Did these images anger you?” Answer: 99 percent of African Americans were angered but only 52% of white Americans were. There was an awkward silence in the room at this point, and the professor throws the paper down, crosses her arms, and says, “Do you see? This is a racist, cold country.” And I remember thinking, “Yeah, there are racists walking around, but I don’t think it’s the 48 percent in that poll. I think that’s something different.” I raised my hand, reluctantly, and started explaining, and the professor added more and we decided to do more research over the next week and come back. Partly from more structured focus group research in the following week, it became clear what was being measured in that initial poll. It turned out that as a considerable majority of white, educated, middle- and upper-income God-fearing Americans saw that scenario unfold, many of them, if they were being honest, had this in mind: “Of course I feel bad for those people. I don’t want to see anyone get hurt. I don’t want to see anyone die. But let’s be honest: I saw that damn storm rolling through the Gulf of Mexico four days earlier. My cousins drove to Birmingham. I have friends in New Orleans. They were in Dallas two days before the storm came in. I feel bad for those people, but they could have taken a little bit more personal responsibility, planned ahead, and driven out of town.”

Now will someone tell me the factual problem here? It turns out that millions of Americans, the majority of them working at least 40 hours a week, don’t have cars. And I remember walking out of that class thinking: “That’s so fundamentally a failure of college. If we can’t have our students leave with a higher education degree in a state like Alabama, where, at that point they’re better educated than 90 percent of the state, without a basic factual awareness of what it is to live like the majority of Americans live, which right now is paycheck to paycheck with negative savings, higher credit card debt than ever before, and for millions of Americans, without a car.”

Those images came to my mind a couple weeks ago with a recent popularized — not just from a presidential candidate — conception of a lazy 47% who don’t pay taxes. And it becomes easy for anyone who pays taxes to dismiss them and not have to consider any of the details or the life circumstances, because it certainly is easier to think: “These people don’t care, they don’t pay. They don’t take responsibility for themselves.” It’s a little bit more shocking when it’s a candidate for the president of the United States. Whether you are a Republican or Democrat, whether you go back to Reagan or either of the Bushes or President Clinton, we can all acknowledge that 20 percent of that 47% are seniors on fixed income who have been paying into the system their entire lives, and 60 percent of the remaining are working as many hours as they can find, most of them full time, receiving their earned income tax credit, which President Reagan doubled, because, until three months ago, there was bipartisan consensus across the nation that a morally responsible nation supports low-income families based on their willingness to work.

Immoral to Leave College Ignorant of How the Majority Live

The bare facts of the life lived by the majority of Americans are something that it is immoral to leave out of a higher education. And it’s not enough to lecture about it. I can speak to 600 college students and put on the chalkboard every category that America is one, two or three in the industrialized world, and it’s a bunch of categories. We are in a blessed nation: self-made millionaires, self-made billionaires, copyrights, patents, women’s access to higher education, women’s access to entrepreneurial ownership opportunities. What a beautifully free, productive, wealthy, advanced nation we are. But also on that list we must include the infant mortality rate, which in the last three years has put us 28th. The state you’re in right now has a between 20 and 25 percent functionally illiterate adult population.

I say that to students and I know many are thinking to themselves, “Twenty percent illiterate. Gosh, we got a lot of lazy, dumb people around.” And sometimes a hand will go up and someone will say “Twenty percent. I don’t think you’re lying to me, but where are they?” And I feel it’s very important to let them know they’re all around you, that they’re seeing one a day at least. There are a lot of complicated nuances about growing up to be an adult in America and sometimes graduating from public school functionally illiterate. But I assure you for the vast majority of them, laziness isn’t anywhere in the building, and most of them have been working every job they can find since they were 15.

Now, community engagement, service-learning, the scholarship of engagement, taking seriously the role of ethical developers by connecting colleges and universities to communities of all different kinds meaningfully and respectfully … . I think that’s beautiful. I want to add one other part to that. I don’t know if any of you have been thinking of celebrating this young generation for being charitable. Regardless of ideology, I think anyone would admit we have problems in our health care system. Most people agree it shouldn’t be OK to have 48 million people without health insurance, the vast majority of families below the middle not receiving primary care and very few children seeing pediatricians at all.

It occurred to me nine years ago that vision care is one aspect of that failure. There’s not a state that any of you are from that comprehensively provides vision care to children before they get to public school. The reason is you can’t find them in very big numbers until they get to public school. And it occurred to me: “Aha, what a beautiful opportunity for service-learning. Let’s see how serious campuses are about committing to changing things in their communities. This is doable, long term.” (see Table 1)

Screened 4,600 Children

In the first year I convinced seven beautifully engaged, thoughtful professors to make vision screening part of their course. And I hired two college graduates for $1,000 a month to defer law school to help start this. We got $4,000 cameras to take pictures of children’s eyes and we went to low-income daycare centers and Head Starts and in the first year we screened 4,600 2-, 3- and 4-year-olds in Alabama, and 12 percent of them had an eye problem that no one had diagnosed. We started building a network (see Table 1) of eye care professionals who agreed to see them for free if they didn’t have insurance. Most of them we could enroll in All Kids [a state and federally funded public health program]. That was eight years ago. Last year, with a staff of 30 employees and 20 campuses around the state we screened 33,000 2-, 3- and 4-year-olds at 1,100 low-income daycare centers in all 67 counties of one of the poorest states in America. The entire thing is done by people under the age of 23. No other state in America has this. And it’s all campus-based and the majority of the students end up in a classroom thinking, “I love what I’ve just done, that’s pretty cool.”

But what are we doing? We need to engage 18-year-old volunteers to provide basic vision care? Why, because it’s the 3-year-old’s fault they don’t have a pediatrician? We literally found 14 kids last year with cataracts in one or both eyes. They’d be permanently blind within two years. But we have, the way you have on your campuses, a generation of 19- and 20-year-olds who will set their alarm for 6 o’clock in the morning, pick up that camera, drive to a rural county to find a daycare center you can’t see on MapQuest, and go into the living room of a trailer where six kids are sitting on the floor to set that camera up to take pictures of their eyes because they believe in their gut those kids deserve health care like any other kid. Now I love that experience for our students.

The Belief They Can’t Learn

There’s another side to the growth of engaged learning and scholarship that’s not just service based. I would argue one of the biggest challenges facing public education in America is the lack of belief by the majority of Americans that low-income children can learn at all at a high level, that at a certain point it becomes irrational, decade after decade, to pour money into something that doesn’t change.

I get that feeling. I’ve heard it from people honestly giving it to me. I promise you the majority of Alabamians don’t see the high-end result everyone is hoping for. And the most angering thing that happens is, in Alabama we have 4.5 million people, and we have 11 torchbearer schools. That’s a high poverty, yet high-performing school. So on the one hand, you think to yourself, “Are you kidding me? There are 4.5 million people in this state and you’re telling me there are only 11 schools in low-income neighborhoods that are doing a good job? That’s a disaster.”

And I would say, “You’re right. That’s a disaster.” But I think it deserves to be seen from the other side as well. There are, after all, 11. There’s E.D. Nixon Elementary School in Montgomery, where 99 percent of the kids are on free or reduced lunches and 85 percent are from single-parent households. Five years ago it was on a state takeover list. Their fourth graders were scoring in the 14th percentile. A new principal was hired, a special woman. There are 32 teachers at E.D. Nixon Elementary School. Anyone who knows anything about Alabama knows we have a strong teacher’s union. It’s hard to fire teachers. Twenty-two of her teachers were replaced within two years. And when people ask how did you do that in Alabama, she says: “I made it so miserable for them to be in my building, most of them left on their own. They didn’t buy my story and they wanted to get out.” I asked her what was her story. “Every child in the building will learn at a high level. It’s our responsibility. If you don’t believe that from every fiber of your being, get out of my building.” And she said, “I used stronger words than that.” She reminded me of Nick Saban.

Literally four years later, her school is acknowledged as a torchbearer school. Her fourth graders’ reading scores are in the 88th percentile, two points higher than the state average, two points higher than Prattville Middle School, a suburban fast-growing area where the schools are filled up with families leaving schools like E.D. Nixon to get a better education.

There’s a school in Mobile, George Hall Elementary School, where they had to raise money two years ago to build a shower because a third of their students don’t have running water every day of the month. Their scores are even higher than those at E.D. Nixon. They’re blowing the roof off the building, and as you can imagine, it’s important to know what’s happening in these schools. These are special principals and incredibly hardworking teachers, and there’s no one silver bullet. I would trade 10 percent of the volunteer hours from students at Alabama to put them on a bus and drive them to some of these schools so their experience with service and engagement and ethics wouldn’t just be about poor kids who are failing, so they would experience structural, prophetic change, and not just because white college students are helping out, but because talented teachers and principals are turning schools around.

That’s what I call Documenting Justice, the side of service-learning that lets you go volunteer, lets you make a difference in a malfunctioning school or a library but also gives you the context to learn about the visionary prophetic moves forward in all realms of policy that are taking place every day, all over the country.

I’m so proud to be in this room. I can’t imagine a higher calling than being involved in this cultural shift in the way universities help young people define their obligations. There has never been a more important time to be part of this conversation. Republican or Democrat or Libertarian, there is not a monolithic block of 47 percent who don’t care. And it becomes immoral for us, as college-educated Americans, to not make sure young people have personal, visceral, real experiences and relationships to experience human progress across culture and across neighborhood and across class.

About the Author

Stephen Black is director of the Center for Ethics & Social Responsibility at The University of Alabama.

Table 1. Center for Ethics and Social: Mission and Representative Programs
Table 1. Center for Ethics and Social: Mission and Representative Programs

Fits and Starts: Visions for the Community Engaged University

Kevin Kecskes and Kevin Michael Foster

Dr. Kecskes

Good Morning. So, here we are in Alabama. You’ve all been here a few days. I just got here last night. And I’m again shocked. Eight o’clock in the morning and all of you had all these options and here you are.

Now, I know it was the breakfast that probably pulled you in. But anyway, thank you for coming. Let’s acknowledge the folks here at the University of Alabama for their great work [applause]. Thank you so much. Special thanks go to Dr. [Samory] Pruitt, Dr. Heather Pleasants and Dr. Ed Mullins for organizing us and working with us over the past several months and working together.

I’m now working with a new colleague half way across the country and we’re up to the challenge and we hope you are too. So, we hope you’ll come along with us on a journey today.

Could you give me a show of hands if you are currently associated with the University of Alabama? OK, excellent, a good bit of you. Something funny happened last night when we were coming in from the airport. The very kind shuttle driver kept very quiet. Kevin and I were just getting to know each other. Finally, I leaned forward and I touched him on his shoulder and said, “Excuse me, Sir. How are you doing?” As he’s driving down the highway, he said, “I’m doing fine. Is there something I can help you with?” I said. “Yes, we’re going to the University of Alabama, right?” And he said, “Yes, Sir. We are.” I said, “You have a football team, right?” Now that poor man almost swerved off the road. So I said to him, “Now you all are doing pretty well this year?” “Yes, Sir. We’re number one. We’re ranked number one in the country,” he said. “Congratulations to you.” And then asked, “Sir, do you know who’s ranked number two in the country? And he said, “Awe, why would I know that?” then he said, “Wait a minute. Wait a minute. It’s the Ducks, the Oregon Ducks.” I said, “That right,” and added “Sir, I’m from Oregon.” And he looked at me; he looked at me again. I thought he was going to stop that van!

I know we have some friends here from Oregon State. I don’t think we have anybody here from the University of Oregon. But I’m from another university in Oregon. Right there in our state’s major city, from Portland State University. So, I want to acknowledge and congratulate the folks here from Alabama for having such a good football team.

We all know that the only thing that’s more important than football on a college campus is community engagement. And that’s why we’re here, right? That’s right [applause].

All right. So, as Heather said, I am Kevin Kecskes and I’m at Portland State. I’m pleased to be here with you this morning and now I’m going to turn it over to Dr. Kevin Foster.

Dr. Foster

So to start out, to give you a sense of where we’re going this morning, here’s a little bit of a roadmap. We’re hoping to have some good conversation that takes us from the conceptual to the theoretical, to the practical. As many of us know if we’re reading JCES, if we’re engaged in this work for some period of time, there’s a number of different ways to think about community engagement. For the purposes of our talk, there’s a number of ways to think about and talk about institutional change.

We’re privileging the conceptions and the ideas that we’ve worked on over the years, but also fully acknowledging that there’s a lot of different ways to look at change and to look at engagement. So, we’ll start out with some models of community engagement. We’ll present an idea of a continuum of change that we hope will be useful when you think about working in the context of institutions, working in the context of complex structures, how you begin to be specific and purposeful about moving the needle in terms of creating space for community engagement on your campus or in your social network. We’ll move to some examples.

Dr. Kecskes is senior colleague. So he wins this one. But if it I were my class or if I were preaching in church, there would be no back-row Joes, right? I would tell everybody in the back to move to the front and make it more intimate. But Kevin reminded me that folks are eating, folks are waking up and folks are going to be coming and going, so it’s ok of you to remain seated where you are, this time!

So, as we are creating our space I’ll ask or request of us that we be vigilant about the sacredness of any community or any space that we set up and that even as you might be in the far back, and even as it becomes enticing as things get good sometimes. Do you ever want to turn to a neighbor, “You know I really agree with that” or “Man, Kev sucks” and I don’t say which Kev we’re talking about, right? So, one of us isn’t any good and you want to turn to a neighbor and say that. So, this is a space that will probably work well for us. But I’ll also ask us to guard the sacredness of this space in terms of our engagement over the course of the next hour or so. Back to Kevin.

Dr. Kecskes

Our friends at the University of Alabama call us the Kevin and Kevin show, in case you haven’t figured it out yet. And we’ve never done this, so at the end you can let us know how it went. I was just doing some last minute reading about community engagement on the plane and I just stopped and closed my book and sat back for a second. I was again shocked by the magnitude, the magnitude of the opportunity that we have here in front of us as members of post-secondary institutions. The magnitude. There are over 4,200 degree-granting institutions in this county alone. In the aggregate we employ more than 3 million people. There are over 18 million students that attend our colleges and universities. And in 2006, in the aggregate post-secondary institutions spent over $373 billion in goods and services. We are an important engine in our communities. We have been here a long time and unlike companies that go off shore and move all over the place, we’re not going anywhere. Last time I looked these buildings are pretty solid. It’s an unbelievable responsibility in front of us. So, we are faced with this magnitude of opportunity. There’s another thing that we’re faced with: Magnitude of inertia, because our institutions are traditional. The role of tradition it to hold the line to let change happen slowly, and there’s a really good role for that.

To help us remember something Clark Kerr, famous president of the University of California Berkeley, said 40 years ago, a real maverick himself in 1963: “The University has become more of a bureaucracy than a community, a mechanism held together by administrative rules and powered by money, a series of individual faculty entrepreneurs held together by a common grievance over parking.” Now you can go to the University of California at Berkeley, and you can see there’s a Clark Kerr Campus and he’s a famous man. This is kind of his summary reflections on a great life in higher education.

So the first thing we want to talk about regarding the models of engagement that we can acknowledge, as we have written here [points to the slide], public relations. Public relations are important. I am assuming everybody in this room knows what that is and why they’re important. I support that. For 10 years, working in the provost’s office at Portland State University, part of what I did was tell our story, and it’s very important. I think that’s where maybe we can start the day, but it’s certainly not where we want to end the day.

Dr. Foster

Our next model of community engagement practiced increasingly is the neoliberal. When we say neoliberal, we are not talking liberal vs. conservative in the contemporary sense. We are talking neoliberal as the revitalization of 19th century liberalism that in the 21st century is what we see in many universities as an increasing bent toward efficiency, effectiveness, partnerships that are in some ways dynamic but can also be, uh, uh, all right, soul-sucking. What I mean by that is that we can do amazing things when we say, you know, we don’t have enough money to build this lab. So let’s go down the street and partner with someone, IBM or whoever, and we can create some new after-school programs, we can create a facility for joint use, or other things that we can do that are efficient and effective that are anything but soul-sucking — they’re exciting and dynamic. But at some point our risk with the neoliberal model is that all we care about is efficiency. And we are not as directly purposeful in terms of our original vision for why we reach out to folks and why we enter into community with folks. We end up tending toward, “Well, this is really a great thing to do and we really can do it” and no one asks, really, why or whether it’s a good thing. But it’s economically prudent, so we do it. So one model of community engagement that has some promise, but also some peril attached, is the neoliberal.

Dr. Kecskes

I want to remind us that today is an important day. Something important is going to happen tonight. And that is our two presidential candidates are going to debate. I assume many of you are going to watch. I certainly am going to try to watch as much of that as I can around the other commitments I have tonight. It reminds me again that this work is “small p” political. Change is political work. And so there are two ways to work that. We can deny that and run away from that, or we can run into it and embrace it. I do the latter. I lean into it and embrace it. It is absolutely small “p” political work.

And to that end, I want to tell a story about my friend Dick Harmon. Dick Harmon is a senior man. He is a very accomplished man. He’s worked all over the United States and Canada with the Industrial Areas Foundation, which is a community organizing group started by Saul Alinsky in Chicago. Dick Harmon is now in his mid-70s. He and I became friends about 10 years ago, and we talked about how community organizing could work in post-secondary education. One of the things I did in my role as associate vice provost for engagement is we held these civic engagement breakfasts. We would get somewhere between two- and three-hundred people from Portland State and Portland to come to these breakfasts a couple or three times a year, and I said, “Dick, would you come and be one of our two or three main speakers, and you’ll be the first” because I always try to get someone from the community to come and talk. And he said, “Kevin, I’m reluctant.” Anyway, I talked him into coming. So the room was pretty full, over three hundred people in the room, several deans, I think our provost was in the room also. I introduced Dick. I was very happy because my style is to organize things and then get out of the way.

Dick got up. I thought he was going to talk about community organizing, the three rules that organizers live by, things like this. He got up and he went up front and he stood in front of everybody and he looked at me and he said, “Kevin, I’m sorry. I think I’m going to say something right now that’s going to upset you and actually I hope I upset some of you in this room.” He said, “Higher education, higher [more emphasis] education. Does that mean that there’s a lower education?” And he went on to challenge everybody in that room. He said, “Who do you really think you are? Who do you really think you are? I’m a community partner and I’ve been invited to come into your university here in these hallowed walls and I’m intimidated, because this is “higher” education. And I’m intimidated. I’m a man in my mid-70s and I’ve had a long and rich and successful career, several books.” He’s led several changes, and yet he said, “I’m intimidated in these walls, this work, the way we’ve set up this whole dynamic. Community partners, we come here, we’re supposed to kind of ask you for your resources. It’s all wrong! It’s all wrong.”

And then Dick went on to talk about a different kind of way that’s less wrong, about acknowledging each other’s wisdom and knowledge in the room, about finding a new way, about understanding that when we’re doing research, or teaching, there’s multiple sources of wisdom and knowledge everywhere. I sat there thinking, “Oh, no.” But by the end of that hour and a half breakfast I tell you, people loved Dick. They gave him a standing ovation. People wanted him to talk to their classes and engage in partnerships with him, and he said, “Oh, no, I’m on my way out.”

I wanted to tell that story because that hit me, that was five or six years ago, and in a very, very profound way, when I’m working with community partners and when all of us are working with community partners that in fact if we’re trying to facilitate positive change, there are a couple things to keep in mind: It’s political work, and whether we acknowledge it, understand it, or like it, we’re coming from a position of unbelievable power, simply because we are associated with the university. There are many, many ways to break through those walls, but we have to break through those walls. And so we’re going to talk about some of those strategies right now.

Dr. Foster 

One aspect of the work is the reality of change, the reality that where many of us hope for our institutions to be is not where they are today and certainly not where they were yesterday. How do we push forward? For many of us it’s a rough journey. If you come from a radical edge, if you are a person whose background marks you as from a marginalized population, if you are among the many folks who enter the academy not with the privilege of knowledge for knowledge sake — which is a beautiful thing — but many of us don’t feel a privilege of knowledge for knowledge sake. We got into it because the world wasn’t good enough. At some point we said, or felt in our hearts, felt in our bones, that the university might be a really good place to work. One of the things Bill Ayers, an elementary education theorist and activist, said was that the university is your base of operations, it’s your home, and from there you hope to go out and do great things. One of the open secrets of the academy — remember how many of us talked about teaching, research and service? We get to divide that into thirds? This is going to be great! — And then what happens when you step onto a campus if you happen to be a junior faculty member? Research, teach competently so you don’t embarrass us, and service, not so much. We have to make choices, because some of us are teachers in terms of our backgrounds. And someone has the audacity to get up in our faces and say, “Yeah, you’re hired but if you want to be here in five years, don’t spend so much time trying to be a great teacher.” And certainly don’t spend so much time trying to serve, or be a servant, or even be a servant leader. For me the journey of thinking about a continuum of change has been very personal because I’ve had to figure out how I’m going to make it in the academy.

Much of my work is based on the work of my mentor Edmund T. Gordon, chair of the new African and African Diaspora Studies Department at UT-Austin, first as a graduate student about 20 years ago, then I went off and did my own thing. Now I’ve come back to the University of Texas as we are launching this new department. One of the starting points of this idea of contextual interventions is that you see that things aren’t good enough yet and you want to be a part of them being better and you’re trying to engage, but you don’t have the possibility or power yet to fully transform the space. So your work ends up being contextual. You intervene in a context, in a moment, to survive the day. If, for instance, I’m committed to the idea of being an engaged scholar, I work to create space for myself to do that work we’ll call “a contextual intervention.” It will be something where I go out and find a way to take my community engaged work and have it nicely articulate with research, so that I’m going to get publications from my community engaged work. That’s a contextual intervention. That is to say, it’s an intervention in the moment, a solution that helps me survive the day, but does nothing to change the structures of power. In fact, it ends up being complicit with or supportive of the structures of power as they already exist. This making sense at all? All right, I’ll give you a K-12 teaching example.

In the K-12 classroom, in many of our schools, an issue is hunger. The teacher does not have the capacity to solve hunger. But the teacher does have to survive the school day and she does know that her middle-schoolers, especially the three boys over there that are 13 years old and 5’ 11” they are growing and they’re big, and every day at 2 o’clock they’re hungry. This is her fourth year of teaching, so she knows that every day at this time she’s going to have hungry kids. There are health laws that says you can’t take food out of the cafeteria, and there’s a principal’s rule that you can’t have food in the classroom. We haven’t built it into the day. Her contextual intervention is that she has a desk drawer. And what’s in that desk drawer? Granola bars, some little treats, some little fruit snacks. She says, “Lamar, come over here. Johnny, come over here,” and she slips them some food. That’s a contextual intervention. It did nothing to change the structures of power, it did nothing to ameliorate a big societal problem, but it helped her run an effective classroom at 2 p.m. when her boys and girls are hungry.

At some point we can get to structural interventions, where contextual interventions begin to accumulate and we begin to think more systematically. What if, as a faculty member, the contextual intervention for the community engaged scholar was to begin to think creatively about ways to survive the moment and to move toward your tenure track by articulating your research agenda with your service agenda so that you can publish? And that was your contextual intervention. But you start to think about ways to systematize that. You start to think about ways to facilitate this possibility but for other like-minded folks. You find a chair who’s sympathetic, who’s willing to start to open the door a little bit wider. You start to think in terms of how a department at the level of executive committee can start to think about policy changes that will facilitate community-engaged scholarship. Now you’re starting to think in term of structures of power and how you can engage with others to begin to tweak the rules, change the practices. These are structural interventions.

A structural intervention in our parallel track example would be if I as a teacher who notices hunger, I get with other parents. They say “I know my son or daughter is miserable. Right when I pick them up they’re starving. We have to race home, and they’re incredibly moody, and they’re moody because they’re hungry, so I’m with you on this problem, what can we do.” Well, there’s a church across the street. Why don’t we start doing spaghetti dinners however many nights a week? Or why don’t we talk to the principal about a policy change? By the way, when it comes to contextual interventions, there can also be a resistant edge and I really like the resistant edge. While a contextual intervention can be an intervention that goes and flows with the rules, there can also be a humanizing contextual intervention that has a note of resistance, in other words saying we’re not satisfied with any structures of power that allow inequities, or that allow, for instance, hunger. So a contextual intervention with a resistant edge might be the teacher saying, “It’s wasteful that we throw out milk cartons at the end of a lunch period if you haven’t finished your milk. Put it in your backpack. We’re going to drink it later.” Now what you’ve done is broken rules. What you’ve done is maybe set yourself up for being written up and eventually fired. But what you’ve also done is humanize the child and allowed them to exist with the notion that their fundamental, basic nutritional needs are more important than somebody’s stupid rules. And that’s an important lesson for children, especially marginalized children who are pushed off the edge. It might even be an important lesson for assistant professors who got in it to change the world but are told everyday to soften up the rough edges. At some point we need to claim our humanity, claim the vision of what we want to do, and fight for what we want to do, Our contextual interventions might sometimes have a resistant edge. By the way, if you’re going to engage any of this stuff, at the end of the day you better be better than all your colleagues when it comes to how much you publish. You better be better than all your colleagues in terms of how much money you accumulate in grants, if that’s the metric. If you’re going to engage this work this way and persist to where Kevin is (or Kevin was until he moved back to faculty from the provost’s office), you better be better than the next. Right? That’s Grandma’s wisdom, by the way.

Contextual interventions, structural interventions, what do we hope for? What we hope for is structural transformation [glances at the slide]. How often does structural transformation come about? Not very often. Last I checked there are still plenty of kids who are hungry. But we’re always about the win, we’re also about working toward something, but it’s also about the righteousness of the fight and always battling to make it better. Maybe we get to the point of structural transformation but there’s righteousness in the journey, so we stay on that path but what we want is the end of world hunger — right? — to put it in a kind of silly or crass way.

What we want at a University of Texas, a Portland State, a University of Alabama is where it’s porous, where the walls come tumbling down, in a sense, and there’s this nice seamless integration, so that those who pay their taxes in this state, those who are working in this state, benefit from what this university has to offer and the back and forth is this nice flow. I don’t know, I haven’t been here too long, but at least at the University of Texas I can tell you we ain’t there yet. But I persist at the University of Texas because the fight is righteous, because everyday that I live in righteousness — I don’t mean to sound so preacherly — but everyday you live in this, you are not living on the other side of the fence, and at some point it does become almost a Manichean duality where it’s like are you right or you’re wrong and you wake up in the morning and you go to bed at night and you know whether you did right or you did wrong. The beauty of this work is that you can go to bed tired, you might go to bed with tears on your pillow, but when you go to bed you actually rest easy, because you know that you’re doing what you need to do. This is all about being purposeful on that journey and setting yourself up in a way to continue on that journey without losing your mind, a way to continue on this journey with a solid sense of where you’re trying to go.

Dr. Kecskes

I’m going to talk about traditional vs. engaged scholarship. But before I do, I want to share another little story. The quick background on this story is this: In case you didn’t know, or in case you had a sense of it but didn’t know how much, this work, this engagement work in postsecondary education, is on fire on a global level. This is not just happening here in the South. It’s not just happening in America. It is happening on a global level. Guaranteed. It’s unbelievable what’s happening, and guess where it’s really happening a lot right now? In the Arab world.

Four or five years ago some colleagues from the Gerhart Center for Philanthropy and Civic Engagement in Cairo contacted to do a training with faculty and administrators in the Middle East for a week. I said, “No way. No way. Where will the training be?” “It’s going to be in Beirut.” “No Way. Thank you. No thank you.”

They contacted me a third time and I said, “OK. I will seriously consider coming because you have been so persistent but only if you find a female co-equal presenter to work with me for this week who’s from the Arab world.” They got back with me a few days later, and so my colleague Amani Elshimi and I led this workshop.

The training was organized by a new alliance called the Ma’an Arab University Alliance for Civic Engagement which is connected to the Tallores Network, an international association housed by Tufts University. There were about 65 people there in Beirut for a week who had gathered together, as Amani and I were together to plan this weeklong workshop. But I said to her, “Look, I don’t even speak Arabic. I am not a Middle Eastern specialist. I feel uncomfortable in this role. First and foremost, before we do anything, I’d like to just find out where people are. Let’s just start with a simple thing. Let’s just ask them, ‘What is community for you, in your context?’” We North Americans, including me, generally don’t have a complete sense about the Arab World. There are 22 countries in the Arab world; it spreads from North Africa all the way East to the Persian Gulf. It’s an enormous slice of our earth, with great diversity. “Let’s just ask people in their context, ‘What is community?’” I suggested to Amani and she agreed.

Guess how long it took to answer that question? Two days. That was great, and from a training standpoint, it was fantastic. The group came to a deep, collective understanding, a sense within themselves, of what community is in their individual contexts and collectively. Very interesting work. Unbelievably, interesting work. We wrote some of this up and presented it a couple of years back. Then Amani and I started asking them about their own stories of community engagement. The take-away that really hit me hard as a professional in this field is how they spoke about their students working out in communities in generations-old struggles or how their students protested in the local streets and that for some of them that was community engagement. Those faculty spoke about trying to make a better life; they were trying to do some of the things that Kevin is talking about in terms of structural transformation. They spoke about how some of their students had been injured, or taken to prison, or even killed. It hit me hard that day — I had to hold onto the side of the table. Unlike my experience here in America … . Now I wasn’t in the South 40 years ago in the struggles for civil rights. But it hit me hard that day — this was now three or four years ago — that in their message and experiences were a harbinger of things to come for the Arab Spring; that for them, in some cases, community engagement could mean confronting serious social injustice, and in the extreme could even be a life and death situation.

That’s simply not my experience here in America, with service-learning, for example. That’s just not my experience, and so it really made me begin to think in a new and deeper way about how important, impactful, powerful this work is. And yet here in a North American context we situate this work in the “safe” traditions of our hallowed postsecondary institutions, which I love. So, this is hard work; now, on to community-engaged scholarship.

Some of you might have seen versions of Table 1, which we have modified from the original by Dr. Andrew Furco (2006) at the University of Minnesota.

This side-by-side conceptual comparison table is quite useful. The point of this slide is this: Many of you have heard or will hear people say something like “This community engaged scholarship is it’s not rigorous. I don’t know what it is. It seems so fluffy. But if we take a look we see that traditional scholarship breaks new ground. We all know what it is. We all know how important that is. We have traditional journals that support it. We have chairs in departments that value it. We value it ourselves. It is how we progress. It’s how we make new knowledge. In an engaged paradigm, however, we have to break new ground in the discipline and have direct application in a broader public issues. The bar is higher, not lower. Not only does it have to meet all the rigors of traditional scholarship, but it has to meet an additional value propositions. It has to have applicable value at some level. Second thing, it answers significant questions in the discipline that have to be relevant to community or public issues. It’s a higher bar. Third, it’s reviewed and validated by qualified peers in the discipline and the community. That’s a really scary place. Theoretically grounded and practically applicable. And finally it advances disciplinary knowledge and public knowledge.

Table 1. Traditional and Engaged Scholarship Comparison
Table 1. Traditional and Engaged Scholarship Comparison

So, I’ve been hearing for many years as many of you have, “Yeah, but it’s not rigorous, it’s soft.” I don’t buy it. Because I do it. And it’s hard. It’s really hard work. Last thing I’ll say about this and I’ll pass it back to Kevin is this: An old paradigm is much more linear. In fact if we want to take it to its end, we sometimes think we know the answers to the questions or we launch out to look for the answers to the questions that we think we already have when conducting research. And that is so different from an emergent model where, rather than going out into the community with our questions in mind and our answers in mind, we work with community members in a much more iterative manner; it’s much messier milieu in which the questions emerge over time. It takes longer, it’s harder work. We can ask ourselves and our community partners, however we define them, the extent to which they involved in question generation, methodology choice, data gathering, data analysis, and dissemination. I’m not here to tell you what’s the right answer, but I am here to ask myself first and foremost and you also: How do those processes work for you? Who develops the questions? Is it you in your office, alone with the door closed? How do we gather the data, who helps, who has a hand in it, who has a hand in the analysis? And finally, who leads and assists in the dissemination? These are really important questions. I’ll just end this little piece by saying from my own personal experiences, engaged scholarship is a lot harder, a lot more work.

We’re moving now toward the final part of our remarks. What Kevin and I would like to do is share some examples, first from Portland State and then from the University of Texas at Austin, and then end with a short video clip in which we’ll give you a small slice of what engaged teaching and scholarship can look like, and a little surprise at the end.

Two pieces I’d like to talk about at Portland State, institutional transformation and capstones. Now, when Kevin and I were discussing our remarks today, he said, “Kevin, Portland State is an example of structural transformation,” as he described. I said, “Well, tell me more about that.” Because I am a little too close, I’m not sure that he’s got me completely convinced, but I will say there are two things we do at Portland State that I’m very proud of and that I think are emblematic of a deep kind of change in postsecondary education similar to the deep change Kevin spoke about. Number one: in 1996, PSU was one of the first institutions in the country to do this, in the vanguard of a new wave of action — we changed our promotion and tenure guidelines to directly support engaged scholarship. Show of hands if you’ve been working in the last five years on changing your institution’s promotion and tenure guidelines. Yeah, is that fun? [Laughs] It’s creative work, right? It can be creative work. It’s hard work. It is political work, small “p”. In 1996, Portland State University stepped back because we wanted to be an engaged institution before we were even using that language and to honor our motto that our students gave our then-President Judith Ramaley, “Let knowledge serve the city.” Well, if you want to let knowledge serve the city, you need to let it show up where it counts, in the promotion and tenure guidelines. You’d be surprised how many calls I get saying, “We want to come out to Portland State and see how you changed your promotion and tenure guidelines, because we’re trying to do that at our university. We want to come out, send a whole team to visit you.” And I say, “I’ll tell you what. We can save you some money because there is nothing here to see. You can go on the website, go to the Provost’s page. You can look at Section 5. We called it then the “Scholarship of Outreach.” That was the language that was used in the mid 1990s, thanks in large part to Ernest Lynton and Amy Driscoll. We have examples for artists, which are very different from that for natural scientists, which is very different from social scientists. We have examples.” And they say, “But we want to come out and see how you did it.” How we did it was about us, PSU’s process. How you will do it is really what’s most important. Now if you’d like, we can have a chat about some processes, maybe thinking about who you want around the table talking about some change in leadership strategies that might expedite the process. But at the end of the day, it’s hard work, it is very contextualized to the local level; it’s about you.

So we did it. I’ll tell you just a small vignette here. It wasn’t pretty, and it hasn’t been pretty, and here’s part of why it hasn’t been elegant. For 100 people in the room there were a 100 different interpretations of what was said. Also there are institutional promotion and tenure guidelines, and those sometimes translate directly down to departments and disciplines and sometimes they don’t articulate at all, and that’s a real problem for our junior faculty. Here’s another problem. Some faculty said, “Well, I’ve been doing all this service, and I’ve been letting knowledge serve the city, and I’ve been working with these community partners and I’ve got my students involved, and I’m a really effective teacher. Take a look at my reviews. I’ve been working with these community partners. We did all these brochures and these websites. Look at how my community partners have increased their funding, and so on.” While everything that faculty member said may have been true it didn’t meet the key measures of what we as an Academy would hold as rigorous scholarship. That faculty member didn’t get it, wasn’t advised properly, and when they came up for tenure, they were denied. And so that sent shock waves through our faculty. “Oh, well, it’s all rhetoric, it’s all rhetoric, ” some faculty said. Institutionally, we got stalled; we were confused. So, it’s hard work.

That was number one, now the second of two examples of PSU’s structural transformation. I’d like to talk about our Capstone Program. At Portland State University what we did in the early nineties is we completely changed the entire undergraduate general education program. I’m not going into that whole story but the essence of it is our then-provost was a historian of education, and he said, “We’re good at one thing for sure as a university community; we’re good at research.” So he pulled together some of the best researchers on our faculty at the time and charged them to do research and to prove to him that the current general education distribution model that PSU, and nearly all campuses nationally, had for general education works. They went and did the research and came back and said, “We can’t prove it to you, the distribution model basically doesn’t work.” In fact the research that’s been out now for 20 or 30 years by people like Peter Ewell [Vice President at the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems] and many others, many of you in the room, for sure, say this kind of curricular distribution model doesn’t work very well for students. So the provost charged the faculty a second time for a second year to create something they felt would work, based on evidence. Using the research that we had in the early nineties, the faculty team then built what’s now known as our University Studies program, which has integrated today about seven of AACU’s [Association of American Colleges and Universities] 10 High Impact practices, especially those that have to do with engaged learning. Service-learning is one of the proven practices, first-year seminars, community-based research, and so on. If you don’t know about those High Impact practices based on really ground-breaking research by George Kuh [High-Impact Educational Practices: What They Are, Who Has Access To Them, and Why They Matter], I encourage you to take a look at those because they align quite well with this work. They are all evidence-based practices; they are powerful; they work!

One of the things we have at Portland State at the end of our undergraduate program is a required six-credit, interdisciplinary Capstone course. Each capstone is team-based and community-based. Every undergraduate has to take one to graduate. Here are a couple of pieces of the Capstone. The first year that my predecessor, Amy Driscoll, developed Capstones PSU came out of the box with five of them. The concern at that time was that there would not be enough personnel to fully support these five Capstones. Each Capstone has a maximum of 15 people and they’re all theme based. So for example, a capstone could be just about anything that has to do with community. Students come together from multiple disciplines. They work together, ideally over two terms, and bring diverse disciplinary points of view to bear to try to address a salient community issue.

That was almost 20 years ago. Today, that program persists, and last academic year we 234 Capstones were offered, 234! Almost 4,000 of our seniors and some juniors took a community-based Capstone. This Capstone experience is now part of who we are. Our faculty in the Capstone Program are some of our best teaches on campus and in the last five years we have spread that work internationally. For example, I taught a Capstone in Oaxaca, Mexico where we worked on community health issues. Those are two examples of how a university can step back and make good on this idea of structural transformation.

Dr. Foster 

I’ve learned about Portland State from afar, and it’s been really exciting to hear. The University of Texas is hard to move. It’s so big. Some of our other institutions are so much more nimble. I look to Portland State and hearing Kev, there’s just amazing stuff going on there. For me, a faculty member at the University of Texas at Austin, the immediate intervention was to start to think through, from a conceptual standpoint, how to bring research and service together. But then there was also the teaching piece and there was also the reality that I’m committed to my graduate students emerging as a certain type of scholar. I want them to be rigorous from a methodological standpoint. I want them to be rigorous in terms of their theoretical grounding, but I also desperately want them to be deeply community engaged, to their core. This is who they are as emerging scholars. The structural intervention that came was the creation of ICUSP, which is the Institute for Community University and School Partnerships. I was told not to do this, strongly encouraged not to start this. The long story short is that ICUSP became COBRA. These were some of the programs that we had over time and each one has its own back story. COBRA is the Community of Brothers and Revolutionary Alliance. COBRA was started because I was hanging out in community and there was this thing called African American Men and Boys Conference that happened once a month. We came together and we did a whole lot of talking at kids and it was a good thing on a certain level, but we all knew it wasn’t enough. I got to know a principal there because we’d see each other month after month, and at some point he said, “Kevin, this is great but here’s my problem on my campus. Would you be willing to come and do something?” I came as a volunteer, sat in the library and had 12 African American boys and we were working on disciplinary referrals and their engagement and this sort of thing. The long story short, this became COBRA. The boys came up with the name. There’s a novel by Sam Greenlee called The Spook Who Sat by the Door. If you ever teach it you have to work on the misogynistic aspects of it. It’s a Black Power era novel. There’s a problem with the novel but there’s also a lot going on in the novel that’s really powerful in terms of having people be self-advocates, having people emerge as intellectuals who are purposeful about change, etc. It’s a revolutionary text and the gang that our hero in the novel turned into a revolutionary organization, the gang was COBRA [laughter]. So the school district is funding a revolutionary organization they just don’t know it. Voices came into being, because after our first year on campus things went really well and money was a little more flush back then. The district came and said, something’s happened in our data on this campus. This particular cell, African American boys, has just exploded because 12 African American boys makes a different on the campus. So what do you do? I don’t really know. You do whatever we did and they say well that sounds good enough for us, here’s money, which was an interesting lesson, by the way. They didn’t understand what we did. We barely understood what we did. But at that moment it was solving a problem, so here’s money. Times have changed a little bit, by the way. But everything’s cyclical. It’ll come back around again. We were doing good work, so I was happy to take their money.

When we expanded we went to another campus and within a couple of months the boys’ group was going great, and some young ladies came to us and they said, “This is not fair, this is not right. You’ve got a boys’ group, what about us?” And I went back to the district and said, “What about them?” and the district said we’re not worried about them. They didn’t mean to say it that crassly, but they basically did. They had a focus on what was happening with black boys in particular and so that became their focus and everything else was going to be OK until it became a crisis too. But that wasn’t good enough for the young ladies. So we said to to the young ladies, just come to the meetings. They came for about three weeks and they said, “Yeah, no. We want our own.” So we reallocated our resources, shifted things around, and we created a girls’ group beside the boys’ group. They named it VOICES, Verbally Outspoken Individuals Creating Empowered Sisters [laughter and applause]. You can clap. They were immediately tighter and better than anything the boys had ever done. They were amazing. I won’t go into the next ones right now.

One of the things we do with ICUSP right now. Have any of you ever seen “Ted Talks”? We thought about it and one of the things I’m interested in is more and more scholars getting on this bandwagon, more and more scholars waking up to the possibilities, waking up to the possibility of engaged scholarship. Now faculty members have very small egos, right? No, faculty members have huge egos, and I have discovered, if I can talk to scholars, other faculty members, about how their work can be disseminated more broadly, how other people can learn the brilliant things that they have to say, they’re often on board. But it comes with a catch. You’re going to have to go through our training. We partner with KLRU public television — how many of you have seen “Austin City Limits?” We record on the historic set of Austin City Limits twice a year. Five Black Studies faculty members basically giving “Ted Talks” to Black Studies and we’re fighting over the name, calling it Blackademics right now but we’ll probably lose the name. If anybody has a cool name to replace ours, that’ll be great. What we do is take time to train them in principles of adult learning, principles associated with new media presentations, being in front of a camera, etc. Then they all do 12-minute talks. They edit them down as television shows, so every two talks becomes a TV show, and every talk is released online on an almost monthly basis. So that’s one different form of community engagement that’s taking advantage of new media.

My staff are all graduate students. This is one of the COBRA chapters [slide]. All of these boys are in college, every one of them. COBRA began young COBRA, which is our middle school version [new slide]. This slide is some of our kids talking about a video they had made. So these are sixth graders talking before three hundred of their peers from across the city. One of our chapters brought in the author Sam Greenlee [slide]. These are the kids using technology on the University of Texas campus. By the way, if you teach anything with public education, when you have partnerships, one of the things that is really cool is the opportunity for kids who live in the surrounding area to begin to see the possibilities. When I teach a course on public education, I invite high school kids to come in. I’ll prep the kids and talk to them about the reality that they know more about high school than the college students. When it comes down to it, they are the experts in the room. They should not be hesitant to raise their hands and to say something if I or someone else gets it wrong. We’re beginning to invite them in to the idea of college as a possibility. They are familiar with this technology because they’re working with it when we bring them to campus. COBRA teaching young COBRA, intergenerational work. This is a workshop on what it’s going to be like in high school. By the way, every different color is a different chapter [looks at slide]. The kids have their school colors on. We don’t do T-shirts. We do polo shirts with embroidered lettering and there’s a sense of empowerment, a sense that they’re part of something special when they are involved. [Shows slide] This is two years ago. This is some of the kids in COBRA. I don’t have any money, but I go to church. When we go somewhere, I have folks at this particular church and they have six vans, one of those big churches. And they are awesome about, “Ah, yeah, Dr. Foster you can do this. We’ll help you out” with this that and the other. Vans become not much of a problem. Here’s a free-trade [slide] coffee house. They love to have kids in. They’re very global. They’re not charging us money. They’re giving kids samples of this and that. It’s very global in perspective when they’re seeing this stuff. I’m not an elected official but I have a lot of kids and all my kids have parents. And the partents vote. So if I call Congressman Doggett and I say I’ve got 300 kids and the 300 kids have parents, guess what? “Kev, yes, I’ll sit down with you and I’ll record a video congratulating the kids on their work.” Same with Councilman Cole, Council Spellman: “I’ve got an awards ceremony, are you willing to come and record a special note?” “Absolutely.” Support from campus leaders and by the way I have two kids and for this work, for this to work, and this work is hard, like a 90-hour work week, but it’s a fun 90-hour work week if I integrate it with the rest of my life. Everyone has to make their own decisions about this. I integrate it with my life. My kids know the COBRA kids and the VOICES kids, because my kids are on the field trips. [Points to slide] That’s my kid son Malcolm, that’s my daughter Marly, they come with us, they’re engaged. And by the way, an unearned privilege that my kids have is that there’s no questions about their leadership ability, their leadership skills. There’s no question that they’re going to go to college, there’s no question that what was once about being a first generation person. It’s not going to be a problem about being a second generation, third generation, fourth generation because they are integrated into the life of the work. Whether they love Dad or hate Dad they know what Dad’s about.

[Slide] This is my staff. Does it look like we have fun? We have a lots of fun. Now a University of Illinois professor, now a University of North Texas professor, now working in a university outreach center, local arts activists, still graduate student and two more that are still more graduate students. My graduate students actually get jobs. What I’ve found over and over again when folks call us is that — at UT we’ve got research dollars, we’ve got the courses, we’ve got the course work — folks don’t get hired because they fail the interview. Folks don’t get hired because there are so many amazing people out there. It turns out that community engagement is something that, like Kev was saying, is something many folks are interested in. When any of my students begin to tell their story and begin to show the purpose of their work, the pride in their work, and how their scholarship is integrated with a profound ability to engage community in powerful ways, we find they are landing jobs.

Dr. Kecskes

We want to end this with a strong sense of hope. For those of you have been in this field for as long as I have, you’ll laugh at this. Twenty-five years ago, the most important thing we debated — and I can go back and show you the archives on the higher education service-learning listserv — the most important thing that we debated, according to us at that time, was whether the term service-learning should carry a hyphen of not. [laughter] That’s where we were, and that’s fine. Today we have graduate student networks, we have multiple international associations that support this work, just like NOSC. We have numerous publication outlets. We have graduate students like yourselves and undergraduates who are hungry for this work. New young faculty are coming in expecting it, students are expecting it. What a difference a quarter of a century makes!

Where we want to end this piece is with a short video. It’s about three or four minutes. In this video you’ll see a man who is on the faculty at Portland State who is an architect, who is very community engaged. I encourage you to watch for things like how he teaches, who’s there, what they’re doing, if you can see some research around it and enjoy a little snippet of what community-based learning or service-earning can look like. I’ll just say that one of the things that was very important to Professor Sergio Palleroni, because his two kids before he moved to Portland had to go to school in temporary classrooms, in trailers, and he hated it, because he knows all the research shows that if you have natural light, good ventilation and some other simple adjustments, kids learn lot better. It’s been a real fight for him. At the end of the story I’ll tell you what’s happened since. This is on our website, if you want to see it again.

(Video: Introduced by Wim Wiewel, president of Portland State University, “Community Engagement in Architecture: Education and the Built Environment”— — 3:45.) [Applause]

So the epilogue to this video, which was made a couple of years ago, is now Sergio, the main professor, is so passionate about the role of architecture in creating better learning environments for these kids is that he’s successfully lobbyied the Oregon Legislature and now his work has made a hopefully permanent public policy change. All modular classrooms, AKA trailers, in Oregon will have to meet certain specs that he has designed focusing on natural light, ventilation, basic design elements that are actually cost efficient. To me that’s a way of showing how the structural transformation, how one faculty member’s vision and work, in combination with the whole community, really makes permanent, durable change. So back to Kev.

Dr. Foster 

So Dr. Pleasants is a brilliant conference planner so we have a post-plenary dialog at 2:30 in room Rast B for any folks who want to continue the dialog. Kevin and I will get together and think about how we can create an interactive space. What you’ve found is two folks who like to talk. Right? But we do hope is that this was information packed. Was there good information this morning [loud applause]? And one of the things we both know, and we’ve talked about this a little bit, is that we have ideas that we’ve developed over the years, and we’re excited about them, we’re passionate about them, we’re excited about them, but we are also keenly aware of what is in the room in terms of the work that you all are doing. We really want to continue a dialog this afternoon by opening it up.

Kev’s work is accessible at PSU’s Hatfield School of Government faculty page ( For my work, go to It’s an awesome place. Kind of like Facebook for nerds. You can start your page and there’s a space to upload documents. All of my documents, all of my articles, and I have to fight with my publishers, are available there as a PDF. Follow me on Twitter and I’ll follow you back. Also there’s the ICUSP Facebook page. If you to the Portland State page you’ll see examples of the video, you’ll see examples of the work they’re doing there.

Thank you to the conference host and conference planners. This has been an excuse for me to get to know a new friend and colleague, so I really like this set up. I hope it worked for you all.


Furco, A. (2006). Traditional views of scholarship versus the scholarship of engagement. In J. Anderson, J. Douglass, A. Agogino, & K. Komar. Promoting civic engagement at the University of California: Recommendations from the strategy group on civic and academic engagement. Berkeley, CA: Center for Studies in Higher Education, p. 10.

About the Authors

Dr. Kevin Kesckes is an associate professor of Public Administration at Portland State University. Dr. Kevin Foster is an assistant professor of Educational Administration at The University of Texas at Austin.

Community Voices: Importance of the Community Partner Role at NOSC 2012

Felecia Jones


NOSC 2012 had many firsts, including the largest conference in the organization’s 13-year history and the highest number of community partner participants. But the real breakthrough was the emerging understanding and respect scholars and community partners developed for each other, which came home in a variety of ways, from the number of community partners attending to the “ah ha” moment when one delegate first understood how essential community partners are to all aspects of engaged scholarship.


The 2012 National Outreach Scholarship Conference (now Engagement Scholarship Consortium) held on the campus of The University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, broke ground where community partner engagement was concerned. While there are no official counts of the number of community partners who have attended or made presentations at the 12 previous conferences, veteran officials believe NOSC 2012 set records both in the number of community partners attending and making presentations. Of the approximately 235 presentations and workshops made at the conference, 33 were by community partners and many other community partners assisted in presentations in the two other tracks, Voice of the Faculty and Staff and Voice of the Student.

Having attended two conferences prior to this one, I only realized how valuable community partners are to university research when I became immersed in the activities of the 2012 conference. At this conference, the facilitators and presenters went deeper and farther concerning the involvement of community partners than at any of the previous conferences I had attended. Community partners were not only invited to attend workshops; they were also included at the table in making plans and this conference made history by having a Voice of the Community Partner track, with many presentations by community members. This was monumental and meant that community partners could be seen as critical to the success of the conference. Community partners in attendance were from a record 14 states.

As president of the Black Belt Community Foundation in Selma, Ala., I have benefited from partnerships with The University of Alabama and others since our founding in 2004. UA Vice President for Community Affairs Dr. Samory Pruitt serves on our Board of Trustees and always includes my organization whenever there is a mutually beneficial project. However, when Dr. Pruitt asked me to serve on the planning committee for the conference, I was hesitant. Although I hold a graduate degree, I did not know if I would have anything valuable to contribute to the dialogue, and I did not know if the group would be genuinely interested in my community-focused opinions. I was a little intimidated because I was entering their “circle.” But after attending the meetings, I realized that Dr. Pruitt did not just want to talk community engagement; he wanted to put some real effort behind it and make it happen. That was a great learning experience for me. In addition to my attendance, Dr. Pruitt also helped 10–15 of my community associates attend the conference as well. For most of them this was their first time attending a scholarly conference, and they came away with an immensely enjoyable and useful learning experience.

There was something for just about every community interest at the conference, and the attendees with whom I talked were very pleased, not just over the content but also because of the welcoming feeling they received from the university scholars. One of my Black Belt Community Foundation’s community associates, Sheryl Threadgill-Matthews (2012), who runs an after-school and summer enrichment program for children in rural Wilcox County, expressed the feeling well:

I am so appreciative of the opportunity to attend the NOSC conference. The networking was invaluable. I was so inspired and encouraged. Sometimes we need to take time away from our servant roles for time to be stimulated. I came back with a renewed energy.

Paulette Newbern (2012), a community arts program volunteer in Pickens County, wrote:

Thank you, Black Belt Community Foundation, for making it possible for me to attend the NOSC conference. I must say I gained a wealth of knowledge from the presenters and I did some wonderful networking. This will certainly help me to be more effective in the work I do in my community. The community partners were included in every aspect of the conference and made to feel like we were an integral part of every discussion.

It became quickly clear to any community partner and representative attending the conference that this would be a conference that gave more than lip service to the importance of community partnerships in engaged scholarship. For example, there was a clear focus on the rights of the community partners to be listed as full partners in published research and the obligation of universities to share funding received for research with the partners. I heard a version of this principle evoked at several presentations and it gave me encouragement about the future of university-community partnerships.

Another “ah ha” moment for me was that in the past we have always wanted universities to approach us with projects, but during the sessions we repeatedly heard that partners should not hesitate to approach universities suggesting problems where university resources could be combined with community resources for social and/or economic progress. Until I heard this, it had never occurred to me that we could approach these groups and that they would be as eager to work with us along those lines.

For example, my organization works to transform the most economically challenged counties in the state of Alabama through our small grants program, leadership opportunities, non-profit organizations, financial literacy, and networking. Prior to the conference, I thought unless a university approached us with a project and funding, I could not solicit their assistance. We raise dollars from the community, and we invest dollars in the community. Change happens in the community, but it only happens when you work with the people in the community. One-way projects, where only the “experts” do the research, have proven over and over again to be a dead end. The days of research being a one-sided relationship seem on their way out. Unfortunately, people who live in the Black Belt Region of Alabama have been accustomed to such one-sided treatment. The organization or university gets the grant dollars, starts a program, and leaves when the funds run out. Many of us came away from NOSC 2012 with the resolve that if a university wants to work with us, then it needs to make us an equitable partner, bringing its resources to the table—because we are also bringing our resources to the table, which includes the people we recruit from our communities. We may not all have large financial resources, but we all have other things that are just as valuable, for example our knowledge of the problems and our ideas about their solutions. We know “the lay of the land.” Until NOSC 2012 I didn’t fully understand the attractiveness or the benefits that partnering with my organization brings to the university or larger organization.

All along we have both needed each other, but we are just now accepting and acknowledging that. As large as The University of Alabama is, it still could not reach the people in the Black Belt that it is reaching without the assistance of the Black Belt Community Foundation. In fact, without our input, the University might even miss what the most important issues to us are. The University helps bring scholarly credibility to our organization, while we help take away the skepticism the community has about scholars. This mutual support and interdependence, I learned at the conference, is the most valuable thing in determining whether an engaged project will have a successful outcome that benefits all participants.


Adams, K. (2012). The exploration of community boundary spanners in university-community partnerships. Paper presented to National Outreach Scholarship Conference, Tuscaloosa, Alabama, October 2, 2012.

Browning, M. (2012). Employing imagination to reduce fear of hospitals in children. Paper presented to National Outreach Scholarship Conference, Tuscaloosa, Alabama, October 2, 2012.

Hanna, J. (2012). Partnering to bring 4-H to the city. Paper presented to National Outreach Scholarship Conference, Tuscaloosa, Alabama, October 2, 2012.

Lever, G. (2012). Community stakeholders’ perceptions of engagement. Paper presented to National Outreach Scholarship Conference, Tuscaloosa, Alabama, October 2, 2012.

Newbern, P. (2012). Personal correspondence, October 2012.

Threadgill-Matthews, S. (2012). Personal correspondence, November 2012.

About the Author

Felecia Jones is president of the Black Belt Community Foundation in Selma, Alabama, and member of the NOSC 2012 University of Alabama Planning Committee.

Student Voices: Research Socialization: One of the Major Benefits of the 2012 International Engagement Conference

Kirsten J. Barnes


As a professional conference that brought hundreds of scholars at various levels, community partners, and students together in common purpose, NOSC 2012 proved to be an unusually rich experience for this University of Alabama graduate student. It provided a greater understanding of the field of engaged scholarship, as well as many opportunities for networking and clarifying career goals.


Attending the 13th Annual National Outreach Scholarship Conference (NOSC) in October 2012 was exciting and educationally rewarding. As a graduate student attending the conference, I was given the opportunity to do what the literature says is especially important for graduate students: Becoming socialized into the graduate-research experience through association with experienced scholars. Not only was this an opportunity to network with other professional researchers, graduate students, and community advocates from around the country, it also helped students gain a greater understanding of the meaning and depth of engaged scholarship.

Knight (2002) writes that attending professional meetings will extend students’ experiences beyond the classroom and that graduate advisors should encourage students to stay on after sessions to seek out presenters to ask questions in informal sessions. This was just what I, along with scores of other students, did during NOSC 2012

More than 20 years ago, I decided to become a journalist based on the belief that accurate information improves quality of life, opening up opportunities that would otherwise be missed. Therefore, the chance to attend a scholarly conference dedicated to the practice of active research that combines university resources and knowledge with community resources and practical experience in an effort to achieve sustainable solutions to community problems interested me professionally, personally, and socially.

Conference Impressions 

What impressed me most was the number of students presenters—one group with actual presenters as young as 7 years old! I also found especially interesting the “grow your own” emphasis I saw during the Emerging Engagement Scholars pre-conference workshop.

This workshop, held annually as part of NOSC (now Engagement Scholarship Consortium or ESC), brings about 20 graduate students and junior faculty members together from all over the world for an intensive workshop on all aspects of the scholarly life in which they are mentored by experienced scholars. The young scholars also attend regular conference sessions as part of their program. Emerging Engagement Scholars are accepted in an application process that includes a paper about their research interests. They come from all kinds of institutions, not just ESC member institutions, and their research involves a wide variety of subject areas.

As a writer for the Center for Community- Based Partnerships (CCBP) at The University of Alabama, I had the opportunity to personally interview several of these students regarding their research, as well as others whose research was presented during the conference. The young scholars told how the opportunity to participate and conduct research and to mingle with veteran researchers in informal settings helped them to understand the value of their education.

After graduation, emerging scholar Jackie Brodsky (2012) seeks the benefits of working with a community agency and incorporating the agency’s goals into her work. Brodsky is at the dissertation stage of her doctoral studies in the School of Library and Information Studies at Alabama. Her research deals with age-related disabilities and the difficulties those disabilities create in a world where information increasingly is accessed through technology. “Just hearing about the research process from someone who has been through it will be helpful,” she said. “I know that whoever they put me with will have experience in engaged scholarship as a principal investigator.” She said she looked forward to working with an experienced researcher and the opportunity to have feedback throughout the year as she continues research for her dissertation. Brodsky and other program participants were exposed to information concerning community-engaged scholarship through background literature reviews, facilitated discussions, and presentations from both national leaders in their fields of expertise and from community partners. In addition they worked with mentors during the conference and afterward.

Another Emerging Scholar, Christel Beverly, a sports and exercise psychology doctoral student at Michigan State University, was surprised by the encouragement for engaged research that she found when she attended NOSC:

It was a safer environment where engaged scholars could be comfortable and find encouragement, which was different from what I experienced at conferences which prioritize quantitative work over qualitative work. The people there were all on the same page where engaged scholarship is concerned. I like the more equalized dynamic between the researcher and the community members.

Beverly’s research interests are specifically related to K-12 education in urban regions, with emphasis on how sports leadership impacts the entire school population. As a former high school athletic director, Beverly, who holds an undergraduate degree in sociologhy and African American Studies from Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania, said engaged scholarship works well with her hands-on approach as a practitioner. “A couple of presentations were very helpful and they got me thinking more critically about my own work and interacting with more people,” she said, adding that she was glad to see the support for this type of research taking on national prominence.

“I don’t just want to do research and publish papers that nobody is going to read. I want to create tangible research that is presented in a manner that the average person can understand and use,” Beverly said. “I think everybody should be required to attend a conference like this. Traditional research is disengaged and removed from emotion. Rewiring universities and think-tanks to move in a different direction when they’ve done it a certain way for so long will be hard, but not impossible.” As an educator who is heavily invested in her community and its future, Beverly hopes engagement research is the way of the future.

“The community partner has just as much to teach me as I have to offer them,” she said. “That just takes a bit of humility on the part of the researcher and sometimes that is difficult.”

Opportunity to Present 

But it was not only in the pre-conference workshop that students were evident. They were given dozens of opportunities to present original research during the main conference. Overall there were 57 student-led presentations from many disciplinary groups. Most of these students were doctoral researchers, but many were master’s level students like myself; there were even a few undergraduates. Elliot Knight, at the time a doctoral student at UA but who got his start as a researcher while still an undergraduate, presented his research “100 Lenses: How Arts-Based Youth Partnerships Transform Students’ Lives.” Today, let it be known, Mr. Knight, a recent graduate, is gainfully employed! He is the Visual Arts Program Manager at the Alabama State Council on the Arts in Montgomery, Alabama. Like me, during his time as a graduate student at the University, he was a graduate assistant in the Center for Community- Based Partnerships.

Knight said:

The research has given me a much better understanding of the processes and contexts that lead to students feeling more creative and confident. I have seen students, at the junior high, high school, and college levels, become more engaged in their communities and take on leadership roles in their schools and communities because of the visual skills— especially photography and videography— that the program teaches. This research allowed me to conceptualize, design, and implement future programs and creative learning environments that meet students’ creative, leadership, and educational goals (2012).

Although UA has taken a huge step forward by incorporating and encouraging student participation at professional conferences, it is not the only university that recognizes the educational value of students’ getting this kind of experience early in their career. Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon, has a student-led program that incorporates undergraduates in research and presentation with faculty (Fritzman, 2008). The program encourages faculty-student collaboration, serving to integrate research and teaching and advancing the culture of scholarship at Lewis & Clark.

Like Lewis & Clark, Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville also has launched an undergraduate program to encourage student presentations. Students are required to present their work at the annual SIUE Undergraduate Research Symposium (Pawlow & Retzlaff, 2012). Follow-up research showed that six of seven students who applied to graduate school were accepted and three of four students who did not apply for graduate school had already found jobs in their discipline area. Thus, the more involved students were in research, the more likely they were to achieve their goals after graduation.

One reason The University of Alabama had so many student presenters at NOSC 2012 may be because of a program that gives undergraduates experience in making conference presentations. The Undergraduate Research & Creative Activity Conference held on the UA campus is a premier annual event that provides undergraduates an opportunity to highlight their research or creative activity. In addition to bringing attention to the excellent work of students, the conference allows students to gain experience presenting, to compete for cash prizes, and to form relationships with their faculty mentors and fellow conference presenters (


Through experiences like NOSC 2012, and I near completion of my master’s thesis, I am more and more able to see the value of conducting research that translates into experience and transferable skills—while at the same time providing a service in keeping with our motto at CCBP, “Engaging Communities and Changing Lives.”


Brodsky, J. (2012, July 27). Telephone interview.

Fritzman, J.M., & Gibson, M. (2008). Collaborative Faculty/Student Research at Lewis & Clark College. Council On Undergraduate Research Quarterly, 29(2), 18-21.

Knight, E. (2012, July 20). Telephone interview.

Knight, G.J. (2002). Never Too Soon: Music Ed Students at Professional Conferences. Teaching Music, 9(5), 46.

Pawlow, L., & Retzlaff, W. (2012). Undergraduate Researchers Become Change Agents for Sustainability. Council On Undergraduate Research Quarterly, 33(1), 28-32.

About the Author 

Kirsten J. Barnes is a practicing journalist who has worked with several daily newspapers in Alabama, Georgia, and Ohio. She currently is publisher of a regional newsmagazine The Black Belt Connection and supervises a student newspaper at Alabama State University in Montgomery, while working on her master’s in journalism at The University of Alabama. She has plans to study for her doctorate upon completion of her master’s.

Book Review: Cooper Offers Higher Education Prescription for a Knowledge Economy and a Knowledge Society

David Cooper, The University in Development: Case Studies of Use-Oriented Research. Cape Town: HSRC Press, 2011, 390 pages. ISBN: 978-0-7969-2347-9

Reviewed by Hiram E. Fitzgerald and Burton A. Bargerstock

During the last half of the 20th century substantive changes in higher education provide strong support for Etkowitz’s (2008) contention that we are in the midst of a second academic revolution. While Etkowitz concentrates on the slow but directional interconnection of university-industry-government, which he models as a Triple Helix, a more public and contentious transformation involving civil society is evolving, a movement with various descriptive titles, most generically known as community engagement scholarship (CES) (Fitzgerald & Simon, 2012). Jointly, the Triple Helix and CES transformations have propelled research universities to the fore with respect to their collective responsibility for sparking regional and national innovation. An explicit assumption is that innovation will foster economic and social development to support a thriving knowledge-society constructed on the backbone of a knowledge-based economy with renewed attention to remediating poverty and advancing social justice. While universities in North America and the European Union are at various stages of organizational transformation (Cox, 2010; Powell, 2010), the extraordinary growth of university-community partnerships now cuts across nearly every discipline and every societal domain (Fitzgerald, in press). As Nyden and Percy (2010) note, “The engagement interface is a dynamic, evolving and co-constructed space—a cooperative community of inquiry—where partners work together with activist orientation to seek transformative ends for both the community and the academic setting” (p. 312). The Triple Helix-CES duo moves university-community partnerships beyond simple technology and knowledge transfer, and enters a realm of innovation, risk taking, and evidence-based practices that advances knowledge and simultaneously produces solution-focused applications. It moves beyond the tired contrast of basic and applied research by accelerating use-inspired basic research (Stokes, 1997) as the dominant methodology for all natural and social sciences engaged in university-community partnerships.

It is within this collage of transformational change that David Cooper carefully and thoroughly crafts a prescription for transforming South Africa’s system of higher education, positioning it to provide leadership for the emergence of a knowledge economy and a knowledge society. University in Development is not for the faint-hearted or for the quick read-on-the-beach crowd. It is a provocative, deeply intertwined pathway, guided by historical sociology, through 20th century transformations in higher education, international models of institutional research organization, and the development of hypotheses to guide Cooper’s case study of five universities in the Western Cape of South Africa.

Cooper draws heavily on Etzkowitz’s (2008) contention that during the 1970s a third transformation in higher education began taking shape through a Triple Helix of higher education, industry, and government. In contrast to U.S. President Dwight David Eisenhower’s 1960s caution to be wary of the growth of the military-industrial complex, society and international events instead co-opted higher education and laid the groundwork for the emergence of the Triple Helix. Cooper provides the context for what he describes as the creation of a third mission for higher education: namely, to foster a social-economic-cultural transformation of society through a “third capitalist industrial revolution.” Cooper builds his case through the first several chapters, weaving in and out of Etzkowitz’s theories and hypotheses, offering examples of knowledge economy practices in higher education in the United States and the European Union, and to a lesser extent in Japan, China, and Australia. Clearly, in Etzkowitz’s view, higher education’s role in the Triple Helix is to provide the science and technological research necessary to fuel innovation in industry via funding from both government and industry grants and contracts. Moreover, universities are to move the needle on science by shifting greater resources to use-inspired basic research (Stokes, 1997). Cooper notes that the rapid and continuing rise of university-based research institutes and centers in the U.S. and EU occurred synergistically with the influence of the Triple Helix on higher education. The open question is to what extent have South Africa’s investments provided the strategic grist to refine its higher education system to position it for leadership in the development of a knowledge society and economy. Specifically, Cooper queries, “What are the major enhancing and inhibiting factors affecting university research centres and units of the Western Cape, in relation to their fulfillment of use-oriented research for wider societal constituencies?”(p. 25). He argues that South Africa’s system of higher education seems to have embraced well the U-I dyad within the Triple Helix, but that industry was clearly dominant over government. Cooper calls for a much more equitable role for government investment in higher education’s research and development in order to balance the Triple Helix.

However, not content with polemical pot-shooting, Cooper designed a rigorous longitudinal case study to gather direct information on the status of five Western Cape universities apropos of their organizational structures in support of research. Three universities are traditional liberal arts research universities and two are technology universities. Interviews were conducted in 2000, 2005, and 2007 in order to capture evidence of change in institutional research infrastructure that may reflect alignment signaling emergence of Triple Helix models.

Cooper develops and describes in considerable detail, four model approaches to organizing research in higher education. He describes then rejects the “curiosity” focused traditional model (T) comprised of an individual teacher-researcher and her/his graduate students working on issues related to disciplinary driven questions. While such research clearly contributes to knowledge generation, and represents a tenaciously durable approach to research, its translation to practical solutions for societal problems ordinarily follows a linear pathway from basic research to applied research to production, if it ever is actually launched onto that pathway. Three alternate models, A, B, and C, are advocated as structures that will accelerate innovation and, guided by use-inspired basic research, will simultaneously contribute to knowledge production as well as evidence-based application. Model A (Real Research Center) is seen as fully aligned with the Triple Helix, hierarchically organized with a director, functionally a CEO, with a critical mass of senior researchers, post-doctoral fellows, and graduate students with infrastructure staff and resource support. Cooper’s analysis of case study data concluded that such centers in the Western Cape sample were difficult to sustain, despite evidence that Model A organizations in North America and the European Union are highly successful. Model B (New Real Unit) research units are led by a professor with post-doctoral and graduate students who are in partnership with external stakeholders in order to achieve a shared set of outcomes. Case study data provided support for the effectiveness of this approach for university-community partnership growth. Model C (Virtual Centers) centers are networks of researchers and various subgroups who are drawn together by shared interests and experience few barriers to their spontaneous interdisciplinary efforts to jointly examine multi-faceted problems. These centers fared better with respect to productivity, but still seem to have suffered from the heavy reliance on U-I relations, without counterbalancing investments by government to shore up the U-I linkage within the Triple Helix.

Cooper’s case study approach found little evidence for what he refers to as “innovation anxiety” among interviewees. Innovation anxiety seems to refer to a deep cultural and individual sense that innovation is the key to creating a knowledge society and that it is the essential glue that binds the university-industry-government triad. Although Cooper found that researchers understood the value of university-industry partnerships, the value was not accompanied by a sense that the university was an essential partner for developing industry and accelerating it toward a knowledge society. Moreover, they apparently engaged in little deep conversation about the role of South Africa’s higher education system with respect to creating regional innovation systems motivated by Triple Helix models. In short, he found little evidence that universities were driven by innovation anxiety and therefore did not particularly see themselves as critical players in the Triple Helix with respect to economic innovation and development in the Western Cape.

Etzkowitz (2008) embeds the Triple Helix in a “flourishing civil society” that fuels the “emergence of diverse sources of innovation,” and provides the dynamic force for sparking innovation for forming a “meta-innovation system.” But for Etzkowitz, civil society is akin to an external perturbation that simulates initiative and change within the Triple Helix but is not part of the system dynamics of the Triple-Helix itself. In contrast, influenced by the CES movement in higher education, Cooper argues that extending the new entrepreneurial university from its anchor in technology and industry to the activities and objectives of civil society requires a fully integrated Quad Helix of university-industry-government-civil society so that innovation, economic growth, and societal change are part of a common discourse in which all elements of complex systems are working toward alignment and thereby optimizing sustainability. Cooper brings into focus the critical importance of including the knowledge and voices of people from outside universities, government, and industry if a knowledge society is to take root, and points to the scale of this challenge, particularly in countries where large numbers of people are poor and work outside the economy of large and medium enterprises (pp. 111–115). Indeed as Silka (1999) points out about the dynamic relationships in networks and partnerships, the dynamic process “involves learning to see things in terms of something else in order to overcome differences and arrive at a shared plan of action.”(p. 353).

In The University in Development, David Cooper challenges the higher education system of the Western Cape and South Africa to see things differently and develop a shared plan of action by building a Quad Helix network designed to expand use-inspired basic research and construct a knowledge economy that fully embraces the cultural and historical character of South Africa and creates a knowledge society for all of its citizens. Moreover, he challenges higher education to step forward and create the 21st century infrastructure and reward system that will unleash faculty and student innovations for positive change. His message is one that resonates far beyond the borders of South Africa.


Cox, D. (2010). History of the scholarship of engagement movement. In H.E. Fitzgerald, C. Burack, & S. Seifer (eds). Handbook of engaged scholarship: Contemporary landscapes, future directions. Vol 1. Institutional change (pp., 25–38). East Lansing, MI: Michigan State University Press.

Etzkowitz, H. (2008). Triple Helix: University-industry-government innovation in action. New York: Routledge.

Fitzgerald, H.E. (in press). Knowledge, engagement, and higher education in Canada and the United States of America. In Higher education in the World 5: Knowledge, engagement, and higher education: Rethinking social responsibility. Barcelona, Spain: Global University Network for Innovation

Fitzgerald, H.E., & Simon, L.A.K. (2012). The world grant ideal and engagement scholarship. Journal of Higher Education Outreach and Engagement. 16, 33–55.

Fitzgerald, H.E., Bruns, K., Sonka, S.T., Furco, A., & Swanson, L. (2010). Centrality of engagement in higher education. Journal of Higher Education, Outreach and Engagement, 16, 7–27.

Nyden, P., & Percy, S. (2010). Documenting impacts: Engaged research centers and community change. In H.E. Fitzgerald, C. Burack, & S. Seifer (eds). Handbook of engaged scholarship: Contemporary landscapes, future directions. Vol. 2: Community-campus partnerships (pp. 311–332). East Lansing, MI: Michigan State University Press.

Powell, J.A. (2010). UPBEAT: University engagement through virtuous knowledge sharing and academic staff development. In H.E. Fitzgerald, C. Burack, & S. Seifer (eds). Handbook of engaged scholarship: Contemporary landscapes, future directions. Vol. 2: Community-campus partnerships (pp. 459–478). East Lansing, MI: Michigan State University Press.

Silka, L. (1999). Paradoxes of partnerships: Reflections on university-community collaborations. Research in Politics and Society, 7, 335–359.

Stokes, D.E. (1997). Pasteur’s Quadrant: Basic science and technological innovation. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press.

About the Reviewers 

Hiram E. Fitzgerald is associate provost for University Outreach and Engagement and University Distinguished Professor of Psychology at Michigan State University. He is president of the Engagement Scholarship Consortium, chair of the Committee on Institutional Cooperation’s Committee on Engagement, and a member of the Board of Directors of the Academy of Community Engagement Scholarship. He is a fellow of both the American Psychological Association and the Association of Psychological Science.

Burton A. Bargerstock is director of the National Collaborative for the Study of University Engagement and director of Communication and Information Technology within University Outreach and Engagement at Michigan State University.

Book Review: For Contributors to This Collection, “Public” Is the Defining Identity

Katharyne Mitchell, editor, Practising Public Scholarship: Experience and Possibilities Beyond the Academy, West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell, 2008, 152 pages. ISBN: 978-1-4051-8912-5

Reviewed by Jay Lamar

Contributors: Terry Eagleton, Patricia Limerick, Michael Buraway, Melissa W. Wright, Paul R. Ehrlich, David Domke, Julia Reinhard Lupton, Dennis Raphael, Katherine O’Donnell, Paul Chatterton, Meghan Cope, Walden Bello, Katherine Beckett, Don Mitchell, Stephen Bezruchka, Julie Ellison, Peter McLaren, Jenny Pickerell, Howard Zinn, Doreen Massey

The essays in Katharyne Mitchell’s Practising Public Scholarship are fundamentally autobiographical narratives of transformation. The contributors, including Terry Eagleton, Julie Ellison, Paul Ehrlich, and Howard Zinn, trace their evolution from academics, scholars, and intellectuals to public academics, public scholars, and public intellectuals. The emphasis is clear in Mitchell’s title.

A suspect term in some academic circles, public is nevertheless the defining identity for these writers and researchers. What that means for them individually may begin in such obvious activities as writing op-eds, participating in social protests, and the rather mundane activities of copyediting posters and press releases designed to communicate activism of one kind or another.

However, these personal forays into public nudge the contributors to think deeply about their responsibilities to their institution, their students, and their communities. What happened to make them susceptible or compelled to begin the journey ranges from an upbringing that valued education to personal participation in politics to reading and reflecting on a seminal text. These paths are both deliberate and accidental. As Limerick notes, “Career-wise, improbability and adventure have become my norm” (11). Most of the contributors would concur.

And that is part of the allure—a chance to make scholarship relevant to problems and challenges and to apply it to the search for solutions. Mitchell notes in her introduction: “My sense is that what creates a public scholar is related to a profound urge to participate and intervene in the political practices of the world—to fight injustice or correct information or provide a needed service—in short, to try to make the world a better place, corny as that sounds” (2).

Corny, maybe, but also compelling when, as Eagleton writes, public intellectuals “find some way of bringing their particular academic expertise to bear on a matter of public importance” (7).

Mitchell’s contributors speak to the challenges of becoming public: how to make engagement a platform for scholarship, how to craft a language that reflects scholarship but translates clearly to public audiences, how to negotiate resistance within the academy (including issues of tenure and promotion). The latter, succinctly stated by Mitchell as the challenge of “becoming a public scholar and…intervening politically in the world, while remaining within a university system” (p. 4, author’s emphasis) is no small matter.

Of course, the contributors to Practising Public Scholarship are the ones who survived and thrived. Their disciplines span sociology, English, women’s studies, geography, and environmental sciences, among others. While their experiences may be discipline-specific, their wisdom is universal. Practical advice includes strategic career choices that make the journey easier. Dennis Raphael suggests choosing “an academic discipline that allows incorporation of the political into academic inquiry” (p. 64). Limerick takes it further: “Apply, to the world around you, the methods they taught you in graduate school for assessing evidence…keep your hypotheses in a limber and flexible state… resist the common human habit of celebrating the evidence that supports your pre-existing point of view, while dismissing the evidence that invites you to question your original assumptions” (p. 16).

Ultimately, each of the contributors would like to encourage the next generation to make the leap, primarily because, as Limerick states: “I cannot shake the idea, composed of equal parts gloom and cheer, that the minds of faculty and students are the most under-utilized renewable resources in the United States today” (p. 15). In the end, this is the audience for Practising Public Scholarship. If, as O’Donnell notes, “the most difficult task remains developing enduring student and institutional commitment” (p. 72), it is crucial that established and emerging public scholars begin and continue to produce and promote academically respected, publicly accessible scholarship that makes a difference in the world. Practising Public Scholarship is a road map for that journey.

About the Reviewer 

Jay Lamar is director of Special Programs, Office of the Provost, Undergraduate Studies, Auburn University. She is a member of the JCES editorial board.

Book Review: The Heart Is As Important As the Mind for Higher Education Renewal

Parker J. Palmer and Arthur Zajonc, The Heart of Higher Education: A Call to Renewal. San Francisco, California: Jossey-Bass, 2010. 256 pages. ISBN: 978-0-470-48790-7

Reviewed by Megan A. Scanlon

In Villa Incognito, Tom Robbins writes:

It doesn’t matter how sensitive you are or how damn smart and educated you are, if you’re not both at the same time, if your heart and your brain aren’t connected, aren’t working together harmoniously, well, you’re just hopping through life on one leg. You may think you’re walking, you may think you’re running a damn marathon, but you’re only on a hop trip. The connection’s got to be maintained (p. 104).

The Heart of Higher Education: A Call to Renewal: Transforming the Academy through Collegial Conversations dedicates itself to maintaining this connection by asking if “current education efforts address the whole human being—mind, heart, and spirit—in ways that best contribute to our future on this fragile planet?” Authors Parker Palmer and Arthur Zajonc explore the steps colleges and universities can take to experience a mind, heart, and spirit connection, while questioning the “imagined, habitual, or real barriers preventing our educational communities from actualizing meaningful dialogues around spirit, purpose, and transformation” (p. vii).

The book emerged from a series of conversations; the authors felt something was missing in higher education, namely, integrative education. “Integration has been an enduring goal in education for a long time. In the cathedral schools of twelfth century Europe, the Seven Liberal Arts were…intended to produce the ‘good and perfect man’” (p. 7). As a philosophy and practice, it is influenced by individuals such as the Dalai Lama, who maintains, “Education can guide, but the heart must lead” (p. 163), as well as mathematician and philosopher Alfred North Whitehead, physicist Albert Einstein, and poet Rainer Maria Rilke, who said, “Do not search now for the answers, which could not be given to you because you would not be able to live them. It is a matter of living everything” (p. l05). Thus, the authors champion that integrative education

…begins with the premise that we are embedded in a communal reality and then proceeds to an epistemological assertion: we cannot know this communal reality truly and well unless we ourselves are consciously and actively in community with it as knowers (p. 27).

Man of letters Horace Walpole wrote, “This world is a comedy to those that think, a tragedy to those that feel” (Cunningham, 2012, p. 366). Consequently, the reviewer’s mentor once told her that it’s a sign of intelligence to hold two competing and contradictory ideas and still function. Heart demonstrates its intelligence in thinking and feeling by acknowledging the inherent disorder embedded in any institution (and in life) with stories of those who have found their own rhythm; those who recognize the power of higher education and take “thoughtful risks” about what is worth trying. In this way others may be able to heighten awareness of their own unique rhythm.

Indeed Heart does warn that “disengaged forms of learning are likely to lead learners toward disengaged lives” (p. 31). A divided academic life runs the risk of unprecedented levels of apathy and detachment, dangerous in that an isolationist attitude hampers efforts to collectively solve the most pressing needs of our time. Yet, the authors’ intentions are not to set boundaries on integrative education by defining it; rather the book is an invitation for lively and meaningful conversation about transformative education, as:

…one of the virtues of conversation, as opposed to declaration, is that you do not need a precise definition to make headway: the nuances of a good conversation allow you to probe complex problems without reducing them to single dimensions or sound bites (p. 6–7).

Heart bestows powerful and motivating examples about optimizing the higher education experience. The authors uphold that we in higher education can make conscious decisions to reinforce the value of human relationships, engage in meaningful, holistic ways, focus on collaboration, and illuminate our interconnectedness. When applied, this rhetoric arguably influences positive internalized behaviors. It promotes spaces for empathy and generosity, and cultivates an attitude of empowerment and ownership.

Palmer and Zajonc maintain:

The change we seek within the academy is not one that flows from administrative mandate, but one that arises in the energized space between caring and thoughtful human beings. When personal agendas subside, and genuine interest in the other is established, than a quality of mutual attentiveness emerges that can become the safe harbor for the new and the unexpected that may become a seedbed of educational renewal (p. 12).

Heart embodies these energized spaces between caring and thoughtful human beings by facilitating to the reader a sense of hospitality and openness:

Learning spaces need to be hospitable spaces not merely because kindness is a good idea but because real education requires rigor. In a counterintuitive way, hospitality supports rigor by supporting community, and the proof can be found in everyday classroom experience (p. 29).

Heart challenges the reader to consider how we know what we know; are we objective, subjective, or both, and how does what we think we know affect how we approach the world and each other? Heart acknowledges the dance between objectivity and subjectivity, but in an interview about subjectivity in journalism, the late journalist Tim Hetherington arguably said it best:

All journalists should realize that true objectivity is impossible and therefore what I am always looking for in my work is this relationship between subjectivity and objectivity, for me the work is the mixture of the two, but I think its slightly weighted to what is outside of myself, and I put the weight on that thing because I think we all share this planet and that we have to work out strategies–I have to work out strategies to communicate to you, because I share this planet with you, and it’s important that we don’t just look at the world through a subjective nihilist lens that we try and look at the world through a kind of objective lens because we have to share it (

We DO share this planet, and insight into what shapes an individual’s worldview is a tool to inform behavior and actions, and there is nothing more tangible than how behaviors and actions affect lives. This is exemplified in Palmer’s example in learning about the Holocaust. He felt that he learned about it in an “academically antiseptic way, at objectivist’s arm’s length.” Survivors weren’t invited to class, personal stories weren’t ever told, films of Holocaust monstrosities never viewed. He felt the material was taught dispassionately, as if “these things had happened to some other species on some other planet” (p. 32). Thus, to the critics who say emotions have no place in the classroom, Heart replies:

Academics who want to factor out “subjective emotions” in favor of data-based “objective knowledge” will, at the same time, blithely ignore fifty years of research about the importance of attending to emotions if we want to liberate the mind (p. 42).

Furthermore, in Chapter 1, Palmer promptly addresses the critics of integrative education, not wanting to flee from criticism, an action he considers, “one of the saddest and most self contradictory features of academic culture” (p. 23). Other critiques include: Integrative education is too messy; academics and spirituality don’t mix; and its philosophical foundations are weak. Palmer essentially agrees with the latter, not in that philosophical underpinnings cannot be “mounted,” but because:

Many of us have not done our homework on these issues in a way that allows us to engage our critics in a constructive dialogue…. (O)ur challenge is to become more conversant with these things and more articulate about them, in dialogue with the critics (p. 24).

Heart in its entirety rises to this challenge, specifically through the excellent, applicable, and moving accounts given in the appendix. For instance, Dennis Huffman, a program supervisor at Prince George’s Community College, connects professors (more than two-thirds are part-time) using the power of poetry. To convey his gratitude to the faculty and enliven their community, Huffman delivered weekly poems with messages of thanks in the faculty mailboxes. A turning point in his self-conscious, unsure effort came when “A gruff old math teacher getting off the elevator… snarled, ‘Hey! Where’s my poem? I really needed it this week.’” (p. 206).

Heart selected instructive appendix examples to combat barriers such as being lost in a crowd at a big school. The story of Jon Dalton, former VP of Student Affairs at Florida State, speaks to the power of consistency. To make a large school accessible and more personal, Dalton set up a table every Wednesday at the school’s flea market. Wondering what a guy in a suit was up to, students eventually began to say hello, ask for advice, give advice, invite him to parties, etc. Anything he couldn’t respond to himself was generally quickly resolved with a phone call to another department. “Always, always they were grateful that I listened and tried to help…. I observed how this symbolic act helped to create a more positive student culture. I never tried to measure the impact scientifically; I didn’t have to” (p. 197).

In Cannery Row, John Steinbeck (1945) writes:

It has always seemed strange to me…. The things we admire in men, kindness and generosity, openness, honesty, understanding and feeling, are the concomitants of failure in our system. And those traits we detest, sharpness, greed, acquisitiveness, meanness, egotism and self-interest, are the traits of success. And while men admire the quality of the first they love the produce of the second (p. 164).

Heart accounts for Steinbeck’s traits of success and shares wonderful examples of “the concomitants of failure”: building community, illuminating the things we admire in others, and a generosity of spirit.

In a New York Times op-ed about biking accessibility in New York City, musician David Byrne says:

I got hooked on biking because it’s a pleasure, not because biking lowers my carbon footprint, improves my health or brings me into contact with different parts of the city and new adventures. But it does all these things too…. (T) he reward is emotional gratification, which trumps reason, as it often does (

The most important thing Heart does is invite readers to consider listening to our internal barometers, and to share in conversation that which we find joyful and meaningful. Bachelard (1994) quotes Rilke: “These trees are magnificent, but even more magnificent is the sublime and moving space between them, as though with their growth it too increased” (p. 201). In the “moving space” between listening and sharing, and between connecting our heads and our hearts, there is an energy that has the power to generate positive, integrated effects in higher education, in our communities, and in the spaces we inhabit.


Bachelard, G. (1994). The Poetics of Space. Boston: Beacon Press.

Cunningham, P. (2012). The Letters of Horace Walpole: Earl of Orford, Vol. 6. Charleston, SC: Nabu Press.

Robbins, T. (2003). Villa Incognito. New York: Bantam, 2003.

Steinbeck, J. (1945). Cannery Row. New York: Viking.

About the Reviewer 

Megan A. Scanlon is an enrollment advisor at the American University of Beirut based in the New York office.

Book Review: In Their Own Perspectives: Not-For-Profit Staff Perspectives of Collaborations Between the Community and the Academy

Randy Stoecker and Elizabeth A. Tryon, editors, The Unheard voices: Community Organizations and Service Learning. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 2009, 232 pages, ISBN: 978-1-59213-995-8

Reviewed by Neivin M. Shalabi 

The central goal of Randy Stoecker and Elizabeth Tryon’s The Unheard Voices: Community Organizations and Service Learning is to amplify the voices of community partners, thus addressing the neglect of community impact and perception of service-learning. The book chapters are based on qualitative data collected from 67 not-for-profit professionals by students in a community-based research seminar at the University of Wisconsin. In addition to a preface and an epilogue, Unheard Voices is organized into 10 chapters.

The first chapter briefly reviews pertinent literature, highlighting bias toward student outcomes; the paucity of research on the community side of service-learning; and limitations of previous studies on community perspectives mainly as lacking sufficient depth. The second chapter begins by discussing the meager resources of the majority of not-for-profits, but moves quickly beyond that to argue that the motives of not-for-profit professionals are complex and go beyond their desires to serve the needs of their organizations and those of their clients to benefit society at large. The authors classify the motivations of community organizations for hosting service-learners into four categories: an altruistic motive to educate service-learners, a long-term motive for the sector and the organization, the capacity-building motive, and the higher education relationship motive.

The next chapters—three to eight—highlight several issues associated with service-learning for partnering organizations. Among these issues is the challenge of finding a good match between the organization and students; the authors revealed how the location of not-for-profits—away from campus or in rural areas—may constrain their recruitment of service-learners. The issue of short-term service-learning also emerged as a daunting challenge facing community-based organizations that accept service-learners. For example, the authors explained how the short duration of service neither justifies the time organizations invest in preparing students nor yields adequate benefits for students and organizations. The authors proposed ideas for getting the most out of short-term service-learning and moving it into longer and sustained collaborations with universities.

Evaluating service-learners surfaced as another important issue facing community-based organizations. The authors discussed agency professionals’ concerns about the extent to which, if at all, their input affected students’ grades and the differences between their goals of evaluating service-learners and those of the academy, noting that while the university focuses on assessing student learning, community professionals are concerned with assessing student performance based on the set of skills and competencies service-learners bring to theirs organizations.

In addition to discussing the issues of good fit and evaluation, the authors pinpointed the concept of diversity as it relates to service-learning, highlighting the demographic differences between service-learners and the clients in that the first usually come from privileged racial and class backgrounds while the latter typically come from historically disadvantaged groups. The authors stressed the value of diversity as essential to building a cohesive and empowered community. Significantly, the authors discussed diversity beyond demographics, stressing the importance of enhancing students’ cultural competencies through diversity trainings and increasing their exposure to diverse groups. Importantly, they called for intentional efforts to enhance diversity and appreciation for it, noting that overlooking the issue of diversity in service-learning could yield negative impacts for students and communities.

The last two chapters—nine and ten—describe principles of success for service-learning as perceived by not-for-profit professionals. Commitment, communication, and compatibility emerged as the most central principles of success. Commitment refers to the idea of sustaining service-learning relationships between the community and the academy over time. Communication signifies the critical importance of maintaining effective interactions among partnering organizations, students, and faculty members. Compatibility indicates the idea of good fit, meaning that care should be given to ensure that service-learning projects fit the needs of the community and that students’ placements match the organizations’ goals and needs.

While Unheard Voices covers a relatively broad range of issues associated with service-learning from a community perspective, it suffers from a number of limitations. For example, it provides little to no information about participants’ demographics, the characteristics of their not-for-profits, and the exact number of participants who contributed to each topic. The use of visualization, such as summary tables and/or diagrams, with this information would have increased the validity of findings and allowed for an examination of how participants’ backgrounds and their organizations’ types might have shaped their perceptions of service-learning. Likewise, providing more details about data analysis procedures such as coding types and strategies for identifying themes and their rationale would have enhanced the validity of findings. Lastly, incorporating a theoretical framework and a discussion of how researchers’ identities impacted their interpretation of data would have increased the trustworthiness of the information presented in this volume.

Despite the above noted limitations, Unheard Voices is a needed addition to the literature for several reasons. First, it highlights community voice, thus addressing an important gap in service-learning literature. Significantly, it presents a persuasive argument for the importance of caring about the community impact and perception of service-learning through both soliciting community voice and discussing the consequences of overlooking the community side of service-learning. On a related note, the book goes beyond revealing issues facing not-for-profit professionals in their service-learning collaborations with higher education to discussing the significance of each issue and presenting suggestions for handling those issues. Doing so increases the utility and practicality of the book, thus making it appealing to both scholars and practitioners. Second, supporting the discussions with many direct quotes from the participants is a major strength of this volume; the voices of community professionals make the book authentic and interesting. Third, the organization of the book is another merit; the use of headings and sub-headings guides the reader and makes the book reader-friendly. Significantly, by engaging different constituents in authoring this book, Stoecker and Tryon managed to model collaboration among community professionals, students, and faculty members in service-learning.

Unheard Voices contributes to the knowledge base on service-learning in higher education in several ways. First, it is among the pioneering works that focus on community voice and impact of service-learning (e.g., Sandy & Holland, 2006; Worrall, 2007). However, this volume is distinct in that it addresses a wider range of issues facing community-based organizations in service-learning and allows ample space for the voice of not-for-profit professionals. The uniqueness of this book also stems from its strong message that higher education constituents should engage with community partners in a dialectic process to enhance the practice of service-learning and ensure its value to communities, raising a flag that if universities overlook the community side of service-learning, not-for-profits might refuse to accept students in their organizations, which may threaten the practice of service-learning. Second, Unheard Voices confirms many findings in existing literature. For example, it consolidates previous findings on the critical role of faculty in enhancing service-learning (e.g., Bringle, Games, & Malloy, 1999; Checkoway, 2001), especially in ensuring the right match between students and organizations, establishing effective communication between them, and in clarifying expectations for student’ roles at partnering organizations. It also affirms previous findings (Bringle et al., 1999; Vogelgesang, 2004) as well as theoretical arguments (Bacon, 2002; Holland, 2002) about the cultural differences between the academy and the community, which suggests that attention should be paid to establishing relationships and communication between both entities. Similar to previous works (e.g., Driscoll, 2007; Scheibel, Bowley, & Jones, 2005), this book underscores the importance of evaluating service-learning courses to assess gains for all partners involved and improve the practice.

In addition to increasing the knowledge base on the community side of service-learning, Unheard Voices pushes the envelop by calling attention to new lines of inquiry, for example that the four suggested motives of agency staff members for participating in service-learning with higher education require empirical validation. Researchers could use the ideas presented in the book to develop scales reflecting each motive. Also, future studies may examine how these motives vary across service-learning partnerships and the factors affecting this variation, such as institutional type or service orientation. Data from such studies would be useful in designing satisfactory service-learning courses for community partners.

One of the key messages in Unheard Voices is the importance of evaluating service-learning to ensure its value for all involved partners. While there exist some scales for assessing student impact of service-learning (Bringle, Phillips, & Hudson, 2004), there are hardly any published scales designed specifically to assess community partners’ perspectives. Given the paucity of research in this area, developing such scales would be a significant contribution to the field. For example, the development of such scales could reduce existing bias in the literature toward student outcomes of service-learning, eliminate barriers to understanding community impact and perspective, and promote our understanding of the community side of service-learning.

Prior to the 2000s, the literature focused on the academy side of service-learning, especially the impacts of this innovation on students. After the pioneering work of Cruz and Giles (2000), several other works also addressed community perspectives, mostly by soliciting feedback from professionals at partnering organizations. Unheard Voices, however, calls attention to the importance of seeking the perspectives of the clientele of the organizations themselves. Following this direction would yield a more complete picture of the community side of service-learning.

Unheard Voices calls for designing mutually beneficial service-learning partnerships for the academy and the community. Future research could investigate practical ways to do so. The outcomes of such studies could help bridge the huge gaps in power between both entities and promote reciprocal relationships between them as each entity recognizes its contributions to, and benefits from, these collaborations. Also, the volume discusses in detail the characteristics that organizations aspire to have in student service-learning. This area prompts a direction for a new line of research that examines the criteria universities use in choosing partnering organizations. Such data could help organizations better prepare themselves for service-learning collaborations with universities. The book highlights the issue of short-term service-learning as a major challenge facing not-for-profits in their service-learning collaborations with universities. The authors presented a few suggestions as to how to move it into longer sustained collaborations. However, given the importance of the issue, more studies are needed to investigate creative ways to sustain service-learning partnerships with communities over time. Outcomes of such studies could guide the long-term design and implementation of effective service-learning collaborations between higher education and communities. Unheard Voices is a significant contribution to service-learning literature that provides profound insights—from the community side—into building effective and democratic service-learning collaborations between the community and the academy.


Bacon, N. (2002). Differences in faculty and community partners’ theories of learning. Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning, 9(1), 34-44.

Bringle, R.G., Games, R., & Malloy, R.E.A. (1999). Colleges and universities as citizens. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

Bringle, R.G., Phillips, A.M., & Hudson, M. (2004). The measure of service learning: Research scales to assess students experiences. Washington, DC: The American Psychological Association.

Checkoway, B. (2001). Renewing the civic mission of the American research university. Journal of Higher Education, 72(2), 125-147.

Cruz, N.I., & Giles, D.E., Jr. (2000). Where’s the community in service-learning research? [Special Issue]. Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning, 28-34.

Driscoll, A. (2007). Engaging departments: Moving faculty culture from private to public and from individual to collective focus for the common good. [Review Essay]. Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning, 13(2), 75-79.

Holland, B. (2002, April 17). Every perspective counts: Understanding the true meaning of reciprocity in partnerships. Keynote address to the Western Regional Campus Compact Conference. Portland, OR.

Scheibel, J., Bowley, E. M., & Jones, S. (2005). The promise of partnerships: Tapping into the college as a community asset. Providence, RI: Campus Compact.

Stoecker, R., & Tryon, E., & Hilgendorf, A. [Eds.]. (2009). The unheard voices: Community organizations and service learning. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press.

Vogelgesang, L. J. (2004). Diversity work and service-learning: Understanding campus dynamics. Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning, 10(2), 34-43.

About the Reviewer 

Neivin N. Shalabi is a lecturer at Delta University for Science and Technology in El Mansoura, Egypt.


Publisher Dr. Samory T. Pruitt, Vice President for Community Affairs
Editor Dr. Cassandra E. Simon, The University of Alabama
Book Review Editor Dr. Heather Pleasants, The University of Alabama
Production Editor Dr. Edward Mullins, The University of Alabama
Assistant to the Editor Vicky Carter, The University of Alabama
Designer Rebecca Robinson, The University of Alabama
Web Producer Spencer Baer, The University of Alabama

The Journal of Community Engagement and Scholarship is published at The University of Alabama by the Division of Community Affairs to advance the scholarship of engagement worldwide. To reach the editor, send an email to or call 205-348-7392.

Editorial Board

Marsha H. Adams, The University of Alabama

Andrea Adolph, Kent State University Stark Campus

Katrice A. Albert, Louisiana State University

Theodore R. Alter, Pennsylvania State University

Robert E. Bardon, North Carolina State University

Anna Sims Bartel, Independent Scholar and Consultant

Delicia Carey, Volunteer

Jeremy Cohen, Pennsylvania State University

Richard L. Conville, The University of Southern Mississippi

Susan Curtis, Purdue University

Mary Elizabeth Curtner-Smith, The University of Alabama

David J. Edelman, University of Cincinnati

Barbara Ferman, Temple University

Hiram E. Fitzgerald, Michigan State University

Philip A. Greasley, University of Kentucky

Sulina Green, University of Stellenbosch (South Africa)

Susan Scheriffius Jakes, North Carolina State University

Phillip W. Johnson, The University of Alabama

Mary A. Jolley, Community Volunteer, Tuscaloosa, Ala.

Kimberly L. King-Jupiter, Albany State University

William S. Kisaalita, University of Georgia

J. Robert Krueger, Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Jay Lamar, Auburn University

James Leeper, The University of Alabama

Robert C. Liebman, Portland State University

Marybeth Lima, Louisiana State University

Antoinette Lombard, University of Pretoria (South Africa)

Robert L. Miller, Jr., The University at Albany, State University of New York

Mary Ann Murphy, Pace University

dt ogilvie, Rochester Institute of Technology

Jacob Oludoye Oluwoye, Alabama A&M University

Michael E. Orok, Tennessee State University

Ruth Paris, Boston University

Clement Alexander Price, Rutgers University-Newark

Josephine Pryce, The University of Alabama

A. Scott Reed, Oregon State University

Michael J. Rich, Emory University

Howard B. Rosing, DePaul University

Sunil Saigal, New Jersey Institute of Technology

Nick Sanyal, University of Idaho

Amilcar Shabazz, University of Massachusetts-Amhurst

L. Steven Smutko, University of Wyoming

John J. Stretch, Saint Louis University

John R. Wheat, The University of Alabama

Kim L. Wilson, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

From the Editor: Partnering, Inspiring, Changing…and Taking Chances

Cassandra E. Simon, Ph.D.

The release of this issue of JCES coincides with the 2012 National Outreach and Scholarship Conference being held at the University of Alabama, October 1-3, 2012. The manuscripts in this issue continue to add to the ongoing and increasingly complex body of engagement scholarship knowledge. The topics presented in this issue are as varied as engagement scholarship itself. This particular selection of manuscripts seeks to contribute to strengthening methodological, theoretical, and practical applications relevant for engagement scholarship and our understanding of it. One manuscript demonstrates the successful application of concept mapping and influence diagramming through a community and university partnership. A community sidebar accompanies this piece and represents JCES’ first publication of such a piece. As a scholarly peer-reviewed journal, we recognize and appreciate the role of communities’ voices in engagement scholarship and look for different ways to have it acknowledged and included as part of the scholarly process.

Other manuscripts evaluate the effectiveness of a civic youth engagement program and assess the culture of engagement. Whether it is through articulation of how learning with as opposed to learning from survivors of trauma changes participants, processes, and outcomes or power dynamics and their influence on different constituent groups in engagement projects, this issue is sure to have something of relevance to engagement scholars of all varieties. We hope you will find something interesting and exciting…something that will inspire you to partner with others to effect change.

Partner! Inspire! Change! This is the theme of the 2012 NOSC conference and it is in that spirit that we present an essay submitted by Cheryl Keen, Ph.D. The essay is not your typical scholarly piece; nor is it a manuscript that JCES would have normally reviewed. We, the local JCES production team, did decide, however, that it had a certain kind of scholarly merit, especially with the NOSC conference upcoming and publication of this issue of JCES for release at the conference. Our publishing this piece represents our willingness to do what engagement scholarship dares to do, and that is to fulfill our commitment to you to be a high quality peer-reviewed journal, unafraid to try something new, and not restricted to what already is. We hope you enjoy the essay, as well as the rest of this issue.

The Formation of a Research Collaboration: Same Time, Next Year? An Essay

Cheryl Keen


This essay describes the evolution of two scholars’ discussion of common interests in a major national study involving faculty, students, and a community partner. A service-learning project involving analysis of a large service-learning alumni database by a graduate research methods class was central to the project. Compelling findings about the formation of civically minded professionals emerged. This essay focuses on that process, while identifying the major outcomes.

How many times have you attended a conference, met an exciting colleague, felt exhilarated about your shared interests, declared intentions, and then made promises to collaborate on research or write “something” together? And then, how many times have well-intentioned pledges evaporated within a few months?

My experience with a successful research partnership defies this pattern. What made it work this time around? Was it the diversity, dedication, or personality of the partners? Was it the allure of a robust dataset that could shed light on civic patterns of college graduates? Or was it the enthusiasm of a graduate student class using real data and working with real community partners?

My research focused on understanding the inclinations of others to work toward the common good. For years, Julie Hatcher, of Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI), and I said how wonderful it would be to work together on a project. We attended the same conferences, shared a commitment to the public purposes of higher education, studied the same books on civic engagement, and found each other’s work very compelling. And we were only separated by a two-hour drive! What promise!

Yet, years passed.

In 2009, both Julie and I participated in a Symposium on Civic Learning Outcomes, co-hosted by the American Association of Colleges and Universities and IUPUI. A few months after the two-day summit, I was asked to survey the alumni of 25 campuses of the Bonner Foundation’s Scholar Program and make a report at their 20th anniversary event. I was sure I could enhance this opportunity to learn about the civic development of 4,000 alumni of the four-year co-curricular service-learning programs if I included Julie’s recently developed Civic-Minded Professional (CMP) scale.

Forgoing the two-hour drive, Julie, Bobby Hackett, president of the Bonner Foundation, and I met by phone several times and developed a survey to reach our shared goals. The Bonner Foundation was most interested in program dimensions and current levels of civic engagement of the scholars, while Julie and I were most interested in understanding how dialogue, reflection, and interaction with faculty contribute to civic growth. The Bonner Foundation staff found 3,000 alumni email addresses. We were fortunate to get almost 1,000 responses. We presented descriptive data and preliminary findings at the Bonner alumni event. I remember Doug Bennett, soon-to-retire president of Earlham College, saying that most colleges would drool over a 33% response rate and the high levels of civic engagement reported by the Bonner Scholar alumni.

We swallowed some scholarly pride and shared the preliminary analysis of the data at the International Association of Research on Service Learning and Civic Engagement (IARSLCE) conference in fall 2010. We had wished to be further along by the time of the conference, but as full-fledged members of the sandwich generation, we each had to face and assume new responsibilities to care for aging parents, and this, coupled with our daily work, limited our ability to dive into the rich dataset. Nevertheless, we found the IARSLCE audience enthusiastic about the research, the questions, and the methodology. More importantly, Professor Dan Richard of the University of North Florida (UNF) was so impressed by the dataset, and the important questions represented by the many variables, that he approached us at the end of the session to inquire about our working together. So, promises were made to meet “same time, same place, next year.”

What happened in that year astounded all of us.

Dan was curious about service learning, but did not have experience in leading a service-learning class. The opportunity to engage his graduate statistics class in analysis of the alumni data was very enticing. Since I was traveling nearby, he arranged for me to meet his class. For the next 9 months, we communicated on the phone via Skype and through email. We had the Bonner Foundation president and Julie speak to the class via iPhone. At the end of the semester, the class presented their results to us via Skype. And when the semester was over, a core of students kept working with Dan to further analyze the data.

In November, we indeed met at the “same time, same place” and five partners—the evaluator, the researcher, the professor, the student, and the Foundation program officer, Ariane Hoy—presented a finely analyzed dataset with compelling results to attendees of the annual IARSLCE conference. The UNF team developed a great sense of ease with and ownership of the data. All five partners were deeply invested in the findings. We could ask questions of each other like family members concerned about the family farm.

When we presented, we must have modeled collaboration. The audience seemed torn between being impressed by the implications of the results for their own institution and by the partnership they witnessed. Most of all, the professional presentation of student Heather Pease was a manifestation of what we had to share.

So what had happened to make this partnership work? Why did our heartfelt promises at a conference not evaporate?

As a faculty member at an online institution, I lack access to a local research center where I can easily collaborate with colleagues. I trusted my intuition about a new partner willing to work virtually. I long ago shed my proprietary sense about data, having written a book with three co-authors and published most of my articles with others. Julie needed access to a larger dataset to conduct confirmatory factor analysis on her scale. As for Dan, he was first intrinsically interested in the possibilities in the data analysis and then realized that he and his students could be learning while also providing service to a community partner. Heather and her fellow students seemed to be drawn by the opportunity to find their own voice as researchers, to discern researchable questions in a large database to whet their curiosity and growing concern to understand the roots of civic engagement. The Bonner Foundation was patient with the year’s process, one of many collaborations they were supporting.

And how do we know it worked? Every partner in the collaboration benefited. The faculty types in the group (Dan, Julie, and I) are all quite pleased that a class of graduate students discovered the potential power of quantitative analysis to answer important questions. Heather has found that she “loves data” and is busy applying to a doctoral program to grow her research skills. The Bonner Foundation has found confirmation of their assumption that they should focus on connecting people, and that sharing data, and allowing others to muck with it, benefits everyone. Julie gained access to a diverse group of professionals to help confirm the validity of her CMP scale. Dan gained confirmation that service-learning didn’t just sound like a good idea, but also seemed to propel the kind of learning he was hoping for in his master’s level stats class.

And I? I’m feeling quite generative and satisfied at this culmination of some life work. And now I’m looking for my next partner to meet “same place, same time” next year. Anyone want to help me analyze some new and interesting data? Meet you at a conference soon!

About the Author 

Cheryl Keen is a specialization coordinator of Ph.D. in Education foundation and core courses at Richard W. Riley College of Education and Leadership at Walden University.

Community Planning for Climate Change: Visible Thinking Tools Facilitate Shared Understanding

Joseph Cone, Shawn Rowe, Jenna Borberg, and Briana Goodwin


An engagement project examined the effectiveness of the visible thinking tools of concept mapping and influence diagramming to facilitate community planning for climate change through a series of workshops. The workshops were developed in coordination with a local nonprofit as part of a strategy of communicating about climate risks. Guided by university engagement faculty, workshop participants thoughtfully identified and mapped how specific risks associated with climate change may affect their rural coastal community, what could be done to address each risk, and who was responsible for taking action. Post-workshop interviews and surveys revealed that participants recognized the civic importance of facilitating dialogue on the contended issue of climate change and that visible thinking tools were beneficial towards developing understanding and consensus. Through the project, the community members and university personnel learned about local climate change concerns and some effective means for future collaboration, and the community set initial action priorities.


Many coastal communities in the United States and, indeed, throughout the world, will need to adapt to the changing climate over the next century (Adger, Agrawala, Mirza, Conde, O’Brien, Pulhin, Pulwarty, Smit, & Takahashi, 2007; Nicholls, Wong, Burkett, Codignotto, Hay, McLean, & Woodroffe, 2007). Coastal communities in the location of this study, the Pacific Northwest, are already affected by major storms, shifts in ocean currents, and tectonic uplift and subduction, among other effects (Burgette, Weldon, & Schmitt, 2009; Huppert, 2009; Oregon Climate Change Research Institute, 2010). Anticipated future effects from changes in Pacific Northwest’s climate include increased air and water temperatures, shifts in marine ecosystems and fish species, increased flooding, and coastal erosion worsened by sea-level rise and increasing wave heights (Oregon Climate Change Research Institute, 2010).

Despite these stresses occurring or anticipated in the natural system of which they are part, rural communities that typify the Oregon coast have not been urgently preparing for climate change. While our research shows that lack of information about anticipated local effects of climate change is one impediment to local planners (Borberg, Cone, Jodice, Harte, & Corcoran, 2009), the lack of institutional resources (including expertise and funding) to address the issue is also a concern (Tribbia & Moser, 2008). Knowing where to begin and how to proceed with such a potentially long and complex undertaking presents many additional hurdles (Snover, Whitely Binder, Lopez, Willmott, Kay, Howell, & Simmonds, 2007). These conditions provide an opportunity for university specialists to assist communities.

Community engagement, in part, involves such specialists interpreting the results of applied and basic research in ways that can be adopted by community members (National Sea Grant, 2000). The principal difference between engagement and the older concept of “outreach,” however, is that engagement fundamentally involves a two-way, collaborative mode of interaction between scientists, university personnel, and community members, all of whom are seen to be specialized-information holders. In traditional models of outreach or extension, outreach is seen as transmission or translation of “expert” knowledge from the university specialist out to users who are seen to have little to no important contribution to that knowledge. Such “conduit” models of university communication (Reddy, 1979) have given way in recent years to models of communication that see all participants as possessing expertise. The role of the community members in engagement as co-producers of knowledge rather than passive consumers is thus crucial. Engagement in this sense is only secondarily about interpreting applied research. Priority must first be given to working with communities to understand their needs and interests, their own specialized knowledge, and the constraints on putting into action the resulting co-generated knowledge.

In its first steps, this work of engagement requires getting to know communities and providing forums for their interaction with university research, researchers, and communicators. Therefore, before engaging a specific coastal community, the project’s university team, comprised of Oregon Sea Grant1 research and engagement faculty and graduate students, had undertaken some preliminary inquiry of the study population. This included a largest-ever coastwide survey of Oregon coast professionals regarding climate change. Needs, interests, and barriers to action were explicitly queried in that 2008 survey. (The findings, the subject of a master’s thesis, are published and available at In addition, the university team conducted a set of in-depth interviews with a small sample of coastal residents (n=14 interviews with 19 total participants) who visited the Visitor Center at the Hatfield Marine Science Center or the Oregon Coast Aquarium, both in Newport, Oregon. While surveys and interviews are traditional methods for carrying out assessments with target audiences (Davidson, 2005; Patton, 2001), these don’t provide substantive opportunity for two-way communication among university engagement professionals or researchers and public decision makers. Therefore, in addition, two group discussions with coastal decision makers (n=20) were conducted with that goal in mind.


Rationale. Anticipating that the community engagement project described here would be the first of a number of such climate planning projects in Oregon and potentially in other states involving members of the university team, we conceived the initial community project as a pilot, particularly to examine the usefulness of certain methods while at the same time providing value to the community and direct feedback to participating scientists. Before the community engagement began, the university team had an overarching goal to assist the community in becoming more resilient2 to climate change. We had multiple potential communities with which we could work. Our selection criteria for this pilot were (1) a community of a manageable size and local issue complexity; with (2) an existing community organization with a good reputation; which was (3) able to convene community participants; and had (4) constructive working relationships with university and team members, reflecting apparent trust and goodwill between the parties; and (5) an interest in participating in a project aimed at improving the community’s resilience to climate change.

The small coastal community of Port Orford, Oregon (population 1,200) met these criteria. The university team approached the leadership of the Port Orford Ocean Resource Team (POORT), a local nonprofit organization, to act as community convener of the project and chief collaborator. POORT, directed by local commercial fishermen, dedicated to natural resources, and with a history of success in novel approaches to resource issues, agreed to convene an ad-hoc community group. Community members who participated in the working group included both public officials and interested citizens, but our intention was for the working group to be completely voluntary, without any official capacity. [A sidebar to this article provides a characterization of the organization, community, and project from the perspective of a community participant and staff member of POORT.]

Once the community of Port Orford was identified, this project proceeded with the following components: (1) empirical research to understand climate-related opinions, values, and information interests of the community; (2) engagement workshops to involve community members in identifying climate change risks and possible actions; (3) inter-workshop assessment of potential climate information needs by comparing results of the first workshop with an expert climate-change model; (4) a formative evaluation of the effectiveness of the project through interviews with participants, leading to (5) a determination of additional activities in the project.


Figure 1. From Wilson & Arvai, 2011


Structured Decision Making. We recognized that the community would want to know what knowledge and advice climate scientists would have for Port Orford. We did have some insights from the domain scientists, but in order to create conditions for two-way communication and the co-generation of interpretations of those recommendations, the workshop process would not begin with it. Nor would we begin with the “vulnerability assessments” that have become routine in the methodology of climate adaptation as conducted with professional and technical groups (NOAA Coastal Services Center, 2011). Instead, our approach was grounded in a structured decision-making cycle (figure 1), the first two steps of which are for the decision makers (here, the working group) to define the problem as they see it and clarify objectives that matter to them (Wilson & Arvai, 2011). These steps, we believed, are critical to successful engagement, since without them, target audience voices are not part of the interpretation of research findings. However, simply documenting how participants’ defined the focal problems and their objectives is not enough. Underlying both how a person defines a problem and conceives of objectives to address it are that person’s values, and identifying and acknowledging these are important aspects of creating forums for two-way communication about decision making.

Substantial research over the past 20 years demonstrates the critical role of values in the decision-making process. Decision processes that focus on discussing personal and social values in addition to arraying technical alternatives have been shown to lead to not only greater participant satisfaction but also better informed processes than those that focus on generating technical alternatives alone (Keeny, 1992; Gregory, McDaniels, & Fields, 2001; Arvai, Gregory, & McDaniels, 2001). “Value-focused thinking” (Keeny, 1992) has become a key feature of varying formulations of behavioral decision-making processes, including the “decision-aiding” model advanced by Gregory and colleagues (2001), the now prevalent notion of “decision support” (Moser, 2009; National Research Council, 2009), and the approach of “deliberation with analysis,” regarded as best practice by the NRC panel (2009) that examined Informing Decisions in a Changing Climate.

The planned design of the workshops was de­rived from a well-established framework developed in the disciplines of behavioral decision-making and risk communication. One synthesis of these two disciplines is a model of multi-party communi­cation known as “nonpersuasive communication” (Fischhoff, 2007). The essence of this model is that successful communication about scientific and technical issues is far more than just presenting the “best available [physical] science” –which is often all that is provided to decision makers (National Research Council, 2005). Instead, communica­tion that is successful, in the sense that it results in well-considered decisions, depends critically upon understanding the scientific issue (here, the effects of climate change) from the perspective of the user, stakeholder, or community (National Research Council, 2005; Cone, 2009).

Climate Concept Mapping and Influence Di­agramming. The 20 questions of the 2009 survey provided a baseline for understanding participants’ perspectives. To start the workshops, we knew we wanted to establish more clearly what the commu­nity participants believed about the local effects of climate change and the risks that the community faced from their perspective (the decision problem) as well as something about the values underlying those beliefs. While interviews and ethnographic work can be used effectively to document these things, we are particularly interested in tools that help target groups articulate to themselves and with researchers their beliefs, knowledge, and values. Our assumption was that unidentified differences in understanding, beliefs and values are often the cause of miscommunication in engagement set­tings. We were interested particularly in testing tools that make individual and group thinking visible to all participants as a way to identify areas of diver­gence and convergence in thinking about climate change and climate change decision making. Mak­ing thinking visible, we believed, is a primary step in co-generating expert knowledge and putting it to use in decision-making. Based on our team’s previ­ous work with visible thinking routines, we chose two tools for use in this context: concept maps and influence diagrams.

Concepts maps are simple, visual diagrams that link concepts (nodes) and propositions about them (connecting lines) from their creators’ perspectives (Novak & Gowin, 1984; Howard, 1989); they are used in many formal educational and informal learning settings as visual aides to learning as well as for assessment (Ritchhart, Palmer, Church, & Tishman, 2006; Novak & Cañas, 2006; Cañas, 2005; Stoddert et. al., 2000). Influence diagrams are graphs that show key variables of a system and the direction of influence of those variables. As specialized visualizations for thinking about risk, they have been used traditionally in risk analysis and risk communication processes, especially those involving both risk specialists and non-specialists, such as members of the public (Morgan, Fischhoff, Bostrom, & Atman, 2002).

Review of such visible-thinking with others can be valuable for several reasons: notably, individuals may refine, clarify, and negotiate individual understanding; diverging beliefs and values may be identified and honored without becoming the focus of discussion; unanticipated (from the researchers’ perspectives) ideas, beliefs and sources of fear or expertise may emerge (Wood, Bostrom, Bridges, & Linkov, 2012). The result is better communication within the group as well as a visible artifact for reporting back to that group (for member checking) as well as communicating to other groups (in this case university scientists and engagement professionals). Such outcomes have been demonstrated for many learning contexts (Kane, 2007; Markham, Mintzes, & Jones, 1994).

While sophisticated, computer-mediated, concept mapping has shown value in resolving conflict-laden social decisions (Trochim, Milstein, Wood, Jackson, & Pressler, 2004), these tools require familiarity with software, training of participants, and computer access. In engagement contexts, facilitators often do not have access to technology, and time is limited, so training is not feasible unless it is part of long-term efforts. Members of our team had had positive experiences with more “free-hand” paper-and-pen approaches to concept mapping in a variety of teaching, communicating and group-decision making processes, and we wanted to test such low-tech methods here.


Pre-workshop Surveys. Two workshops were planned for Port Orford in 2009. In consultation with the POORT conveners, the project team designed the workshops to address shared goals in a sequential way, to be partly planned and partly adaptive to what arose in the workshops. With the results of our previous coastwide survey, interviews, and group discussions as a foundation, the team invited prospective participants from Port Orford to take the same survey prior to the first workshop in 2009. Survey responses showed the working group-respondents strongly agreed that climate change was a concern to which both individuals and government need to respond. These respondents were also particularly agreed about their willingness to “take action in my work if I hear a sense of local urgency to do so.” In addition, while the respondents from Port Orford showed general similarity with coastwide respondents from the larger survey with respect to perceptions of climate risks,3 one notable difference was the Port Orford respondents’ emphases on livability and safety concerns. Knowing those community-based concerns helped prepare the university team for the workshops.

Climate Concept Mapping and Influence Diagramming. The initial workshop was conducted on a January 2009 afternoon and scheduled for five hours, beginning with a hosted lunch and ending by 5 p.m. The first activity began with the university team introducing the notion of “visible thinking routines” (Vygotksy, 1934/1986; Richert & Perkins, 2008) and the research that attests to the value to individuals and groups of making thinking visible. This was followed by a concise training on the rationale for and process of concept mapping. Two points were emphasized. First, by explaining the process through simple diagrams, (e.g., figure 2), we demonstrated that making a concept map is technically easy to do. Second, we underscored that the making of such maps enabled participation by all group members in a process of group understanding and co-generation of knowledge.

Figure 2. Concept mapping

After this ten-minute introduction, the team asked the 10 community participants to write on sticky notes their concepts of how climate change might affect their community. Only one effect was to be written on each note sheet. Following ten minutes of the group working independently and silently, the university facilitators then collected the sticky notes onto big sheets of paper. Asking the group members about the sorting as they proceeded, they organized the notes into a rough concept map that was later converted to digital format (figure 3).

During the sorting and organizing to create the concept map, group members considered how their individual elements were related to each other (such as causes, effects, or categories), and added new concepts (on sticky notes) to make certain relationships more explicit. From this activity, the group identified five broad climate change-effect categories of concern to them: effects associated with infrastructure, marine ecosystems, terrestrial ecosystems, economic issues, and extreme weather. In addition, the group generated new conceptual relationships from the primary groupings, pointing to second-order effects of a changing climate, such as new invasive species or new government regulations.

In the next step, participants were coached to create influence diagrams on poster paper by using the concepts generated in the previous steps. To begin, the learning researcher on the university team4 made a brief presentation to the group on influence diagrams, using a simple example of the risk of falling down stairs (Morgan, Fischhoff, Bostrom, & Atman , 2002, p. 37), in which an unseen toy on a staircase can cause a fall unless a decision is made to remove it. Influence diagrams are directed graphs, with arrows, indicating influences, connecting various “nodes” in a system. For our purposes, the nodes were causes, effects, and decisions that could be made to affect them. Then the task was presented to the group: to take one group/category at a time (e.g., Infrastructure effects) and list all of the risks associated with that category; identify what could be done to address each risk; and indicate who was or could be responsible for taking action.

 [Click for viewing “Figure 3. A community concept map regarding climate change”]

To model the task, two members of the university team (an Extension community planning specialist and the learning researcher) demonstrated the diagram-development process to the group with two categories of climate effects. These team members listed risks associated with the given category as community participants called them out, the list being written on poster paper on the wall for all to see. (The team members used the sticky notes generated in the previous step for reference, but did not actually pull them off of the paper, thereby retaining their agreed-upon concept placements.)

After 45 minutes of diagramming the first two effect-categories in plenary session, the group was divided into three sub-groups, each comprised of two or three individuals, to complete the remaining three climate-effect categories. Each group started with a separate category and was directed to refer to the initial concept map as a starting point for their development of a list of risks associated with the effects of climate change. After another 20 minutes, the groups shifted to consider and add ideas to diagrams on which the other groups had been working. Each group had a different color pen, so their contributions would be apparent. After five minutes, the groups shifted to their final diagram.

Following a ten minute break, the university team redirected the groups to consider what decisions could be made to lessen the risks identified previously. The task was posed as starting with your highest priority risk, identify some decision “nodes”–places where a decision needs to be made in order to mitigate or manage that risk.

As before, the learning researcher demonstrated the procedure, referring again to the textbook falling-on-a-staircase example, and then applying it to one of the influence diagrams. The three small subgroups were then directed to resume with the diagrams, using sticky notes for the decision nodes and identifying who is responsible for making that decision. Each group had a different color pad of sticky notes for identifying decision nodes. Each had 15 minutes at the first diagram and then about 5 minutes at the remaining maps to identify anything the prior groups had missed.

Finally, after another very short break, the question was posed to the working group: Who has, or should have, the capacity and resources to act on these decisions that you’ve identified?

Again subgroups went to one of the five influence diagrams to identify the person/organization who needs to make the decision (based on the decision node). If known, they were asked to make a note if that party has the capacity or resources to address the risk or decision.

Thus, after about three hours of learning from each other and working together, this diverse community working-group had shared and consolidated its views on the effects of a changing climate about which they were concerned. And they described and diagrammed the risks those effects posed, the decisions that could be made about those risks, and by whom, into influence diagrams.5

Inter-workshop Comparison of Influence Diagrams and the Climate Specialists’ Model. Prior to the workshops, as part of the project design the team produced a climate science influence diagram that visualized the major climate change effects for the Oregon coast as predicted by university and agency scientists. This diagram was reviewed by regional climate change experts and changed with their input. Following the first workshop, the university team transferred the hand-written “community” concept map and influence diagrams to digital form (using CMap Tools—available at The intent was to make all elements legible and in a more permanent, sharable form, thereby permitting both ongoing analysis of the maps and the ability to share the maps with participating scientists, other community members, and engagement professionals. The resulting digital maps are artifacts for keeping the conversation going in co-generative ways.

One step in that co-generation was to return to the climate specialist’s concept map described above that had been assembled prior to the workshop. The project team compared the concept maps created in the workshop by the community with this specialists’ map, to better identify where regional climate scientists’ knowledge, beliefs, and values met or diverged from those of the Port Orford community. This assessment would help guide the second workshop, where the similarities and differences between the scientist and community maps would be displayed and discussed in terms of options for how best to proceed with co-generating useful interpretations of available information for future local decision-making.

Participant EvaluationAfter the second workshop we planned a set of interviews to sample satisfaction and interest in future engagement. The plan was for two or three of the university team to interview by phone about half the working group participants with a set of questions.


Comparison of Influence Diagrams and the Climate Specialists’ Model. A critical question for a lay community group addressing a specialized topic is, how does our understanding compare to that of specialists in the topic? Comparing the climate science map with the maps produced during the workshop allowed project personnel and (ultimately) community participants to see where community knowledge, beliefs, and values coincided with or diverged from ongoing research and the knowledge, beliefs and values of regional climate scientists. There was actually considerable convergence.

Very little climate-prediction information was available that specifically focused on the Port Orford vicinity, a well-recognized limitation of much climate prediction, namely, that it largely depends on models which have focused historically on regional geographic areas (Sarachik, 2008). In the absence of climate science data specific to the Port Orford area, the team’s development of the Climate Specialists’ Model for the coastal Pacific Northwest provided a serviceable approximation6. The team noted similarities between what scientists and the community participants recognized as significant effects of climate change. To highlight this similarity and display additional information developed by the working group, the team compiled the community influence diagrams into a community model (Figure 4). The team’s premise was that organizing and making visible a great deal of disparate information in a diagrammed form might help the community members and climate scientists see connections clearly that might otherwise not be seen (areas of overlap between community members and climate scientists are emphasized in Figure 4 by darker colors).

The community model was structured in columns containing items that linked graphically and conceptually from left to right, from broader climate effects to primary biophysical impacts to biophysical risks to potential social/economic impacts to potential interventions. The final column considered “who is responsible” for making those interventions. Both the climate scientists’ and community models highlighted infrastructure effects, a decrease in drinking water, impacts on fisheries, and increased disease and public health effects. The Port Orford community members’ model differed somewhat in focus, with stronger emphasis on social impacts, including displaced population, increased isolation, disruption in local livelihood, and loss of jobs.

It should be noted that the community model assembled by the university team did not include every detail contained in the influence-diagram sources. Also, the number of arrows shown converging on a particular column-topic is an indication of the factors associated with that topic and the degree of participant attention on them, rather than a strictly quantitative valuation of importance. Indeed, we did not attempt higher-order quantitative analyses that are sometimes developed when both the specialist and lay models are more detailed than existed in our situation (Wood et al., 2012).

Participant Evaluation. An evaluation was conducted at the end of the first workshop simply to determine what participants liked or felt needed to be changed (for other workshops). Among other points, participants requested more information on climate change and community effects–indications that the workshop engaged them and prompted further thinking. One unexpected and positive outcome of the workshop training occurred shortly afterwards, as POORT staff put to use their training in developing concept maps in conducting a planning workshop of their own.

Following the second workshop, university team members interviewed by phone four workshop participants. The interviewees were asked the same questions7 and the interviews recorded and analyzed.

The interviewed participants described satisfaction with the workshops, stating that their participation caused them to consider risks of climate change that they would not have thought about otherwise and as they will affect their community (rather than as a global and distant issue). One participant noted the range of backgrounds of workshop participants and the civic importance of bringing such a range of community members to a shared understanding of the climate issue. Another participant noted that influence diagrams worked well as a workshop tool because it allowed the group to work together, with everyone included, and helped the group come to consensus.

[Click for viewing “Figure 4. A community model of climate change effects, risks, impacts, and interventions”]

The interviewees suggested how additional workshops and related activities could be of value to the community, and the university team began planning to implement these suggestions for the following years.

In addition, the working group appears to consider the visible thinking methods valuable: In a 2011 follow-up survey, seven of eight participants in the first workshop in 2009 (which focused on the concept mapping) considered “production and publication of concept maps and related diagrams” as of high or medium value. The aggregate score placed these methods near the top of a list of 10 project activities. The 2011 survey also revealed a modest improvement in the amount of information respondents held about how climate change would affect their work, over pre-project survey levels of 2008. And this working group had an undiminished willingness “to take action in my work if I hear a sense of local urgency to do so” (average 4.3 on a 5-point scale8 in both survey years). Yet the 2011 survey respondents perceived, as they had in 2008, no great sense of urgency about local climate change effects from others in the community.


This community engagement project follows the recommendations of a NRC panel (Dietz & Stern, 2008) in recognizing that public participation in planning can create significant value. It also mirrors the current understanding that public participation in research can have far reaching implications for the valuing and relevance of climate-related science for public audiences (Bonney, Ballard, Jordan, McCallie, Phillips, Shirk, & Wilderman, 2009). Rather than a notion of participation in scientific or technical decision-making in which citizens are viewed as a hindrance and are consulted only via a public “hearing” or some other partial involvement, often late in the decision-making process, the university team held the premise that the community’s knowledge, views, values, and the objectives that derive from them are not only legitimate in their own right but should be heard before the presentation of specialist knowledge and incorporated in the interpretation of that knowledge. In short, the reason to engage the community is a belief that doing so improves both the quality of science long-term (Bonney et al, 2009) and what the NRC termed the “quality” and “legitimacy” of the resulting assessments and decisions.

As crucial as understanding and making deci­sions based on climate science is to long-term com­munity resilience, these are very unlikely to occur with public participants of widely varying views if the process does not explicitly consider the values of the participants and make them part of the two-way conversation with university and agency scien­tists. Analytic techniques framed by non-communi­ty “experts” may reflect value choices that may not be shared by the community (National Research Council, 2005). Indeed, those facilitating climate-change discussions do well to remember that all par­ticipants—scientists, engagement practitioners, and other citizens—see the claims of science through the lens of their own values. These may be deeply held and not easily negotiated, as recent “cultural cogni­tion” research illustrates. That framework highlights the role of certain pervasive “cultural” values in the U.S.—labeled dichotomously “individualistic” or “communitarian”, and “hierarchical” or “egalitar­ian”—in determining individuals’ receptivity to sci­ence (Kahan, Jenkins-Smith, & Braman, 2010).

In exploring the creation and use of concept maps and influence diagrams as well as developing other visual thinking routines for co-generative dialogue (Tobin, 2006), this project provides useful experience on the value of these techniques. Learning research has previously identified (Halford, 1993) that the ability to visually represent thinking with concept maps and diagrams illustrates two essential properties of understanding: the representation and the organization of ideas. To understand a concept means having an internal representation or mental model that reflects the structure of that concept; a concept map makes that mental model explicit so that it can be reviewed with others. It furthermore makes the beliefs and values that underlie those mental models explicit for participants as they rationalize or explain their thinking and their maps to themselves and each other.

Using these visible thinking methods, the Port Orford workshop participants produced thoughtful and detailed assessments of climate change risks that their community faces. Further, they identified actions that could be taken to reduce these risks. For example, in the Marine Ecosystem Effects category they recognized that climate change could lead to a loss of biodiversity, which could cause a decrease in tourism, and this could be addressed through diversifying the tourism base, with the local Chamber of Commerce taking the lead.

Given the likely continuing need for attention to a changing climate, developing shared understandings through techniques such as the mental model diagramming used here, and then proceeding as the community has capacity and intent, seems to us very sensible.


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The authors gratefully acknowledge our other university collaborators in this project: Patrick Corcoran and Michael Harte, Oregon Sea Grant; and Joy Irby and Kirsten Winters, graduate students, Oregon State University. We also acknowledge helpful comments from two anonymous reviewers of this article. This report was prepared by Oregon Sea Grant under awards NA06OAR4170010 (project M/A-21), NA10OAR4170059 (project numbers M/A-21, A/ESG-7, and R/CC-14), and NA07OAR4310408 from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), U.S. Department of Commerce, and by appropriations made by the Oregon State Legislature. The statements, findings, conclusions, and recommendations are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of NOAA, the U.S. Department of Commerce, or the Oregon Legislature.

About the Authors

The first three authors are with the Oregon Sea Grant at Oregon State University. Joseph Cone is the assistant director and communications leader. Shawn Rowe is a marine education learning specialist. And Jenna Borberg is a marine program specialist. Briana Goodwin was a member of the Port Orford Ocean Resource Team in Port Orford, Oregon.


Port Orford is not exactly the quaint fishing village it is painted to be. Among other things, it is vibrant, diverse, hard working, and progressive. We have a very active artist community and a working port that contributes to a quarter of the jobs in Port Orford. The community is driven by dedicated volunteers and has a large retirement population. Port Orford was the first community on the southern Oregon coast to pass a community supported stormwater ordinance and gained successful designation as a community supported marine reserve.

Most conservation organizations in the area work with the resource users themselves to find the best possible solutions for the users and the environment. The Port Orford climate change workshops worked very well because they were locally driven, as opposed to people from outside of town telling residents what would work best for them. Local knowledge was truly respected throughout the process. The design created by the Sea Grant Team could work in every community as long as the community is willing to shape the process.

The Port Orford Ocean Resource Team (POORT), as the local coordinating body, was asked to determine and recruit workshop participants. POORT chose community leaders who had the power to disseminate information to the community and to inform decisions at the local level. To ensure that the climate working group would be able to successfully act once decisions were made, a diverse group of stakeholders were engaged including local politicians, conservation organizations, educators, and commercial fishermen. The diversity of the working group reflected Port Orford and ensured that multiple viewpoints would be considered in discussions. The group had a strong sense of how natural processes affect our local community.

The process used by the project team to engage the ad hoc group was very effective. Asking community group members what they thought established a level of trust and respect between the group members and the project team, quickly establishing rapport that increased the comfort level of participants and contributed to a willingness to participate freely.

Providing an opportunity for individuals to write their responses to all discussion topics before holding discussions as a whole group allowed even the most reserved of participants to have a voice. All discussions and ideas were written in an area that could easily be viewed by all participants. Using this visual process allowed group members to remain constantly aware of discussion topics, allowing members of the group to elaborate and build off of each other’s ideas.

The technique of creating influence diagrams in small groups was both efficient and effective. Each individual had the opportunity to record his or her own thoughts on the diagrams and then had the chance to discuss their ideas with small groups. This process was very thorough without exhausting participants’ attention. Creating the diagrams allowed for participants to stay within their comfort zones by including both oral and written forms of communication, thereby making it more comfortable for multiple personality types to engage in the process.

The strength of having community members create concept maps themselves is that a usable, community-supported document results. This process allowed the people that understand the community best to prioritize areas of vulnerability, thereby allowing the project team to provide focused information. Participants were able to take more out of the workshop because they directed the content.

The concept maps created from the workshop on climate change effects, combined with the influence diagrams, resulted in a visual representation of the community’s concerns, potential interventions and responsible parties. The concept maps made it easy for any community member outside of the ad hoc group to understand the discussions and conclusions of the workshops. Furthermore, having the community design the concept maps created a sense of ownership and responsibility when it came time to take next steps.

In Port Orford, a slow, careful process for decision making works best. Community members value being informed and having their questions answered before supporting any decisions. For this reason, the Climate Change Working Group chose to start small with their next steps to ensure community support before taking stronger action. The first step at the conclusion of the workshops was to make a presentation to the Port Orford Planning Commission about the increasing wave height and workshops. The commission was amenable to including changes in the climate in their comprehensive plan and was open to continuing a dialogue with Sea Grant and the Climate Change Working Group.

The mistake in this project was not setting up permanent, local support, which has left some of the action items unfinished. Though there was significant interest in continuing to meet, once funding diminished, the working group stopped meeting. In a community where volunteers are spread thin and the city planner is only on contract, it is necessary to staff projects such as the climate change working group. Fortunately, the concept maps, intervention, and responsible parties will not soon be outdated and could be picked back up if funding were to become available.

Briana Goodwin

Theoretical and Applied Perspectives on Power: Recognizing Processes That Undermine Effective Community-University Partnerships

Lorilee R. Sandmann and Brandon W. Kliewer


Interrelational power dynamics are intimately connected to the success of any relationship and are especially critical in developing and sustaining mutually beneficial, reciprocally engaged partnerships. This work analyzes how elements of power impact the negotiation of engagement in community-university partnerships. Although this piece is a general theoretical account of power, it indicates very specific implications for community partners. A hypothetical example is used to contextualize distinct power challenges that confront community partners and faculty members during the engagement process. Specific attention is given to how organizational structure, the academic calendar, and the creation of knowledge influence produced understandings of differentials in power and differentials in need. The paper concludes with a discussion of three applied strategies that can be used to neutralize differentials in power and recognize differentials in need associated with the development of community-university partnerships. The theoretical language of differentials in power and differentials in need will arm practitioners with analytical tools to shape more meaningful partnerships.


Relationships require nuanced and clearly orchestrated negotiations of power. The success of any relationship, regardless of type, is often tied to how interested parties negotiate expectations and obligations. Community-university partnerships are no different. Negotiating reciprocity and mutuality and maintaining a sustained relationship are fraught with power differentials. Most of the literature that investigates and theorizes power dynamics of community-university partnerships adopts the perspective of the university. However, there has recently been an effort to articulate a community voice in community engagement research (Jameson, Clayton, & Jaeger, 2010; Sandy & Holland, 2006; Stoecker, Tryon, & Hilgendorf, 2009). Despite this budding stream of literature, the theoretical basis of this research generally remains underdeveloped. Partners, often representing divergent orientations, strive to define their collaboration in terms of common interests and goals. However, partnerships exist within social and political contexts that produce differentials in power and inform differentials in need. If the practice of community engagement is to approach normative goals of reciprocity and mutuality, social and political structures that produce relative differentials in power and need must be recognized from multiple theoretical perspectives. This article analyzes how differentials in power and differentials in need impact the negotiation of engagement in community-university partnerships. Essentially, it confronts this question: How do differentials in power and differentials in need impact the negotiation of reciprocity and mutuality in the context of maintaining a meaningful “engaged” community-university relationship?

In order to work through the theoretical and applied elements of power, this paper is divided into three sections. The first section presents a hypothetical example, describing an engagement situation from the perspective of a community partner. The scenario situates the theoretical power dynamics that community partners must work through in order to initiate and maintain an engaged relationship. To construct a typical composite example, we have drawn the scenario from the systematic observation and study of community-university partnerships associated with a major engagement initiative of The University of Georgia. The second section relies on the hypothetical example to analyze how differentials in power and need influence the engaged relationship from the standpoint of community. The section considers aspects related to the organization of the university, the academic calendar, and the negotiation of knowledge production. The third section provides three applied strategies for managing differentials in power and need. The authors of this article, it should be noted, have not played the role of community partner. Rather our data and analysis come from rigorous study of both theories of power and community-university partnerships (Sandmann, Kliewer, Kim, & Omerikwa, 2010; Sandmann, Moore, & Quinn, 2012).

Hypothetical Example: Poliz City and a Concerned Community Partner 

Times are tough. The once-vibrant urban center of Poliz City has now withered to an unhealthy standstill. As industries shut down and relocate in the wake of the global financial crisis and subsequent economic slowdown, many local businesses and shops of the downtown area have closed, leading to urban blight and a significantly reduced tax base. The reduced tax revenue can no longer support the current level of public services (trash removal, sewage-related maintenance, public space maintenance, public employee pensions, etc.). In accordance with neoliberal theory and in the general interest of cost saving, essential social services have been cut from the city, local, and state budgets.

Cathy, a concerned citizen, knew that if nothing were done the situation would continue to spiral downward. Cathy and a small group of other citizens saw urban blight as the key problem that was stalling Poliz City’s economic and social recovery. However, Cathy lacked appropriate empirical and scientific knowledge to support her policy recommendations, as well as the “legitimated” and “empirical” language that is valued by most government, nongovernmental, and business organizations. She hoped that researchers and experts from the university could assist the community in contextualizing specific community issues in a manner that would support her policy approaches and lend credibility to multiple community groups attempting to address issues impacting the urban area.

Historically, the university and various elements within the community understood their objectives as being independent from each other. Cathy, and the community group that she represented, wanted to initiate a problem-based, hopefully long-term relationship with the university. However, after a few weeks of exploring potential connections with the university, Cathy still had no inroads into the university administrative structure. As a result, with the permission of the other key community partners, Cathy decided to work directly with a university partner. In doing so, she encountered three particular challenges. First, it was difficult to maneuver through the organizational structure of the university and make initial contact. Second, the academic calendar of the university did not mesh well with the community’s projected project timeline. Third, it was difficult for Cathy and the eventual university partner, Professor Robert, to agree on the type of knowledge to be produced from the partnership. Each of these not-unique challenges is discussed from the perspective of community and in terms of the potential tensions that can result from differentials in power and differentials in need. Overcoming tensions epitomized by these three examples represents an important step in producing a theoretical conception of power that supports meaningful community-university partnerships.

Organizational Structures and Initial Engagement 

Community-engaged scholarship ideally involves equitable partnerships characterized by mutuality and reciprocity (Boyer, 1990, 1996). Although these concepts are essential to community engagement praxis, research on community-university collaborations shows a wide range of differentiation (Driscoll, 2008; Enos & Morton, 2003; Sockett, 1998). The inability of community engagement practice to achieve these ideal standards can be tied to seen and unseen social and political structures, which not only produce relative differentials in power, but also contextualize the community engagement experience. In many instances, as in Cathy’s situation, the university is well structured, hierarchical yet decentralized, with its own procedural framework and infrastructure. The community represented by Cathy, on the other hand, is characterized by a lack of hierarchy and structure. One of the first obstacles Cathy had to overcome was entering and “engaging” with the university. Cathy did not know whom to contact to initiate such a relationship at the local university. Adding to the uncertainty, she had no specific project ideas that might help target a contact. She saw the potential to develop a variety of projects using both community and university resources, but this only expanded the number of potential entry points.

The lack of a clear entry point for Cathy to engage the university made it very difficult to initiate the process under terms of equality. Entering a highly organized, hierarchical, and formalized institution introduces degrees of power that shade any potential partnership. The community partner has to submit to a series of institutional structures and norms, but has no way of fully knowing what expectations are implicit when initiating contact with a university. In Cathy’s case the initial engagement not only was unnerving but produced differentials in power that threatened the partnership from the start. Our point is not to imply that initial engagement is always problematic. We do, however, wish to highlight how the structural organization of an institution can produce forms of power that undermine the viability of engaged partnerships.

Although university organizational structure posed a significant problem for Cathy in this case, differentials in power do not necessarily favor the university partner. Power differentials always occur in community-university relationships, but the community can sometimes be the more powerful partner (Van de Ven, 2007). This theoretical perspective applies equally to universities attempting to initiate a relationship with communities. Thus, just as negotiating the hierarchical yet decentralized structure of academia can be a daunting task for a community partner, organizational power within a community may also prove an obstacle for a university partner. However, discussions of the social, political, and anthropological dynamics of community power exceed the purview of this paper.

Cathy had to enter the imposing organization of the university to initiate the partnership. In this setting, values, internal structures, and bureaucratic patterns determine behavioral norms and influence performative actions. Entering the university structure and trying to learn and recognize these expectations without coaching or sponsorship placed Cathy at a power relationship disadvantage. The ways in which performative expectations can impact community engagement have been recognized in the literature (Miller, 1997; Moje, 2000; Smith, 1994). This dynamic can be particularly insidious for members of marginalized groups that lack certain performative behaviors and levels of social capital.

In a relationship characterized by mutuality, all entities are interdependent, all participate in the relationship, and all benefit in a commensurate manner (Still & Good, 1992). The differentials in power between the engaged scholar-researcher and the community partner affect the level of mutuality and reciprocity in the processes, purpose, and outcome of the collaboration (Stanton, 2007). However, a theoretical conception of power can enable partners to recognize sources of power differentials as elements that can enhance or undermine reciprocity. In practice, this could mean that individuals are able to recognize how contextual aspects of their organization influence and inform the partnership. For example, members of the professoriate are typically organized by academic disciplines and drawn to have a cosmopolitan perspective (Rhoades, 2009). Thus, the framework of the university might not be conducive to maintaining the types of partnerships that community partners’ desire. Understanding the basis for why community and universities have different orientations can help identify the origins of differentials in power.

Timing and the Academic Calendar 

Cathy was confronted with a second challenge once she navigated the differentials in power tied to maneuvering through the university structure. Professor Robert, the faculty member she eventually partnered with, would not be able to start the project until the spring semester, at that point six months away. In our hypothetical example, Cathy and the community wanted to start the engagement project immediately. However, Professor Robert could not accommodate this desire because his time was limited by work requirements for the academic semester. This is a case of differences in need challenging the effectiveness of a partnership in a context of power.

Differing time orientations often create tensions and lead to unstable partnerships. Community members may perceive a need to address their issues quickly, although doing so would necessitate taking action based on limited information. In contrast, academic norms and standards encourage faculty members to develop carefully designed courses and research projects. Such norms make higher education institutions significantly less dynamic than some community organizations. However, the need to follow carefully designed curricula and apply academic rigor in executing research moves institutions of higher education toward having longer timelines preceding a project. The time frame of semesters or quarters also places unavoidable time limitations on collaborations that involve students, such as service-learning projects. Timing can be thought of as creating a difference in need at the institution-to-institution level that cannot be solved through individual power negotiations. Moreover, the nature of the issue being addressed in the hypothetical example, Poliz City’s economic recovery, is likewise a structural and institutionalized issue not amenable to immediate resolution, regardless of how urgent it seems to community members.

Even when the intentions of both parties are genuinely committed to collaboration (Stanton, 2007), the university’s schedule and timing often constrain community actions. By necessity, universities operate on prescribed schedules and academic calendars. Partnerships can extend beyond the semester, but the end of each academic term represents an artificial stopping point that interrupts engagement projects. For the community, these interruptions, although brief, may be perceived as a threat to a partnership and remind partners of the differential in need. Higher education institutions commonly measure time in semesters or other academic periods, and community engagement projects are often made to fit within the academic calendar. For the community partner, however, the need to accommodate the university-based time frame can undermine the partnership. In the hypothetical example, negotiating the timeline of the partnership was a significant point of tension Cathy confronted.

Negotiating Knowledge 

Understanding the negotiation of knowledge from the community perspective requires an appreciation of the relationship between higher education and knowledge. Within the past 30 years, fundamental assumptions underlying the relationship between the economy, the state, and the university have changed. It was once accepted that the state and the capitalist economy were structured to allow for compromise between the social needs of citizens and the outcomes produced by the market. Guided by Keynesian economic policies, the “welfare state” mediated between principles of social well being and principles of the capitalist system. Within this framework, the knowledge created within the university was seen to promote a “public good” and was removed from private industry. Essentially, the Keynesian welfare state supported a “public or common good” that provided a baseline protection and social/political space that was free from the market rationality of the capitalist system (Harvey, 2005; Slaughter & Leslie, 1997).

However, at some point the guiding theoretical impetus that grounded the welfare state was undermined by an emergent acceptance and application of neoliberal economic and social policies. Privatization, deregulation, re-regulation, and a general deconstruction of the Keynesian welfare state became the model. “The financialization of everything,” according to David Harvey (2005), highlighted the emergence of neoliberalism as a hegemonic force that reshaped existing social, political, and economic institutions. This neoliberal movement also impacts a variety of elements of higher education.

Market principles have begun to influence the general operation and administrative organization of universities, which now “commodify” research, teaching, and even service to fit within the logics of neoliberalism (Slaughter & Leslie, 1997; Slaughter & Rhoades, 2004). Basic inquiry-based research that promoted a broad conception of the public good started receiving less financial support compared to research with potential commercial value. Slaughter and Rhoades (2004) tracked how academic capitalism influences all levels and elements of the university. Further research suggests that entrepreneurial pursuits within higher education have become the norm globally (Slaughter & Leslie, 1997), so that the very notion of knowledge and its relationship to the “public good” has become commodified. The distinction between the state, the university, and industry has been blurred and in many ways has been completely eliminated. Academic capitalism, as conceptualized by Slaughter and Rhoades and Slaughter and Leslie, has become so pervasive that it must be assumed, or at least recognized, when negotiating the outcomes of community-university partnerships. In order for the community partner to successfully negotiate types of knowledge that community-university collaboration may produce, it is important to account for the way academic capitalism informs the policy environment of the university and contributes to institutional pressures that might be influencing university representatives.

As a result of the general move toward commodification of knowledge, Cathy was required to define the type of research to be performed within the partnership in this context. Community stakeholders were applying pressure on her to produce research and data directly applicable to problems in the community. At the same time, the forces of academic capitalism were applying pressure on Professor Robert to produce a research article or scholarly product appreciated within the academic capitalism paradigm. Cathy’s need for applied problem-based knowledge put her in direct conflict with her individual university partner; that is, differentials in power and differentials in need coalesced to create a tension within the partnership.

Cathy had confronted the initial problem of engagement, involving differentials in power, and then a differential in need tied to the academic calendar. This third challenge involves differentials in both power and need. The negotiation of different structures and power assigned to different forms of knowledge was even more difficult for Cathy because she had no idea of the larger policy context that informed the basis of academic capitalism. The precedence of commodified research over applied and problem-based research has evolved through time and is not intuitive. From the perspective of the community, commodified and technical research creates an access point that often excludes non-academics.

Whatever the complexities of the relationship between the community and the university, the most important goal of the community is the fulfillment of social needs (Todd, Ebata, & Hughes, 1998; Wuthnow, 1999). Ideally, the university endeavors to adhere to the standards of engaged research as suggested by Glassick, Huber, and Maeroff (1997), including (a) having clear goals for the partnership; (b) making adequate preparation for the research, including strategies of relationship building; (c) the use of appropriate research methods; (d) having significant results; (e) effectively presenting or disseminating results; and (f) reflecting on the process. However, these multifold concerns may conflict with the community interest. For example, the generalizable results that academic capitalism demands may not satisfy community stakeholders’ desire for a more specific utilitarian solution. Tensions between community and university preference can be reconciled by overlapping theoretical conceptions of power. By overlaying conceptions of power upon community-university partnerships, we begin to understand how both conscious and unconscious structures and expectations need to be recognized in order to achieve meaningful partnerships based upon commitments to equality.

In practice, this might mean that Cathy can recognize differentials in need that inform differentials in power within the negotiation process by articulating the competing objectives from her perspective, thus directing attention toward specific points of disagreement. A focus on these points avoids counterproductive negotiations centered on the general disagreement of the partnership. For example, both Cathy and Robert have an interest in making the project beneficial for all interested parties. Both agree that data produced from an empirical study would be beneficial in addressing community issues. In this case the general disagreement lies in the type of knowledge to be produced. The point that triggered the disagreement and allowed power dynamics to impact the negotiation process was the desire for a given outcome: applied knowledge in Cathy’s case and commodifiable knowledge in Professor Robert’s. By focusing on this issue, the two can negotiate acceptable terms of reciprocity and highlight differentials in need. This approach recognizes differentials of power produced in a policy context that assign privilege to certain forms of research.

The goal of any negotiation process is to manage power dynamics and recognize differentials in need throughout the process. Negotiations at the individual-to-individual level that focus on the trigger point of disagreement can create a space where power dynamics remain static and the interested parties can resolve points of contestation without affirming differentials in power.

Further in practice, this approach can take multiple forms. Cathy could ask the following question: How can we ensure that applied research is rigorous and attempts to produce new knowledge? This approach focuses the negotiation process on the trigger point of divergence. Furthermore, this approach empowers the community partner to maintain the terms of the partnership by highlighting aspects of differentials in power and differentials in need.

The point of this discussion is not to create an indictment of academic capitalism but to demonstrate how community partners need to consider larger social, political, and economic factors when negotiating terms of reciprocity. Community members interested in negotiating reciprocity should ask university representatives about institutional pressures and work through probing conversations that negotiate the criteria of the relationship. Once institutional pressures that inform differentials in need are identified, community partners can begin to use a shared language that moves toward more robust understandings of reciprocity.

Practical Implications 

For a community partner, challenges tied to negotiating the terms of effective community-university engagement occur throughout the engagement process. Community partners can better understand sources of conflict by recognizing differentials in power and differentials in need. Generally, community members and university administrators ought to establish parameters of communication that recognize how seen and unseen structures can produce differentials in power and need. Partnerships are more likely to be successful if the terms of the relationship are transparent and are the product of a clearly outlined communication process. Structured communication ensures that a partner does not intentionally or unintentionally exploit differentials in power and that partners recognize differentials in need. Next, we present three applied approaches that can highlight how issues of power and need can be managed to support effective communication in community engagement partnerships.

Contractual Obligations 

A formal memorandum of agreement or a legal contract can serve as an effective basis of communication that recognizes differentials in power and need. Contractual agreements can define the obligations and expectations of each partner in the engaged relationship. Essentially, the contractual model creates a context that formalizes the communication between the community and university. This type of quasi-legal approach forces both parties to discuss the components of the relationship in very specific terms.

A major strength of the contractual approach is that it forces university-community partners to make tough decisions about the relationship up front. In most situations engaged relationships respond to conflict when it develops. The contractual approach opens lines of communication and might help prevent serious disputes from developing. Furthermore, the contractual process transfers both conscious and unconscious power differentials to a conceivably objective juridical space. Instead of confronting differentials in power on a case-by-case basis, contractual understandings of partnerships allow the stakeholders to address structural tensions in an environment that is free from the stresses of applied engagement. Said plainly, the contractual negotiation of power and engagement permits partners to discuss the terms of an engagement relationship before emotional and relational baggage develops. It is much easier to discuss power differentials in community-university partnerships in an abstract and indirect way, before the pressure of real circumstances can threaten to sour the relationship.

A drawback to the contractual approach is that it could create a very impersonal relationship. The optimal university-community relationship is nuanced and operates at both professional and personal levels. Effective engaged relationships are made up of people concerned with relevant community issues. Contractual obligations could create a rigid and distant relationship between the community and university.

Furthermore, the contractual approach assumes that the process that produces the contract equitably represents the views of each party. However, one party of the relationship might dominate the contract negotiations, creating an engaged relationship that is not reciprocal. In some situations, strong incentives or external pressures might coerce a partner to accept a contract that does not create a reciprocal relationship. Particularly in such a case, it is possible that the contractual structure will not account for all forms of power and need.

Communication Training 

A second way to deal with power and recognize differentials in need in engaged partnerships is by providing communication training for participants. Effective communication is the linchpin that holds most partnerships together. Communication training can be desirable because it develops communication norms and approaches that can help engaged partnerships maintain high levels of reciprocity. Claims highlighting the importance of communication and democratic equality are also supported in political and social theory in a variety of ways. As capitalism reshapes the social, political, and economic spheres, citizens are no longer connected to historical understandings of political community (Allen, 2006). Citizens and community members, generally, are losing basic skills of civic communication and literacy (see Formalized engagement training has the potential to develop the skills, attitudes, and communication patterns that not only support effective partnerships, but also jump-start deliberative democracy in this country.

A drawback to communication training is that some parties in the relationship might not be receptive; this approach also assumes effective communication is something that can be learned. Ideal-speech patterns tied to standards of deliberative democracy will likely marginalize groups not able or not willing to perform the communication norms (Habermas, 1984). Besides the potential to marginalize groups lacking certain speech and communication patterns, the time and expense associated with this approach might preclude it from being cost-effective. In addition, because participants would gain different levels of understanding from the training, communication might still break down even when overall levels of communication improve.

Regional/National Engagement Governing Institutions 

Although an unlikely solution for dealing with differentials in power and recognizing differentials in need, regional/national engagement boards, created to regulate and ensure standards of engagement, would have the potential to be highly effective in producing more reciprocal engagement relationships. Unlike statewide Campus Compact organizations, which catalog and connect partners, these proposed institutions would go one step further and act as a governing body. They would have the power to accredit engagement units, set professional standards, establish rules and regulations, and resolve conflicts between partners. The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching applies its community engagement classification (http://classifications. engagement.php) to assess whether institutions of higher education achieve a threshold of engagement institutionalization. However, there is the potential to develop a more robust community engagement governing board that moves beyond the description and general assessment of community-university partnerships. Conceivably such governing boards would be a type of combined regional accreditation body and mediation board.

The main benefit of this type of institutional arrangement would be standardization of processes and levels of engaged partnerships. Although the previous point highlights the potential of a governing board approach, many issues remain that could limit the success of the proposed organization. For example, many community engagement parties might be reluctant to surrender their own levels of internal autonomy to external governing bodies.

From a financial, decision-making perspective community engagement efforts at most colleges and universities operate at the fringes. However, community engagement seems to be trending toward widespread academic recognition. As of 2010, over 60 colleges and universities offered a degree for some curricular program tied to community engagement, civic engagement, or community studies (Butin, 2010). Looming social, political, and economic crises might also create a window for community engagement to enlarge its function within academia as an avenue for renewing the larger public purposes of higher education. As more campuses offer academic programs, degrees, and certificates tied to community engagement, the likelihood of the conditions changing to support a national governing and accreditation board would seem to increase. Such a body could help move community engagement toward the core of the university by defining engagement standards as they apply to individual academic disciplines.


Management of interrelational power dynamics is intimately connected to the success of any relationship. Engagement partnerships between the community and the university are no different. As this article has demonstrated, how flows of power are understood depends on the subject’s position in the relationship. From the community partner’s perspective, this initial theoretical analysis provides a framework that can inform the engagement process and define a structure that can be used to communicate the impact of power.

More than a decade has passed since Ernest Boyer (1996) called upon the academy to reconsider its public purposes. The civic and community engagement fields have come a long way during this time. However, as a practice we are reaching a critical point in academic engagement maturation. Student affairs, academic affairs, and to a lesser extent faculty units, have produced very dynamic student and community programming for various forms of engagement. Also, it seems to be clear that service-learning pedagogies and forms of community-based research have secured a place within the university structure (Sandmann, Thornton, & Jaeger, 2009). Many challenges remain despite all these points of success, but community engagement scholarship is now in a position to critically examine the praxis without fear of reprisal.

Recognition of limitations and weaknesses within the civic and community engagement practice must be brought into the daylight with the confidence that critical examination can only strengthen the approach. Civic and community engagement will achieve its true potential only if community practitioners and university scholars collaboratively and honestly address these issues. Scholarship and practice need to begin considering public engagement in relation to larger social, political, and economic issues. Traditional administrative assessment will always have a place in community engagement programming, but it is now time to consider how civic and community engagement efforts impact larger real-world issues. The focus should be on measuring the substance of partnerships and the degree to which conditions in the social, political, and economic spheres are impacted by these partnerships. The standard of success should be the degree of impact, not indicators tied to legitimizing the administrative structure of community engagement within higher education. We recognize that this work addresses only three of the many issues that would constitute a full account of power. Further theoretical work is needed in order to develop a more complex articulation of power in the context of engagement. The future sustainability and success of academic engagement depends on creating a theoretical basis that grounds descriptive and empirical research, particularly from the neglected community perspective.


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About the Authors 

Lorilee R. Sandmann is a professor in the Department of Lifelong Education, Administration and Policy at The University of Georgia. Brandon W. Kliewer is an assistant professor of civic engagement at Florida Gulf Coast University.

Assessing the Culture of Engagement on a University Campus

Nancy Franz, Jeri Childers, and Nicole Sanderlin


This article describes one team’s efforts to assess the culture of engagement at Virginia Tech. The team utilized a two-pronged approach to analyze the current culture of engagement on campus. This included focus groups with faculty, administrators, and graduate students in two colleges at the university to address pedagogy, implications, and practical issues related to engagement. Analysis of college strategic plans was also completed to assess language related to engagement and engaged scholarship. We found why faculty, administrators, and students conduct engagement work and the challenges and opportunities of doing so. We also discovered what criteria these individuals use to determine quality engagement, what they believe engagement on campus should look like, and the products derived from engagement work. This article describes our team’s efforts and documents the lessons learned to inform similar efforts on other campuses.


Enhancing the engagement culture on a university campus is a multifaceted effort. These efforts range from a one way outreach from the university to the community, to continuing education offerings, to applied pedagogy, to community-based research.

Despite the incorporation of the term “engagement” into strategic plans, mission statements, and organizational structures, outreach and engagement activities are often not fully institutionalized or as highly regarded as other missions of the university. As a result, how to more fully incorporate engagement into the academic cultures of our universities has become a national discussion. These discussions are especially salient for land-grant universities, for which engagement is a stated mission. These institutions continue to work to institutionalize and enhance engagement on their campuses.

A key component of catalyzing cultural change is assessing the current culture of an institution to inform an appropriate change strategy. This project as part of that work examined what Virginia Tech faculty, graduate students, and administrators perceive as the engagement culture on campus. The team conducted eight focus groups with faculty, graduate students, and administrators in two colleges at the university—the College of Natural Resources and Environment (CNRE) and the College of Architecture and Urban Studies (CAUS)—with the intent of further refining the definition of engaged scholarship, identifying barriers to engagement, enhancing opportunities for engagement, and creating internal and external opportunities for engagement collaboration. Engagement terminology and intent was also analyzed in campus strategic plans to assess the culture of engagement at Virginia Tech.

The Literature That Guided Us 

O’Meara, Saltmarsh, and Sandmann (2008) frame the paths institutions take in strengthening the culture of engagement in their institutions. Holland (2005a, 2005b) described the steps on the path as levels of institutional commitment to community engagement and provided a framework for assessing commitment and culture change. Institutions with high commitment to community engagement view engagement as a central and defining characteristic, making it visible in mission statements, strategic plans, leadership rhetoric, organizational structures, curricula, promotion and tenure practices, hiring guidelines, external communications, and capital campaigns. This commitment is fully integrated into the fabric of the institution. Evidence of its integration is measurable as shown by the Penn State UNISCOPE project (Hyman et al., 2001- 2002).

Ryan (1998) identified the competencies required of both leaders and institutions committed to a culture of engagement. Kezar, Chambers, and Burkhardt (2005) outlined the institutional change process in the academy, describing the institutionalization of engagement in terms of a national movement within higher education and as a process of culture change on campuses. Kezar cites key methods for facilitating organizational change that are evidence-based and measurable. Sandmann (2008) conceptualizes both the pathway of institutionalization and the role university leaders play in shaping and transforming the culture of engagement.

The change process requires institutions and institutional leaders to intentionally build a culture of engagement, including building an infrastructure to support the development and delivery of programs that provide measurable and sustainable results. Fostering leadership commitment requires the president and provost to develop a network of leaders across institutions that are able to articulate the vision, mission, and strategy of engagement and engaged scholarship (Childers et al., 2002). Creating and fostering a network of leaders with these competencies for engagement becomes a major mechanism of organizational change. A key role of administrators in supporting culture change is to make engagement visible in rhetoric and in demonstrated results, such as rewarding faculty, celebrating engaged scholarship, providing internal funding for engaged scholars, and aligning vision and practice (Driscoll & Sandmann, 2004). Driscoll and Sandmann (2004) clearly define a methodology that institutions can use to prepare the ground for assessing institutional culture and for providing administrative leadership to support engaged scholarship. Their work informed this study by providing a framework for assessing the culture, developing the focus group questions, and for shaping the analysis and recommendations. Their findings related to 1) assessing and achieving “institutional fit” for engagement, 2) setting an inquiry-based agenda for assessment, 3) identifying connections between engaged faculty, 4) supporting engaged faculty, and 5) exploring criteria for assessing and evaluating engaged scholarship and informed our study and serve as an excellent starting point for other institutions assessing institutional culture and readiness for institutional change. In particular, their findings indicate that the critical element of this assessment is determining the expectations that faculty and administrators have for engaged scholarship. Seeking the answer to this question became the cornerstone of our study.

Ramaley (2002, 2005, 2011) described how higher education institutions achieve transformational change and become learning organizations. In 2011, at the Virginia Tech program the Engagement Academy for University Leaders. Ramaley provided a framework and described processes of routine institutional change, adoption of innovation or strategic change, and transformative change and how engagement is viewed by institutional leaders during these change processes. Ramaley highlighted measurable steps that promote deep change and influences of the adoption process. Her framework facilitates the study of the institutionalization process and its impact on students, faculty, and the institution itself.

Any adoption of innovation within a university causes shifts in the organization’s culture. Universities that have adopted engagement, that is embedded the values and principles of engagement into the mission statement, strategic plan, faculty roles, and reward policies, and operating practices of the institution will have undergone organization and culture change. The scholars of engagement have studied organizational change in higher education and noted that the movement toward institutionalization of engagement in the organization’s culture is not a short or easy path and that some institutions may not succeed on their initial attempts at culture change (Holland, 2005b; Levine, 1980; Sandmann & Weerts, 2008). While the scholarship of engagement has yet to be fully embraced widely across institutions or disciplines, an increasing number of early-adopting institutions are moving down the path of culture change. Sandmann and Weerts (2008) have developed a framework of analysis of organizational culture that can explain why some institutions embrace engagement and why some institutions struggle with the change process. A key component of the ease of adoption is related to the change strategy used to introduce change. The first step in developing an appropriate change strategy is assessing the current culture of the institution. There are a number of strategies that can be employed during the assessment process.

Goals and Methods 

To assess the culture of engagement at Virginia Tech, the research team strove to:

• Reveal actual practice at the university

• Refine the definition of engaged scholarship

• Include all types of faculty/staff, diverse colleges, and administrative units

• Identify barriers

• Enhance opportunities

To meet these goals, a mix of research methods was utilized. First, eight focus groups were conducted with 62 faculty, graduate students, and administrators in two colleges (see Table 1). The College of Natural Resources and Environment (CNRE) and College of Architecture and Urban Studies (CAUS) were chosen for two reasons: a) their disciplinary traditions as applied colleges with strong outreach and engagement activities and b) members of the research team worked within these colleges and therefore had access to key administrators and faculty in each college. Internal Review Board (IRB) human subjects approval was secured in order to undertake this research. The focus group protocol was then piloted with select graduate students before full implementation. Second, strategic plans from all Virginia Tech colleges were also attained and analyzed for attention to engagement using Holland’s matrix (1997).

Table 1. Project Focus Group Participation Summary

This section explains the rationale and procedures for conducting focus groups and document analysis in this study.

Focus Groups 

Focus groups bring together a group of people to discuss a particular topic or range of issues. Focus groups are designed to determine the perceptions, feelings, and thinking of participants about issues, products, services, or opportunities. In addition, focus groups are regularly used to provide insight on organizational issues (Krueger & Casey, 2009), and are commonly found in organizational research (Schwandt, 2007).

As outlined by Stewart, Shamdasani, and Rook (2007), there are several signature aspects of focus groups useful to this study. First, focus groups allow the gathering of qualitative data from individuals who have experienced a particular concrete situation that serves as the focus of investigation. In this case, the situation was engagement at Virginia Tech. Second, focus groups aim to better understand the group dynamics that affect individuals’ perceptions, information processing, and decision-making. As described by Patton (2002), through the interaction of key actors in focus groups, data quality is enhanced as “participants tend to provide checks and balances on each other” (p. 386). Additionally, in a group setting participants stimulate each other’s responses, often leading to an exchange of ideas that might not occur through one-on-one interviews (Krueger & Casey, 2009). Capturing these dynamics is important when exploring the colleges in which faculty work. Third, a main belief behind focus groups is that live encounters with groups of people will yield incremental answers to behavioral questions that go beyond the level of surface explanations, thereby revealing deep insights (Stewart, Shamdasani, & Rook, 2007). As such, the group involvement of focus groups often elicits emotions, associations, and motivations not revealed in individual interviews.

In addition to these aspects, there are several additional advantages to utilizing focus groups. Focus groups serve as an efficient source of data collection, as the researcher learns the perspectives of numerous individuals within the span of approximately one hour (Patton, 2002). In addition, the open response format of focus groups provides an opportunity to obtain large amounts of rich data in the respondents’ own words (Stewart, Shamdasani, & Rook, 2007). Finally, focus groups are enjoyable for participants, (Patton, 2002), which encourages sharing of perspectives. Because discussions are relaxed, participants often enjoy sharing their ideas and perspectives (Krueger & Casey, 2009).

Despite these advantages, there are some limitations to focus groups. Participants may not share complete or genuine perspectives due to political concerns or group think (Cresswell, 2005; Patton 2002). Group think is a phenomenon in which individuals may conceal or confuse their personal perspectives to appear in alignment with group trends and priorities (Carey & Smith, 1994, Fontana & Frey, 1994). In other words, the concern that others in the group may disagree with their perspectives or that their answer could reflect negatively on them could cause participants to suppress or invent an answer (Krueger & Casey, 2009). To compensate for these potential weaknesses, focus groups in this study were completed with multiple groups within each college. Two focus group sessions with faculty and one focus group with administrators allowed comparison of responses within each college. In addition, a second data collection method—document analysis of strategic plans—was utilized in this study to provide triangulation of data with focus groups and field notes.

Focus Group Procedures

Focus group participants for each of the two colleges and three groups from within each college (faculty, administrators, and students) were chosen through convenience sampling (i.e. potential participants were selected from those who were close at hand). The CNRE and CAUS associate deans created a list of faculty involved with engagement work and invited them to attend the focus groups. Sixteen faculty members participated in the two CNRE focus groups and 22 faculty members participated in the two CAUS focus groups. For the administrators’ focus group, all administrators were invited to attend by their dean or an associate dean. Seven administrators from CNRE and six from CAUS participated in the focus groups.

For the graduate student focus groups, an invitation to participate in the research project was sent twice through the graduate school’s announcement listserv, which reaches all graduate students enrolled on or off campus. A total of six students participated. Although college affiliations were not targeted for graduate student participants, those students who responded and participated were all enrolled in CNRE and CAUS, respectively. The five graduate students participating in the focus group pilot also granted permission to use their comments for this project.

Although focus groups allow flexibility in the content and sequence of questions asked, it was important to maintain consistency of procedures across all the focus groups. First, in cases in which consent forms had not yet been signed and received, they were presented, read, and signed before the focus group officially began. Second, as recommended by Merriam (1998) and Patton (2002), the facilitator took minimal notes during the focus groups to maximize listening and eye contact. To capture ideas and comments, between two and five note takers were present at each focus group. Third, each focus group ended by inviting participants to share other information related to the topics discussed and inquiring if participants had any further questions about the study. By opening the door for additional insights and addressing participants’ concerns, the researchers sought to maximize the benefits of the focus groups.

Following the recommendations of numerous qualitative research experts, conversations of all focus groups were audio taped (Merriam,1998; Patton, 2002; Stewart, Shamdasani, & Rook, 2007). Audio taping was useful to provide a complete record of the discussions and a reference for voice inflections and other nuances not captured by note takers during or after the focus group sessions.

Document Review

Collection of documentation was an important part of this project. Although documents may include a wide range of materials (Miles & Huberman, 1994; Stake, 1995; Patton, 2002), in this case the documents reviewed included strategic plans from seven Virginia Tech colleges and the Graduate School.

Analysis of the strategic plans served important purposes for this study. First, documents provide exact information (Yin, 2003). Since organizational processes in higher education institutions tend to have a paper trail that can be mined for empirical research (Patton, 2002), documents enable the researcher to not only confirm, but provide complete details on evidence presented in interviews and focus groups (Merriam, 1998; Patton, 2002; Yin, 2003; Creswell, 2005). Second, documentation is an unobtrusive way to obtain and assess data (Yin, 2003). Lastly, documents enable the researcher to make inferences about the culture of engagement at the institution, to be explored during focus groups (Yin, 2003). Information in documents also provided context and confirmation for data collected from focus groups. For example, by observing the strategic plans of the two colleges studied, the researchers could observe the frequency and levels of engagement communicated by each college, thereby confirming comments made during focus groups.

Table 2. Methods Used to Improve Credibility, Trustworthiness, and Transferability

Document Collection Procedures

The documents utilized in this study were strategic plans from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, College of Architecture and Urban Studies, College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, College of Business, College of Natural Resources and Environment, College of Engineering, the College of Science, and the Graduate School. To collect these documents, the researchers first searched the websites for each of the eight units to locate plans posted online. In cases where plans were not available online, the dean of each unit, through his or her assistant, was contacted and asked to provide the strategic plan for their college by email. These plans provided documentation of college-wide work, including priorities, objectives, and strategies.

One challenge in the document collection process involved revisions to the strategic plans. Some colleges were updating their plans at the time of this study. Therefore, a few strategic plans were more current than others, depending on the college revision processes.

Data Analysis

Focus group data were analyzed by hand, noting common themes within and across groups. Researchers coded lines in the notes to identify emerging themes. Quotes from the notes were then arranged around each theme. After the coding process was conducted by individuals, the team as a group compared and contrasted interpretations of the themes and patterns. This practice moved back and forth between inductive and deductive processes across focus groups. These procedures follow the case analysis processes suggested by Eisenhardt (1989) and grounded and pattern theory approaches to data analysis (Cresswell, 1998; Strauss, 1987).

Several steps were taken to enhance the credibility, trustworthiness, and transferability of the data (Koch, 2006; Anfara, Brown, & Mangione, 2002; Guba & Lincoln, 1989; Rogers & Cowles, 1993). Table 2 describes these actions in detail.

Strategic plans were plotted on the engagement matrix (Holland, 1997) and compared with focus group findings. Key word comparison was used to plot the plans on the matrix.


At Virginia Tech, specific factors are perceived by faculty, graduate students, and administration as leading to successful engagement. Findings are summarized in Figure 1. Most often discussed about the engagement culture was the role of promotion and tenure for measuring the impact of engagement for faculty. A variety of results from successful engagement were also identified. Specific findings are detailed below.

Figure 1. Campus Engagement Model

What is engagement? Three predominant perspectives on engagement were expressed in the focus groups. Engagement was defined as: a) one way outreach from the university, often continuing education offerings (it is interesting to note that this definition is not consistent with the definition and principles of engagement and is evidence of a lack of a shared definition of engagement), b) student learning through service-learning and other forms of applied pedagogy, and c) human satisfaction through problem solving, development of reciprocal relationships, trust building, contributing to the common good, and increased reputation and self-esteem. Some faculty saw engagement as a natural part of the research process.

Why do faculty, administrators, and graduate students conduct engagement work? The main reason these individuals engaged with communities was for the intrinsic value of the experience. They also believed engagement helped them keep in touch with industry and professions to be aware of trends, issues, and opportunities for student career development. Finally, they believed engagement improved their teaching and research efforts. One faculty member said, “The community has more to give me than I’ve had to give them.”

What are the challenges to conducting engagement work? The most voiced challenge in conducting engagement work was faculty recognition. All participants felt the promotion and tenure system and administrators do not fully value engagement or that engagement “doesn’t count.” Other commonly voiced challenges to engagement were the time needed to develop partnerships and other engagement logistics, funding for engagement activities, and the differences between academic and community cultures. One long-time faculty member said, “Everyone who I have seen try [to get promotion with engagement work] has failed.” Another said, “The university has a fundamental structure and culture that runs counter to engagement.”

What are the opportunities created by engagement work? The most common benefit of engagement was the enhanced reputation of students, faculty, and the university. Participants also said engagement can lead to better teaching and research, funding for projects, valuable connections with those outside the university, and career development for students. As mentioned by one faculty member, “They [students] are really excited to work with actual people on actual projects.”

Who does engagement? Most focus group participants believed engagement is the responsibility of everyone on campus due to the land-grant mission and the university’s motto, “That I may serve.” Campus centers and groups were specifically mentioned that focus on engagement. There was a strong feeling that people who conduct engagement work are those with a passion for it. Some faculty and administrators believed this work is best carried out by those with tenure.

Where does engagement take place? Faculty and students engage with a wide variety of audiences in many venues from local to international. Some faculty feel the campus climate values and supports international engagement work more fully than local engagement. One faculty member said about her local work, “If Appalachia was another country, [my engagement work] would be highly valued.”

What criteria determine quality engagement? Participants most often felt the hallmarks of quality engagement were ongoing, reciprocal relationships with community partners, the ability to evaluate and share the impacts of engagement, and serving a need or solving problems. Other criteria for quality engagement included feedback from partners, ownership by the community of the project, co-learning between partners, scholarship, pedagogical impact, personal development, and being meaningful for all involved. One faculty member summed up the criteria of quality engagement as, “Serves a need, solves a problem, addresses real world issues, is targeted, relevant, and has duration.”

What should engagement look like? Overall, participants want engagement to be more fully supported and valued. Suggested methods for how this might be achieved included improved integration of engagement in the promotion and tenure process and increased support for engagement through the words and actions of administrators. Specific recommendations included increased funding to support engagement work, the provision of release time, sabbatical, and graduate assistant positions, mentoring and training for faculty, logistical assistance for engagement projects, and networking opportunities with other faculty. They also requested changes in the academic culture to more fully address community needs since academic and community needs often differ and this can stall action. Other suggestions to enhance engagement were expanding the university’s engagement strategic plan focus, work load balance with other missions, and to make engagement voluntary for faculty. One faculty member said he needs “a system where we’re not swimming upstream.” Overall, faculty want more support for engagement activities but not in exchange for increased bureaucracy.

What are the products of engagement work? A variety of engagement products were mentioned by participants. The general categories were scholarship, physical artifacts (i.e. plans and designs), successful long term partnerships, student development, faculty development, project development, enhanced personal and institutional reputation, and enhanced teaching and research. One senior faculty member said, “I’m asking better research and scholarly questions due to engagement. [My work is] more relevant and more powerful.”

What are the similarities and differences on perceptions of engagement between focus groups? Overall, the CNRE focus groups centered more fully on research and engagement while the CAUS groups focused more on teaching. The CNRE faculty described the natural complementarity of discovery and engagement while the CAUS faculty described teaching and engagement as fully integrated. There were no notable differences between faculty and administrators within the two colleges on these topics. This difference in perception may be due to the nature of norms of the disciplines in these two colleges (Diamond & Adam, 1995).

Faculty believed engagement improves teaching and research. They were worried about measuring engagement and the mixed messages they get from administration on the value of engagement. For example, they found the recommendation to convert engagement into publications as a sign that administration does not understand what engagement is or the time it takes to conduct it. Finally, faculty believed engagement is critical for transformation of student perceptions and practices.

Students saw engagement as real life application of academic work. They believed faculty need more training in how to engage with communities. They believe the term “service” has baggage in communities. Students also believed one goal of engagement work was to tell the untold or underrepresented stories about communities. Overall, students were more focused on the personal benefit of expanded learning as a result of engagement rather than how engagement could fit into teaching or research.

What do college strategic plans say about engagement? We assessed the level of engagement and engaged scholarship in college strategic plans using the Holland Matrix (1997). It was often difficult to find language pertaining to the concept of engagement and engaged scholarship in the plans. However, no one college strategic plan ranked consistently high or low for support of engagement. The majority of college mission statements did not reflect engagement but the plans showed strong integration of engagement into external communications and fundraising with stakeholders. According to the plans, institutional leadership and the organizational structure supported engagement, but all colleges ranked low for supporting engagement through promotion, tenure, and hiring. This was consistent with the findings of the focus group discussions. There were a variety of degrees to which colleges described the integration of engagement into student involvement and curriculum. All but two colleges described integrating engagement into faculty involvement with community-based research and learning. Almost all of the college strategic plans indicated support for community involvement through partnerships with communities.

Other thoughts about engagement from the focus groups. Participants offered a variety of suggestions for improving the engagement culture at Virginia Tech. These included sharing engagement models from other universities, encouraging a bottom-up approach to culture change, providing more opportunities for faculty to meet and learn from each other about engagement, provide more incentives for faculty to engage, and recognition that engagement is not always consistent with the university as an economic enterprise. They also suggested that engagement needs to be more clearly defined internally. As described by participants, the community members that faculty and students work with are not concerned with the scholarship of engagement—how engagement work is termed or defined by the academy—as long as they get help with problems and issues.

Lessons Learned 

What seemed like a relatively straight forward plan to determine what faculty, administrators, and graduate students in two colleges at Virginia Tech believe about engagement instead became a study of a very complex concept. We hope these lessons below help other institutions with engagement work.

Building on the University’s History and Vision. Virginia Tech has a long history of engagement due to its land-grant status, motto, and long held values of public service. This history positioned the institution well to more fully integrate engagement into the university’s culture that resulted in receiving a Carnegie Engagement Classification, being awarded the C. Peter Magrath/W.K. Kellogg Foundation Engagement Award, and creating a campus Center for Student Engagement and Community Partnerships. These actions converged as a critical tipping point in institutionalizing engagement at Virginia Tech. Assessing the culture of engagement on any campus is context-specific. Other universities undertaking a similar assessment should design assessment tools with their specific history, context, vision and mission in mind.

The Need for Recognition and Rewards. The major theme that surfaced from all groups was that engagement does not count as much at Virginia Tech as it should and that more support is needed to carry out strong engagement. When you unpack the issues embedded toward this sentiment from an organizational perspective, there is evidence that the institution does not have a unified view of scholarship or a unified typology for publicly engaged scholarship. There may also be a lack of a shared understanding of how to appropriately document this scholarship for accurate assessment and evaluation of the scholarship within the department, college, or institution. This finding is consistent with the literature on engagement (Doberneck, Glass, & Schweitzer, 2010; Finkelstein, 2001; Nicotera, Cutforth, Fretz, & Summers- Thompson, 2011). However, in spite of this perception, everyone we interviewed highly valued engagement both personally and professionally for students, communities, faculty, and the university. Focus group participants were highly motivated by the intrinsic value of their engagement activities even though they perceived an absence of extrinsic rewards such as promotion and tenure.

We discovered that words count. Faculty, administrators, and students want to know how the university defines engagement and why it should be conducted. It is also clear that incentives count. Everyone felt the engagement culture at Virginia Tech could be enhanced by providing a variety of ways to recognize and reward quality engagement. A joint effort by university administrators and faculty to tenure and promotion guidelines could improve recognition of these activities. At Virginia Tech, the Committee for Outreach and International Affairs could serve as a catalyst for this process. At other institutions committees should begin the process of reviewing reward mechanisms for engagement work in collaboration with those faculty members who are heavily engaged. One example of this process is the Penn State UNISCOPE effort (Hyman et al., 2001- 2002).

Faculty, students, and administrators believe engagement is more than service-learning. They asked that a wide portfolio of engagement topics and activities be recognized and valued by the university. These appear to be important levers for catalyzing cultural change in disciplines, departments, and colleges.

Incorporating Student and Faculty Paradigms. The difference in perspectives between graduate students and faculty should be noted. Passion for engagement expressed by students is based on giving back to communities and helping unheard voices be heard. On the other hand, faculty and administrators focus on the academic benefits of the engagement process such as improved teaching and research. A productive engagement culture would ideally incorporate both of these perspectives—both the personal, intrinsic value of engagement work as well as the scholarship of engagement. Future research to assess university culture would benefit by including the perspectives of graduate students, many of whom will become future faculty members and will thereby shape engagement activities on their own campuses.

Integrating Teaching, Research, and Engagement. Faculty and students often articulated the tensions between academic and community work. To address many of these tensions they integrated core elements of their academic work with their community engagement. For example, faculty indicated their work with communities improved their research questions and helped them generate increased revenue through grants and contracts. They also stated that students more deeply understood how theory works by applying it to community-based projects. Graduate students intentionally integrated their community engagement into course assignments and research projects. It is clear that faculty and students who successfully engage with communities as academics focus on integration rather than separation of academic and community work.

Connecting Engaged Faculty Members. The design of our study to include focus groups as a methodology was an intentional effort to connect faculty members who are conducting engagement work. We also started each focus group with participants providing case studies of engagement work. This helped set the stage for those who are cautious about engagement to get a better sense of what those faculty actively involved in engagement work were doing. Indeed, a theme that emerged in the focus groups with faculty members was that they wished for more opportunities to connect and network with other faculty members across the university who are also conducting engagement work. As individual interviews would not have allowed for these connections and conversations to occur, focus groups were a highly successful method to enhance personal connections.

Expanding the Definition of Engagement. We discovered in our focus group conversations and in follow-up discussions with engagement groups on campus that some people are trying to expand what counts as engaged scholarship while others are trying to make engaged scholarship fit the traditional revenue generation and research publication lens. Participants in this project felt the traditional scholarship lens does not recognize the intrinsic value of engagement, the time and effort required to conduct engaged work, the value of locally and regionally disseminated knowledge, and the lack of refereed publication venues. These different approaches to defining and shaping engagement as a part of scholarship illustrate that future assessments of campus culture would benefit from discussions with faculty, administrators and students about how they themselves define engagement and how it is defined in their disciplines or at other institutions.

Shaping Culture as an Act of Scholarship 

The research team’s project design aimed to contribute to the scholarship of engagement. We designed the project to provide scholarly products about engagement. We gained Institutional Review Board approval for the project and made participants fully aware of our intent to share what was learned about engagement in scholarly ways. We chose to involve a variety of partners using action research methods to help determine the best next steps to enhance the engagement culture based on our findings.

Providing Tools and Resources. We discovered that strategic planning documents at Virginia Tech take on a variety of forms and use a variety of lenses in their development. A next step to more fully communicate engagement and engaged scholarship intentions through strategic plans could include 1) using consistent engagement language in all strategic plans across the university, 2) making administrators, those who create strategic communication plans, and those faculty participating in the strategic planning process more aware of the distinctions outlined in the Holland Matrix, 3) addressing the lack of information on the relationship of engagement to promotion, tenure, and hiring on campus, and 4) aligning the strategic intention and rhetoric. In many cases, institutions have aligned promotion and tenure policies with the strategic intent to elevate engagement but there is a lack of awareness of the policy changes, a lack of a unified view of scholarship, and/or a lack of consistency in the messages in strategic communications across the institution.

A theme that emerged in the focus groups was that many faculty were unsure how to go about measuring engagement. It appears that models of a wide range of engaged scholarship products or artifacts and specific efforts to help measure engagement that leads to those products could be the most important lever for changing the engagement culture on campus.

All of the focus group participants felt there was a wide variety of resources available to help them with their engagement agenda. However, they didn’t know much about these resources. The project team suggested developing an online engagement toolbox for faculty, students, and engagement partners to address this need and to help unify the engagement entities on campus. We found it is critical to have a clear vision for who owns and maintains the website to ensure long term benefit for users.

Learning about Culture Change. Culture change is a slow process and must involve a broad cross-section of the university to be successful. It is very much an evolutionary act rather than a revolutionary one. Clear definitions of new terms, a wide range of engagement models, and engagement champions appear to be critical elements for culture change. We found change processes work best when they are inclusive, not exclusive. In fact, we hope our work will stimulate conversations with campus staff and engagement partners to determine how their perspectives are similar and different about the engagement culture for a more holistic and successful engagement effort.

Limitations of the Study

This qualitative study focused on the engagement experiences at one university and may not reflect the engagement culture or context at other institutions. The two colleges selected for inclusion in the focus groups were chosen based on the visibility of their outreach activities and a historical tradition of engagement at this particular university and may not reflect all disciplines and units at the university. The faculty and administration in this study were invited to participate by administrators so may have felt obligated to participate. Staff were not included in the study since we were specifically interested in the faculty engagement experience and their perspectives of the administrators who guide them and the students they work with. A needed expansion of this research would include the perspectives of staff involved with engagement activities. Also, there was minimal student participation. In spite of these limitations, we believe all institutions, academic units, and disciplines working to enhance community engagement will find helpful suggestions and affirmations in our findings and lessons learned.


Despite strategic emphasis on engagement, for a strong university-wide engagement agenda to be sustained as an integral part of the daily life of the university, faculty members need to see benefit to their own professional development as well as benefits to students, the university, and the community. With increasing pressure for faculty members to demonstrate excellence in research, scholarship, or creative activities, faculty members’ engagement efforts need to be recognized and valued by the principal advancement structures of the university, the promotion and tenure process, and other relevant reward structures. Traditionally, outreach and engagement activities have not been as highly regarded as other missions of the university. Ultimately, those faculty involved in engagement work must voice their perceptions of the value of engagement work. To generate broad support for engagement among the faculty as a whole. Engagement activities must be viewed as equal with other missions in the evaluation of faculty.

Culture change is never easy for large organizations. However, change can often be catalyzed by listening to the voices of those closest to the points of change and taking action accordingly. This project discovered, through the voices of faculty, administrators, and graduate students, that engagement is a multifaceted and complex phenomenon that requires a holistic and intentional change strategy at many levels. The passion for engagement work at many institutions is clear. However, the academic context often runs counter to the engagement culture. Universities need to find mechanisms that bridge these gaps to enhance engagement.


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About the Authors

Nancy Franz is associate dean for extension and outreach for families and 4-H youth director at Iowa State University. Jeri Childers is a fellow at the Center for Organizational and Technological Advancement at Virginia Tech. Nicole Sanderlin is director of international programs in the College of Engineering at Virginia Tech.

Community Engagement Grants: Assessing the Impact of University Funding and Engagements

Monica Leisey, Valerie Holton, and Timothy L. Davey


While university-community partnerships have become a common practice for many universities, little empirical evidence is available exploring the impact of such partnerships for either the community partners or the university. This project collected data from a series of university-community engagement grants funded by Virginia Commonwealth University to understand the importance and consequences of its funding for the community partners, the university, the faculty, and the community members involved with the projects. Characteristics of the funded projects contributing to positive and continued engagement were identified. Differences in outcomes as identified by the university partner and the community partners were also identified.


Partnerships with community organizations provide universities opportunities for enhanced scholarship by providing additional settings for service-learning and community-based research. Furthermore, these partnerships can lead to improved outcomes for community members through the application of research findings to targeted areas of concern. Scholars cite university support for community engagement activities as a crucial factor in the success of partnerships (Chickering, 2001; Ferman & Hill, 2004; Fisher, Fabricant, & Simmons, 2004; Gelmon, Holland, Seifer, Shinnamon, & Connors, 1998; Holland, 1997; Holland, 2000; Mulroy, 2004; Thornton & Jaeger, 2006; Ward, 1996). In their study of institutional support for service-learning, Chadwick and Pawlowski (2007) point to the issue of funding as a crucial indicator of an institution’s level of commitment. Defining funding as being either “soft” (external) or “hard” (internal), the authors argue that institutions that support community engagement mostly through internal money are more likely to institutionalize and sustain the activity (Chadwick & Pawlowski, 2007). The allocation of university funds for community engagement activities is seen as a strong indicator not only of the support for community-based teaching, learning, and scholarship, but also as a sign that engagement has a value that holds permanence and prominence within the institution’s mission.

In addition to official expressions of support for community engagement and the use of university funds to sponsor initiatives, an important element of commitment to the community is the assessment and evaluation of the impact that engagement efforts have had on the community (Holland, 2000). The impact of the projects for both the community partners and the university is important not only to warrant the continuation of the projects, but also to provide data regarding important dimensions of the university-community relationship building process.

As external funding sources move to prioritize translational research, defined by the National Institute of Health (n.d.) as university-community research that moves scientific discoveries from the bench to the bedside. Understanding how to foster and support such engagement is imperative. While the literature offers some evidence about what makes a productive university-community partnership, information regarding the impact of the financial support for the projects is sparse. Given the current U.S. economy and the declining availability of resources for university-community collaborative partnerships, this study was designed to assess the impact of engagement projects supported by Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU).

Projects Included 

VCU has incorporated working collaboratively with the surrounding metro region into its strategic plan. Included in the plan was creation of the Division of Community Engagement, establishment of a vice provost for Community Engagement, development of a university-wide Council for Community Engagement (CCE), hiring a full-time service-learning director with faculty rank, as well as creating a culture of community engagement in all university units. Financial support as an indicator of sustained commitment to community engagement has been an important dimension of the University-Community Partnership Experiment at VCU since 1998 when external funding for such projects began.

Two separate funders of university-community projects were included in this impact assessment, as both funding sources focused on the development and maintenance of community collaboration and partnership. One funder was the Institute for Women’s Health (IWH) Community-Based Participatory Research (CBPR) Seed Grant program. The other was the CCE’s Mini-Grant Program. Both programs support collaboration between the greater metro community and the university; however, the intentions of the programs are slightly different.

IWH awarded funds to investigators who had proposed CBPR projects in the area of women’s health. For example, one of the grants funded exploration of the feasibility of providing a Tai Chi class at a neighborhood community center. A second funded measuring changes in perceived risk for cancer following an educational intervention about the human papilloma virus. Inherent to the CBPR methodology is a collaborative relationship between the investigator and the community partner. IWH and CBPR seed grantees are required to demonstrate such relationships within the research proposal. Two rounds of seed grants have been funded and are included in this impact analysis. A total of 13 projects received funding through this source. While the project proposals were submitted by the primary investigator, a relationship with the community partner had to be explicitly demonstrated. In some instances the partners had worked together previously; other partnerships were in the beginning stages of their relationships. Funding decisions were made through a rigorous review panel process created to mirror extramural funding sources.

The CCE projects were designed to enhance and increase university engagement with the community and contribute to scholarship and service-learning. Grants were awarded to proposals that demonstrated interdisciplinary involvement of faculty and students, addressed community-identified needs, and demonstrated substantive collaboration with at least one community partner. For example, one of the research grants funded a project that developed an interdisciplinary mental health program to increase service capacity, improve service delivery, and reduce treatment dropout for adolescent clients at a local mental health program. Another used university students as mentors to help at-risk adolescent boys create documentary films about their community experiences. Twenty-five projects have been funded over the past three years. Decisions were made following a rigorous application and peer-review process through the community engagement grant and gifts subcommittee. This process involved members of the university and members of the public who had worked on similar projects in the past.

A final report was required identifying whether project objectives and goals were met. The report was submitted by the primary investigator, but was expected to be written by the investigative team, not just the primary investigator. Investigators for this study were interested in moving beyond knowing whether the projects were successful as measured by outputs to what impact the funding of the projects had for both the community partners and the faculty members who were awarded the funds. In essence, the investigators wanted to get to the “so what” question—why should the university continue to support such projects given the diminishing fiscal resources available. An online survey was created to capture data to help answer this question.

Method and Procedure

Using Inquisite software, two similar yet different surveys were developed for the two groups of participants: the community partners and the faculty members. The survey included questions pertaining to project outcomes, contribution to scholarship, and development of the collaborative relationships as well as those exploring the extent to which grants helped leverage other support and student involvement. Faculty members who received the grants and their contact at the community partner organization were invited to participate in the confidential survey via email. The email included the name of the project as well as information pertaining to each project’s goals and objectives and the amount awarded for the project. The recruitment email and survey were sent by an administrative assistant ensuring the survey’s confidentiality.

Descriptive statistical analyses were conducted for the quantitative data using SPSS 17.0. Qualitative data were thematically analyzed by two of the investigators, comparing identified themes and negotiating differences of interpretation. Qualitative themes are provided with supporting data to demonstrate the investigators’ understanding of the categories.


Participants included 21 faculty members and 16 community partners; 16 of the participants had been funded by the CCE grants and 5 of the participants had been funded by the IWH grants. Community partners included 8 nonprofit organizations, 5 area schools, and 3 local government agencies. Faculty participants included 5 members from the College of Arts and Humanities, 2 each from the schools of Education and Medicine, and 1 each from 7 other schools or departments. Participant responses were grouped according to their role: community partner participant or faculty member participant.

As these projects were intended to be collaborative, both groups were asked about their perception of the faculty members’ role. Perceptions of the role of the faculty member in the projects were very similar. Community partners reported that the majority of faculty members related to the project as a partner (71.4%), not as a leader. Faculty also reported that they perceived their role primarily as partner (78.9%). It is interesting to note that 81.3% of the community partners had collaborated with a VCU faculty member before collaborating on this university grant-funded project.

Student participants were also queried. They were asked about the number of students involved and whether or not there were opportunities to use their participation in the project for future scholarship. Community partners reported that for most of the projects (60%) there were between 1 and 10 students involved; however, there were also projects that included between 10 and 30 students (20%). Data disclosed that several students were involved in small research efforts, and that at least one student used the project for additional research beyond the scope of the funded project. Two other students participated as part of their internship experience, linking their course work with hands-on experience.

Faculty participants reported similar student engagement. At the time of the impact analysis, 14 students were working with faculty on presentations and 5 on publications resulting from the project. The survey showed that several students went on to graduate school based on their experiences, using the data for doctoral dissertations; one had used the experience as entry into the professional world, giving credit to the project for his ability to obtain and succeed in his position.

Project Outcomes. Interestingly, there were differences between the participant groups on whether the projects were able to meet stated project outcomes. Community partners asserted that in 86.7% of the projects, all or most of the outcomes had been met. Faculty partners reported that 75% of the projects met all or most of the stated outcomes. Reasons for meeting the project outcomes were quite similar; however, it was interesting to note the differences shared.

Data from community partners identified two themes regarding the ability to meet project objectives: relationship with faculty and organizational commitment, with the latter seeming to be the most salient factor. Reasons provided by the community partners included “outstanding collaboration, cooperation, and partnership between all of the involved entities, and excellent, effective, and efficient collaborative partnership between our organization, university staff, and students.”

Commitment was also important on the part of the organization. As one community partner stated: “Commitment from the organization to utilize information generated from the project” was an important aspect of being able to meet the project’s stated goals. Community partners were also able to identify time as one of the most important issues with respect to meeting the stated objective, for example, one partner said:

We began the summer classes very quickly after being notified of the grant award, so we struggled to launch our program initially. However, we are now moving closer to having enough participants; and the project has not yet been completed and has not yet had a chance to reach all of its goals. The goals will take at least a few years to be reached completely. However, the project is well on its way.

Faculty reported two main reasons for having reached the stated objectives: partner relationships and additional resources. Partner relationships included such statements as: “Wonderful support from community partner.” “Key players were committed to the project and there was ample support.” “Community partners were flexible and supportive.”

Resources noted were: “Additional grants that I wrote have been funded and have helped to provide resources.” “Additional teacher training workshops.” “Training curriculum was developed successfully.” Faculty partners also identified the same reasons—partner relationships and resources—for not being able to meet stated objectives.

Issues with partner relationships that did not help meet goals included: “Difficulty with two faculty members’ participation in a timely manner.” “Still in progress, community partner and IRB delays.” Resources were also identified as a reason for not meeting stated goals: “Our community partner experienced the loss of a major contract.” Reasons for not meeting the stated goals also included statements that may have hinged on partner relationships, including “Several partners abandoned the project.” “[The project was] overly ambitious.” “Data collection was difficult because of trust issues within the community, translation issues, recruitment of adequate number of participants into focus groups, and lack of resources for student support.”

While not an explicit project outcome, the application process for both funding sources had indicated that scholarly outputs were an expectation of the projects funded. Faculty members reported that 10 of the projects resulted in one publication or conference presentation, seven of the projects resulted in two publications or conference presentations, and two of the projects resulted in multiple publications/conference presentations.

Unexpected Project Outcomes. Community partners and faculty partners also identified outcomes that went beyond the stated goals/objectives for the funded projects. Community partners asserted that the projects were instrumental in their having a better process of providing services. These comments included: “We have improved the management of our donated medication stock.” “Both students and faculty prefer the online method to site-based older model.” “Better understanding and perception of mental health issues studied.”

Faculty partners asserted that all participants in the funded project benefited in ways that were not expected. From the faculty member’s perspective, students, regardless of whether they were in high school or college, benefited. Examples of the added value included: “High school students are being offered provosts’ scholarships and opportunities to participate in Honors College programming as freshmen.” “Graduate students report greater comfort in practicum and internship experiences.” “Increased numbers of graduate students request clinical placements.” Similar benefits were identified for VCU as follows: “[VCU] developed an elective.” “[VCU provided] further funding for a resident to expand model.” “Significant clinical effects that were not expected [knowledge building].”

The unexpected benefits identified by the faculty partners for the community partners included increased ability to provide services as noted by the community partner responses: “Expansion of the model to other free clinics,” and “Project has a potential benefit in recertifying providers in a more convenient and cost effective manner.” But the faculty members also identified additional unexpected positive outcomes for the community partners that included: “Project included in grant application.” “Participants all felt their lives were changed as a result of participating.”

Possible Future Collaboration. All survey participants were asked about their interest in collaborating on another university-community partnership. All the community partners reported that they would be open to collaborating with VCU faculty in the future. Reasons provided depended on the positive experience with the faculty partner: “This has been a very positive partnership.” “I have personally enjoyed my association with the instructor, consultant and the students.” With the added resources that VCU was able to bring to the project, “[the university] has been able to provide knowledge and expertise, as well as resources to the project.” “Faculty and students commit time, funding, mentoring, [and] training support that is invaluable to all area students and particularly those from underserved communities.”

Interestingly, the vast majority of faculty members also reported being willing to collaborate again (89.5%), with only approximately 10% not sure or unwilling to collaborate with community partners in the future. Reasons provided for continued interest in collaboration included: “They were enthusiastic, and contributed much to the project.” “Great partner, strong staff, resource shares—willing to develop and implement innovative models, collaborative clinicians.” “It was a very good working relationship.” “They have been very supportive and open to my work.” Only one negative comment was provided by faculty members to support their unwillingness to again collaborate with the community partners: “Complete lack of response to calls and emails, and apparent racism.” While this comment was not explained, it seems clear that this is an example of a lack of relationship between the community partner and the faculty member.

Impact. While important, meeting the stated goals/objectives for the funded projects was understood by the investigators as an insufficient measure of the actual impact of the funding provided. Additional qualitative questions were asked of the participants in an attempt to understand the impact of the projects for VCU and the greater Richmond community.

When asked about the impact of the project, both community partners and faculty partners identified added value for the students. Students were understood to have experienced benefits beyond the funded projects by both faculty partners and community partners. Community partners shared that: “Students who participated in the project will be better prepared to contribute professionally.” “[The project] provided several students real life experiences.” “[The project] provided an opportunity for the students to understand the caregiver’s role, the responsibilities, the frustrations and the rewards.” “[The students experienced] positive and emotionally supportive learning environment.” Faculty members reported: “[Students achieved an] enhanced understanding of an underserved community and population within minutes of campus.” “[The project] provided publication opportunities for graduate students.” “Raised interest for graduate students to pursue and apply for seed grants.” “Increased training opportunities for [VCU] graduate students.”

The greater Metro community also experienced benefits not explicit within the funded projects. Community partners identified additional community resources, as an important dimension of the project’s impact. They stated that: “Community was provided enhanced care and more patient appointments.” “At-risk African-American males found their voice and a vision for their future.” “[The project] helped the community understand the value of a resource in their midst.” One community partner shared that: “The community, especially the students, now has a huge buy-in to seeing the resource developed in a responsible manner—promoting conservation while allowing others to enjoy the opportunity to explore nature,” an important yet unmeasured impact of this particular project. Faculty partner perspectives of the impact on the greater community included statements such as: “Area teachers were exposed to concepts, ideas, and curriculum ideas that they could take with them.” “A citizen’s grassroots group has come back to life and shows good support for the program.” “Improved quality of mental health care for families in Richmond.” Additionally, one faculty member commented that: “Underrepresented students from Richmond had the chance to experience VCU.”

Less explicit benefits for the greater Metro region were also noted by both faculty partners and community partners. These were mostly in the area of data collection in order for the region to be better understood, for example: “Project provides useful local data in order to understand Latino community needs.” “Data will hopefully provide a better understanding of the factors studied.” Additionally, the opportunity to build a relationship with VCU was also an added benefit noted by both a community partner and a faculty partner.

The community partner organizations and the university also experienced added benefits. According to community partners, the VCU experience enhanced their scholarship and their connection with the community, will “provide valuable research for the school” [and] “additional field sites for university staff.” An important benefit noted by one community partner was that the project: “Brought together experts from a number of different disciplines and one of the lasting effects will be the continued team approach to research.” Faculty partners identified university benefits in terms of VCU’s ability to achieve its mission: “The project built stronger relationships among the departments.” “[VCU’s] mission of community engagement has been highlighted.” Community partner benefits were perceived in similar fashion: as an increased ability to provide services…“build a health careers pipeline,” “resource sharing,” and “providing innovative models of care in the underserved.”


Increasingly universities are recognizing that engagement with their local communities for either collaborative projects or for research are positive additions to a university’s mission. With the advent of the community engagement classification through the Carnegie Foundation, more universities are searching for collaborative opportunities with their local communities. This impact analysis demonstrates that the benefits of such projects are widespread and valuable. The community partner and the faculty partner experience explicit and implicit benefits. There are corresponding benefits for the community partner agency, the university, and especially for any student lucky enough to be involved in the project.

Collaboration between community partners and universities can be a difficult process as there are often differences in professional expectations. As reported by Bruning, McGrew, and Cooper (2006), relationships between universities and their local communities have a history of being difficult. As universities have begun reaching beyond their walls for research sites and internship opportunities, they struggle with recognizing the needs and priorities of the community (Shannon & Wang, 2010). It is essential to explore the impact of such projects in order to demonstrate the “so what” dimension of the work being done. The outputs from each of these studies are important for the individual projects, but they may not be enough to demonstrate the actual impact of supporting university-community collaboration. Assessing the impact of VCU’s projects is a beginning look at why such projects are important.


It is important to note that this project is limited, as all surveys are. Because respondents were not randomly selected, it is possible that community partner participants were only those who were pleased with their collaborative experiences; all community partner participants said that they were very pleased with relationships with the university. It is also possible that the community partners were not comfortable disclosing negative information for fear that their answers would be linked to their name or organization, even though the recruitment email promised confidentiality. Additionally, all the community partners stated that they had worked with the university on projects prior to the funded grant project. This may also indicate that only community partners with positive track records collaborated on the funded projects. As is the case with all open-ended survey questions, some of the data provided did not respond to the questions asked. This could be an indication that there were important questions not asked of the participants, or that the questions were not worded well. One last limitation is that some of the projects had been finished for over two years, possibly shifting how the participants remembered the projects.


The movement toward research methodologies that enhance the ability to facilitate community change, such as community-based participatory research, is still relatively new for many universities. The impact of university-community partnerships must incorporate an evaluative process to understand the outcomes of projects for both partners and the differences that partnerships and projects make. This project provides insights into the ways that outcomes and differences are understood by each partner. It also raises important questions about the relative importance of the outcomes of the project, when compared to the impact of the relationship between the university and community partner.


Bruning, S.D., McGrew, S., Cooper, M. (2006). Town-gown relationships: Exploring university-community engagement from the perspective of community members. Public Relations Review, 32, 125-130. DOI: 10.1016/j.pubrev.2006.02.005

Chadwick, S.A., & Pawlowski, D.R. (2007). Assessing institutional support for service-learning: A case study of organizational sensemaking. Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning, 13(2), 31-39.

Chickering, A. (2001). Maximizing civic learning and social responsibility. Boston, MA: New England Resource Center for Higher Education.

Ferman, B., & Hill, T.L. (2004). The challenges of agenda conflict in higher-education-community research partnerships: Views from the community side. Journal of Urban Affairs, 26(2), 241–257.

Fisher, R., Fabricant, R., & Simmons, L. (2004). Understanding contemporary university-community connections: Context, practice and challenges. In T.M. Soska and A.K. Johnson (Eds.), University-community partnerships: Universities in civic engagement. Binghamton, NY: The Hayworth Press.

Gelmon, S.B., Holland, B.A., Seifer, S.D., Shinnamon, A., & Connors, K. (1998). Community-university partnerships for mutual learning. Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning, 5(1), 97-107.

Holland, B.A. (2000). Institutional impacts and organizational issues related to service-learning. Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning [Special Issue: Strategic Directions for Service Learning], 52–60.

Holland, B.A. (1997). Analyzing institutional commitment to service: A model of key organizational factors. Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning, 4(1), 30–41.

Mulroy, E.A. (2004). University civic engagement with community-based organizations: Dispersed or coordinated models? In T.M. Soska and A.K. Johnson (Eds.), University-community partnerships: Universities in civic engagement. Binghamton, NY: The Hayworth Press.

National Institute of Health Common Fund (n.d.). Translational Research. Retrieved from the Division of Program Coordination, Planning, and Strategic Initiatives website:

Shannon, J., & Wang, T.R. (2010). A Model for university-community engagement: Continuing education’s role as convener. The Journal of Continuing Higher Education, 58, 108-112. DOI: 10.1080/07377361003661499

Thornton, C.H., & Jaeger, A.J. (2006). Institutional culture and civic responsibility: An ethnographic study. Journal of College Student Development, 47(1), 52-68.

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About the Authors

Monica Leisey is an assistant professor in the School of Social Work at Salem State University, Salem, MA. Valerie Holton is a field instructor in the School of Social Work at VCU. Tim Davey is an associate dean for community engagement and director of field instruction and associate professor in the School of Social Work at VCU.

Set Charge about Change: The Effects of a Long-Term Youth Civic Engagement Program

Robbin Smith


In an effort to create an enhanced sense of civic engagement within the U.S. population, a variety of initiatives have been launched recently. Predominantly, these efforts have focused on young adults in high school and college. Although some programs have targeted younger age groups as well, they are typically short in duration. This case study focuses on a small group of elementary school students who participated in a long-term youth engagement program. The participants’ civic knowledge, civic skills, and civic efficacy were measured at regular intervals throughout the 17 months of the program. The findings suggest that, at the end of the project, all of the participants demonstrated increased civic knowledge and skills, and an enhanced sense of civic efficacy. An analysis of what happened during the project and the lessons that may be applicable to those who undertake civic engagement projects with younger children is also offered.


For some time now, academics, politicians, and the public have expressed a renewed interest in civic engagement. Thomas Erhlich (2000), in his call to revitalize higher education and democratic institutions, defined civic engagement as “working to make a difference in the civic life of our communities and developing the combination of knowledge, skills, values, and motivation to make that difference. It means promoting the quality of life in a community, through both political and non-political processes” (Preface, vi).

Literature Review 

Many cite the work of Robert Putnam (2000) as the impetus for a larger national discussion on civic engagement. In his seminal book, Bowling Alone, he suggested that Americans suffered from a civic malaise that was particularly acute among the young. Putnam concluded that, “social capital has eroded steadily and sometimes dramatically over the past two generations” (p. 287). His conclusions were particularly problematic because not only did they suggest there had been a marked decline in collective action, but they also implied that the very notion of an engaged citizenry, capable of participating effectively and exercising its rights and responsibilities, had been diminished, thereby jeopardizing the health of democratic institutions. Putnam’s work became a clarion call for all who had expressed concern about related declines in such disparate areas as voter turnout, trust in government and elected officials, and civic attachment.

While many researchers focused on the adult population, some scholars sought to determine if the lack of community involvement in the general population was the result of a decline in youth civic education and civic engagement, and, if so, how to reverse that trend. Several subsequent studies found that U.S. students exhibited the same lack of engagement that Putnam had decried. For example, the collaborative Carnegie Foundation and CIRCLE Report on the Status of Civic Education and Citizenship (2003) found that “young Americans are not prepared to participate fully in our democracy now and when they become adults” (p. 8). The serious implications of the Carnegie-CIRCLE study were highlighted by the results of the subsequent 2006 National Assessment of Educational Progress study that demonstrated that in the 4th, 8th, and 12th grades, only a fraction of U.S. students scored at the proficient level in civics (NCES)1.

Some of the solutions proposed and pursued to address the decline in youth engagement took the form of governmental action. When state legislators became concerned about the lack of civic knowledge in public schools, numerous states enacted measures emphasizing the importance of civic education. These measures ranged from symbolic gestures (e.g., legislative resolutions), to professional development opportunities (such as funding for teachers in the area of civics), to financing formal studies on how to increase youth civic engagement.

Other scholars, however, sought to show that the situation was more complex and yet less dire than that posited by Putnam. For example, Marcello and Kirby (2008) examined trends in voter turnout and concluded that the outcome was not as dismal for youth engagement as Putnam had purported. Their conclusions were supported further by subsequent research on youth voter registration and voter turn out trends (Marcello, Lopez, Kennedy, & Bar, 2008). Zukin, Keeter, Andolina, Jenkins, and Delli Carpini (2006) also challenged Putnam’s findings and argued that the youth of the U.S. demonstrated greater levels of involvement in charitable activities and higher levels of volunteering than older Americans. In addition, Torney-Purta, Lehmann, Oswald, and Schulz (2001) surveyed 90,000 students across several domains including democracy and citizenship, national identity, and social cohesion and diversity on behalf of the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement. Torney-Purta et al. (2001) found that most of the students had a basic understanding of democratic values and processes. Moreover, a majority of the respondents recognized that electoral participation was an important facet of citizenship. All of these researchers concluded that there was renewed hope for youth civic engagement. Even Putnam (2005) acknowledged this renewed optimism indicating that much of the recent research was “a most welcome harbinger perhaps of a new-found respect for the values of public service” that might lead to “regenerating social capital” (p. 8).

Unfortunately, much of this research typically defined youth engagement as something that was only relevant to those 14 years of age and older. In fact, Marcello and Kirby (2008), Zukin et al., (2006), and Torney-Puerta et al. (2001) all surveyed students 15 years or older. And yet, many scholars who study youth civic engagement acknowledge that it is critically important to introduce engagement opportunities as early as possible and to develop activities that are long-term in nature. Levine and Higgins-D’Alessandro (2010) argued that, “by developing young people’s skills of social analysis and deliberation, we help to promote democratic decision-making and thereby optimize society’s support for capabilities” (p. 124). Berti (2005), for example, found that between the ages of 10 and 11, children build “a fairly standard conception of political parties, as connected to elections, in conflict with each other, aimed at producing leaders and having to do with government” (p. 82)2. Regardless of children’s capacity to learn civic concepts, the Carnegie-CIRCLE report noted that “[b]etween 1988 and 1998, the proportion of fourth-graders who reported taking social studies daily fell from 49 percent to 39 percent, a steep decline that reflects a general trend away from civics and social studies in elementary grades” (Civic Mission of Schools [CMS], 2003, p. 15).

Just as civic education has declined, so too have the opportunities to develop civic skills through youth engagement. For example, a study conducted by the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS, 2006) found that only 38% of U.S. youth 12–18 years old report that they have engaged in school based service and most of this participation occurs during high school, as “[h]igh school students are 37% more likely than middle school students to participate in school-based service” (p. 7). Moreover, of the middle school students surveyed, only 7% indicated that they had engaged in a school-based service project while enrolled in elementary school. While such findings certainly are cause for concern, there are a few programs in existence today that provide an opportunity to introduce civic engagement concepts to younger age cohorts and to examine the impact of those programs in terms of: 1) the children’s civic knowledge including their views of citizenship; 2) their development of concomitant civic skills; and 3) the cultivation of a civic disposition that inclines them to act as engaged citizens (i.e. civic efficacy). Youth in Action is one such program. Public Achievement (PA), which is the focus of this paper, is another. Before presenting the case study findings of PA’s effect in these three areas, however, it is important to clearly delineate how the terms “civic knowledge”, “civic skills”, and “civic efficacy” are conceptualized.

Civic Knowledge

The CMS formed, as an outgrowth of the 2003 Carnegie-CIRCLE report, was one of the first organizations to formally conceptualize “civic knowledge”. To them, this consisted of an understanding and awareness of: important historical events; issues and actors; the structures and process of government and the legal system; the role of social movements; and the relevant social and political networks for change ( This conceptualization echoed that of several previous researchers. For example, Jennings and Niemi (1974, 1981) argued that political knowledge encompassed an understanding of political structures and major political actors (including international political leaders), the party system, major historical events, and significant public policy issues. Similarly, Galston (2001) claimed that civic knowledge was limited to a familiarity with “political institutions and processes, leaders and parties, and public policies” (p. 221). In a slightly different vein, Torney-Purta et al. (2001) contended that civic knowledge included an understanding of democracy, governmental and economic processes, institutions, and values, as well as the social participation values of one’s nation and the socio-economic stratification and opportunity structures for selected groups in society.

As conceptualized in this paper, civic knowledge consists of: 1) an understanding of governmental structures, actors and processes; 2) a comprehension of governmental outputs in the form of policies; 3) knowledge of non-governmental forces such as the media, interest groups, and social movements; and 4) familiarity with the prominent social networks within a given community setting.

Civic Skills

While civic knowledge has a degree of certainty in its conceptualization, civic skills, unfortunately, do not. Often when academics discuss civic skills, they refer to those skills necessary to be effective citizens. In other words, they delimit and define civic skills as those skills necessary for effective political participation. At times, effective political participation is further reduced to simply electoral participation. In short, under these definitions, civic skills are merely those skills necessary to vote, and being a “good citizen” is one who actually votes. However, the concepts of civic skills and citizenship are much broader than that and widely debated. Dalton (2008) confronted this dilemma in The Good Citizen. He distinguished between two forms of citizenship: duty-based citizenship and engaged citizenship. Duty-based citizenship included the traditional forms of political participation such as voting, paying taxes, and obeying the law. He noted that, “these norms reflect the formal obligations, responsibilities, and rights of citizenship.” Engaged citizenship, on the other hand, related to one’s concern for others and the community and having the capacity to “understand the opinion of others” and “a moral or empathetic element of citizenship” (p. 28). Dalton found that members of the 1980s generation and Generation X were more likely to demonstrate engaged citizenship than duty-based citizenship that was more commonly found in the pre-World War II and Baby Boom generations. Thus, the younger age groups displayed a greater “concern for social rights and the protection of the disadvantaged” (p. 91). Dalton concluded that, “these orientations should promote tolerance” ( p. 226).

Likewise, Loeb (2010) advocated for a form of citizenship promoted by William Deikman in which individuals have a “receptive consciousness” that “helps us view ourselves as part of a larger life process” and “lets us reach out to our fellow human beings” (p. 236). Likewise, Jennings and Niemi (1974) found that good citizens (as conceptualized by their respondents) were those who were tolerant of others, got along with other people, were considerate, and were willing to be active in their communities. Thus, while the definitions of citizenship vary, (e.g. the engaged citizenship of Dalton or the informed citizenship of Galston) at their root, they share a common concern with tolerance and respect for the views of others.

Respect for divergent views is a particularly important civic skill emphasized in youth engagement programs. In fact, the Carnegie-CIRCLE (2003) report concluded that one of the goals of civic education in all schools was to develop “competent and responsible citizens” who are “concerned for the rights and welfare of others, are socially responsible, [and] willing to listen to alternative perspectives” (p. 10). In short, active listening and a respect for diverse approaches are both key components in citizenship and, thus, important civic skills in youth engagement programs. Moreover, according to CMS, youth engagement programs should develop two strands of civic skills: 1) intellectual civic skills, such as critical thinking, active listening and “understanding, interpreting and critiquing …different points of view” (Civic Competencies, para 2); and 2) participatory civic skills such as effective communication, building consensus, community mapping, and organizing groups. Finally, quality civic education programs will teach tolerance and respect as well as a “rejection of violence”, a “desire for community involvement”, and “personal efficacy”(Civic Competencies, para 3). Thus, civic skills relevant to youths extend beyond traditional political participation and include the ability to empathize, respect diverse opinions, and communicate effectively. The concept of the “good citizen”, then, is one rooted in civic knowledge, civic skills and civic efficacy. Efficacy, however, also has a wide variety of conceptualizations and definitions, to which we now focus our attention.

Civic Efficacy

Albert Bandura (1977) argued that efficacy, specifically self-efficacy, was “a belief in one’s personal capabilities” (p. 4). Maddux and Gosselin (2003) added that “self-efficacy beliefs are not concerned with perceptions of skills and abilities divorced from situations; they are concerned, instead, with what people believe they can do with their skills and abilities under certain conditions” (p. 219). CMS (2005) reiterated this belief by indicating that the goal of civic education should be to educate democratic citizens who “are informed and thoughtful about public and community issues, reflecting a grasp and appreciation of history and the fundamental processes of American democracy” and who have a developed sense of “personal efficacy” (Criteria for Success, para. 1). Additionally, according to Kahne and Westheimer (2006), “a sense of efficacy is a key building block for civic commitment.” They contend that, “many educators believe that if we shore up young people’s sense of efficacy (their confidence that they can make a difference), then their levels of civic and political engagement will rise” (p. 289).

Maddux (2005) further differentiated between self and collective efficacy. Collective efficacy is the “group’s shared belief in its conjoint capabilities to organize and execute the courses of action required to produce given levels of attainments” (p. 284). Of course, collective efficacy is related to self-efficacy. In fact, they are “mutually supportive” (Beaumont, 2010, p. 526). Individuals with high self-efficacy are more likely to demonstrate high collective efficacy and vice versa. Moreover, the skills and knowledge that contribute to a sense of self-efficacy for the individual are identical to those that create collective efficacy among groups. But while Maddux and Gosselin (2003) focused on self- and collective efficacy, Kahne and Westheimer (2006) and Torney-Purta et al. (2001) found distinguishing between internal and external efficacy to be more important in the political realm. .

The sense of political efficacy is usually defined as the attitude that citizens can make a difference in government decisions. It is often thought of as having two parts. External efficacy is the belief that government officials are responsive to citizen input, while internal efficacy is the belief that the individual can mobilize personal resources to be effective (p. 130).

Kahne and Westheimer argued that students in civic education programs may learn that there is a great difference between internal and external efficacy. Students who participate in a program in which they gain internal efficacy may find governmental institutions or actors unwilling to negotiate over certain public issues. In that case, the students do not gain any external efficacy and may lose internal efficacy as a result. Thus, for the authors, any youth program that focuses on “educating citizens for a democratic society” must encourage students to “gain a sense that they can make a difference and also identify, analyze, and challenge social and institutional practices as they work to create a more just society” (p. 295). According to Torney-Purta et al. (2001), although political scientists have long expressed interest in efficacy as an important concept relevant to adult political behavior, “[t]he community and the school are among the settings in which such efficacy can be experienced, especially by young people” (p. 130). Thus, the evidence indicates that the creation and fostering of civic knowledge, civic skills, and civic efficacy is vital in youth engagement programs. But how are the conceptions best introduced and developed in young children? This is a question that researchers have increasingly begun to address. An example of one such program that may offer insights into the development of youth civic knowledge, civic skills, and civic efficacy is Public Achievement.

Public Achievement

Public Achievement (PA) is one example of a youth civic education and engagement program with the expressed goal of developing the participants’ civic knowledge, civic skills, and civic efficacy. PA is a youth engagement model begun at the Center for Democracy and Citizenship at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs. In the prototypical PA program, college students take a semester-long course on civic education, engagement, and developing the efficacy of young children. The following semester, the college students are assigned to work with groups of children in an elementary or middle school. The children, with the assistance of their college “coach”, select a project that must be public in nature. Often these projects focus on some local concern or issue. For example, recent groups in the U.S. have focused on teen violence, the establishment of recycling programs in schools, or the improvement of the quality and nutritional value of school lunches. Whatever the topic or concern, the college students act merely as facilitators while the younger students develop their projects and see them through to fruition (Hildreth, 2000; Boyte & Farr, 1997).

The elementary and secondary students, as part of PA, gain civic knowledge about local governmental structures, the role of relevant public actors, and the history of related events while learning about civic and political concepts such as community, citizenship, democracy, and power. They also learn and must master a variety of civic skills, such as team building, negotiating, planning, interviewing, and public speaking. See Figure 1 for an overview of the PA model.

The overall objective is for the students to acquire a greater interest in their own civic life and an ability to participate in the public debates within their own communities. The other goal of PA is to develop a civic disposition in the students such that they develop an appreciation for different views and perspectives and a sense of individual and collective efficacy. In other words, the PA program strives to provide the participants with the knowledge and skills to involve themselves in public work and the willingness to continue that engagement long after the program has ended.

The format of PA has proven to be successful and has been replicated in a variety of communities throughout the US and overseas (e.g., Georgia State College and University, Colorado College, and Northern Arizona University while internationally, programs have occurred in Israel, Northern Ireland, Poland, and Turkey).

While many researchers and advocates have promoted a variety of approaches for cultivating youth civic engagement in high schools and middle schools, very few initiatives have been attempted at the elementary school level. PA is one of the few that has. In the remainder of this paper, the results of a case study of a 17-month long PA initiative are presented, and a discussion of the extent to which the PA program augmented the civic knowledge, civic skills, and civic efficacy of the participants will be reviewed.

Methodology and Results

In January of 2009, the author began working with a group of fourth grade girls on a modified Public Achievement project that culminated in June of 2010.3 The overall objective of the project was to encourage these students to view themselves as engaged citizens. The young students committed to meeting and working together every week on a project of interest to them. Prior to the inception of the program, they completed surveys on their civic knowledge, civic skills, and their own sense of civic efficacy. They repeated these surveys at the end of each phase of the project. Additonally, the young women were interviewed throughout the 17-month project about their experiences.

In the inaugural meeting, they identified a variety of potential public issues that they wished to address. Their initial topics included a review of the public library’s video selections for young girls, the installation of a map of the U.S. on the school blacktop, and a conservation project. After much discussion and debate, they decided that of primary importance to them was the use of school fields during recess. Years before, the fields had been widely available to all elementary students. However, in recent years, access to the fields had been limited solely to 5th graders and only on an intermittent basis. Thus, the majority of the school children were left with the unappealing option of playing on a playground largely designed for younger children (i.e. kindergarten–second grade) or hanging out on the blacktop area congregating aimlessly. In both locations, no running was allowed due to risk of injury.4 Adjacent to the playground, but down a short hill, was a large school field that remained off limits to children of all ages. Thus, the young women in the PA program sought to develop a solution to a problem that they had identified as being important to them: access to a recreational space.5

The program progressed over three phases that corresponded to the three semesters that the group worked together. Initially, the students demonstrated almost no grasp of civic concepts and ideas. They had significant difficulty differentiating the public from the private domain. For example, at the first meeting, the students suggested a variety of possible public projects including working for a church or changing the businesses in a local shopping plaza. Moreover, they had almost no comprehension of political actors or the governance structure not only within their own community, but even their own school. While the children could identify the school principal and the curriculum specialist who served as a de facto vice principal, they had no knowledge of their respective roles within the school. Nor did they understand who had jurisdiction over the use of fields at recess (e.g. one thought it was the town, another the principal, a third thought it was the teachers, and the remaining participants claimed not to know at all).

Additionally, they did not express confidence in selected civic skills. None of the group believed that they worked “very well” with children their own age. One of the participants noted that she had said she worked “somewhat well” with children her age because “we argue a lot.” Another participant said she did not like to work with other children her own age because she “liked to work by [her-]self.” Thus, the children demonstrated little civic knowledge and limited civic skills. Not surprisingly, they claimed to have no civic efficacy as well. All of the girls indicated that they believed that they had no opportunity in their own community to express their views even if they wanted to do so. In fact, the children indicated that they did not believe that there was much that they could do to change their lack of access to the school fields. Therefore, their initial evaluation of their own efficacy reflected both a lack of internal and exernal efficacy. Not only did they not believe that they could make a difference, they also did not believe that anyone (be it institutions or actors) would be responsive to them. In the first phase of the project, the girls frequently noted that no one ever listened to them so there was no point in speaking up. They were, after all, “just kids.”

In Phase One, which lasted seven months, the children selected their project after much group discussion and deliberation. They then researched the benefits of aerobic versus anaerobic exercise. They collected data on the usage of school fields throughout the community by interviewing their peers at other schools. Also, they learned how to identify those with authority over the fields, evaluate competing demands within the community, map out likely community supporters, and develop interview questions for the variety of interested actors that they identified as relevant to the field issue. They also conducted their first interviews. They periodically reported on the progress of their work over their school’s public announcement system using documents they drafted. Finally, they presented their project and ongoing work to a group of university faculty and to the national director of PA at a meeting held on the university campus to discuss university-community partnerships.

In short, they gained some civic knowledge and civic skills. For example, they learned about the city system of regulating the fields (in both the parks and on school grounds) and they discovered that while the town was responsible for the upkeep of the fields and their usage after school hours, during school hours, the school administrators maintained authority over the fields and controlled access to them. Thus, they understood the relationship between the public works department, the recreation department, and the school administration. They also recognized that in order to achieve their goal, they would have to work through the school administrative network. (See Table 1 for an overview of the knowledge, skills and efficacy demonstrated by the students). Additionally, they had acquired certain civic skills. In this period, they learned to identify a public problem, express their opinions in a constructive manner, actively listen to their peers, plan and conduct their own meetings, and effectively interview adult community members. In fact, at the end of Phase One, one participant said that interviewing was her favorite task. Another student noted that while she still disliked working in groups, she liked PA because PA “works on your teamwork.” The students also learned about certain civic concepts, including public and private work, citizenship, democracy, community and power in this phase.

For all that they gained in civic skills and civic knowledge, however, there was little change in their own sense of self-efficacy. Although they were developing civic dispositions that contributed to a heightened sense of internal efficacy, they still had no confidence that the interested institutions would be responsive to them. For example, they appreciated working in a group and developed a sense of belonging to that group because their peers understood them and they thought they could “work together easier.” The participants noted that they had the ability to “participate in community things.” One young woman even claimed that, “young children can take power and set charge about change.” However, although they were developing an appreciation for each other and their group and a concomitant sense of internal efficacy, they still did not indicate that they had acquired any external efficacy. In fact, 3 out of the 5 children still indicated that they had no ability to affect change in the community because they were “only children.” The one participant who had claimed she could “take power”, in the same survey, wrote that she did not believe she could have a voice in her community because “I am a child.” Another participant said no one would listen to her because she was a child but she would be able to tell her parents her views and they might be able to make a difference. Her views were echoed by another participant who felt that “kids can make a difference” but only by communicating to adults “what I like/dislike.”

During Phase Two of the project, the students undertook the following tasks: they conferred with a professor of physical education; conducted interviews with selected school officials; engaged in a content analysis of those initial school interviews; gathered all of the findings from their readings and their interviews and summarized then for public presentation; and developed two comprehensive surveys (i.e. one for the students, and the other for the teachers and staff). Moreover, they learned about the history of field usage at the school through interviews with older community members. The students discovered that the current limitations on field usage were a relatively recent phenomenon; that, at one point, the fields had been open to all grades. They also advanced their own civic knowledge when they learned about the school administrative structure. They discovered that the curriculum specialist was actually in charge of teacher and staff assignments during recess, not the principal. In addition, they ascertained that there were state regulations in regards to recess staffing ratios and teacher and staff contract restrictions on imposing additional recess duties on school personnel. Collecting this information extended their civic knowledge as they began to explore the agencies and organizations that played a role in field maintenance, use, and scheduling. After interviewing the school physical education instructors and learning about their need for field space for certain curricular units, they also began to realize the important role that negotiation and compromise would play in order for them to be successful. And, finally, they further examined the concept of democracy and democratic decision-making as part of their group efforts and during the distribution of tasks as they progressed over the course of the semester. In short, they enhanced their civic knowledge of democracy, the school structure, and the relationship between school policies and state law while also garnering new civic skills such as interviewing, active listening, composing survey questionnaires for differing populations, and compiling several sources of data. They also acquired a variety of important group skills, including engaging those with different perspectives, planning and running meetings, and identifying and addressing future challenges.

Finally, in Phase Two, the students began to demonstrate increased levels of efficacy. That the students indicated they had an increased sense of efficacy in this phase is perhaps not surprising given that Hess and Torney (1967) found that “children’s sense of efficacy increases with age” and that “the sharpest increase occurred between grades four and five” (p. 68), which corresponds to the end of Phase One and beginning of Phase Two for these young women. After scheduling meetings with teachers and school administrators early in the 5th grade school year, for example, the girls commented how they would never have done that before. Four out of five of the participants indicated that they felt more comfortable approaching adult authorities to discuss school issues as a result of their participation in PA. They also began to identify themselves as “good citizens” based on their involvement at school. In fact, four of the five girls ran for the student council executive board that year and three of the four were elected.6 While two of the girls were still uncertain if they could “contribute to solving problems in their community”, the other three expressed agreement with the statement. Moreover, 3 of the 5 young women strongly agreed that “it is important to be involved in one’s community” while the remaining two said that they agreed.

In the third and final phase of the project, they debated and distributed a series of tasks designed to achieve their ultimate goal. Teams of two girls each, working in rotation, contacted every classroom teacher in grades 2-5 to arrange a time to survey those students on the use of the fields. They then surveyed every second, third, fourth, and fifth grade classroom in their elementary school using the questionnaire they had designed in Phase Two. They collected and tabulated the results from 223 students and discovered that the elementary school students overwhelmingly favored access to the fields and supported opening the fields five days a week. Additionally, they arranged and conducted individual interviews and surveys with every teacher, administrator, and staff member responsible for recess staffing. A few of those respondents raised concerns about gender exclusion (e.g., the boys might exclude the girls from the more physical games that would take place if the fields were available, whereas on the playground, there was greater gender parity). Many respondents expressed concerns about the developmental differences that would be very apparent if two grades had recess and access to the fields at over-lapping times and they preferred distinct play areas on the field for the different age groups in order to allow for differentiated play spaces. Almost all of the teachers and staff indicated that they did not believe that they had the right to grant students access to the fields. Some thought there was a preexisting rule that forbade the use of the fields during recess, while others did not believe that such a policy existed, but they also did not believe that they had the power to approve such access. Ironically, many of those interviewed noted that while they believed that the students should have access to the fields, they had no ability to change the present situation; in other words, the adults lacked a sense of efficacy.

During the interview process, the teachers and staff informed the students about the school’s emergency response teams (ERTs), the district guidelines in regards to such teams, their roles in the event of a recess emergency, and their potential impact on field accessibility.7 They examined all of the data that they had collected, wrote a report, and presented their findings to the Student Government Association and to the school curriculum specialist. Thus, the girls gained additional civic knowledge in the third phase of the project. The participants increased their knowledge about the division of functions within the school setting and the teachers’ diverse views on appropriate forms of child play.

Moreover, they garnered additional civic skills. The young women gained numerous communication skills, including negotiation and mediation. They negotiated a resolution to the lack of access to field usage that included balancing the overwhelming desires of the students for field access with the state requirements in regards to staffing and the needs of the physical education department. They also learned that there is a crucial difference between agreement and implementation. The Connecticut State Association of Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance awarded them a citation for their leadership and their efforts to improve health and fitness in their community. However, when the citation was given, the new staffing schedule for the recess use of the fields existed but was not yet adhered to by the school faculty. Further conversations with the teachers and staff revealed that the necessary communication between the school administrators and the faculty and staff was lacking. The five girls took it upon themselves to breach the communication divide and to resolve this final issue. In other words, they also learned about bureaucracies, organizational inertia, and mediation while mastering patience and persistence. The fields opened for recess use in early June of 2010, approximately 17 months after the project first began.

In this final phase, the young women also demonstrated the highest levels of confidence and efficacy, both internal and external. At the inception of the project, the 5 participants said that they liked to work in groups only “somewhat well” with one young woman still noting that, “I like to work by myself.” By the end of the project, 4 of the 5 participants had changed their responses to “very well” with one child commenting that, “Working in groups is fun and helps our social skills.” One of the participants noted how her views about group work had changed; “I like it better. It is easier.” Likewise, in the beginning of the project, the girls were reticent about working with adults. None of them felt comfortable approaching any of the school administrators, some of the staff and, in one young woman’s case, some of the teachers. At the end of the project, 4 out of 5 girls felt more comfortable talking to adults within the school setting, and 3 out of 5 thought it was easier to approach school administrators. They also displayed much higher levels of confidence. Their heightened confidence translated to a higher level of efficacy. As one participant stated, “People appreciate kids and their power more,” while another student claimed that her group made it possible for kids to “achieve something they want to in public.” A third participant said she liked PA because it “is a group where we can improve the community.” In short, the young women developed both internal and external efficacy.


Over a 17-month period, these young women gained civic knowledge, garnered additional civic skills, and recognized and appreciated their own sense of civic efficacy. The results of this case study reinforce the arguments of Flanagan and Faison (2001) who contended that students who participate in long-term civic engagement programs are more likely to demonstrate increased civic knowledge, civic skills and civic efficacy than their peers. In fact, the results from the case study of these young women highlight the two main and interrelated benefits of many youth civic engagement programs: 1) such programs operate to increase children’s civic knowledge, certain civic skills and civic efficacy; and 2) such programs are good for the long-term health of a democracy.

Increasing the civic knowledge of youths at all age levels throughout the U.S. has become a significant goal of educators, policy practitioners, and politicians. For example, the National Education Association (2011) mission states that the goal of public education in the U.S. is to provide “individuals with the skills to be involved, informed, and engaged in our representative democracy” (para. 7). Likewise, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, in a 2011 speech, noted that, “a foundation in civics is not a luxury but a necessity.” Moreover, he said that, “Students today absolutely need a sense of citizenship, an understanding of their history and government, and a commitment to democratic values…. Civics cannot be pushed to the sidelines in schools” (para. 5). The PA program, in this case study, provided the young women with an opportunity to gain knowledge about their school and the larger community and to do so in a democratic, engaged manner. Finally, Representative Gwen Moore (D-WI) introduced legislation in March of 2011 to honor the memory of Christina-Taylor Green, the young girl killed at a “Congress on the Corner” meeting in January of 2011 in Arizona. While such resolutions are normally little more than political posturing, the resolution does acknowledge “the importance of returning the teaching of civic education and civil discourse to schools, especially for students in grades 6 through 12” and calls for “the Secretary of Education to direct schools receiving federal funding to include instruction in civic education and civil discourse.”8 Moreover, the resolution “encourages schools and teachers to conduct educational programming on the importance and methods of civic education and civil discourse” (House Resolution 181). The methods of a “civil discourse” are found in PA as judged by the tolerance the young women developed for divergent views. Roholt, Hildreth, and Baizerman (2007) also found that PA is a “living citizenship” program in which the participants “learned what it meant to be a member, to do democratic civic practice, to be democratic citizen, and how to do and be this democratic citizens in everyday life” (p. 103).

Additionally, a 2006 evaluation of 556 student participants in PA programs in 2005 and 2006 found that “elementary school students who had sustained participation in PA were more likely than their peers to acquire civic skills and to believe that young people can make a difference in the world. Surveys given before and after program participation showed that sustained involvement in PA was associated with strong increases on measures of civic dispositions, civic skills, and civic engagement outcomes” (RMC, 2006, p. 1). Roholt et al. (2007) note that youth engagement programs, including PA, provide students the opportunity to engage in meaningful experiential education. For the students “[l]earning was not for learning’s sake but was necessary to do the public work, their work as citizen” and they “experienced being and doing citizen” (p. 98). These findings also correlate with McIntosh and Youniss’ (2010) argument that “acquisition of skills and attitudes that constitute the elements of citizenship occurs in the doing within a political context” (italics added, p. 23).

Finally, youth engagement programs develop the efficacy of the participants. As Kahne and Westheimer (2006) learned, sometimes these programs develop only the internal efficacy of the group, but sometimes they operate to develop both the internal and external efficacy of the participants. In this case study, the PA participants demonstrated both increased internal and external efficacy. As one student participant said, “I like Public Achievement because I get to help make a difference and have fun with friends while doing it.” Roholt et al. (2007) agree that the students’ claims of wanting to make a difference are an important one:

Wanting to make a positive difference must become mastering the ways of thinking, doing, and being basic to socio-political activism in school, group, and community. …When civic training is done well, as it often is in PA, and the young people believe they are learning real and useful stuff, they are more likely to become really involved, thus concretizing their typically more vague interests and goals, resulting in deeper commitment to the issue and to being and doing citizen (p. 134).

The idea that youth engagement programs might produce a deeper commitment to the community is an important benefit of such programs as well.

More importantly, and in addition to increasing children’s civic knowledge, civic skills, and civic efficacy, youth engagement programs, particularly those that allow the students to work in groups and increase the participants’ sense of efficacy, may be particularly important for future political participation, attachment, and engagement, and thus, the long-term health of a democracy. Greenstein (1974) suggested that early political learning operated to “maintain, perhaps even reinforce” (p. 83) adult political behavior. Verba, Schlozman, and Brady (1995) also found that adults who were active in civic and political affairs in their communities had been active in extracurricular activities at school and in other community and youth groups. Moreover, Flanagan and Faison (2001) explained that:

It is likely that by being a member of a group and helping to define and work toward common goals, one gets a sense of what it means to work for the common good….One identifies with the group, cares about the other group members, and wants to help accomplish the goals of the group. This group identification is an essential part of political development because political goals are rarely accomplished by individuals (p. 519).

Thus, youth engagement activities may play a crucial role in civic and political involvement in adulthood. Pasek, Feldman, Romer, and Jamieson (2008) examined this very phenomenon and found that, indeed, youth engagement programs begun in an urban high school environment did fundamentally alter the participants’ subsequent political participation two years later. Their research showed that “program exposure was consistently related to long-term increases in internal efficacy, political attentiveness, and knowledge of candidate positions” (p. 33).9 Likewise, Hess and Torney (1967) argued that, “[t]here is a great deal of evidence for the existence of continuity between childhood experience and attitudes and adult attitudes and action” (p. 7).

The long-term importance of youth civic engagement programs for a democracy should not be understated. Nor should the effect of the youth engagement program in this case study. As one young woman noted on her last survey, PA was “a group where kids can achieve something they want to in public.” They also want to continue and add to their civic engagement experiences. The PA participants who completed their project in June of 2010 still periodically ask to undertake another. Although the group has scattered to different middle schools, they approach the author with ideas and pleas for a new PA program on a consistent basis. Whether the participants in the program will demonstrate increased involvement in adulthood remains to be seen. Clearly, one year from the end of their project, they still want to be involved and believe that they can make a difference.


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About the Author

Robbin Smith, is an assistant professor in the Department of Political Science at Central Connecticut State University.

Fostering a Listening Community Through Testimony: Learning with Orphans of the Genocide in Rwanda

Alexandre Dauge-Roth

As a teacher of French and Francophone studies, I am eager to provide meaningful contexts of conversation in which students can improve their linguistic proficiency and develop their cultural literacy through immersion experiences. However, what shapes a meaningful context of dialogue? Is an academically generated conversation equally meaningful for students and community partners? These questions led me to reevaluate the relationship between my students, myself, and potential Francophone interlocutors in designing a course on the representations of the genocide against the Tutsis in Rwanda. Fundamentally, one essential question arose: What are the informative, but more importantly, potentially transformative place, voice, and role I am willing to give to members of a specific community as we study their history? In short, there was a need to reflect on what it means pedagogically to implement a polyvocal and decentered mode of teaching and how it would impact methods of evaluation. By opening up an unprecedented space of dialogue, would students challenge the borders of academia and reflect upon our civic role within the testimonial encounter and the acquisition of knowledge?

As Kalí Tal (1996) asserts in Worlds of Hurt:

Bearing witness is an aggressive act. It is born out of a refusal to bow to outside pressure to revise or to repress experience, a decision to embrace conflict rather than conformity, to endure a lifetime of anger and pain rather than to submit to the seductive pull of revision and repression. …If survivors retain control over the interpretation of their trauma, they can sometimes force a shift in the social and political structure. If the dominant culture manages to appropriate the trauma and can codify it in its own terms, the status quo will remain unchanged (p. 7).

To understand testimony in this light forces any academic community to grasp what role it plays in the reproduction of the political and cultural status quo when confronted with the needs, views, and challenges of minorities, foreigners, and survivors of traumatic experiences. Fostering social spaces of testimonial encounter potentially leading to the contestation of the status quo and the cultural erasure of subaltern voices [those outside the power structure] constitutes another way to envision civic engagement for any community—be it an academic community or not.1 This article examines the academic status of survivors’ voices and the social responsiveness to others’ histories of pain demanded by these encounters through two courses taught in French focusing on the representations of the genocide against the Tutsis in Rwanda. Both courses explored the possibilities of civic engagement through a pedagogy where testimony is envisioned as a transformative space of encounter and survivors have a say in defining the parameters of the partnership.

Identifying Community Partners

In the first course taught on campus in 2007, entitled Documenting the Genocide against the Tutsis in Rwanda, students had the opportunity to engage in a semester long correspondence with Tutsi survivors while studying documentaries, films, fiction, and testimonies bearing witness to this genocide. The second course, Learning with Orphans of the Genocide in Rwanda, combined, during an intensive short-term in May 2009, on-campus preparation and off-campus study. After a week devoted to learning the history of the genocide, theoretical approaches to testimony, documentary making, and oral history methodology, students spent three weeks in Rwanda. They worked in partnership with survivors orphaned by the genocide in 1994 who have lived since 2001 within the residential community of the association Tubeho—which means in Kinyarwanda “Let’s live.”2 The hope was to create and define, with our community partner, a space of encounter that would allow survivors to bear witness on their own terms and challenge us, their interlocutors, to explore what it means to be a listening community and what forms of responsiveness we ought to forge as heirs of the histories of pain being passed on to us. As Stevan Weine (2006) underlines in his analysis of witnessing to trauma generated by political violence:

Through testimony, survivors and receivers engage with some of the most critical political, existential, and moral questions that a society can ask concerning identity, otherness, existence, values, and enemies. …These questions are at the core of how society and its people redefine themselves and the codes by which they live (p. 135).

It is in this light that we, the listeners, had to fully evaluate the transformative implications of learning with when listening was everything but a neutral practice aimed at acquiring knowledge. Here, we had to address how this knowledge required us to reevaluate the relationship between our will to know and civic demands.

Challenges of Learning With

How can we not only learn from testimonies written by survivors of traumatic events but, more fundamentally, learn with survivors of traumatic experiences? This became a recurrent question throughout these courses. First, to shift from the assumption that we learn from survivors requires us to explore civic engagement as a venue for generating new forms of academic hospitality and redefining what it implies for a community to listen to trauma. For such a social dialogue to occur, it is, then, imperative to question the authority learning communities give to survivors’ voices. Furthermore, it is crucial to acknowledge that learning with survivors who bear witness to experiences with which one cannot identify represents a demanding and potentially alienating endeavor. Thus, fostering the possibility of learning with requires a willingness to be interrupted, an openness to seeing our social imagery challenged, and a readiness to finding ourselves estranged within our own community. While learning from tends to maintain survivors at a reassuring distance, learning with supposes that survivors have not only a voice capable of attesting to a past, but also a say within the present of their interlocutors. The need to grant survivors agency and a transformative power of interruption within their interlocutors’ community is a crucial premise for envisioning listening as a form of community engagement. In our testimonial encounter with survivors, refusing to disconnect the disturbing pain to which they bear witness from the present demands they pass on to us defines then both an ethic of listening and the promise of a shared space where heterogeneous views seek to coexist with their differences.

For an academic community, learning with presupposes a pedagogical shift in how we consider the acquisition of knowledge, as it requires a willingness to be interrupted by survivors’ lives, a readiness to be transformed by their demands and an openness to find ourselves estranged while still at home. Ultimately, learning with forces us to rethink the relationship between our will to know and our sense of belonging and hospitality. As Wendy Hui Kyong Chun (2002) highlights in her attempt to define “a politic of listening,” our first duty as interlocutors “is to feel the victim’s victories, defeats, and silences, know them from within, while at the same time acknowledging that one is not the victim, so that the victim can testify, so that the truth can be reached together. In this model, distance must be maintained between listener and speaker” (p. 162). Thus, to learn with survivors of traumatic violence is to negotiate the possibility of a common project without negating the uniqueness of each other’s trajectories. To become a listening community by learning with survivors therefore constitutes a departure from a socially neutral position of learning that requires us to move beyond pity and compassion in order to face a series of thought-provoking demands. Here the learning community who asks the questions and listens is asked, in return, to respond not only to but also for those who find the means to testify.

In “The Responsibility of Responsiveness: Criticism in an Age of Witness,” Ross Chambers (1996) affirms that the emergence of testimony as a prevalent genre within the literature of the twentieth century invites us to rethink what it means to read testimonies since “the writing of witness has not completed its task unless it finds a readership” and “it is necessary also for the tale itself to survive if the survival of the individual witnessing subject is not to prove futile” (p. 11). As a literary critic, he reflects upon the ability of commentary to generate pertinent forms of responsiveness to histories of pain aware that it “is always and inevitably inadequately responsive, because it is subject to all the effects of deferral” (p. 24). Therefore he comes to “recommend not responsiveness as such—an impossible ideal—but reading that is anxious about the quality of its responsiveness to the extent that it is conscious that reading participates in a history of pain and has a responsibility of witness” (p. 24). Reading and listening to survivors’ testimonies should no longer be envisioned as a neutral practice disengaged from any social implications. Pertinent forms of responsiveness presuppose then that listeners see themselves as indirect witnesses whose responsibility is to develop a critical self-awareness regarding their own inadequacy as they respond to survivors’ stories. As such, learning with survivors constitutes an ethical gesture that aims to inspire, within our respective communities, forms of responsiveness where their histories of pain and ours reciprocally shape each other’s. Once a community recognizes that survivors’ histories and its own have been interwoven by the testimonial encounter, new pedagogical and civic challenges arise. How differently do survivors and their interlocutors perceive the process of learning with? How does the gap between our will to know and survivors’ will to testify impact on the possibility of belonging to a same community? What pedagogical and civic shifts are needed to ensure that those who bear witness to the violence they have suffered do not see themselves silenced once our will to know or duty to remember has been fulfilled? Aware that listening to testimonies of traumatic violence is an unpleasant and disturbing responsibility, how transformative can or should the emergence of such a space of encounter through witnessing be? Within academia, how is it possible to reconcile the transient nature of any pedagogical relationship and the long lasting demands of surviving trauma? Finally, what interruptions must occur within the listening community for the testimonial encounter to remain, in spite of it all, a mutually empowering experience synonymous with shared agency and a sense of belonging that does not silence the disruptive power of survivors’ demands for social recognition, justice, financial compensation, and opportunities to rebuild themselves?

Initial Approach to the Testimonial Encounter

These issues related to social responsiveness to others’ histories of pain were pivotal to two courses I designed at Bates College within the French and Francophone Studies curriculum. Both courses offered multiple opportunities for direct exchange between Rwandan students who survived the genocide in 1994 and U.S. students. As a former Belgian colony after World War I, Rwanda promoted French as the major foreign language in schools until 2009, when English was declared the foreign language of upper education. This cultural and linguistic legacy explains, in part, the attempt to create a space of encounter between American students learning French and young Tutsi survivors who found the resilience to pursue their education. In these courses, like never before, the students’ mastery of French and Francophone history was a key premise to establishing dialogue. Obviously, the fact that survivors must speak in French—for them a foreign language—about their traumatic experience is not without incidence on what can be expressed and might lead to potential misunderstandings, not to mention feelings of alienation. While it is important to keep these risks in mind, they are not exclusive to the use of a foreign language since they also exist between Rwandans for other reasons such as self-censorship, shame, social status, power relationships, and cultural codes, not to mention suspicion about their interlocutors’ motivations in regard to their actions during the genocide. At the same time, having to translate a traumatic experience into a foreign language has proven to be, at least for some survivors, a beneficial constraint as it imposes a certain distance that allows them to bear witness without it being a retraumatizing experience. As we can foresee, the required linguistic proficiency in French did by no means guarantee our mutual ability to establish a transformative dialogue and, for us, to become a listening community. We had to grapple with many other cultural, ideological, and psychological assumptions throughout both courses in order to foster a shared and mutually empowering space. Before describing in more detail how these courses were conceived around the transformative experience of testimony to foster civic skills such as critical thinking, social listening, collective action, civic judgment, imagination, and creativity, to name a few (Battistoni, 2002), it is important to expose some additional dynamics at play when learning with survivors.

What forms of hospitality are required from us, as a learning community, as we are interrupted and estranged by the testimonial encounter and seek to learn with survivors? First, envisioning testimony as a mutual space of encounter requires us to think about how and why survivors bear witness as well as to reflect on how and why we listen to others’ pain. According to Shoshana Felman’s (1992) analysis of the testimonies of Holocaust survivors in Claude Lanzmann’s film “Shoah,” to bear witness constitutes a gesture that not only refers to a unique position, but also to a performance of positioning through which the witness reasserts the presence of his or her difference without having to negate the pain that is at the core of his or her sense of self:

What does testimony mean, if it is not simply (as we commonly perceive it) the observing, the recording, the remembering of an event, but an utterly unique and irreplaceable topographical position with respect to an occurrence? What does testimony mean, if it is this uniqueness of the performance of a story constituted by the fact that, like the oath, it cannot be carried out by anybody else (p. 206)?

To be aware of this performative dimension through which survivors reaffirm the uniqueness of their position is to realize that the value of the testimonial encounter does not solely reside in an exchange of knowledge fulfilling academic criteria. What does it mean, then, to become knowledgeable of our interlocutors’ stories since we cannot identify with their suffering? Second, what kind of civic engagement and academic responsiveness are we, as a listening community, trying to nurture when survivors’ past sufferings and current challenges become part of our respective communities through testimony? As we try to answer these questions, we must keep in mind that one of the major dilemmas for an academic community in learning with resides in the institutional time frame in which the testimonial encounter occurs. For survivors, the pain to which they bear witness does not cease when they stop speaking, while, for students and the instructor, there is always the option of putting the demands generated by this shared suffering on hold, not to mention of turning the page and going on at the end of the semester—uninterrupted—with the other solicitations of our lives. We, therefore, need to acknowledge that for survivors, the testimonial encounter represents more the beginning or continuation of a process aiming toward the recognition of their trauma and the daily negotiation of its present challenges rather than the fulfillment of a duty to remember, an academic performance, or a therapeutic exercise. Paradoxically, it is this very discrepancy that opens up the possibility of civic engagement since it forces both communities to negotiate what can be shared through the testimonial encounter within the present, to define how learning with ought to be a mutually empowering experience, and to evaluate the civic demands that passing on and receiving disturbing knowledge generate. Encouraged by the testimonial process to reexamine the social implications of becoming knowledgeable with those we cannot identify, academic communities must explore their role as cultural vectors through which related communities can redefine their sense of hospitality and their responsiveness to others’ pain. Ultimately, what is at stake in this testimonial encounter is the willingness of a learning community not so much to speak for but to be interrupted by voices and expectations other than its own and, in turn, to work to become a source of interruption, generating new dialogues within the broader communities that surround it.

Listening as Civic Engagement

Understanding testimony as a space of social encounter constitutes a crucial shift as it affirms that survivors’ views cannot be reduced to judicial proofs, historical footnotes, or academic subjects. As Jacques Derrida (2000) has underlined, the “essence of testimony cannot necessarily be reduced to narration, that is, to descriptive, informative relations, to knowledge or to narrative; it is first a present act” (p. 38). Testimony thus dramatically engages the present that survivors and their interlocutors share and mutually shape in the light of a defining past. As members of a learning community and as American citizens,3 students and I had to define our role within the historical awareness Tutsi survivors sought to provoke as they agreed to bear witness. In our desire to be civically engaged, it was also imperative for our community to take into account that, for survivors, testifying does not automatically put their suffering at a more tolerable distance, nor does it necessarily amount to a personal resolution. As Chambers (2004) suggests in Untimely Interventions, survivors, rather then “having survived a trauma,” are “still surviving experiences that were already themselves an experience of being, somehow, still alive although already dead.” What is here at stake is the social acknowledgment of an aftermath defined as a state of “out-of-jointness” (p. 43). Paradoxically, it is by bearing witness to this state of “out-of-jointness” while testifying about a traumatic past, that survivors call for and open a space of encounter. To become civically aware about survivors’ present “out-of-jointness,” forces us to define the civic role we ought to play as we give a say to survivors within our present. The hope here is that this form of hospitality, where the “other” has agency, might contribute to alleviating somewhat the feeling of being estranged and the pain it generates.

As an academic community, we clearly cannot change the traumatic past whose history of violence is passed on to us but, as we become heirs to this history, we have the opportunity to become engaged listeners and to develop a responsibility of responsiveness in many other ways. We can respond to the social desire to be heard, use our symbolic capital to increase the social visibility of the histories of pain that are passed on to us, generate within our communities conversations on what it means to acknowledge that the history of our community and the witnesses’ histories are intertwined, act upon the state of “out-of-jointness” in which many trauma survivors live, or engage in reflecting on how such awareness impacts our conception of hospitality. Learning with survivors of traumatic violence demands that we put into question the social values and imagery that contribute to survivors’ “out-of-jointness”—an exclusion that we tend, willingly or not, to reinforce if left unexamined. As Richard Battistoni (2006) suggests in his essay on civic engagement, an “added benefit to defining civic knowledge in this broad manner is that students and community members become co-creators of knowledge, rather than simply relying on ‘expert’ texts or professors” (p. 16). To become an engaged community by aiming to be co-creators of knowledge through the testimonial encounter demands that we identify and promote a sense of citizenship within academia capable of fostering mutually transformative dynamics that might enable both survivors and their interlocutors to have not only a voice but a renewed sense of agency and belonging.

In our attempt to evaluate the socio-historical forms this co-creation could take and how our anxious responsiveness could be implemented, we need to remain aware of the privilege that defines our academic position in regard to the trajectory and place from which survivors speak. In her first testimony about the genocide against the Tutsis in Rwanda, Esther Mujawayo (2004) emphasizes the painful censorship that the listening community can generate—despite its proclaimed will to know—if it disregards the gap that defines the survivor’s position of enunciation:

As the survivor of the genocide, you don’t have the luxury of putting the horror aside: you are in it, in it. Meanwhile the other, the one who listens, he just receives the horror through words and he, he has the luxury, or the choice to be outside it, to declare that he is unable to bear this and say: “Here stops the horror.” Myself, I do not have this choice not to bear it because I had to bear it and still have to bear it (pp. 20-21, my translation).

For us, to whom histories of pain are passed on, the option always remains to turn the page, while those who are surviving a trauma that is never over do not have this luxury. One of our first duties as a listening community is then to nurture a civic willingness to be interrupted and to refrain from interrupting those who bear witness when their words and demands no longer allow us to go on as usual. A second challenge is that we cannot speak for the survivors. We need to give them a say in the social recognition of their past trauma and in determining what paths are pertinent to respond to its aftermath. At stake once again is the resonance and agency we are willing to give to these haunting voices that question our conception of hospitality by passing on to us transformative demands in order to meet their needs. As survivors respond to our will to know, they ask in return that we translate into concrete actions our aspiration to be a responsive community where different trajectories can coexist and nurture each other to alleviate the suffering generated by a traumatic past. If demands such as justice, material compensation, and trauma counseling clearly exceed the resources of most academic communities, other demands, such as being heard, recognized, and valued as a human being without having to negate the trauma of one’s past, can and must be met. The genocide in Rwanda not only killed one million people between April and July 1994, but also killed within many survivors the belief in belonging to a community and the ability to project themselves into the future.

Equally important for a learning community that wants to become co-creators of knowledge and civically responsive is the valorization and development within academia of a “civic knowledge,” as defined by Battistoni (2006):

…[W]e have learned from students engaged in community-based experiences that civic knowledge…comes from multiple sources, including community members. It involves a deeper knowledge of issues, or what some might call the root causes of public problems, and an understanding of how different community stakeholders perceive the issues. An understanding of “place” and the community history that provides a context for service and public problem solving—including learning about how individuals and community groups have effected change in their communities—is another key element of civic knowledge (p. 16).

Learning with survivors of traumatic events might then be described as a crucial venue for exploring our role as agents of democracy, as this venue not only exposes students and faculty to radically different views, but also demands that we identify with our interlocutors the social transformations needed within our community so that heterogeneous trajectories, perceptions, and needs might nurture each other.

Developing Self-Critical Awareness

In both courses, the analysis of the competing cultural representations of the genocide against the Tutsis allowed students to develop a self-critical awareness regarding their understanding of political violence in Africa. Many came to realize how much their perception was shaped by stereotypes inherited from the colonial gaze and defined by the priorities that govern Western media’s production. Furthermore, by focusing on the various mediations through which filmmakers, authors, and survivors confer a visibility and intelligibility to the factors that led to the genocide in Rwanda, this comparative approach forced students to be actively engaged in the production of meaning. In the absence of a single master narrative capable of asserting the ultimate truth of this genocide, students had to analyze the choices, silences, rationality, and materiality of their sources according to criteria such as context of production and reception, socio-historical positionality, cultural bias and rationale, targeted audience, genre, use of legitimate speakers, rhetorical appropriation of archives, and willingness to give survivors a say or to subject them to a voice-of-God. Through this analysis of the formal and contextual constraints defining what is archived—and thus declared knowledgeable and worthy of memory—students critically evaluated the discrepancies between various mediations focusing on the ideological roots of the genocide. They positioned themselves among the competing narratives identifying which historical causes favored its genesis and implementation, and, equally important, weighed in the (im)pertinence of the political responses to the genocide’s aftermath within Rwanda and by the international community.

The civic intent of focusing on the issue of representation was to think critically about the social discourses and political (in)actions through which the imaginary construction of an “other” within a society is achieved. This awareness regarding the roots of genocide and the role identity politics play in the “othering” of certain members of a society gave students the means to reevaluate their own responsibility when facing discriminatory discourses that cast some as strangers or outlaws within their own community. Furthermore, as students discovered through their dialog with Rwandans, for survivors, the feeling of living in a stage of “out-of-jointness” is not foreign to their social construction as “others” and the feeling of being illegitimate that existed prior to the genocide. All our Rwandan interlocutors grew up facing violent discourses that equated them to historical invaders or cockroaches who needed to be exterminated. This realization placed students before a new imperative, namely to acknowledge that no mediation—or study—of a past genocide can be neutral since each actualizes how respective communities respond to the genocide’s aftermath and the demands for justice of those who have suffered traumatic violence. While crucial, this analytical work on the genocide’s competing mediations only constituted the first stage in developing an ethic of responsiveness and the possibility of civic engagement. Indeed, by learning only from rather then with and within the shared present instituted by the testimonial encounter, students and myself could still, very easily, see ourselves as observers and citizens whose histories and communities remained immune to the histories of pain that we had the luxury of studying at a safe distance.

From Academic Reluctance to Responsive Partnership

What then does it entail and require to listen to a survivor of genocide? To what extent can we as listeners be implicated in and through the act of listening to survivors? As Susan Sontag (2003) has shown in Regarding the Pain of Others, it is insufficient to document the horror humans can inflict on other humans if one does not address the ethical demands of remembering, the implications that remembrance of the past generates for our present actions, and their intent:

To designate a hell is not, of course, to tell us anything about how to extract people from that hell, how to moderate hell’s flame. Still, it seems a good in itself to acknowledge, to have enlarged, one’s sense of how much suffering caused by human wickedness there is in the world we share with others. …Let the atrocious images haunt us. Even if they are only tokens, and cannot possibly encompass most of the reality to which they refer, they still perform a vital function. The images say: This is what human beings are capable of doing—may volunteer to do, enthusiastically, self-righteously. Don’t forget.

This is not quite the same as asking people to remember a particularly monstrous bout of evil (“Never forget”). Perhaps too much value is assigned to memory, not enough to thinking. Remembering is an ethical act, has ethical value in and on itself (pp. 114-15).

In order to challenge this academic reluctance to link the acquisition of knowledge through remembering with forms of civic engagement, during a research trip in Rwanda I built a network of young Tutsi survivors who were fluent in French and, for the majority, studying in Rwandan universities. In locating potential correspondents, the fact that both groups could engage with someone close to their age and relate to each other through popular culture and academic lifestyle was important. My students were between 18 and 22 years old, while our Rwandan partners were between 18 and 30. Meanwhile, everyone remained aware that they needed to engage with someone whose experience would always remain somehow foreign to their own. In Documenting the Genocide against the Tutsis in Rwanda, each American student was paired with a survivor who was willing to testify. The intent was to give students and myself the opportunity to explore through a confidential and semester-long correspondence how the traumatic events whose mediations we were studying had been lived, what scars they had left, how they had impacted survivors’ lives and views, and what kind of challenges they were still generating. Thanks to weekly emails, students and survivors got to know each other’s stories, valorized each other’s opinions, and progressively nurtured a relationship of trust and mutual appreciation.

In Learning with Orphans of the Genocide in Rwanda, following the introductory week on campus, American students and I traveled to Rwanda and spent three weeks with survivors who had become orphans in 1994 and were now living in reconstituted families within the association Tubeho. Here again, each American student was paired with one Tutsi survivor fluent in French who was willing to share his or her personal journey in a private setting. During the two first weeks of our stay, we went to our Rwandan interlocutors’ universities, we visited various memorials with them, explored different regions of Rwanda together, met with members of other survivors’ associations, non-governmental organizations, and Rwandans involved in the reconciliation process. These numerous meetings and discussions exposed American and Rwandan students to contrasting views about the causes of the genocide and the responses to its aftermath. This shared framework of inquiry fostered not only a sense of complicity, but also helped everyone involved in this oral history project to realize that no one possesses the ultimate truth about the genocide. Everyone had to take a position regarding sensitive issues such as identity politics in post-genocide Rwanda, the implementation of justice, the role of the international community, the duty to remember, the challenges of rebuilding one’s life, and the role each of us could play in this process. These two weeks allowed us to build a relationship of trust and to acknowledge that learning about the genocide requires a dialogic process that allows a diversity of views and trajectories to coexist while we individually and collectively forge our responses to the legacy of pain left by this traumatic past. These conversations also made us realize that though we were talking about the same events, the impact of this same past within the present was not only radically different between us and survivors, but also wildly heterogeneous among survivors. This awareness forced us to refrain from generalizations and to keep in mind the plurality of responses to the genocide’s aftermath. Furthermore, this experience constantly reminded us of the difficulty of making a difference on a broad scale and encouraged us to value more modest and personalized venues and outcomes.

Indirect Witnessing and Co-ownership

The civic knowledge or competence that my students and I acquired through the testimonial encounter with survivors did not only concern the past and present of our interlocutors, but also equally important, our own history and present responsiveness to others’ pain. Testimony as a social encounter engages a process that forces the listening community to become more than a witness to the testifying individuals’ experiences. It forces that community to become a witness to its own anxious ability to listen and to respond to the challenging and often disruptive experiences passed on to its members. As Felman and Laub (1992) have shown, engaging oneself in the practice of soliciting testimony calls ultimately for a practice of indirect witnessing and co-ownership:

By extension, the listener to trauma comes to be a participant and co-owner of the traumatic event: through his very listening, he comes to partially experience trauma in himself. …While overlapping, to a degree, with the experience of the victim, he nonetheless does not become the victim—he preserves his own separate place, position and perspective. …The listener, therefore, has to be at the same time a witness to the trauma witness and a witness to himself (pp. 57–58).

To become civically engaged presupposes then for an academic community to develop within the testimonial encounter a kind of teaching that allows students to become aware of the inadequacy of their responsiveness toward local and foreign communities and to encourage forms of agency in association with those who remain too often culturally voiceless. Civic engagement resides, therefore, in a willingness to acknowledge that we, as an academic community, must identify what transformative dialogues need to be implemented both at a local and global level to become engaged listeners and what crucial role we ought to play in the social recognition and circulation of the histories of pain that community partners share through testimonies and oral history projects.

To address the challenges of co-witnessing and being co-creators of knowledge, in both courses students carried out a collective final project in which survivors had a say. In each case, after having gathered survivors’ stories in French, students had to define how to publicly translate and document the histories of their interlocutors in order to relay their voices within our academic community and beyond. In Documenting the Genocide against the Tutsis in Rwanda, students created a polyvocal recitative performance based on the correspondence they had maintained throughout the semester with survivors. This campus-wide event, entitled “Voices from Rwanda,” forced students to apply to their own project the critical awareness they developed during the semester about the rhetorical and ethical choices behind any mediation of the genocide. Now it was their turn to define how to document the histories of pain that had been passed on to them in order to confer to these stories an unprecedented resonance within our academic community. To provide some context to this recitative act of indirect witnessing, students created a series of informative posters about Rwanda’s history and culture that the public could read before the performance. After having selected excerpts from survivors’ testimonies, students organized them around a series of themes, with the opening section corresponding to the beginning of the genocide: “April 6, 1994,” “My Family,” “Before the Genocide,” “Try To Imagine,” “The Importance of Testifying,” “Try To Imagine… Today,” “Living Together,” and “Our Words.”

The Rwandan survivors read the draft and amended its content according to their sense of appropriateness and how they desired to be perceived. This co-editing process offered them the ability to voice their history on their own terms, share the challenges they still face today, and articulate their aspirations with more accuracy. The setting for the performance was the following: Students relaying the words of their Rwandan interlocutors were dressed in black and surrounded the public from behind. Except for two light sources, the room of 80 seats was dark to minimize visual distraction and help the public focus on survivors’ words. On a screen, the portrait and the first name of the Rwandan survivor from whom the public was hearing a testimony was projected.4 In the last section of the performance entitled “Our Words,” students shared their views about the transformative potentiality of learning with survivors:

In learning about the different ways to document the Rwandan genocide, I have discovered the difference between pity and compassion. Feeling pity can be a detrimental approach whereas compassion provokes one to create social change. Having a link with a real person in Rwanda who went through this experience was what truly cemented this mind-set for me. (Katie)

My correspondent was Jean-Jacques. When he said “because you have become my friend, I want to tell you my story,” it was as though I was directly affected. Someone that I cared about came face to face with hatred and suffered immense losses. He is suffering even now, trying to deal with the return of those who killed his friends and family. He is struggling against hate, while immersed in sorrow. I feel now that I carry a bit of this weight on my shoulders. Carrying this bit of weight is my gift to my friend. (Kate)

By sharing their mutual views and divergent expectations, American students and their Rwandan interlocutors learned from each other about the relational dynamic of remembrance, belonging, and identity. By negotiating together their differences, they were able to craft a mediation of the genocide that did not exist prior to the course and, furthermore, to generate a dialogue about this traumatic past whose aftermath was now inscribed in each other’s history and community—though in very different ways. The fact that both students and their interlocutors were given a say and an agency within the testimonial encounter, allowed everyone to use their critical awareness about testimony and the representation of pain to negotiate various forms of responsiveness according to their respective situation within the testimonial encounter. As Battistoni (2006) highlights:

Research and practice in service-learning has established the importance of giving students a voice…in the resulting discussions/reflections that accompany the community-based experience. But we are also finding that student voice means enabling students to be involved in public problem solving connected to the issues that they determine to be important (p. 23).

Ultimately, by exploring the mediations of the genocide against the Tutsis, students had to question the responsiveness of various communities—including their own—to others’ histories of pain through the relationship they sought to establish with the voices of this traumatic past, while remaining aware that they will never fully meet the demands passed on to them by survivors.

Oral History as a Space of Hospitality and Advocacy

In Learning with Orphans of the Genocide in Rwanda, the final project offered Tubeho’s members the opportunity to record their testimony on video for themselves, if they wished to do so, without their having to choose beforehand the future use of these archives. After having shared their lives for two weeks, discovering numerous regions of Rwanda, experiencing side-by-side the challenge of visiting memorials, and exchanging many views with guest speakers and among ourselves, we wanted to open for our Rwandan interlocutors the opportunity to bear witness to their past experience as well as their present views and aspirations. No one was forced to speak about the past if they wished to focus solely on the present. Furthermore, before testifying, each survivor told his or her American interlocutor the topics and periods he or she didn’t want to address. In the end, half of the members of Tubeho who were part of the project expressed the desire to testify before the camera. These six interviews lasted between 45 minutes and 2 hours—a seventh was begun but the survivor found herself overwhelmed and was not able to complete her testimony. Once everyone who wanted to be interviewed had a chance to do so, survivors asked us to create unedited DVD copies for their personal use and to select excerpts from the six testimonies in order to produce a series of short subtitled testimonies for their association’s future website. They wished to use this opportunity to voice their challenges and gain more social visibility in Rwanda as they planned to seek funding for creating collective projects for Tubeho’s orphans.

Naasson Munyandamutsa (2004), a leading psychiatrist who works with survivors in Rwanda, describes as follows the demanding hospitality we tried to offer through our oral history project:

Building peace with survivors of extreme violence, and therefore with the world, requires the determination to help them reinstitute their love for themselves, rebuild their trust in themselves, and by doing so, recuperate their self-esteem for those who have lost it—this is the supreme objective for those who have not yet been wounded (p. 166, my translation).

For those who have been spared, like my students and me, this objective can only be embraced by departing from the common perception of who we are as we agree to address the estrangement provoked by the testimonial encounter with a reality traumatic and alienating to most. This shift within the practice of listening is precisely what calls for a renewed conception of hospitality that can no longer rely on a principle of identification and transparency, since the interruption of oneself becomes the new paradigm allowing new forms of responsiveness within the testimonial encounter.

Responsiveness and Assessment

Often mutually transformative, the semester-long correspondence, as well as the three weeks spent with Tubeho’s members in Rwanda, forced each person to explore unprecedented modes of learning since here our interlocutors not only had a voice but also a say regarding the responsiveness we were individually and collectively negotiating as community partners. It was precisely this attempt to define pertinent personal and collective responses to a traumatic past while remaining aware of our differences within the testimonial encounter that allowed a form of civic engagement. In both courses, students were asked to write a final essay reflecting on their own experience of becoming a learning community and assessing to what extent they were able to respond personally and collectively to the implications of having been given the opportunity to learn with survivors and become heirs to these histories of pain. The students considered how they had to reposition themselves once they acknowledged that even though the violence of these traumatic histories would always remain foreign to them, the survivors’ ongoing challenges had become an integral part of their own personal histories. While some economical, political, and judicial demands clearly exceeded the capacities of the listening community we sought to be, other demands—such as the desire to be acknowledged as a human being, the possibility of bearing witness, and, more concretely, the opportunity to rebuild oneself through education—were within our reach. Upon our return to the United States, students created an association on campus to increase awareness about Rwanda’s post-genocide challenges and committed to raise funds to offer one scholarship annually to a member of Tubeho who took part in the course.5 In both courses, facing the demands that had been passed on to our respective communities through the testimonial encounter was then—and still remains—the major challenge to which we exposed ourselves because our responsiveness will always, to some degree, remain inadequate. While the correspondence with survivors forbids us from envisioning the study of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda as a distant and abstract event, the oral history project forced us to face the lasting consequences of genocidal violence and the active role we ought to play as a learning community. If we agree that testimony is first the performative reiteration of one’s presence, then we can make it explicit for students that testimony is not so much about a past that is incomprehensible to them, but rather about the various positions and values that citizens claim within the present through the act of bearing witness or by listening to those who aspire to do so. It is at this juncture that testimony, envisioned as a space of encounter, can pedagogically and civically offer a chance to overcome our reluctance to envisioning these histories of pain as part of our respective communities. Thus, creating a testimonial relationship with survivors of traumatic violence represents one possible avenue for bridging the gap between communities who have radically different histories and priorities, as long as each community develops new forms of responsiveness to the demands generated by interweaving their histories. Engaged in the testimonial encounter, we—as an academic community working to become a listening community—had to define our civic responsibilities, knowing that our country bears some responsibility for the events that made this genocide possible. Furthermore, we had to envision the histories of pain that were conveyed to us as part of a common history whose consequences need to be shared within the present space opened by the testimonial encounter. Through our dialogue with survivors and the testimonies collected, students came to realize—at least this is my civic hope—that the pain suffered by others is not a past event, but represents for its survivors an ongoing process of negotiation in which we, the listening community, must determine our role. Since the signification of the violence of genocide and its traumatic effects has no epilogue for survivors, we must reflect on how our community can recognize this ongoing struggle and define which paths of action are pertinent within our respective communities.

Suddenly positioned by the testimonial encounter as heirs to a traumatic experience no longer culturally disconnected from our own, we found ourselves challenged in our belief that we should never have inherited this experience of genocide because it was supposed to be and remain a foreign reality. Listening to testimonies witnessing the genocide against the Tutsis questions then both our willingness to confront disconcerting human behaviors and our sense of cultural hospitality, when hospitality is understood as interrupting oneself. The encounter with the disturbing experience of genocide can thus provoke in us one of two responses. It may, on the one hand, impose on us a duty to rethink how we position ourselves within the present and among the living in relationship to this painful past in order to recognize both its long-lasting aftermath and its present demands. Or, on the other hand, this encounter may affirm us in our unquestioned belief that our order of things is immune to the possibility of genocide and, consequently, that survivors’ testimonies are “too much”—a position that does not preclude feelings like pity or call for a duty to remember. The first response represents a venue for civic engagement as survivors and their interlocutors engage in a mutually transformative dialogue, while the second symptomizes a social and cultural monologue where survivors’ voices are cast as interferences with respect to an exclusive social order that defines what is culturally audible and legitimate.


Battistoni, R. (2006). Civic engagement: A broad perspective. In Kecskes, K. (Ed.), Engaging departments: Moving faculty culture from private to public, individual to collective focus for the common good (pp. 11–26). Bolton, MA: Anker.

Battistoni, R. (2002). Civic engagement across the curriculum: A resource book for service-learning faculty in all disciplines. Providence, RI: Campus Compact.

Chambers, R. (2004). Untimely interventions: AIDS writing, testimonial, and the rhetoric of haunting. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press.

Chambers, R. (1996). The responsibility of responsiveness: Criticism in an age of witness. Paroles Gelées: UCLA French Studies, 14(2), 9–27.

Chun, W.H.K. (2002). Unbearable witness: Toward a politics of listening. In N. K. Miller and J. Tougaw (Eds.), Extremities, trauma testimony, and community (pp. 143–165). Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

Derrida, J. (2000). Demeure: Fiction and testimony. Stanford: Stanford UP.

Felman, S., & Laub, D. (1992). Testimony: Crises of witnessing in literature, psychoanalysis, and history. New York and London: Routledge.

Mujawayo, E., & Belhaddad, S. (2004). SurVivantes: Rwanda, dix ans après le génocide. Paris: Editions de l’Aube.

Munyandamutsa, N. (2004). Blessure invisible, une expérience déroutante. Humanitaire 10, 160–167.

Sontag, S. (2003). Regarding the pain of others. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux Inc.

Tal, K. (1996). Worlds of hurt: Reading the literature of trauma. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Weine, S. (2006). Testimony after catastrophe: Narrating the traumas of political violence. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press.


I would like to thank those who welcomed my students and their Rwandan friends from Tubeho: Faustin Murangwa Bismark, Carine Gakuba, Issa Higiro, Chantal Kabasinga, Ildephonse Kahigira, Martin Muhoza, Rose Mukankomeje, Gaspard Mukwiye, Naasson Munyandamutsa, Thomas Munyaneza, Julienne Murorunkwere, Ernest Mutwarasimbo, Gasana Ndoba, Antoine Rutayisere, Didier Giscard Sagashya, Théodore Simburudali, Assumpta Umurungi, and Freddy Umutanguha; also the members of the Imbuto Foundation, the survivors who guided us through the memorials of Gisozi, Nyamata, Ntarama, Murambi, Nyange, and Bisesero. Thanks also to Berthe Kayitesi, survivor and author who assisted me throughout this oral history project, and to my colleagues David Scobey and Jill Reich for their commitment to community engagement within academia.

About the Author

Alexandre Dauge-Roth is an associate professor of French and Francophone Studies at Bates College. Dauge-Roth is the author of Writing and Filming the Genocide of the Tutsis in Rwanda: Dismembering and Remembering Traumatic History. Lanham, MC: Lexington Books, 2010, on which he drew for this article.


Should the Higher Education Community Help Sustain Democracy?

Scott J. Peters, Theodore R. Alter, and Neil Schwartzbach, Democracy and Higher Education: Traditions and Stories of Civic Engagement. Michigan State University Press: East Lansing, 2010, 396 pages. ISBN: 978-0-87013-976-5

Reviewed by Margaret A. Purcell

Practicing public purpose is done in a variety of ways, with a multitude of publics, and with the aim of impacting communities. Ever present in this text are the underlying assumptions that: Members of higher education communities can and should impact their worlds; neither theory nor practice are best served by operating in isolation of one another; democracy will never flourish in a world where the educated function without exposure to the checks and balances of daily life. Personal interviews with engagement scholars and practitioners allow the authors to illustrate the vast opportunities for building community and enhancing theory through engagement.

The authors cite the conclusions of President Truman’s 1948 Commission on Higher Education as the foundation for their arguments that academic theory building and education must go outside the hallways, laboratories, and classrooms of our colleges and universities in order to sustain a functioning democratic society. The often clinically untainted experience of teaching and learning must occur in concert with the struggles, joys, and mundane realities that constitute living. The student, the teacher, and the community interacting together with the community are able to explore and assist with civic life. The authors underscore their assertions by highlighting the work of faculty and staff at Cornell University.

The authors follow a trend in the community engagement literature that posits a high value for outreach and outreach scholarship. Cunningham and McKinney (2010) argued that deliberative democracy, applied learning, and community engagement can result in: 1) increased participation of communities in faculty research; 2) the willful participation of faculty in community outreach; and 3) greater student understanding of practice. By combining learning, service, and research, a synchronous system of theory, practice, and partnership emerges. This requires us to veer away from what Rice (1996) called the “assumptive world of the academic professional” which requires adherence to specifically defined standards of rigor, dissemination, and peer review (O’Meara, 2008). Through the profiles in the Peters, Alter, and Schwartzbach text, we are witness to a vivid picture of the struggles that practitioners face as their attempt to work sometimes within and sometimes beyond the existing rigid structure of higher education. Perhaps more importantly, it gives witness to the powerful impact that can be made when the rigid structure is allowed to become malleable. In such instances the skills and interests of university personnel and students intertwine with the needs and resources of the community in dynamic and mutually beneficial ways.

Other literature indicates that citizenship education (broadly defined) is also impactful to the communities in which such targeted education occurs. The viability of public civic education is seen as a value to the greater society beyond the world of higher education. According to the Citizenship Foundation (2012) citizenship education is successful when it teaches participants to be:

• Aware of their rights and responsibilities as citizens

• Informed about the social and political world

• Concerned about the welfare of others

• Articulate in their opinions and arguments

• Capable of having an influence on the world

• Active in their communities

• Responsible in how they act as citizens.

O’Meara (2008) argued that community dependent faculty must be able to engage community partners and secure their trust in order to be effective. She stressed that faculty should have the ability to: discover and learn, think critically, consider and appreciate various values; recognize diverse perspectives; reflect upon experience and theory; share outcomes and paradigms with lay and academic audiences; and integrate scholarly perspectives with real world practice. All of these tenets are seen in the profiles of this text.

The people profiled are real—and sometimes raw—examples of how the hiring, firing, and reward systems in higher education espouse ambiguous messages about how to excel. There are expressions of the reality of the tenuous nature of the work as when senior extension associate Tom Maloney must wait to see if he will have his appointment renewed and when associate professor John Sipple worries that his work will not be valued by his academic peers on his promotion and tenure committee. Those profiled state that they struggled with the fluxing valuation given over time to service, then education, then research—as if they were discrete units without shared function or purpose. There is an acknowledgement that the reliance on external funding sources can lead to breaks in service and difficulty in planning for future work. Will grant funding continue? Will the university continue the staff line? Will research topics and teaching loads be viewed as acceptable? Are service and outreach valued within higher education?

Then there are questions of accepted pedagogy. Is service-learning teaching? Does it have measurable and significant impacts on student learning? Existing literature posits rich and lifelong affects of service-learning. According to King and Baxter-Magolda (1996) self-authorship and personal authority are essential to learning in the higher education setting. Self and other knowledge must be understood by learners, and the service-learning format requires that a student understand both. This outcome is highly desirable, according to the Association of American Colleges (1991), which insists that institutions must help students understand that the world is highly complex and that understanding is based upon interpretation of available information. The experience is potent for the student because it changes the student’s relation to the academic power structure (Butin, 2005). The student becomes an actor upon and within the realm of knowledge instead of a recipient of existing knowledge, according to Butin.

These outcomes are reinforced by profiled subjects. In the text, associate professor Paula Horrigan clearly articulates her passion for student engagement when she shares that “I’m interested in fostering … democratic practices and engagement, and co-learning” (p. 121). Students are key components of a communal process. “You put them in a situation where revelation comes to them because of experience, not because you tell them,” she says (p. 121). She notes that the experience in such a learning setting prepares students for future work in communities.

Learning can also be empowering as indicated by profile subject and associate professor Frank Rossi. He says that he intends to instill the instinct to question in the professionals with whom he works. He provides the latest information on horticulture chemicals to the community, but he wants them to ask how their use will impact their real world settings and their work. He works hard to link his state of the art research as a scientist to real world problems, and he strives to make his presentations understandable and useful in the community at large. He is a powerful facilitator of knowledge because he conveys information and encourages recipients to question then use what is learned within their setting.

This text is an excellent jumping off point for honest and open conversations about the role of higher education in our communities and civic life. What is our purpose and how should we function to reach our goals? This highly accessible text with modern day profiles in courage is a good place to begin to explore how we should value theory building, community education, community partnerships, and learning. As institutions and the people who embody them, are we passive conveyers of thought or nimble, responsive, active, vital members of democratic and engaged communities of lifelong learners?


Association of American Colleges. The challenge of connecting learning. Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges: 1991.

Butin, D.W. (2005) Identity (re)construction and student resistance. In D.W. Butin (Ed), Teaching social foundations of education: Contexts, theories, and issues. Manwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Cunningham, K., & McKinney, H. (2010). Towards the recognition and integration of action research and deliberative democracy. Journal of Public Deliberation, 6(1), 1 – 11.

King, P.M., & Baxter-Magolda, M.B. (1996). A developmental perspective on learning. Journal of College Student Development, 37, 163–173)

O’Meara, K. (2008). Graduate education and community engagement. In C.L. Colbeck, K. O’Meara, and A. Austin (Eds), Educating integrated professionals: Theory and practice on preparation for the professorate. New directions for teaching and learning, Volume 113. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Peters, Scott J., Alter, Theodore R., & Schwartzbach, Neil, (2010). Democracy and higher education: Traditions and stories of civic engagement. Michigan State University Press, East Lansing.

The Citizenship Foundation, (2012). What is citizenship education? Retrieved on March 20, 2012 from:

About the Reviewer 

Margaret A. Purcell is a faculty member in New College and the New College LifeTrack programs at The University of Alabama.


Defining Community-Based Research

Kerry Strand, Sam Marullo, Nick Cutforth, Randy Stoecker, and Patrick Donohue, Community-Based Research and Higher Education: Principles and Practices. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2003, 304 pages. ISBN: 978-0-7879-6205-0

Reviewed by Glenn A. Bowen

 Community engagement wears many faces. In higher education, its familiar faces include service learning, public service, advocacy and civic activism, social entrepreneurship, and engaged scholarship. Community engagement, or civic engagement, has now emerged in the guise of community-based research (CBR).

Although CBR has long been employed in addressing social challenges (Beckman, Penney, & Cockburn, 2011), it has only recently taken its place among pedagogical and scholarly approaches to civic engagement. Indeed, CBR is viewed as an extension or enhancement of service learning (DeBlasis, 2006; Kowalewski, 2004) – the pedagogy that integrates relevant community service into the curriculum – and as scholarly work by faculty (Wade & Demb, 2009).

On the face of it, CBR is simply research based in a community. Accordingly, many researchers may claim that they have been doing CBR for years. However, there is more to CBR than meets the eye. That much is clear from even a cursory glance at Community-Based Research and Higher Education: Principles and Practices.

Coauthors Kerry Strand, Sam Marullo, Nick Cutforth, Randy Stoecker, and Patrick Donahue elucidate the concept of community-based research, touch on its theoretical underpinnings, provide several examples of the methodology in practice, and document its benefits. They present CBR as research with and for (not on and not merely in) the community. Furthermore, they champion CBR not only as a research methodology but also as a teaching technique and an institutional strategy for social justice.

In the foreword, Richard Couto points to an important challenge that the book offers – a challenge for faculty “to blend … disciplinary training with interdisciplinary inquiry that is both rigorous and relevant” (p. xvi). Readers may connect his name to participatory action research (e.g., Couto, 2000), which is one of several terms used to describe the kind of research promoted in this book. The focus on faculty as the primary audience for this book speaks volumes about how far CBR has come. Traditional academic research is, by and large, an individual enterprise that concentrates on the science of discovery – that is, investigation in search of new knowledge. In contrast, CBR is a collaborative enterprise in which research questions emerge from the needs of communities and in which faculty and students along with community members become engaged in a research process that seeks to create social change.

Community-Based Research and Higher Education is divided into 10 chapters, beginning with the origins and principles of CBR and ending with a look to the future. In Chapter 1, Strand and her colleagues attribute CBR’s emergence as a response largely to widespread criticism that higher education was insufficiently responsive to the needs of communities. CBR, they suggest, is also a response to the growing realization that higher education had failed to prepare students for lives of civic engagement and social responsibility. The authors define CBR as “a partnership of students, faculty, and community members who collaboratively engage in research with the purpose of solving a pressing community problem or effecting social change” (p. 3). They outline three major principles of CBR: campus–community collaboration; validation of multiple sources of knowledge, discovery, and dissemination; and social action/social change to achieve social justice. The social justice goal makes CBR distinctive. No wonder that, in defining community, the authors emphasize that it consists of people who are oppressed, powerless, economically deprived, and disenfranchised. CBR, as the authors suggest, provides an avenue to the empowerment of underserved communities and marginalized people.

Chapters 2 and 3 draw attention to campus–community partnerships as the foundation for the collaboration that sets CBR apart from traditional research. In describing the benefits derived by the community, Chapter 2 focuses on how CBR collaboration can help community-based organizations achieve their social change objectives. This chapter also delineates 10 principles of successful community–campus partnerships. In this regard, it offers nothing new, except perhaps the emphasis on shared power as the basis for good research to achieve social justice outcomes. Suggesting how to turn those principles into effective practice, Chapter 3 offers the nuts and bolts of CBR partnerships in terms of finding or starting a partnership, facilitating the collaborative process, and achieving long-term goals.

Chapter 4 examines the ways in which the principles of CBR shape the design and conduct of this kind of research. The authors discuss (a) collaboration, including barriers to collaboration; (b) creation and dissemination of knowledge, including the recognition and validation of sources of knowledge that are often not legitimized by conventional research approaches; and (c) contributions to social change. To their credit, Strand et al. present CBR not as a remedy for social ills but rather as a dynamic research approach with a social change emphasis that “is a particularly difficult transition for academic researchers to make” (p. 83). As the authors assert, academics interested in CBR must adopt a new paradigm of research that considers the value and relevance, and not only the validity, of the research findings.

Chapter 5 covers strategies for addressing challenges that may arise at each stage of the research process. Familiar research methods may need to be modified and new methods employed. In the process of conducting the research, both campus and community partners stand to benefit from the transformative effects of unanticipated learning.

The next two chapters are devoted to CBR in relation to teaching. The authors – faculty members from sociology, political science, and education – provide a sound rationale for viewing CBR as a teaching strategy. However, service-learning practitioners may take issue with the authors’ veiled criticism of their work as charity-oriented. After all, service learning does have social change goals and, properly pursued, is not any less rigorous or less relevant than CBR.

In Chapter 8, “Organizing for Community-Based Research,” campus-based administrative structures and management issues are explored. The authors recommend that CBR be assigned to an entity within an academic unit. As a follow-up in Chapter 9, they offer practical suggestions regarding the operation of a CBR center. In addition, they address the question of sustainability of CBR work and indicate the importance of rewarding faculty who embrace this kind of research.

The 304-page book closes with an invitation for readers to share the authors’ vision of higher education based on research-oriented campus-community partnerships. Such partnerships are seen as sustained, reciprocal, and transformative as institutions support communities in realizing a more just society.

Community-Based Research and Higher Education makes a major contribution to the community engagement literature. It makes clear the epistemological advantages of CBR and shows how research can respond to community needs as much as it can satisfy researchers’ interests. Readers will appreciate the many examples of CBR projects drawn from diverse institutional and social settings. Readers would appreciate even more something that is missing – a complete CBR case study, detailing such elements as identification of the research question; the specific roles of the research partners, including students and community members; the problems faced and overcome as part of the research process; and the dissemination and use of the research results. Nevertheless, this is a very valuable book, replete with insights and guidelines for CBR practice in higher education. It is recommended reading for faculty and civic engagement administrators and an excellent resource for preparing students for active, engaged citizenship.


Beckman, M., Penney, N., & Cockburn, B. (2011). Maximizing the impact of community-based research. Journal of Higher Education Outreach and Engagement, 15(2), 83–103.

Couto, R. A. (2000). Participatory action in research: Making research central. Journal of Public Service & Outreach, 5(2), 9–16.

DeBlasis, A. L. (2006). From revolution to evolution: Making the transition from community service learning to community based research. International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, 18(1), 36–42.

Kowalewski, B. M. (2004). Service-learning taken to a new level through community-based research: A win-win for campus and community. In M. Welch & S. H. Billig (Eds.), New perspectives in service-learning: Research to advance the field (pp. 127–147). Greenwich, CT: Information Age Publishing.

Wade, A., & Demb, A (2009). A conceptual model to explore faculty community engagement. Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning, 15(2), 5–16.

About the Reviewer

Glenn A. Bowen is the director of the Center for Community Service Initiatives at Barry University in Miami Shores, Florida.


Community Practice Textbook Is Oriented Toward Graduate Study

Dorothy N. Gamble and Marie Weil, Community Practice Skills: Local to Global Perspectives, New York: Columbia University Press, 2010. 482 pages. ISBN 978-0-231-11002-0

Reviewed by David J. Edelman

Community Practice Skills: Local to Global Perspectives is a textbook aimed primarily at graduate students in community practice social work. Consequently, it is not for a general readership but provides a basis to community practice. It is also not the kind of book one reads through quickly, but rather a scholarly work with the roots of community practice and the historical development of its ideas presented in detail. It is not a handbook of actions to be taken by social workers. Although it has many positive qualities as a text, its thoroughness, for example, the format does not promote active engagement. A less dense presentation with more graphics and photographs would be very helpful

The book is divided into 2 parts. Part I: Community Practice: Purpose and Knowledge Base, provides the basis for the analysis presented in the second part. This includes chapters discussing the meaning of community, processes associated with community practice, and social justice and human rights; presenting the eight models of community practice; discussing guiding values and the evolution of the purposes and approaches to community practice, and providing an overview of the concepts, theories, knowledge, and perspectives that guide community practice. Part II: Eight Models of Community Practice for the Twenty-First Century, centers on the scope of concern, basic processes, conceptual understanding and roles and skills important for practice in each model (p. xvi).

The focus of the book, then, is a framework of eight models of community practice placed within a local to global context, recognizing that globalization affects the way community practice social workers will practice in the future. Promoting social justice is a major theme throughout the book. Thus, understanding the framework and context are essential for students. The eight models: neighborhood and community organizing; organizational functional communities; social, economic and sustainable development; inclusive program development; social planning; coalitions; political and social action, and movements for progressive change are discussed in detail in separate chapters. Table 2.1: Eight Models of Community Practice with Twenty-first Century Contexts (pp. 26, 27), nicely summarizes the models, covering desired outcome, systems targeted for change, primary constituency, scope of concern and social work/community practice roles. A student would be thankful for this as keeping all the characteristics of each model in mind without this summary would be a daunting task.

Consequently, as a text, it would be useful to have bullets of five or six main ideas listed at the start of each chapter with the main ideas presented clearly and graphically once again at the end of each chapter. A book such as this has tremendous value as a handy reference for students and practitioners, and making the main points accessible some time after reading the book would make it more useful.

Graphics such as Table 2.2: Primary and Related Roles for Social Workers/ Community Practice Workers in the Eight Models (pp. 40–44), Table 4.1: Reed’s Illustrative Types of Explanatory Theories about Society and Social Change (pp. 88 and 89), and Table 4.2: Theoretical Framework for Community Practice—Macro to Micro Scale (p. 94) are very instructive and useful for students and practitioners alike and make the book more meaningful for those interested in community engagement who are not social workers.

An excellent aspect of the book is the use of case studies to illustrate most of the eight models. These are very informative and are where the global context really comes to the forefront. They also provide the most interesting reading of the volume. Case studies are taken from Eastern Cape Province, South Africa; Santa Fe, New Mexico; an unspecified sub-Sahara African country; Robeson County, North Carolina; and Durham, North Carolina. There are also frequent references to other examples in the main body of the text.

Community Practice Skills: Local to Global Perspectives is of interest to a sizable segment of JCES readers. While it is aimed at community practice social workers, there is much that is useful for others involved in community engagement as it “…presents a comprehensive guide to skills for community engagement with a knowledge base drawn from the values, purposes, and theories that form the foundation for work with communities” (p. xv). While reading it thoroughly may take some time, it deserves a place on the reference shelf of any person seriously involved in community engagement.

About the Reviewer

David J. Edelman is a professor of planning in the School of Planning at the University of Cincinnati Professor Edelman is a member of the JCES editorial board.


Publisher Samory T. Pruitt, Vice President for Community Affairs, The University of Alabama
Editor Cassandra E. Simon, The University of Alabama
Production Editor Edward Mullins, The University of Alabama
Book Review Editor Dr. Heather Pleasants, The University of Alabama
Assistant to the Editor Vicky Carter, The University of Alabama
Copy Editors, Designers, Web Producers Christi Cowan and Eric Wang, The University of Alabama

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

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

From the Editor: JCES Keeps its Commitment to Accessibility, in Hard Copy and Now Online

Cassandra E. Simon, Ph.D.

As JCES begins its fifth year of publication, it seems appropriate to be somewhat reflective. We are steadily moving forward in having JCES meet our goal of being a premiere engagement scholarship journal, guided by our own brand of “authentic community engagement.” By this, we mean a journal that recognizes the centrality and importance of all persons involved in finding solutions to the problems addressed by engagement scholarship work. Beginning with the first issue, we committed to creating a “new kind of journal” – one responsive to the needs of communities and community partners and university constituent groups (i.e., faculty, staff, and students). JCES not only provides a venue for a variety of scholarly works from diverse perspectives, but is also structured around a work ethic directed toward diligently making sure the journal is accessible to all. This idea of accessibility has resulted in JCES being made available electronically. To access the electronic version of the journal, including all back issues, please go to www. Despite the financial costs and the numerous online journals that have come about in recent years, there is still something to be said for the value of hard copy journals. This recognition, along with your ongoing support of JCES, has resulted in University of Alabama administrators, especially Vice President for Community Affairs, Samory Pruitt, making possible our ability to continue to make JCES available in hard copy. In addition to accessibility in the literal sense, JCES also gives a great deal of attention to literacy accessibility, ensuring that a wide range of individuals can read and most importantly, understand what is written. Before the release of its inaugural issue, this focus on literacy balance and the efforts made to embrace “authentic community engagement” led to some initial criticisms and concerns regarding the scholarly value of JCES. After all, how could a top peer reviewed research journal be written to and for the academic and other university personnel, community, and students, while maintaining rigor and quality? Understanding that we are all students, educators, researchers, and community in the varied contexts of our lives made that part easy for us.

It has taken a great deal of work from a dedicated group of individuals, but the feedback from those of you in the community engagement and scholarship field indicate that we have been successful in having JCES be a new and different kind of research journal, while maintaining scholarly rigor. We appreciate your support and are committed to retaining the high standards you have come to expect from JCES. As we work to strengthen community partner and student participation in the journal, we look to you all to encourage your community partners and students to submit a piece for review and possible publication in an upcoming issue of JCES. We make every effort to include a least one community partner and one student piece in each issue. These manuscripts need to be reflective essays or critiques on some aspect of community engagement and scholarship or their experiences with community engagement work. These pieces are 500–1000 word essays provided to give voice to these populations who are still too often spoken for as if they had no voice of their own, even in the engagement scholarship field, where they are typically given more voice than in traditional research. We know that you are as anxious as are we to hear more from our students and community partners and we look forward to hearing from many of them with whom you work.

As with each issue of JCES, we hope you find the included manuscripts informative, engaging, and relevant to your work in engagement scholarship. The articles in this volume are as varied as are the disciplines to which engagement scholarship applies. From addressing how to best improve health outcomes for the Latino population in a rural Southeastern community to understanding the application of critical race feminism as a framework for engagement scholarship, this issue provides stimulating and pointed suggestions for improving the communities in which we live. JCES continues to identify ways in which to highlight the role of engagement scholarship in the academic environment as seen with one manuscript that addresses how to develop more effective and sustainable relationships between communities and universities. Other manuscripts address topics that include ways to improve the society in which we live, whether through college instruction of a policy course or revitalization of a community post-disaster. As we prepare the next edition of JCES, which will be published shortly prior to our hosting of the National Outreach and Scholarship Conference, September 30–October 3, 2012, we are excited about the opportunity to showcase JCES and all else The University of Alabama has to offer. We invite you to attend the conference and learn even more about how to integrate the conference theme—Partner. Inspire. Change.—into your engagement scholarship work.

Using Service-Learning to Teach a Social Work Policy Course

Tarin Mink and Sarah Twill


Preparing students to be passionate about and engage in policy work can be a challenge for social work educators. Previous research supports that service-learning can increase positive attitudes and participation in macro practice. This manuscript presents a policy course that was taught using service-learning projects. Feedback from students was collected during the course and 15 months after its conclusion. Feedback from students suggested that students increased their confidence and competencies as policy practitioners and that the service-learning projects were influential in that change. After the course, students were engaging in policy activities such as calling, emailing, or writing an elected official, working on a specific policy change effort, participating as a member of a coalition working on a political issue of change, and voting. Lessons learned from this service-learning project are applicable to allied disciplines; implications for wider curriculum adoption and future research are discussed.


It can be challenging for social work educators to communicate the importance of social welfare policy course objectives and themes to students. The usefulness of a macro skill set may not be appreciated by many undergraduate students until beginning a professional social work career. Dooley, Sellers, and Gordon-Hempe (2009) postulated that this attitude may stem from “a lack of knowledge regarding what macro practice involves and how it is implemented, rather than from a dislike of this area of practice” (p. 435). However, previous research supports that service-learning can increase positive attitudes and participation in policy practice (Anderson, 2006; Anderson & Harris, 2005; Droppa, 2007; Rocha, 2000). This manuscript explores a policy course that utilized a service-learning project. Fifteen months following the course, the attitudes and behaviors about policy practice were explored.

Literature Review 

Jane Addams and Ellen Starr understood that a presence within the community would lead to a change in social welfare issues and create a commitment to community outreach (Kenny & Gallagher, 2002). The early values and philosophies of the Hull House are present in the practice today. Norris and Schwartz (2009) explain that the blending of “experiential learning, civic responsibility, and evidenced-based practice is the very foundation of social work practice and education” (p. 376). Given the mission of social work to participate in societal change, social work educators should be concerned about preparing future practitioners to be civically engaged members of the profession and society.

King (2003) reviewed social work’s history with service-learning and the positive benefits it offers to students, educators, and the communities served. He reported that the majority of literature in social work about the teachnique has focused on micro courses and skills. Social work students possess more negative attitudes toward macro courses than toward micro topics (Dooley, Sellers, & Gordon- Hempe, 2009; Hymans, 2000), and alumni report being insufficiently prepared for policy practice (Anderson & Harris, 2005). Researchers found that using service-learning in policy courses created valuable learning experiences and more positive attitudes toward policy (Anderson, 2006; Anderson & Harris, 2005; Droppa, 2007; Rocha, 2000).

Service-learning can benefit the education of students in several ways. Values such as diversity, self-determination, accountability, and collaboration can be taught using service-learning methods, which further students’ learning and social work knowledge (King, 2003; Williams & Reeves, 2004). Service-learning also promotes professional development. For example, Williams, King, and Kobb (2002) established that participation in the practice increased students’ ratings of their professional self-efficacy. Kropf and Tracey (2002) found that service-learning provided both pre-field preparation for MSW students and allowed social work educators an additional way to monitor professional readiness.

Anderson (2006) used a community-based research project in her policy course to increase interest in macro practice. Students worked with a health clinic that served undocumented Latinas who experienced domestic violence. Using the Violence Against Women Act, students conducted research and made policy and procedure recommendations to the agency. Anderson argued that traditional macro courses taught policy from the positivist paradigm, thus distancing students from the social welfare policies studied. Using service-learning allowed her to teach from a postmodern perspective. Students “mucked through the swamp” by working with a local agency to assess how legislation impacted clientele. Anderson found this approach to analyzing policy decreased students’ anxieties and increased their enthusiasm for policy work.

Droppa (2007) used a service-learning project in his policy courses for BSW students. Students reported that being involved in the community helped them understand the policy issues discussed in class. He found that BSW students who participated in the service-learning projects reported a desire to be involved in policy practice and felt the projects better prepared them for graduate school or employment.

Finally, Rocha (2000) conducted a study with MSW students who had taken a policy course as part of their graduate program. Half of the participants took a policy course that had a service-learning component, while the other half of the participants were taught using traditional methods. Rocha found that participants who had the service-learning component rated their competency as policy practitioners higher than those who did not have the experiential component. Also, the students who had taken the service-learning course reported engaging in more policy activities (e.g., communicating with elected officials, participating in community meetings on public policy issues, voting, or joining a citizen action group) following graduation.

Engagement in the community, including political work and advocacy, is not unique to social work, but is situated in the larger civic engagement literature. Boyte (2004) in his book Everyday Politics: Reconnecting Citizens and Public Life called for institutions of higher education to help students move from the micro work of solving individual problems to the mezzo and macro work of partnering with communities for change. This view is not unlike the work of Courtney and Specht (1994) who proposed that social workers had abandoned their social change agenda for practice with individuals. Boyte (2004) further argued that individuals have become consumers of government rather than co-creators of democracy. In order to remedy this, individuals must redefine how they participate in their communities by taking a more active role in politics and civic life.

This project presents a BSW social work policy course that attempted to move students into their roles as public citizens. Service-learning projects were designed to help students develop the professional skills needed to engage in mezzo and macro level change. In addition to learning the academic content, it was hoped that students would change their attitudes and behaviors about macro practice. Journal responses at the end of the course focus group, and a follow-up interview with students 15 months after the course concluded, helped to answer the following questions: After completing the service-learning policy course, do the students report more positive regard for their roles as macro practitioners? Do they engage in policy behaviors such as communicating with elected officials, participating in community meetings on public policy issues, voting, or joining a citizen action group?

Characteristics of the Course

Description of the Course

The course was a senior level policy course required for graduation at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio. The course was designed to meet the Council on Social Work Education’s (CSWE) curriculum related to social welfare policy and services. The course took place in a five-week summer quarter. Sixteen students enrolled in the course. Class was scheduled for two 210-minute sessions per week. Content was presented to students in a traditional academic manner (e.g., lecture, discussion, in class activities) during one class session per week. For the second day of class each week, students were required to spend a minimum of 210 minutes engaged in service-learning work related to a policy project designed by the instructor and the community partner to reinforce the concepts of the course.

Course Projects and Assignments

In order to apply the concepts from the course, students selected from one of four service-learning projects. The projects were prearranged by the instructor and coordinated through the University’s Office of Service Learning. Attention was given to selecting projects that aligned with social work values and dealt with issues that impacted different populations. On the first day of the course, students had an opportunity to select the project for which they wished to work. Students negotiated with each other and with the instructor to reach consensus about group assignments. This allowed students to select a project in which they were interested, aligned with their personal and professional values, and fit their schedules. A minimum of three students were needed for each project and no more than five students could work on a project. Additionally, final projects or deliverables were negotiated between the instructor and the community partner. Because this course took place in a five-week summer term, there was less opportunity for students to be involved in the preplanning of the projects. Students did negotiate some content of the final project with the partner and instructor. In a traditional academic term, students could be given more responsibility of identifying partners and projects.

The first group worked with a state representative and his staff on a bill regarding prisoner re-entry programs. The representative wanted the students involved to interview social workers who were employed in the field of criminal justice about their attitudes toward the bill and prepare an executive summary. This group took the project a step further by sending a letter in support of the bill to the office of the state National Association of Social Workers in Raleigh, N.C. The group negotiated with the instructor that this additional task be part of their final project. The second project involved working with a state senator on a bill proposing a cap on textbook prices. Students were asked to interview key informants, specifically faculty members who had written a textbook, librarians, and bookstores, about their attitudes regarding the bill. The senator needed an executive summary of the findings and this was the final project for the group.

The third project was helping a national advocacy organization contact community members about the 2007 farm bill, specifically issues related to food stamps. The organization wanted students to contact member groups to discuss the merits of the bill and to encourage them to become politically active. Unlike the other projects in which the community partner requested a final report from the students, this organization did not need a report. As a result, students spent all of their service-learning hours advocating for the passage of the farm bill with the agency’s constituents.

The fourth project involved working with a local agency who served senior adults. The agency wanted to promote a bill that would streamline service for seniors. The final project for the group was creating a letter of support from the agency to all members of the state House and Senate requesting support of the bill. As the project progressed, the students identified that advocacy materials that could be used with clients were needed. The students worked with the community partner to design advocacy materials for the agency to use with clients and their families. They negotiated the addition of this task as part of their final project and grade.

In order to help students reflect on their experiences, the students were required to complete log assignments. Students completed three logs over the course of the term that integrated their work with the community partner and the course content. The log assignment required students to respond to three or four questions about their policy knowledge. Details about the log questions are presented in the methods section under student reflections.

In the final week, students completed a final project, and turned in a paper detailing their reflection of the experiences. Finally, all four groups participated in a reception and presented their findings to the class and the community partners.


Data Collection

This study employed a mixed method design. Data from two time periods were collected and analyzed. At the end of the term (time period one), data were collected from students using the following methods: reflection journals that were part of the course assignments and an end of the course focus group. In order to protect participants, the protocol of the study was approved by the authors’ university IRB. Sixteen students participated in the research; a full description of the participant demographics can be found in the results section.

Data Analysis

Qualitative data were collected from multiple sources (interviews, student reflection logs, and focus group notes) in time period one and two. In order to best understand the qualitative data, the first author transcribed her notes from the interviews. The second author transcribed notes from the focus group. The student reflection logs were already typed; the second author compiled responses to the questions. All qualitative data were reviewed and independently open coded by both authors (Lincoln & Guba, 1985). The purpose of the open coding was to discover how the students described their experiences and to look for meaning in the data. In the first round of analysis, photocopies of the transcripts were cut into relevant strips of data and sorted into constructs. Next, similar constructs were grouped and labeled as concepts. Data and key student quotes were placed on notecards and then sorted to identify developing similarities. From this process, themes emerged. Following the independent open coding, the authors compared their findings and worked to agree on the qualitative themes. The authors typically agreed on the sorting of key data and quotes into categories; however, much of the discussion was centered on titling the themes. This process provided interrater reliability of concepts and themes.

Time Period One

Students’ Reflections.

Included as part of their weekly logs, students recorded their reactions to their experiences. The reflection questions were assigned by the instructor for the purpose of assessing the students’ learning and to promote the critical assessment of their professional development. The questions required students to draw from their readings, the NASW Code of Ethics, lecture, and lessons learned from the projects. In addition to material focused on the academic content of the course, over the course of the term students responded to reflection prompts such as “Describe your past political engagement. What excites you and scares you about the service-learning project?” and “Select one topic discussed in class/presented in the reading. Summarize your understanding of the topic. How does the concept apply to your work on the service-learning project?” The written responses were collected and coded by themes.

Focus Group.

On the last day of class, students were asked by the instructor to respond in writing to open-ended questions and to discuss their responses with the class. This was not graded and students were told the purpose was to reflect on learning and for the instructor to improve the course for future students. The written responses were collected and coded by themes.

Time Period Two

Fifteen months following the completion of the course, qualitative and quantitative data were collected from the student participants. The students were contacted via email to request their voluntary participation in the follow-up project. Nine students replied to this request. Students participated in a 45-minute qualitative interview with the first author who was not involved with the course, but was completing data collection for her MSW thesis. Students were compensated with $15 for their time and travel expenses. The interview consisted of 14 open-ended questions related to the students’ experiences in the policy course. The questions were designed to assess the students’ experiences in the course and how the learning may (or may not have) been influenced by the service-learning. Examples of questions were, “Did the service-learning experience help you develop as a micro (also mezzo and macro) level social worker? If so, how and did the service-learning experience change your attitude about policy? If so, how/why?”

In addition, based on the work of Rocha (2000), participants were given a list of policy activities (e.g., communicating with elected officials, participating in community meetings on public policy issues, voting, or joining a citizen action group) and asked to indicate which, if any, behaviors they had engaged in since the course ended. Given the small sample size, the responses were tabulated for each question and reported; only the mean, standard deviation, and range was reported for overall participation in policy activities.


Description of Students

Sixteen students were enrolled in the course. Of the 16, 14 were Caucasian women; one was an African American woman; and one was an African- American male. The median age was 31.60 (range 20–58, SD = 12.92). All of the students started their senior practicum within two quarters of completing the policy course.

Nine students who participated in the policy course volunteered to participate in the follow-up interviews 15 months after the course ended. Of the nine students, seven were Caucasian females, one was an African-American male, and one student was an African-American female. The median age of the participants was 36 (range 22–59, SD = 14.7).

Time Period One

Student Reflection Logs

Included as part of their weekly logs, students recorded their reactions to their experiences. Reflection questions were assigned by the instructor for the purpose of assessing the students’ learning and to promote the critical assessment of their professional development. The most common theme related to students’ successfully using a skill. Examples of skills identified were talking to people in power about an issue (most common), report writing, and improving needs assessment. Examples of quotes that illustrate success in using a skill follow:

Before this project, I would hold back some questions I may want to ask. But now I have learned to ask things like “Can I have a copy of your budget?” or “Why are your prices so high?” (skill identified: talking to people in power)

I have found a new ability to call up complete strangers and speak with them about a political policy. I have found myself becoming more comfortable in talking with people about their opinions regarding this bill and setting up interviews. I have not always had confidence in myself and this project has been pushing me outside of my comfort zone. (skill identified: talking to people in power)

I worried about our group’s writing. … I thought, “Oh my god, we were giving the report to [an elected official]” and I wanted it to be good. We edited a lot. It wasn’t like a regular paper that we were turning in [to the professor]. (skill identified: writing skills)

The limitations that students recognized were more difficult to classify. The limitations were more closely tied with the nature and tasks associated with the project rather than based on a social work skill. Limitations included not having enough time to work on the project, key informants refusing to return phone calls, lack of local interest in the bill, and frustration with group members. These challenges may have interfered with their skill development.

Focus Group Responses

In written format and through a class discussion, students were asked to respond to four questions posed during the last class. The first question was, “Before this course, what were your attitudes about being involved in the political process?” Nine responses were classified as “related to fear.” Examples of the fear students expressed are exemplified by the following quotations:

I wanted nothing to do with politics. I thought I wouldn’t understand politics and I felt disconnected from my legislators.

I was scared. I never have been involved with politics and I was intimidated and did not think I would do well.

Similarly, three students admitted that they were uninterested in being involved with politics or macro practice. Comments went beyond fear and included statements like “I hate the thought of policy” and “My opinion does not matter so why bother.” In contrast, three students expressed positive regard about the opportunity to engage in policy work.

The second question was, “What is your attitude about being involved in the political process today?” The participants’ responses were classified into two themes: Confidence expressed because new skills and knowledge were acquired and desire to be involved in future advocacy and policy work. Twelve responses were classified as new skills and knowledge. Student sentiment was expressed in the following quotations:

I am very excited to say I have been a part of a bill. Helping it move forward has made me extremely proud. Advocating by doing something is what I have learned.

I have a voice and I know how to use it to better our society and for my future clients.

Three students expressed that their experiences lead them to embrace their own advocacy responsibilities. One student wrote: “My attitude has changed. I plan to become more involved in the political process. At one time in my life, politics meant only civil rights. Now politics includes social justice for everyone.”

The final question was, “Is there anything related to social work that you are more likely to do today than you were before the course started?” Eleven student responses were categorized as being more involved in policy work. Of those 11, 4 had specific plans of action, while 6 were less specific about how to be involved. Student responses included:

I will write to my representative because I truly know it is my social work duty.

Become politically active and speak up! Even if I don’t get my representative to do what I want, I still have the POWER and the RIGHT and the DUTY to do something about policies that hurt others.

Three students talked about being more aware of policies. One student wrote “I feel like I pay more attention to the news so that I have an understanding of what is happening in the world.” One student’s behaviors were not going to be changed following the course. She stated: “Although I learned a lot about policy, I still don’t want to have anything to do with it.”

Fifteen Month Follow-up 

A concern of the instructor of the course was that students were excited about policy and macro work because of their intense emersion in the topic and that the excitement and application of policy skills would not persist over time. Fifteen months following the completion of the course, qualitative and quantitative data were collected from nine students.

Three major themes emerged during the participants’ interviews and demonstrated the connectedness between the students’ experience with policy and the project. The themes were “engaging in the service-learning experience helped students learn about policy”; “engaging in the service-learning experience gave students confidence about policy skills”; and “engaging in the service-learning experience influenced policy behaviors.”

Theme 1—Engaging in the Service-Learning Experience Helped Students Learn about Policy. 

Students discussed how their learning experiences were enhanced by the project because it allowed for hands-on learning. The students reported how the projects provided a platform to apply what they had talked about in class or read to a real-world problem. Examples of statements that illustrated students’ positive regard for the service-learning project follow:

I think I would have been bored out of my mind [in a traditional course], because policy—I mean honestly I dreaded it–because it’s policy and it’s scary. With service-learning I got so comfortable with policy. I understood the material taught in class because I could apply it to what I was doing right then.”

It would have been hard for me to learn and stay focused [in a traditional course] because I find sometimes policy…it’s easier to see it than to just read about it. You know I can memorize what it takes to become a bill but to actually get out there and experience what it takes to get a motion moved, to see what public officials do…you actually get hands-on with it and it is so much better to learn by seeing it, experiencing it… hearing the words out of the senators’ mouths was much more powerful than reading it from a textbook or writing a paper about it.

Service-learning made me more excited about policy. You know, “I can help change this.”

Theme 2—Engaging in the Service-Learning Experience Gave Students Confidence about Policy Skills. 

During the qualitative interviews, students were asked to talk about their experiences with policy. Participants discussed how the service-learning projects increased their personal and professional confidence. Students felt as though the projects inspired them to know that their voices were being heard. Examples:

Confidence was one of the things that I think that I took the most away from it [the course]. It was feeling that as a social work student, you have much more say about things than what you ever would have thought. I definitely did not know we have as much power or as much of a voice as we do.

I love service-learning… it gives people the confidence. It gives students the confidence because we got to read about it and then I got to see it. Without the service-learning project, there would have been no way that I would have been able to testify in front of the Senate. I wouldn’t have had half of the educational experiences I’ve had over the past year without that class.

Theme 3—Engaging in the Service-Learning Influenced Policy Behaviors. 

A third theme that emerged was the concept of the service-learning projects creating lasting behavioral changes for students. Following the course, the students were able to participate in a variety of experiences including testifying before the State Senate, presenting their policy project at a professional conference, interviewing senators, and talking with social work professionals and citizens in the community about their thoughts regarding policy issues. Through these activities, students were able to participate in the political process and begin to develop a macro skill set. One student discussed her views on political behaviors. She explained:

They [elected officials] don’t know anything that is going on if the public doesn’t write letters or let them know what is going on. I’m a big advocate now for writing letters to my representative. That is what has changed after the class, because now I realize the importance of it. I thought they probably get thousands of letters, but they really don’t. It is a big thing in order to produce change in laws for our clients.

Based on the political engagement of the students and their positive regard toward policy, it is important to recognize the level of commitment demonstrated by the students after the conclusion of the course. Students may have engaged in political behaviors because of the awareness and civic duty instilled in them during the service-learning project. Students’ comments about their involvement in political activities are expressed in the following statements:

I sent a letter and I gave out envelopes to others. I do a 12-step program and I do a support group and 13 of the participants sent letters about this bill. Some of them also made phone calls. I would never have done that before this class.

The four of us that were working on the bill wondered what was happening with the bill so we called up to Senator X’s office just to see. He keeps telling us that we are his contacts when he reinvents the bill. He is going reintroduce it and change it a little bit based on we learned and what we educated him about the bill. He has taken the changes to heart what we found. We are still keeping in contact.

Participation in Policy Behaviors

Based on the policy skills outlined by Rocha (2000), students were asked about their engagement with policy actions following the policy course. During the interviews, students were asked about their involvement in nine political activities since the conclusion of the policy course.

On average, students had participated in four policy tasks (x = 4.4, standard deviation = 2.4, range = 2–8) since the course ended. Policy behaviors included using the internet to find information about controversial issues related to social welfare policy (n = 8); voting (n = 7); calling, emailing, or writing an elected official (n = 7); working on a specific policy change effort (n = 6); meeting with a public official (n = 4); participating as a member of a coalition or a committee working on a political issue of change (n = 3); being active in a political coalition (n = 2); being instrumental in organizing a political activity (n = 2); and sending a letter to the editor or having written an opinion/editorial piece (n = 1).


Based on information collected from students in this course, the service-learning project helped the students develop policy skills (e.g., talking to people in power about an issue, report writing, assessing needs) and professional confidence. Three themes were determined to have impact on the students’ experiences. The themes were: 1) The experience helped students learn about policy; 2) it gave students confidence about policy skills; and 3) it influenced policy behaviors.

The majority of the students reported that through hands-on learning and reality-based experiences, they were empowered to participate in the macro process. These students also asserted that the project enabled them to gain a better understanding of policy. Eight of the nine students who participated in the 15-month follow-up interviews reported that the project changed their attitude about social welfare policy and enhanced their overall learning experience.

The finding of increased competency was also important, as students may be more likely to participate in macro practice as direct service providers because they feel they have the skills necessary to engage in a task. Students reported increased engagement in policy activities following the conclusion of the policy course. With new confidence and new macro skills developed, students were able to continue their involvement with their own projects and participate in new macro opportunities. Because of the participants’ feelings of positive regard for the service-learning projects and the course, the students may be more likely to participate in political activities as they advance in their careers.

Limitations of the Study

There were several limitations to this study. One limitation was the small sample size. Sixteen students participated in the first data collection, while nine students participated in the follow-up. Also, data were not collected from the students prior to the start of the policy class that may have influenced the findings. However, the qualitative data indicated that students retrospectively reflected that they were fearful and reported disliking policy prior to the class.

Additionally, there were multiple factors, both personal and related to the class structure, which may have attributed to the students’ evaluations of the service-learning experiences and their experiences with social work policy. For example, some students were able to work on their first choice project, while others were not. The personalities and characteristics of the instructor and the community partners may have influenced students’ enthusiasm toward policy practice and the assessment of their skills.

Issues related to maturation may have also impacted the participants’ behaviors or attitudes at the 15-month follow-up. Participants had participated in a 425-hour senior practicum experience and may have taken their first professional job by the time the follow-up interview occurred. It is impossible to determine if the service-learning experience was fully responsible for the participants’ positive regard toward policy or behavioral changes as there was no comparison group. However, the work by Rocha (2000), which had a comparison group that did not participate in a service-learning component, suggests that service-learning experiences can account for some increase in policy behaviors.

Implications for Social Work Education, Practice, and Research

This service-learning experience supports previous research which indicates the effectiveness of using service-learning in a policy course. Droppa (2007) and Rocha (2000) found that students had increased competency and engagement in policy practice following service-learning projects. Rocha (2000) also described that students believed policy activities were important to social work practice. Students reported that this was influenced by the service-learning component of the course.

The major implication for social work practice is that service-learning is an approach that has the potential to generate student interest in macro practice. This pedagogy may advance social work values such as social justice, service, and obligations of practitioners to be macro change agents, values which have shown to be less understood by BSW students (Majewski, 2007). Service-learning allows students to become actively involved in the real world application of values and become proponents of social change. The feedback from students involved with this project suggests that service-learning helps social work students renegotiate their personal and professional identities to include being a macro practitioner. Further, it suggests that this confidence may propel students to engage in policy behaviors.

Social work educators and researchers should continue to evaluate if service-learning increases students’ learning and promotes professionalism in the field. Future researchers should consider employing a comparison group and a larger sample to determine if service-learning is responsible for behavioral and attitudinal changes about policy practice.

While this project focused on social work curriculum and students, the lessons learned about engagement are applicable to related majors such as sociology, criminal justice, teacher education, nursing, and other disciplines which have a policy course in the curriculum. If students feel disenfranchised from the political process or do not make the link between their direct practice as police officers, teacher, or nurses, they may be less inclined to use their professional knowledge to shape public policy in their fields. As such, preparing students to participate in the current political climate should be of concern to all disciplines.


Social work students enter a complex and changing practice arena. Students need to have critical thinking, practice skills, and theoretical understanding to participate in solving social problems. Service-learning pedagogy may be a vehicle in which to expose students to society’s needs and potential solutions. In 1994, Courtney and Specht described how social workers had become “unfaithful angels” to the profession’s mission of social change. If BSW students increase their political skill competencies and feel empowered to make macro level changes through service-learning experiences, they may help reshape the future of the profession and return us to a time when community organizing, activism, and social justice were the hallmark of the profession. Service-learning, specifically in the macro and policy classes, may help create a new generation of social work practitioners who have a career centered on social change. Ultimately, this changes the lives of clients through the creation of more socially just policies that promote a better, more equitable society.


Anderson, D.K. (2006). Mucking through the swamp: Changing the pedagogy of a social welfare policy course. Journal of Teaching in Social Work, 26(1/2), 1-17.

Anderson, D.K., & Harris, B.M. (2005). Teaching social welfare policy: A comparison of two pedagogical approaches. Journal of Social Work Education, 41(3), 511-526. Retrieved from

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About the Authors

Tarin Mink is a mental health therapist at Samaritan Behavioral Health, Inc., in Dayton, Ohio. Sarah Twill is an associate professor of social work at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio.

Building Capacity to Improve Latino Health in Rural North Carolina: A Case Study in Community-University Engagement

Kim Larson and Chris McQuiston


In North Carolina, health disparities for the emergent Latino population are well documented. Between 2005 and 2009, a community-university engagement model with Latino leaders and university faculty and students in rural eastern North Carolina worked to address solutions to health disparities among Latinos. Based on principles of community-based participatory research, this model focused on partnership formation and capacity building. Community partners acquired leadership and research skills. University partners gained a local understanding of Latino health through collaborative community and systems-level initiatives. Mutual benefits were achieved in partnerships established, resources leveraged, and community members reached. These strategies can be replicated in other communities that have an immigrant Latino population, community-oriented, bilingual health professionals, and a university committed to engagement.


Counties in eastern North Carolina can be characterized by their rural nature, agricultural economy and emerging Latino population. Wayne County, where this project was conducted, has a per capita income of $31,000; nearly 14% of the population lives in poverty, compared to statewide figures of $35,000 and 12.3%. (North Carolina State Center for Health Statistics 2010). The southern part of Wayne County is noted for its sandy soils, good for growing cucumbers, cantaloupe, watermelon, and other truck crops. Annual migration into this region by Latino farm workers is estimated at more than 10,000. In addition to farm work, Latino workers are employed at numerous poultry and pickle processing factories in the area. Trailer parks, placed strategically for these workers, dot the landscape. The county sewage treatment facility and county landfill are both situated in this part of the county. The local health department and department of social services are 20 miles away in the county seat. There has never been regular public transportation to and from the southern part of the county, making access to these services difficult. The school-age population is 50% Latino in the public school district serving this area (A. Pridgen, personal communication, April 18, 2011).

Latino immigrants not only live in this disadvantaged environment, but low public sentiment of Latinos has also resulted in their discrimination by and alienation from mainstream society. Community-university engagement is one approach to working with communities that face social, structural, and environmental inequities (Wallerstein & Minkler, 2008). This approach can also address ethical and social justice issues particularly salient to the conditions facing Latino immigrants (Baumann, Domenech Rodriguez, & Parra-Cardona, 2011).

Community Partner

As a result of growth of the Latino population in Wayne County, Willie Cartagena, a resident, founded the Hispanic Community Development Center [the Center] in 2002 to provide advocacy in the form of translation/interpretation services and employment assistance to the emerging Latino community. He renovated a former gas station in the southern part of the county with funds from local industries that employ Latinos. In 2005, he became the executive director and established the Center as a non-profit organization with a board of directors and bylaws. The mission of the Center expanded to include community development and resource acquisition, in addition to advocacy.

University Partner

At this same time, I (Kim Larson) was also a resident of Wayne County teaching at East Carolina University (ECU). For over 30 years, I had worked with Latino families, first in Honduras, as a Peace Corps nurse, and later in eastern North Carolina in a rural migrant health clinic. I had just completed my dissertation on sexual risk behaviors among Latino adolescents, which used ethnographic methods of participant-observation, in-depth interviews, and relevant documents to generate data. I read the local newspaper, The News-Argus, everyday for community events involving the Latino population and kept field notes of the events I attended. On February 28, 2005, the News-Argreported on the formation of the Wayne County Coalition on Latino Child Health through a Community Access to Child Health grant funded by the American Academy of Pediatrics. The announcement invited community members interested in being a part of the coalition to “step forward and agree to participate…” (Moore, 2005, p. 7A).

Natural Partnership 

Mr. Cartagena and I were among 30 stakeholders who attended the initial coalition meeting. The coalition met monthly for one year and identified three priority health disparities among Latino children and adolescents: poor oral health, excessive accidents and injuries, and adverse sexual health outcomes. As a result of the joint work on the coalition and a mutual interest in improving the health of the Latino community, Mr. Cartagena and I formed a natural partnership that was enhanced by my fluency in Spanish, familiarity with the Latino culture, and health-related experience. The purpose of this paper is to describe partnership formation and capacity building in a community-university engagement model with Latino leaders and university faculty and students in Wayne County, North Carolina.

Partnership Formation (2005-2006) 

At the invitation of Mr. Cartagena, I began attending the monthly Saturday morning board meetings of the Center beginning in 2005. At the time, there were 10 board members, men and women from Cuba, Mexico, Panama, Peru, Puerto Rico, and the United States. Since some board members preferred to use English and others preferred Spanish, all board meetings were conducted in both languages. Mr. Cartagena explained my role as a member of the ECU nursing faculty and community member interested in the health of the Latino community. Some board members appreciated my participation and others were skeptical, admitting a belief that the university has been indifferent to the needs of rural communities. ECU’s mission statement contains a pledge to “serve as a national model for public service and regional transformation” (East Carolina University, 2009), but some residents question that pledge. Shelton (2008) describes how establishing trust sets the foundation for a successful partnership. I knew that building trust would take years of continual involvement and prepared for a long-term commitment.

Initial board meetings were consumed with planning cultural events and community service projects. The Center sponsors two annual cultural events for the community, the Tres Reyes Magos Festival in January and the Cinco de Mayo Festival in May. During these events, I worked with board members on such activities as serving food, managing the health fair, and hanging piñatas. The Center also conducts two annual service projects, Book-bags for Elementary School Outreach and Thanksgiving baskets for families in need. Board members and I collected donations from businesses and/or purchased school supplies and food items to complete these projects. I knew that building trust was of paramount importance, and so I kept my promises, participated extensively, and practiced openness with board members.

Drawing from principles of community-based participatory research (CBPR), I approached our work using a collaborative, equitable process where all partners identified mutual benefits (Israel, Schulz, Parker, Becker, Allen, & Guzman, 2003). Board members had recently collected community needs assessment data and requested assistance with the analysis, interpretation, and dissemination of the data. As nursing faculty, I was able to match nursing students in a service learning course with Center board members on projects such as the community needs assessment. Simultaneously, nursing students who had completed a study abroad program in Guatemala and had acquired Spanish language skills collaborated with board members to conduct a health fair. I also facilitated the project of a graduate student in the Nursing Leadership concentration who worked for one year with the board members on creating a bilingual community resource directory. Board members translated and edited the directory while the graduate student compiled the information and called each agency for a description of services and contact information. These projects would not have been accomplished without this community-university partnership in place.

The early stage of partnership formation allowed community-university partners to discuss issues of importance to the community. Discussion centered around proposed interventions and grant-funding that might address health concerns in the Latino community. In 2005, the Center had an annual budget that was less than $10,000 and operated solely on donations from local industries and occasional fund-raising projects. There were no paid staff and volunteer board members were only available in the evening and weekends. Community members requesting translator/interpreter services or job assistance contacted members by telephone. As a result, board members knew they were not responsive to many of the community needs and had a long-term goal of a paid staff member at the Center five days a week.

State of Latino Health

During partnership formation I was asked to take an advisory role to share with board members the current health research on Latino populations and to assist with grant-writing. Using North Carolina State Center for Health Statistics data (2006; 2010), we began discussions about the health disparities within the Hispanic/Latino population. Considering the priority health needs identified by the County Coalition for Latino Child Health, board members were concerned about adverse sexual health outcomes. Data gathering and interpretation was an ongoing activity that occurred throughout this partnership as new information became available. The following data served as the foundation for the grant proposals developed by this partnership.

North Carolina has the third highest birth rate for Latinas ages 15-19 in the nation (Kost, Henshaw, & Carlin, 2010). According to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (2010), the 2004–2008 pregnancy rate for NC Latinas ages 15-19 was 173.2/1000, nearly three times higher than the overall teen pregnancy rate of 64.5/1000; for the past 14 years, the teen pregnancy rates in Wayne County have been higher than the state rate; and the 2004–2008 HIV case rate for NC Latinos was 33.6/100,000, higher than the overall population case rate of 24.3/100,000.

Eastern North Carolina has some of the highest HIV infection rates in the nation (McCoy, 2009). Moreover, Wayne County had a syphilis rate four times the state average (North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, 2008). Finally, a larger percent of NC Latinos than whites and African Americans were uninsured, could not see a physician due to cost, and had no personal physician (North Carolina State Center for Health Statistics, 2010).

Cultural attitudes and beliefs toward sexual health, lack of bilingual health care personnel, traditional health practices, and lack of access to health care resources may hinder usual public health prevention approaches for reducing the risk of sexually transmitted infections among the Latino population. In two local studies, issues surrounding migration were pertinent to addressing sexual risk behaviors (Larson, 2009; Larson & McQuiston, 2008). Further, the school environment offered numerous opportunities for facilitating sexual risk behaviors among Latino youth (Larson, Sandelowski, & McQuiston, 2011). Traditional public health research strategies, such as health education campaigns, are often poorly suited to address the complexities of health and social problems of Latino families (Minkler & Wallerstein, 2008).

Although partnerships between Latino communities and universities have been successful in HIV prevention in some parts of the country (Baldwin, Johnson, & Benally, 2009; Kim, Flaskerud, Koniak-Griffin, & Dixon, 2005; Rhodes et al., 2006), no studies could be found that addressed sexually transmitted disease prevention using a community-university engagement model with Latino leaders in rural eastern North Carolina. As a result, board members and I decided to focus the community-university engagement model on prevention of these infections in the Latino population.

Capacity Building (2007-2009)

Using another CBPR principle, capacity building, the aim was to ensure the reciprocal transfer of knowledge, skills, and capacity among all partners (Israel et al., 2003). Toward the end of 2006, Mr. Cartagena received a request for a proposal from Hispanics in Philanthropy, Inc., (HIP) an international collaborative that provides planning and implementation grants to Latino-led non-profit organizations. Board members and I decided to submit a proposal that would target leadership development. At the same time, the local health department offered a grant opportunity to non-profit organizations to reduce adverse sexual health outcomes among minority populations. I met with a small group of Center board members (4 of the 10) weekly to draft grant proposals for both initiatives. The draft proposals were approved by the entire board at a regular board meeting. A budget for the HIV/AIDS prevention grant of $2,200 went entirely to the Center for operating expenses such as rent, telephone, utilities, and training supplies for one year. A budget for the HIP leadership grant was proposed and responsibilities designated allocating half of the $20,600 grant to the Center and half to the university. The Center received operating expenses and the university received expenses to purchase training materials and supplies. Still, it is important to note that during the partnership formation stage there was no funding for any activities. This is a key CBPR principle, where partnership commitment must continue even if funding is not yet available (Israel et al., 2003).

HIV/AIDS Prevention Grant 

In 2007, a five-week HIV/AIDS prevention training program was implemented with board members using an HIV/AIDS training manual designed for Latino immigrants in North Carolina (McQuiston, Parrado, Martinez, & Uribe, 2005). I facilitated a series of five interactive workshops with board members to provide the skills to become HIV/AIDS community trainers and to share prevention strategies with individuals and groups in homes, churches, and workplaces. Six board members completed the five-week (10 hours) training program. Both the female and male board members convened groups of community members informally in a variety of locations to share HIV/AIDS prevention information over the course of a year.

Hispanics in Philanthropy (HIP), Inc. Grant 

The decision to target leadership development came because of limited Latino representation on official county boards or civic organizations. Board members believed that the Center could benefit from this type of training. The HIP grant had three aims: to build an active and responsive board of directors; establish an on-site computer resource center; and strengthen partnerships between the Center and mainstream community organizations. A series of leadership development workshops were designed during joint meetings between board members and nursing faculty at the East Carolina Center for Nursing Leadership (ECCNL). Training sessions followed the regular monthly board meetings at the Center and took place between October 2007 and June 2008. The leadership training was designed to help board members develop and apply leadership skills. Nine nursing faculty and graduate students from the ECCNL facilitated the 11-session training program. Faculty and student time involved in the leadership training was provided in-kind, reinforcing the university’s commitment to community engagement. Key concepts of applied research were included in the leadership training sessions, such as human participant protection education and data collection strategies. Leadership topics and skills applied are described in Table 1.

When the Center received a donation of 12 refurbished computers from the local Air Force base a computer resource center was established. The HIP grant allowed the Center to be equipped with Internet and DSL access. This enabled the Center to offer adult English as a Second Language classes through the local community college and provide basic computer literacy training for community members. This was facilitated by a board member with a degree in computer information technology. Community members used the Internet for searches on health and employment, to complete homework assignments, and to obtain international news. Internet access expanded board members’ ability to communicate with the broader community through the development of a website ( and a quarterly electronic newsletter. At this time, a primary industry donor provided for a full-time staff member to keep the Center open five days a week.

The HIP grant also provided support to strengthen relationships between the Center and mainstream organizations. Joint projects between the local health department and the Center included the Get Real, Get Tested (Hazte la Prueba) campaign (a door-to-door initiative in high-risk neighborhoods that offered free HIV and syphilis testing), influenza vaccine clinics, and a dental screening and referral clinic. The clinics were held at the Center and board members and university partners worked cooperatively to market and carry out these community outreach initiatives.

HIV Non-traditional Test Sites 

In 2009, the state Department of Health and Human Services encouraged community-based non-profit organizations to establish non-traditional test sites to address the growing HIV/ AIDS epidemic among minority populations. Bowles et al. (2008) found that rapid HIV testing in outreach and community settings was an effective approach for reaching members of minority groups and people at high risk for HIV infection. Board members and nursing faculty developed a non-traditional test site application that highlighted board member capacity building in the areas of HIV/AIDS prevention training and leadership development. This capacity building work positioned the Center to become the first Latino-led HIV site for the OraQuick ADVANCE® Rapid HIV-1/2 antibody test (OraSure Technologies, Bethlehem, PA) in the state. The establishment of the site is a unique initiative between the state Department of Health and Human Services the local health department, the ECU College of Nursing, and the Center. It was the only Latino-led HIV-nontraditional test site at the time in the state with board members involved in writing the utilization and quality assurance plan and completing applications for certified HIV testing and Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments waiver. Two board members and I attended an 8-hour training in the OraQuick screening procedure and completed a two-day state-certified course in HIV testing, counseling, and referral. Following state guidelines, board members and I conducted monthly outreach screening clinics at the local community soup kitchen and a popular Latino market.


Throughout every stage of this community-university engagement model, Center board members and university nursing faculty collaborated on need identification, program design, and implementation of grant initiatives. Enhanced community capacity has been demonstrated through increased leadership and collaboration on long-range health initiatives and through the institutionalization of a community-based HIV prevention program. During its first year, 2009-2010, the HIV-NTS outreach initiative provided HIV/AIDS education to more than 500 community members and tested 113 men and women at various community locations (see Table 2.). In addition, board members were instrumental in placing free condom dispensers at the Center and at a night club serving a large Latino population.

Perhaps one of the greatest achievements was that through the use of CBPR principles of collaboration and equity, an authentic partnership was established between Latino leaders and university faculty. Through leadership training, Center board members increased their competence with research skills in data collection and human participant protection education, and community development skills in grant-writing and program planning. University faculty strengthened the mission of the university through community engagement with a community partner. Nursing faculty acquired knowledge about the financial struggles of a small community-based non-profit organization advocating for the Latino community and the dynamic nature of board membership. Although the health of the Latino population was important to board members, holding cultural events symbolizing a proud Latino heritage to the mainstream community was equally important.

The Center’s viability was strengthened by securing funding for operating expenses and by developing a community-based intervention (i.e. HIV-nontraditional test site outreach) to address health disparities in the Latino community. Capacity building further provided skills in opening dialogue between Latino men and women on taboo topics of sexual risk behaviors and HIV/ AIDS. Board members benefited from establishing linkages with university-related resources, the ECCNL, and the local Area Health Education Center. Two board members completed a certification course through the Health Education Center in medical Spanish interpreter training. Using decision-making and priority-setting skills, the Center board members developed the first strategic plan (see Figure 1.). With Internet access, the Center expanded communication to the larger community through an electronic newsletter and a website with links to community-designed information.

Latino representation on official boards and civic groups has grown dramatically. Decisions made using the strategic plan were a regular part of each board meeting. For example, in 2009, the decision to join the local Chamber of Commerce came about after board members discussed the benefits of becoming equal players with other mainstream organizations. With a very small budget, the membership fee for the Chamber of Commerce was a concern. Board members and university partners contributed $10-$20 each to pay the $200 membership fee. A ribbon-cutting ceremony followed, which was attended by the mayor, county commissioners, The News-Argus, and dozens of residents. Many of these community members were unaware of the Center before this event. This led board members to work with the Downtown Development Corporation on a new multicultural venue “VIVA Goldsboro!” Center board members applied for and received a grant award from the Wayne County Arts Council for this event. One board member returned to school for a nursing degree. She conveyed how the partnership influenced her decision in this remark, “It was the HIV training that motivated me to go to nursing school.” At a regional health conference, this board member gave her first formal presentation on her perspective of the community-university partnership (Larson & De La Torre Fletcher, 2009). The most recent leadership opportunity came when the at-large position on the Wayne County Board of Health became available. I encouraged a Latina woman active in the Latino community to apply for the position. In February 2010, she became the first Latina member appointed to this board.


Outcomes such as these strengthen a marginalized immigrant community and transform it into part of the larger community. Capacity building shifted the power differential for these Latino leaders, giving them an equal voice and recognizing their contribution to community health.


Internal and external challenges were encountered in partnership formation and capacity building. Internal challenges were related to fluctuation in board membership. Some new board members were learning about the organization at the same time they were learning leadership skills. In addition, one board member was philosophically opposed to receiving grant monies because of the belief that funding agencies were demanding and authoritative. The board members in support of grant-funding to expand programs and services could not convince this member of the benefits and this member chose to leave the organization. According to Mr. Cartagena, board member attrition was quite high due to relocation of work, international travel, childcare and other household responsibilities, especially for the women on the board.

This was the first time board members had been responsible for financial management and accountability to funding agencies. This responsibility required a considerable amount of work for volunteer board members, most of whom had full-time employment. To alleviate some of this burden, I wrote the monthly updates and progress reports to these agencies and received approval from board members. I was also asked by board members to keep industry donors apprised of the Center’s accomplishments. These progress letters to industry donors provided evidence of the benefit of a full-time staff person at the Center.

External challenges were related to a lack of awareness of Center programs and activities by both the broader Latino community and the mainstream community. Although Spanish/ English posters and brochures were placed in strategic locations, low literacy in the adult immigrant Latino population limited awareness and thus participation. The Hispanic Community Development Center-university partnership has begun designing social marketing strategies, such as photovoice and sociodramas (Conner et al., 2005; Olshefsky, Zive, Scolari, & Zuniga, 2007; Rhodes & Hergenrather, 2007) to reach Latinos with low health literacy. These strategies are critical for reaching Latinos that are cautious about seeking assistance even from Latino advocacy groups (Ovaska, 2008; Rhodes et al., 2006).

Recognizing these challenges and believing in the adage that there is “strength in numbers,” ECU established the Nuevo South Action Research Collaborative involving university researchers from anthropology, health education, nursing, and social work to continue CBPR efforts with multiple Latino-led advocacy groups, including the Center. (Contreras, 2010).


Health inequities plague our most vulnerable populations, particularly those with language differences, limited access to care, and low health literacy. North Carolina has one of the fastest growing Latino populations in the nation (Kochar, Suro, & Tafoya, 2005), and public health professionals are acutely aware of the disproportionate incidence and prevalence of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease in this population. Between 2005 and 2009 this community-university engagement model built mutual trust and shared expertise with the aim of reducing the incidence of sexually transmitted infections in the Latino population. Using CBPR principles, the Center-university partnership expanded capacity to address the needs of the broader Latino community through the development and establishment of community partnerships. Leadership opportunities have allowed greater visibility of the contributions to the community by the Latino leaders. The local perspective is essential to CBPR efforts and at this juncture board members have increased capacity in the research process (Cochran et al., 2008; May et al., 2003). Board members now believe in their role to curb the rise of HIV in the immigrant Latino community, and take pride in establishing the first Latino-led HIV-nontraditional test site in the state. Providing HIV information and services in places like the Latino market and community soup kitchen reached women and men who would otherwise not have sought services. Moreover, when services are delivered by bilingual, compassionate, well-trained community members working in concert with public health providers, fear is lessened and access to care is opened for the most vulnerable.

This case study featured a community-university engagement model that demonstrated mutual benefits through partnership formation and capacity building. The health and social needs of the immigrant Latino community are now more apparent to mainstream community leaders in a position to mobilize greater resources to address the marginalization, poverty, stigma, and suffering experienced in rural eastern North Carolina. Like other researchers (Kim et al., 2005; McQuiston et al., 2005; Rhodes et al., 2006), we recommend widespread application of CBPR principles when working with newly arrived immigrants with assets that are often unrecognized and where organizational power could easily dominate the immigrants without understanding their culture, needs, or the stressful migration and settling in process. The CBPR principle that should receive more emphasis is the idea of building on the strengths, resources, and relationships that exist within communities of identity (Israel et al., 2003). Churches might be allies in eliminating health disparities, yet board members thought church leaders were reluctant to participate in collective engagement activities. Still, many CBPR principles were employed in this project, such as community-university co-learning, partnership development and maintenance, and a long-term commitment.

We believe these strategies could be replicated in other communities that have a growing immigrant Latino population, community-oriented, bilingual health professionals, and a university committed to community engagement.

About the Authors 

Kim Larson is an associate professor of nursing at East Carolina University. Chris McQuiston is a retired associate professor of nursing from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.


The authors wish to recognize the leadership contribution of two key board members of the Hispanic Community Development Center, Willie Cartagena and Tammy Cartagena. They were instrumental in conceptualizing, planning, and implementing each component of the community engagement research model. The authors also wish to thank the funding agencies for this project: the North Carolina Division of Health and Human Services; Hispanics in Philanthropy, Inc., and the Engagement Outreach Scholarship Academy. We appreciate the commitment of the community and academic partners who participated in this project.


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Canton Connections: A University-Community Partnership for Post-Disaster Revitalization

Glenn A. Bowen, William B. Richmond, Frank S. Lockwood, and Glenda G. Hensley


Back-to-back hurricanes prompted the creation of a partnership between Western Carolina University and an affected community in western North Carolina. The partnership was designed to promote the economic, social, and cultural revitalization of the community while creating opportunities for civic engagement and enriched student learning. The principal stakeholders in the partnership were the university and the municipal government, representing the community at large. The partners undertook several projects over a three-year period as part of a comprehensive, multifaceted initiative. In this article, the authors discuss the benefits and impact of the projects on participants and the community. They also share the insights gained and lessons learned from the initiative and comment briefly on factors inherent in effective university-community partnerships.


Natural disasters provide a special opportunity for university students to assist affected communities. Moreover, when such disasters occur, university faculty and community partners are often expected to generate knowledge from these occurrences through research (Richardson, Plummer, Barthelemy, & Cain, 2009). For the “engaged campus” (or “engaged institution”), responsiveness to the attendant needs and concerns comes naturally, reflecting a commitment to sharing institutional resources and expertise with the greater community (Edgerton, 1994; Kellogg Commission on the Future of the State and Land- Grant Universities, 1999).

In many cases, civic engagement projects are developed by individual faculty members and negotiated directly with particular community agencies. This decentralized approach is very flexible and matches the distributed decision-making rights maintained in higher education. However, because it tends to be ad hoc, such an approach often leaves gaps in the service and capacity-building support that higher education institutions could provide to their surrounding communities. The emphasis on institution-wide engagement efforts addresses that shortcoming. Furthermore, current engagement efforts demonstrate a renewed commitment to the civic responsibilities of higher education (Sandmann, Jaeger, & Thornton, 2009; Schneider, 2000).

University-community partnerships are usually based on “transactional” or “transformational” relationships (Clayton, Bringle, Senor, Huq, & Morrison, 2010, p. 6; Enos & Morton, 2003, p. 24). A transactional relationship operates within existing structures, where entities collaborate because each has something that the other perceives as useful. It is a short-term, project-based relationship with limited commitments. In contrast, a transformational relationship involves long-term, sustainable commitments that set the stage for growth and change among the parties concerned. As Clayton and her colleagues note, a university-community relationship could also be “exploitative” (i.e., so unilateral that, intentionally or unintentionally, it takes advantage of, or even harms, the parties involved).

Transactional and transformational partnerships provide a fulcrum for civic engagement projects that can be mutually beneficial. Civic engagement projects can enrich the curriculum; create new, potentially fruitful interdisciplinary linkages; and energize faculty work by raising new questions and topics for teaching and research while enhancing community capacity to address issues and solve problems that arise (American Association of State Colleges and Universities, 2002). Civic engagement gives substance to the rhetoric of partnership and positions the institution as a contributing member of the community. Further, civic engagement supports the development of “community capacity,” defined as the combined influence of a community’s commitment, resources, and skills that can be deployed to build on community strengths and address community problems (Mayer, 1995).

Building community capacity is rife with challenges. For example, cultural differences in the way a higher education institution and a community agency generate knowledge and solve problems constitute a significant challenge for effective communication and coordinated action with regard to mutual goals and shared vision (Bringle & Hatcher, 2002). Academicians view knowledge as residing in specialized experts, many of whom are geographically dispersed; community residents view knowledge as pluralistic and well distributed among their neighbors. Faculty are stereotyped as being isolated, contemplative, theoretical, and overly cautious; community leaders are action-oriented, focused on results, expansive in looking for local resources, and responsible for making day-to-day decisions about their communities (Bringle & Hatcher, 2002).

In this article, we present a case study describing a partnership between one institution and one community in the aftermath of a natural disaster. We outline the context for the initiative and the conceptual framework for our study; discuss the approaches to establishing the partnership, along with pertinent issues; and highlight several projects that were implemented. Finally, we share insights gained and lessons learned about effective university-community partnerships.

Background and Context 

In the fall of 2004, the western mountains of North Carolina bore the brunt of the remnants of two hurricanes—Frances and Ivan. Canton, the second largest town in Haywood County, was especially hard hit as the paths of the hurricanes marked an “X” over the town center. Frances and Ivan visited the area only 10 days apart, prompting the authorities to declare two states of emergency. Twenty-eight inches of rain fell into the county’s watersheds. Stream gauges placed in the Pigeon River, used to measure the great floods of 1916 and 1940, indicated record-high water levels after Frances let loose her wrath across the county, only to reveal even higher levels caused by Ivan. The “500-Year Storm” left downtown Canton under as much as 12 feet of water, destroying many businesses and closing the paper mill, thus dealing the community a stunning economic blow.

The paper mill laid off most of its 1,500 employees for more than six months. The loss of the plant’s payroll adversely affected many businesses that depended on it as their source of revenue. The mill underwent a $330 million restoration and upgrade, and after two years was back in operation. In the meantime, the General Assembly of North Carolina established the Hurricane Recovery Act of 2005. Under this legislation, the state funded a business recovery assistance program and offered low-cost loans to businesses affected by the hurricanes. The University of North Carolina’s Small Business and Technology Development Center (SBTDC) at Western Carolina University (WCU) would function as a regional business recovery assistance center. (WCU is a constituent institution of the University of North Carolina.) The SBTDC would conduct interviews with more than 60 businesses and monitor those subsequently receiving loans, mainly to replace fixtures and inventory.

By that time, although the water had receded from Canton’s physical infrastructure, it had not fully subsided from the community’s psyche. Indeed, the floods continued to have a profound impact on the economic, social, and cultural systems of the community and on the personal lives of its citizens. After nearly two years, a substantial part of the downtown area had not rebounded. Many stores remained closed and boarded up; unemployment increased and property values decreased; and the out-migration of teachers, entrepreneurs, and citizens, which started in the immediate aftermath of the hurricanes, continued at an alarming rate. By 2008, Canton’s population, which previously stood at nearly 10,000, declined to 3,900.

A WCU entrepreneurship professor (the third author) researching the impact of the hurricanes became aware of the devastation experienced in Canton and saw an opportunity for his students to enrich their education through engagement in the community’s recovery efforts. At the same time, the Community-Based Learning Initiative (CBLI) at Princeton University announced the availability of funds from a grant awarded by the Learn and Serve America program of the Corporation for National and Community Service. Community-based learning aims to enrich coursework by encouraging students to apply the knowledge and analytical skills gained in the classroom to the pressing issues faced by local communities. In response to the CBLI announcement, three members of the university’s College of Business faculty (including the second and third authors) devised a plan to develop a partnership with the Canton community, located about 35 miles from the campus. The Princeton-based program provided a small sub-grant to support the three-year (2007–2009) initiative that would eventually be called Canton Connections.

Research Method and Framework 

In our research, we used the case study method. A case study is an empirical investigation of a contemporary phenomenon within its real-life context, following systematic procedures and drawing on multiple sources of evidence (Stake, 1995; Yin, 2009). Data sources for this study were students’ reflection papers and journals, informal interviews with community members, faculty feedback, and our field notes.

A sensemaking perspective (Weick, 1995) combined with the concept of situated learning (Anderson, Reder, & Simon, 1996) provided the theoretical underpinning for our study. A sensemaking perspective focuses on how people construct meaning; it also illustrates how theories contribute to understanding community as an arena shaped by human interaction (Domahidy, 2003; Weick, 1995). Further, as Domahidy explains, sensemaking is social (engaging multiple actors in sharing their understanding of what takes place) and retrospective; and it focuses on extracted cues (i.e., elements most salient to the actors). In situated learning, learning results from a social process intricately tied to the interactions of social actors, settings, events, and processes (Anderson, Reder, & Simon, 1996). According to Domahidy, sensemaking and situated learning raise questions about forms of association and patterns of social interaction, which may be considered within a rich context of university-community partnership.

Initial Approach to the Partnership 

The Learn and Serve sub-grant proposal included an outline of a preliminary revitalization plan for the Canton community and a list of prospective collaborators. The WCU professors had selected the Canton town government as their primary external partner. Together they identified other entities to be brought into the partnership. At an early partnership meeting in the municipal government’s boardroom, the mayor presented a list of 10 action items that the town council considered important. The restoration of business operations was high on the list. During a series of follow-up meetings, the collaborators formulated their Initial Plan. At that time, the principal players in the partnership were municipal leaders (i.e., mayor, aldermen, and town manager); SBTDC; Haywood Community College; Haywood County Economic Development Center; Blue Ridge Paper; and WCU.

A number of proposed projects with a corresponding timeline were included in the plan. One of the larger projects was a museum dedicated to the paper industry, which would be a tourist attraction for the community. A vacant building that needed rehabilitation was available for this purpose. Apart from featuring a history of the paper industry, the Museum of the Art and Science of Papermaking would also house the community college’s papermaking program and provide a creative outlet for hobbyists. University and community college faculty members saw disciplinary overlaps, leveraging their students’ knowledge and skills in public history, construction management, interior design, and marketing for the benefit of the community. Another large project proposed for Canton involved helping small businesses develop recovery plans. Teams of university students taking an entrepreneurship consulting course were to assist 12 SBTDC clients who had received loans under the Hurricane Recovery Act of 2005 by developing plans that would market each business and bring back its customers.

Initial Results 

A WCU student team gathered information from towns that had experienced similar disasters and had implemented recovery plans. One such town was Franklin, Virginia, which experienced severe flooding from Hurricane Floyd in 1999. The WCU-Canton partners used information and best practices from Franklin and other towns to create a revitalization plan. In the meantime, another WCU student team worked with Haywood Community College students and faculty to develop preliminary plans for the museum. At the same time, a WCU faculty member made arrangements with the SBTDC for students to assist the unit’s clients. The students would serve as consultants, assisting business owners with identifying new target markets and preparing an advertising strategy.

An informal assessment of the initiative, conducted at the end of the first semester (spring 2007), revealed mixed results. The research done by university students yielded valuable information that could be used for planning a countywide post-disaster revitalization program. In addition, two university faculty members administering the Learn and Serve sub-grant made strong connections with the municipal administration, and the SBTDC was poised to assist with the recovery of small businesses. However, plans to establish the museum were hampered by the unsuitability of the available building and issues related to the building permit. Meanwhile, elected officials (aldermen) who had been deeply involved in the partnership failed in their reelection bid. Consequently, various community partners disagreed about how to move the project forward. Also, while the SBTDC developed productive projects with its clients, most of the clients immersed themselves in working to rescue their own businesses without the assistance of student groups. To make matters worse, Blue Ridge Paper, a major partner in the revitalization endeavor, was sold to a New Zealand company with no ties to westerm North Carolina. Whereas the former management of the paper mill had been cordial and supportive, the new managers were unresponsive to requests for meetings and discussions.

The assessment identified the lack of measures of success as a major shortcoming of the initial approach to the partnership. The assessment also revealed that communication between the Canton-based stakeholders and the university partners was hampered by conflicting schedules. Additionally, competing priorities had diverted the attention of some faculty members from the initiative to which they had made a commitment. To make matters worse, project organizers encountered resistance from some students, who were unenthusiastic about driving to Canton when there were opportunities for service-learning projects much closer to the campus.

Revised Approach 

Although the project organizers did not clearly define what success would look like, it was clear that the initial approach did not achieve the desired results. Therefore, they decided to restructure the partnership with new players from both the community and the university. The partnership would include not only elected or appointed officials but also leaders of community-based organizations as well as ordinary citizens of the community. The university representatives would include not only College of Business faculty but also faculty from other academic programs as well as the university’s service-learning administrator.

What follows is a description of the main elements of the partnership. We go on to summarize significant projects and outcomes and then to share lessons learned from the partnership experience.

Elements of the Partnership 

The revised approach to the partnership included seven elements: (1) New and renewed connections; (2) specific stakeholder roles; (3) campus-wide coordination; (4) manageable projects; (5) community-engaged pedagogy; (6) explicit learning outcomes; and (7) a capacity-building focus. We describe these elements below.

New and Renewed Connections. The faculty leaders, with support from the Canton town manager and the service-learning administrator, organized the Canton Connections Faire in fall 2007 to bring together interested campus and community members. By then, there was renewed faculty interest in the initiative. The event fostered community involvement in the development of the partnership agenda based on a shared vision of what could be achieved. University and community participants made new connections and renewed old ones.

Held in Canton’s historic Colonial Theatre, the fair featured a showcase of university programs and resources. Twenty-five members of the Canton community attended, as did a 15-member group of faculty, administrators, and students from the university. It was a veritable marketplace of ideas (Menard, 2010), as business owners, mill workers, municipal employees, elected leaders, and ordinary citizens discussed project possibilities with university representatives. Together, they identified more than 40 potential projects. The event got a good press, and the prospects were exciting. Canton representatives remarked that the university was “truly a partner” with the community, rather than the perceived ivory tower. The university sponsored a follow-up fair at the same venue near the end of the academic year (in April 2008). Project leaders highlighted the collaborative efforts and tangible results of the partnership. The event served to build understanding and a positive relationship between the university and the community.

Specific Stakeholder Roles. The principal stakeholders in the partnership were the university and the municipal government. Other stakeholders were identified and roles were specified. Municipal leaders would provide information on local economic and social issues or needs; SBTDC, supported by the Haywood County Economic Development Center, would counsel small businesses and coordinate business development projects in partnership with the U.S. Small Business Administration and the state university system; and WCU would coordinate the partnership and engage students, supported by faculty, in community-based projects. The university also would take the lead in ensuring regular communication among the collaborators.

Campus-wide Coordination. After the faculty leaders from the College of Business assessed early results of the initiative, they decided to transfer administration of the Learn and Serve sub-grant and coordination of the fledgling partnership to the Center for Service Learning. An academic support unit, the center promotes course-based community service and functions as the campus clearinghouse for engagement opportunities in the wider community. The center was better suited to building the necessary relationships across campus and with the Canton community to advance the revitalization plan. Moreover, the center would be able to monitor ongoing projects, track the outcomes of the grant-funded work, and submit regular reports to the funding agency.

Manageable Projects. The collaborators agreed to maintain Canton Connections as a comprehensive, multifaceted initiative that would support post-disaster revitalization of the community. Shortly after the first Canton Connections Faire (in spring 2008), the collaborators started eight projects. Four were dropped mainly because the project scope was too large to fit the semester’s schedule. In addition, the 45-minute drive between the university campus and the mill town proved problematic in relation to the class schedule. The university and community collaborators decided to concentrate on short-term, manageable projects with an eye to long-term projects as circumstances changed.

Community-Engaged Pedagogy. Faculty members teaching a variety of courses were offered opportunities to employ community-engaged pedagogical strategies focused on collaboration with Canton. Community-based learning could take the form of service-learning, undergraduate/community-based research, practicum, or senior capstone.

The strategy most widely embraced was service learning, which connects community and curriculum by integrating relevant service into courses of study (Bowen, 2008; Bringle & Hatcher, 2002). With its experiential and reflection components, service learning facilitates opportunities for applied learning beyond what is possible in traditional college classes. University students and faculty have been known for their service-learning projects in post-hurricane situations (Richardson et al., 2009; Steiner & Sands, 2000). For example, after Hurricane Floyd caused devastating losses in eastern North Carolina (in fall 1999), a medical school modified its curriculum to allow students to aid flood-affected communities while fulfilling learning objectives (Steiner & Sands, 2000).

Explicit Learning Outcomes. In the curriculum framework for the partnership initiative, the participating course instructors specified learning outcomes that reflected both disciplinary and liberal-learning perspectives. Liberal-learning outcomes include intellectual and practical skills (e.g., inquiry and analysis, critical and creative thinking, effective written and oral communication, teamwork, and problem solving); personal and social responsibility (including civic knowledge and engagement); and integrative learning (demonstrated through the application of knowledge, skills, and responsibilities to new settings and complex problems). The Association of American Colleges and Universities (2007) lists these outcomes as essential for university students. Theatre students, for example, would hone their performance techniques while developing critical- and creative-thinking skills.

Capacity-Building Support. Capacity building brings social actors together to identify and address complex community issues. It involves developing, utilizing, and retaining knowledge, skills, and abilities; setting goals and planning strategies; and identifying constraints. The WCU-Canton initiative supported efforts to build community capacity for social, cultural, and economic revitalization. In support of civic engagement goals, the partnership organizers emphasized the need to enhance community capacity to address issues and solve problems that would inevitably arise (American Association of State Colleges and Universities, 2002), beyond the life of the existing partnership.

Significant Projects and Outcomes

Several significant projects were implemented as part of the revitalization efforts in Canton. Faculty and students from the College of Fine and Performing Arts and the Kimmel School of Construction Management and Technology joined College of Business students as participants in service-learning projects in the hurricane-affected community. One notable project brought life back to the town’s theatre; another addressed a need identified by the local credit union; and a third supported the improvement of the local government’s building permit process. Three small businesses benefited from engineering and technology projects.

Participating students were required to summarize, analyze, and synthesize their experiences vis-à-vis learning objectives. Some students used wiki technology to create interlinked web pages that allowed them to reflect on the lessons learned from their community-based projects. Others documented their experiences and responses in journals or reflection papers.

Theatre Productions. Canton officials and WCU representatives discussed the need to bring patrons back to the Colonial Theatre, which was a vital part of the community’s cultural life. The municipality acquired the 347-seat facility in 1998. The theatre first opened in 1932 and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2000. Before the floods, the municipality spent $1.2 million to renovate the building and its fixtures. After the floods, it spent an additional $2 million to restore the facility.

The university’s Theatre in Education (TIE) program came into the picture. At WCU, TIE was a liberal studies course designed with a sharp focus on service and engaged learning. The TIE company consisted of students from theatre, art, music, and education, who took responsibility for all aspects of a production. TIE faculty served as mentors, encouraging the students to make all creative decisions and to reflect critically on their decisions.

The TIE company collaborated directly with partners in Canton to resolve a number of technical issues as they promoted and prepared for the first of two productions. Before too long, it became clear that cultivating the partnership was a worthy priority for the TIE company as it would contribute considerably to the participants’ theatre production know-how. The company staged “Dogwood’s Search” (in summer 2008) and “Tales of Trickery” (in spring 2009) in the Colonial Theatre. Nine students contributed approximately 90 hours of their time to the first production; 20 students (mainly upper-level performance majors) were involved in the second, logging nearly 200 hours. For “Tales of Trickery,” the students were enrolled in a three-hour course (taught in the fall) followed by a two-hour practicum (in the spring), highlighted by the “tour” in the Canton community. They staged the latter production with support from the university’s Gamelan Orchestra and attracted dozens of area middle-school students. The TIE company played to full houses and provided curricular support material to teachers in attendance.

In their reflection papers, participating students reported that they gained significant appreciation for the Canton community, its citizens, and its revitalization goals. Follow-up discussions showed that the students “get it,” according to one of their professors. Evaluators observed that the first production, in particular, empowered students’ sense of advocacy as emerging artists and educators and prepared them for post-performance discussions at a conference of the American Alliance for Theatre and Education in ways superior to class discussions. The students developed critical-thinking skills and creative abilities while honing their production and performance techniques.

Credit Union Project. The local credit union wanted to introduce a new financial product to benefit community youth. A professor of finance restructured his course to incorporate the proposed project because he thought it would help his students develop appropriate skills for working with a client and understanding a community’s financial needs.

Sixteen students took on the challenge of researching, analyzing, and defining an appropriate product for the credit union. After completing about 60 hours of work, they presented a report in which they recommended a special credit card offering for young people. The credit union accepted and implemented the recommendation as part of its operating strategy. As a result, membership in the credit union increased. The students gained real-world experience on a project typically handled by experienced consultants. As reported by their course instructor, “the students projected [a sense of] empowerment, and all were successful in the spring job market.”

Building Permits. Canton’s chief building inspector requested that an information system be developed to enable his office to manage the building permit process more efficiently. The manual process being used was time-consuming; assembling the reports required by the county was onerous. Computer information systems (CIS) faculty embraced the opportunity to incorporate a relevant project in three classes over two semesters. In the first semester, a team of students taking both a systems analysis and design course and a database management course analyzed the business processes and defined the system requirements. They also designed the system and database for the building inspector’s office. In the following semester, as part of a CIS capstone, the same student team developed the system that they had designed with faculty supervision.

The students made presentations to the staff in the building inspector’s office. After a few changes were made to what they proposed, the new system was pressed into service. The students had spent about 340 hours on this relatively large project, which provided them with experience in the full software development lifecycle. They had learned to work as a team on a real project for a real client and to be responsive to the client’s requirements. Moreover, as the project assessment revealed, the students developed project management skills. In the end, they also better understood the role of information systems in delivering governmental services efficiently and effectively. The course instructors concluded that multi-semester, multi-course projects were feasible, offering advantages in terms of a systematic process of project identification, development, and completion.

Engineering and Technology Projects. As a complement to their regular coursework, engineering and technology students, based in the Kimmel School, completed three projects to support businesses in the community. Learning outcomes from these projects included the ability to analyze and summarize research findings and make effective presentations. One group of students assisted the Canton facility of a company that manufactures lightweight aluminum components for the heavy-duty transportation industry. That group conducted a study of a component inventory and organization for warehousing and manufacturing, and made applicable recommendations. Another group of students completed a warehouse overstock analysis for the local operations of a fiber-based packaging solutions company. The students submitted reports that included a cost analysis and suggestions for handling warehouse overstock. The third project entailed a space utilization study to determine the feasibility for expansion of a small machining company.

In their reflections, students noted that they “made connections between learning, experiences, and skills” and “learned to transform knowledge into actions to benefit the greater community.” The “opportunity to engage in collaboration and problem solving” was also meaningful to students.

Other Projects. Students as well as faculty were involved in the implementation of other projects. A small student team volunteered to help in creating a hiking trail for the Canton community. Reflecting on that project, one student said she “felt it was [her] civic duty” to lend a helping hand while another mentioned his “small contribution to help improve [residents’] health and well-being.” Art students visited the community and proposed the creation of murals, which they would design as part of a service-learning project. At the same time, faculty offered their expertise as consultants to community-based organizations, and small-business program administrators assisted merchants in developing business recovery plans.

As the initiative drew to a close, community members expressed appreciation for the support received at a time when they needed it most, and municipal leaders regarded the partnership as “fruitful.” According to the town manager, Canton benefited from “public exposure” and received a “feather in our cap.” The community had gained access to the knowledge and resources of the university through collaboration with faculty, administrators, and students.

Insights Gained and Lessons Learned 

We evaluated the overall partnership experience by means of informal interviews, observations, and a review of relevant documents, such as students’ reflection papers and journals. Guided by our experience as practitioners and scholars, we constructed meaning from the qualitative data analyzed and then elicited feedback from partnership collaborators.

From a sensemaking perspective (Weick, 1995), we have come to understand and appreciate that process should sometimes be valued as much as, if not more than, outcomes. In retrospect, while many of the original goals of the Canton initiative were not accomplished, engaging meaningfully in the social process of collaboration was itself an accomplishment. Collaboration was based on a common agenda, purposeful activities, regular communication, an incremental approach, and collective responsibility.

Project-related activities encouraged increased interaction among community members, facilitated student rapport with faculty, and fostered reciprocal relationships between the community and the university as a whole. The community-based projects “took us out of our comfort zone” and “made learning come alive” (students); “enhanced the learning experience” (faculty member); “connected the community with the university” (municipal leader); and “created a good picture of an engaged institution” (administrator). As researchers, we gained valuable insights into the pitfalls and promises of a university-community partnership.

The partnership that developed between WCU and Canton was based on a transactional relationship, designed to be instrumental in the completion of specific projects (Clayton, et al., 2010; Enos & Morton, 2003). This was more appropriate than the long-term, transformational relationship sometimes advocated by proponents of campus-community partnerships. Transformational relationships are clearly appropriate and desirable when all partners are seeking change and growth. In this case, the partnership was focused on the revival of the community. Consistent with previous research (Bringle & Hatcher, 2002), we found that cultural differences in the way a university and a community entity produce knowledge and solve problems posed a challenge for coordinated action toward mutual ends. In this regard, our faculty colleagues were sometimes slow to respond to requests, and some indicated that their departments did not seem to value interdisciplinary work.

In a situated learning context (Anderson, Reder, & Simon, 1996), the partnership experience generated several insights and lessons:

• Establishing and maintaining a university-community partnership is a demanding enterprise. It requires coordination by professional staff, who can serve as liaisons among various constituencies, including students, faculty, administrators, and community partners.

• Creating a social marketplace of ideas (Menard, 2010) to gather information and share ideas on proposed projects is an effective approach to university-community collaboration.

• Project planners need to be mindful of the possibility of faculty or student resistance because of time and travel constraints. It is important also to recognize the unpredictable nature of community-based work and the need to provide flexible scheduling options for faculty and students.

• Community issues often call for collaborative problem solving, drawing on the knowledge, perspectives, and skills of diverse disciplines and programs. In our view, a major community-support initiative, coordinated across disciplines and departments, has a better chance of success than projects by academics acting independently. Institutions that value engagement with their surrounding communities should recognize and reward faculty for pursuing interdisciplinary work.

• Assigning clear roles and responsibilities to stakeholders is a fundamental element of a successful partnership.

• Regular, frequent communication between university and community partners is essential to the success of a partnership.

• Community-based (civic engagement) projects allow students to apply knowledge and skills gained in the classroom to real-world issues. Projects can help to build higher-order skills such as critical thinking, analysis, and problem solving.


Canton Connections represents one university’s attempt to foster collaboration aimed at revitalizing a community affected by a natural disaster. The intention behind the partnership was to facilitate the implementation of a variety of projects that would help to breathe new life into the community while simultaneously enhancing student learning. The WCU-Canton partnership achieved some measure of success, as evidenced by the projects completed and the learning outcomes realized. Through practical approaches and instrumental action, students addressed issues that benefited the community in small, immediate ways. The extent to which the partnership was instrumental in sustaining social and economic renewal through community capacity building is yet to be determined.

For future initiatives of this kind, we recommend that measures of success be defined clearly and expectations discussed thoroughly by all concerned. It is important, from the outset, that stakeholder roles and responsibilities be clarified, community-wide support be mobilized, and participants communicate regularly with one another. It is important, too, that projects be given visibility and the accomplishments of the partnership be reported frequently on the campus and in the community. All of these factors contribute to the effectiveness of a partnership.

In the final analysis, an effective partnership is fundamentally one that is greater than the sum of its parts. It is characterized by synergy among stakeholders, who work collectively to achieve objectives to which they are all committed. In post-disaster situations, higher education institutions can make knowledge socially responsive and demonstrate good institutional citizenship by initiating partnerships that ultimately help to build community capacity and capabilities.

About the Authors 

Glenn A. Bowen was, until recently, director of the Center for Service Learning at Western Carolina University. He may be reached at William B. Richmond and Frank S. Lockwood are associate professors in the College of Business at Western Carolina University and were among co-authors of the Learn and Serve sub-grant proposal for Canton Connections. Glenda G. Hensley is director of First-Year Experiences and a co-founder/director of the Western Carolina University Theatre in Education program.


The authors acknowledge, with appreciation, their collaboration with Canton Town Manager A.B. “Al” Matthews. We also appreciate the support of university colleagues, including Dr. Robert Anderson and Dr. Austin Spencer, as well as the Office of Public Relations. We extend a special thanks to the Community-Based Learning Initiative at Princeton University for providing funds to support Canton Connections.


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