Teaching and Learning in Community: Staff-Student Learning Partnerships As Part of a College Education

“On-campus partnership between students and college employees proves to be a valuable educational experience with both groups undergoing change.” 

Alice Lesnick 

This paper offers descriptive analyses of two staff-student educational partnership programs of the Teaching and Learning Initiative (TLI) at Bryn Mawr College. The focal programs partner college employees with undergraduate students in unique, reciprocal learning partnerships and student-mentored introductory staff computing courses. While community engagement traditionally focuses attention beyond the campus and identifies off-campus community members as beneficiaries of college students’ efforts, these programs focus on students’ relationships with people whose labor sustains the campus in egalitarian, collaborative, educational experiences. In focusing this argument on the educational benefits of such experiences to students, I explore the connections to liberal education. I also argue that intra-campus community engagement enhances students’ understandings and capacities to challenge limiting hierarchies and divisions. I further argue that this kind of engagement enables students to learn within and across diversity, while developing as people and leaders of campus-based civic initiatives.

“The conversations I have with Maria are often on quite scholarly subjects, which is interesting because these conversations are in direct opposition to a very unfortunate, but very common, stereotype about people who hold service jobs. College students—at every college I’ve ever visited—often hold very elitist opinions about workers in service positions and frequently use rather pejorative terms when talking about them.… The common idea that the job you hold is directly related to your level of intelligence or your personal worth is ludicrous. I wonder, however, how many people even at Bryn Mawr College believe this ridiculous stereotype, and how staff-student learning partnerships would be able to break that idea down. While elitism isn’t confined to college campuses, they are prime places to test out ways to eliminate it and to produce people who will fight it. While this might be a little much to ask of a simple staff-student learning partnership, I don’t think I’m exaggerating the impact of these partnerships by suggesting that they might have that effect.” 

—Student, spring 2006, writing about her educational partnership with a member of the housekeeping staff at Bryn Mawr College

Introduction: Staff and Students as Teachers and Learners
Studying at college without engaging beyond functional roles with the people who work there distorts students’ understandings of where they are, what they are doing, and the social and political relationships that underlie their activities. It also obscures what they can achieve in relation to, rather than in ignorance of, the people whose work literally makes their studies possible. As a response to this common problem, campus-based civic engagement is an important part of liberal studies.

At Bryn Mawr College, a small liberal arts college in the northeastern United States, undergraduate students and college staff members collaborate as teachers and learners through their participation in the Teaching and Learning Initiative (TLI). The students claim a variety of majors, backgrounds, and ages (though most are of traditional college age). The staff comes from a variety of departments including Housekeeping, Dining Services, Public Safety and Transportation, and Facilities. The two faculty coordinators (including the author) are professors of education who believe that teaching and learning occur in most human interactions and occupations (Lesnick, Cohen, & Cook- Sather 2007). Collaborating with these faculty and staff are many campus colleagues, including administrative leaders, variously positioned staff, and students who participate in and help lead the project.

This paper explores how two of TLI’s staff- student educational programs support students’ engagement with what Schneider (2004) calls the “liberal arts of practice”: (p. 4) inquiry and intellectual judgment, social responsibility and civic engagement, and integrative and culminating learning. The goal of this paper is to contribute to the conversation about how a college may, and why it should, model educational structures and practices that connect all campus community members to the college’s educational mission and enable diverse people to participate and reflect as subjects in the educational process. I will argue that such modeling is best understood as part of undergraduate education, rather than as a complement to or extension of it.

Student participants in the ELP and computing programs report significant benefits of their participation to their education. For the purposes of this discussion, I highlight several overlapping areas of student development, each of which shares in the liberal arts of practice:

  • New Understandings and Experiences of Learning
  • Social and Emotional Growth
  • Increased Awareness of Social Positioning

In the discussion that follows, each area is discussed, together with a synthesis of their significance to the liberal arts of practice.

While a focus on staff members’ experiences is beyond the scope of this paper, I do not mean to suggest that students are dominant in the exchange of teaching and learning. From the outset of the staff-student branch of the TLI (discussed in Cohen, Lesnick, & Himeles, 2007), stakeholders have rejected the frame of “community service” or “service-learning” that would position the staff as beneficiaries of service on the part of students and the college. Instead, we have chosen to describe our efforts as “community building.” The mutual respect of a learning partnership, as well as the support afforded staff (through two hours paid release time per week for the semester) and students (through an hourly wage or field work credit), expresses the founding principle that each partner’s contribution is equal and worthy of recognition, and that no matter how they are positioned by the institutional division of labor, each is both a giver and a receiver.

While staff members at all institutional levels, service/craft, clerical/technical, and administrative/professional, are active in the TLI, this paper focuses on educational partnerships and mentoring relationships between students and service/craft staff. Given the position of service/ craft employment within campus hierarchies, staff in these occupations are especially subject to the elitist attitudes like those discussed by a student in the opening of this article. Further, the positions of the staff render it more likely for the knowledge and skills that enable their work, and that go beyond it, to remain invisible.

Theoretical Context
Until recently, colleges and universities themselves have not been considered sites of civic engagement (New England Resource Center for Higher Education, 2003), as service-learning and community-based research have been understood mainly to apply to communities beyond the campus. This is changing. In the words of Anderson (2003), co-founder of Learning for Life (L4L), a student-staff educational partnership program at Swarthmore College that pioneered this approach, “By conceiving of service as that which only serves those outside the immediate college community, we risk failing to recognize the needs of those who work among us” (p. 47). Importantly, we also risk failing to recognize the strengths and contributions—within and beyond institutional role and paid job function—of college employees and the needs and desires of staff, students, and faculty to relate to one another in ways that affirm our shared humanity and engage productively with the hierarchies and divisions around race, class, age, and formal education on and off campus.

Anderson (2003) speaks to this broader set of needs and desires in concluding that, through educational partnerships, “A mutuality of learning and teaching has brought students and staff close to what it means to be ‘liberally’ educated and educating…. This is perhaps the noblest and most lofty of liberal arts college goals” (p. 53). At the time of its enactment, Anderson’s and her colleagues’ participatory assessment of L4L focused on the experiences of staff members [“At this time we are less interested in research findings about students than about staff (p. 53)”], because they saw students as already beneficiaries of privilege and oriented toward progressive change and service-learning. In the context of this prior work, this paper focuses on the educational impact on students, as reported by students, of teaching and learning with staff.

While colleges often speak of being sources of new knowledge and thinking, education at all levels too often amounts to teaching students to divide the world (Willinsky, 1998) by ranking different traditions, forms of work, and people. These lessons are not always the product of instruction; they result from the social organization of work. They undermine the “sensitivity and alertness” (Nussbaum 2003, p. 8) to the experience of others, without which people cannot be well educated as global citizens.

In response to this challenge, educators are rethinking the unproductive opposition of scholarship and practice. Schneider, president of the American Association of Colleges and Universities, identifies three formative themes that integrate study and action through the “liberal arts of practice” (p. 3): inquiry and intellectual judgment; social responsibility and civic engagement; and integrative learning. While these pursuits in various guises are not new to liberal education, in today’s educational climate they are newly visible, and valuable, as evidenced by growing media attention such as the “College Guide” published by Washington Monthly (2006), which ranks institutions by “how much a school is benefiting the country” (p. 1). The editors define such benefit in terms of three indicators:

  • How well it performs as an engine of social mobility
  • How well it does in fostering scientific and humanistic research
  • How well it promotes an ethic of service to country.

Notably, Bryn Mawr College was ranked first in this list of liberal arts college when TLI was launched in 2006. Schneider’s first theme, “inquiry and intellectual judgment,” focuses on “the thoughtful and creative use of human reason; …From intensive first-year seminars on liberal arts topics to writing in the disciplines programs to undergraduate research to senior capstone projects and courses, colleges and universities are pioneering new educational practices clearly intended to teach all students how to make sense of complexity, how to find and use evidence, and how to apply their knowledge to new and unscripted questions” (p. 3).

The staff/student partnerships of the TLI carry the educational goals of the liberal arts of practice beyond the traditionally conceived classroom to include new structures and people previously excluded and invisible. Critical thinking, imagination, and judgment are engaged as students collaborate with staff to create respectful, reciprocal relationships and reenvision the college in organizational terms.

Schneider’s second theme, “social responsibility and civic engagement,” focuses on collaborative problem-solving and problemfinding. “Faculty at every kind of college and university are providing students with real-world experience and rich opportunities to address social problems in cooperation with others. Collaborative, intercultural, and community- based learning are the new civic frontiers for our twenty-first century world of diversity, contestation, and inescapable interdependence” (p. 4).

The TLI gives staff and student participants new access to one another’s experiences and perspectives. In Anderson’s terms, it seeks to be both “learner centered” and “community centered” (2003, p. 57). By fostering one-to-one relationships and a range of collaborative forums for planning, consultation, decision-making, and assessment, the TLI provides a framework for community building in which people’s social positionings may be better understood and become less narrow and isolating.

Schneider’s third formative theme is “integrative and culminating learning,” the deliberate fostering of connection rather than dichotomization between disciplines, theories, and practices and personal, scholarly, and professional pursuits. The TLI attempts to make integrative learning a resource for all campus community members by lowering traditional disciplinary and status barriers to owning, seeking, and sharing knowledge, thus forging new connections and ideas.

Context of the Study: Introducing the Teaching and Learning Initiative
The TLI was designed by a diverse, voluntary campus team to create new structures and spaces within which all members of the campus community collaborate as teachers and learners (Cohen, Lesnick, & Himeles, 2007). Financial support for the initiative reflects its boundary-crossing and collaborative commitments. Different parts of it are supported variously by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and Bryn Mawr College’s chief administrative officer, provost, chief information officer and Office of Intercultural Affairs. The TLI has three main branches: student-faculty work, staff-staff work, and staff-student work. Each branch has several distinctive projects stemming from it. Through the TLI, students serve as consultants to faculty on matters of pedagogy in which students, by virtue of their position, have deep experience and important insight (Cook-Sather, 2008; 2009). Particular programs within the faculty-student branch of the TLI address new faculty, experienced faculty working to meet the ongoing challenge of gathering student feedback on courses, and faculty concerned particularly with culturally relevant pedagogy. The TLI also fosters opportunities for staff members to teach and learn from one another by creating communities of learning in various offices and departments. Finally, the TLI connects students with staff members in teaching and learning partnerships, called Empowering Learners Partnerships, in student-mentored introductory computing courses for staff, and in adult literacy and continuing education programs. During the period reported on here, I served as Faculty Coordinator of these programs, together with two student co-coordinators/ research assistants.

A few snapshots of the Empowering Learners Partnership (ELP):
In a campus dining hall after the Sunday lunch rush, a student and a staff member in Dining Services meet in the office adjacent to the kitchen to conduct Web research about Islam. He is teaching her about his beliefs and practice as a Sunni Muslim; she is teaching him about computer security and keyboarding. Next time they meet will be to attend a campus lecture about Islam. 

A housekeeper teaches a student a range of arts and crafts techniques that she herself uses in a craft business she maintains. The student teaches the housekeeper how to download and email digital photos and introduces her to the social networking site Facebook, which she now uses to keep in touch with friends, students, and alumni she knows through her work in the dormitories. 

A rowing coach teaches a student the basics of pottery, which the coach has pursued as a hobby but never taught. The student teaches the staff member how to create a Web page using MySpace and together they chronicle their learning partnership online. 

As these examples illustrate, the ELP pairs a student and a staff member as teaching and learning partners to access one another’s particular experiences and interests. The staff-student pairs work in unique 10-14 week partnerships with financial support from the College (staff participants get two hours paid release time per week; students are paid hourly, as well, or are afforded field work credit for selected Education courses) and program support from TLI leaders. A faculty and a student co-coordinator help partners identify a focal subject to teach and a focal learning area that relate to their interests and goals. The partners meet two hours weekly, one hour for each subject, and track their activities and questions through weekly reflection logs as well as midcourse and final assessments with Program staff. Student participants meet for an additional hour of reflection each week; staff, students, and faculty collaborate in the program advisory committee. The 49 unique partnerships that have taken place to date have focused on such exchanges as: Greek cooking/research skills; woodcarving/email literacy; fresh fish preparation/Biblical diction and syntax; baking/ house painting; PowerPoint/Tae Kwon Do; and Bulgarian language introduction/ESL.

Computing 1, 2, and 3 were designed to help College staff gain access to computer basics and the College’s electronic communication system and to recognize their right to use the educational and electronic resources of the campus. Again, a few snapshots:

In the library’s computer training room, three students are mentoring three staff members as they learn to use email and gain access to the College’s computer communications system. Two of the staff are public safety officers, each with over 20 years of service to the College. The third is a young man who works in Dining Services. For the past three years he has worked side by side with his student mentor, a student employee in Dining Services. He has joined the computer training class, having learned of it at a celebration for prior participants; he now plans to teach his son what he has learned and is beginning to use the Internet to pursue his interest in music.

In the college’s alumni house and restaurant, a student is helping the staff member who works as the hostess practice checking her email and sending messages. The student has stopped by at the end of the work day, at around 6 p.m., in response to the staff member’s phone call asking for assistance. Both the staff member and student rejoice in their new friendship and in the staff member’s status as an insider in the world of electronic communication.

At the celebration of this cohort’s completion of the program, one of the students and one of the public safety officers perform a song they have co-written and digitally recorded. Two housekeepers from the more advanced computer course give PowerPoint presentations of their learning in the second level computer course. One housekeeper shares her new blog.

Computing 1 is a course co-designed by administrators, faculty, staff, and students with the goal of ensuring that all members of the College community can develop essential digital literacy. Designed with institutional and personal needs and opportunities in mind, the course meets once per week during the academic year; students and staff meet for an additional hour per week for one-on-one mentoring in which the staff members practice and extend their skills.

Computing 2 was created in the spring semester of 2007 in response to requests from staff to continue their computer education. This class meets twice a week to teach the basics of Microsoft Word. Staff learn about software, word processing, how to write a letter, a memo and a brochure in Word, saving files, inserting pictures into text documents, how to change fonts, and other Microsoft Office skills. Computing 3 is an independent study program through which individuals or pairs of staff work with a mentor and a technology specialist on a specially designed project. To date, two members of the housekeeping department have studied Web design and Contribute in order to begin creating a housekeeping department Web page. A staff member in Dining Services has studied Web navigation in order to plan for a Web page for his woodworking business.

In addition to the ELP and computing courses, two further TLI programs bring students and staff together in educational partnerships. Each program has arisen through the collaboration of administrative and faculty leaders, staff participants, and students. The programs include:

  • Reading, Writing, and Communication—a partnership program through which staff interested in developing literacy skills work with other staff, students, or faculty mentors using the twice-weekly model.
  • Continuing Education—a partnership program designed to provide coaching and informational support to staff seeking to complete a first degree: GED, Associate’s, or B.A.

The computing and ELP programs began at the same time, and the planning team chose to adopt two different paradigms for staff education: one more traditional in its training process and one open-ended. We have hoped, and found, that the existence of both models proves generative.

This paper is a descriptive analysis of students’ reflections on the impact of the two original programs, the Empowering Learners Partnership and computing. Since their inception in January 2006, 91 staff members (out of a staff of 500) from dining services, public safety and transportation, housekeeping, athletics, facilities, and the president’s house, and 82 students have participated in a total of 99 partnerships through these two programs.

With IRB approval and in the role of faculty coordinator of staff-student partnerships, I began a program assessment in January 2006. The goal of this assessment, which I undertook as a form of action research, grew out of goals resonant with Carr’s and Kemmis’s general definition:

“Action research is simply a form of self- reflective enquiry undertaken by participants in social situations in order to improve the rationality and justice of their own practices, their understanding of these practices, and the situations in which the practices are carried out” (Carr & Kemmis, 1986, p. 162).

I sought to explore the significance of program participation to the students in it, and to contribute, via a descriptive analysis, language that might help others within the community and beyond it interpret and assess the import of the program in the context of a college education.


Data Collection
The data for this assessment came from reflective processes built into the program. These reflective processes included weekly reflective logs completed by student participants, required as part of program participation, and non-graded field notes students completed as part of field work when their program participation counted toward an Education course I teach. They also included notes I took while facilitating weekly, hour-long reflective discussions among student participants. These discussions, part of program participation for students, took place outside of any formal course structure. Additionally, the course itself included discussion of students’ experiences in the program and the preparation by students of more formal written analyses of their experiences in the program. These discussions and formal written analyses were part of the data set.

Most quoted material in this descriptive analysis comes from individual students’ reflective logs, though a small amount comes from in-class and reflective discussion and, in three cases, a formal course paper. Specifically, the data set for this study encompasses the following kinds of documentation: 47 participant reflective logs, written by 14 students who participated in ELP and computing partnerships in 2006 as a paid campus position. These logs consist of 1-2 paragraph, weekly reflections on students’ activities, successes, challenges, and questions through the partnership and transcribed audiotapes of fall 2006 class sessions of an undergraduate education course, Education 225: Empowering Learners: Theory and Practice of Extra-Classroom Teaching. The audiotaped class sessions represent sessions that took place after the IRB approved the study and that focused on students’ presentations and discussions of their work with the Empowering Learners program. In this course, five students, out of the 14 whose logs were included in the data set described above, were active in the program as a course field placement.

Also included were:

  • 11 sets of field notes I took during fall, 2006 during weekly reflective meetings among student program participants (those doing the work as campus employment or as a course field placement).
  • Seven course papers written by 5 students involved in partnerships as course field work during 2006. These papers were in fulfillment of assignments for which students were required or allowed to analyze field experiences. The 5 students whose work was included in the data set were those whose field work was the TLI.

In addition to the material above, I had access to the following supplementary data sources that I read and considered repeatedly, and discussed with student co-coordinators/research assistants, during the process of formulating the focal areas for this paper. I used them as reference points for triangulating my evolving interpretations during 2007, a year-long period of data analysis and writing, and during 2008 and 2009, through revising the arguments and accounts presented in this paper:

  • Four sets of minutes and transcripts from once-per-semester meetings, two held in 2006 and two held in 2007,of the program’s advisory board( a cross-campus group of 16 stakeholders including representatives from staff, student, and faculty)
  • 13 observations I conducted of individual partnership meetings, during which staff and students taught and learned their focal topics.

Data Analysis
The analyses reported here derive from constant comparison/grounded theory methods (Creswell, 2006; Glaser & Strauss, 1967; Strauss, 1987) and member checking in the form of critical feedback on successive drafts from five student participants and three staff and faculty stakeholders to arrive at focal themes and framing literature. The process of data analysis occurred over the course of a year. The author and the two student program co-coordinators/ research assistants met weekly that year to discuss and categorize the data listed above. The process of preparing interim program reports, and planning for and experiencing advisory board meetings and biannual program celebrations, also served as opportunities to name themes relevant to student learning. Such is the process of action research, which is undertaken in the context of ongoing participation in the study context. Ultimately, this process, a blend of analytic and experiential engagement not possible to replicate literally, led to the themes discussed here.

Some categories that the group generated, such as “risks and barriers to program participation,” “conceptions of space (public, private, open, hidden),” and “access to campus resources,” did not prove important to the focus on student learning, while others, such as “re-framing knowledge,” “new knowledge and skills,” “communication,” “humility,” “friendship,” “patience,” “giving/gifts,” “reseeing self and others” were resonant with the evolving focus on student learning. Categories such as “learning about teaching” and “inquiring into adult learning,” while generative for a consideration framed by teacher preparation, did not ultimately connect with the framework of the “liberal arts of practice” which a later review of literature suggested would be a useful analytic frame for this paper. Schneider’s discussion of judgment, engagement, and integration as central to this frame suggested the value of analytic categories able to distinguish and clarify possible connections between cognitive, relational, and intra-personal arenas of learning. Given this frame, I settled on the three categories used here—one focused on “new understandings and experiences of learning” (extensions of and reflections on education), one focused on “social and emotional growth” (the affective dimension of learning), and one focused on “increased awareness of social positioning” (the political context of learning)—to maintain a focused yet inclusive examination of students’ perspectives on the impact of program participation on their learning.


Impact of TLI Participation on Students’ Learning
In this section I discuss three inter-connected forms of students’ learning through the programs: new understandings and experiences of learning; social and emotional growth; and increased awareness of social positioning. The discussion of these results is situated in terms of the goals of liberal education.

New Understandings and Experiences of Learning
Educational collaboration with staff brings students new experiences and understandings— and uses—of learning, the chief goal of undergraduate study. An illustrative case in point concerns the student who learned about Islam from a staff member who practiced it was also taking college courses in Religion. The student’s reflective logs during this partnership show how her academic study of Islam was informed by the perspective of practice and a practitioner. As she wrote, “I was able to grasp a better understanding of some of the daily things that must be taken in consideration if one is living his life as a Muslim.” She also gained familiarity with source material oriented to practitioners: “I learned the five pillars of Islam, the six articles of faith, and he also directed me to an amazing website (islamicfinder. com) that has a lot of information about Islam. It has prayer times, the direction you should be facing when you pray, books, etc.”

In another reflective log, the student commented on the intellectual fruitfulness of a dialogue with her partner about the challenge of following traditions in contemporary times:

We discussed one of my major concerns about Islam and organized religion in general: Is it necessary to follow certain religious traditions especially when they seem so disconnected from this current time and this current place? Although I believe that there are many religious traditions that we cannot relate to because we are in a different society, my partner mentioned that he still believes these laws still should be followed.

In another log, the student discussed how by learning more about her partner’s life, she was able to understand better what it means to claim a Muslim identity:

This week I learned that as teacher, a lot of times your daily agenda may not go as exactly as planned. It is important to have the space for there to be additions to your schedule, and today I learned that those additions can be great. I was able to speak with my partner with some issues that he is currently facing in his life.

This student’s discourse for her learning is rich and complex. As a teacher, she thinks through the need for flexibility and responsiveness in an education partnership, alert to the relevance of personal knowledge to the broader project of studying Islam. She integrates her roles as teacher and learner and demonstrates the value of communication and trust. Her inquiry into Islam is enriched by her partner’s experience and framing.

In addition to enriching their knowledge of areas already under study, TLI students working with staff develop skills in areas that they might not otherwise explore (such as cooking, woodcarving, crafts, ceramics, aspects of physical education). Pursuing inquiry in such unfamiliar domains allows students to better understand what is entailed in learning. As a student who participated in a group ELP between three students and three staff from the Facilities Department commented in her weekly log, “Really awesome. We learned to re-wire a lamp and talked about what we could teach them. Next week I’ll prepare to speak on China.” Another student, learning from a staff member how to prepare and cook fresh fish, wrote, “I had trouble filleting a whole fish—and my end products were not fit to eat!!” Claiming new realms and re-claiming knowledge of familiar ones generates engagement, excitement, and both new sense of expertise or something to share, in some cases, and humility in others.

Creating educative relationships with staff helps student experience disentangle learning from an exclusive, commonplace focus on achievement. One student explained, “I was more accepting of different appearances of traditional intelligence because I had a better sense of myself and didn’t feel as though I needed constant affirmation. I was calm and reflective, instead of anxious and high-strung” (course paper). As students support others’ learning and critically reflect on their own, they speak of becoming more patient, flexible, persistent, and confident. As a student reflected (in a weekly log), “This week I learned that it’s important to not let frustration get in the way of your teaching/ learning.” The pressured atmosphere of a competitive college can impede such expansive understanding. As the student wrote in the course paper cited earlier in the paragraph, “Perhaps more importantly, it

offered me to courage and confidence to begin making these relationships with people I didn’t know…. We are concerned so much with what others will think of us that we fail to engage each other, and remain in our own judgment-free world…. People always have more, as opposed to less, in common.”

Students also gain an opportunity to rethink and relearn things they already know (e.g., how to use technology) in order to make that knowledge accessible to others. In the words of a student computing mentor:

It is so interesting to be able to teach someone about a part of our lives that is so integral to us, yet foreign to anyone who does not have experience with it. Computers are like a whole other language that we have grown up with, as they have developed we have grown with them, and yet those who don’t have access or grew up before computers were so essential have not acquired this language and therefore are missing out on many opportunities that we take for granted.

As with students learning about realms they do not generally explore, the re-learning of a skill or body of knowledge they take for granted deepens understanding. In the words of a student who was teaching her learning partner to access his College email account, “I learned about speaking slowly and not assuming that the terms I used are universally understandable. Being aware of the learner’s point of entry.” Perceiving and responding to the point of entry of another learner can raise students’ awareness of their own points of entry and how easy or difficult the access is.

At times this challenge is humbling. As one student commented in a section of the reflective log asking if further support is needed: “I am having a hard time thinking of different ways of explaining what a website URL is. I have tried approaching the concept in several different ways as well as just repeating the steps of using different types of websites (like a search engine vs. e-mail). I am in need of some new ideas to convey this concept.” Finding the words to communicate, particularly about a topic for which the student may not have ready discourse, is an intellectual as well as practical challenge. By gaining new experiences of learning, students become better able to own and share their knowledge.

Social and Emotional Growth
Early in the TLI, one of the first student participants said (during a class presentation), “When I was a baby, people took care of me and I didn’t realize it. Now I am no longer a baby. Sometimes people still take care of me—and now I need to think about that—and sometimes I need to take care of myself and others.” This language of development speaks to the social and emotional context of the TLI—the way it encourages students to mature beyond ignorance of the staff who literally take care of their physical needs (for food, hygiene, and physical safety, among other things) and of the social and political structuring of these relationships. Waking, or growing, up to these relationships, so often invisible and unvoiced on college campuses and elsewhere, is an important enactment of the social responsibility and civic engagement Schneider names as vital to the liberal arts of practice. How can students pursue deep civic participation or responsibility without engaging directly and productively with the problems of ordinary hierarchies where they live and study?

In another instance of developing social awareness, this same student, the speaker from this paper’s epigraph, came to question her prior assumptions about where staff members at the college make their homes:

The first thing I noticed—and I must admit this rather sheepishly—is how far away Maria lives from the college. For some reason, I had just assumed that our staff members all lived relatively close to the campus. Of course, upon reflection, I realized how incredibly stupid that assumption was, but it struck me as interesting that I would have thought something like that. Why would I have made such an obviously naive assumption about the staff members? Would I have made that assumption about other types of professions? (course paper)

Questioning her assumptions, the student engaged in metacognition about the limitations of prior ideas.

Moving beyond naïve conceptions of dependence and independence, students in the TLI express maturing conceptions of interdependence and accompanying growth in their ability to foster the same. As they take unique responsibilities for others’ learning and critically reflecting on their own, they become stronger. In the words of a student mentor in the computing class: “After our one-on-one session [my partner] reported back to the class ‘[the instructor] is a great teacher—she shows me all sorts of different ways to do things—wow.’ And later [the partner] sent me an e-mail thanking me for my patience” (reflective log).

Students also gain experience grappling with the emotional and interpersonal challenges of relationships seldom made available for reflection. The following log entries bear this out:

  • I learned that students can tell when you are worried about something or when you are not quite sure how to explain a word/ concept. [My partner] asked me to explain a word to him, but I hesitated and started to think, but before I even spoke, he said, “Calm down, spokino” (that means slow down in Bulgarian). I was surprised that he could tell that I was worried about how I was going to approach this particular word explanation.
  • Being in a comfortable place with your teaching and learning partner is such a wonderful thing. [My partner] and I can be laid back during our sessions while still learning a lot (I think). I think our friendship provides her with the confidence she needs to succeed.

Through their work with staff, students come to see other people as multifaceted. The pressured atmosphere of a competitive college can challenge such understanding. Partnerships foster more commonplace, human-to-human exchanges in which being together is as important as accomplishment. Students become less rigid about demanding immediate resolutions and more comfortable with complexity.

Increased Awareness of Social Positioning Closely linked to these affective understandings is increased awareness of social positioning on the part of students. The ability to situate themselves is important to students’ capacity to assume social responsibility and civic engagement, particularly in terms of the meanings of formal educational attainment. Through participation in the staff-student programs, students gain perspective on their assumptions about themselves, staff members, and the College. In the process, some of them defamiliarize their privileges. During a reflective meeting, one student, herself a first generation college student, pointed out this process as one of “unlearning the attitude of entitlement” that the college atmosphere fosters in students.

When students stop taking for granted how College employees serve them, their stance changes from one of unconscious consumption to one of co-participation. With this shift they are positioned as civic participants in the campus community, gaining awareness of the organizational structure and its varying impacts on individuals. Diversity, intercultural communication, social responsibility, and collaboration take on specific, embodied meanings as students become conscious of the relationships in which they are necessarily a part. One example of this shift came about in discussion among students during a reflective meeting about why some staff express concern about occasional rude or dismissive conduct toward them by students. Another concerned students’ excitement about working with staff in public settings of the College in which staff- student collaboration is not commonplace, such as the library and the computing center. Thus, students re-see the culture of the College in ways both inward- and outward-looking.

The significance of choice came into view for another student as she reflected (in a course paper) on the contrast between her own sense of choice and opportunity on campus and that of staff:

As a Bryn Mawr student I am free to engage in the College community on my own terms. I am able to choose the courses I take, I am authorized to participate in clubs and seek out jobs, I am able to build my social network through various means which include all I have already mentioned as well as seek out any opportunity and use any available resource on campus, not to mention all of the opportunities available off campus that are brought here by both staff as well as outside entities.

Freedom of choice and physical freedom to move on campus are givens for students; not so for all staff. In surfacing how “endless possibility” is distributed on campus, this student helps us notice the limits of the College’s democratic philosophy. Recognizing these limits is an important part of thinking about changing them. The ability to think critically about social hierarchies is strengthened in students who participate in the staff-student programs. As one student explains, the meaning of superiority and inferiority is unsettled and made more complex through cross-class, intergenerational collaborations. A reflective log written by a student working as a mentor in Computing 1 synthesizes many of these gains:

This week I learned just how much we know about computers and basic usage than many people know. I learned how slow this process will be. I also learned in contrast to some of my previous mentoring experience that teaching an adult presents all sorts of new challenges. Whereas with a kid, you are older and more knowledgeable, this is not the case with the maintenance workers. It is difficult to strike a balance between being informative while not being condescending.… (H)e has much more life experience than me, but I am more knowledgeable about computers. I also realize just how fortunate I am to know computers and technology so well. It is a privilege that I have never had to even think about. Today he asked me how long it took me to learn computers and I realize that I have been lucky enough to work with computers since elementary school. I have slowly been able to learn about them all of my life.

Here, the student marks her generational privilege. She also surfaces a tension between her own “luck” in being able to learn computers slowly and her expectations about the speed with which her partner will learn. At the same time, she acknowledges that when she sees the Internet through her staff partner’s eyes, she is changed as “the awe comes back” to her.

Another element of awareness comes for students from the experience of working with people who, while different from them, are like them in ways they didn’t anticipate:

I learn best from repetition; I like to keep doing something or keep reading something until it sticks. I hadn’t ever thought about the different variety of learning methods, such as visual learning, writing things down, or logical learning (mathematical or scientific approach). I am lucky because [my partner] learns in a very similar way as me. (reflective log)

[My partner] also asks me some questions about myself and while working in the campus center she asked me what I was doing when I started people watching. It was funny because she said that she also liked to do that, and I think that finding little common things that we both can talk about and enjoy allows us to open up more to each other. (reflective log)

Indeed, questions of similarity and difference shift as students engage together with staff in the common roles of teacher and learner, creating a “commons” in which prior differences between people become less significant. In one striking pair of reflections, written several weeks apart, a student shows what such a shift can sound like. In the earlier reflection, the student focuses on a sense of isolation and frustration in relation to her partner’s current struggles in life:

Today, Isaac shared with me pieces of his personal life—some stories about his children, his brother, about growing up—which was really fulfilling, but he also shared some less cheery elements. We discussed his recent divorce and the difficulties that stem from it. I’m always eager to engage in conversations like these.… But it is challenging to be presented with problems to which one does not know the answer. I don’t know how to help make his life better. I wish I could offer some token of insight or an uplifting story, but my register of experience only tangentially relates.

Four weeks later, in writing once again about learning from her partner about his life experience, she expressed a greater sense of openness and less of a sense of separation:

We had been playing a bit with Googlemaps during class, a program which allows you look at 3-D maps of neighborhoods. Isaac showed me where he had grown up, where his school was, his grandmother’s house, his childhood home, and we began to have a discussion about his experiences as a kid…all, again, outside the realm of my experience. It was an interesting conversation, however. I feel that the implications of the cultural gap between us have lessened, at least in the context of our relationship.

A growing relationship seems to be able to encompass differences that the student first saw as capable of undermining the entire framework of the computing program.

Limitations of the Study
A layered structure of reflection, combined with my involvement with the program, constitute both strengths and limitations of this study. They strengthen the study through the opportunity they have afforded for analysis of students’ reports of their experiences over time and in several contexts, attentive to recurrent themes and issues. At the same time, as an action researcher, I am part of what I am studying, and while my involvement with the program and participants affords me rare access, it also means that I am not an impartial observer. As a descriptive analysis, this report does not offer points of contrast with students not participating in the programs, and is not designed, or able, to speak to whether students in other contexts find other, equally or more impactful, ways to participate in the “liberal arts of practice.”

Challenges for Further Research
As learners, student TLI participants face the challenge of doubling their vision to focus both on individuals and on the organizational setting of their partnerships. Further research on the impact of staff/student partnerships needs to further explore this challenge.

An additional question for further research is how to gain access to the richness of students’ learning through TLI collaborations when their verbal and written expressions of it are limited, or when they are asked to comment on learning experiences about which they are less practiced at speaking. It may be difficult for some students to find language with which to talk about the significance of learning and becoming skilled in craft knowledge, perhaps owing to how relatively little their formal education prepares them for this. Perhaps going forward this may become an explicit goal of the TLI projects that focus on such knowledge.

While this paper marks a beginning, it needs to be extended by case-based and intersubjective studies of the experiences and perspectives of particular individuals with the programs and, through them, with one another over time. Support for collaboratively written research, always a goal of the project, needs to be more centrally pursued. The relationships among and across TLI programs, and the people who participate across them, also call for further attention and understanding.

Conclusion In the context of teaching and learning with staff, students use inquiry and intellectual judgment. Teaching and learning with staff helps them learn to turn thoughtful, generative attention to another adult’s learning process. Gaining skill and understanding in these roles is not a matter solely of practice or intuition; critical reflection is crucial. Connecting inquiry to engagement with others’ learning is an important source of both integrative learning—the inter-meshing of lived, relational experience with the designs of theory— and of civic engagement and social responsibility, defined as participation in community-building activity. The development of teaching skills, on the part of those preparing for professional work as teachers and those not so oriented, connects inquiry and intellectual judgment to the theme of social responsibility as students learn how to contribute to others’ learning in a range of contexts. Social and emotional growth helps students gain capacity to take on the demands of the liberal arts of practice, helping them engage more patiently, humbly, and confidently with these demands. Finally, increased awareness of social positioning is both a result and a source of students’ inquiries into their own and others’ standpoints. Through the TLI, students consider what it means to be in a dynamic rather than reinforcing relation to the limitations of any single person’s standpoint, and of the need to respect and learn from all of them.

When the liberal arts are divided from practice, we run the risk of ascribing to scholarly knowledge more permanence and relevance than is warranted. When practice is divided from study, we run the risk of yielding to the instrumental ends of the moment without reference to a field broad or deep enough for imagination and growth. Study in the liberal arts of practice, then, must entail the ongoing revision of prior knowledge and its integration with new experience, ever outpacing earlier formulations and limitations.

Anderson, D. (2003). Students and service staff learning and researching together on a college campus. Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning, Spring, 47-58. Carr, W., & Kemmiss, S. (1986). Becoming critical: Education, knowledge, and action research. London: Falmer Press. Cohen, J., Lesnick, A., & Himeles, D. (2007). Temporary anchors, impermanent shelter: Can the field of education model a new approach to academic work? Journal of Research Practice, 3(2). Cook-Sather, A. (2008). From traditional accountability to shared responsibility: The benefits and challenges of student consultants gathering midcourse feedback in college classrooms. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 34(2), 231-241. Cook-Sather, A. (2009). What you get is looking in a mirror, only better: Inviting students to reflect (on) college teaching. Reflective Practice, 9(2), 473-483. Creswell, J. (2006). Qualitative inquiry and research design: Choosing among five approaches (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc. Glaser, B. & Strauss, A. (1967). The discovery of grounded theory: Strategies for qualitative research. Chicago: Aldine Publishing Company. Lesnick, A., Cohen, J., & Cook-Sather, A. (2007). Working the tensions: Constructing educational studies within a traditional liberal arts context, 54-80. In C. Bjork & H. Ross (eds.), Taking Teaching Seriously. Boulder: Paradigm Press. New England Resource Center for Higher Education. Reversing the telescope: Community development from within, taking the first look. Retrieved July 31, 2009, from http:// www.nerche.org/A_first_look_community_ within_project_summer_2003.pdf. Nussbaum, M. (1998). Cultivating humanity: A classical defense of reform in liberal education. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Schneider, C. (2004). Practicing liberal education: Formative themes in the reinvention of liberal learning. Liberal Education, 90(2), 3-11. Strauss, A.L. (1987). Qualitative analysis for social scientists. New York: Cambridge University Press. Washington Monthly. (2006). College Guide. Retrieved July 31, 2009 from http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/ features/2006/0609.collegeguide.html. Willinsky, J. (1998). Learning to divide the world: Education at empire’s end. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

I thank all of the TLI colleagues on campus whose work and energy animate this paper. For critical feedback on earlier drafts, I thank the editor and two anonymous reviewers of the Journal of Community Engagement and Scholarship. For feedback, encouragement, and vital collaboration, I thank Nell Anderson, Jody Cohen, Alison Cook-Sather, Rob Goldberg, Darla Himeles, and Howard Lesnick. Finally, I thank the following students, most assuredly also my colleagues in this work and writing: Amanda Root, Rebecca Farber, Caroline Goldstein, Maggie Powers, Laura Hummer, Saskia Guerier, and Sydney Silver. Without their dedication, leadership, and vision, this paper—and the projects it explores—would not be possible.

About the Author
Alice Lesnick is senior lecturer in education and director of the Bryn Mawr/Haverford Educational Program. She holds the Ph.D. in Reading/Writing/Literacy and a Graduate Certificate in Women’s Studies from the University of Pennsylvania.

Developing a K-12 Rural School System Wellness Policy through Community Engagement

Joseph A. Brosky, Jr., Mark R. Wiegand, Alana Bartlett, and Tiffany Idlewine

“Community partners and service-learning students expand physical therapy roles while creating wellness policy for rural schools. “


The Education Strategic Plan of the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) outlines initiatives for professional practice, including enhancing physical therapists’ roles in: 1) social, governmental, and regulatory practices and policies, 2) health promotion and wellness, and, 3) assessment of societal needs and health disparities. In this paper we describe a community partnership that involved development and implementation of a wellness policy for a rural public school system. A partnership was established to achieve compliance with government mandates for physical activity, nutrition standards, and school-based activities. Collaborative meetings with stakeholders identified the following issues: limited school expertise and resources, community awareness, resistance to change, and sensitivity of dealing with childhood obesity. A comprehensive wellness policy was developed and implemented. Opportunities were found to exist in local communities for health professionals and students to use their intellect, talents, and skills to meet educational objectives related to social responsibility, advocacy, disease prevention, and wellness. Service-learning experiences provided leadership opportunities to promote the role of physical therapists beyond traditional settings through community engagement.


The APTA 2006 Education Strategic Plan outlines initiatives that are crucial to realizing practice opportunities for physical therapists as delineated by Vision 2020 (APTA Vision Statement, 2009). Selected goals of this strategic plan include increased physical therapist (PT) involvement in social, governmental, and regulatory practices and policies, further enhancement of PT’s knowledge, skills, and public recognition in areas of health promotion and wellness, and PT contributions to the assessment of societal needs and health disparities. Furthermore, the priority goals of APTA promote PTs as the universally recognized provider of fitness, health promotion, wellness, and risk reduction programs to enhance quality of life for persons across the life-span (APTA Priority Goals, 2009). Effectively achieving these goals requires PT educational programs to explore ways of providing learning experiences in these areas. Service-learning can be a means for providing student experiential learning opportunities through the development and implementation of partnerships between universities and community-based entities. In addition to community goals, these partnerships may support the development of professional skills and behaviors in student PTs associated with the APTA Education Strategic Plan and Priority Goals. The purpose of this article is to describe one such community partnership with a rural school corporation that involved the development and implementation of a wellness policy necessary to comply with new educational regulations (IDOE/SNP Policy 87 Public Law 108-265). An important objective for this wellness policy was to address the growing problem of school age obesity.

Physicians, health policy experts, and health-care providers and wellness advocates see childhood obesity as a multi-factorial epidemic with serious implications for health-care delivery systems and society now and in the future. The effects of obesity in children include chronic illness, disability, low self-esteem and economic hardship for individuals, families, schools, communities, employers, and nearly all facets of the health-care system (Koplan, Liverman, & Kraak, 2005; Thompson, Brown, Nicholos, Elmer, & Oster, 2001; Finkelstein, Fiebelkorn, & Wang, 2004; Thompson, Edelsberg, Kinsey, & Oster, 1998; Tucker & Friedman, 1998; U.S. Department of Health and Human Resources, 2001). Children and adolescents are especially likely to develop serious health and psychosocial problems related to obesity, which may impair academic performance and social functioning (Schwartz & Puhl, 2003).

Perhaps the most significant component of the obesity epidemic in children is the likelihood of early development of adult associated health problems and risks. Obesity among young people is associated with increased risk for type 2 (formerly called adult-onset) diabetes mellitus (T2DM), high blood pressure, sleep apnea, and musculoskeletal problems (Koplan et al., 2005). Nearly 60 percent of overweight or obese 5-10 year-olds have at least one cardiovascular disease risk factor (e.g., high cholesterol or high blood pressure) (Freedman, Dietz, Srinivasan, & Berensen, 1999). Type 2 diabetes has become increasingly prevalent among children and adolescents as overweight and obesity rates rise (Rosenbloom, Joe, Young, & Winter, 1999). One study estimated that one in three American children born in 2000 will develop diabetes in their lifetime (Venkat Narayan, Boyle, Thompson, Sorensen, & Williamson, 2003). Ferraro, Thrope, and Williamson (2003) reported that children overweight by age eight were more likely to be morbidly obese as adults. Furthermore, it has been reported that overweight children and adolescents are likely to become obese adults (Freedman, Khan, Dietz, Srinivasan, & Berensen, 2001). Recently, it has been suggested that children in rural areas are particularly susceptible to obesity and increased risk for the development of T2DM (Yousefian, Ziller, Swarts, & Hartley, 2009; Adams & Lammon, 2007).

Physical therapists are uniquely qualified to embrace active roles in community health and disease prevention by providing consultative and intervention services for health and wellness issues to individuals of all ages (APTA Priority Goals, 2009). Opportunities in disease prevention exist in local communities and allow PTs and student PTs to use their intellectual property, talents and skills to meet professional objectives related to social responsibility, advocacy, and prevention and wellness. Community-campus partnerships are recognized in the health professions as an effective strategy in addressing many community health issues through service-learning experiences (Seifer, 1998; Seifer, 2000).

Service-learning is an educational strategy that combines community service with structured experiences, specific learning objectives, and directed student reflection (Seifer, 1998; Community Campus Partnerships for Health [CCPH], 2006). Successful service-learning emphasizes clear open commmunication between involved parties and balanced responsibilities and outcome benefits, mutually shared goals, accountability, respect and commitment (CCPH, 2006). In addition to supporting curricular objectives and skill development, service-learning can be a useful tool to develop professional behaviors and attitudes that are often considered part of the hidden curriculum of professional education (Hafferty, 2006; Stern & Papakakis, 2006). Service-learning experiences using the world as the classroom can be an effective way to provide real world training and leadership opportunities and promote physical therapy outside of traditional settings.

The primary and secondary education system offers a readily accessible network to provide information and intervention on two important factors associated with obesity: nutrition and physical fitness. Primary and secondary education systems should play an important part in a national effort to prevent childhood obesity. However, there are challenges facing educators promoting health and physical education in our school systems. For instance the 2002 federal “No Child Left Behind” legislation (U.S. Department of Education, 2001) mandated that all children pass standardized educational testing by 2014 placing greater emphasis on meeting academic measures and not physical fitness and wellness standards. As states and school districts rely on standardized tests to hold schools and students academically accountable, physical activity and health-related education have become a lower priority (Collins, 2007, p. 383). There exists an opportunity for PTs to help schools improve student performance in physical activity and health education (School Health Policies and Program Study [SHPPS], 2006). Elementary and secondary education facilities, in conjunction with academic institutions and community groups, can promote good nutrition, physical activity, and healthy lifestyles in children through health and wellness education, encouraging physical activity, and providing school health services (Michael, Dittus, & Epstein, 2007). In fact, results from SHPPS 2006 suggests improvements and initiatives are needed to increase collaborations with families and community-based organizations to support school health programs nationwide (Michael et al.).

The Community Partnership

Two student PTs interested in rural health and concerned about current health disparities in rural school-aged children fostered a community partnership with an Indiana public school corporation. The school system needed to achieve compliance with new government mandates (IDOE/SNP Policy 87 Public Law 108-265) for nutrition standards, physical activity, and other school-based activity programs. The school superintendent was contacted and a meeting was held to discuss current health promotion and physical fitness programming for the system. In this initial meeting, existing resources and needs related to the development of health and wellness initiatives were identified. The highest perceived need was the actual development of a school wellness policy to bring the school in compliance with IDOE/SNP Policy 87 Public Law 108-265. Accordingly the school-based wellness policy was mandated to:

• Include goals for nutrition education, physical activity, and other school-based activities designed to promote student wellness in a manner that the local educational agency determines appropriate.

• Include nutrition guidelines selected by the local educational agency for all foods available on each school campus under the local education agency during the school day with the objectives of promoting student health and reducing childhood obesity.

• Provide an assurance that guidelines for reimbursable school meals shall not be less restrictive than regulations and guidance issued by the USDA.

• Create a plan to measure implementation of the local wellness policy including designation of one or more persons within the local education agency, or at each school as appropriate, charged with operational responsibility for ensuring that the school meets the local wellness policy.

• Involve parents, students, representatives of the school food authority, the school board, school administrators, and the public in the development of the school wellness policy.

From this initial meeting with the superintendent a plan was devised to meet with stakeholders and conduct a formal needs assessment through interviews and focus group discussions.

Description of the School and Stakeholders

The Southwest Jefferson County Consolidated School (SWJCS) Corporation supports 1,500 students, kindergarten through 12th grade, in a community of 9,600 residents. The students at Southwestern Elementary School are almost exclusively Caucasian (96%), with the remaining 4 percent classified as African-American, Hispanic American, Asian, or multiracial. Regarding gender, the entire student population consistently measures nearly an equal number of females and males. The community is primarily residential and agricultural with some small business. The SWJCS is a public, state-funded school district in rural Indiana and has 15 high school and 10 middle school sports programs. The median household income in the school district is $37,944 (SWJCS website, 2005). Approximately 50 percent of the students in the school system participate in the free and reduced lunch program. Working with the school system superintendent, the following were identified as key partners: cafeteria staff, representative school faculty, physical/health education staff, district school board members, parents, students, and local community leaders. The superintendent played a central role by identifying and coordinating initial contacts with the stakeholders and articulating the need for development and implementation of the wellness policy.

Focus groups, meetings, and interviews with key stakeholders (e.g., administrators, faculty, staff, and parents) were held in the evenings using “brainstorming” strategies that identified system strengths, barriers, and potential strategies for implementing a multi-faceted wellness program. During these initial meetings, stakeholders were familiarized to the needs of the school system in regard to IDOE/SNP Policy 87 Public Law 108-265. While the underlying causes of childhood obesity were understood to be complex, the interaction of lack of physical activity and unhealthy eating was considered primary. These factors required input and direction from the cafeteria staff, parents, faculty, and specifically the health and physical education faculty. The barriers specific to SWJCS were limited fiscal and other resources, lack of community awareness about the childhood obesity epidemic, student extra-curricular involvement, and the potential for community resistance to change.

Significant consultants and collaborators in this project were the cafeteria personnel who played a key role in development of the nutrition section of the wellness policy. The head cooks from the schools and the food service director provided menus, recipes, and personal and professional opinions pertaining to nutritional content and food choices currently available to students. The cafeteria is a self-supporting entity within the school system and depends on adequate revenues to meet its budget. Because of this arrangement, the cafeteria needed to sell the items to cover expenses. Balancing the economic realities of the cafeteria enterprise with the nutritional requirements of the wellness policy was a challenging process. Cafeteria staff expressed concerns about changing menu choices from items that might be popular with students and tend to be inexpensive (processed or frozen items such as French fries and chicken nuggets) to items that might be unpopular and lead to reduced revenues. Healthy food items such as fresh fruits and vegetables tend to be more expensive and require more effort to prepare and are typically unpopular with students of all ages.

Health and physical education teachers assisted with the activity and health awareness components necessary to meet the state requirements. Physical education and health educators discussed the challenges regarding funding levels, gym time availability, the use of out-dated equipment, and coordination of class schedules. The physical education and health educators also indicated that the typical student tended to be indifferent to matters pertaining to physical fitness and wellness. They also noted a general lack of student accountability for their own health. School board members played an important role by critically reviewing, providing feedback, and ultimately adopting the collaboratively developed wellness policy. The board consisted of five active community members who served as educational consultants and provided community oversight of the school wellness policy implementation. The school board members demonstrated unanimous support for adoption of the wellness policy. Key community contributors in policy development and implementation were the state-appointed childhood obesity coordinator and the local hospital wellness coordinator. These individuals had worked together closely in the past to develop strategies to increase community wellness awareness and prevention of obesity and served as external consultants to the school system and student PTs in the development of the health and wellness policy.

Following the interviews and focus group meetings, three phases of project development and implementation were identified:

Phase 1. Wellness policy development. The PT students met with the school system superintendent to discuss the progression and events needed to implement a successful and sustainable policy. The superintendent provided academic and administrative insight necessary for policy development. The student PTs conducted an extensive literature review on information relevant to the following topics: childhood obesity; physical activity, health, and nutrition standards; current status of physical health among young people; nutritional recommendations and requirements for children; pathogenesis of obesity-related disease; economic implications of obesity; and existing model wellness policies. Highlights of this review were presented to the superintendent and supported the collaborative development of the school system wellness policy. The superintendent provided a realistic framework of the system’s capabilities and resources to address policy recommendations. This framework, and the information obtained during the literature review, directed the policy development into three major areas: physical activity, nutritional standards, and other school-based wellness activities. An initial draft policy was developed by the student PTs, reviewed by the university faculty advisor and the superintendent, and revised. Upon compilation of a final draft, a school board meeting was scheduled to address the policy and the concerns of the board and other stakeholders. Initial concerns from the food service director were related to additional costs of major changes in the menu. Concerns included potential loss of revenue by eliminating the vending machine contracts that provided financial support to the athletic program. A copy of the draft policy was provided to all school board members a week prior to the school board meeting to allow for review and formulation of questions. A formal presentation was provided to the school board and community members during the school board meeting, outlining the policy and details pertaining to the policy implementation. The policy was unanimously accepted and endorsed by the school board for implementation during the 2006-07 school year.

Phase 2. Policy implementation. Following approval and acceptance of the policy by the school board, efforts were made to increase community awareness of the new policy. The local newspaper featured an article about the school system’s implementation of the wellness policy, highlighting the key factors for change in the school in response to the federal legislation (Whitney, 2006). A wellness team was formed consisting of the superintendent, food service director/manager, the school nurse, a parent representative, two student representatives, a staff member representative, a health and physical education representative, a member of the school board, and local health professionals including a dietician, physical therapist, and two doctors, one of whom was a pediatrician. Team members developed and discussed plans on how to implement the policy in the school system. A site wellness coordinator, who was a health and physical education faculty member, was appointed for the elementary school as this was the first area for implementation of the policy in the system. The final phase involved assessment of the effectiveness and outcomes of the policy.

Phase Three. Policy assessment. The final phase addressed policy assessment and program transition to the designated school site wellness coordinator. The development of a reference guide for the wellness team was the first step in transitioning the program to the site wellness coordinator. A reference guide was developed by the student PTs to serve as a source of information regarding nutrition and physical activity recommendations, the School Health Index (SHI), implementation ideas, wellness education, parent education, and additional resources targeting specific examples for ideas for elementary classroom parties, fundraising, and healthy snacks. The SHI was designed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to help schools assess and improve their physical activity, healthy eating, tobacco use, and unintentional injury and violence prevention policies (Harrykissoon & Wechsler, 2004). The SWJCS reference guide was made accessible online through the school corporation website with a hard copy available in the central school office.


A written wellness policy was developed through a collaborative partnership between two student PTs and SWJCS in compliance with Public Law 108-265 Section 204. The policy was created through review of existing models of wellness policies and other resources from local, state, and federal government organizations. The policy was implemented in the elementary school and intended to be phased-in completely in the middle and high school by school year 2010.

Early anecdotal reports a year after implementation of the policy were obtained from the superintendent and administrative staff, cafeteria staff, school nurse, psychologist, school board parents, testing coordinator, and technology administrator. Examples of compliance with the wellness policy noted for nutritional improvements included: exclusive sale of baked snack chips and items containing zero trans fat on snack cart; sale of mostly diet, caffeine free soft drinks; offering water and healthy juice alternatives in vending machines; baking cafeteria food items with the exception of French fries (French fries are scheduled to be phased out by 2010); addition of healthy wrap sandwich options to menu; daily offerings of salad bar and baked potato bar; yogurt offered with breakfast options; introduction of alternative milk options, including vanilla and strawberry milk, which were very popular with the student body; and a daily “healthy sack lunch” available to elementary students. The cafeteria staff decreased serving fried foods from five days a week to only two days a week with plans to limit to one day a week in the next academic year. Other observable nutritional changes consisted of an increase in the number of school lunches consumed by faculty. Average faculty lunch consumption for the prior school year was 18 per day in the elementary school; this increased to 58 per day following implementation of the wellness policy and was attributed primarily to the availability of the new daily salad bar. An initial staff concern with policy implementation was the possibility of decreased cafeteria revenue, particularly for the elementary school cafeteria, which had been experiencing difficulty generating a profit. However, since incorporating healthier food options in the cafeteria, the elementary school cafeteria generated approximately $6,000 in profit in the first three-month period. While actual numbers were not available, the faculty and administration reported a decrease in the number of student visits to the elementary school nurse’s office during morning hours during this initial phase-in period. In response to the wellness policy implementation and administrative encouragement, many teachers adopted a policy of no cakes/cookies and requested healthy snack choices for all classroom parties. Any practices that promote the consumption of less nutritious snack foods and beverages in schools have been shown to be associated with poorer diets and higher body mass index among students (Brener, O’Toole, Kann, Lowry, & Wechsler, 2009). The changes related to healthy eating introduced by the cafeteria staff, the vending machine offerings, and the classroom party snack policy, have all been important and proactive changes to at least promote healthy eating, though the long term effectiveness of these changes will take years to determine.

Several barriers limited the progress of the physical activity components of the wellness policy. The primary limiting factors were the availability of gym space and staff required for an increase in structured physical activities, the perception of dissonance between academics and wellness and nutrition policies, and the minimal state physical education requirements for high school grade levels. Despite these limitations, observable changes have been made in the elementary school. A notable addition to the elementary school curriculum as a result of the new policy was the implementation of a daily 40-minute, four-week swimming course. Previously, the pool was only being utilized by the elementary school 20 percent of the available time during the school week. However, after the policy was enacted, the 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade teachers incorporated swimming classes for an hour a day for eight-week periods through the school year as part of the physical education curriculum. In addition, elementary staff attempted to incorporate additional physical activity into the scheduled lunch period, allowing students the opportunity for unstructured play after finishing lunch. However, an increased amount of plate-loss (uneaten food) was noted as many of the children were rushing through meals to participate in the lunch time physical activities. This resulted in a decision to temporarily discontinue the additional lunch period physical activity time until other strategies could be identified. Perhaps some of the most exciting and unanticipated developments involved the faculty and staff. The SWJCS faculty and staff initiated an after-school walking program on campus, a weight loss contest and a no-smoking policy. Additionally, because of the increased community-wide awareness of the school wellness policy, the faculty and staff were offered a free one month membership at a local fitness center. From a community perspective, the school has also opened up the pool to community members two nights per week for a nominal fee (one dollar) to cover the cost a lifeguard.


The rising incidence of childhood obesity requires grassroots efforts by many concerned parties. The development and implementation of a school system wellness policy by student physical therapists is one example of how academic institutions, community members, and local stakeholders can assemble talents, resources, and intellectual capital to work for a common cause. The community and academic partners were visionary, enthusiastic, dedicated, and driven through a common need to meet a state educational mandate. We have reported here that following the implementation of the wellness policy, substantive changes were made in the cafeteria offerings providing healthy food options, and there were increased opportunities for children to engage in physical activity during the school day. In addition to obvious benefits associated with the wellness policy, there were other immediate benefits to the school system, including an awareness of faculty and staff on role modeling through healthy food choices and regular physical activity. These non-classroom/non-academic life skills and behaviors are potentially as important as academic skills and behaviors learned in the classroom.

Several challenges were identified while assessing the needs of the school system. They included stakeholder expertise, limited resources and funding, the lack of community awareness, resistance to change, and perceived sensitivity of how to locally address the childhood obesity epidemic factor. However, through open and honest communication, planning and the combining of resources, the community stakeholders were able to work together to address these challenges. The many benefits reported from other school wellness program models (Michael et al.) have also been realized at SWJCS and include improved student morale, more focused children in the classroom, fewer headaches, healthier eating habits, and neutral or improved revenue streams from the cafeteria.

The primary intent of the wellness policy was aimed at influencing the current health and wellness practices of students, faculty, staff, and community members. Sustainability of the program will depend on continued community involvement with established local resources, the dynamics and dedication of the current wellness team, and, most importantly, parent, student, and family involvement. Parents and families may have the greatest responsibility to have positive and lasting effects on children through healthy living and setting good examples by incorporating regular physical activity and healthier eating habits into their daily routines. The superintendent (personal communication, April 17, 2009) reported in a telephone interview some preliminary observations and changes from the wellness policy including the elimination of all fast foods brought into the school, an 80 percent reduction in the days fried foods are served, and improved interaction with the cafeteria and nutrition staff about menu and best practices. When asked about the impact on the faculty and staff, he observed that faculty and staff are walking and/or swimming more than before and the elementary teachers have started the “biggest loser” weight loss contest with monetary incentives for those losing the most weight. He also believed the increased use of the swimming pool during school hours for the elementary children and creating community evening availability two nights per week were viewed as an example of increasing healthy behaviors for physical activity and exercise within the entire community. The superintendent also expressed what he felt were the two major challenges to incorporating lifestyle and behavioral changes in the school children. One is the “technology challenge,” which involves limiting (or at least balancing) computer, video, and television time with appropriate physical activity. The other is the “stranger/danger” phenomenon regarding the real or perceived problem of limiting outside play by children; rural communities have been shown to be particularly sensitive to this challenge (Yusefian et al.). These are issues perhaps best addressed by school systems, parents, families, and the communities working together.

The need to increase public awareness of the alarming statistics related to the childhood obesity epidemic and future health-care implications is real. There are important roles for community members and health-care providers from multiple disciplines to bring their expertise and intellectual property to the table to work collaboratively and meet the needs of individuals and society. Cultural, racial/ethnic, and socio-economic differences need to also be considered as childhood obesity has been shown to disproportionately affect minority youth populations, with African- American and Mexican-American adolescents more likely to be overweight than non-Hispanic white adolescents (National Center for Health Statistics, 2006). In response to changing demographics in the nation, it is crucial that local health-care communities initiate active roles in health awareness, education, wellness, and disease prevention and collaborate to address this epidemic.

The CDC conducts SHPPS every six years to assess school health programs in the United States, with the most recent information published from the 2006 study (Kann, Brener, & Wechsler, 2007). The SHPPS is a valuable resource for school and public health practitioners, policy makers, and advocates for those concerned about the health and safety of youth. Essential elements of effective school health programs include health education, physical education and activity, health services, mental health and social services, nutrition services, healthy and safe school environment, faculty and staff health promotion, and family and community involvement. Several of these essential elements were addressed through this partnership, although SHPPS 2006 recommends more family and community involvement is needed (Michael et al).

One of most important aspects of the policy was the recognition and importance of emphasizing opportunities to empower students. Incorporating physical fitness and nutrition into a daily routine within the curriculum allows even young children to appreciate benefits and begin to develop healthy lifestyles. It is anticipated and hoped these changes will lead to the development of a commitment to lifelong learning in which physical fitness and nutrition are incorporated into their daily lives. However, assessessing long-term impact of the wellness policy on actual student behaviors, lifestyle changes, and on childhood obesity is beyond the scope of this paper and will require years of ongoing evaluation to establish any cause and effect.

Impact on Professional Development of Physical Therapist Students

The PT students, now practicing clinicians, reported personal and professional growth through their involvement and leadership in this community-campus partnership. Reflecting on the personal impact, the PT students reported that this experience helped them with recognition and development of the core values of their profession: accountability, altruism, compassion, excellence, integrity, professional duty, and social responsibility (APTA Core Values, 2009). Furthermore, as students these individuals reported positive experiences in directing their own learning using the partnership as a vehicle for increasing their knowledge of health and wellness issues in children. As the project continued through the second and third curricular years, the PTs were proud of the accomplishments associated with the progress of the project and reported growing appreciation of the intellectual contributions that they were able to make as students to the community partnership. The project also provided opportunities and experience in disseminating their work in the form of scholarly endeavors at national meetings (Featherstone, Etienne, & Brosky, 2007; Abraham et al., 2008). These clinicians continue to be actively involved in the promotion and development of health and wellness initiatives in their workplaces and communities. It is important to appreciate that one of the initial challenges encountered by the student PTs and the SWJCS was the lack of resources available in the district to develop and implement the federally mandated wellness policy. This reality demonstrated the potential impact of partnership development between communities and academia, especially when students are involved through focused, credit-bearing service-learning. Truly demonstrative of a “win-win” situation, the work of the student PTs in development and implementation of the wellness policy saved substantial school system time, manpower, and financial resources.


As the profession of physical therapy advances toward APTA Vision 2020, there is relevance in community partnerships to promote physical therapists’ role in addressing wellness needs within local communities. Service-learning as a pedagogy has been effective in many health professions educational programs like medicine, nursing, and dentistry, but is relatively new in physical therapy educational programs. This current project may provide an idea or model for other physical therapists/students to explore community engagement and service-learning opportunities. According to Vision 2020, physical therapists will be guided by integrity, life-long learning, and a commitment to comprehensive and accessible health programs for all people; further, it states that PTs will render evidence-based services throughout the continuum of care and improve quality of life for society.

There is a real opportunity for physical therapists to act as change agents and advocates for preventative health care in the community and at local, state, and national levels. As the profession of physical therapy moves forward, it is necessary to validate a role in the provision of health-care services through research, addressing direct patient intervention and active health promotion and disease prevention. This validation will occur through endeavors that include advocacy and awareness, community partnerships, coalitions and collaborations, legislative action, appointments to federal panels, an assertive health services research agenda and infrastructure, and research capacity building (APTA Vision Statement, 2009). While academic programs will prepare physical therapists to effectively manage adverse effects of chronic adult diseases such as diabetes and obesity related illnesses, a continued emphasis may also include collaborative efforts on improving awareness and meaningful prevention measures in youth through multi-disciplinary community engagement.


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About the Authors

Joseph A. Brosky, Jr. is an associate professor in the physical therapy program at Bellarmine University in Louisville, Kentucky. Mark R. Wiegand is professor in and director of the Bellarmine physical therapy program. Alana Bartlett is with Healthcare Therapy Services and practices at Perry County Memorial Hospital in Tell City, Indiana. Tiffany Idlewine is a physical therapist at Union Hospital in Terre Haute, Indiana.

Including Latino Communities in the Learning Process: Curricular and Pedagogical Reforms in Undergraduate Spanish Programs

Felisa Guillén

“Partnership with community brings bilingual reality to college’s Spanish program, while strengthening campus and community ties.”


Since the fall semester of 2003, the Spanish program at Occidental College has been incorporating a community-service learning component in its intermediate and advanced language classes, as well as in all literature and culture courses. Based on the idea that culture-sensitive language instruction should include frequent and meaningful interactions with a language community, the Spanish program has developed a strong partnership with two local schools that have predominantly Latino enrollment. This mutually beneficial relationship helps college students improve their communication skills in Spanish while rendering a service to the Latino community through tutoring and mentoring programs, along with cultural presentations and artistic performances. Integrating the numerous activities resulting from this collaboration into the Spanish curriculum required rethinking program objectives, course structure, and responsibilities of the college, the faculty, and the students in the service-learning process. This article examines the pedagogical implications of embracing this teaching model at the departmental level, as well as the civic impact of the gradually increasing connections between the department and the neighboring Spanish-speaking communities. It also describes the program’s evolvement during four semesters of instruction; analyzes students’ reflections, community partners’ feedback, and departmental assessments; and evaluates the results, challenges, and benefits of becoming an engaged department.


Occidental College is a small liberal arts college in a residential area with a large Latino population. Its mission is anchored by four cornerstones: excellence, equity, community, and service. Consistent with its mission, the college has a long history of mutually beneficial interaction with Los Angeles, dating back to the mid-1960s when the College opened its Community Literacy Center and one of the country’s first Upward Bound programs. These initiatives provided high school students with greater opportunities to succeed in their pursuit of higher education. Today, almost half of Occidental’s students participate in some kind of community service through the Center for Community Based Learning and through the different academic departments that offer courses that incorporate community outreach and service.

Thanks to the leadership of the center’s director and a grant from the Mellon Foundation, workshops in service-learning have been offered to the faculty every summer since 2002. It was precisely one of these workshops in 2003 that inspired the Spanish department to embrace this teaching model and to attempt to incorporate it across the curriculum. The workshop provided us with the theoretical framework and the pedagogical motivation to revise our curriculum in order to create opportunities for meaningful and mutually rewarding interactions between our students and the community. Given greater than ever enrollments in Spanish classes and the increasing needs of the Spanish-speaking population, we felt compelled to open the new experience to a large number of students, faculty, and community members. Also, we chose not to conceptualize service-learning in terms of individual course design only, but to explore its potential as a vehicle of curricular reform (Zlotkowski, 2001). Therefore, instead of offering one or two courses with a service-learning emphasis, we decided to completely adopt this teaching model and to work together as a department toward the incorporation of service-learning across the Spanish curriculum. This decision has had many different repercussions, which we address by analyzing data collected during two academic years and by evaluating the objectives, results, and challenges of becoming an engaged department.

Theoretical Background 

Following the recommendations of the American Council of Teachers of Foreign Language in its Standards for Foreign Language Education (ACTFL Special Project, 1999), many Spanish instructors are working toward greater connections with their neighboring communities. Their experiences, methods, and models of service and community-based learning have been discussed in scholarly forums and publications. Particularly relevant are two volumes of collected articles entitled Construyendo Puentes (Hellebrant & Varona, 1999) and Juntos (Hellebrant, Varona, & Arries, 2003), which provide an overview of community settings and methods while underlining the pedagogical benefits of this teaching model in the area of foreign language acquisition. The focus of these studies and many others recently published is the increasing applications of service-learning to specific segments of the Spanish curriculum. This article, however, addresses the challenges and rewards of incorporating a service-learning component across the curriculum and the different implications for the way in which courses are designed and revised. It also assesses the interaction between the students, faculty, and community partners who participate in such an endeavor.

Program Overview

The first semester

Our initial trial took place in the fall semester of 2003. Thanks to the collaboration of the Center for Community Based Learning, the Spanish department developed a partnership with a local elementary school that offers a transitional bilingual program in Spanish from kindergarten through third grade. Toland Way Elementary School proved to be an ideal partner. Located a 10-minute walking distance from the college, Toland Way has 570 students, about 80 percent of whom are Latinos from low-income families who speak Spanish at home. Many of these students need help to improve their reading and math skills, and they require this assistance in Spanish. To meet their needs, we developed a tutoring program in which our students were able to help the teachers and the students in the bilingual program through after-school activities and a Homework Club. By becoming tutors, Occidental students had the opportunity to use their Spanish in a productive way, while learning from children who are native-speakers of the language. Both the Occidental undergraduate students and the elementary school students benefited greatly from this experience. Occidental students helped Toland Way students with learning techniques and comprehension of subject matter, and Toland Way bilingual students helped Occidental students with their Spanish skills (Table 1).

Initially, participation in this program was open to Occidental students enrolled in intermediate Spanish classes (Spanish 201 and 210). Involvement was voluntary and an alternative was provided for students opting not to engage in the service-learning activity. For instance, students had the options of going to the language laboratory for an hour each week to watch the news from Spanish-speaking countries or taking part in another service-learning activity for the same amount of time. Accordingly, the service-learning component of each class was worth 10 percent of the final grade, the same percentage assigned to language lab attendance.

In order to prepare students to become tutors, orientations were offered both at the college and at Toland Way in collaboration with Occidental’s education department and the elementary school faculty. The orientation sessions at Toland Way presented school-specific information such as dress code, use of supplies, and safety rules. On the other hand, the preliminary meetings at Occidental emphasized the importance of assessment and reflection as essential tools in the both the tutoring and engagement processes. To facilitate this evaluation task, the Spanish department provided students with two specific forms: an “initial set of goals” form that assisted them in identifying the particular needs of their tutees and the objectives to be pursued during the tutoring practice, and a “weekly progress report” form that contrasted expectations and achievements and provided space for the tutor to determine the necessary actions for the following session (see Appendices 1 and 2).

Participation in the Homework Club consisted of 14 hours, comprised of hour-long weekly sessions for which several schedules were available. A diary entry in Spanish was filled out for each tutorial.

During the fall semester of 2003, about 15 students from three different sections of Spanish 201 and one section of Spanish 210 (Intermediate Spanish for Native-Speakers) chose to participate in our pilot program. The students’ background was very diverse, both ethnically and socially: 12 participants were female and three male; five came originally from California, 10 came from different states; there were two Latinos, one African-American, one Asian, and the rest were Caucasian.

About one-third of the students were upper middle class, one-third middle class, and one-third came from underprivileged families. Regardless of differences in their backgrounds, all these students had three identifiable and relevant things in common: most were freshmen, they had a very good command of Spanish, and they had been previously engaged in community work through their former schools or churches. As the Report from the National Commission on Service-learning (2002) stated, primary and secondary school students are volunteering in record numbers for community service activities, but they don’t seem to have the opportunity to connect their volunteer spirit to their school work. Therefore, our undergraduates welcomed the prospect of service-learning and the possibility of connecting their civic responsibilities to their studies. The 15 participants in our first service-learning activity were excited about providing a much-needed service to the community while improving their Spanish.

Preliminary Results

On a personal level, students acknowledged that the experience initially was a challenge, primarily because it was a relationship with children—something new to most of them—and it was in Spanish.

For the first time for most of them, Spanish was not a language to be studied, but a language used for the transmission of knowledge. Taking part in the tutoring program made them reflect about educational methods and their purposes, and acknowledge the difficulties involved in becoming a good teacher and in selecting the appropriate materials. While appreciating teachers’ work in the school, the students did not hesitate to discuss those practices they deemed deficient or unproductive, whether in individual teachers or in the school’s pedagogical organization. Those who felt drawn to teaching valued the service-learning experience as a great opportunity to sample the field of education.

Students’ diaries also showed their reflections about the complexities of bilingual education and the importance of helping the Spanish-speaking children succeed in school. As mentioned before, students were asked to reflect on their experience by comparing their initial set of goals with the weekly progress report they filled out after each tutorial session. These reflections were written in the form of a diary entry collected by the instructor at the end of the week. The instructor would then include feedback consisting of questions and comments to help the student reflect on broader issues connected to the situations described in the journal. In addition to their educational value, the diaries were also used as a communication tool between students, instructors, and community partners. For instance, from the students’ comments we learned that they did not have the appropriate vocabulary to help the children with math, since the Occidental students had never studied math in Spanish before. To address this problem, we met with the bilingual faculty from Toland Way and put together a glossary of terms and expressions that could be useful to our students in becoming better math tutors. The students’ dairies proved to be an essential instrument in facilitating communication and enhancing collaboration.

In short, student opinion demonstrated that this program represented a favorably innovative experience that allowed for their personal fulfillment and reinforced their Spanish language skills, while rendering a helpful service to the community. The advantages of the service-learning activities over more traditional practices like language lab exercises were also recognized by the three faculty members participating in this trial program. First, we witnessed an immediate improvement in the students’ oral skills. Not only did they considerably increase their vocabulary, but they also perfected their pronunciation and showed a greater familiarity with grammar structures. Second, they gained a lot of confidence in their communication abilities and were more eager to participate in class. Most of them decided to talk about their service-learning experience in their mandatory oral presentations, showing pride in their accomplishments and a desire to instill the same interest in their classmates. Third, through those presentations and the entries in their journals, the Spanish department faculty witnessed an increase in students’ civic awareness and social responsibility.

Along the same lines, our community partner, Toland Way Elementary School, expressed a high degree of satisfaction with our students’ performance and attested to the positive impact of the tutoring program on the learning and motivation of the Toland Way students. All the Occidental and Toland Way faculty members involved in this project met twice during the semester, once on each campus. In addition to these formal meetings, there was constant communication by phone and by fax between the school principal and the Occidental instructor in charge of the program. Through these contacts, we learned that participation in the Homework Club had increased due to our students’ efforts and that the children were very happy to get more individual attention.

Due to the positive response, during the second semester the Spanish department decided to continue its commitment to service-learning by opening up more opportunities for student involvement and by expanding its scope across the curriculum. Consequently in spring 2004, our second semester implementing service-learning, we extended our program. In collaboration with the principal of Toland Way, we multiplied the opportunities for tutoring, helping the school develop an “intervention program” to assist the students identified as not learning on schedule and falling behind in reading and math.

Failure to attain full level proficiency in reading and math is a very critical problem in bilingual education and demands additional resources that most schools lack. Research suggests that the attainment of age-appropriate grade level achievement in a second language is typically a four to five year process and that students’ progress depends on receiving well designed, linguistically sensitive instruction (Jimenez, 2002). Therefore, it is imperative that English-learning immigrant students get as much individual attention as possible inside and outside the classroom. With this goal in mind, we also offered our students the opportunity of helping the teachers in the kindergarten classes to provide the children with a more personalized experience.

A total of 51 Occidental students chose to engage in service-learning that semester, accounting for 50 percent participation from the eligible students in the intermediate and advanced classes. Four faculty members from Occidental and three bilingual teachers from Toland Way supervised their participation in the tutoring program. Participation was organized in three ways: Homework Club, which consisted of group work on each day’s assignment; Intervention Program, which focused on individual reading to improve comprehension; and teaching assistance in the kindergarten classes. Once again, the tutoring program was regarded as a positive experience. It was evident that the students had benefited tremendously from reversing the roles that they traditionally play in the classroom. By becoming tutors, they had to assume the responsibilities of the teacher and be proactive about communication and learning. Since all the activities in the Tutoring Program were conducted entirely in Spanish, the Occidental students also needed to overcome the language barrier. Nevertheless, as the students felt more confident about their speaking abilities in Spanish, they found the interaction with children very rewarding and they enjoyed being productively involved with the local community.

The Spanish faculty also agreed on the pedagogical value of these activities, inasmuch as they foster the acquisition of expertise and skills complementary to the classroom experience. The only issue questioned was the relevance of this program for Occidental students who were already native-speakers of Spanish. After some research and discussions on effective service-learning programs for Latino students, we concluded that for native-speaking students, too, the advantages of service-learning in terms of student ownership of the experience surpassed possible shortcomings. However, we did agree to look for alternatives other than tutoring for the bilingual students.

The Second Year

After a very successful first year, the Spanish faculty decided to continue the incorporation of service-learning across the curriculum. Since we were aware of the need of learning more about this teaching model, we asked the director of the Center for Teaching and Learning to organize a workshop specifically for our department. Ethel Jorge from Pitzer College led the one-day meeting. Every faculty member in Spanish, including part-time instructors, attended the workshop, and all of us became energized by the ideas and enthusiasm of Professor Jorge. Most of the workshop consisted of brainstorming sessions to identify additional activities that would work with the different language and literature classes as well as with the interests of the faculty teaching those courses. Professor Jorge led those discussions and answered many questions regarding logistical and pedagogical issues. She was supportive of our efforts toward becoming an engaged department and encouraged us to reflect on the challenges. One of the main concerns that we had was the potential disorder that could result from expanding our service-learning involvement by adding new activities and reaching out to other community partners. We decided that one person had to take the responsibility of becoming service-learning coordinator in the department to set up, supervise, and evaluate a variety of service-learning activities suitable for students in language and literature classes, as well as becoming sensitive to the needs of our community partners.

Since the coordination of all these activities entails a workload similar to teaching a regular class, we asked the administration for a course release for the coordinator. Institutional support was required to consolidate the role of coordinator and to fund some segments of the program. Therefore, we submitted a proposal for Community Service-Learning Initiatives to the dean of the college and to the Center for Community Based Learning. Our proposal to the Mellon Foundation was successful, and we received the approval of the college administration to implement the planned initiatives.

One of our goals for this second year was to help spread Spanish/Hispanic/Latino culture outside the classroom while allowing our students in advanced literature and culture classes to include the community in their learning process. In collaboration with Toland Way Elementary, we created two new activities: a series of cultural evenings intended for families and a performance of a play based on the windmills episode of Don Quixote. The cultural evenings involved group presentations on Latin American culture prepared by students in Spanish 303 (Contemporary Latin American Literature). The academic component of these presentations was directly tied to the content of the course. The Spanish 303 instructor helped the students with the conceptual organization of the material, but the PowerPoint presentation was entirely the students’ own creation. The first cultural evening was entitled “Mexican Culture: Poetry and Art,” and the students analyzed the works of famous writers and painters such as Diego Rivera in the context of the Mexican Revolution. The second one, entitled “Mexican and Peruvian Culture: Handicrafts and Music,” explored the connections between artistic productions in Mexico and the Andean regions. In their presentation, students showed a variety of national handicraft traditions, played Andean music, and encouraged the audience to think about the popularization of handicrafts in the age of tourism. Both cultural evenings were successful. The audience consisted of 45-50 people, including the Spanish-speaking students at Toland Way, their parents and other family members, and some teachers and administrators. The audience was particularly receptive to the effort made by the non-native students and very satisfied with the ability of the native-speakers to maintain their language and their culture. The students in turn were gratified by the sense that they were participating in the affirmation of a culture while sharing their experience with the community.

The second project that came out of our commitment to disseminate the Spanish/Hispanic/Latino cultures was the adaptation of the windmills episode of Don Quixote by the students in my class, Spanish 351 (Cervantes and the Renaissance), an upper division literature class that studies most of Cervantes’ narrative works, including numerous chapters from Don Quixote. This class consisted of 19 students, most of them seniors, who had taken many literature and culture courses in Spanish both at Occidental and abroad and who had very good command of the language.

Under the leadership of two theater majors, everybody took responsibility for one or more tasks according to their interests and expertise. Given their motivation and resourcefulness, I chose to step back and play the role of facilitator. I provided them with funds, supplies, and information at their request, but did not interfere in their decisions. Along these lines, I only revised the final version of the script for linguistic and historical accuracy, but did not make any changes in the content.

While working on the adaptation of the windmills episode, the students showed a great awareness about the needs of an audience consisting of bilingual children in kindergarten through third grade. They realized that adapting a narrative text written in the 17th century into a brief play for elementary school children was a very challenging, but also creative, experience that required them to be faithful to the literary work. All involved were satisfied with the outcome of this activity. My students were particularly proud of the children’s reaction to the play, because they seemed to have both comprehended and enjoyed it. This positive reaction was confirmed by the feedback we received in the children’s thank-you letters that included pictures and comments about their favorite part of the show. Similarly, the teachers in the bilingual program sent us a collective note expressing their gratitude and satisfaction about the performance. As a teacher, I was extremely happy and proud of my students for their dedication, hard work, and, above all, for the intellectual caliber of their reflections. Overall, it was a very rewarding experience. Everybody took away a great message about learning, friendship, and the value of a bilingual community.

Finally, during spring semester 2005, we expanded the possibilities of service-learning involvement by becoming partners with another school, Glendale High School, and by increasing the number of activities at Toland Way Elementary. We were especially satisfied with the computer lessons we provided to the Spanish-speaking parents of the elementary school children. Five Occidental students committed their time to teach a group of mothers how to use computers to help their children with their homework and to access valuable information and resources.

With Glendale High School, we developed a mentoring activity that had two main components: an intellectual collaboration between high school and college students, and a practical introduction to higher education and college life. For the first part, over 40 Latino students attending bilingual classes at Glendale High worked in groups with Occidental students to enhance their literary analysis techniques in Spanish. All our students in the intermediate and advanced classes were invited to participate, and among the 80 students who qualified to participate in this activity, 38 signed up for it. The partnership evolved during three weeks in which the students got to know one another via e-mail and worked together analyzing a short story by the Mexican author Juan Rulfo. Then both groups met at Occidental for a day. They toured the campus, visited professors from different departments, and discussed their academic interests and other aspects of college life. In the afternoon, they convened to give their oral presentations. Three Spanish faculty members, the director of the Center for Community Based Learning, and the Spanish teacher from Glendale High attended the oral presentations, and all of them were positively impressed by the quality of the analysis and by the speaking and presentation skills of both groups.

After the meeting, all of the students had to answer questions reflecting on the value of this activity in the form of an essay in order to receive credit. In these essays, they had to cover three major areas: their personal involvement in the activity; the short-term and long-term impacts that such activity can have on the community; and the value of the activity as a learning tool (see Appendix 3). Many Occidental students commented about becoming more aware of the privileges they enjoyed, from computer access to financial stability, and expressed their happiness for being of some assistance to high school students. Glendale High students, on the other hand, mentioned that being able to do oral presentations side by side with college students boosted their self-esteem. Overall, considering the information in the students’ essays along with our own observations, we concluded that the activity was meaningful because it served to encourage the younger people to continue their education and increased the civic contribution and responsiveness of the college students.

In sum, more than 200 Occidental students from more than 15 different Spanish classes had the opportunity to engage in service-learning. All faculty members in the Spanish department, full-time and part-time alike, were able to incorporate a service-learning component in their classes. Over 150 community members participated in our service-learning activities, and a strong partnership was developed with two educational institutions in our area. Above all, we worked hard to promote civic awareness through our curriculum, making the Spanish classes a valuable tool not only for linguistic improvement, but also for responsible service to the community. In return, the interaction with the surrounding Spanish-speaking population made possible an authentic and meaningful use of the language, facilitated multicultural appreciation, and instilled in the Occidental students and faculty a sense of belonging in the local community.

Program Evaluation

The Objectives

Many of the service-learning activities implemented by the Spanish faculty were intended to address some of the issues that were a matter of concern in the intermediate and advanced language classes at Occidental, such as the lack of time for student oral participation and the excess of teacher-centered exercises. A recurrent problem in second- and third-year language courses is that students and teachers struggle to cover all the material, usually combining a review of grammar with an introduction to literature and culture. Owing to the fast pace of such classes, student participation is limited to answering questions prompted by the teacher, monitored group activities, and a few oral presentations. These presentations are the only opportunities students have to express themselves in a more independent and personal way, but most of the time they choose a rather impersonal topic and their delivery tends to sound rehearsed, not spontaneous. Another alternative for students who wish to improve their oral skills is to enroll in conversation classes that match their language proficiency. Although somewhat more informal than the regular course, the conversation courses still take place in a structured academic environment where students continue to play a passive role. To overcome those restrictions, interactive and context-based service-learning activities that enable communication without the teacher’s presence are recommended (Hale, Mullaney, Boyle, & Overfield, 1999). Interactions with native speakers such as those promoted by tutoring programs are an ideal vehicle to facilitate a more spontaneous and authentic communication that empowers college undergraduates as well as school children, and helps both to develop new skills. Research shows that by negotiating meaning on their own, each group of students becomes more resourceful and less inhibited (Mullaney, 1999).

In that regard, Occidental students’ journals contained numerous reflections on the newly acquired communicative and learning strategies. One of the students remarked: “With the children, I don’t feel disoriented or embarrassed when I don’t know the exact word in Spanish. I just explain to them what I am trying to say and they help me find the right word.” The students’ journals also underline the additional benefits of this kind of interaction over the more traditional practices such as the language laboratory. For example, one student wrote: “I like participating in the Homework Club better than sitting in front of a computer in the language lab because I really get to talk and not just listen.” By being removed from the teacher-centered setting of the class or the technology-oriented surroundings of the lab, students took ownership of the communicative process and engaged in a true collaboration with their community counterparts.

The other pressing issue our service-learning activities aimed to tackle was the impossibility for many students of Spanish to completely immerse themselves in the Hispanic/Latino/Spanish cultures. Since the option of studying abroad in a Spanish-speaking country is not available to everyone for academic or financial reasons, service-learning involvement works as an alternative to off-campus study, as well as an incentive to appreciate the richness and diversity of the local community. Research demonstrates that community-based learning opportunities also increase and diversify student exposure to cultural and linguistic material (Feal, 2002). A service-learning component may not have the intensity of a whole semester overseas, but it has the potential of promoting long-lasting interactions that are more difficult to attain in a few months of studying abroad. As a student commented in her journal: “I would like to continue to work with the same kids next semester, for I want to get to know them well. I want to forge relationships with them based on trust and respect.” Of the total number of Occidental participants, at least 30 percent extended their service-learning engagement a second year, becoming a valuable resource for the children, the faculty, and the parents of the neighboring elementary school. Significantly, each of those students has also applied and been accepted to study abroad in Spanish-speaking countries, which demonstrates how service-learning constitutes a valuable preparation as well as an important stimulus for transition from local to global communities.

As mentioned before, there doubts remain among the faculty about the value of these activities for native-speakers of Spanish. The main criticism was that the service-learning experience emphasized the improvement of oral skills, which is an aspect of the language in which the native-speakers already excel. Moreover, it was argued, talking in Spanish to younger students is not an unusual practice for many of the Latino students. However, their experience does not merely duplicate a practice that they have in their homes and communities; instead, it offers the Latino students the academic framework to re-evaluate the significance of their cognitive and linguistic skills and to reflect about the importance of their civic involvement.

For a variety of reasons, the participation of bilingual college students in projects such as the tutoring program can be extremely productive. First, given their language sensitivity and their parallel learning experience, Latino students can easily identify the more problematic areas of study for the children and help them to effectively overcome those difficulties. Second, the educational achievements of the bilingual undergraduates can be perceived by the children as a strong motivation to succeed in school and in life. Third, college-age bilingual students’ retention of their language and culture proves to the elementary school students and their families the value of their heritage. At the same time, the reflections made by the Latino students’ in their journals throughout the semester showed considerable increase in their self-esteem because of the positive impact that they were able to make in the children’s bilingual instruction. One said: “It’s really amazing how the children trust me and follow my advice. They seem to be very comfortable with my presence.” Another student commented: “I usually work with the kids who have been absent during the week and help them to complete the work that they haven’t done. The teacher says that without my assistance they would keep on falling behind. “

According to their own words, the insecurities many bilingual speakers feel regarding their linguistic competence seemed to be neutralized by the pride, empathy, and responsibility resulting from their civic engagement. Therefore, service-learning activities give Latino students a sense of purpose and motivate them to continue their education in Spanish and their involvement with the local community.

The Challenges

Many unforeseen challenges had to be faced throughout these two years, and many valuable lessons were learned in this process. First of all, the whole Spanish curriculum had to be gradually revised in order to re-evaluate the objectives and structure of most of the classes to allow the incorporation of a service-learning component. Making service-learning an integral part of the program and not just an add-on required finding the best approach to implement this teaching model to achieve the specific goals of each class. Given the diverse content and expectations of the many classes that integrate the Spanish curriculum, it was impossible to come up with a unique solution. The main problem was to identify what segment of each course could be considered equivalent to the service-learning experience and therefore interchangeable with it. In the intermediate Spanish classes it was easy to establish a parallel between the students’ participation in the tutoring program and their Language Lab attendance. Both activities consisted of weekly sessions and included a written summary. However, in the advanced language courses and in the literature and culture classes, it was more difficult to single out a class component that had a close equivalence to the service-learning activities available through the tutoring program. A connection had to be established in a somewhat arbitrary way or by creating ad-hoc activities tied to the content of the courses, such as the cultural evenings or the theatrical performance, that was relevant both for the class and for the community partner

From a practical point of view, having interchangeable course requirements makes things more complicated for the instructor, for he/she has to collect and evaluate different assignments with various due dates. The professor must develop diverse assignment routines and acquire a new expertise in order to help the students in the reflection process. For instance, it became clear that the students’ diaries should not be graded just in terms of the grammar and that the teacher had to provide meaningful feed-back in relation to the content. Therefore, the instructor ought to assist the students to transcend their particular experience and consider issues of social justice and civic responsibility by guiding their reflections and expanding their learning. At the same time, the teacher also needs to release some control on the transmission of knowledge and trust the pedagogical value of the off-campus segment of the class. While all the instructors agreed on increasing the community outreach, not every teacher was ready to create specific activities for his/her classes. In those cases, the professors encouraged their students to participate in the ongoing service-learning departmental activities under the supervision of the program coordinator, whose role is to inform the students of the different possibilities of service-learning engagement and to work out the logistics of their participation (schedule, training, transportation, etc), in conjunction with the community partner and any other agencies involved. The coordinator also generates the reflection questions in consultation with the faculty, although determining the format in which the students’ reflections should be presented—journal, essay or oral presentation—remains the responsibility of the class instructor as does the collection and grading of those assignments. Frequent conversations need to take place between the service-learning coordinator and the faculty to address any questions or concerns that may arise as the service-learning activity evolves and to assess its worth or appropriateness once it has been completed. Service-learning coordinators should be leaders and facilitators and should view the expertise in this pedagogy as an important aspect of their professional development. Participation in conferences and workshops is highly desirable, increasing familiarity with the new developments in this pedagogy. With the appropriate institutional support the position of service-learning coordinator should be consolidated with the due compensation and recognition. All full-time instructors should be granted the opportunity to become coordinators throughout the years to promote a greater participation from the faculty and to guarantee the continuity of the program. Consequently, teamwork and faculty cooperation are key elements in any attempt of incorporating service-learning across the curriculum for they prevent individual instructors from feeling overwhelmed with the methodological and practical innovations that are inherent in this teaching model.

A more active communication between faculty and students is also necessary to ensure that the service-learning experience is truly productive and not just another course requirement to be fulfilled in a mechanical way (Varas, 1999). Moving back and forth from the classroom to the community requires that the students switch gears regarding their own position in the teaching and learning process. In class they may continue to have a somewhat passive position, but in the community they need to become agents in the transmission of knowledge. It is the responsibility of the faculty to help the students negotiate the difficulties they may face in this transition. The reflections contained in the students’ journals served as a point of departure for an on-going dialog that brings the community into the classroom. In this course of action, students and faculty learn to work in close collaboration toward the betterment of the community.

All over the country, but especially in areas with growing Latino population, Spanish departments ought to become vigorous partners and embrace the main goals of the “scholarship of engagement” (Boyer, 1994). Spanish departments are potentially very valuable resources for the Latino community and ought to be open to working with the community instead of functioning as independent satellites. Organizations such as immigration and civil rights groups, health-care providers, schools, and youth groups need the involvement of Spanish-speaking people and offer innumerous opportunities for the students of Spanish to enhance their communication skills. Nevertheless a responsible interaction with the community not only requires the punctual assistance in the solution of a specific problem or concern, but also to concentrate in building relationships beneficial to all (Jorge, 2003). The association that the College Spanish department has constructed with Toland Way Elementary responds to this aspiration. For the last two years the close collaboration between both institutions has yielded very significant and constructive results. The homework club, the intervention program, the series of cultural evenings, the theatrical performance and the computer skills classes for parents are meaningful examples of the kind of projects that an ongoing partnership can produce. Thanks to all these activities, the faculty and students from College became knowledgeable about the complexities of bilingual education and took an active role in building support for the school, the students and their parents.

While working primarily with one partner simplifies many logistical aspects of the service-learning experience—transportation, schedule, training, for example—an effort should be made to achieve a far-reaching rapport with various community groups. This is not an easy task and requires that the different partners show a similar commitment and an equivalent degree of responsibility. Not every partnership will work, some will never get started and others will have to be stop in the middle of the process for lack of accountability or miscommunication between the different groups. For those reasons, it is very important to be able to count on the assistance of an intermediary, such as the personnel of the service-learning center, in order to find the right partner for each project. Another way to build solid partnerships is to work in association with a community group that already has a relationship with another department on campus. Through this venue, most of the initial uncertainties about the viability of the partnership can be avoided and a more extensive institutional cooperation with the community counterpart can be established.


The need to understand other languages and cultures is one of the challenges that our society and higher education, in particular, face in the present and will continue to confront in the future. In this context, foreign language courses should be re-examined for their practicality in communicating colloquial spoken languages (Yankelovich, 2006) and colleges and universities should look at the often multilingual surrounding communities both as providers and recipients of valuable services. Spanish departments should be especially receptive to the rising number of Latinos in the nation, as well as the large enrollments in language, literature, and culture classes. Opportunities for meaningful interactions between faculty and students and the neighboring Spanish-speaking communities can be established easily with the appropriate collaboration. Though it initially may appear to be an overwhelming task, a gradual implementation of a service-learning component across the curriculum is a feasible endeavor as long as the different participants work as a cohesive group. Faculty members must be willing to revise their course objectives and learn to evaluate the community-based activities, with consideration to their pedagogical and civic value. Institutions must recognize the academic merit that the incorporation of this teaching model entails and provide the necessary support to the departments. Students need to become more proactive about the language acquisition process, both to enhance their communication skills and to be able to render a positive service to the community. Finally, the community members should work together with their academic partners to set up relevant and long-lasting off-campus programs. Reaching out to the community is the logical path to follow in the pursuit of a culture-sensitive language instruction, for there is no language without the existence of a language community.


American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages. Special Project (1999). National Standards for Foreign Language Education. Retrieved July 23, 2003, from www.actfl.org/.

Boyer, E. (1994). Creating the new American college. The Chronicle of Higher Education, March 9, A48.

Boyle, J., & Overfield, M. (1999). Community-based language learning: Integrating language and service. In J. Hellebrandt & L. Varona (Eds). Construyendo puentes (building bridges): Concepts and Models for Service-Learning in Spanish. Washington, DC: American Association for Higher Education.

Feal, R. (2002). Foreign language study: World needs now. MLA Newsletter, 34(4), 5-6.

Hale, A. (1999). Service-learning and Spanish: A missing link. In J. Hellebrandt & L. Varona (Eds.). Construyendo puentes (building bridges). Concepts and Models for Service-Learning in Spanish. Washington, DC: American Association for Higher Education.

Hellebrandt, J. & L. Varona (Eds). (1999). Construyendo Puentes (Building Bridges). Concepts and Models for Service-Learning in Spanish. Washington, DC: American Association for Higher Education.

Hellebrandt, J., Arries, J., & Varona, L (Eds) (2003). Juntos: Community partnerships in Spanish and Portuguese. Boston: American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese Professional Development Series Handbook.

Jorge, E. (2003). Outcomes for community partners in an unmediated service-learning program. Michigan Journal of Community Service-learning, 10, 28-38.

Jimenez, T. (2002). Fostering the literacy development of Latino students. Focus on Exceptional Children, 34(6), 1-10.

Mullaney, J. (1999). Service-learning and language-acquisition: Theory and practice. In J. Hellebrandt, J.L. Varona, (Eds) Construyendo Puentes (Building Bridges). Concepts and Models for Service-Learning in Spanish. Washington, DC. American Association for Higher Education.

Report From the National Commission on Service-Learning. Retrieved July 23, 2003 from www.learningindeed.org.

Varas, Patricia. Raising cultural awareness through service-learning in Spanish culture and conversation: Tutoring in the migrant education program in Salem. In J. Hellebrandt, L. Varona, (Eds). Construyendo Puentes (Building Bridges). Concepts and Models for Service-Learning in Spanish, Washington, DC. American Association for Higher Education.

Yankelovich, D. (2006). Higher education in 2015. The Chronicle of Higher Education, January 2006, 43-53.

Zlotkowski, E. (2001) Mapping new terrain: Service-learning across the disciplines. Change, 33(1), 24-33.

About the Author

Felisa Guillén is a professor of Spanish and department coordinator of the Community-Based Learning Spanish Program at Occidental College in Los Angeles.

Organizing Community Change: STD/HIV Awareness in a Greek Student Body

Naomi Sleap, Allyce Heflin, Adrian J. Archuleta, and Wendy P. Cook

“Students play key role in a major university’s decision to include STD/HIV information in risk-awareness seminars. “


Sexually risky behaviors coupled with alcohol use elevate college students’ risks for contracting STDs and HIV. College students in sororities and fraternities often perceive that risky behavior is a normal part of Greek life. This paper describes a structured change effort led by students who urged Greek student leadership, university administrators, and health educators to incorporate sexual health information and the associated risks of alcohol use into risk awareness seminars. In fall 2005 and spring 2006, 1,500 and 1,000 Greek students between the ages of 18 and 24 entering 55 Greek organizations at Florida State University participated in the risk awareness seminars. Incoming Greek students were provided with sexual health information that promoted responsible sexual practices and detailed the risks associated with alcohol use. Because of this change effort, Greek student leadership and Greek Life Administrators have standardized sexual health information as a component of the risk awareness seminars.

Implementing an educational program that inspires a community to take preventative action requires the concerted effort of stakeholders who are dedicated to and affected by change. Such collaboration often necessitates amalgamating community resources to address the needs of high risk populations. At Florida State University, approximately 4,500 students participate in the Greek community as members of both sororities and fraternities. Greek council constitutions require all new members of the Greek community to attend two risk awareness seminars per year. Past seminars focused on alcohol related issues, but omitted the effects of alcohol and other substance use on sexual behaviors. Therefore, Risk Awareness Seminars offered by the university did not provide the Greek student population with information regarding risky sexual behaviors and Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs)/Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV).

Research indicates that alcohol abuse increases risky sexual behaviors such as unprotected sex and multiple sexual partners (Huang, Jacobs, & Dervensky, 2010; Paul, McManus, & Hayes, 2000; Wechsler, Dowdall, Davenport, & Castillo, 1995). While risk awareness seminars address alcohol use, they do not address the connection between alcohol use and risky sexual behaviors that increase the risk of contracting STDs and HIV. The propensity of Greek students to abuse alcohol increases their potential risk for acquiring an STD or HIV (Wechsler, Kuh, & Davenport, 1996) and requires prevention and interventions strategies that incorporate invested community members. This paper presents a student-led change project approach that assisted in standardizing sexual health education in risk awareness seminars to address risky sexual behaviors and alcohol consumption among a high-risk Greek student body.

Literature Review

Contributing Factors to Risky Sexual Behaviors

National College Health Assessments (NCHA) between 2000 and 2009 indicate that STDs/HIV, condom use, and the number of sexual partners for college students within a 12 month period remained relatively consistent (American College Health Association, 2000-2009). For example, in 2000, 24.3% of students reported having two or more sexual partners within the last 12 months. In 2009, 23% of students reported the same number of partners (American College Health Association, 2000, 2009). Additionally, only 6% (oral sex), 51.6% (vaginal sex), and 30.2% (anal sex) reported using a condom mostly or always during sexual activity within the last 30 days (American College Health Association, 2009). As a result, college administrators and health officials are increasingly concerned with the prevalence of risky sexual behaviors within the college-age population (Scholly, Katz, Gascoigne, & Holck, 2005).

There are many factors correlated with risky sexual behaviors among college students, but perhaps the most significant is the use of alcohol or mood-altering substances. Alcohol myopia theory provides a link between alcohol use and risky sexual behavior, contending that the pharmacological effects of alcohol alter one’s ability to process information and thereby disinhibit behavior (Steele & Josephs, 1990). When a person drinks alcohol, he/she processes basic biological cues such as sexual arousal, but is unable to process complex concepts such as the possibility of contracting diseases from sexual behaviors. Evidence suggested that drinking in a potential sexual situation increases the probability of sexual intercourse, while decreasing the chance that risk discussion will occur (Cooper, 2002). Simons, Maisto, and Wray (2010) found a reduction in condom use during oral and vaginal sex and an increase in risky sexual behaviors while under the influence of alcohol and cannabis. Therefore, using marijuana and other substances likely affects the possibility that risk discussion will occur since such substances also reduce higher order cognitive functioning that allows individuals to evaluate risk taking behaviors (Pattij, Wiskerke, & Schoffelmeer, 2008).

Other factors, such as perceived normative views or peer pressure, increase a student’s risk for contracting STDs and HIV (Paul et al., 2000). Students’ perceptions about their friends’ sexual practices, activities, and attitudes reflect their own sexual choices and behaviors (Lynch, Mowrey, Nesbitt, & O’Neil, 2004; Paul et al.). From a normative view, friends’ attitudes and sexual behaviors may be indicators of a student’s inclination to engage in unprotected sex (Bon et al.). College students’ perceptions of increased sexual activity and the number of partners among peers may lead a student to engage in riskier sexual behaviors (Lynch et al.).

Risky Sexual Behaviors and Alcohol Consumption

People under the age of 25 account for half of all newly diagnosed HIV infections (Centers for Disease Control, 2002), and three million new cases of sexually transmitted diseases each year (Barth, Cook, Downs, Switzer, & Fischhoff, 2002). The primary reason for the increased risk of STD and HIV infection among college age students is their propensity to engage in risky sexual behaviors (Anastasi, Sawyer, & Pinciaro, 1999; Barth et al.). College students frequently engage in risky sexual practices such as unprotected sex and sex with multiple partners, and they also engage in sexual activities while using substances (Anastasi et al.; LaBrie, Earleywine, & Schiffman, 2002; Lewis, Malow, & Ireland, 1997; Lynch et al., 2004; Paul et al., 2000). Bon and colleagues (2001) reported that 14% of students had engaged in unprotected sex and 19% of students had engaged in oral sex while intoxicated, thus highlighting the frequency with which students engage in risky sexual behaviors while using substances.

Although condom use is the primary method of STD and HIV prevention, less than half of college students reported using condoms consistently (Stern & Zak-Place, 2004). HIV and STD testing is also an important indicator of safe sexual behavior; however, only 2% of students reported a known diagnosis of HIV, while 3.8% reported known diagnoses of other STDs (Stern & Zak-Place). Because some STDs develop over longer periods with few symptoms, failure to be tested will likely increase the problems among this age group (McCaul, Miltenberger, Smyth, & Tulloch, 2004). Greek affiliated students’ social activities elevate their risk for engaging in sexual behaviors that expose them to STDs and HIV (Larimer, Irvine, Kilmer, & Marlatt, 1997).

Risks to University Greek Populations

A study examining the effects of Greek membership on risky sexual behavior and alcohol use found that alcohol abuse and unsafe sexual activity were the most problematic issues within Greek organizations (Eberhardt, Rice, & Smith, 2003). Greek students were found to be more likely to consume unsafe amounts of alcohol than their non-Greek peers (Eberhardt et al.). Approximately 86% of fraternity and sorority members reported engaging in binge drinking, defined as five drinks for men and four for women (Wechsler et al., 1996). Of these members, 36% and 57% of non-resident and resident member men and 28% and 43% of non-resident and resident member women reported binge-drinking three or more times in the last two weeks (Wechsler et al.). Consequently, members of Greek organizations are more likely to report experience with the negative consequences of binge drinking, such as unwanted sexual advances and risky sexual behaviors (Eberhardt et al). Larimer and colleagues (1997) contended that alcohol-related risks and the sexual and academic consequences stemming from its use have become a normal part of fraternity and sorority life. While Greeks and non-Greeks both engage in risky sexual behaviors, there are alarming differences in the sexual practices of Greek women. Overall Greek students reported more instances of unprotected sex while intoxicated than non-Greek students, and Greek-affiliated women were less likely to use a condom during vaginal intercourse than both non-Greek women and Greek-affiliated men (Eberhardt et al.).

Intervention Strategies

Many college health education programs attempt to heighten awareness of high-risk behaviors using threats of adverse effects, which demonstrate no effect on reducing students’ high-risk behaviors (Scholly et al., 2005). However, individual self-efficacy significantly predicts one’s intended condom use (Stern & Zak-Place, 2004). Self-efficacy is “confidence in one’s personal ability to achieve a specific behavioral outcome that is said to enhance protective behavior” (Lewis et al., 1997, p. 153). College students’ belief in their abilities to engage in preventative STD and HIV behaviors is the most important factor in their intentions to act (Stern & Zak-Place). Therefore, intervention strategies should bolster efficacious behavior by educating college students about the rates of STD/HIV infection for their peer group, the importance of risk communication with partners, and the increased risk of STD/HIV transmission when alcohol or other substances are involved in risky situations.

Some effective interventions utilize social norms theory to address risky sexual behaviors among college students. Social norms theory postulates that students’ perceptions of their peers’ behaviors influence their decision to engage in similar behaviors (Scholly et al., 2005). Acting on this perspective, universities should enact awareness campaigns using posters, fliers, pens, and campus-wide screensavers to provide students with statistics that reflect their peers’ behaviors (Scholly et al.). Due to the correlation between risky sexual behaviors and perceptions of peers’ sexual practices, educational interventions should provide information and statistics that reflect actual trends of students’ sexual behaviors in order to correct any misconceptions about existing norms (Bon et al., 2001). For example, the National College Health Assessments (2009) indicates that 77.1% of college students report one partner or fewer in the last 12 months (American College Health Association). Intervention strategies that reflect students’ actual sexual behaviors will likely encourage students to make safer sexual choices that reduce STD/HIV transmission.

Current intervention strategies for risky sexual behaviors and STD/HIV transmission focus on abstinence or safe sex practices. If partners use a condom properly and consistently during sexual intercourse, they may reduce the risk of HIV by 70-100% (Lewis et al., 1997). Partners who discuss condom use are more likely to use them (McCaul et al., 2004). College men tend to use condoms when their partner puts forth the suggestion, while women are more likely to rely on their partners to initiate condom use (Lewis et al.).

However, college students are least knowledgeable about the STD/HIV infection rates for people in their age group (Opt & Loffredo, 2004). In a study of college students who voluntarily sought HIV testing, 75% of students indicated that they perceived their risk for STD/HIV transmission to be low or very low (Anastasi et al., 1999). Due to deficiencies in sexual health awareness, intervention strategies should be adapted to include an educational component addressing the risks that elevate STD/HIV contraction among the Greek student body. However, incorporating such information often requires change to an existing system where such deficiencies rest.

Change Strategy

To undertake a project that will elicit change in one’s community and environment, a thorough approach that considers the depth and influences of proposed activities should be utilized. To consider the potential impact of the change, a well developed and proven approach that considers the change agent, target system, structural factors, and critical and facilitating actors is necessary. The field theory approach to implementing change provides a framework for examining and balancing action (Brager & Holloway, 2002). This approach identifies a potential problem within a particular organization or environment that will become the target system for change. Formally, the target system is “the individual, group, or community to be changed or influenced to achieve” a desired social goal (Barker, 1995, pp. 378). Identifying a target system, critical and facilitating actors, and driving and restraining forces requires an iterative process fueled by brainstorming sessions that helps understand the problem holistically.

Brainstorming sessions often allow groups proposing change to identify interrelated components of the target system and generate potential interventions that draw on the experience of group members. Brainstorming during meetings at different phases of the project (i.e., prior to and following interaction with critical and facilitating actors) is an essential component in working with a target system and conducting and reassessing the group’s analysis of the problem. Brainstorming allows groups to maximize the amount of input available, draw on the strengths and wisdom of group members’ experience, and ensure that a project’s direction and goals remain collaborative (Brager & Holloway, 2002). Initial brainstorming sessions assist in narrowing the target system to maximize the effectiveness of the change project.

Once the target system is identified, a force field analysis is conducted to examine the continuity of forces that support or defer opportunities for change. This analysis involves identifying critical and facilitating actors or those individuals who could make important decisions related to the overall goal(s) of the change project, as well as individuals who can contribute important resources toward its completion (Brager & Holloway, 2002). Thoughtful consideration of driving and restraining forces is critical to advance change, along with selection of potential interventions that will ameliorate restraining forces and maximize driving forces.

Methods for Targeting Change

Overview of Change Strategy

A field theory approached emphasized by Brager & Holloway (2002) was used as a foundation for a generalized change strategy. Figure 1 outlines the process utilized to enact change.

The student change agents (i.e., students who conceptualized and organized the initial change efforts) began by conducting initial brainstorming sessions to identify a social problem to address. The students’ experiences with Greek organizations elicited concern for the risky sexual behaviors and alcohol/substance use among Greek students. Once the students targeted a problem, they conducted an initial force field analysis to identify critical and facilitating actors to include in decision-making processes, driving (i.e., resources) and restraining (i.e. barriers) forces, as well as the information and research needed to convince the critical actors of the severity of the problem.

Following an initial assessment, the student change agents conducted additional brainstorming sessions with the critical and facilitating actors during face-to-face meetings. These sessions considered how health educators could incorporate the information into the risk assessment seminars, determined the content most pertinent to the Greek student body, and helped to discover driving and restraining forces not previously identified by the group. Toward the end of the project, the meetings moved from brainstorming sessions toward a task group orientation to transition the project’s implementation to the critical and facilitating actors. Through these meetings, the students hoped to build collaborative relationships between the University Health Center, Greek organization leadership, and the Greek Life Administration that would lead to the inclusion of sexual health information in the risk awareness seminars to benefit the target system (e.g., Greek student body). Overall, the goal of this project was to receive commitment from Greek student and administrative leadership to include sexual health information in the risk awareness seminars while establishing lasting relationships between the Greek Life Administration, Greek student leadership, and the University Health Center. The following sections provide more depth to the process described above.

Target Systems 

Of the 55 fraternities and sororities at Florida State University, 35 Greek organizations are affiliates of the Panhellenic Sorority or Interfraternity Councils (University Office of Greek Life, 2008). Twenty fraternities and 15 sororities compose the interfraternity and Panhellenic councils, which act as governing bodies that oversee decisions and organize activities related to Greek life (University Office of Greek Life). Two additional governing bodies also regulate activities for different fraternities and sororities. Collectively, these sororities and fraternities are composed of racially and ethnically diverse groups comprised of males and females between the ages of 18-24. Unfortunately, leaders from the Multicultural Greek Council (11 fraternities) and the National Pan-Hellenic Sorority Council (nine sororities), representing a substantial number of racial and ethnic minorities in the Greek system, did not participate in the planning process.

As a result, the target system involved three components of the Greek community: the elected presidents from the Interfraternity and Panhellenic councils, the University’s Student Health Center, and the Greek student body. Each component maintained a vital role in implementing this educational change in the Greek community. The presidents from the Interfraternity and Panhellenic councils coordinated and made determinations about including information in the risk awareness seminars. The University’s Student Health Center recognized the importance of incorporating information on risky sexual behaviors and STDs/HIV and provided health educators who presented these topics at the risk awareness seminars. It was necessary to connect the health educators to the Greek presidents, who plan and implement the risk awareness seminars to new members.

The last target system, and specific target population, consisted of the approximately 4,500 students who are members of Greek organizations at Florida State (University Office of Greek Life, 2008). Although it is important to address sexual health and risky behaviors among all Greek members, only those individuals entering the Greek system for the first time are required to complete the risk awareness seminars. Therefore, only individuals new to Greek life will benefit from the sexual health education. These individuals are consequently a more specific population of interest, or target population. After identifying the target system, the student change agents conducted an initial force field analysis to target key actors to contact.

Force field Analysis of Target Systems 

Critical and Facilitating Actors

To identify critical and facilitating actors as well as driving and restraining forces (Brager & Holloway, 2002), a force field analysis was conducted (Figure 1). Through collaboration with the Greek Council advisor, the students identified the critical actors as those in charge of choosing topics for the awareness seminars and hiring the speakers to present the information: the presidents of the Panhellenic Sorority Council and the Interfraternity Council. Their approval was necessary before the risk awareness seminars could include content on risky sexual behaviors and STDs/HIV awareness. It was paramount that these two people were aware of and understood the importance of including sexual health education in the risk awareness seminars.

Facilitating actors help support change by gaining the attention of the critical actors (Brager & Holloway, 2002). Through face-to-face meetings with the critical actors, the group identified facilitating actors within the critical actors’ and students’ social networks. These facilitating actors could further assist in accessing the population of interest or lend their services and expertise in delivering the sexual health curriculum. Identifying facilitating actors with an established relationship with a group member or who assumed a position of influence among critical actors (i.e., individuals specifically identified by critical actors) assisted in gaining commitments to accomplish the change project and remove barriers likely to impede project implementation (i.e., restraining forces). After the student change agents (those organizing the initial project) identified critical and facilitating actors, the group held several meetings to discuss the important parameters for including the sexual health content in the risk awareness seminars (Figure 2)

For this project, the student change agents identified the assistant director of Greek Life and the health educators at the University’s Student Health Center as facilitating actors. The assistant director provided information about the Greek community and the relationship between the Greek Council and the risk awareness seminars. Her understanding of the risks faced by the Greek community and approval for including risky sexual behaviors into the seminars likely influenced the critical actors’ decision. The health educators’ interest in including sexual health training in the awareness seminars, knowledge of STDs and HIV information, and accessibility to students made them important facilitators. The health educators’ willingness to include risky sexual behavior information and perform the risk awareness seminars demonstrated to critical actors that changes in the seminars were possible.

Driving Forces

A driving force is something or someone that supports change. It includes concrete things such as people and physical locations and more abstract ideas such as attitudes, public opinion, and motivations (personal communication with co-author Wendy Crook, February 29, 2005). The group identified driving forces in two phases. First, the group conducted brainstorming sessions in the classroom with the instructor and peers to organize potential driving forces that would assist in the completed project and required procurement. Second, the group reassessed the driving forces for the project after initial and subsequent meetings with the critical and facilitating actors. Although the driving forces did not change, utilizing these opportunities to reassess the resources available to the project was crucial as social and organizational change demands flexibility.

The group identified existing research, time, space, and materials as driving forces for the project. The research literature helped clearly identify college students as a high-risk population for engaging in risky sexual behaviors resulting in greater exposure to STDs and HIV. Following a reassessment, it became clear that the assistant director of Greek Life and the University’s health educators occupied multiple roles, as their time, expressed interest, and support for the project became driving forces. The assistant director’s monitoring of the Greek community activities was particularly important because of her potential influence on risk awareness topics. The student change agents utilized the health educators’ expertise on the subject matter, as well as data specific to the university’s Greek student body, to influence the decision of the critical actors. Time, money, space, and materials were also driving forces for this change project. The project’s focus and limited number of tasks minimized the amount of time required to accomplish the identified goal and objectives. The availability of resources through the university allowed costs to be defrayed and use of existing space and materials increased the feasibility of changing the curriculum.

Restraining forces

The student change agents recognized that several restraining forces, or factors deterring change (W. Crook, personal communication, February 29, 2005), could significantly impact the short and long-term effectiveness of this change effort. Because HIV is stigma-laden, individuals sometimes presume that certain qualities predict who will contract the disease. In addition, social stigma often prevents individuals from being tested or discussing sexual health issues with their partners (Chesney & Smith, 1999). This stigma likely persists among college students, who may assume that STDs and HIV/AIDS awareness is not relevant. In addition, the relevance of alcohol abuse in Greek life socialization and the previous omission of information on sexual health and risky behaviors in the risk awareness seminars were additional concerns.

Engaging Systems in Change

To minimize restraining forces and maximize driving forces, the student change agents acted as coordinators, educators, and facilitators to engage the identified systems in the change project. The students helped to establish relationships between the University’s Student Health Center, the Interfraternity Council, the Panhellenic Sorority Council, and Greek Life Administration. Facilitating relationships supported by open dialogue through coordinated face-to-face meetings was critical because these relationships connected the individuals in Greek student leadership positions with key support (i.e., Assistant Director of Greek Life and the University Student Health Center). As educators, the student change agents presented research on the risky sexual behaviors of college students to critical and facilitating actors.

The unanticipated role of planner arose from engaging these different systems. The Panhellenic Council president requested assistance in developing the seminars. Working together, the Panhellenic Council president, health educators, and student change agents developed ideas for the seminars. These ideas included the creation of an educational pamphlet to distribute to students, as well as interactive role-play by students that addressed potential consequences from engaging in risky sexual behaviors due to alcohol use. The Panhellenic Council president felt that an open forum including information on alcohol policy and the effects of alcohol would engage students.


Attainment of Goal and Objectives

The goal of the change project was to receive a commitment from the Greek community leadership to include sexual health and risky sexual behaviors information in the risk awareness seminars. The Interfraternity and Panhellenic council presidents committed to including information on risky sexual behaviors, STD and HIV awareness, and alcohol consumption in the risk awareness seminars. Assurance was given that healthy and safe sexual practices would be a major focus of the risk awareness seminars for Fall 2005. In addition, the Panhellenic Council president documented all of the planning and research to encourage future seminar planners to include sexual health education. In fall 2005, approximately 1,500 Greek students entering fraternities and sororities participated in the risk awareness seminar, and an additional 1,000 students completed the seminar in spring 2006. Unfortunately, the health educators and Greek Life Administration did not collect demographic information on individuals attending the risk awareness seminars. Therefore, the demographic makeup of these groups could not be determined, representing a significant limitation.

Two important objectives were established, both of which were accomplished during the course of this project. The first objective was to establish relationships between the Student Health Center, the Interfraternity Council, the Panhellenic Sorority Council, and Greek Student Affairs Administration. The second objective of the project was to increase awareness among Greek leadership of the importance of including risky sexual behavior training in their risk awareness seminars. During initial brainstorming meetings, the Panhellenic Council president requested specific information about the university’s student population to create a pamphlet for participants in the risk awareness seminars. The health educator offered help in developing a pamphlet and offered to update the information as needed. The connection between the health educator and the council president was helpful in standardizing the sexual health information in the risk awareness seminars.

Evaluation of Force Field Analysis

The force field analysis was an accurate depiction of the anticipated events for the change project. Despite identifying individuals as critical or facilitating actors, not all individuals participated because of personal and professional time conflicts. Due to an unforeseen personal predicament, the Interfraternity Council president was unable to participate in the change project. His removal did not impede the change project because the Panhellenic president actively participated and played a key role in organizing the Greek risk awareness seminars. Due to scheduling changes, one of the University’s health educators was unable to participate in the meetings. However, the personal and professional time conflicts did not affect the overall outcomes of the project. All decision-makers were amenable to including information on risky sexual behaviors in the risk awareness seminars. They recognized the risk to Greek students and were more than willing to include the sexual health education component. Although decision-makers provided little resistance, it is difficult to determine whether educators relayed the information in a non-stigmatizing manner or whether students created obstacles for others by stigmatizing the sexual health information.

Target population and Target System

In evaluating the engagement of the target population, it is apparent that the project could have included more members of the Greek council and members of the Greek student body to provide a representative group of potential beneficiaries and benefactors. The Panhellenic Council president agreed to include the risky sexual behavior information in the risk awareness seminars, thereby successfully including the education component identified in the target system. By agreeing to include this new topic in the risk awareness seminars, the Panhellenic Council president helped to ensure the inclusion of sexual health information in future seminars.


There were several limitations related to this process that should be considered. First, the student change agents transferred the responsibility of disseminating the sexual health information to the health educators and the Interfraternity and Panhellenic Councils, none of whom routinely gathered demographic information on individuals completing the risk awareness seminars. Therefore, the characteristics of those individuals participating in the risk awareness seminars are unknown. Second, this process did not include an evaluation of students’ attitudes or behaviors following the educational session, so the immediate or long-term changes in Greek students’ attitudes toward risky sexual behavior and alcohol and substance use also remain unknown. Lastly, the Multicultural Greek and National Pan-Hellenic Council leadership did not participate in the planning process. Therefore, the planning and brainstorming sessions represent a limited perspective and the delivery of the sexual health information may lack an important cultural perspective.


The purpose of this paper was to present an approach for addressing risky sexual behavior and substance use among a Greek student body at high risk for STDs and HIV contraction. Utilizing this approach, student change agents obtained commitments from Greek organization leaders, a university administrator, and university health educators to incorporate sexual health information into risk awareness seminars. Administrators, Greek leadership, and health educators presented this information to 1,500 (fall) and 1,000 (spring) Greek students in the 2005-2006 academic year. In subsequent years, administrators and Greek leadership have continued to present this information to incoming Greek students. By empowering the Greek student leadership to promote healthy sexual practices, the Greek student body was be exposed to educational material that hopefully will increase their awareness of how risky sexual behaviors affect their potential exposure to STDs/HIV.

Risky sexual behaviors, coupled with inappropriate alcohol use, represent a significant problem among college age students that leaves them vulnerable to contracting sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV (Halpern-Felsher, Millstein, & Ellen, 1996; Hingson, Heeren, Winter, & Wechsler, 2003). This risk is higher for members of Greek communities because alcohol and substance misuse resonate through their social activities (Larimer et al., 1997; Wechsler et al., 1996). Finding an appropriate venue for distributing information and preparing incoming students for Greek life is a challenge that is only complicated by the stigma associated with STD/HIV testing and prevention efforts. College students are the least knowledgeable about STD/HIV infection rates among their group (Opt & Loffredo, 2004). Additionally, stigma, limited exposure to information about STDs/HIV, perceived severity of the disease, and perceived consequences of infection influence whether college students pursue testing (Barth et al., 2002). Therefore, interventions and strategies that identify and address multiple facets of the target system are needed. Institutions and organizations may often omit the critical relationship between alcohol and sexual health practices or neglect to address the role that norms play in guiding risky sexual behavior and alcohol use among students.

In instances where vulnerabilities are supported by existing educational deficiencies and organizational reinforcement, it is necessary for interventions to identify existing community support and resources to implement change. Furthermore, it is important for universities and Greek organizations to present sexual health information that raises awareness and promotes responsible and healthy sexual practices (e.g., condom use and testing). Drawing from Brager and Holloway (2002), the social action approach provides health professionals, organizations, and institutions a systematic method for recognizing and addressing risk for various populations.

Future change projects could benefit from broadening critical and facilitating actors. Inclusion of the student population is likely to harness additional support, creativity, and engagement of the target population and aid coordinators in identifying underlying forces not clearly accessible to outside groups. In addition, including leaders from the Multicultural Greek Council and National Pan-Hellenic Sorority Council in the planning process represents an important perspective that was not present. Including leaders who represent diversity could assist in determining whether the material presented was sensitive to a broader range of Greek students. By noting these improvements, future change projects could prove to be greatly successful and beneficial to universities or communities in need.


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About the Authors

Naomi Sleap is a project coordinator for the Florida State College Office of Institutional Effectiveness and Accreditation in Jacksonville. Allyce Heflin is staff director for the Florida House of Representatives’ PreK-12 Appropriations Committee. Adrian J. Archuleta is an assistant professor at the Kent School of Social Work, University of Louisville. Wendy P. Crook was an associate professor in the College of Social Work at Florida State University. Since the completion of this manuscript, Wendy Crook has passed way and we would like to acknowledge her amazing contributions not only to this research but also to this world. The positions and analyses presented in this article are the authors’ and theirs alone.

Youth-Centered Service-Learning: Exploring the Professional Implications for College Studentsice-Learning: Exploring the Professional Implications for College Students

Russell L. Carson and Elizabeth A. Domangue


The purpose of this study was to explore the professional impact that a youth-centered service-learning program had on college students. Participants were 34 undergraduate students (28 females, 6 males) enrolled in an academic core course that integrated Lifetime Exercise and Physical Activity Service-Learning (LE PAS), an after-school program developed to address the physical and social needs of hurricane displaced K-5 youth living in a travel trailer community. The students worked in LE PAS-related activities and completed a series of reflections. Inductive analysis revealed that a youth-centered service-learning program was effective for (a) getting college students to think seriously about working with youth professionally, and (b) discovering and adopting valuable strategies for working with youth.


Concerns about the daunting issues facing today’s children and youth (obesity, drugs, and crime, for example), especially in economically deprived settings (Ball & Crawford, 2005), and undergraduate students’ wavering interest in and attitudes toward working with culturally diverse children (Barnes, 2006; Proctor, Rentz, & Jackson, 2001), have motivated educators to find ways to attract future professionals to work with young populations (Ingersoll, 2002; Merrow, 1999). Interspersed shortages in early child care, education, recreation, and other youth-related fields are becoming more and more common (Howard, 2003). One largely overlooked strategy that has great potential for increasing the supply of youth-oriented professionals is service-learning.


Service-learning is a hands-on experience that simultaneously fulfills a local community need and the learning goals of an academic course (Bringle & Hatcher, 1996). While this form of real-world learning, also referred to as community service learning, can take many shapes (Eyler & Giles, 1999), it is essential that both the community and the students benefit; that is, the service must be meaningful to the community while enriching the learning of the student. Researchers have added a third element to service-learning, purposeful civic learning. This element highlights how this forum of learning prepares students to be future contributors to their communities. (Bringle & Hatcher, 1996; Howard, 2001). Programs that fall short of these ingredients, or that emphasize one ingredient more than others, should not be referred to as service-learning (Eyler & Giles, 1999; Howard, 2001; Richardson, 2006).

The central thread between the meaningful service provided to the community and the enriched educational growth of the students is reflection. Reflection can come in many different written and oral forms—reflective journals, class discussions, directed readings, personal narratives, directed writings, and reflective interviews, for example). Reflection is most effective when it incorporates the “4 C’s”: (a) continuous—is undertaken throughout the service-learning experience; (b) connected—is directly related to the course objectives; (c) challenging—demands high quality student effort and facilitates instructor feedback; and (d) contextualized—complements the level and type of learning activities of the course (Eyler, Giles, & Schmiede, 1996).

Youth-Oriented Service-Learning

Service-learning programs have been implemented in higher education courses throughout the United States since the mid-1970s (Zlotkowski, 1998); yet, it was not until the mid-1990s that service-learning principles surfaced within the course syllabi of child-centered programs (Anderson, Swick, & Yff, 2001). Since then, the presence of service-learning within mainstream youth circles has ballooned. The most common examples include placing future teachers in school- or community-based field settings (Baldwin, Buchanan, Rudisell, 2007; Domangue & Carson, 2008; Hale, 2008; Malone, Jones, & Stallings, 2002; Potthoff, Dinsmore, & Eifler, 2000; Slavkin, 2002; Strage, Meyers, & Norris, 2002; Vickers, Harris, & McCarthy, 2006); or involving teachers and K-12 students themselves in the design and implementation of service-learning assignments at local schools (Nelson & Eckstein, 2008).

Research pertaining to youth-oriented service-learning programs has predominately focused on documenting the academic, behavioral, or civic learning outcomes acquired by those providing the needed public service (e.g., preservice teachers) or those receiving the needed public service (e.g., youth). Findings have clearly demonstrated that service-learning can significantly increase both providers’ and receivers’ personal identity and esteem, interpersonal and leadership skills, sense of civic and social responsibility, cultural and racial understanding, connectedness to school and each other, application of course content, and, for receivers only, academic skills and knowledge, school attendance, motivation to learn, and graduation likelihood (Eyler, Giles, Stenson, & Gray, 2001).

Another body of research suggests that service-learning contributes to the future intentions of those involved, whether it is in their commitment to service or future engagement in community organizations (Astin, Sax, & Avalos, 1999; Yates & Youniss, 1996). However, what is less known is the impact that service-learning has on participants’ future career endeavors. In a literature review, Richardson (2006) concluded that service-learning has been successful in enabling participants to become more knowledgeable and realistic about their careers. Perhaps, service-learning might not only have the power to increase career awareness, but also to attract future professionals to certain careers.

Given the pressing employment needs in youth fields today, it seemed important to investigate how service-learning can influence the careers aspirations of college students. Thus our purpose was to explore the professional impact of a youth-centered service-learning program on college students.


Participants and Course Description

The participants were 34 upper division undergraduate student (28 females and 6 males, of whom 27 were Caucasian Americans, two were African-Americans, two were Hispanic Americans, one was Asian American, and two were self-identified as “other”) enrolled in an academic core course at Louisiana State University. The main objective of the course, Lifespan Motor Development, was for students to develop an understanding of the age-related changes in human motor behavior (e.g., reflexes, locomotor skill, fine motor skills, object-control skills) from infancy to adulthood, and the cognitive, social, and physical processes that underlie these changes. The course is a requirement for all allied health, rehabilitation, wellness, and athletic training majors at LSU. It is generally conducted in a lecture-style format. Students are assessed via exams, a presentation, and a series of assignments. Beginning in the spring semester of 2007, LE PAS was integrated into the course as an assignment.

Service-Learning Program: LE PAS

Following the destruction of hurricanes Katrina and Rita in the fall of 2005, government-funded travel-trailer communities were established throughout the Southeast to house evacuating families. An array of local and state service providers, including universities, responded to the immediate and long-term needs of these evacuees. Services that targeted youth focused on increasing their educational outcomes and life success through stable, safe, and structured homework and after-school activities. LE PAS was one of the many valuable after-school programs provided at the largest government-funded, temporary living community (1,600+ residents, 550+ trailers) in the United States at the time.

The purpose of LE PAS was to address the physical and social needs of children and teens displaced by the hurricanes, while allowing college students the opportunity to authentically experience course content relative to teaching methods in physical education (see Carson, 2008) and the motor development process in childhood and adolescence. LE PAS took place four days a week for two hours a day in conjunction with an after-school tutoring program. During the first hour, general education service-learning students tutored the youth who then went outside to participate in physical activities led by either a LE PAS instructor (a graduate student or paid LE PAS students from previous semesters) or undergraduate LE PAS students. The outdoor activities varied, but generally included some form of aerobic/rhythmic movements, cooperative challenges, or lifetime sports. Before the closure of the housing community, LE PAS was in place for five consecutive semesters, enlisting a total of 141 undergraduate service-learning students, and serving an average of 28 children and 12 teens a day.

Procedures and Data Sources

This study was conducted across the spring and summer semesters of 2007. At the onset, we obtained Institutional Review Board approval and the students’ informed consent. We also verbally emphasized to the students that participation was voluntary and in no way would affect their course grade. Data transcription and analysis did not commence until after the summer 2007 semester had concluded.

Prior to the first visit to the service-learning site, all participants completed a study-designed questionnaire that pertained to their previous youth-related work or volunteer experiences, future career plans, and initial thoughts about how LE PAS might impact their career choices. Then, as part of the service-learning portion of the class, participants were required to provide the displaced youth with five hours of service throughout the semester. Participants fulfilled this requirement by either organizing and leading LE PAS outdoor activity sessions or assisting with after-school tutoring. Throughout the service-learning experience, participants were asked to (a) reflect on each visit in a course journal, (b) contribute to in-class discussions related to LE PAS, and (c) reflect on the entire experience by writing an overall, more thorough, final reflection. These reflections were guided by questions that addressed their concrete experiences (e.g., “What happened at the community service site?”), academic learning (e.g., “What did you learn about the course content as a result of your involvement today?”), and personal and professional growth (e.g., “What impact might your service have on your career path?”). The instructor also recorded personal observations and reflections in a journal, which was later transcribed and used as a data source along with students’ course journals and final reflections.

Service-learning course credit was based on the number of LE PAS participating hours and corresponding reflections students completed throughout the semester, not on the content of their journals or final reflections. Therefore, college students were encouraged to reflect freely and openly.

Data Analysis and Trustworthiness

Data were inductively analyzed (Patton, 2002) using the three-step process of open, axial, and selective coding (Strauss & Corbin, 1998). That is, the central ideas of the journals and reflections were first labeled and grouped into conceptually similar categories, which were deepened from the close examination of related and unrelated meanings, and finally constructed into larger relational statements or themes that resemble the essential elements of interrelated categories. The results of this study, therefore, are grounded in and abstracted from the data rather than being imposed a priori from preconceived premonitions or propositions. We attempted to minimize some degree of researcher bias or distortion by having a second researcher, who was not involved in LE PAS in any way, conduct all analyses. Final interpretations were member checked and shared with a peer debriefer, who was also unrelated to the research studies of LE PAS, to ensure that findings were trustworthy and dependable. Participant and service site anonymity were maintained through the use of pseudonyms.


LE PAS provided a unique opportunity for the college students to become involved in a service-learning experience. Many were enrolled in the university when Hurricane Katrina struck, and LE PAS allowed them to give back to the residents who were affected. Susan emphasized an important reason for providing the youth-aged residents with regular physical activities, when she wrote:

Due to their circumstances, some of the family members may feel extra stress in their lives. It is especially important during times like this that exercise be incorporated into people’s lives. Not only does exercise increase health, but it can decrease stress, which is important in times of turmoil.

The college students not only were able to provide physical activities for the youth, but also found significance in the work they were doing. Cassie stated:

It has to be hard to have your home completely destroyed and have to live in a trailer for two years. These children were taken out of their comfort zones and placed in an area and school that they probably never even heard of before the storm. The families had to start all over and make the best of a bad situation. They are hanging in there, and the kids are actually benefiting from this experience.

The empathy these college students felt perhaps served as a springboard to allow them to make meaningful connections to their future interests and career paths.

Two themes emerged pertaining to how college students’ involvement in LE PAS impacted them professionally. First, LE PAS allowed college students to confirm or discover a future career in youth service fields. Second, college students realized and adopted valuable strategies for working with youth. The remainder of this section will explore these themes.

Confirming and Discovering a Career Path 

That Includes Youth Populations

This theme is significant due to the fact that only 8 of the 34 college students initially believed their career paths would entail working in youth-centered environments. For example, Julia, who already assisted youth at a pediatric physical therapist clinic, expressed a continued interest in serving youth due to her enjoyable LE PAS experiences.

Additional comments echo these sentiments.

[Susan] This opportunity to work with children at New Start Village [service-learning site] has really been a glimpse into the future. I want to go into pediatric physical therapy, and it may be that I will have a child in my care whose family goes through what these families have gone through.

[Ashlee]My experience…[in LE PAS] was an important learning lesson. I will be able to take what I have learned and apply it to my future career as a nurse. As a nurse, I want to work with children. I believe that working with the children was similar to the interactions that I will experience as a nurse.

Cameron presented an alternative way to continue working with youth. In addition to her goal of being a coach, she stated that after participating in LE PAS, she now plans on finding ways to get her student-athletes involved in community service activities. She commented:

[LE PAS] has encouraged me to do more around me…when I become a coach.… It will be extremely important to me to always be involved in the community…and to share that feeling with the girls that I will coach.

By the end of the service-learning program, there were 14 students who either reconsidered their initial career paths to include youth populations or expressed a new-found interest in assisting children in the future. As a result of working with the youth in LE PAS, Mary, who previously was uninterested in a youth-oriented career, wrote:

Before this experience, I planned on focusing my future career aspirations on rehabilitation. Whereas, now I would also like to help promote physical activity among youth, especially due to the rising epidemic of childhood obesity. At first, I was more interested in dealing with individuals around my age because it is easier to relate to them than those not in my age group. I am now considering working with younger populations.

Molly is another example of a student who originally did not intend to choose a youth-oriented career path. However, after her experiences in LE PAS, she stated that a career in pediatric medicine is now a very realistic option for her. She wrote: “If I were to go into pediatrics I would be able to use the knowledge that I’ve gained from forming relationships with these kids to form relationships with my future patients.”

Although each student’s future career plans were unique, this service-learning experience appeared to open the door to new considerations and possibilities.

While the professional horizons of several participants were expanded to youth settings, not all of the students arrived at this conclusion. Eleven of the students revealed that the service-learning experience had less of an impact on their future plans. Laura reflected: “I know from this experience that this [age group] is not a population I would work well with.” Her comments reiterate the important role of reflection in service-learning; without reflection Laura might not have come to this career realization.

Adopting Strategies to Reach Youth

Through meaningful connections to their service efforts, the college students were able to learn, adopt, and adapt effective strategies for working with the youth of LE PAS, which seemingly had identifiable career implications. One valuable method they learned when relating to and involving children was the power of making activities fun. Once many of the students realized that it was important for both them and the children to have positive movement experiences, they were able to reconsider how to structure and organize the activities to include a high level of enjoyment for everyone. Patrice wrote:

It challenged me to think of fun ideas and games, to make sure the kids were having fun. For example, instead of just playing catch for thirty minutes, I had to think of ways to make the game a little bit more challenging and fun.

Likewise, Sarah stated: “This experience has taught me to never underestimate how much of an impact you can have on someone by simply playing a game.” She also discussed a time during her involvement in LE PAS when a child told her that he had never had so much fun. Similarly, Jessie realized the impact that “having fun” had on the children. She wrote: “I think the most significant aspect of service-learning is experiencing the kids’ joy. I loved seeing the smiles on their faces and knowing how much fun they were having.”

A valuable lesson Susan learned from observing and interacting with the children was that, “No matter how hard life gets, you can always put on a smile.” Her experiences in LE PAS increased her fervor to adapt exercise and physical activity so that it is fun and exciting. She astutely noted: “The more fun people have at exercising, the more likely they are going to stick with it and incorporate it into their daily lives.”

The students learned the power of fun not only by observing the children having fun, but by having fun themselves. Andrea reflected: “…working with them [kids] you have to…know that they are kids and just want to have fun….Being with kids allowed me to loosen up and just have a good time.” Julia agreed:

No matter what my attitude was going to the site, the second a little kid smiled, it was as if everything that was going wrong suddenly did not matter. I could feel sick or have a ton of homework that I needed to do, but once I got there and saw the kids, the other stuff faded to the back of my mind and no longer mattered. It was a whole body recharge. Playing with the kids made every problem in my life become insignificant. My focus became making what time I had with them enjoyable and hopefully memorable.

Marcus expressed similar reactions to the fun he shared with the youth. He wrote:

Before going to New Start Village, I didn’t expect to gain much from the experience. I considered it just another assignment which I had to get done…. But after the first trip, I found myself looking forward to the next one. The great thing I’ve always found about kids is that they allow me to forget my own age. I can act silly, forget about all the other responsibilities and commitments in my schedule, and just have fun.

These reflections emphasize the need for service-learning students to recognize that their contributions are not just unidirectional.

Enjoying the service-learning experience was not the only strategy learned when working with children; two other strategies emerged from the reflections. The college students became aware of the importance of being creative to spark youths’ interests. For example, Alexis wrote: “Having this experience really taught me that I have to be able to be creative in order to keep the child’s…attention.” Additionally, college students learned the importance of maintaining patience, which is an essential strategy in all careers paths. Camille reflected:

I feel that this experience will help me out with some of my future plans. I plan on going into the field of pediatric cardiology. The interaction with children was definitely a learning experience for me. They helped me to build the patience that I know I will need in the future.

Similarly, Anna acknowledged: “…I believe that this experience could affect my future career. I think it helped me with having patience with other people, especially since you may not know what they are going through at the time.” Although Anna plans to be a personal trainer and does not intend to work with youth in her future, she acknowledged that the skills gained from her LE PAS experiences can be applied across the lifespan.


The purpose of this study was to explore how a youth-centered service-learning program influenced college students professionally. Findings support the professional impact of a youth-oriented service-learning program, as two-thirds (22 of 34) LE PAS appeared to alter their preconceived notions of children. Moreover, the participants also learned successful methods for working with youth populations, such as the power of fun, creativity, and patience, which they felt would be helpful in any career path.

There are several explanations for why LE PAS might have influenced the decisions of college students to serve youth in their future. First, this service-learning program provided the college students with an impressionable positive experience with children that, to most, was seemingly unexpected. Certainly, the LE PAS experiences reaffirmed the professional interests and passion of those already striving for a career in a youth field. However, for almost half of the college students, LE PAS appeared to alter their preconceived notions of children. The structure of LE PAS, with planned, movement-related activities as the focus of each session, allowed initially unenthused college students to interact with youth in a fun and meaningful way. For many of the college students, this was their first time leading movement activities for youth, giving them the opportunity to increase their confidence and attitude toward youth.

Second, it appeared that the college students felt their service really mattered. This is not too surprising given that service-learning is expected to result in some tangible community benefit (Bringle & Hatcher, 1996). But the observed gains in the LE PAS youth struck a deep human chord with the college students that seemed to fuel a need for similar experiences in the future. One possible reason for the future impact of this human connection is that they probably experienced frequent success reaching youth. Due to the harsh circumstances in New Start Village, it is highly possible that the college students felt the youth benefited from their efforts each and every visit. These feelings could have easily carried over to a belief that they could reenact similar feelings again in the future with other youth populations.

Third, the outcomes of any form of service-learning cannot be realized without reflection. The assignment of a youth-oriented service-learning program might have been a rewarding experience to college students, but in all likelihood would have probably been less influential on their careers if reflection were not part of the process. Following the recommendations of Eyler et al. (1996), college students were constantly asked to specifically reflect on the career implication of the service-learning experience. While this was not an easy connection for everyone, this study confirmed that the reflection process did instill greater career awareness in college students–whether confirming one’s professional interest (or disinterest) in working with children or learning strategies that can apply to any future job settings (Astin et al., 1999).

Related to reflection, and crucial to uncovering this study’s findings, is the need for service-learning coordinators to consider college students’ initial perspectives or apprehensions toward working in youth-oriented settings. Through such inquiries, instructors can gain insight into college students’ perceived strengths and weaknesses regarding youth, while also accessing information that can assist in the development of a service-learning program that is sensitive to previous experiences and perceptions. For individuals who have future plans to work with youth, the instructor can shape the environment so that it provides opportunities for these students to maintain their youth-oriented career interests while learning useful career-related skills. If the instructor discovers that individuals are disinterested or have trepidations toward working with youth-aged populations, the instructor can provide these students with helpful tools to work with the targeted population.

This study found three tools to be helpful for college students when working with children: having fun, being creative, and maintaining patience. These three tools have previously been shown to be effective for motivating children in education settings (Garn & Cothran, 2006; Weinstein, 1989; Ward, Wilkinson, Vincent-Graser, & Prusak, 2008), and this study indicated that they are also beneficial to those working with children. Regardless of career aspiration, college students realized that the lessons learned from serving youth (e.g., enjoying the task at hand, challenging oneself to be imaginative when meeting goals, and recognizing that individuals acquire knowledge/skills at different paces) are also applicable to most professions, especially in service-oriented settings. This study highlighted that working with youth allowed college students to broaden their professional skill set and thus enhance their career path.

Practical Implications

The suggestions we offer to service-learning coordinators as result of this study are threefold. First, expose college students to people of all ages in service-learning. As Gutheil & Chernesky (2006) found with older populations and we confirmed with youth, exposing college students to individuals outside of their initial interest can be an effective means for teaching college students about this population and attracting them to a related career. Second, include contemplative, career-oriented questions throughout the service-learning experience. As noted above, these questions might first be included at the outset of the service-learning experience as a barometer for how the service-learning experience might be shaped to meet college student needs. Sample pre-service-learning questions might include (a) what are your career plans?, (b) how do you see your career plan linked to this service-learning experience?, and (c) what do you think you might gain professionally from this service-learning experience? Similar questions could be included in the reflective process throughout the service-learning process as well. Besides those posed in the procedures section of this study, these questions might include (a) how did your career plan change as a result from today’s experience?, (b) how can you best use what you experienced today in your future career?, and, (c) professionally, did you gain what you thought you might gain from this experience? Third, give college students the freedom to have fun and be creative in youth-oriented service-learning settings. Adopting the same strategies college students learned from youth in this study could very well be successful in altering career decisions and mapping out future goals to include serving youth. Future research is needed to confirm this relationship.


This study is one of the first to examine how youth-centered service-learning influences the future interest and career paths of college students. This study examined how youth-centered service-learning impacts the future interest and career paths of college students. While college students only engaged in LE PAS for five hours throughout a semester, this service-learning experience with youth also allowed college students to recognize important strategies for working with children, all of which were believed to be significant skills they could use across ages groups and professions. Follow-up efforts should elucidate the actual long-term career effect from youth-centered service-learning programs.


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We sincerely thank a) Rosie O’Donnell’s For All Kids Foundation for building the spacious children’s plaza used for LE PAS, complete with playgrounds and open-play spaces, (b) Louisiana Campus Compact and LSU’s Department of Kinesiology for funding the graduate assistants and undergraduate students who served as LE PAS on site instructors, and (c) LSU’s College of Education, the U.S. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, and the U.S. Office of Public Health and Science, Department of Health and Human Services for the varied and developmentally appropriate equipment.

About the Authors

Russell L. Carson is an assistant professor of kinesiology at Louisiana State University, where Elizabeth A. Domangue was a doctoral student until her recent employment by Harrison School District 2, Colorado Springs, CO, in the curriculum and assessment department. She was involved in programs at New Start Village from its opening to closure.

Exploring Career Implications for College Students

Students in an LSU service-learning program, some of whom are shown here, became more likely to consider working with children in the future and learned strategies for doing so effectively.

A Letter-Writing Campaign: Linking Academic Success and Civic Engagement

Regina A. Rochford and Susan Hock


The goals of this project were to a) engage two classes of developmental writing students in a service-learning project to support the preservation of an on-campus historical site, and b) improve students’ scores on the ACT Writing Sample Assessment (WSA) exam. After touring the historical site, each advanced developmental writing student tutored a beginning English as a second language (ESL) learner as he/she drafted a letter. By advising the ESL students as they composed and modified their letters, the advanced writers contemplated, discussed, and improved their own skills, so that they were able to achieve passing scores on the WSA, which requires students to write persuasive letters. Moreover, through this project, the instructors effectively linked the academic study of rhetoric with community service by assisting Queensborough Community College and a historical society in preserving an important site and by helping students comprehend their role as valued citizens of the college community.


How can two professors meaningfully incorporate service-learning into developmental writing courses whose students are predominantly full-time, low-income, community college students who work as many as 40 hours a week and have little time to spare? Moreover, how can a service-learning project assist in improving students’ scores on the WSA? These were the challenges encountered when two writing professors decided to integrate service-learning into two developmental writing classes.

In 2007, approximately 52 percent of incoming freshmen were placed in developmental writing courses after they failed to obtain the minimum score of 7 required to pass the WSA (Queensborough Community College Fact Book, 2008). Worse, after completing developmental writing courses, only 45.7 percent of the native speakers of English and 34.8 percent of the ESL learners achieved passing scores on the test.

Many academics have suggested that developmental students experience difficulty passing the WSA because they lack experience in composing persuasive letters in authentic situations (Deans, 2000). Moreover, although these students are instructed in this form of discourse before taking the ACT, they believe the practice topics and the test prompts are artificial and disconnected from their lives. Therefore, in an attempt to develop both a sense of civic responsibility and improve student achievement, we engaged their students in a service-learning project that required learners to write persuasive letters to gain the first level of landmark status for a noted historical site on campus.

Service-Learning and Developmental Writers

Service-learning is a teaching philosophy that integrates meaningful community work with instruction and reflection to enrich the learning experience, teach civic responsibility, and strengthen communities (Learn and Serve America’s National Service-Learning Clearinghouse, 2005). According to Kraemer (2005), developmental writing instructors who engage in service-learning often assert that this pedagogy prepares students for leadership roles in their careers and communities. It also assists them in seeing their assignments as publicly viewed acts, instead of mere pedantic writing assignments, because the students are writing for real audiences rather than just their instructors. In addition, composition students place more value on service-learning writing activities because they are more purposeful and consequential (Deans, 2000).

Course-based service-learning programs are more effective among writing students, especially when students can readily connect their service-learning activity to the course content (Astin, Vogelgesang, Ikeda, and Yee, 2000). Most important, service-learning has resulted in improved academic outcomes in critical thinking, grade point averages (GPAs), and writing skills (Astin et al.; Markus, Howard, & King, 1993). Prentice (2009) reported a higher rate of retention among developmental reading and writing students who participated in service-learning activities. Astin et al. also asserted that these results occur because the learners receive more emotional support from faculty and engage in more student-to-student discussion.

When first-year developmental reading and writing students at Queensborough Community College took part in a variety of short-term service-learning experiences, their GPAs and rates of retention increased, and they acquired significantly more college credits (Rochford, in press). This occurs because service-learning enhances the freshman experience by drawing students together to form a community of learners in which social, academic, and community integration occur (Stavrianopoulos, 2008). Furthermore, McCarthy (1996) reported that although one-time or short-term service-learning experiences may be limited, they provide a balance of challenge and support for students and can result in perceptual and attitudinal changes among participants. Stavrianopoulos also indicated that incoming freshmen who participated in a service-learning program were more engaged in their educational process and even energized by their involvement. Her study demonstrated that the integration of academic content and community service created a sense of connectedness between classroom learning and personal lives by transforming passive, rote classroom exercises into active engagement so that the students discovered the link between real life experiences and classroom learning. Kincaid and Sotiriou (2004) discovered that when first year composition students mentored intermediate ESL writers, both groups reported (a) an improvement in their basic writing skills, (b) a greater need to attend to details in their own writing, and (c) more willingness to scrutinize their work to make the corrections necessary for a polished product. We had these research experiences in mind when we decided to integrate service-learning into two writing courses.

The Service-Learning Assignment 

Goals of the Service-Learning Experience

The purpose of this project was three fold. The first goal was to initiate a letter-writing campaign for the Queens Historical Society to obtain a Queensmark for the Oakland building, a historical site on the campus of the Queensborough Community College of the City University of New York.. The second goal was to provide beginning ESL students with additional individualized tutoring as they learned to compose and organize basic compositions. The third goal was to enhance the writing skills of the advanced developmental writers to help them pass the WSA.

Historical Significance of the Oakland Building

In 1645, the Dutch governor of New Netherlands granted John Hicks one of the first grants to assume ownership of the land on which the Oakland building was erected years later. In 1845, this parcel was passed down to the Lawrence family, who built the Oaks Mansion. It is believed that the name “Oakland” was derived from the name of this mansion. In 1859, John Taylor cultivated the property into a horticultural enterprise. However, after his death, his son developed the Oakland Golf Course, a private country club that maintained very exclusive membership that included prominent wealthy New Yorkers such as Bernard Baruch, H.F. du Pont, and Frederick Steinway. In the early 1920s, the Oakland building was constructed as a clubhouse for this elite golf course. In 1952, the golf course became a public facility. In the early 1960s, to alleviate overcrowding in local schools, the City of New York purchased the golf course so that Queensborough Community College, Benjamin Cardozo High School, and Public School 203 could be built. The Oakland building is the college’s oldest structure. It sits on a hilltop overlooking the entire campus. It currently houses a modern museum and contains works by many contemporary artists, although the structure still retains many of its original 1920s architectural features, all of which are enjoyed by the college and surrounding communities (The Oakland Golf Club: A History, 2008).

The Oakland Service-Learning Experience

This service-learning project was implemented in two developmental writing classes. One class consisted of learners from an advanced developmental composition course for native speakers of English, while the other class contained beginning ESL composition students. The students were first introduced to this project when the Queens Historical Society executive director visited their classes and provided a lecture and literature about the history of the Oakland building. The purpose of this session was to explain the historical significance of the Oakland building in the preservation of Queens and the role of the Queens Historical Society in this community. After the executive director provided an overview, she distributed brochures and documents for the students to read and discuss. The literature included: (a) The Oakland Golf Club: A History (2008); (b) The Landmark Process (2008), which specifies the requirements for landmark status in New York City; (c) a Request for Evaluation (1999), a form completed when an organization applies for landmark status; and (d) applications for the Students’ Preservation Council of Queens. This council permits students to join an advisory committee that works in conjunction with the Queens Historical Society to determine if buildings in Queens County merit the distinction of a Queensmark due to their outstanding architectural, cultural, or historical significance.

During the in-class presentation, the ESL students were quiet and made few inquiries. However, when the instructors and their students stood outside the Oakland building to compare its exterior to the old pictures in the literature, the students began to enthusiastically discuss their observations.

After they entered the building, the students were immediately impressed by the beautiful interior and the art exhibits in the lobby. At this point, the curator appeared and escorted the group through the entire facility. As he explained the exhibits and the history of each room with interesting anecdotes, he also shared photographs of the interior as it had appeared over the past 90 years. By the end of the tour, both the students and teachers were captivated by this historical structure and the rich history it brought to a modern community college campus filled with functional buildings. After the tour ended and the students were free to leave, many remained in and around the building discussing its charm and trying to comprehend why it had not yet received any form of landmark status. Clearly, the students were excited about participating in this letter-writing campaign.

After the tour, each advanced composition student was assigned an ESL tutee and was required to coach this pupil in composing a persuasive letter to support the preservation of the Oakland building through a Queensmark. Both the ESL and advanced writers were informed that each letter should include: (a) a clear introduction that specified the main idea; (b) two body paragraphs that began with topic sentences and contained appropriate and accurate supporting details; (c) a conclusion; and (d) accurate spelling, grammar, and transition words. This activity obligated the advanced composition students to: (a) verify that a suitable introduction was provided; (b) recommend corrections to body paragraphs that lacked clear topic sentences; (c) clarify why certain supporting details were inappropriate, insufficient, or redundant; (d) suggest how to develop thoughts; and (e) correct any sentences that obscured meaning.

Although the first two tutoring sessions occurred during class time, the remaining sessions were conducted in the Basic Skills Learning Center so that both groups of students could request the guidance of a trained tutor or the use of a computer. In addition, the students maintained reflection journals in which they expressed their thoughts about the project as it progressed throughout the semester.

After the advanced writing students completed several tutoring sessions and their ESL tutees submitted their letters, the advanced learners were then instructed to compose their own letters, which required three body paragraphs instead of two and more elaborate supporting details. Through advising the ESL students as they drafted and modified their letters, the advanced developmental students would contemplate, discuss, and improve their own writing skills. This process would increase the likelihood that they would pass the WSA, which requires students to write organized, well-developed, persuasive letters. In addition, through this project, the instructors effectively linked the academic study of writing with community service by assisting the college and the Queens Historical Society in preserving an important historical site and by helping students comprehend their role as citizens of the college community.

Thus, this service-learning project moved developmental writing students out of the classroom and engaged them in: (a) the observation of an authentic historical site; (b) a genuine letter-writing campaign during which they corresponded with real audiences; (c) civic participation and responsibility; and (d) reflection about their individual learning experiences.

Discussion of the Results

Since this project produced many positive results, this section will discuss each of these findings individually. Although some statistically verifiable results were achieved, many of the more subtle outcomes were gleaned from teacher observations, as well as from the students’ and instructors’ reflection journals.

Academic Achievement

When the semester began, the advanced developmental writing students exhibited extremely weak writing skills, especially in producing supporting details. However, as a result of reading, analyzing, and interpreting information from the Queens Historical Society and tutoring their ESL partners, they became adept at creating lengthy, well-organized paragraphs containing an average of 10 sentences. As experienced writing instructors will attest, it is unusual for so many weak writers to make such progress in one semester. It appears these skills transferred to their other writing activities because these students earned a mean WSA score of 7.07, a passing score.

In fact, 67 percent of this class scored a passing rate, considerably higher than the average college passing rate of 45.7 percent. The project also appears to have had an indirect effect on the advanced writing students’ ACT Reading Compass scores, as they achieved a mean score of 76.68, in contrast to the nonparticipants’ mean of 74 (Rochford, in press). Clearly, these scores reflect remarkable progress, and they corroborate the findings of Kincaid and Sotiriou (2004), Astin et al., and Markus, Howard, and King (1993), who reported academic improvements among students who took part in service-learning activities.

In addition, after the advanced composition students worked with their ESL tutees and discussed relevant information to be included in the ESL learners’ letters, the advanced writers discovered even more information to incorporate into their own persuasive letters. Moreover, because the entry-level ESL students had limited lexical ability, the advanced composition students were required to point out and correct vocabulary issues. As a result of this discourse, the advanced composition writers reported being more cognizant of their own lexical limitations, and thereby improved their vocabulary, too.

Throughout this project, the advanced writers indicated a recurring concern: How could they be expected to assist the ESL students when their own writing ability was so inadequate? However, at midterm, the advanced developmental students provided their instructor with positive feedback when they revealed that working with the ESL students had heightened their awareness of their own deficiencies so that they had become more skilled at revising their letters. These findings are consistent with those of Kincaid and Sotiriou (2004), who reported improvements in basic writing skills when English composition students tutored ESL students. In the future, it is suggested that the advanced writers use their reflection journals to record some of the writing issues they have identified and corrected by tutoring ESL students .

The advanced developmental writing students also revealed how much they admired the work ethic of the ESL students. Both instructors reasoned that the ESL learners’ positive attitude and diligence permeated the learners in the advanced writing class and ultimately cultivated improvements in the native speakers’ attitude toward their writing. Consequently, this experience proved to be a great motivator for the advanced developmental writers, and it supports the findings of McCarthy (1996), who indicated that short-term service-learning experiences can generate an improvement in students’ attitudes.

Lastly, at the end of the semester, the advanced developmental students also learned how to post their letters on the college’s E-Portfolio system. Many students asserted that this activity was a useful organizational tool because it provided the opportunity to re-read their letters and engage in reflection, an essential ingredient of service-learning. Most important, it gave each student the chance to take ownership of his/her hard work.

When the advanced developmental writers first began to tutor their ESL partners, the instructors repeatedly heard the tutors informing their ESL tutees that they hadn’t included topic sentences. This feedback was anticipated inasmuch as beginning ESL writers often experience difficulty crafting topic sentences in learning to draft body paragraphs. However, after the ESL students submitted their letters, every letter contained well-written, clear, topic sentences. Likewise, the ESL students in the service-learning class continued to use topic sentences correctly in their subsequent compositions. In contrast, the ESL instructor noticed that in her other beginning ESL composition class that did not participate in the service-learning project, these ESL writers struggled with composing accurate topic sentences throughout the semester. This anecdotal evidence suggests that ESL students in the service-learning class obtained a deeper and more meaningful level of knowledge as a consequence of the discussions they engaged in with their peer tutors about topic sentences.

Next, although the ESL students were required to read many complex historical documents about the Oakland building and received no guidance from their instructor in comprehending this literature, judging from their ability to discuss this information accurately and effectively in their letters, they were able to understand the text. A comparison of these students to the other learners enrolled in this beginning ESL writing course during the same semester yielded no statistically significant results for the WSA or the Compass Reading exam; however, the ESL students who participated in this service-learning experience achieved slightly higher GPAs and completed more college credits. The instructors believe that the ESL learners’ comprehension and writing skills were enhanced enough to produce slight improvements because this project permitted them to hear, see, touch, discuss, and immerse themselves in an authentic topic instead of one contrived by their teachers.

Overall, these findings indicate that the ESL tutees (those receiving the information) did not reap as many academic benefits as their tutors in the advanced writing class. That is, the design of this service-learning task did not place tutees in a situation where they had to understand and articulate reading material and writing techniques.

This observation suggests the need to design a service-learning experience to permit entry-level ESL students to coach elementary school children as they learn to read, thereby affording the ESL learners the opportunity to enhance their English language proficiency and their reading and writing skills in a less sophisticated environment.

Civic Responsibility

As a result of this service-learning project, the students acquired an in-depth awareness and appreciation for the rich history of the Oakland building and the college. Moreover, because of the students’ efforts, the Oakland building received the distinction of a Queensmark, which is the equivalent of a Queens landmark. This project also introduced the possibility of obtaining the status of a New York City landmark for this site. Furthermore, after the advanced composition class read a New York Times article about a Columbia University service-learning project that permitted students to perform volunteer work for credits (Santora, 2008), they realized that service-learning had implications beyond their project. This notion was further enhanced when the concept of community service was emphasized in the platforms of both 2008 presidential candidates. Thus, as a result of this service-learning project, these readings, and the presidential election, our students began to view service in a broader context, and became more motivated to engage in civic action and to be good citizens at their school and in their communities.

Moreover, since the college was experiencing serious budget cuts at this time, the amount of tutoring that could be offered was severely limited. However, by participating in this project, the students in the advanced writing course provided their ESL tutees with many hours of one-on-one individual assistance at no cost to the college.

Student Fulfillment and Socialization

Although the ceremony for the Queensmark occurred after the semester had ended and the grades had been submitted, many students from both classes voluntarily attended this service, which included their instructors, high-level college officials, representatives from the Queens Historical Society, and the press. These developmental students, who often indicate that they feel marginalized in the college setting (Chaves, 2006), were astonished by the fact that their letters had prompted this occasion and that the college president and a New York Daily News reporter wished to speak to them about their individual contributions, while their instructors sat quietly in the background and watched them glow.

This service-learning project not only benefited the college; it also simultaneously empowered developmental students to flourish academically and understand their worth in the college community. It should be noted that many students attend this community college because they are academically ineligible for a public-four year college. Thus, they often perceive themselves as second-class citizens (Chaves, 2006), marginalized and humiliated, especially when they are placed in remedial courses. However, this service-learning project appears to have alleviated this stigma by demonstrating the value of these learners in the college community, and it supports the findings of Stavrianopoulos (2008), who stated that service-learning experiences draw students together to form a community of learners in which social, academic, and community integration occurs.

The project also offered students exposure to the artwork in the Oakland building. When the students visited the art gallery at the beginning of the term, they viewed an exhibit entitled Blossoms and Fantasies by Yelina Tylkina, a renowned Eastern European artist. The students were intrigued by this artist’s use of vibrant color and the unconventional nature of her work. During the tour, the students also viewed the gallery’s permanent collection and were impressed by its extensiveness. Many indicated that they had no idea that the college offered such a rich cultural experience that was free. Furthermore, later in the semester, several learners returned to the Art Gallery during their free time with family and friends.

One student in particular benefited strikingly from the assignment. Before this project commenced, this learner had refused to complete any assignments, strayed off task, and frequently wandered out of the classroom during lectures. However, when the students toured the Oakland building, this young person immediately offered to operate the instructor’s digital camera and energetically photographed the entire facility and his classmates. He was completely enthralled and stimulated by this project, and for the first time in the semester worked conscientiously with his peer tutor to create a well-written letter. This student’s positive demeanor continued throughout the remainder of the term. The instructor believes that this transformation resulted because this very creative learner had discovered a constructive way to release his artistic energy, instead of feeling confined and trapped in a highly traditional learning environment. This situation reflects the findings of McCarthy (1996), who discovered that one-time or short-term service-learning projects can result in perceptual and attitudinal changes among the participants.

Another student from the advanced developmental writing class also indicated that as a high school student, he participated in the College Now program offered at Queensborough. At this time, he had toured the campus and was quite impressed by the historical significance and beauty of the Oakland building, and he equally was surprised that it also housed a museum. In the end, he indicated that this historical and cultural center was a major reason for his decision to enroll at Queensborough. He was thrilled when he heard that visits to this facility would be incorporated into his writing course curriculum. This account suggests that the Oakland building may play a role in attracting students who seek creative, enriching educational experiences.

Socialization is an essential component of the college experience, especially since a lack of integration into the college environment diminishes commitment, increases isolation, and raises the possibility of leaving before completion (Tinto, 1993). Because this community college is a commuter school, the classroom environment is the primary conduit for establishing relationships. For the most part, the students in these two service-learning classes were incoming freshmen; therefore, when the semester commenced, they were noticeably anxious, withdrawn, and awkward. However, as the term concluded, the students in both classes became part of an integral unit and formed friendships. They also demonstrated confidence by happily reading aloud and readily sharing their thoughts and opinions with their classmates. Moreover, because the students from both classes became comfortable socializing with each other, the ESL students were afforded the opportunity to improve their English by making friends with students whose primary language was English. This is important inasmuch as many ESL learners practice English only at the college, because they don’t have the chance to engage in discourse outside of the academic environment. This observation supports Astin et al., who asserted that service-learning activities generate more student-to-student discussions.

In addition to the students bonding with each other, the professors also became personally acquainted with the learners in both classes. In fact, one student in the advanced composition class for native speakers was clearly an ESL learner, but was accidently enrolled in the wrong course. When the ESL instructor became aware of this, she worked with this young woman in the office and by e-mail. They formed a collegial working relationship likely to endure throughout this student’s college years. This situation also supports the findings of Astin et al., who contended that service-learning experiences generate more student-faculty interactions and support.


As Rohn (2006) observed, “Giving is better than receiving because giving starts the receiving process.” When the instructors initially considered participating in a service-learning project, they were apprehensive about asking developmental writing students to perform a community service because of the demands of the WSA, the large class sizes, the limited class time, and the additional time needed to plan, execute, and manage such a program. However, this project has demonstrated the adage that the giver receives more than the receiver. Although these students enabled the college to receive a Queensmark for a noted historical site on campus, they also reaped the benefits of: (a) improving their reading, writing, and communication skills; (b) acquiring respect in the college community; (c) enhancing their self-worth; (d) establishing new relationships; and (e) cultivating positive attitudes. Clearly, this venture has repaid these developmental learners many times over, and it will continue to produce benefits every time they write a letter or paper or stroll past the Oakland building, because they will recall what they have accomplished for the college community and themselves.


ACT Writing Sample Assessment. (2000). Iowa City, IA: ACT Inc.

Astin, A.W., Vogelgesang, L.J., Ikeda, E.K., & Yee, J. A. (2000, January). How service-learning affects students. University of California, Los Angeles: Higher Education Research Institute.

Chaves, C. (2006). Involvement, development, and retention. Community College Review, 34(2), 139-152.

Deans, T. (2000). Writing partnerships: Service-learning in composition. Urbana, IL: National Center for Teachers of English.

Kincaid, N.M., & Sotiriou, P. (2004). Service-Learning at an urban two-year college. Teaching English in the Two-Year College, 31(3), 248-259.

Kraemer, D.J. (2005). Servant class: Basic writers and service-learning. Journal of Basic Writing, 24(2), 92-109.

Learn and Serve America’s National Service-Learning Clearinghouse. (2005). Retrieved December 14, 2008 from http://www.servicelearning.org.

Markus, G.B., Howard, J.P., & King, D. C. (1993). Integrating community service and classroom instruction enhances learning: Results from an experiment. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 15, 410-419.

McCarthy, M. (1996). One-time and short-term service-learning experiences. In B. Jacoby (Ed.), Service-learning in higher education: Concepts and practices (pp. 113-134). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Publishers.

Prentice, M. (2009). Service-learning’s impact on developmental reading/writing and student life skills courses. Community College Journal of Research and Practice, 33(3), 270-282.

Queensborough Community College, Bayside, NY (2008). Queensborough Community College fact book. Retrieved on December 14, 2008 from http://www.qcc.cuny.edu/OIRA/factbook.asp.

Rochford, R. A. (in press). The effects of service-learning on remedial reading and writing students at an urban community college. Submitted.

Rohn, J. (2006). Retrieved from http://thinkexist.com/quotes/jim_rohn, January 14, 2009.

Santora, M. (2008). At Columbia, students mix studies with volunteer work, for credits. The New York Times. Retrieved September 15, 2008, from http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/11nyregion/11service.html.

Stavrianopoulos, K. (2008). Service-learning in the freshman year experience. College Student Journal, 42(2), 703-712.

The New York City Landmark Preservation Commission. (1999). Request for evaluation. Retrieved from http://home2.nyc.gov/html/lpc/downloads/pdf/forms/request_for_evaluation.pdf.

The Queens Historical Society. (2008). The Oakland golf club: A history. Queens, NY.

The Queens Historical Society. (2008). The landmark process. Queens, NY.

The Queens Historical Society. (2007). The Students’ Preservation Council of Queens. Queens, NY.

Tinto, V. (1993). Leaving college. Rethinking the causes and cures of student attrition, (2nd ed.). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

About the Authors

Regina A. Rochford is an associate professor at Queensborough Community College, City University of New York, in Bayside, NY. Susan Hock is a lecturer, also at Queensborough.

Relational Dimensions of Service-Learning: Common Ground for Faculty, Students, and Community Partners


“Study reveals primary dimensions of the relationships among faculty members, students, and community partners in service-learning.” 

Richard L. Conville and Ann M. Kinnell

Instructors, students, and community partners often live in separate “discourse communities.” The authors conducted a study to investigate the issues at stake in the relationships among those three primary players in service-learning. Analysis of interviews with student-participants in service-learning yielded four primary dimensions of those relationships: Control, Involvement, Preparation, and Oversight. These were advanced as the beginning of a common language for bridging the disconnect among those separate discourse communities. Role theory was used as a context for the results and to frame remedies in terms of role boundary expansion. The authors offered practical suggestions to practitioners as well as directions for future research.

Practitioners and administrators of community service-learning often sense that the three essential participants—faculty, students, and community partners—are not on the same page. Faculty members and community partners may have different objectives in mind for the students. Students’ expectations of their service may differ from that of the personnel at the service site or their instructors. Ferrari and Worrall (2000, citing Noley, 1977) have voiced an oft-heard complaint, that community partners “feel that students come ill-prepared to perform service by not having appropriate skills or [having] unrealistic expectations about their duties” (p. 36). Ill-prepared students who bring unrealistic expectations of their service to the work site create an immediate problem for the community partner. Ill-prepared students cannot adequately serve the clients of the community based organization, and students may resist work assignments they did not expect. Such negative working relationships minimize the likelihood of creating the long-term partnerships necessary for substantive contributions to the community.

In an essay valuable for its historical significance as well as its prescience, Tice (1994) articulated the kinds of challenges encountered when the then-new National and Community Service Trust Act of 1993 brought together in students, community service agencies, and all levels of educators in new working relationships. She said, “Integrating highly motivated but inexperienced community servers into existing programs will require an investment of time and energy, an openness to change, and a dedication to making it work. Realistically, there are few ‘magic mixes’ where people begin on the same wavelength and continue over time sharing the same expectations and working styles” (p. 106). Now 15 years later, the service-learning community still faces the challenge of getting those three main players on the “same wavelength.” The disconnect lingers. Tice even noted several perennial issues faced by practitioners, e.g.: How can already understaffed agencies provide adequate training and supervision of those community service students? How shall the community agency’s role in student learning be regarded and appreciated? Both of these challenges require the kind of close collaboration often missing from the faculty-students-community partners equation. In this study our objectives are to begin to develop (1) a language for talking about those key relationships; (2) an understanding of the disconnect from the student perspective; and (3) some practical suggestions for practitioners and researchers.

Rationale for the Study
One way to frame the oft-encountered disconnect between universities and community partners is to note the different views they bring to service-learning, their inherently different agendas and priorities. Bacon (2002) has characterized community partners and universities as two different “discourse communities,” each with its language for talking about knowing and learning. For example, faculty members in her focus groups tended to frame learning as expertise garnered from study, whereas community partners tended to frame learning as a continual activity acquired through experience. Faculty members sought evidence of successful learning in students’ ability to articulate that learning in words, and community partners sought evidence of successful learning in students’ ability to take effective action. Representatives of both groups spoke of learning as both individual and collaborative, but community partners gave priority to group collaborative learning, and faculty members gave priority to learning as a solitary activity.

A number of studies reporting program assessments have revealed the same kinds of perspectival differences. Gelmon et al. (1998) found that the students’, community partners’, and faculty members’ reflections all noted “the importance of student preparation and orientation to the social milieu of the partner organization prior to involvement in service- learning activities” (p. 102). Community partners in particular called for “better advance communication and orientation to service-learning between the university and the partner” (p. 103). The implication is that each of the three major players in service-learning brings a deficit of information (and perhaps appreciation) for the place, perspectives, and practices of the other.

Bushouse (2005) has reported on a graduate course in nonprofit management. One major finding from the course evaluations was the students’ appreciation of having a memorandum of understanding to guide their service-learning work. “This clarity in expectations prevented time- consuming negotiations between students and community nonprofit organizations to define projects and renegotiate projects throughout the semester, and decreased the potential for mismatched expectations when the project was finished” (p. 38). The memorandum clearly lessened the original disparity in information and expectations among the three players.

The perspective of the community partner was the specific focus of the study by Vernon and Ward (1999). The researchers cited several examples that readers may recognize. One agency director reported not knowing what her responsibilities were regarding the students who came to her adult learning program. Others reported not knowing which students (among all those doing community service at their sites) were doing a service-learning project as opposed to simply volunteering. One especially conscientious agency director indicated that knowing whether students were there as part of a class would make a difference in the kind of tasks assigned to them.

The service site is a nexus of relationships that must work together harmoniously if the community service-learning is to be successful. Like Bingle and Hatcher (2002), Cooks and Scharrer (2006) affirm the wisdom of investigating the interactive relationship among the essential players in the service-learning enterprise— faculty, students, and community partners. Such studies as that of Schaffer’s et al. (2003) that document perspectival differences among faculty members, students, and community partners on ethical problems encountered in service-learning demonstrate the intertwined relationships among faculty members, students, and community partners and point up how essential it is for those relationships to run smoothly for the maximum quality of service-learning. Based on the above studies, as well as on our experience as practitioners of service- learning, we noted the usefulness of developing a language for understanding these relationships on a conceptual level. Thus, we posed the single research question: What are the primary dimensions of the relationships among faculty members, students, and community partners in service-learning?

In order to answer this question, we conducted a qualitative case study of our institution’s service-learning enterprise by interviewing 12 students, nine faculty members, and eight representatives of community partners, all of whom were involved in service-learning classes during calendar year 2004.

Of the 12 students in the study, 11 were Caucasian and one was African-American. Eleven were female and one was male. Ten were between 20 and 22 years of age, while one was 28 and another was 38. Their majors were social work, political science, speech pathology (2), nutrition, international studies, biology (2), ecology, elementary education, sociology, and recreation. The faculty members were those available and willing to participate, as were the community partners.

Students invited to participate were chosen randomly from all students participating in service-learning courses using a table of random numbers. Interviews of students were conducted during 2005-2006; interviews of faculty members were conducted during 2005-2007; and interviews of community partners were conducted 2006-2008. The student data are the focus of this study. Typically, students are the conduit for communication between instructors and community partners and are therefore in a unique and pivotal position to observe the roles of both instructors and community partners.

Instrument Development
Based on research in the service-learning community, of which the review above is indicative, we then constructed a questionnaire to address the research question: What are the primary dimensions of the relationships among faculty members, students, and community partners in service-learning? Questions focused on the three following areas:

1. Expectations of and for service-learning students, i.e. how do students, agencies, and instructors define the role of the student? Will students fit into a preexisting role within the agency, or will they establish their own role based on interests or course objectives?

2. Preparation of students for servicelearning, i.e., what do agencies do to prepare students for service-learning? How effective is it? What do instructors do to prepare students for service- learning? How effective is it?

3. Management of students, i.e., will students be supervised and monitored by the community partner or is the instructor expected to provide oversight? How effective is the oversight that is rendered?

Separate versions of the questionnaire were created for the three service-learning constituencies interviewed (faculty members, students, and community partners). Versions differed only in language to make them appropriate to the particular group. Members of all three constituent groups were interviewed, each with the appropriate version of the questionnaire. The Appendix contains a copy of the interview schedule for student-participants.

Data Collection and Analysis After receiving IRB approval for the research, tape recorded interviews were conducted by the authors and transcribed by a professional transcriptionist. Trained and monitored by the authors, our research assistant conducted a thematic analysis of the transcripts. Using the method of constant comparison (Glaser & Strauss, 1967; see also Owen, 1984, and Pitts et al., 2009), the research assistant read approximately one-third of the transcripts multiple times, noting recurring themes and revising them as representatives who are often in administrative positions or even off-site. Stoecker and Tryon’s (2009) project advanced the agency perspective, and it was shown to duplicate three of the four themes advancing the student perspective in the present study. We contend that such findings add credibility to the present findings and bolster the view that the discourse of service-learning, when it is about the relationships among the three primary actors, is shaped by issues of Control, Involvement, Preparation, and Oversight.

Moreover, a study by McLean and Behringer (2008) helps further contextualize the present study. Drawing on the work of King et al. (2004), the researchers enumerated nine best practices for managing K-12-university partnerships. Six of the best practices are explicitly about relationships, but the focus of the study is on institutional relationships (partnerships), instead of one-onone relationships. Examples include “flow of information…needs to become bidirectional,” “full participation by both partners…is crucial,” and “the relationship must be strong to deal with…unintended consequences.” (p. 69). While these are certainly appropriate practices for successful partnerships at any level, McLean and Behringer (2008) focused on the institutional level, whereas the present study focused on the level of the individual instructor who is using a service-learning model in a course. Both studies affirm the centrality of nurturing good working relationships. They differ only in the level of their focus.

Three additional points of discussion seem to be in order. First, we will present a sample of student responses to demonstrate the usefulness of the language of the four relational dimensions. We are advancing this language as one means of bridging the gaps among the “discourse communities” (Bacon, 2002) of students, faculty, and community partners. Second, we will demonstrate the usefulness of one aspect of Turner’s (1990) role theory to better understand the roles of classroom instructors and community partners in preparing students for service-learning, specifically the concepts of role boundaries and role boundary expansion. Third, we will reflect on our findings by suggesting directions for future research and applications useful for instructional practice.

Relational Dimensions in Practice In this section we demonstrate the discourse of service-learning that we are advancing. Note the ease with which our student-participants were able to use the relational dimensions to discuss their service-learning experience.

Control. Students reported a wide range of control they were given over their roles at their service sites. For example, Danielle worked as a hospice visitor but had the freedom to define what she did with the client. She noted that “[the agency] gave you pretty much open rein on when you can go visit, for how long you can visit, and, you know…what you were able to do for them.” Gena’s service-learning experience was with a Girl Scout event. In this case the faculty member laid out the parameters of the day-long event: “She told us what [our roles] would be,” but then, “we planned a whole day of activities… we decided what the event was going to be, and they told us how many people to plan for, but everything else we did on our own.”

Involvement. Student involvement in their work varied widely, too. Lucy, working at a school for language disorders, enjoyed heavy involvement in designing her service-learning experience. “The teacher saw that I could do more than others…that I could enjoy working with the kids…and so I kind of took a bigger role than [the others].” Quite the opposite occurred with Hillary, working at a Headstart Center. “All I really remember…was…sitting there and watching the kids…. I had to do reports on it that the teacher [assigned].”

Preparation. Preparation and Oversight belong mainly to community partners and faculty members. One of the students who stated that she enjoyed a high level of control over her service-learning role, Solitah, indicated that she appreciated that the agency let her “explore” and gave her the “freedom” to do what she wanted at the site, but at the same time she wished the agency had provided more structure or guidelines. The agency did not seem to have a good understanding of why she was there. She surmised that if her classroom instructor and the instructor at the site had had more contact, they would have “been able to discuss…what we were doing, and have some things set up for us in particular with the teachers.” By contrast Becky, working with disabled children, was very satisfied with the agency preparation she received: “[the site teacher] would tell us about…an activity that would be coming up that we would be able to participate in…. She would give us information on the activity…. And she’d [tell]…us a little bit about each child with each disorder that we were working with.”

Most of the instructor oversight was through tracking hours and requiring written reports or papers. Isabell expressed disappointment that her instructor hardly ever visited the service site. “No one followed through…I wonder if they had written goals to accomplish…. It was like our instructors were scared to come see what was going on…we could’ve told them anything we wanted to tell them.” Leanne, however, was very satisfied with the oversight provided by the agency. Working in a pre-student teaching capacity in an elementary school, she reported, “I was able to see, you know, what areas I needed to improve…. [After] delivering a lesson, I realized that I needed some improvement…and…the teacher told me what I needed to do to improve.”

The ease with which the student-participants responded to the interview protocol and the richness of their observations suggest that those relational dimensions of Control, Involvement, Preparation, and Oversight were providing the beginnings of a language of service-learning.

Student Views of Faculty and Community Partner Roles
If we are anywhere near the mark that those four relational dimensions provide a language of service-learning, the next reasonable question to pursue would be: “How can that language help bridge the disconnect between those ‘discourse communities’ of students, instructors, and agencies?”

In order to explore that question we will focus on one of those relational dimensions, Preparation. It is an appropriate test case because Preparation involves all three of the principal actors in service-learning. Students are the ones prepared (or not), and both faculty and agencies may (and often do) prepare students for servicelearning.

But first, we turn briefly to Turner’s (1990) role theory. In light of their segregation into different “discourse communities” (Bacon, 2002), we contend that effective service-learning requires that the participants experience both a quantitative and a qualitative change in their conventional roles as faculty members, students, and community partners. Drawing on Turner’s (1990) discussion of role change, we propose a framework for understanding the complex but critical relationships among students, faculty members, and community partners.

To collaborate in service-learning partnerships, the roles of the instructor, student, and community partner must change quantitatively. That is, the number of duties and rights associated with each role must increase. This increase results in the expansion of boundaries for each role. For example, under a service-learning regime, the faculty members and community partners are now responsible for working together to assure students’ experiences at the service sites complement the courses’ learning goals, and students are responsible for taking initiatives in both the classroom and at the service site as learners and as workers.

Thus, a unique aspect of service-learning is that boundary expansion for one role (e.g. faculty member) does not necessarily result in a boundary contraction for the alter roles (student and community partner).

Instead, the necessarily collaborative relationships among the three players in servicelearning result in overlapping role boundaries where each role in the system at times takes on behaviors that might normally be reserved for other roles. Indeed, we posit that the more complete this overlap of roles, the more successful the service-learning partnership will be, and the more likely that each partner will benefit in reciprocal and equal ways (Hironimus-Wendt & Lovell-Troy, 1999). Expanding role boundaries is a way to bridge the disconnect among the separate discourse communities of student, faculty, and community partner. Facilitating that role boundary expansion is a common language of Control, Involvement, Preparation, and Oversight.

The following representative sampling of student responses focuses on Preparation. Students describe and assess the preparation provided by both their classroom instructors and agency representatives. Preparation is a window into faculty and agency roles, a window through which to observe role boundaries in various stages of expansion and contraction, as well as their effects on service-learning.

Lucy was dissatisfied with her instructor’s preparation for entering the service site, a language disorders school, “because I didn’t know exactly…what I would be doing [at the site] until I walked in.” Her instructor gave the requirements for the assignment and a list of service sites to choose from but no indication of what she would be doing at the various sites. “So I just picked the [Language] School because it was on campus.” The site teacher, however, filled that gap: “She pushed me and kind of showed me that I could really do what I had to do.” She took extra time with Lucy and told her what she was doing wrong and what would work better. Lucy was very satisfied with the preparation for service-learning she received at the service site. [instructor: expected; agency: expanded.]1

1 The inserted descriptors indicate students’ perceptions of the role played by their instructor and the agency in preparing them for service-learning. 0 = no role reported; expected role = conventional role, within expected boundaries; expanded role = practices that go beyond conventional boundaries. 

In Danielle’s case, her instructor laid out the students’ roles for the day-long Girl Scout event. “She gave us the information we needed as far as how many people to prepare for…and any questions we had, [and] she was very available to help us do whatever we needed.” The agency was equally helpful. Their personnel told the students how many people to expect, what they needed to provide, the time frame, and the activities to plan. Consequently, Danielle was very satisfied with the preparation she received for servicelearning by both her instructor and the agency representatives. [instructor: expanded; agency: expanded]

Gena was very satisfied with both her instructor’s and the community partner’s preparation for work as a hospice visitor. The instructor had several hospice supervisors come to her class and give a “thorough explanation of pretty much exactly what you’re going to be going through, what to expect and how to get through it.” The orientation included a discussion of the kind of relationships the students would have with the clients, what they should do in case of an emergency, and how to access counseling services should they be needed. She added, regarding the community partner specifically, that they brought with them to the classroom orientation all the paperwork needed to begin work and informed them of the free TB tests required to work there. [instructor: expanded; agency: expanded]

For Hillary, at a Headstart Center, the instructor supplied students with “a huge packet that explained everything and that was basically it.” She was moderately satisfied with this kind of instructor preparation in part because, “it was easy to follow and understand.” However, she wished the time on site had been longer than the required three hours (the basis of a written report): “I think there should’ve been more time spent because three hours, I mean I don’t remember anything. I just went there and got nothing from it.” As for agency preparation, Hillary reported they did nothing. She explained: “the kids were, you know, less fortunate kids; [it] was a free place for them to go and eat, and … the teachers seemed not to care or that we were there.” She reflected, “I wish we would’ve gotten to do more with the kids.” [instructor: expected; agency: 0]

Isabell’s service-learning site was an after- school program run by a local Methodist church. She answered “indifferent” to the question about instructor preparation for the service-learning experience because, as she added, “There was nothing to be satisfied or dissatisfied with…. I mean there wasn’t really much of anything.” The agency preparation was quite different, however. It provided a civics program for the service-learning students to teach and gave an orientation to its content as well as a description of the physical arrangement of the site and the educational achievement of the students they would be working with. [instructor: 0; agency: expected]

Another student was also at a Headstart Center. Isabell was very satisfied with her instructor’s preparation for the service-learning experience. “She told us about the school, about the students, what she wanted us to have overall when we came out of…the project itself…she basically just set up the guidelines for it, what she wanted us to know, how we could go about it, and then after it was over what we…learned there.” However, the agency was another story. Isabell was indifferent toward her agency preparation, “because there wasn’t anything necessarily set up for us to do each day.” She wished for “a little more structure as far as when we came in, maybe this is what we’re going to have y’all do today. And it wasn’t like that because of communication,” meaning, the classroom instructor needed to talk with the site instructors about plans for her students.[instructor: expected; agency: 0]

Latrice worked in a combination soup kitchen and thrift store, and she was moderately satisfied with her instructor’s preparation for the experience. “She provided us a list of places that we could choose and she explained what we would be doing…at each place, and so kind of getting an idea of the duties that I would be performing at [the agency] helped prepare me for what I was going to experience.” At the site, however, things did not go so well. She was moderately dissatisfied with the preparation there for lack of organization. Not knowing who is to do what, being told, along with 15 or 20 other volunteers, to help prepare meals can be frustrating, she reflected. “You don’t know who is in charge, so maybe having a little bit more order and breaking it down more like, you’re going to put the potatoes on the tray, you’re going to pour the drinks—breaking it down into smaller steps would’ve been easier.” [instructor: expected; agency: 0]

Becky was very satisfied with the preparation she received for working with autistic children. She said that in her class they had had lessons about, “interaction with the kids and [that she had] attend[ed] the support group [for parents of autistic children].” She added, “Once I was out and was getting to experience that, I felt like I was learning what had already been taught to me in class. I was getting hands-on experience.” The agency’s work was much more specific. Her site supervisor, she said, “was able to work with me in all my classes and she was able to set up a schedule for me that would be cooperative with my school schedule.” As indicated above, she also briefed Becky thoroughly on upcoming activities with the children and on the children she would be working with. [instructor: expected; agency: expected]

In Cheryl’s case, she was on her own regarding preparation for service-learning at a school for language disorders. As she put it, “she [the instructor] didn’t really prepare us much, she just told us…we had to do twenty hours…and just to come to her and get it approved.” Cheryl was moderately satisfied with her instructor preparation. “I guess…it kind of pushes you to go find your own brain, you know what I mean.” But she did wish for more information on each agency to help her make a good choice. The agency was no different. Regarding the on-site teacher, “she didn’t explain…why [the children] were there, so I didn’t understand…where their troubles lie…so I…didn’t know really how to help them or just to communicate with them.” [instructor: 0; agency: 0] Emma’s experience

Emma’s experience at a counseling center was very different. Her preparation for service- learning was a part of her curriculum. In class, several panels of community partners discussed their agencies and the services they provided the community. She was very satisfied with her preparation by her classroom instructor. However, at the site, she was indifferent about the agency’s preparation for service-learning. Lack of time was the main problem. Emma wanted more time with the site supervisor to discuss her service. “What little time that we did have, she gave me a real thorough [briefing], I guess as thorough as she could in four to five minutes, about he kids.” In addition, there were counselors and teachers at the site…, and Emma would have liked to get their perspectives on the young clients also. [instructor: expanded; agency: expected]

Rob chose to do his service-learning project at a Habitat for Humanity site. He was very satisfied with the way his instructor prepared him for the work. She invited a representative from the University’s service-learning office to the class, and he introduced them to several possible service sites to choose from. Regarding Habitat, Rob reported, “[my instructor] did a good job of telling us exactly what…to expect” and what to bring. (“Make sure you bring your own bottled water and just shorts and a T-shirt.”) At the site, there were several houses going up, so there were many jobs available to pick from. “It wasn’t forced, like you have to go and get on this roof…you had a little bit of an option of what you wanted to do.” Rob was moderately satisfied with the preparation at the site, wishing only for a list of jobs at the beginning of the day, so he didn’t have to wait around for the foreman to give the next assignment after he completed his first job. [instructor: expected; agency: expected]

Leanne had an indifferent assessment of her preparation for pre-student teaching classroom observation. “[My instructor] told us what she expected of us, that she wanted us to observe the teacher and some of the methods of teaching math … that’s basically, I think, just about all she did.” On further reflection, she recalled her instructor providing “hands-on instruction to sort of get us ready to instruct students. We did a lot of hands- on activities.” Thus armed, she was on her own at the school service site, which accounted for her indifferent assessment of preparation there. When asked what the school did to prepare her for the service-learning experience, she replied, “Nothing.” Elaborating, she reported: “There was a lack of communication between me, as the student, and the [on-site] teacher … . I think there should be more communication between the student and the teacher before we go into the classroom, so we’re more like on …the same sheet of music.” [instructor: expected; agency: 0]

As the boundaries among instructor, student, and community partner expand and overlap, so do the meanings attached to each role. Given sufficient quantitative role change in the form of role boundary expansion and overlapping roles, quantitative change evolves into qualitative role change. The student experiences presented above provide a glimpse into various stages of instructor and agency role expansion and contraction. Ideally, over time faculty members and community partners collaborate to prepare students for a quality learning experience and provide substantive assistance to the community. Beyond preparation, over time the faculty member ideally is no longer the only educator in the service-learning process, and the student is no longer the only learner. Community partners become instructors when they prepare students for work at their site, and faculty members become learners as they become involved on the ground along with their students. The triad of roles expands and evolves into a system of reciprocal educators and learners collaborating on the common vision of the project.

Applications to Teaching and Research
The primary findings of our study are the four relational dimensions of service-learning: Control, Involvement, Preparation, and Oversight. These four dimensions are the major themes we found in the student-participant responses.

On the basis of our findings, we offer these suggestions for practitioners:

We have three recommendations for instructors. (1) Use the terms as you talk with community partners and students about your collaboration at a service-learning site. Make them a normal part of your vocabulary as you sort out relationships among yourselves, students, and community partners. Make them your home base when you address challenges at your service sites. Test them for their utility. (2) Use the four relational dimensions as a rubric when you develop a memorandum of understanding among yourself, your students, and your community partners. So in addition to talking about and with these key terms, institutionalize them in your documents. (3) Consider the four key terms to be a unit, omitting none of them in their use. Oversight is follow up to Preparation. One without the other is dysfunctional. Omitting Control only raises questions and causes frustration over who is in charge. Involvement is instructors’ opportunity to model the habits of service and learning we want our students to acquire. Treat the four relational dimensions of service-learning as a symbiotic whole.

Picking Each Other Up.
This term is common in sports. If I fail, I ask my teammate to “pick me up.” Our study reminds us that lack of preparation on the part of either instructor or agency can be compensated for by the other, as in the cases of Emma and Lucy. An instructor alone can arm his or her students with enough information and guidelines that they can succeed. It’s always preferable that both partners do their job well, but an alert and caring agency representative can notice a student who seems lost and step in to provide much of the orienting information omitted by an instructor, and vice versa. When that occurs, it is often a case of expanding role boundaries. Rather than saying, “That’s not my job,” the alert instructor or community partner will step beyond his or her conventional role boundary to assure quality service-learning.

And we offer these suggestions for researchers:

Our study underscored the usefulness of Turner’s (1990) concepts of role boundaries

and role boundary expansion. The roles of community partners and faculty members were clearly depicted in their reported preparation of students for service-learning. Several observations seem to follow from those findings. The case showed the range of possible roles community partners and faculty members may perform, from no role (Hillary, agency; Isabell, instructor) to the normally expected role within the parameters “instructor” and “agency” (Latrice, instructor; Becky, agency) to expanded roles on the part of both faculty members and community partners (Emma, instructor; Lucy, agency). Student reports were very clear that some instructors and agencies collaborated on preparation of students for service-learning; that some community partners simply stayed on-site and did the minimum to get the work out of the students and some faculty members stayed in the classroom and did the minimum required to get the assignment done; and that some did nothing toward preparing students for service-learning. Students faced with no preparation from either instructor or agency noticed and responded negatively, as you would expect. We can reasonably surmise that the quality of both learning and service was diminished as a result. Therefore, a direction for future research would be to raise the question: What needs to happen for a community partner to become a full partner in preparing students for service-learning? The same goes for instructors: What needs to happen for them to expand their role boundaries beyond their habitual ones?

Future Research.
It is important that future research develop a role expansion metric. Such an instrument would be useful for assessing the effectiveness of training faculty members and community partners to development expanded service-learning roles. But of course there are certain inherent limitations to these findings that would serve to moderate their whole-hearted adoption. First, only twelve students were interviewed. A different set of student-participants with different majors or with more diversity of age and ethnicity may have yielded different results. Second, student-participants were interviewed one to two years after they had taken the courses in question, so accuracy of recall may have been an issue. Third, the service-learning program in 2004 at our university had been underway in earnest only four years. A more mature program examined in this same manner may have yielded different results. In any case, each of these limitations is also a challenge to researchers to pursue the questions they raise.

There remain now some more general reflections on the students’ reports that are based on ancillary information gleaned from students’ elaborations of their initial answers. First, these service-learning students wanted structure in the form of guidance and advice about the service site and about the people they would be serving. Second, they wanted to know what to expect at the service site, what exactly they would be doing, and who they would be working with. Third, they wanted to engage with the site. They didn’t want just to go to a site and rack up hours. However, ancillary or not, all these concerns can be addressed with a robust collaboration among faculty, students, and community partners to prepare students for useful hands-on learning and community service.

In closing, here are some specific examples of course design and management that are consistent with the study’s results and easily implemented by instructors. First, instructors can invite agency personnel to class to explain what the agency provides the community and what students can do to help them provide that service. Second, instructors can provide students with detailed directions to the service site and safety tips if they are in order. Third, instructors can explain service-learning and how community service may be used by students to achieve the learning objectives of the class. Fourth, instructors can lead their students in role-playing situations they may encounter at the site, e.g., mediating between two fourth graders who want to use the same computer; or talking with a nursing home resident who seems uncommunicative. Finally, instructors can give specific instructions for writing a reflection paper along with examples and practice (e.g., have students do several days of journaling, then do a practice reflection paper following the instructions you provide).

Similarly, what can community partners do to prepare students for service-learning? First, the community partner can offer to attend the class to talk about their agency, what it does in the community and who it serves (bring a brochure that includes directions to the site and contact information). Second, the community partner can provide an on-site orientation session for new service-learning students. Third, a part of that orientation can include the agency staff as well as representatives of the agency’s clients. Fourth, the agency can provide students with several options as to what they would be doing at the site. Fifth, the agency can create “slots,” preset jobs into which students can easily fit (e.g., at an after school program, working with outdoor activities, doing homework with the students or creating art projects). As shown by our results, students notice and respond to the quality of preparation they receive and express clearly their ideas about what that preparation should include.

All of these conclusions, suggestions and implications address, in various ways, the inherent disconnect that exists among instructors, students, and community partners, whose separate “discourse communities” Bacon (2002) often isolate them from each other. Stanton (2000) has recommended, in very general terms, a solution. Practitioners need to become more research-oriented, and researchers need to become more practice-oriented. In the case of the former, that would entail more informed self- awareness on the part of practitioners; and in the latter, that would entail researchers listening to and collaborating with those who are working “in the trenches.” We quite agree. Each seeing the world somewhat as the other sees it puts them more nearly on the same page and makes further collaboration possible. For each, practitioner and researcher, that amounts to an expansion of role boundaries.

We believe that the basic relational dimensions of service-learning, Control, Involvement, Preparation, and Oversight, that emerged from this study provide a robust vehicle for dialogue among faculty members, students, and community partners as they collaborate in service-learning. When their role boundaries expand to share in the enactment of those relational dimensions, true collaboration is in sight and service-learning quality increases.

Bacon, N. (2002). Differences in faculty and community partners’ theories of learning. Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning, 9, 34-44. Bringle, R.G., & Hatcher, H.A. (2002). Campus-community partnerships: The terms of engagement. Journal of Social Issues, 58(3), 503- 516.Bushouse, B.K. (2005). Community nonprofit organizations and service-learning: Resource constraints to building partnerships with universities. Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning, 12, 32-40. Cooks, L., & Scharrer, E. (2006). Assessing learning in community service-learning: A social approach. Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning, 14, 44-55. Ferrari, J.R., & Worrall, L. (2000). Assessments by community agencies: How “the other side” sees service-learning. Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning, 7, 35-40. 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, 97-107. Glaser, B., & Strauss, A. (1967). The discovery of grounded theory: Strategies for qualitative research. Chicago: Aldine. Hironimus-Wendt, R.J., & Lovell-Troy, L. (1999). Grounding service-learning in social theory. Teaching Sociology, 27(4), 360-372. King, B., et al. (2004). Creating the bridge: The community’s view of the expanding community partnerships. In Behringer, B.A., et al. (Eds.), Pursuing opportunities through partnerships: Higher education and communities (pp. 75-85). Morgantown, WV: West Virginia University Press. McLean, J.E., & Behringer, B.A. (2008). Establishing and evaluating equitable partnerships. Journal of Community Engagement and Scholarship, 1, 66-71. Noley, S. (1977). Service-learning from the agency’s perspective. New Directions for Higher Education, 18, 87-92. Owen, W. (1984). Interpretive themes in relational communication. Quarterly Journal of Speech, 70, 274-287. Pitts, M. J., et al. (2009). Dialectical tensions underpinning family farm succession planning. Journal of Applied Communication Research, 37, 59- 79. Schaffer, M.A., Paris, J.W., & Vogel, K. (2003). Ethical relationships in service-learning partnerships. In S.H. Billig & J. Eyler (Eds.), Deconstructing service-learning: Research exploring context, participation, and impacts (pp. 147-170). Greenwich, CT: Information Age Publishing. Stanton, T.K. (2000). Bringing reciprocity to service-learning research and practice. Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning, Special Issue, 119-123. Stoecker, R., & Tryon, E.A. (2009). Unheard voices: Community organizations and service- learning. In R. Stoecker & E.A. Tryon (Eds.), The unheard voices (pp. 1-18). Philadelphia: Temple University Press. Tice, C.H. (1994). Forging university- community collaboration: The agency perspective on national service. Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning, 1, 105-109. Turner, R. H. (1990). Role change. Annual Review of Sociology, 16, 87-110. Vernon, A., & Ward, K. (1999). Campus and community partnerships: Assessing impacts and strengthening connections. Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning, 6, 30-37.

About the Authors
Richard L. Conville is professor in the department of communication studies and faculty liaison for service-learning at The University of Southern Mississippi. Ann M. Kinnell, is assistant professor in the department of anthropology and sociology and director, non- profit studies program, also at The University of Southern Mississippi.

Appendix Interview Schedule for Students

Page 84—JOURNAL OF COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT AND SCHOLARSHIP—Vol. 3, No. 2 Developing a Community-Led Education Pipeline

Christine Meyer and Laura Laumatia 


The Coeur d’Alene Tribe, the University of Idaho Extension, and other community and regional partners have been collaborating on the development of an education pipeline as a result of several years of leadership training in the community. Through their collaboration, gaps in educational services have been identified, new partnerships are being developed, and a deeper analysis of the root causes of the high rate of school dropouts is taking place.

Bridging the Educational Achievement Gap

In the fall of 2007, the University of Idaho began an 18-month partnership with the Coeur d’Alene Tribal Reservation community in Northern Idaho through the Horizons program, a program aimed at poverty reduction through grass-roots leadership. The process included an asset-based approach to addressing long-standing issues on the reservation. Through the process, a community steering committee broadened its definition of poverty to include not just economic issues, but social, emotional, intellectual, and cultural/spiritual challenges as well. Our participation in Horizons empowered us to tackle our community’s most challenging obstacle: the educational achievement gap. Although we have made great economic strides in recent years, our graduation rates have plummeted in the past decade, and recent classes have seen an average of only 25 percent of entering high school freshmen graduate.

As education director and extension educator, respectively, we realized that the collaborative community-led approach we learned in Horizons was foundational to transforming our education system from a passive recipient of state-mandated programming to an active, engaged community that meets the needs of our students. The Tribal Department of Education developed an education pipeline (Figure 1), a linear, visual presentation, inventorying community partners and supports for education from cradle to grave. The pipeline includes the Tribe’s Early Childhood Center, local schools, and the higher education programs offered by the Tribal Department of Education, as well as all of the programs and services that support our community members at each educational stage, including family services, out-of-school-time programs, sports, tutoring, career programs, and college preparation programs. We created an interagency team to inventory the services other programs were providing. We now meet quarterly with the Tribal Youth Activities staff, local clergy, school administrators and staff, Tribal Court, social services, and higher education representatives. We have identified where services overlap, where gaps in services exist, and where community partners need to develop shared visions for student success based on the intellectual, social, emotional, physical, and cultural needs of each learner.

The development of the pipeline led to new questions that our team is now studying, using participatory action research with middle and high school students. We are now asking when and why students disengage from the education pipeline.

Risky Behaviors Contribute to Poverty

Our collaboration has led to deeper community analysis of root causes of our dropout issue. Our team recently studied five freshman classes, from 2004-2008, through their senior year. The resulting identification of drugs, alcohol, and pregnancy as primary factors in student dropouts led to our recognition that social and emotional poverty is the underlying issue that we need to address as a community. Our next phase will analyze all services or programs in our pipeline to determine appropriate interventions.

Our actions and research have empowered our team to inform community leaders and school administrators about actual student needs, rather than relying on anecdotal information. We also are better poised to work with our university partners to design projects and programs that faculty and community can co-research to help build a stronger community.

About the Authors

Christine Meyer is director of education, Coeur d’Alene Tribe, and Laura Laumatia is extension educator at the University of Idaho.

Student Sections: Destroying Stereotypes about the Innercity Poor

Essay by Per Jansen 

In 2007, as a student at the University of Cincinnati, I participated in a research-focused community engagement project with the Day Labor Organizing Project (DLOP), a workers’ center in Cincinnati, Ohio, that was attempting to organize day laborers and ensure the protection of their labor rights. The project’s methodology (a combination of survey and in-depth interviews) required us to embed within the community. Many specific aspects of the project proved challenging, and the methods we used may help others whose goal is engagement with marginalized populations who are often cautious and hesitant when interacting with those outside of their own reference groups.

Day laborers make up the bottom of the urban employment ladder; they begin their workdays at 5 a.m. and perform back-breaking work under hazardous conditions to earn around $50 a day. The supply of workers far exceeds demand, leaving them in a weak bargaining position. Day labor firms, concentrated in the poorest urban neighborhoods, can fire workers for any reason and enforce strict rules and procedures to maintain control of the workforce. Many firms deduct charges from the workers’ pay, frequently bringing pay beneath minimum wage. In Cincinnati, most day laborers are African-Americans; many are homeless and have had brushes with the law. These conditions result in a population with little defense from mistreatment.

Engaging this particular demographic often proves difficult, as was the case in our work with them. First, researchers, as well as DLOP activists, had access to the laborers only during the early morning hours (approximately 4-5 a.m.) when workers line up for a better chance at receiving a job. Second, speaking with workers during working hours was not possible and would result in their termination. Additionally, day-labor firms are located in neighborhoods that suffer from high crime rates, presentinga safety concern to researchers going there in the early morning. Finally, many workers were hesitant to speak with DLOP for fear of retaliation and termination if their participation with a labor-organizing effort was discovered.

To overcome these challenges, DLOP used the efforts of retired day laborers, who directly engaged current laborers and sought to recruit them for the organizing efforts. As former workers, they do not face the retaliation current day laborers do, and they did not look suspicious in day labor halls. The former day laborers also attended rallies, spoke at city council meetings, and met with churches and civic organizations around the city. These efforts put a personal face to the stories of deprivation and labor abuse, helped to enlist volunteer support from undergraduate students for both the research project and the organizing effort, and built a positive media narrative encouraging support from city politicians. The former laborers helped with the research project as well. They formed teams with student research assistants, escorted them through neighborhoods, and encouraged cooperation from day laborers who were concerned for their anonymity.

Many factors make engagement with formal day laborers difficult, and day-labor firms easily exploit this weak position in the labor market. However, engagement through safe, trustworthy channels brought multiple benefits to the project, facilitating research and enabling the incorporation of new workers into the labor organizing effort.

The project had a deep impact on the student research team, including myself. Working in the early morning was difficult, but for us, the project and early hours ended, a small price to pay for an eye-opening glimpse into the lives of hardworking people who do this work every day. Destroying stereotypes about the urban poor and developing professional relationships with kind, dedicated people from dramatically different socioeconomic backgrounds proved personally rewarding and relevant to my future goals as an attorney representing the indigent, especially on labor issues.

About the Author

Per Jansen is a graduate student in community planning at the University of Cincinnati.

Book Reviews

Jo-Anne Dillabough and Jacqueline Kennelly. (2010).

Lost Youth in the Global City: Class,Culture and the Urban Imaginary. New York: Routledge. ISBN 9780415995580 (paperback).

Reviewed by Jeena Owens, doctoral student in instructional leadership at The University of Alabama

In Lost Youth in the Global City: Class, Culture and the Urban Imaginary, Jo-Anne Dillabough and Jacqueline Kennelly challenge existing paradigms that reinscribe binary ideologies about youth culture in society. In challenging dominant discourses in youth culture that posit juxtapositions between, for example, low-income and middle-class youth or children of color and white youth, the authors have produced a text that not only encourages scholars to view youth in increasingly nuanced ways, but they also provide a methodological path that other researchers may choose to follow in future scholarship related to investigating youth’s lives.

Dillabough and Kennelly analyzed various dimensions of youth identity through qualitative research completed in two Canadian cities—Beacon Park, Vancouver, and Tower Hill, Toronto— cities that are seen as uniquely positioned to inform educators’ understandings of the diversity among youth subcultures. The authors characterized these cities as global, given various ethnic populations, and the extent to which multiple youth subcultures are a part of each context. With these cities as a backdrop, the authors set out to learn about the cultural experiences of ethnically diverse youth from different social classes within cities described as “radically transformed modern urban centres” (p. 2). Through an ethnographic lens, Lost Youth in the Global City documents two years of research on youth interpretations of their identities in relation to the global city in which they reside.

As a foundation for this research, Dillabough and Kennelly draw on an interdisciplinary theoretical approach; primary theoretical frameworks used to support this study are Ricoeur’s (1981) hermeneutic [interpretive] imagination, and cultural phenomenology. Together, these approaches allow the authors to learn about youth’s worlds by comprehending “their deeply felt cultural experiences” (p. 44). Since the concept of hermeneutic imagination posits youth culture as an interpretive enactment, the researchers are able to use this concept to create a sense of the performative within a more traditional phenomenological approach. Applied collectively, these theoretical frameworks enable the collection of data that includes participants’ visual representations, youth narratives, and interviews, and this data is particularly effective in communicating the perceptions of youth who are often seen as “lost” in global cities.

Dillabough and Kennelly are first able to explore the cultural experiences of youth in global cities through visual representations that show the diverse perceptions that youth hold about themselves and societal concepts. For example, participants illustrated “good citizenship” through drawn pictures of good and bad citizenship (p. 189). By collecting visual artifacts (including photographs and participants’ drawings) and placing these pictures and photographs throughout the text, a window into the meaning participants associated with their visual artifacts was created. However, this is not a “window” shaped only from researchers’ interpretations; Dillabough and Kennelly demonstrate their commitment to learning the experiences of youth by gathering photographs from youth coupled with a description of youth’s meaning attached in order to share a clear picture of participants’ ideas. This approach, one that is increasingly encouraged in ethnographic work, is also used in the incorporation of drawings by youth that represent their future goals (Baert, 1992; Cavero, 2000). Participants’ illustrations—and participants’ own explanations of these illustrations—offer researchers an unambiguous idea of how youth view themselves and the value they attach to individuals and things in their life.

In addition to visual artifacts, youth shared their stories with the authors during interviews. Students’ drawings and photographs, along with interview responses and stories, bring the experiences of youth closer to the reader. Through an analysis of youth narratives, the authors demonstrate the power of stories to represent lived experience and the meanings attached to it as complex and multi-layered. For example, when a young white male’s peers have classified him as a thug because he listens to rap music, has shaved his head, and wears flashy clothing, he conveys his unhappiness with this categorization, expressing that he just wants to be himself. During an interview, the student (Tony) shares the following with the interviewer:

Tony: [I] listen to rock music, which I usually don’t like but now I’m getting fully into it…the rockers are happy with that, me getting into it…. Most people classify me as a thug because they call me Sun [Slim] Shady, 8, you know, Eminem. They mostly classify me as that ’cause I listen to rap and all that…and I had my head shaved and dyed blonde at the base.

Interviewer: OK.

Tony:[B]ut they said that I’m slowly starting to turn.…I eventually hope to get out of that, like being my own self, next year (p. 117).

Through Tony’s responses, readers come in close contact with the participant’s struggle to be defined beyond the monolithic characterizations of others.

Throughout the book, the authors weave theory through discussions of participants’ lived experiences, and in doing so, clearly illustrate the connection between theory and material conditions for youth on the fringes of global cities. For this reader, this was most clear in the way that Dillabough and Kennelly shared the experiences of a 15-year-old Portuguese boy named Hayden, who lives with his mother. During an interview, Hayden discussed his feelings about the fact that his mother had to work two jobs. When asked if this was the ideal work situation for his mother, Hayden stated that it did not bother him, and “everything’s okay” (p. 149). The authors offer supportive scholarship that theorizes Hayden’s responses regarding his mother’s arduous work demands. Reay and Lucey (2000, 2003) “describe [Hayden’s] ambivalence as a form of working-class resilience or refusal, a manner of seeing things as bearable, ‘even OK’, in order to not be overwhelmed” (p. 149). Dillabough and Kennelly’s straightforward technique of linking theory to participants’ experiences is effective because they provide examples that illustrate their method of using theory to explain material conditions in society.

Aside from showing readers how to link theory to rich qualitative data, Dillabough and Kennelly provide a thoughtful and theoretically well-grounded model for how to explore the experiences of youth who reside in global cities. By developing an interdisciplinary theoretical framework that draws support from an effective ethnographic research design, the authors emphasize the importance of a reflective and critical strategy for researching youths’ lived experiences in global cities. Such a model may be useful in replicating this research in other geographic and cultural contexts around the world. In this way, the authors create the opportunity for comparing youth experiences in many global cities, which in turn will contribute to a more intricate understanding of the ways that youth culture and identity develop and are performed. However, in regard to understanding the ways youth culture is discussed in this book, it is evident that this research is tailored to the needs of a particular audience, individuals who pursue careers in the academy. With this in mind, the authors do not provide an invitation for the results from their study to be shared with individuals studied in their research. It would have been helpful for the authors to discuss how the results are applicable to the youth and their families. Perhaps it is beyond the scope of the book, but further research investigating youth subcultures should build the need to ponder the idea of creating a research project that communicates to the individuals in the study as well as individuals in academic circles. In order to transform the position of youth in global cities, it is important to continue the work discussed by the authors by making it accessible to all audiences. The engagement of multiple audiences (educators, youth, parents/guardians, other stakeholders) in this text would have made the book stronger, and would have encouraged needed dialogue.

Overall, the authors use engaging methodological tools to learn about youths’ perceptions of their lived experiences in global cities. Their work is a contribution to interdisciplinary fields, including education, sociology, and youth studies, and is ideal for novice researchers seeking a model of ethnographic research, especially given the ways in which efforts are made to articulate clear links between theory, methods, and analysis.

Telling Stories to Change the World—Global Voices on the Power of Narrative to Build Community and Make Social Justice Claims.

Edited by Rickie Solinger, Madeline Fox, and Kayhan Irani. (2008). New York: Routledge. ISBN: 0415960800 (paperback).

Reviewed by Richard Meyers, Ph.D., an instructor at American University

Perhaps the best way to describe Rickie Solinger, Madeline Fox, and Kayhan Irani’s Telling Stories to Change the World is to say that what is embodied in a textual form is in actuality a cascading frame of stories about projects about stories that provoke further narratives (including the present review). In creating this book of stories embedded in stories, it is interesting to note that the editors’ backgrounds provide an interdisciplinary foundation for what follows; one is a historian, one is a social psychologist, and one is a community arts practitioner. The theoretical threads that connect their compilation seem to hinge upon the concept of community identity, be it personal, cultural, collective and/or singular; and, the ways in which people actively engage in projects that generate activism beginning at a local level and undertaken through the medium of “storytelling.” The editors’ goals were to gather stories about activists in local settings who utilize storytelling as a means to further social activism within their communities. In pursuing that goal, “storytelling” is broadly defined as ways of narrating stories from different vantage points to address social issues.

The result of the editors’ goal are 23 essays from across the globe, essays which, on the whole, describe the ways social justice activists, artists, and project leaders utilize stories as grassroots tactics for making social justice claims. Nineteen of the essays in the text are project based while the final four are more open ended explorations into larger thematic issues involving power and the limits of storytelling as a medium of activism or tangible policy.

Part I

In chapters one through six, we are exposed to projects that are about preservation—“Of language and environment, of history, memory, community, health, personal, and group resources” (p. 11). The first chapter is titled, “Zuni River—Shiwinan K’yawinanne Cultural Confluence.” Both of the authors to this project are Zuni tribal members who worked in collaboration to write up the chapter. One is a Native Zuni speaker while the other has an M.F.A. and serves as the executive director for a non-profit organization dedicated to sacred sites protection and cultural revitalization for the tribe. The authors wish the chapter to be a challenge to globalization and also a call to action with regard to environmental justice and cultural recover y. The narrative style and writing fits well to the backgrounds of the authors. Here is a small sample, “This chapter has been collaboratively created by two writers who are linked to a high desert ecosystem and the cool midnight sky where countless generations of our grandfathers and grandmothers have dreamed and danced, prayed and fasted, and farmed and hunted in the vast lands we know as Idiwana, the Middle Place” (p. 21). Chapter four, “‘Our Ancestors Danced Like This’ Maya Youth Respond to Genocide through the Ancestral Arts,” is similar to the subject matter of the first chapter. This segment is written by a Pinay dancer and human rights observer living in Guatemala as a Fulbright scholar. The narrative relays a story of the genesis of a social group in Guatemala called Sotz’il. Made up predominantly of youth, it infuses elements of old traditional stories about Maya relations with the original Spanish conquistadors. Aspects of the Sotz’il’s artistic performances and plays narrate the survival and integrity of Maya culture. Thematically, these two chapters deal with indigenous communities trying to keep cultural elements alive and from falling victim to erasure by modern industrialized society. Unfortunately, modern society often replaces cultural identity with what is known as a “market identity” category rooted in egocentricity as opposed to the more collective tribally based indigenous cultural identities that are considered to be sociocentric.

Chapters two and three contend with topics that could be viewed thematically as representing how individuals prevent themselves and their experiences from being silenced. Chapter two is titled, “The Memory Book Project in Kampala, Uganda.” This particular project and write up was made possible through analog (cassette) recordings that were then transcribed into a text submitted to the editors. In dealing with stories about surviving and coping as mothers with HIV and AIDS in Uganda, the taboo nature of the issue is addressed through the creation of memory books. These books are then passed along to surviving family members so that the phenomenon is not silenced. Chapter three, “Telling the Truth-How Breaking Silence Brought Redemption to One Mississippi Town,” describes the work of the Philadelphia Coalition, a group formed to heal a stigmatized and traumatic historical experience in their community. This chapter is a redemptive story that deals with the aftermath of the murders of three civil rights workers in this small rural town in 1964. The coalition’s goals are to address the silent barrier of racism that has shrouded the community since the heinous crime. Through community narratives focused on justice, the cloudy stigma and veil of shame is shown to be slowly lifting in this town, and community engagement is centralized as essential to the healing process that has begun..

Chapters five and six begin with the authors’ statement of position/standpoint as a context for their respective projects. Chapter five, “An Unlikely Alliance-Germans and Jews Collaborate to Teach the Lessons of the Holocaust,” begins with the following sentence: “As the daughter of Holocaust refugees, I inherited a painful and burdensome legacy from my parents” (p. 56). Chapter six, “Storytelling in SisterSong and the Voices of Feminism Project,” begins with the following: “As an African American feminist, I come from a verbal, storytelling culture with deep roots” (p. 65). Both chapters convey the complicated ways in which doctrine can silence those who need to speak up while an act of atrocity is occurring, as opposed to waiting for history to reveal its truths. In chapter six, the following quote relays themes found in both stories: “An important aspect is owning our stories, and determining if, when, why, and how they are shared. As women of color we feel that others often tell our stories for us in a colonizing way, denying us the right not only to tell our own stories but to decide what the stories mean” (p. 67). The shared theme of these chapters lies in the concept of co-construction and access to the creation of the narrative or storytelling activity. Chapter five demonstrates collaboration and co-construction in creating a new story. Chapter six articulates the reclaiming of the narrative that has been controlled and told by outsiders as a way of maintaining oppression and cultural domination over the women in the story. The notion of preserving and reclaiming permeates these chapters.

Part II

Chapters seven through fourteen describe projects that came about due to crisis, though the title of chapter seven, “The Neighborhood Story Project in New Orleans,” does not immediately identify this idea. The narrative jumps immediately into a dialogue transcription, with the “script” describing the Neighborhood Story Project and its connection to Hurricane Katrina. Similarly, Chapter eight, “A Story of a Suicide and Social Change in Contemporary China,” submerges the reader from the beginning, through describing the suicide of the project director’s grandmother, an event that is the impetus for the project. An outside political scientist whose specialty is China writes the chapter. She details the contrast in narratives between the “supposed” to be “objective” style of the writing of an academic versus the power of personal storytelling. This chapter details a magazine that gives voice to Chinese women from rural backgrounds. It achieves this voice through the medium of storytelling as a vehicle of change.

Chapters nine, eleven, and twelve are narratives about projects that convey immediacy and are compiled into storytelling phenomena. Chapter nine is titled, “Depo Diaries and the Power of Stories.” The authors depict their project well in their own words here, “Depo Diaries: A National Storytelling Project came out of our need to understand their own experiences with the adverse effects of birth control. We needed to highlight the ways that the medical community and others enforce systematic and coercive reproductive practices, relying on racist, ablest, heterosexist, and classist assumptions” (p. 101). Depo-Provera is a form of birth control targeted at the poor and communities of color, and in this chapter are collections of stories that narrate individual women’s experiences of being put on the drug. Chapter eleven, “Our Stories, Their Decisions Voter Education Project,” demonstrates the ability that stories depicted in the medium of DVDs and digital storytelling have in bridging the gaps between government decisions at the policy level through the personal impacts felt by voters. This particular project is a prescriptive representation intended to be utilized by other community activist organizations trying to effect social change. Chapter twelve, “Drawing Attention to Darfur,” has as its focus the space of abuses known to many who follow human rights issues: “Darfur. One of today’s gravest man-made human rights and humanitarian crises. Named a genocide—the worst of all crimes—by the United States government, the world has stood by while Sudanese soldiers and militias have committed crimes against humanity, war crimes, and forced 3 million people to flee their homes” (p. 127). The project is written by a pediatrician turned public health physician who tells of encountering stories of atrocities through drawings from children who sought his medical care. The project compiles these stories that the children draw and are collected by the doctor to voice the atrocities to a greater audience.

Chapters ten, thirteen, and fourteen are all stories about the interface between the performative aspects of storytelling and crisis. Chapter ten, “Immigrant Stories in the Hudson Valley,” is an ongoing project that consists of a series of interactive, bilingual theater performances with audiences of immigrants from Mexico, Columbia, Puerto Rico, Peru, Argentina, Ecuador, Belize, Paraguay, Guatemala, and the Dominican Republic. All live in the Mid-Hudson Valley of New York, a semi-rural region. A project/theater company, Hudson River Playback Theatre, invites audience members to tell personal stories that sync in with each performance and actors and music so that it forms theater on the spot. “Other tellers of border-crossing stories have indicated a similar relief, consistent with the findings of trauma research that those who have undergone trauma feel a compulsion to tell their story, and that this telling is essential for healing to take place” (p. 115). Chapter thirteen, “Insan Natak-Phoenix or Dodo in Lahore,” details the work of four young people with university degrees who wished to enact change and “to do good” in Kot Lakhpat, Pakistan. They founded the Insan Foundation that performed on-the-ground plays and skits for the children and the community with a pro-human rights, anti-war stance. In time, the group was renamed Insan Natak. From what began as an initiative to help literacy and allow for grassroots performances grew an internationally renowned troupe of actors in a project that eventually ended, due to the dialectic of extending beyond the initial project goals and losing the community grounding. In tracing the rise and fall of this unique theater group, the authors define the triumph of real grassroots activism void of commercial politics and co-opted behavior.

Chapter fourteen concludes Part II with the chapter titled, “Everyone Needs to Know—Five Stories about AIDS and Art in India.” It details the patuas of West Bengal, multimedia artists who paint narrative scrolls accompanied by sung poetry. One of the authors of the chapter is a folk arts curator who wanted to revitalize the artistry of the patuas by commissioning and utilizing them in a contemporary venue. From the origins and benevolent intentions of the folk arts curator to the intersection of an American scholar’s research, and cascading to the other authors of this chapter/story, the reader sees how AIDS becomes narrated through patuas’ performances in this locale in India. Through the stories, the human connection and ability to respect and understand versus to simply take a position is an important result of their project.

In sum, the chapters in Part II depict projects that attempt to address various crises. Either by alerting the world, or one’s own community, these narratives describe projects that disseminate stories in ways that are reminiscent of a call to arms. This sampling of story-based projects allows us to see examples of issues that were created out of acute urgency.

Part III

Part III brings together projects that voice revolutionary and innovative ways of storytelling. Beginning with chapter fifteen, “The We That Sets Us Free—Imagining a World Without Prisons,” we are exposed to the premise that prisons are wrong. According to the author, “Prisons have colonized hearts and minds” (p. 162). The chapter challenges readers to envision a world without prisons and infuses music and recordings of female inmates compiled into a CD. In chapter sixteen, the author describes an organization, Women Living Under Muslim Laws. This organization uses a performative act, “Great Ancestors,” to demonstrate Muslim women’s stories of dissent, dignity, freedom, and repression, stories that have recurred throughout history and that have produced common challenges.

Chapter seventeen, “Creating a Forum—LGBTQ Youth and The Home Project in Chicago,” highlights the collection of stories of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, or queer youth who are homeless. The author describes the project’s impetus well here after narrating encounters with homeless youth: “This is how theater projects start for me. I am going about my business when a question hauls back and punches me in the gut. Or maybe it’s an idea that takes my breath away. To then create a production that shares these stories is what the Home Project does” (p. 184). Chapter eighteen, “From Storytelling to Community Development—Jahori, Afghanistan,” tells a tale from the vantage point of a man with an almost completed Ph.D. in oral tradition and community development who fled Afghanistan in 1978. He articulates that even in the face of war and numerous attempts to squelch storytelling, the “need to tell tales has not died and cannot be extinguished… . Storytelling, an ancient art form conveying fairy tales, folklore, legends, myths, and religious epics, has become a rare commodity and the rawi is almost extinct.” (194) The rawi are storytellers of the Hazaras, who were strategically silenced by oppressive means of cultural domination and war.

In the last chapter of Part III, Chapter nineteen, “Sins Invalid—Disability, Dancing, and Claiming Beauty,” we are exposed to what I would deem as something “new” to me and unexpected as a reader. I was drawn into the story by the following excerpt:

Like many good stories, the early threads of this one were woven over dinner, a large bowl of saffron-laced paella, steaming on the table between two good friends…We’ve both been disabled since birth, and bluntly, we’re both pretty hot, and we both humbly know it. Still, every day throughout the day we each struggle with the disconnect between what we know to be true about our beauty and the passion of our lives, and what the world seems to believe, that we are less than, undesirable, pitiable…it’s hard, to know that you have been blessed while others seem convinced you’ve been cursed (p. 202, 203).

As a reader, I was captivated by the phenomenon of “ableism versus disableism” and sexuality. This chapter’s purpose and the project as a whole appear to be about normalizing and naturalizing the exotic and erotic into a space of acceptance; yet it also invokes the realism of what isn’t discussed in normative discourse. The poetry and performance production of this group seeks to introduce a new way to storytelling.

Part IV

To frame closure to the text, the four final chapters/stories are meant to interrogate/explore the relationship between “storytelling” and “telling truth” (p. 213). Chapter twenty, “Using Personal Narrative to Build Activist Movements,” uses the examples of renowned activists whose personal biographical stories invoked social movements. To see that large numbers of people are ideologically reachable in the format of a story disseminated to unify and aggregate people is an attribute often associated with storytelling. In chapter twenty-one, “Trafficking Trauma,” the author points out that emphasis on South Africa and trauma stories being harvested above and beyond an immediate need depicts an almost fetish for trauma and invokes the question of how to determine what is useful and what is not. It also outlines some of the ethics involved in intellectual property and turning collective stories of trauma into commodities of individual narratives. Chapter twenty-two, “Imagining Cuba: Storytelling and the Politics of Exile,” depicts the ways people in exile reconstitute and shape identity, almost entirely based upon storytelling. The author speaks her own truth regarding her identity, and in doing so, presents a legitimate example of the ambiguity of the Southern Floridian Cuban exiled identity. The final chapter, twenty-three, “Stories in Law,” continues along the thematic path of how stories are inherently and inevitably ambiguous and applies this to the legal realm. The author points out the ability of storytelling to disrupt or dismantle rationalizing and generalizing analytical modes of discourse within the law. All of the chapters within Part IV share in their narratives the relationship of storytelling and stories to the public sphere and greater concept of society.

As expressed in this book, and in this reader’s experience, stories are ways of invoking and referencing realities felt and imagined and lived. They bring to life the words that shape and create the ways of seeing and breathing the world around us as human beings. To be in a story and to feel the spatialized embodiment of the story surrounding you versus to be outside the story looking in and acknowledging the events occurring to the actors inside the structure are two very different vantage points. This book frames a philosophical spectrum with which one can view and interpret the internal narratives and stories within this edited compilation. It is a collection of essays that spans continents and disparate cultural spaces—Uganda, Darfur, China, Afghanistan, South Africa, New Orleans, Chicago. The book describes projects in which communities use narrative as a way to explore what a more just society might look like and what civic engagement means. These compelling accounts of resistance, hope, and vision showcase the power of the storytelling form to generate critique and collective action. They also show the humility of human connectedness.

Each chapter in this compilation can stand on its own in addition to being threaded together with the other narratives of social justice. Each author details how her or his projects were brought into reality from the abstract idea forms to the on-the-ground practical manifestations in their project deliverables. There are numerous grassroots storytelling projects out there. However, to obtain an essay written about an actual project entails the materializing of a narrative version about the project from someone willing to write it up. The storytelling projects inevitably become entextualized, and we are therefore reading a piece of literature about a storytelling phenomenon as opposed to experiencing the storytelling in the way each chapter aims to articulate as the unique attribute to the respective project. In other words, we, the readers of this compilation of stories, are reading about how activism is about reaching people through the various mediums of storytelling that do not involve reading. It is somewhat of an interesting ironic twist to the overall message of the book, one not fully addressed by the editors. Overall, the text is a valuable resource to sociolinguists, specialists to the regions mentioned, and teachers and educators of all grades and levels. It is also a practical text for community activists and anyone interested in reading about stories that aren’t couched in overly academic terms and obtuse arguments.

The Crabby Creek Initiative: Building and Sustaining An Interdisciplinary Community Partnership


“Ingredients for an equitable partnership are examined, and while trust is key, building positive, long- term relationships is not a straightforward process.” 

Melissa Terlecki and David Dunbar, Caroline Nielsen, Cynthia McGauley, Lisa Ratmansky, Nancy L. Watterson, Jon Hannum, Kallyn Seidler, Emily Bongiorno, Owen Owens, Pete Goodman, Chuck Marshall, Susan Gill, Kristen Travers, and John Jackson

In this article, we identify the steps and strategies that emerged through an interdisciplinary, community-based participatory research (CBPR) project—the Crabby Creek Initiative. The Initiative was undertaken jointly by Cabrini College faculty in biology and psychology, the Valley Creek Restoration Partnership (VCRP), the Stroud Water Research Center, (SWRC) and local residents of this eastern Pennsylvania region. The paper examines the phases the partners have gone through and the strategies used as the building blocks of partnerships in the process of collaboration: trust, mutual design, shared implementation, joint ownership, and dissemination of knowledge, the building blocks of sustainable partnerships. Ultimately, the lessons learned have the potential to galvanize practitioners to engage not only in citizen science, but also more broadly in the practice of applied and engaged democracy.

What do vanishing brook trout (Pennsylvania’s state fish) and the possible flooding of George Washington’s headquarters in Valley Forge National Park have to do with Cabrini College students learning about stream chemistry and macroinvertabrates, or with local Pennsylvania residents learning to conduct their own stream water monitoring? These experiences stand at the heart of the Crabby Creek Initiative, an interdisciplinary CBPR project. Undertaken jointly by Cabrini College faculty in biology and psychology, the Valley Creek Restoration Partnership (VCRP), the SWRC, and local residents of this small region of southeastern Pennsylvania—the Initiative serves as more than a template of an effective local watershed management program; it also demonstrates the creation and maintenance of mutual, sustainable partnerships—the very roots of applied and engaged democracy that inform citizen science.

In terms of cultivating the potential for applied democracy and, ideally, systemic social change—the underpinnings of social justice—the Crabby Creek Initiative offers a compelling story. The steps involved in creating sustainable partnerships are still rarely studied or widely shared with nascent practitioners (Adams, Miller- Korth, & Brown, 2004). This gap remains despite that building strong partnerships depends on a mutual understanding of growth through a series of progressive stages that not only enhances the success of such undertakings, but also hones the skills needed to ensure collaborative, mutual democratic interactions—in short, to sustain such partnerships that strive to include multiple voices at every stage with the aim to move toward public education, behavioral change, advocacy, and, eventually, policy change. To address such a gap, this work uses case study to magnify the processes through which complex partnerships unfold and develop. In so doing, we illuminate several core principles that characterize interdisciplinary partnerships. The foundational steps we outline add to existing scholarship in CBPR in and across such disciplines as biology, psychology, and ecology (Amuwo & Jenkins, 2001). By reflecting on our processes of engagement, we strive to achieve our long-term goals: increasing community access to scientific knowledge while sharing technical expertise and empowering people to engage civically—thereby enhancing environmental stewardship, giving community members both the confidence to take charge of watershed studies themselves and to understand the relationship between people’s choices, the effects those choices have on our environment, and, more specifically, the ability to analyze their own scientific results critically. We underscore the importance of trust, mutual design and implementation, and creativity for effective, long-term community partnerships.

Other conceptual frameworks for creating and maintaining such productive relationships hail from a variety of fields. Health practitioners, for example, have amassed an impressive range of orienting documents through the Community- Campus Partnerships for Health, on such topics including community-institutional partnerships and understanding trust among partners (see http://www.ccph.info/). Here, practitioners grounded both in community development and community organizing provide specific nuts-and-bolt worksheets titled “Developing and Sustaining Community-based Participatory Research” and “Partnerships: A Skill-building Curriculum,” as one comprehensive toolkit. These studies provide an experiential backdrop as well as theoretical framework that echoes and underscores the pragmatic emphases in our Crabby Creek Initiative.

The project involved the combined efforts of Cabrini College faculty and students, the SWRC, the VCRP, key local stakeholders from the community including the Valley Forge Chapter of Trout Unlimited, the Green Valleys Association, Open Lands Conservancy, West Chester Fish, Game and Wildlife Association, and the the League of Women Voters of Tredyfrrin Township in West Chester County.

Building positive, long-term, mutually committed relationships is a hallmark for highly effective CBPR projects; moreover, collaborative, community-based research is a process: one best done in “baby steps”—while keeping an eye toward the full participation of community partners (Stoecker & Schmidt, 2008). Such insights held true for the Crabby Creek Initiative, as community members and academic partners proceeded in precisely this sort of iterative, adaptive process, a process best characterized by three steps or phases.

The initial phase of the collaboration began when Cabrini College received a grant from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). This grant was for water-quality monitoring in Crabby Creek. To implement the project, Cabrini faculty identified the local watershed association, the VCRP to ask for guidance on what could be done.

The collaboration that resulted from this initial contact quickly evolved to include people who brought diverse expertise to the table. The middle phase established preliminary operating structures, thus connecting organizations with shared interests. Conversations among the partners—Cabrini College faculty, the VCRP, and the SWRC—began a longer-term relationship that would eventually tackle an array of inter-related environmental issues and methods for addressing them. The third—and currently emerging—phase demonstrates how the Crabby Creek Initiative is moving toward greater sustainability among and across all partners. Initially, Cabrini faculty began collaborating with the VCRP. Later the SWRC joined the effort to assist with water quality monitoring efforts. Based on the results from our initial collaboration, we now have a firm base on which to build. We are now moving more toward citizen science by raising community awareness at the grassroots level through educational initiatives. Our goal is to bring about behavioral change in both students and community members that will result in better water quality in the Crabby Creek watershed.

To be more specific, the Crabby Creek Initiative began with one faculty member stumbling onto a local issue through the back door. In 2005, having inherited an EPA grant from a fellow Cabrini College faculty member, Dr. David Dunbar, an avid fisherman, was in search of a local environmental issue that would fit the grant’s parameters. Through his Trout Unlimited contacts, he was put in touch with Dr. Owen Owens, chair of VCRP, a local coalition bound together by its commitment to the restoration of Valley Creek, and the dialogue began.

The VCRP formed in 2001 to address industrial PCB contamination in the Valley Creek watershed. The Valley Creek watershed is a 23.4 square mile system of streams and tributaries within the Philadelphia Metropolitan area, including Cabrini College, located in Radnor Township. The stream flows through Valley Forge National Historic Park and provides an important habitat for many species of fish, birds, mammals, and amphibians. The watershed is also designated as a Class A wild trout stream by the Pennsylvania Boat and Fish Commission The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania awarded its highest protection level of Exceptional Value to the watershed. Nonetheless, it has undergone dramatic change from rapid suburban development. Specifically, the increase of impervious surface and inadequate stormwater management have resulted in bank erosion, flooding, and siltation, all of which have a negative impact on the physical habitat and biological community of the creek. In fact, as a direct result of stormwater runoff issues arising from Valley Creek tributaries, several historic buildings in Valley Forge National Historical Park, including Washington’s and Lafayette’s headquarters, are in danger of being flooded within a decade (National Park Service, 2005).

The VCRP has been working for a number of years to maintain, improve, and enhance the Valley Creek watershed. Furthermore, Crabby Creek, a smaller, yet critical tributary of Valley Creek, has sustained ongoing stormwater runoff problems because of poorly designed and implemented housing built over the last two decades. Additionally, erosion has exposed a wastewater sewer pipe that crosses Crabby Creek. It is now in danger of cracking and releasing raw sewage into the creek. To address the above issues, VCRP applied for and was awarded funding to restore Crabby Creek. The intent of restoration was twofold: to increase the creek’s capacity to deal with the added runoff and to rechannel the creek to bypass the sewer line. Ultimately, the VCRP hoped the restoration work would increase the health of the creek as well. Dunbar’s conversations with VCRP began at this point. After attending an academic conference on interdisciplinary, undergraduate, community based research, Dunbar was looking for a way to use the EPA grant to promote collaboration with community partners and enlisted the assistance of Terlecki.


Crabby Creek Macroinvertebrate Studies Once the VCRP had completed their restoration activities, they needed to monitor the effectiveness of their efforts. They approached Cabrini College for assistance in developing a five-year restoration monitoring plan. The restoration monitoring proved a catalyst to unite the partners while accomplishing different goals. For Cabrini, the monitoring provided the opportunity to engage biology students directly in environmental research. Dunbar and several undergraduate students arranged summer internships with SWRC whereby Cabrini students learned macroinvertebrate monitoring techniques. Cabrini students earned undergraduate research credit for their work. Macroinvertebrates are a proven indicator species in determining stream health and are an integral component to long-term stream monitoring (Cairns & Pratt, 1993; Hellawell, 1986; Jackson & Fureder, 2006; Rosenberg & Resh, 1993). Equipped with new knowledge and skills, these student partners conducted two years of pre-restoration studies of the aquatic macroinvertebrate community (Figure 1). Community interest in the stream monitoring grew when Dunbar and his research students presented their macorinvertebrate monitoring results and analysis at the VCRP and Trout Unlimted meetings during the summers of 2008 and 2009. As a result of these presentations, the VCRP has become interested in expanding the study to target the sources of stream impairment through additional stream chemisty monitoring.

Ultimately, the process of active collaboration between SWRC and Cabrini College students allowed the monitoring work to be completed at lower cost, while providing a valuable learning opportunity for the Cabrini students. It also provided VCRP with the important baseline data necessary to assess the degree of stream impairment and the effectiveness of their planned restoration. One successful outcome of this first phase of interdisciplinary, collaborative research is that the students’ data, despite being preliminary, prompted the partnership members, especially the VCRP, to seek the sources of the degradation and the effectiveness of state and federal oversight. The results also served to clarify the partnership goals of educating the local community about how to monitor Crabby Creek. Since the

Since the students’ presentations of their data to VCRP and the community, some dedicated citizens have taken it upon themselves to do stream chemistry monitoring themselves—a clear example of citizen scientists at work. These citizens are “adding their input,” creating “new knowledge,” and thus “taking an active role in environmental conservation or restoration” (Rosales, Montan, & Flavin, 2008). To capitalize on the community enthusiasm of the stream chemistry monitoring workshops conducted by Cabrini and SWRC, a volunteer water quality monitoring training was held following our second Earth Day event. One example of active citizen scientists thus revolves around residents like Sean Moir and Sarah Kligahm. Moir, Kligahm, and other residents created a Crabby Creek Measurement website (http:// www.savevalleycreek.org/restorationplan.asp) that features blog postings of monitoring updates conducted by residents on pH, conductivity, dissolved oxygen, temperature, and nitrates. From this website the public can track the group’s monthly monitoring results. Because of the activities described above, community members know that they can rely on both Cabrini College faculty and SWRC staff for guidance in their stream monitoring volunteerism.

Additionally, at the request of community members sponsored by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP), Cabrini College faculty and SWRC staff are coordinating a bacteria monitoring program on Crabby Creek. Community residents often smell a strong sewer odor coming from the township sewer line that runs along the creek. This has led to community concern that sewer leaks or overflows could lead to E. coli contamination of the creek. Therefore, when PADEP announced a program during the summer of 2009 to help community volunteers assess bacterial contamination in a limited number of streams in Pennsylvania, SWRC, and Cabrini College immediately contacted community volunteers. Trout Unlimited members had long expressed concerns about potential bacterial contamination of the creek and volunteered at once to collect stream samples using PADEP protocols and transport them to a certified environmental laboratory that processed the samples over a 60-day period. The study did find elevated bacterial levels in the stream. Volunteers hope to repeat the study. Analysis for E. coli typically requires a laboratory with incubators to culture the samples—equipment not readily available to volunteers. To assist the community in continuing the study, Cabrini students and faculty are evaluating inexpensive, qualitative test kits, such as the ColiQuant MF method, that would enable community volunteers to repeat the study as well as to provide a way for Cabrini students who are not science majors to engage in bacterial stream monitoring.

Crabby Creek Community Environmental Attitude Survey
At the same time Dunbar and his students were working on the scientific research, the VCRP, in consultation with Terlecki, undertook research to explore the wider psychological dimensions that may be influencing the Crabby Creek environment and the actions of those who live in or around it. Terlecki’s approach was to design an environmental attitude survey exploring educational, attitudinal, and behavioral aspects of environmental conservation. The survey aimed to discover how much the local Crabby Creek community knows about the current degradation and planned restoration of Crabby Creek, as well as to gain insight into whether community members would like to volunteer their time in conducting studies on Crabby Creek and assisting VCRP in preventing problems related to stormwater runoff. Understanding where and how community members obtain information about their local and global environments, as well as what conservation behaviors they practice, was also of interest. These are elemental components for helping communities build sustainable initiatives and healthy ecologies (Bott, Cantrill, & Myers, 2003; Schultz & Zelezny, 2003). As advocated in CBPR principles and protocol for equitable partnerships, it was critical for both Cabrini College faculty and members of the VCRP to work collaboratively in preparing questions for the survey. VCRP members suggested that having students hand-deliver surveys would facilitate a greater connection among community members and students (Monroe, 2003). During the spring 2006 semester, and again in the fall 2009 semester, over 30 Cabrini College psychology and biology undergraduates, along with Terlecki and Dunbar, hand-delivered the community assessment surveys to over 400 homes (with another 200+ mailed, for a total of approximately 600 surveys distributed) (see Figure 1). Over 250 surveys were returned to Terlecki (approximately a 46% response rate).

Terlecki and undergraduate psychology majors analzyed survey results and made the following conclusions: They found that 25% of residents visit Crabby Creek seasonally and over half (55%) of residents were “somewhat” concerned about local environmental issues and “very” concerned about global environmental issues. It was also found that most residents engaged in some form of environmental conservation practice (94% recycle, 87% conserve electricity, 67% clean air filters, 65% reuse paper products, 55% use energy-efficient light bulbs, 47% reduce trash, 28% use public transportation). Interestingly, only 20% of residents had ever received information regarding local environmental issues from the Pennsylvania State Government or local businesses/industry. Unfortunately, 27% of respondents have had their property damaged by water/flooding, yet 61% of residents who returned surveys were unaware of current stormwater runoff problems in general, and an overwhelming 74% of residents were unaware that Crabby Creek has sustained environmental degradation. What was most promising, however, was that 41% of respondents stated they were interested in getting involved in the Crabby Creek Restoration Project. These individuals have been contacted post-survey to encourage their future involvement in volunteer projects sponsored by the VCRP in the Crabby Creek restoration project.

Environmental Psychology Course The involvement of volunteer students in the project spurred the idea to create a course that could address the Crabby Creek Initiative. An honors levels Environmental Psychology course was developed and co-taught by Terlecki and Dunbar. The course focused on watershed issues in Crabby Creek, but also more global environmental issues faced all over the world. Students were of varying levels (freshmen through seniors) and academic majors. The course involved community speakers and offcampus trips to the Crabby Creek site. Students, as part of their final project, created trifold brochures (covering a wide variety of water- related environmental topics) to be distributed and displayed around the Crabby Creek community. Also as part of the course, students helped organize an environmental celebration for community members to attend—the Crabby Creek Earth Day.

Crabby Creek Earth Day
As we developed the environmental psychology course, the VCRP expressed interest in organizing an inaugural Crabby Creek Earth Day built around our course, an event involving both community members and students in celebrating the local environment. This idea was a direct outcome of the Crabby Creek Environmental Attitude Survey, which had indicated that many Crabby Creek residents would be interested in participating in such activities. Through its integration with the course, the inaugural Earth Day also would represent a cumulative experience for students. Dunbar and Owens, the VCRP chair, agreed to co-chair the inaugural Crabby Creek Earth Day Committee—a prime example of how our initial forays into interdisciplinary and cross-sector collaboration had borne fruit. The committee itself embraced key personnel, including Terlecki, students from environmental psychology, the VCRP, SWRC, the Tredyfrrin League of Women Voters, and Trout Unlimted. Together, we convened several Crabby Creek Earth Day committee meetings at Cabrini to discuss and plan the events and activities that would be sponsored at this inaugural event. A recent addition to the Crabby Creek Initiative and the Earth Day committee is a new faculty member at Cabrini College, Dr. Caroline Nielsen, assistant professor of biology. Nielsen is engaging her students in research on Crabby Creek as well as other local watersheds

The collaborating partners wanted environmental psychology students to work hand-in-hand with community members and learn about the local issues these residents face. Workshops at the Crabby Creek Earth Day included a station on water-quality monitoring using macroinvertebrates; a station on aquatic turtles geared toward children; a station on key stream chemistry parameters; a station on rain barrels and rain gardens (to give guidance to community members with interest in implementing any of these stormwater management practices); and several booths and tables providing informational handouts and displays. Interested groups also had the opportunity to participate in an in-stream bank stabilization project guided by the Trout Unlmited chapter. This community action offers a further example of the ripple-effect of strong partnerships. Such stream bank stabilization work was needed as part of an initiative by Trout Unlmited to bring back native brook trout to the upper section of Crabby Creek (Potential Restoration Site area 2, in Figure 1). Lastly, the day included a tour of the section of the creek scheduled to undergo restoration work, a step which showcased theVCRP’s next major initiative with Crabby Creek. Our first Crabby Creek Earth Day, held Saturday, April 19, 2008, was centered at Crabby Creek Park. Over 70 Crabby Creek community members, as well as a local Girl Scout troop, took part in this inaugural event (see Figure 2).

After the success of Earth Day, several questions arose; namely how can Cabrini College, the VCRP, SWRC, and the Crabby Creek residents sustain their important work around this watershed? The VCRP is enthusiastic in its desire to have Cabrini faculty and students continue working with this coalition of organizations alongside the Crabby Creek community: teaching and learning together about best practices for stormwater runoff management. A significant concern is that even if the restoration succeeds, if additional housing development occurs in the upper stretches of Crabby Creek, and/or people don’t practice sound backyard ecology, then the same stormwater issues the restoration fixes will return.

More than 70 community members and a local Girl Scout troop came together at Crabby Creek Park for Crabby Creek Earth Day, April 19, 2008. More than 70 community members and a local Girl Scout troop came together at
Crabby Creek Park for Crabby Creek Earth Day, April 19, 2008.[/caption]

To sustain the impact of our Crabby Creek Earth Day, the committee decided to make it an annual event. Dunbar and Nielsen agreed to co-chair the second Earth Day. As surfaced in the committee meetings, the VCRP thought it highly desirable not only to alert community members to ongoing efforts with the stream, but also to also educate Crabby Creek community members in best stormwater management practices. During the 2009 Crabby Creek Earth Day, residents of the watershed thus had the opportunity to sign up to participate in a backyard ecology program to reduce stormwater flows into Crabby Creek. This program represents a partnership of VCRP, Cabrini College, and Tredyffrin Township. Throughout the program, homeowners were offered free, one-hour property consultations with an arborist and a landscaper. These professionals suggested how the homeowners could use plantings, rain barrels, rain gardens, grasses, and invasive plant removal to beautify their property while reducing stormwater discharges into the environment. Nine families signed up for the free consultations and agreed to implement at least some of the experts’ stormwater management suggestions. As this program grows, it should have a substantial impact on stormwater runoff from residential areas throughout the Crabby Creek watershed. Tours of the creek’s newly restored stretch, as well as water quality and stream life stations, were also popular activities at the event. As an added feature, a representative of Valley Forge National Historic Park provided information about the park and how the efforts of the VCRP, Cabrini College, and the SWRC on Crabby Creek can improve Valley Creek, which flows directly through Valley Forge Park. The Crabby Creek Initiative’s goals in these Earth Day events could be viewed as promoting a more participatory, democratic kind of knowledge building, the kind of learning context in which“citizens and expert professionals treat each other as equals in initiating and generating knowledge,” as Rosales, Montan, and Flavinc (2008) explain, helping people understand that “scientific knowledge and training are a means to an end, not an end in itself” (p.4). Indeed, the entire Crabby Creek Initiative has grown noticeably through the collaborative relationships described above. One recent student-driven action to emerge from our second Earth Day event is a YouTube video documentary created by Delta Benoit, a student of Dr. Janice Xu. (http://www.savevid. com/video/crabby-creek-earth-day.html) Xu, a communications professor at Cabrini College, joined the Crabby Creek Earth Day committee this year, and she recruited several of her students to participate in Crabby Creek Earth Day. The video documentary speaks to the potential for the Crabby Creek Initiative to develop even further across discplines and fields.

Backyard Ecology Program
To sustain community interest in stormwater management, members of the Initiative have taken further steps. The backyard ecology workshops, for example, have evolved into plans for an entire Backyard Ecology Program, which will include developing and enhancing the collaboration among everyday citizens, scientists, and environmental professionals. Professionals work with interested homeowners,

(2008) explain, helping people understand that “scientific knowledge and training are a means to an end, not an end in itself” (p.4). Indeed, the entire Crabby Creek Initiative has grown noticeably through the collaborative relationships described above. One recent student-driven action to emerge from our second Earth Day event is a YouTube video documentary created by Delta Benoit, a student of Dr. Janice Xu. (http://www.savevid. com/video/crabby-creek-earth-day.html) Xu, a communications professor at Cabrini College, joined the Crabby Creek Earth Day committee this year, and she recruited several of her students to participate in Crabby Creek Earth Day. The video documentary speaks to the potential for the Crabby Creek Initiative to develop even further across discplines and fields.

Backyard Ecology Program
To sustain community interest in stormwater management, members of the Initiative have taken further steps. The backyard ecology workshops, for example, have evolved into plans for an entire Backyard Ecology Program, which will include developing and enhancing the collaboration among everyday citizens, scientists, and environmental professionals. Professionals work with interested homeowners, literally walking alongside them on their property to assess the environment and provide the homeowners with a list of suggested actions for improved stormwater management. The homeowner is asked to commit to implementing up to three of the action options recommended by the landscape designer or arborist over the next year. The owner also receives a free rain barrel for signing up for the program and lists of plants that are free through TreeVitalize, a partnership program to restore tree cover in Pennsylvania. Additional trees and shrubs can be purchased by the homeowner. For owners who choose to install a rain garden, there are funds available to support the design and installation of the rain garden. Lists of rain garden designers are similarly provided, or the owner can receive do-it-yourself rain garden design instructions. TheVCRP has received funding for this program and trees and shrubs from the TreeVitalize organization (www.treevitalize.net). The goal in 2009 was to complete 30 homeowner consultations, with additional homeowner outreach conducted by the VCRP, the SWRC, Tredyffrin Township, and Cabrini College.

The VCRP members have now conducted 12 consultations for the backyard program and have given a list of recommended actions to each property owner. The VCRP have also prioritized five sites for further gratis work for the owner. In all five cases, one or more rain gardens will be designed. In two cases, swales and other stormwater control features will be designed. One property is being modeled in a very precise manner, including calculations of runoff from the roofs, driveweays, and sidewalks. The runoff entering the property from offsite will also be calculated. The rain gardens and driveway trough will be designed to control a rain of one inch. What is learned from this approach could be adapted by other watershed organizations. Data are not available yet on whether this goal has been met.

As we look to the future, Cabrini College, the SWRC, and the VCRP are planning to hold annual Crabby Creek Earth Day events. Doing so would help sustain several worthy initiatives already in place such as the Backyard Ecology program discussed above. We have also been successful in establishing a citizen’s stream monitoring program through our inaugural Crabby Creek Earth Day event. In order to sustain this endeavor, we are working to recruit a Crabby Creek community member to co-chair an upcoming Crabby Creek Earth Day event. The hope is that this co-chair will assume planning duties for next year’s Earth Day event, so that the event will become self-sustaining through community involvement in all phases and dimensions of the collaborative process. Although we expect that the event will be community-run in the future, we plan to continue to have Cabrini College involvement. Starting this year, we will be advertising Crabby Creek Earth Day as part of Cabrini’s Earth Week festivities, bringing it to the attention of the entire campus community. In addition, we hope to have students from our new EARTH Living and Learning Community, along with students from the Watershed Citizenship Learning Community, participate in the event.

The importance of working together as equal partners in interdisciplinary research may seem patently obvious: Would not all parties involved wish to develop new knowledge, capabilities, and opportunities for ongoing, shared learning? However, implementing meaningful community- based collaboration is not as straightforward as it may seem, especially when those involved are cross-sector and interdisciplinary partners new to campus-community partnerships. Two recent studies further knowledge of the iterative, relational aspects of community partnerships essential to understand, particularly during the first year or developmental phase. Power, Cumbie, and Weinert (2006) offer an apt touchstone for our work, for the evolutionary process that their article describes closely parallels the gradually unfolding and recursive process that has characterized the Crabby Creek Initiative. As in their example, the Crabby Creek partners did not know at the outset the extent to which the Initiative would become an inter-organizational, collaborative arrangement. Articles such as “Staying at the Table: Building Sustainable Community-Research Partnerships” (Rappaport, Alegria, Mulvaney-Day, & Boyle, 2008), discuss symbiotic, interdependent roles, similar to those that evolved among the Crabby Creek partners. Central among the imporant ingredients for equitable partnerships, the partners say, is practicing cultural humility: an attitude and approach they recommend professional researchers adopt when entering communities. This stance requires that we demonstrate openness to others’ worldviews and local wisdom; be willing to share mistakes and growth; maintain empathic interactions among collaboraters; be honest about motives; and be willing to address conflict and potentially uncomfortable moments of disagreement— all with the eye toward developing trust and, ultimately, keeping people “at the table” (p. 694- 695).

Other well-known challenges to building sustainable partnerships are keeping open lines of communication and maintaining coherence between members of a partnership. The Crabby Creek Initiative has worked diligently to create a strong relationship among Cabrini College, the VCRP, SWRC, and local Crabby Creek residents. As we enter our fourth year, we are continuing to build on the creative, productive structures we have put in place. These include collaboration, participatory action, and citizen science, all of which revolve around and are informed by interdisciplinary civic engagement and democratic, community-determined practices.

The ultimate objective is to restore the tributaries to Valley Creek by using Crabby Creek as a model stream, a very important target, for if the tributaries are not restored, the Valley Creek cannot improve. But to do so, it is important that post-restoration stream assessment be carried out. While there is considerable funding available for stream restoration work, there is much less money to do stream assessment studies to evaluate whether the restoration actually worked. Volunteer partnerships, such as the one described here, are clearly necessary for long-term assessment of water quality and the protection of watershed resources.

In their white paper on citizen science as an organizing principle, Rosales, Montan, & Flavinc (2008) explain that the significance of citizen science emerges in the very way it “taps into traditions and impulses related to working for the public good, to care for the commons, and building the commonwealth—governance for the common good” (p. 3). The authors’ explanations offer a clarion call, one that the Crabby Creek Initiative echoes wholeheartedly: “citizen science fuels intellectual public life, builds the public domain through useful work, and acknowledges that all people have the ability to generate knowledge. Citizen science is often framed as a form of environmental management, but it is also a political model of the role citizens can play in their society. Citizen science can determine the kind of democracy we have” (p.3). Saving a quality stream so close to a large, urban area is especially important, as Owens states, because doing so suggests that other waterways and watersheds can also be saved. From our experience, we believe that following the example of the Crabby Creek Initiative is one way to achieve this goal.

Democracy aims to include all in the participatory practices that improve the quality of life: social, political, economic, and environmental. Our Crabby Creek Initiative continues to develop and evolve at Cabrini College, but we continue to make space for more wide-ranging, collaborative endeavors that take us well beyond the confines of a small, Catholic (liberal arts) campus. The main lessons learned revolve around the importance of developing trust over time; this trust emerges from open and frequent conversations, shared implementation in all phases of a project, mutuality in design, joint ownership of knowledge, and an understanding of what it may take to remain flexible to the needs, views, and voices of multiple constituencies in order to build capacity collaboratively. Like other institutes of higher education we are striving to embed inclusive processes for problem-solving into our classrooms, into our conversations with community-partners, and into our concerted efforts to take our deliberations to the next level of democratic involvement: policy-making at local, regional, national, and, ideally, global levels.

References Adams, A., Miller-Korth, N., & Brown, D. (2004). Learning to work together: Developing academic and community research partnerships. Wisconsin Medical Journal, 103(2), 15-19. Amuwo, S.A., & Jenkins, E. (2001). True partnership evolves over time. In M. Sullivan & J. Kelley (Eds.), Collaborative Research: University and Community Partnership (pp. 25-43). Washington, DC: American Public Health Association. Armstrong, C., Becker, K., Berg, K., Hilton, T.S.E., Mowry, D., & Quinlan, C. (2007). Community-university partnerships to bridge the non-profit digital divide. Partnership Perspectives, 4(1), 86-94. Retrieved June 1, 2009, from http:// depts.washington.edu/ccph/pdf_files/PP-W07- Armstrong.pdf. Bode, R.W., Novak, M.A., Abele, L.E., Heitzman, D.L., & Smith, A.J. (2004). 30 year trends in water quality of rivers and streams in New York State based on macroinvertebrate data, 1972- 2002. Albany, NY: New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Bott, S., Cantrill, J.G., & Myers, O.E. (2003). Place and the promise of conservation psychology. Human Ecology Review, 10(2), 100- 112. Cairns, J., Jr., & Pratt, J.R. (1993). A history of biological monitoring using benthic macroinvertebrates. In D.M. Rosenberg & V.H. Resh (Eds.), Freshwater biomonitoring and benthic macroinvertebrates (pp. 10-27). New York: Chapman and Hall. Center for Civic Partnerships (n.d.). Sustainability. Retrieved June 1, 2009 from http://www.civicpartnerships.org/docs/tools_ resources/sustainability.htm. Community-Campus Partnership for Health. (n.d.). Unit 1, Section 1.1: Definitions, Rationale, Key Principles in CBPR. Retrieved July 5, 2009 from http://www.ccph.info/. Cruz, N.I., & Giles, D.E., Jr. (2000). Where’s the community in service-learning research? Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning, Special Issue (Fall), 28-34. Davies, S.P., Tsomides, L., DiFranco, J.L. & Courtemanch, D.L. (1999). Biomonitoring Retrospective: Fifteen Year Summary for Maine Rivers and Streams. DEPLW 1999—26. Augusta, Maine: Maine Department of Environmental Protection. Dorado, S., Giles, D., & Welch, T. (2009). Delegation of coordination and outcomes in cross-sector partnerships: The case of service- learning partnerships. Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, 39(3), 368-391. Hassett, B., Palmer, M.A., Bernhardt, E.S., Smith, S., Carr, J., & Hart, D.D. (2005). Restoring watersheds project by project: Trends in Chesapeake Bay tributary restoration. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 3(5), 259-267. Hellawell, J.M. (1986). Biological indicators of freshwater pollution and environmental management. London: Elsevier. Jackson, J.K., & Füreder, L. (2006). Long- term studies of aquatic invertebrates: Frequency, duration, and ecological significance. Freshwater Biology, 51, 591-603. Keen, C., & Baldwin, E. (2004). Students promoting economic development and environmental sustainability: An analysis of the impact of involvement in a community-based research and service-learning program. International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, 5(4), 284-394. Monroe, M.C. (2003). Two avenues for encouraging conservation behaviors. Human Ecology Review, 10(2), 113-125. Natale, D., Brook, K., & Kelshaw, T. (2007). Critical reflections on community- campus partnerships: Promise and performance. Partnership Perspectives, 4(1), 44-53. National CBR Networking Initiative. Retrieved June 1, 2009, from http://cbrnet.pbworks.com/. National Park Service. (2005). Strategic plan for Valley Forge National Historical Park. Unpublished Report. Owens, O. (1993). Living waters: How to save your local stream. New Jersey: Rutgers UP. Parris, T.M. (1999). Connecting with citizen science. Environment, 41(10), 3. Power, J., Cumbie, S.A., & Clarann, W. (2006). Lessons learned through the creative and iterative process of community based participatory research. International Journal of Qualitative Methods, 5(2), 1-9. Rappaport, N., Alegria, M., Mulvaney- Day, N., & Boyle, B. (2008). Staying at the table: Building sustainable community-research partnerships. Journal of Community Psychology, 36(6), 693-701. Rosalesa, J., Montanb, J., and Flavinc, B. (2008, October). Citizen science as an organizing principle for the work of the EMCs/CACs. Paper presented at the meeting of NYSAEMC, St. Lawrence University. Rosenberg, D.M., & Resh, V.H. (1993). Freshwater biomonitoring and benthic macroinvertebrates. New York: Chapman & Hall. Savan, B. (2004) Community university partnerships: Linking research and action for sustainable community development. Community Development Journal, 39(4), 373-384. Scheuler, T.. (2000). The practice of watershed protection. Ellicott City, MD: Center for Watershed Protection. Schultz, P.W., & Zelezny, L. (2003). Reframing environmental messages to be congruent with Amercian values. Human Ecology Review, 10(2), 126-136. Stoecker, R., & Schmidt, C. (2008). The community side of service-learning. Retrieved June 11, 2009, from http://comm-org.wisc.edu/sl/ page.php?13. Sustainability toolkit: 10 steps for maintaining your community improvements. (2001). Center for Civic Partnerships, Public Health Institute. Watterson, N.L.( n.d.). We make the road by writing: Creating a disposition toward social justice in first year writing intensive seminars. Unpublished manuscript. White-Cooper, S., Dawkins, N.U., Kamin, S.L., & Anderson, L.A., (2007). Community- institutional partnerships: Understanding trusts among partners. Retrieved June 11, 2009, from http://www.cdc.gov/prc/partner-communities/ trust-among-partners.htm.

Funds for parts of the Crabby Creek Initative, such as the student macroinvertebate studies and stream chemistry monitoring equipment, were covered through an Environmental Protection Agency Region III grant entitled “Crabby Creek Stream Monitoring” awarded to Dr. David Dunbar. Scientific contributions by the Stroud Water Research Center were supported by Grants 58-06 and 105-08 from the William Penn Foundation. Special thanks to Jean Jacobson, director of Corporate Foundations and Government Relations at Cabrini College for critically reading our manuscript.

About the Authors
The following are all with Cabrini College: Melissa Terlecki, assistant professor of psychology; David Dunbar, associate professor of biology; Caroline Nielsen, assistant professor of biology; Cynthia McGauley, chemical hygiene officer, science department; Lisa Ratmansky, director for the Center of Teaching and Learning; Nancy L. Watterson, assistant professor of social justice; Jon Hannum, undergraduate student in psychology; Kallyn Seidler, undergraduate student in biology; and Emily Bongiorno, undergraduate student in biology. Also: Owen Owens, chair, Valley Creek Restoration Partnership; Pete Goodman, member, Valley Creek Restoration Partnership; Chuck Marshall, member, Valley Creek Restoration Partnership; Susan Gill, director of education, Stroud Water Research Center; Kristen Travers, associate director of education, Stroud Water Research Center; John Jackson, senior research scientist, Stroud Water Research Center.

From the Editor: JCES Continues to Bring Disciplines Together

Cassandra E. Simon, Ph.D.

As we begin our fourth year of publication, it is difficult for me to imagine the field of engaged scholarship without the Journal of Community Engagement and Scholarship (even at the risk of sounding a bit boastful). I say this not with arrogance, but with a confidence that JCES, even in its infancy, has helped to shape the quality, type, and rigor of engaged scholarship. Have we had growing pains? Sure we have. Have we made mistakes along the way? Sure we have. Will we continue to make them as we grow? Sure we will, but not as many. Very much as in the tradition of engaged scholarship, we will take our lessons learned and use them to improve JCES. Our goal is to be the premiere scholarly outlet for the scholarship of engagement and related issues.

Recent communication from Dr. Hiram Fitzgerald, a world renowned scholar in engaged scholarship and President of the Board of the National Outreach Scholarship Conference and Associate Provost of Outreach and Engagement at Michigan State University, underscores that we are definitely doing something right. Dr. Fitzgerald wrote, “Congratulations to you and your staff on the absolutely first rate issue of JCES [Vol. 3, No. 2, Fall 2010]. A nice standard to live up to.” We gratefully accept the compliment and are acutely aware of the responsibility that comes with it.

JCES operates from an action orientation, a foundational principle of engaged scholarship, and as such we value hearing from all segments of our readership. We recently received an email from a potential author whose manuscript was not accepted for publication in JCES. Our policy is to share manuscripts critiques with the author, regardless of whether the manuscript is accepted for publication. Because of this policy, the author told us, “Thank you for your letter rejecting my article. I’m disappointed but the reviewer comments are extremely helpful. Hopefully, I will improve my writing skills from this experience and submit an article worthy [of publication] in the future.” We are proud that we are able to provide a supportive scholarly environment throughout a process often wrought with unnecessary harshness. It is because of our dedicated international editorial board and reviewers that we are able to provide such quality feedback, especially to developing scholars, community partners, and students.

Continuing with the action spirit of engagement, the manuscripts in this issue challenge the status quo by addressing a diverse set of situations, conditions, and environments. Whether raising national questions about the institutional place and space of engaged scholarship, examining community engagement at the local level, broadening perspectives of teaching and learning experiences, or exploring how fatherhood programs can be more relevant, each manuscript in this issue addresses action in some way. Similarly, international topics like the social economy research network in western Canada, indigenous resilience in the Arctic, and capacity building for developing higher educational systems in underdeveloped nations like Tunisia also demonstrate social action and the long reach of engaged scholarship.

The commitment and excitement we feel toward JCES is further fueled by the wonderful opportunity we have to partner a special issue of JCES and NOSC 2012, which will be hosted by The University of Alabama at our home in Tuscaloosa. Although we hope to see many of you at the NOSC 2011 conference this year at Michigan State, we also want to encourage you to begin looking forward to the NOSC 2012 conference with the theme: Partner. Inspire. Change.

About the Editor

Cassandra Simon is an associate professor in the School of Social Work at The University of Alabama.

Building a Holistic International Educational Partnership: Collaboration Between The University of Georgia and the Tunisian Higher Education System

Takoi K. Hamrita


This article reports on a capacity building partnership between The University of Georgia and the higher education system of Tunisia that has been ongoing since 2002. The article discusses important aspects of the program, highlights the conceptual framework and underlying principles that have guided and shaped its design, and gives a comprehensive overview of its overall objectives, concrete actions, and outcomes. Our team’s response to Tunisia’s most urgent development needs; integrating institutional and national resources; building networks of decision makers, administrators, faculty, and students across disciplinary and institutional boundaries; and facilitating the development of indigenous expertise were among the attributes leading to the program’s selection for the Andrew Heiskel Award for Innovation in International Education.


Human capital is fast becoming the key ingredient to the success of all nations. How to effectively develop this critical resource is a concern of higher education systems around the world. Developing countries in particular, with limited means and expertise, face significant challenges as they prepare their citizenry to meet the new demands of a rapidly changing knowledge-based global economy. For higher education institutions around the developed world, building institutional capacity to cooperate with developing nations and their higher education systems has become a priority as the world faces complex environmental, social, political, and security challenges.

In fall 2002, The University of Georgia (UGA), my home institution, entered into an educational partnership with the higher education system of Tunisia, my home country. The goal of this partnership was to support Tunisia’s higher education reform while providing UGA with a global education and outreach opportunity in an Arab Muslim African country. As the United States strives to strengthen relations with Africa and the Arab world, building a partnership between UGA and Tunisia is of strategic importance.

I cannot delve into the partnership without getting personal. I am the product of international education and development. I grew up in Tunisia and came to the United States 26 years ago to study electrical engineering at Georgia Tech with the support of a national merit scholarship, co-funded by the Tunisian and U.S. governments. When I left Tunisia, it was with a mix of exhilaration, fear, hope, and admiration for my parents, who let me go to a part of the world they knew almost nothing about. At the time, I was one of only a handful of Tunisian women who went overseas for education. As I took the leap, my subconscious wrestled with a fear I never articulated at the time: That someday I might lose touch with my home country Tunisia. Stepping out of traditional boundaries in my role as engineering professor to create a linkage with Tunisia had been a dream brewing in my mind for a long time, but it became more pertinent as developments in the geopolitical arena made building a bridge between two countries I love one of the most important things I could do, not only with my career but also with my life.

The convergence of several important factors enabled this dream to materialize. First, I am fortunate to be a member of the faculty at The University of Georgia. My university’s strategic plan places globalization among its top three priorities. Because of this emphasis on globalization, our campus is buzzing with international projects and activities, creating a supportive environment for international cooperation. Second, I am fortunate to be an engineer at The University of Georgia. Our university is leading the way in promoting a new kind of engineering anchored in a liberal arts environment, making it possible for me to work outside of traditional engineering boundaries. Third, my university is a pioneer in promoting a new kind of scholarship—the scholarship of engagement—making it possible for me to engage outside the lab and the classroom to pursue projects that benefit society and humanity. Fourth, I am fortunate to be Tunisian because Tunisia is unique in its efforts to harness the potential of its diaspora, thereby creating a very welcoming and supportive climate. Finally, this partnership would not have materialized were it not for the financial support of the U.S. State Department.

It is well-known that partnerships between developed countries and African countries are not always successful. Easterly (2006) noted that the West has spent $2.3 trillion on foreign aid over the past five decades; yet, even the most basic of needs remain unmet in many of the receiving nations (p. 4).

Bingyavanga Wainaina (2009), an award-winning Kenyan author, in a radio broadcast, said:

A lot of people arrive in Africa to assume that it’s a blank empty space and their goodwill and desire and guilt will fix it. And that to me is not any different from the first people who arrived and colonized us. This power, this power to help, is just about as dangerous as hard power, because very often it arrives with a kind of zeal that is assuming “I will do it. I will solve it for you. I will fix it for you.”

University partnerships in particular are not always successful, as Holm and Malete (2010) concluded:

When representatives of universities from developed countries come to Africa to set up partnerships, the chances of success are very low. Even when agreements are signed, little happens (p. 2).

U.S. university and African partnerships are often one sided. The rhetoric of mutual benefit is often overwhelmed by the one-sidedness of partnerships in practice (Samoff & Carrol, 2002, p. 82). Partnerships are typically initiated by individuals or small groups of faculty from the developed country, often responding to a grant opportunity. Generally having similar interests and working within departmental boundaries, these faculty conduct projects that fit their own interests and intellectual pursuits. Such partnerships are limited in time and scale by the funding agency, and generally follow an agenda agreed upon, in most cases, before the partners ever meet.

These partnerships are often limited in scope, and formed on an ad hoc basis between individual researchers or departments. One reason is that foreign financial support for development projects is often small, short term, and from disparate sources (Fischer & Lindow, 2008).

This transaction-based approach derives from educational systems that lack the type of structured multi-disciplinary institutional process necessary to face complex issues, have a short-term and limited impact on both partners, do not lead to local ownership of the initiatives, and certainly do not succeed in creating grassroots involvement and sustainable development.

Short-term efforts also may not have lasting effects because they do not respond to African universities’ most pressing needs, but rather reflect limits set out by donors or American researchers’ priorities (Fischer & Lindow, 2008).

In designing and developing the UGA-Tunisia educational partnership, I set out to reverse this deeply rooted asymmetrical collaboration process. I wanted to build a long-term strategic and holistic collaboration that enabled us to place Tunisia’s important reform goals and priorities at the center of our partnership. I wanted to ensure that through professional development and the creation of an enabling environment, our Tunisian colleagues were mobilized and empowered to take charge of Tunisia’s development needs and take ownership of and play a pivotal role in the programs and initiatives on which we collaborated. As stated by Durning (1989):

Real development is the process whereby individuals and societies build the capacity to meet their own needs and improve the quality of their own lives (p. 1).

This type of collaboration required profound changes in thinking, expectations, and collaboration structure on both sides. It required resource integration and looking beyond personal interests to meet institutional and national goals. It required reaching out and crossing traditional boundaries to put forth a concerted, coherent, and integrated effort by a wide ranging constituency. Throughout the document I will use multiple data sources to illustrate the partnership process and the resulting outcomes; these include excerpts from participant reflections as well as letters I received from various program stakeholders. Figure 1 shows an overview of the partnership process.

A Thorough Needs Assessment: Aligning Partnership Goals with National Priorities

During initial phases of the partnership, I spent several weeks in Tunisia over multiple visits, conducting needs assessment through a series of national-level consultations with Tunisia’s Minister of Higher Education and his cabinet members, university presidents and administrators, as well as faculty and students. During these consultations, which involved over 100 individuals and over 100 contact hours, I received invaluable input about reform efforts in Tunisia and became aware of existing national initiatives and action plans. Out of these discussions several major and complex priority areas for Tunisia emerged, centering around increasing quality and access to higher education. The partnership was, therefore, designed to address some of these areas. As the program developed, the needs assessment and tweaking of objectives and methods of meeting them remained key. Prof. Lazhar Bououny, Tunisia’s former minister of Higher Education, Scientific Research, and Technology, remarked on the importance of our work in these words:

The main objectives of Dr. Hamrita’s project are of strategic significance not only to my department, but also to the country’s development as a whole.

Building a Large and Diverse Constituency

Typically, international partnerships involving institutions of higher education are the work of a few dedicated individuals, and this work is often fragmented and marginalized (Marlin, 2007). By definition, international work requires going beyond established boundaries, and in order for scholars to be effective in reaching across international boundaries, they will also need to reach beyond boundaries within their own institutions. Departmental, discipline, infrastructure, and traditional role boundaries must all be overcome if we are to be effective as faculty in our campus’ internationalization efforts. But going beyond institutional boundaries is a challenge, as Kezar (2006) stated:

In general, institutions are not structured to support collaborative approaches to learning, research, and organizational functioning. Such collaborations struggle, at times, to become institutionalized because higher education institutions work in departmental silos and within bureaucratic/hierarchical administrative structures.

When we talk about international work, we often talk about building bridges. By definition, bridges are structures designed and built by some so that others can pass through, hence the altruistic nature of international work. Herein lies one of the challenges of international programs in academic settings: As faculty, we have been trained to singularly pull resources and attention to ourselves—our disciplines, our areas of research, our unit, our turf—instead of integrating resources for a greater common good. The most effective international linkages, regardless of their size, scope, goals, and context, begin with people who put the common good before their own and cut across barriers to pull together whatever it takes to form that bridge.

In order to capitalize on the expertise and intellectual capacity needed for this project, I went about building the partnership program through intense collaborations with several different levels simultaneously, engaging all layers and functions of the institution. Table 1 shows partnership demographics and reflects the many levels of participation and diversity of participants from both sides of the partnership. Over 150 UGA faculty, administrators, staff, and students from over 50 academic departments and administrative units, as well as eight experts from the University System of Georgia, had the opportunity to participate in the program; 37 of these had the chance to travel to Tunisia. Tables 2 and 3 show the diversity of backgrounds among UGA partnership participants. So far, 600 professional development hours have been delivered by this network on a number of important topics. Similarly, I sought to engage the entire Tunisian higher education system, first by engaging the Ministry of Higher Education and then by gradually engaging each of 12 Tunisian universities. At least 300 administrators, faculty, and students from these universities have been involved in our partnership, 66 of whom traveled to UGA. Table 4 shows the various Tunisian universities involved in the program.

Of high importance to the partnership has been the buy-in, direct involvement, and support provided by higher education leaders from both sides. The program has engaged the participation of a number of UGA administrators, including the president, several vice presidents, and the provost, all of whom have traveled to Tunisia and participated in relationship building and discussions that shaped the program. President Michael Adams reflected on the importance of the program to UGA:

The UGA-Tunisia Educational Partnership is exactly the kind of international collaboration that UGA must be involved in if it is to be a true 21st century university. I am particularly pleased for UGA to have such a presence in Africa, a critically important region of the world that simply has not had enough attention paid to it by American higher education.

Similarly, Tunisian higher education leaders at all levels, including the Minister of Higher Education, cabinet members, and university presidents, have been heavily invested in the program.

The success of the UGA Tunisia educational partnership is to a great extent due to its expansion beyond departmental boundaries and engagement with a wide ranging constituency. The culmination of efforts of this alliance of change agents and their communal investment of energy and dedication is what enabled the program to flourish.

The benefits of this holistic multidisciplinary approach to international cooperation are readily observed through the comments and reflections of the partnership constituency. Philip Breeden, former public affairs officer at the U.S. Embassy in Tunisia, offered this reflection:

Dr. Hamrita provided the kind of clear-eyed inspirational energy that convinced me this project had the chance to do that rare thing in international exchanges: create a fusion between two systems that improved them both. I was not disappointed. Today The University of Georgia-Tunisia Educational Partnership remains distinctive in its holistic approach to international cooperation and exchange.

Brad Cahoon, associate director at UGA’s Center for Continuing Education and a long-time participant in the UGA Tunisia partnership, added:

The UGA-Tunisia Partnership appears to be far more productive than many international exchange programs. …I believe there are several reasons why this is the case. First, it has always been conceived as more than a simple exchange program, engaging a much broader range of participants and topics than do many such programs. The scale and diversity of participation and the inclusion of representatives from many disciplines have led to unexpected discoveries and synergies. The partnership has also been successful in negotiating the sometimes difficult process of aligning state, institutional, and personal agendas. The significant financial support…from both the Tunisian and United States governments reflects its relevance to national goals. Yet the program has also demonstrated openness and flexibility in responding to the needs of individual participants. Rather than attempting to impose pre-defined, one-size-fits-all solutions, it has encouraged all of its stakeholders to articulate their concerns and work together to construct solutions to shared problems. In this respect, the project exemplifies the best of modern university extension and outreach. Creating an educational partnership of this scope requires someone who can imagine the previously impossible and persuade others that it is not only possible but necessary. This requires a strong personality and an ability to help others see past the particulars of their immediate environment to the shared aspirations that underlie higher education in all societies.

Holistic Training with Focus on Sustainability 

Multiple guiding principles informed our capacity building programs and ensured impact and sustainability. These princples included: (1) Training to ensure a continuous dialogue and self assessment of Tunisians’ needs. On many occasions we had to modify the content of a session in real-time based on participant feedback. (2) Emphasizing a holistic approach to cover the entire picture and not just certain aspects of the addressed expertise. (3) Fostering a collaborative framework among presenters and workshop participants to avoid a mere transfer of knowledge. (5) Providing leadership opportunities for trainees. (6) Building in mechanisms for self reflection, evaluation, and quality. (7) Enforcing the expectation of tangible results and dissemination to others. (8) Building social and human connections among partnership participants to ensure their involvement beyond the project years.

Partnership Initiatives: Developing 

Indigenous Expertise

Although our efforts over the past eight years have touched on a broad range of critical topics, the thrust of our work has been focused in two major areas:

(1) Building the e-Learning Capacity of the Tunisian Higher Education Community

A steady increase in the number of students seeking higher education in Tunisia has caused a great deal of strain on the higher education system. Within the span of 10 years, the number of college students in the system increased from 300,000 to 500,000. In January 2002, Tunisia established the Virtual University of Tunis (UVT) to increase access to higher education through the use of information and communication technology and distance learning. One of the highest priorities of our partnership so far has been to support the efforts of UVT by engaging faculty throughout the country in its mission, providing a forum for Tunisian faculty and administrators to brainstorm and discuss strategies for reaching national goals, building networks, and contributing to the development of courses and degree programs for Tunisian students.

There are many ways in which developed countries enter into e-learning partnerships with developing ones. Many of these partnerships focus on transfer of courses and material to the developing country, infrastructure building, or joint development of teaching programs. Our strategic focus has been to invest in human resource development and the creation of indigenous expertise and material in Tunisia. We used a competitive and transparent national selection process to identify and involve the greatest number of Tunisian faculty and e-learning professionals from most disciplines and all universities around the country who have the most potential for providing local e-learning leadership.

The program consisted of multiple needs assessment and relationship building visits; development of training curricula; multiple week training workshops held at UGA and in Tunisia for national groups of professors, administrators, and IT professionals; pre- and post-workshop activities, assessment, and evaluation of training programs and their outcomes; and follow up and coaching visits to ensure dissemination and sustainability. The workshops covered a wide and comprehensive range of pedagogical, administrative, and technological topics in e-learning and emphasized the development of indigenous expertise. Throughout the program, ongoing feedback and modifications were used to adapt to evolving participant needs. A great deal of time and effort were allocated to building interdisciplinary networks of e-learning experts within and between home institutions.

In three successive stages, the program allowed the creation of a core national group of individuals from various specialties. This group acquired a coherent vision of the virtual educational system’s tools, challenges, and pedagogic and technical opportunities. A sizable group was thus formed and this group developed a large number of online degree programs, courses, and modules developed by Tunisian professors for Tunisian students. Eventually, this group formed a new national e-learning association for the promotion of e-learning education and research—Association pour la Promotion de la Recherche et l’Enseignement Virtuel (APREV).

Tunisian partners engage in discussion at a Universities Without Borders Workshop in Sousse, Tunisia, in January 2010.

APREV was officially established in February 2007 to capitalize on the expertise acquired through our capacity building program and create an official mechanism for our program alumni to remain active as a group and continue supporting the promotion and development of e-learning in Tunisia. Since then, APREV has been providing national training and development and has instituted three significant annual events: a national colloquium on best practices in e-learning; a national prize for innovative e-learning projects; and an international conference on e-learning research.

Lotfi Bouzaine, professor of economics and president of APREV, reflected on the impact and qualities of the program:

Today, at UVT, every time we are assessing our partnership with other international universities, we conclude that the UGA-UVT partnership had the deepest impact on faculty. The flexibility of the program, the high level of qualification of the contributors, and the way the director seeks out our needs before setting actions are among the ingredients of success.

Michele Johnson from the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the U.S. State Department reflected on the impact of the program:

One of the guiding beliefs of our program is that through providing enough individuals with a common experience we can create and sustain institutional change. Too often scholarship and exchange programs support only a single individual who returns from an experience inspired to do something new, but just can’t budge the system acting alone. I think your project here demonstrates this nicely, and shows that by inspiring many people in a group over time, you can create momentum to have an impact.

(2) Meeting Development Needs through Stronger University-Community Cooperation

Service to the community is a pillar of democracy and one of the most fundamental and essential aspects of developed societies around the world. University service is a process by which faculty and students engage in projects and activities that meet community needs. When integrated into the curriculum, these activities give faculty and students the opportunity to apply academic work to real-life situations, thereby becoming active agents of change and contributing to the alleviation of pressing social and economic issues.

The traditional model of development aid within the international community is one in which efforts are often initiated and led by organizations, universities, and people from developed countries. It has been one of the guiding principles of the UGA-Tunisia Educational Partnership that development leadership must be put in the hands of the local people and local universities. Faculty and student engagement within the local, national, and international community is nearly standard practice at universities in the United States. As such, this model may serve as a practical framework for universities in Tunisia to mobilize their resources for the good of surrounding communities and provide a vehicle for social and economic advancement.

Through a series of professional development workshops geared to sensitize Tunisian universities to the model and benefits of university-community outreach, a pilot collaboration with the University of Sousse aimed at demonstrating the feasibility and potential of university-secondary-elementary cooperation, and a great deal of advocacy, we have succeeded in jump-starting university-community outreach in Tunisia. Tunisian administrators, professors, and students from the universities of Sousse, Sfax, and Jendouba have conceptualized and designed a range of very interesting and pertinent projects for implementation within their local communities. The projects include using technology to assist in the care of patients with cerebral palsy, creating a culture of entrepreneurship, revitalizing abandoned parks, and reaching out to elementary and secondary students to promote leadership skills.

In November 2009, in order to sustain and build on these pilot efforts, we founded a nonprofit organization, Universities without Borders, to promote and facilitate grassroots community engagement within Tunisian universities, provide national and international advocacy, and create an international network and an online community of academics, students, and professionals who can support these efforts. The buy-in, enthusiasm, and energy with which administrators, faculty, and students in Tunisia have adopted the concept of a “university without borders,” and the depth and relevance of the projects they have developed, are encouraging. In the following words Prof. Hamed Ben Dhia, president of the University of Sfax, expressed his university’s commitment to community engagement:

In a time of change, the University of Sfax is willing to strengthen the role of its cooperatives within civil society. Deeply convinced by the “universities without borders” concept, our role is to help professors and students to make their skills useful in civil society.

Ultimately this grassroots effort will lead to a better education for Tunisian students and contribute to social and economic development in Tunisia. It will also provide innovative and meaningful frameworks for UGA and Tunisia to collaborate on locally conceptualized projects. UGA students collaborating with Tunisian students on these projects will benefit from a deeper and more authentic international engagement opportunity than the usual study abroad experience. Michael Thomas, a UGA graduate student involved in the program, commented:

Universities Without Borders provides …knowledge and expertise, and then challenges local university faculty and students to design their own outreach projects using these resources. The resulting projects are of an inherently grassroots nature, because of the necessary local conceptualization and implementation. This approach essentially reverses the traditional dynamic of international aid and educational partnerships.

(For more on Universities without Borders, see www.universitieswithoutborders.org.)

Partnership’s Impact on Graduate 

and Undergraduate Students

Since its inception, the UGA-Tunisia Educational Partnership has elicited contributions from students from a wide range of disciplines, both at UGA and in Tunisia. These students have become involved with the partnership in a variety of ways. Several graduate assistants have helped run the partnership, by organizing events, for example. Graduate assistants have come to the partnership from disciplines such as organizational development, instructional technology, and social foundations of education. Both at UGA and in Tunisia, students have made presentations, provided technical support at partnership-organized workshops, participated in service-learning projects, and served as hosts for delegations. Student presentations from many disciplines and perspectives were included in nearly the full range of partnership-sponsored workshops. Finally, for their contributions to the partnership. students have received course credit in a range of disciplines, from educational television to instructional design. Through the program, 24 students from 13 different disciplines received credit for 12 different graduate and undergraduate courses at UGA.

Some of the students’ feedback gives insight into the philosophy and holistic approach of the program. Amanda Parnell, a UGA undergraduate student in entomology, reflected on the two-sided nature of the program:

When learning about the project, I thought that we were going to be improving and helping the Tunisians. What I have learned since then is that the partnership is not one sided; we both have tremendous amounts to learn from each other.

Erica Wilson, a UGA graduate student in child and family development, reflected on the multidisciplinarity of the program and her own difficulty in allowing Tunisian students to take charge of a service-learning project:

Giving up control is very difficult for me so I had a tough time allowing people with less experience to take charge of the project. …We have established a relationship with the Tunisian students that goes well beyond major and specialization to a deep respect for each others’ work and a shared commitment to service and outreach. So often, especially in graduate school, you become submersed in your own field and surrounded by people just like yourself. You all think similarly and share the same body of knowledge. This experience has allowed me to interact with others from many different disciplines and open up to various ways of thinking about issues.

Honors and Awards

Our Tunisian partners were avid participants in this workshop held in 2008

In 2008, our program received the Andrew Heiskell Award for Innovation in International Education from the Institute of International Education. The annual award honors innovative new models in internationalization. It recognizes programs’ success in removing institutional barriers to international study and broadening the base of participation in the international elements of teaching and learning on campus. As part of the award, our program was featured in the institute’s magazine the IIE Networker and showcased as a best practice resource in international exchange partnerships on the institute’s website, www.iienetwork.org.

In 2007, nearly 100 Tunisians from throughout the United States gathered on the UGA campus to celebrate and honor the UGA Tunisia Educational Partnership for receiving the Ibn Khaldoun Award for Excellence in Community Service. In 2009, our program was also honored by the President of Tunisia with the National Medal of Merit in Science and Education. Additionally, our program was selected by the U.N.’s Global University Network for Innovation as a best practice.

Program Publicity and Dissemination

The UGA-Tunisia Educational Partnership has been widely publicized. So far, we have had 5 UGA and 10 Tunisian national press releases, 17 feature articles, and 5 Tunisian National TV appearances. There have been 10 references to our program on other university websites, and we were featured on the America.gov website. We have developed a website that publicizes our program and supports and facilitates project management, collaboration, and network building, providing a venue for program dissemination. The website receives thousands of hits, and we are often contacted by other universities who saw our website and were inspired by the program. Bryan McAllister-Grande, assistant director for the Office of Global Affairs at Brandeis University and coordinator for the Brandeis-Al-Quds University Partnership, in a personal email communication, wrote:

In our research and outreach, we have been very impressed and interested in the UGA-Tunisia partnership, with its emphasis on holistic engagement and educational development. I’ve looked over your website and publications many times [and it is] truly a model for the field.

Developing Cultural Understanding

Cultural exchange has been a deliberate and integral part of the program. The UGA-Tunisia Educational Partnership is responsible for a great deal of interest in Tunisia that developed at UGA and in Athens, Georgia. With different cultural events, and the several exchanges that have been hosted, the partnership has supplied an important cultural crossroads.

The mayor of Athens, Heidi Davison, reflected on the program:

In the midst of the tensions within current social and political climates, the partnership has promoted a sense of understanding and appreciation between the United States and Tunisia, both at UGA and in Tunisia. Opportunities such as these created by Dr. Hamrita are laying the foundation for understanding very different cultures while leading us along the path to peace.


Through sustained efforts spanning a period of eight years, we have created a strategic, significant, and sustainable link between The University of Georgia and Tunisia while pioneering a paradigm shift in international education and development through holistic, integrated, substantive, and symmetrical international cooperation. By building our partnership around Tunisia’s priorities and creating an enabling environment through continuous dialogue, ongoing self assessment, holistic professional development, and fostering a collaborative framework, our Tunisian colleagues were mobilized and empowered to take ownership of and play a pivotal role in the programs and initiatives on which we collaborated. By integrating resources and engaging a critical mass of people of diverse backgrounds from both countries, we were able to make significant impact in two major areas critical to Tunisia’s development. In my own efforts conceptualizing and building this partnership, I hoped to demonstrate community leadership by example. For more information about the UGA Tunisia Educational Partnership, visit: www.Tunisia.UGA.edu.


Durning, A.B. (1989). Action at the grassroots: Fighting poverty and environmental decline. Worldwatch Paper 88. Washington, DC: Worldwatch Institute.

Easterly, W.R. (2006). The white man’s burden: Why the West’s efforts to aid the rest have done so much ill and so little good. New York, NY: Penguin.

Fischer, K., & Lindow, M. (2008). Africa attracts renewed attention from American Universities. The Chronicle of Higher Education, 54(45), A21-23.

Holm, J., & Malete, L. (2010). The asymmetries of university partnerships between Africa and the developed world: Our experience in Botswana. Going Global4: The British Council’s International Conference. London, March 24-26.

Kezar, A., & Rhoades, R.A. (2001). The dynamic tensions of service learning in higher education: A philosophical perspective. The Journal of Higher Education, 72(2), 148-171.

Marlin, N.A. (2007). Should we be institutionalized? IIE Network. Retrieved from http://www.iienetwork.org/page/84659/.

Samoff, J., & Carrol, B. (2002). The promise of partnership and continuities of dependence: External support to higher education in Africa. 45th Annual Meeting of the African Studies Association, Washington, D.C.

Wainaina, B. (2009, August 27). “The ethics of aid: One Kenyan’s perspective” [Radio interview with host, Krista Tippett]. In Tippett, K. (producer), “Speaking of Faith,” American Public Media, St. Paul, MN.


The author would like to acknowledge all those who have contributed to the UGA-Tunisia Educational Partnership. Special thanks to partnership assistants Danielle Roderick, Lesley Graybeal, and Michael Thomas for their assistance with this manuscript.

This work was supported by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the U.S. State Department [grant number S-ECAAS-02-GR-280 (PS)] and the Middle East Partnership Initiative of the U.S. State Department [grant number S-NEAPI-05-CA-133].

About the Author

Takoi K. Hamrita is a professor of electrical engineering at The University of Georgia and is the founding director of the UGA-Tunisia Educational Partnership and Universities without Borders. She has received many national and international honors and awards for the partnership program, including the Andrew Heiskell Award for Innovation in International Education, the Tunisian National Medal of Merit for Science and Education, and the Ibn Khaldoun Excellence in Community Service Award.

The Engaged Humanities: Principles and Practices for Public Scholarship and Teaching

“In this essay, a leading public scholar examines the current state of public and engaged scholarship and predicts a major role for new media.”

Gregory Jay 

Will public scholarship and community engagement become central to revitalizing the humanities in the 21st century? Efforts to connect humanities research and teaching with projects to advance democracy, social justice, and the public good might take advantage of the latest episode of crisis, and even argue that they represent a strong new direction for revival. After a brief review of how definitions of the humanities have changed since the 1960s, the essay contends that the future of the humanities depends upon two interrelated innovations: the organized implementation of project- based engaged learning and scholarship, on the one hand, and the continued advancement of digital and new media learning and scholarship, on the other hand. A number of examples of engaged humanities practice are examined, their institutional obstacles analyzed, and the principles common to them enumerated. The conclusion focuses on how new media are changing the nature of “the public” once more, offering opportunities for different kinds of scholarship, teaching, and engagement.

Introduction: A Short History of Change
Will public scholarship and community engagement become central to revitalizing the humanities in the 21st century? Since the early 1990s, an increasing number of courses, projects, centers, and institutes have arisen around this notion, and there is now even an entire national organization (Imagining America: Artists and Scholars in Public Life [http://www. imaginingamerica.org/]) dedicated to advancing the cause. Its Curriculum Project Report provides an in-depth study of arts-based projects that link campuses and communities in common efforts to advance social justice (Goldbard, 2008). In the academic humanities, developments carrying such monikers as the “scholarship of engagement” or “public scholarship” have begun to share aims and methods with such arts-oriented initiatives. George Sanchez, for example, has documented powerful models for combining humanities scholarship and community engagement (2002; 2004). But it may be difficult to see how humanities scholarship can advance community cultural development in quite the concrete ways demonstrated by projects in art, theater, and music. Moreover, the term “humanities” is itself a disputed one, ranging from the classical liberal arts to today’s interdisciplinary scholarship in cultural studies, which often critiques traditional humanities work for its ivory-tower separation from real life and its various exclusionary biases of race, nation, class, and gender. Within

higher education, debates over critical methods (deconstruction, feminism, postmodernism, et al.) have coincided with a steady decline in institutional support and prestige for the liberal arts, as curricula find themselves marginalized by the burgeoning of the professional schools and patent-producing sciences (see Cohen, 2009). One index is indicative: the Modern Language Association’s job list, whose declines over the last two years are the steepest on record (June, 2009). Yet as Gale and Carton (2005) note, “the contemporary crisis of the humanities in America is … centuries old” (p. 38), and reports of its death greatly exaggerated. Efforts to connect humanities research and teaching with projects to advance democracy, social justice, and the public good might take advantage of the latest episode of crisis, and even argue that they represent a strong new direction for revival. Given the drastic budget cutbacks, grim hiring forecasts, mounting student debt, and challenges presented by the digital revolution, such arguments face a stiff wind. This essay will contend that the future of the humanities depends upon two interrelated innovations: the organized implementation of project-based engaged learning and scholarship, on the one hand, and the continued advancement of digital and new media learning and scholarship, on the other hand.

One thing these two innovations have in common is their attention to, and redefinition of, the “public,” especially in relation to the purpose and practice of higher education. In the wake of the critique of traditional humanities work for its racial, gender, class, and nationalist or imperialist biases, we must take seriously the continued importance of expanding who we mean when we say “the public,” and to whom our work is accountable. The issue of accountability in turn intersects with the need to assess the outcomes of our practices, both in terms of student learning and public good (which is traditionally a mission mandate for publicly- funded institutions). Humanities faculty have found the institutional pressure to increase assessment difficult to manage, beyond pointing toward such artifacts as the quiz, test, or student paper. Assessments of public good or community benefit may be just as perfunctory, as in post- event surveys and reports of attendance. The kinds of projects made possible by community engagement, service learning, participatory action research, and multimedia production can enhance the possibilities for demonstrating achievements in learning and community development, bringing along other skills such as collaboration, intercultural communication, and digital literacy.

To understand the current debates over public scholarship and evaluate its new practices, however, we need to look back (in admittedly reductive fashion) at the last few decades of controversy in the humanities. Such a backwards look is necessary because it would be misleading to think that simply undertaking structural innovations on campus to connect “the humanities” to the community or to public scholarship would suffice to make our future clear. We do not have a consensus about what “the humanities” include or stand for; thus just as we need “critical reflection” on how we engage the community, we need to join with the community in critical reflection on what we mean by “the humanities” and what we want from them. Edward Ayers (2009) reminds us that the phrase “the humanities” is only about a hundred years old, and was invented as an academic bureaucratic device or “secular glue” to “hold together the disparate components of a higher education system assembled from elements of German research universities, Oxbridge tutelage, and French training for civil service” (p. 25). The phrase took root when adopted in the 1930s “in the curricula of elite institutions from the Ivy League to Chicago to Berkeley” and was adopted as the anchor for most “general education” programs (Ayers, 2009, p. 25).

Since the 1960s, a critique of the humanities has grown along two fronts. First, the sociopolitical movements on behalf of oppressed or exploited identity groups challenged the presumptive universalism of the academic humanities curricula, exposing the degree to which previous dominant views of what it meant to be human restricted that image to whites and males and the rich and powerful. As classically defined, the “liberal arts” had been so-called because of its intended effect of liberating the mind from superstition and bias (and, in class terms, as appropriate to free men but not slaves); in practice the institutionalization of the

humanities in American colleges and universities too often became a matter of credentializing the ruling class or assimilating new members to the ideological club of the elite. Beginning in the 1960s, expansion of what and whom we studied in the humanities coincided with an expansion of who was allowed to study the humanities, as college education was opened more broadly to women and people of color (though for the latter, this opening remains narrow and perhaps once more is closing). In terms of scholarly interest, curriculum development, and student enrollment, this opening of the canon and the classroom shifted the future of the humanities decisively, though the preponderance of humanities enrollments remains tilted toward women and whites, while students of color, often being first generation college students, look to majors with more sure vocational and financial benefits.

Second, the importation and elaboration of Continental critical theory from the 1960s through the 1990s brought paradoxical changes in the relation of humanities work to the public. On the one hand, structuralist and post-structuralist analysis injected socio-political concerns into humanities scholarship and challenged the dominant models of aesthetic formalism and historical objectivity. Though often accused of creating a brand of abstruse philosophizing that alienated the intellectual reading public, the European- influenced academics were actually trying to offer a rejuvenated and reengineered school of ideological critique grounded in the traditions of Marxism and existentialism. This theory revolution was concentrated in departments of English and comparative literature, but also had an impact among historians, religious studies scholars, students of art and music, and even some philosophers. Although branded as a kind of “theoretical antihumanism,” with its antipathy to “bourgeois individualism” and its focus on “the subject” rather than “the person,” postmodern theory continued the tradition of critical thinking, interdisciplinarity, debate over values, and the posing of profound philosophical questions typical of humanities scholarship (Jeyifo, 2006). When post-structuralism in turn gave way to the rise of what called itself “cultural studies,” the turn both underscored critical theory’s inherent socio-political concerns and revamped the movement in ways that spoke more clearly to public issues.

But the publics spoken to by poststructuralists such as Paul de Man or Michel Foucault or Helene Cixous differed radically from those at the base of the cultural studies paradigm advocated by Raymond Williams and Terry Eagleton (and in the educational field by Paolo Freire, in theatre by Augusto Boal, and in feminism by Adrienne Rich). For cultural studies people, scholarship should not only address the concerns of the public, the marginalized and the working class, it should also emerge in some way out of collaboration with them (hence the resonance with “critical pedagogy”). Though often in contentious debate with other wings of the theory movement, cultural studies scholars joined them in advocating approaches that departed radically from the aesthetic formalism of previous modernist critics, and they extended these approaches across a broad spectrum of mass and popular culture. But neither the poststructuralists nor the cultural studies scholars wrote in ways accessible to a large common reading public, nor did they spend much time in active collaboration with schools, museums, social agencies, or community organizations, despite the claim of their scholarship to be working on behalf of a libratory politics. In retrospect it appears that the scholarship of theory and cultural studies was easily accommodated by the institutional regimes of publication, tenure, and a new “star system” of celebrity thinkers who appealed to an exclusively academic audience in contrast to an earlier generation of “public intellectuals.” The public for the humanities may actually have shrunk in part because of this esotericism, which also did not succeed in building any kind of funding base in the form of government grants or foundation dollars, leaving it vulnerable when the downturn came. An exceptional bright spot is the current wave of interest in, and funding for, the “digital humanities,” which is partly owing to its power to connect humanities work to a larger public.

Academics Going Public
These major trends in the humanities since the 1960s have dwarfed simultaneous efforts to enlarge the practices of community engagement and public scholarship at institutions of higher education. Granted, appreciation for what we call “public humanities” has always been fairly strong—as in support for museums, symphonies, libraries, film series, music performances, and literary readings. Many campuses have a humanities center that showcases research, sponsors lectures, and otherwise does public programming, though without connecting these to an engaged curriculum or community development projects. For example, such a vision of public humanities can be found on the website of the John Nicholas Brown Center for Public Humanities and Cultural Heritage at Brown University (http://www.brown.edu/Research/ JNBC/about_phach.php). The Center’s thoughtful mission statement does not include the kinds of collaborative cultural development work with a social justice orientation that this essay and Imagining America focus upon. In contrast, Stanton (2008) writes that “Engaged research must have an intentional public purpose and direct or indirect benefit to a community …a public purpose beyond developing new knowledge for its own sake” (p. 24). “Public scholarship” and engaged curriculums differ from the public humanities, then, as they require projects of collaborative knowledgecreation involving teams of individuals and organizations from on and off-campus in quite complex partnerships that sometimes take years to create (see Gibson, n.d.)

The Imagining America Curriculum Project documents many fine examples of such projects, but these stand out precisely because they are exceptions to normative campus goals, structures, and reward systems. For decades the triumvirate of “teaching, research, and service” has ruled, with “service” a distinctly less-rewarded and less-respected afterthought in the typical academic’s workload. Usually projects in community engagement or public arts and humanities are misleadingly categorized as “service” rather than knowledge production, and so downgraded. Some debate about this value system is recurrent, as in the reception of Ernest Boyer’s Scholarship Reconsidered: Priorities of the Professoriate. Boyer attempted to replace the triumvirate with a quadruped: the scholarship of discovery, integration, application, and teaching (Boyer, 1990). This proposal had the advantage of trying to separate engagement from service. Though often discussed, Boyer’s reform never took hold widely. Insofar as the “application” category was intended to subsume engagement, it perpetuated a “missionary” model in which knowledge was first created on campus and then “applied” to “problems” off-campus, effectively pathologizing the community and future campus partners.

In reflecting on the move from public humanities to public scholarship and engagement, the arts provide useful comparisons. As the Curriculum Project Report shows, arts faculty and practitioners have successfully created hundreds of outstanding projects that go beyond public performance to public engagement: they advance community cultural development, enrich democratic dialogue, create exciting aesthetic advances, and fashion meaningful collaborations among diverse partners (see the Community Arts Network website [Home, 1999- 2010] as well as Animating Democracy’s Project Profile Database). The arts have historically been more comfortable with collaborative production and community engagement than the humanities, though many art schools and departments do not support community engagement because of their concentration on studio teaching of future artists. The humanities have tended toward solitary work whose results may be presented publicly but are not designed to be, and which often make the transition awkwardly or in static, almost ceremonial presentations. While a large body of collaborative art projects testifies to how students, faculty, and community can join together on the creation and execution of work that advances the public good, there is less precedent when it comes to collaborative knowledge-making in the humanities. Humanities research has tended toward the museum and library (and now the online database) rather than toward knowledge produced through community engagement. Some humanities disciplines, however, have included participatory and community based action research in various areas, public history and oral history projects, literacy campaigns, and some kinds of documentation initiatives and event commemorations, though these, too, are often asymmetrical in terms of university-community relations. Again, the kinds of collaboration that new media make possible could have a powerful impact in making the production of humanities knowledge “public” in highly visible ways.

Despite the obstacles, service learning and engaged curriculum projects in the humanities have become a major avenue for public scholarship in the last ten years, helping to create collaborations in which university and community partners share in the design, execution, and analysis of intellectual projects that have real-life impact. Though initially more oriented toward “doing for” the community than collaborating with it, service learning practices have recently begun to move toward the kind of collaborative ethic espoused by community engagement models. The emphasis, however, has been more on student learning than on getting the university’s research mission in synch with a commitment to engagement, though Campus Compact has begun to alter this focus by initiating the Research University Civic Engagement Initiative. (Civic Engagement at Research Universities, 1999-2010; see also Stanton, [2008]).

Many faculty and students have testified to the excitement of such collaborative projects and the prospect they offer for rejuvenating humanities education and salvaging the reputation of the humanities with the public. In promising moves, some humanities institutes have leveraged their resources and readjusted their missions to create successful, innovative programs of community-university collaboration, such as those at the University of Texas and the University of Washington. Founded in 2001, the Institute at UT Austin consciously aims to augment the traditional activities of such organizations “by actively fostering public access to and involvement in humanistic inquiry” (Gale & Carton, 2005, p. 39). Moreover, as founding (now former) Director Evan Carton explains, the Institute struggled to get beyond “outreach” models of engagement that always privileged the campus over the community: “the outreach model reinforces conventional academic and public conceptions about the legitimate production and ownership of knowledge. A vital practice of the humanities, we believe, depends upon the breakdown of this hierarchy and this conception” in which all expertise rests with the academic experts (Gale & Carton, 2005, p. 40). Instead, as the Curriculum Project Report found, partnerships need to be “reciprocal and collaborative,” producing knowledge through jointly designed activities and “ensuring that community engagement projects serve communities as well as they do students” (Goldbard, 2008, p. 56). Through a long-term process of dialogues, Texas eventually devised the “Writing Austin’s Lives” project, which “would elicit and collect family histories, personal experiences, and diverse visions of life,” and hundreds of citizen-writers responded. The project “overturned the top-down dissemination from the university to the community” that other Institute programs “continued to reinforce” (Gale & Carton, 2005, p. 41). Gale and Carton’s (2005) thoughtful essay on their work embodies the kind of “self-critical awareness” that is a key ingredient in successful engagement.

A parallel transformation occurred at the University of Washington’s Simpson Center for the Humanities, led by Kathleen Woodward. The Center helped sponsor the exemplary Seattle Labor History and Civil Rights Project (About the Project, 2004-2010) and in 2009 received a large NEH challenge grant for innovation in the digital humanities, including “the public circulation of our scholarship” (Simpson Center Receives Major NEH Grant, 2010). While the Simpson Center continues to fund faculty fellowships, interdisciplinary scholarship, and public lecture programs, it has expanded its scope with such initiatives as its “Public Humanities Institute for Doctoral Students,” and is advancing plans for a Graduate Certificate in Public Scholarship. The Institute’s purpose is “to put public scholarship in the portfolios carried by our doctoral students into their future and thus to help bring about the structural change in higher education” that sustainable engagement requires (Woodward, 2009, p. 113). These and similar efforts at other campuses discussed by Woodward demonstrate how strategic reorientation of traditional humanities programs—following the principles of reciprocity and collaboration and guided by concerns for social justice and community cultural development—can produce concrete, replicable results.

Instead of reorienting their humanities center, other campuses have founded offices with an original mission-focus on engagement. Stanford University’s Haas Center for Public Service (begun in 1984 and named in 1989) has grown in two decades into a model for fostering the connection of academic study with community and public service. It coordinates a rich array of opportunities for students, faculty, and community organizations, with a focus on leadership training and careers in public service. Humanities departments are scarcely represented in its course list, however, except for some sections of Writing and Rhetoric. At the University of Michigan, the Arts of Citizenship (AOC) program was founded in 1998 under the directorship of David Scobey (now director of the Harward Center for Community Partnerships at Bates College). AOC stood out early on for the collaborative process it followed with community organizations in the Detroit and Ann Arbor areas, partnering to create projects, for example, on the Underground Railroad and with youth theater for minorities, that helped bridge the chasm between Detroit communities and the ivory towers of the University of Michigan.

At the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee we studied the AOC model and fashioned the Cultures and Communities Program quite differently from a humanities or arts institute. We adapted the AOC mini-grant model, and have now awarded more than 30 grants over nine years to fund an array of collaborations. These have included a city-wide commemoration of the 40th anniversary of Milwaukee’s Open Housing marches (soon to be a teaching-resource website); a Holocaust education partnership with the Milwaukee Jewish Council; an oral and video documentation initiative focused on black men in Milwaukee; a collaboration with the Milwaukee Muslim Women’s Society on “Combating Islamophobia”; two community- based day-long conferences on finding “common ground” against racism, sponsored by the Interfaith Council of Milwaukee; and a Hmong Arts preservation initiative (Her-Xiong & Youyee Vang, 2009). Reciprocity begins with the application, which must be a collaborative project proposed together by a community partner and a university entity. The CC staff mentors applicants, nurtures new relationships among partners, and oversees the receipt of the reports from grantees that become the basis for assessing outcomes. The requirement of public partnership puts the community at the table from the start as an equal member of the team designing the research, learning, and product.

For example, an oral history project (led by Associate Director Dr. Cheryl Ajirotutu) in the African-American community began with meetings between the professor and a community board to review the idea, refine the syllabus, choose interviewees, and outline protocols. Students went into the community not only to gather the narratives, but also to work in the neighborhood, at the community garden, in youth tutoring, and in other development initiatives. The students researched, wrote, edited, and then presented their oral history projects to their interviewees, in public forums on campus and in the neighborhood that were eventually broadcast by the university’s television station. To prepare, the class also studied the problematic of cross-cultural interviewing in select films and literary works as well as in anthropology (this model has now been extended to courses sited in post-Katrina New Orleans). Meanwhile, students enrolled in our Peck School of the Arts “Multicultural America” sections have been using photography, digital video, blogs and web authoring in their collaborations with local Milwaukee non-profit organizations. Led by Dr. Vicki Callahan and Dr. Shelleen Greene, these classes have promoted skills in multimedia authorship and critical visual studies through service-learning projects designed in collaborations with these partners, who otherwise lack the technical staff or facilities to complete such projects. Students are producing public scholarship in internet-based formats that serve to document the history, mission, current activities, and planned events of our partners.

Another CC wing sponsors an undergraduate minor in multicultural studies, which includes a service-learning requirement. That requirement is in turn administered by CC’s Institute for Service Learning, which is thus tied directly to the curriculum and which works closely with the grants office in expanding opportunities for new community partners to come aboard. Campus participants have come from the College of Letters and Science as well as the schools of Education, Arts, Information Science, and Architecture and Urban Planning. We differ from a humanities institute in that we administer a degree curriculum emphasizing multiculturalism and community engagement, and thus in the way we integrate courses, advising, service learning, grants, and public programming. UWM’s Center for 21st Century Studies remains the campus’s premier humanities/social science institute in the traditional mold; however, spurred by UWM’s membership in Imagining America, the two offices are now working together on a planned series of events focused on exploring the meaning and methods of “public scholarship.” The kind of multidimensional institutional profile we have built can be found on other campuses, such as at the Ginsburg Center at the University of Michigan and the Public Humanities Collaborative at Michigan State University.

I am not going to prophesy that education through public scholarship represents the (immediate) future of the humanities, at least in the practical sense. It’s too expensive and time-consuming, and too peripheral in the eyes of those administering the university’s primary commitments to undergraduate education and advanced research. Undergraduates can be more efficiently processed and credentialed through huge lecture courses largely managed by teaching assistants, whereas engaged classes typically require small cohorts working closely with a faculty member. Public scholarship may also not be the future of the humanities because many scholars come to their careers with solitary temperaments and a tendency to see the attachment of scholarship to public purposes as either crudely instrumental or simply a “service” dimension of their labor that cannot be counted like a publication. It is probably also the case that public-minded scholars are pushed out of the profession early on by its biases. As the work of the Simpson Center shows, graduate education in the humanities would have to be substantially reengineered if we were to produce future faculty adept at public scholarship and new media, knowledgeable in its methods, educated in its history, able to critique its examples, and ready to use it to further their research agenda. Despite these challenges, opportunities abound, but we need to reflect carefully on a few key points that summarize lessons learned so far.


1. Community Engagement versus the Political Economy of Higher Education
As general support revenues fall, campuses rely more on outside grants and tuition revenue. Activities that do not bring in outside revenue are marginalized and defunded. Activities not integrated with curriculum and enrollments are de-prioritized, since they do not produce tuition dollars. Engagement, service projects, and public arts or humanities are seen as “loss leaders” at best, and among the first targets for budget cuts. The public support for a campus generated by such engagement is impossible to capitalize on immediately as increased revenue; if directed at less economically prosperous parts of the community, such engagement also does not create an alumni capable of giving back in the form of foundation donations. Service or project-based learning usually limits class size and is thus expensive. How do we “go to scale” with engagement given these constraints? For academic and financial reasons, then, engagement should be structured into the university’s core curriculum and adoption of new media, so that engagement, technology, and tuition dollars reinforce engagement rather than conflict with it.

2. “That Doesn’t Count”: Institutional Barriers to Engagement and Public Scholarship Academic structures, policies, and reward systems work against community engagement practices in multiple, often intentional, ways. While there are differences specific to disciplines, the general resistance takes the same form (“that doesn’t count,” “that isn’t valued,” “that’s amateurish,” “that’s service, not scholarship,” etc). Advocates should take a page from the Imagining America Tenure Team Initiative Report (http://www.imaginingamerica.org/TTI/ TTI.html) and argue that engagement resides on a continuum of scholarship, not separate from it. Engagement and publicly-oriented humanities work are forms of research and of the production of new knowledge. Project participants need to design this claim and its outcomes into the plan from the start and produce objects that can document the achievement of them and so substantiate assessment. Do not cede the ground of “research” or “scholarship” to others. Do not argue that engagement should be valued equally with research and scholarship: Show that engagement IS research and scholarship, though it is also so much more. For one example, see the Research Service Learning: Scholarship with a Civic Mission program at Duke University (Hart Leadership Program, http://hart.sanford.duke. edu/index.php/rslrsl.htm).

Most campuses have one or more offices supporting various kinds of engagement or public scholarship, but these are rarely affiliated with an academic department, which is the unit that holds the real power on campus. Engagement gets outsourced and marginalized, and is not seen as part of the essential or required work done by the core institutional players. Bringing engagement into the structures sponsored by departments (requirements for courses and the major, scholarships, tenure and promotion criteria, etc.) is thus vital. In lieu of that, work to connect all the units sponsoring engagement to form a campus office or network that can advocate on behalf of public scholarship, new media, and the engaged arts.

3. What Comes First, the Discipline or the Community? Going local is not always respected or valued by our disciplinary structures of assessment. Faculty are trained to have a primary affiliation with and loyalty to their discipline: They see themselves as belonging to a “profession” first — as philosophers, historians, literary critics, etc. They do not limit their focus to a locale, which would be seen as “provincial.” Merit is largely determined nationally, even internationally, through peer-reviewed publication or performance and job mobility. Faculty are encouraged to move among jobs and not to become “tied down.” Academic humanities research typically overlooks local subjects and local audiences. Thus connections between campuses and communities weaken, and financial support declines. As government support for higher education withers, campuses can strengthen their support base by infusing engagement into the humanities curricula, rather than restricting themselves to ivory-tower practices that disconnect campus and community. They can also use new media to structure that engagement and disseminate it to a wider, even global, public. Projects can be “glocal,” then, at once embedded in local conditions and still examining forces, ideas, and trends that are global in origin and effect. The Colorado Center for Public Humanities (2008), for example, offers itself “as a think-tank” that “will investigate the public value of the humanities disciplines in relation to historical change by sponsoring programs that help to clarify the roles that humanitiesbased scholarship can play within the region, the nation, and the world more generally” and promises that it will “encourage interaction between the scholar and the wider public by matching scholars with particular communities, funding appropriate research activities, and supporting the production of books, film, and web-based conversation that are aimed at extra- academic groups.”

4. Educating the Students and Practitioners Whatever their disciplinary home, students and practitioners (including staff and faculty) will need a common core of education in issues related to community engagement: race, class, and gender studies; white privilege; principles of organization based in mutuality; cultural identity theory; local history; techniques for reflection, etc. This may not be the kind of knowledge emphasized in, or even covered by, the usual training or normative scholarship in the discipline. Students from a wealthy university need to reflect upon their own class position and cultural identity before going to work as tutors in local schools or assistants at a food pantry or as English as a second language instructors (Jay, 2008). Successful community engagement requires critical reflection on gender, sexuality, diversity, and multiculturalism. Engagement almost always involves asymmetries of power and resources in relationships among individuals from distinctly different places and backgrounds who have had little or no previous contact. Reflection activities (journals, essays, performance, online discussion, social networking technologies, etc.) about these issues should be threaded throughout the project. Assessment of outcomes should include measuring the impact of engagement on the attitudes and knowledge of students and faculty in the area of diversity; specific projects might also be assessed for their contribution to addressing community conflicts around race or gender or nationality or religion. For a valuable set of essays on this topic, see Carolyn O’Grady (2000), ed., Integrating Service Learning and Multicultural Education in Colleges and Universities. 

5. The Necessity for Asset Mapping of Community and Participants
The community is a set of assets, not an amalgam of deficits. Humanities expertise resides in the community as well as on campus. Preparation for engagement should include a collaborative mapping of community assets beneficial to the project. All the participants bring a variety of skills and knowledge to the collaboration. These need to be mapped early on and the project in part shaped by what people bring to it, with recognition that not all authority need be academic. Participants should feel empowered to use their skills and to experiment in order to grow. Preparation of faculty and students should thus include an explicit critique of the “missionary” role taken formerly by campuses toward communities, and a recognition that community partners stand in the position of educators in relation to faculty as well as students. This may be particularly true when it comes to local knowledge of art and culture in the communities around campus. Students should assess the skills and talents they bring to the partnership and offer ways that these can be put to use. Partners and faculty should likewise see students as bringing resources, not empty heads or bleeding hearts.

6. Turning Projects into Partnerships
Examples abound of outstanding one-time projects linking campus and community. These take an enormous amount of energy and result in a high level of knowledge for all participants; unfortunately, unless the project turns into a partnership, the return on the investment of time, resources, and passion is limited. Moreover, a community partner can be left standing at the altar after one or two semesters, abandoned (yet again) by a campus that then seems to be practicing “drive by” engagement. While we should not abandon limited-term projects, programs should strive to engage communities in ways that create long-term partnerships. Ideally, projects should be such that different cohorts of students from different classes over multiple years can “plug in” to them. Such sustained programmatic engagement is also more likely to find outside funding but will require commitment of initial seed money by campus. If there is a service-learning program, then sustainability may be achieved by planning for multiple classes to work with the same partner over the years.

7. Reexamining Course Goals, Learning Outcomes, and Assessment
Specific goals of engaged humanities projects and classes may differ from those of traditional courses and programs, though they must remain academic in focus. Traditional curriculums emphasize the production of an object (a work of art, a performance, an essay or monograph) whose quality is measured irrespective of any value to a community or a larger social purpose. Engaged practice also includes the goal of linking the production of knowledge to community cultural, social, and/or economic development and the advancement of social justice. Success is measured by such rubrics as extent and diversity of participants, impact on an identified community need, effective communication, innovation or dissemination of successful techniques for collaboration, expansion of the information base beyond traditional academic materials, transformations in self-understanding of participants, etc. Engaged curriculums will need to specify these additional goals and outcomes on the syllabus at the outset, and make clear how their achievement will be measured and how it is integrated into the academic content of the course

8. Institutionalizing Engaged Courses
Most engaged class offerings are the product of the initiative of one or two faculty and a group of students, who use a regularly listed course as the platform for their project. Much work goes into redesigning the syllabus for the course, creating reflection assignments for students, meeting with community partners, and building assessment instruments. When that particular faculty member moves on and someone else is assigned to teach the class, the engaged component may be dropped, and all that work lost. Sustainability requires having engagement written into the prescribed course description in the campus catalogue and securing commitment from the department to support that component whenever the class is offered. Even better, making an engagement experience or service-learning class a requirement for the major, for a minor or a certificate program, or for the college’s general education requirements will enormously strengthen sustainability. Sustainability also depends on assessment and the “feed-back loop.” Projects and syllabi should have clearly stated humanities-oriented objectives for outcomes and be able to assess whether these have been met, and what further initiatives initial successes suggest. If outcomes fall short, campus and community partners can identify weak spots, misunderstandings, resource limits, and devise a mutually agreed-upon set of action steps.

9. Balancing Work Loads for Faculty, Students, and Community Partners
Engagement courses and projects often add substantially to everybody’s workload, at least initially. For faculty there may be months of preparation, including research, meetings, fund raising, syllabus design, learning new software, and the training of students or staff. Campus resources are rarely allocated to support this work, though they ought to be. This is where a center or institute can play a crucial role in providing information on best practices, bibliographies, community contacts, and active networking with experienced faculty who have already done this kind of work. Students, too, will at first complain when their own load now includes going off-campus to work at times not on the course schedule. Faculty should be realistic in recognizing the additional burdens being placed on student time and thus make reductions in other parts of the syllabus. When planning a project with a community partner, faculty and students should be aware of the danger of adding to the workload of already overburdened non-profits with small staffs and limited resources. The more we ask of partners (help teach, write evaluations, review syllabi, come to conferences, etc.) the less time they have for the work they are trying to do, so that the partnership becomes a negative rather than a positive. Campus resources are not often available to compensate partners for their time, so every effort should be made to husband extra-mural resources to channel back to community agencies in compensation.

10. Diversity and Engagement
The disconnection between campus and community often appears dramatically when we look at the diversity, or lack thereof, among students, faculty, and staff. Recruitment and retention of students and faculty of color is a major priority at many campuses. Public humanities scholarship and engaged arts practices can be positioned to address this issue on multiple fronts, and it should be a priority of our collaborations. Engagement projects can be a bridge that brings underrepresented youth onto campus and into relationships with college students and faculty who can encourage their ambitions and mentor their journey to higher education. In turn, a disproportionate number of engaged scholars and artists are women and faculty and staff of color, who hope to give back to their communities and strengthen their cultural and economic development. These faculty and staff are also thus the most vulnerable when tenure and promotion decisions become embroiled in debates over “research versus service.” Campuses should use the Imagining America Tenure Team Initiative report as a platform for debating how research norms often oppress women and faculty and staff of color by marginalizing knowledge or artistic production done through local collaborations or addressing local or minority concerns.

New Publics, New Media — Assessing the Future
These ten talking points do not exhaust the subject of public scholarship, engagement, and the future of the humanities. In closing, however, I think it essential to return to one last issue that cuts across the others: the advent of new media and the impact that the Internet, social networking, and digital technology are having on higher education, our relation to public communities, and assessment of our work. The analysis can begin with this simple question: How is the challenge of doing “public scholarship” different for the humanities? Work in the arts and in design or architecture has an inherent public component, produced with some consideration of public display, or public installation, or public performance, and thereby as part of public conversation on various issues. Academics working in the humanities, in contrast, typically produce written texts, often as commentaries on other written texts. The production of such work is largely a solitary endeavor, and its consumption takes place individually, in private rather than public. Humanities work can certainly aim to intervene in public conversations on important issues, but the road to such influence usually lies through a cross-platform marketing of scholarship into more public venues — newspapers, magazines, trade press books, symposia, public lectures — that cannot themselves be the primary listed achievements in tenure and promotion deliberations. The rules for those deliberations forcefully limit the public reach of humanities scholarship. While this has been the situation now for decades, the advent of the Internet and digital culture may provide some breakthrough.

Even in textual form, humanities work can now circulate much more broadly than in the day when it languished in the compact-shelving archive of the library, and social networking means that scholarly collaboration knows no geographical limits. Once introduced into web formats, such scholarship also moves, often unintentionally, in the direction of multimedia, if only through the addition of graphics, illustration, YouTube links, or connections to other related work. Academics now build home pages and subject web sites that serve as resource pages in the public sphere of the Internet. Multimedia scholarly e-journals like Vectors (http://www.vectorsjournal.org/) represent cutting-edge multimedia humanities scholarship, though the technological resources to produce such work remain in the hands of a very few and the knowledge to create them rare. Most humanities faculty are not trained to do so (though this is starting to change), and it can be argued that such multimedia authorship represents a different genre altogether from the normative academic paper or monograph. Yet the precipitous decline of the academic publishing apparatus, both in book and journal outlets, suggests that the digital alternatives will eventually supersede their hard-copy forerunners.

Whereas the new publics after the 1960s formed around categories of identity politics, the new publics of the 21st century are forming in and through networking, which connects people not only on the basis of avowed affiliation but also through media of interaction that cut across group barriers and spatial boundaries and create alliances of unexpected kinds. So as we debate the merits and character of “public scholarship,” we need to sustain the critique of the notion of the “public” that exploded forty or more years ago, when the narrow definition of who, or what, counted as the “public” was challenged by so many who had been excluded from it. New media mean new opportunities for creating public humanities events of an interactive kind, in which the presentation of knowledge and the production of knowledge happen interdependently and simultaneously.

New media are changing the very nature of the “public,” and thus what we might conceive of as public scholarship. Across our society and culture we have witnessed enormous transformations in our way of life with the advent of these media, leading to unexpected changes in how we work, eat, play, love, and of course in how we represent these activities to one another. Indeed, the post-structuralists got at least this right—that the line between the practice of life and the representation of life was dissolving in the post-modern era. What new media have done, in part, is to accelerate this process to dizzying speeds and to extend its reach across virtually all dimensions of human interaction, with the added meta-benefit that we can watch ourselves and reflect on ourselves at the same time. No one should imagine that humanities scholarship will be immune from the viral speedup of new media or their capacity for embroiling the representation of knowledge in the generally ungovernable network of information and sensation exchange. New media will dramatically alter the future of the humanities, though it’s far too early to predict exactly how. Will text messages and Twitter replace the analytical seminar discussion? Or as David Marshall (2005) asks, “Is this a reconstitution of a public sphere in which the humanities can participate, or is it the final fragmentation of the public into blogs?”

What we can say, however, is that new media are providing a platform for the process, content, and dissemination of public scholarship. Students are learning new expressive and documentation techniques using photography and video and combining these with words and argumentation. Community partners are getting access to technology they would otherwise not be able to afford or know how to use. The outcomes of projects are being disseminated globally rather than only locally, and the projects themselves are becoming “glocal” as they involve participants from far-flung quarters. Questions about inequalities of access and resources, of course, remain substantial, and not every project lends itself to digital interaction and multimedia. The use of such tools, however, can go a long way toward demonstrating how student skills and community benefits are being advanced through engagement projects, and their documentation through multimedia creates products that can then be the subject of assessment and evaluation in determining the research value, scholastic merit, and public good of the project.

Assessing the outcomes of public scholarship in the humanities presents challenges, whether that scholarship is done through old or new media. Traditional assessment of scholarship is by peer review. Who are the peers in publicly engaged scholarship? Can community partners participate in tenure and promotion documentation and review? Are distinguished scholars who have never done publicly engaged work really “peers” when it comes to reviewing such work by their colleagues? Such review will require a set of criteria, benchmarks, and methods of assessment not yet in place. Peer review is well-designed to establish whether a scholarly article or monograph offers new knowledge or substantially alters previous concepts or data. This may be possible in the case of some public scholarship produced through community collaboration or new media. Yet how do we (faculty, students, staff, community partners, funders) assess the benefits to the community, which are after all an essential aim of publicly engaged scholarship? Are we looking for a change of consciousness? Implementation of new programs? An increase in the number of participants in a given initiative? A tangible improvement in the lives of certain community members? A digital presence and interactive community? Short-term gains? Long-term?

These questions intersect with the abiding debate over whether scholarship should be instrumental at all, or remain the production of knowledge for its own sake. Engaged practitioners will need to use all the media they can muster to navigate these questions, especially since documenting the outcomes of public scholarship may be crucial to their survival as campuses cut budgets. What I think we can assert with some confidence, however, is that the project-basis of most public scholarship means that there will be products, often using new media, that can help substantiate assessment, be they performative, textual, or digital. We will need to intentionally design assessment into the original planning and execution of future projects, however, if we are to produce persuasive documentation. This will mean knowing what kinds of outcomes we are hoping for, and how we intend to measure them. If we can begin to lay these out in principle, then the specifics of their articulation within concrete projects will start to take shape organically. And that itself will need to be a collaborative enterprise, with an emphasis on demonstrating outcomes for both community and campus. If one outcome turns out to be the fashioning of a reality in which the campus is a member of the community instead of a stranger surveying it from distant shores, then we will know we’re doing something right.

Animating Democracy’s Project Profile Database. Retrieved January 21, 2010, from http://www.americansforthearts.org/animatingdemocracy/about/ and from http:// www.artsusa.org/animatingdemocracy/ resources/resources_008.asp. Ayers, E. (2009). Where the humanities live. Daedalus, 138(1), 24-34. Boyer, E.L. (1990). Scholarship reconsidered: Priorities of the professoriate. New York: The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. Civic Engagement at Research Universities. (1999-2010). Retrieved January 21, 2010, from http://www.compact.org/initiatives/civic- engagement-at-research-universities/. Cohen, P. (2009, February 25). In tough times, the humanities must justify their worth. The New York Times. Colorado Center for Public Humanities, The. Retrieved from http://clas.cudenver.edu/ publichumanities/about.html. Community Arts Network. (1999-2010). Retrieved January 21, 2010, from http://www. communityarts.net/. Gale, S., & Carton, E. (2005). Toward the practice of the humanities. The Good Society, 14 (3), 38-44. Gibson, C.M. (n.d.). Research universities and engaged scholarship: A leadership agenda for renewing the civic mission of Higher Education. Retrieved January 21, 2010, from http://www. compact.org/resources/future-of-campus- engagement/research-universities-and-engaged- scholarship-a-leadership-agenda-for-renewing- the-civic-mission-of-higher-education/4250/. Goldbard, A. (2008). Culture and community development in higher education: The curriculum project report. Available at http://curriculumproject.net/ pdfs/08.CP.report.pdf. Her-Xiong, C., & Youyee Vang, C. (2009). Hmong arts preservation initiative: Hmong American Peace Academy Ltd. Retrieved January 21, 2010, from http://www4.uwm.edu/milwaukeeidea/cc/ cup/recipients/1005.html. Jay, G. (2008). Service learning, multiculturalism, and the pedagogies of difference. Pedagogy: Critical Approaches to Teaching Literature, Language, Composition, and Culture, 8(2), 255-280. Jeyifo, B. (2006). Humanities—with or without humanism? In G.P. Lepage, C. Martin, & M. Mostafavi (Eds.), Do the humanities have to be useful? (pp. 61-66). Ithica: Cornell University. June, A.W. (2009, December 17). Job slump worsens for language and literature scholars. Chronicle of Higher Education. Marshall, D. (2005). Introduction to session on the humanities and its publics (pp. 1-4). American Council of Learned Societies Annual Meeting, Philadelphia. O’Grady, C. (2000). Integrating service learning and multicultural education in colleges and universities. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. Sanchez, G. (2002). Working at the crossroads: American studies for the 21st century. American Quarterly, 54(1), 1-23. Sanchez, G. (2004). Foreseeable futures #4—crossing figueroa: The tangled web of diversity and democracy. Copies available at ImaginingAmerica@syr.edu. Seattle civil rights and labor history project. Retrieved January 21, 2010, from http://depts. washington.edu/civilr/about.htm. Simpson center receives major NEH grant. (2010). Retrieved January 21, 2010, from http:// depts.washington.edu/uwch/projects_neh_ digital_commons.htm. Stanton, T.K. (2008). New times demand new scholarship: Opportunities and challenges for civic engagement at research universities. Education, Citizenship, and Social Justice, 3(1), 19- 42. Woodward, K. (2009). The future of the humanities in the present and in public. Daedalus, 138(1), 110-123.

About the Author Gregory Jay is professor of English and director of the Cultures and Communities Program at the University of Wisconsin- Milwaukee.

Man Up: Integrating Fatherhood and Community Engagement

Armon R. Perry


In recent years, there has been an increase in programs designed to promote involved and responsible fatherhood. While the literature provides insight into how existing organizations serving fathers can improve the quality of their service delivery, little is known about starting a fatherhood program from the ground up. This article contributes to the needed discussion on such programs by exploring the development of the Man Up fatherhood program. Featured in this discussion is Man Up’s program development model, which combines parent education and community engagement events and activities and engages fathers at a level that transcends their involvement as program participants or research subjects. Engaging and promoting responsible fatherhood through community events is one of the ways that distinguishes Man Up from other fatherhood programs.


In the past 20 years, there has been an increase in the number of organizations promoting and implementing fatherhood programs. Much of the increase is related to increased scholarship on fatherhood, advocacy from organizations such as the National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI), and developments in public policy. Recent examples include the Parent’s Fair Share Program of the Family Support Act of 1988 and the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, both of which included provisions for states to develop fatherhood demonstration programs. Since then, funding for fatherhood programs has been a regular part of the domestic agenda. In 2002, the Bush administration authorized $320 million for fatherhood programs (Bronte-Tinkew, Bowie, & Moore, 2007). Most recently, President Obama has discussed the important role that engaged and committed fathers play in the positive growth and development of strong children, families, and communities (The White House, 2009).

Despite the proliferation of fatherhood programs, the research literature is consistent in its conclusion that many of these programs yield mixed results (Bronte-Tinkew et al., 2007; Horn, 2003). However, there is some evidence that these programs can produce positive outcomes such as improved child development (Sarkadia, Kristiansson, Oberklaid, & Bremberg, 2008; Strug & Wilmore-Schaffer, 2003); increases in visitation days and child support paid (Fischer, 2002); and increased conflict resolution skills for fathers (Anderson, Kohler, & Letiecq, 2002). Moreover, fathers’ participation in programs has also been associated with increased birth weight among infants (Barth, Claycomb, & Loomis, 1988), increased empathy for children among fathers (Kissman, 2001), and improved psychological adjustment for children (Flouri & Buchanan, 2003). These positive findings have contributed to the development of literature on the best practices of fatherhood programs. Specifically, these practices call for early intervention (Cabrera, Fagan, & Farrie, 2008), staff buy-in, the use of empirically supported theory-based approaches (Bronte-Tinkew, Horowitz, & Metz, 2008), and providing fathers with concrete knowledge, tangible incentives, and flexible scheduling (Bagner & Eyber, 2003; Cowan, Cowan, Pruett, & Pruett, 2007).

While the literature provides insight into how existing programs serving fathers can improve the quality of their service delivery, little is known about starting a fatherhood program from the ground up.

The purpose of this article is to discuss and assess the development of the Man Up fatherhood program. Included in this discussion is a description of Man Up’s program development model, which combines parent education and community engagement events and activities to engage fathers at a level that transcends their involvement as program participants or research subjects. This article also distinguishes the Man Up fatherhood program from several other documented fatherhood programs.

Literature Review

Fatherhood programs are as varied and diverse as the men they serve. The literature documents programs that serve fathers from many different backgrounds, ages, marital statuses, resident statuses, and in an array of formats. For example, many fatherhood programs feature psycho-educational group formats (Fagan, 2008), while others provide therapeutic interventions (Gearing, Colvin, Popova, & Regehr, 2008). Programs offer a range of services aimed at addressing many fatherhood related issues such as enhancing parenting skills (Kissman, 2001), increasing child support compliance (Anderson et al., 2002; Bloomers, Sipe, & Ruedt, 2002), and advocating for fathers’ visitation rights (Fischer, 2002). While many traditional programs are agency-based programs that make use of curriculum manuals that are followed rigidly to ensure fidelity and adherence to recommended parenting practices, there are programs that feature alternative delivery methods and utilize technology creatively to reach fathers. Specifically, although the Supporting Father Involvement program is guided by a curriculum manual, it does not prescribe parenting behaviors. Rather, it focuses on creating safe environments in which participants can discover new ways to address family problems that are consistent with their values and cultures (Cowan, Cowan, Pruett, & Pruett, 2007). Moreover, the New Fathers Network is a web-based discussion board and support group for fathers (Hudson, Campbell-Grossman, Fleck, Elek, & Shipman, 2003) and the DADS Family Project offers its parenting skills group sessions in either face-to-face or distance video conferencing formats (Cornille, Barlow, & Cleveland, 2005).

It is clear from the literature that fatherhood programs come in all shapes and sizes. However, there are a few programs that have been recognized for their innovation and effectiveness. In a recent practice brief published by the National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse, Bronte-Tinkew, Horowitz, and Metz (2008) identified eight specific programs as model programs. Following are the criteria used to identify the model programs, as well as brief descriptions of each:

1. The program had to have been experimentally evaluated.

2. The program had to have a sample size of over 30 in both the treatment and control group.

3. The program had to have retained at least 60 percent of its original sample.

4. The program had to have at least one outcome that was positively changed by 10 percent.

5. The program had to have at least one outcome with a substantial effect size statistically significant at the 0.05 level.

6. The program had to have been evaluated by an independent evaluator with publicly available evaluation results.

Model Fatherhood Programs

The first of the model programs is the Dads for Life program (Cookston, Braver, Griffin, DeLuse, & Miles, 2007). This program is a preventive intervention designed to modify mothers’ and fathers’ perceptions of coparenting and interparental conflict after divorce. The target population for this program is divorced, noncustodial fathers working to decrease coparent conflict and to improve their relationships with their children by improving their parenting skills. Fathers are identified and recruited through divorce and child support court records. The program consists of eight group sessions that last an hour and 45 minutes each and two one-on-one sessions that last 45 minutes each. The content for the group sessions comes from videos and a program curriculum manual.

The Family Transition Program (FTP) was a demonstration project designed to test the effects of placing time limits on public assistance benefits before Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) transitioned into Temporary Aid to Needy Families (Bloom et al., 2000). The goals of the 6-year project were to increase participants’ employment and income and to reduce the number of people on public assistance. The vast majority of program participants were single mothers who were randomly assigned to either the FTP or the control group receiving standard AFDC benefits. Those assigned to the FTP were subject to time limits on their public assistance benefits but were allowed to maintain more of their income and private assets without affecting their eligibility. They were also provided with increased child care assistance for leaving public assistance. Although this program was identified as a model fatherhood program, it featured no services for fathers. Rather, the fatherhood component of the program consisted of the single mother program participants being assigned child support enforcement case workers to make collection efforts more effective and efficient.

The Parenting Together Program is a group educational intervention designed to enhance the frequency and quality of fathers’ involvement with their children during the transition to parenthood (Doherty, Erickson, & LaRossa, 2006). The target population, adult co-resident (i.e., married or cohabitating) expectant first time fathers, is recruited from health maintenance clinics. The program consists of eight total sessions, which start during the second trimester and end two to five months post birth. The first session is individualized and the other seven sessions are group sessions led by two co-facilitators guided by a curriculum manual, mini-lectures, group discussions, videotapes, skill demonstrations, and role plays.

The Parents’ Education about Children’s Emotions program is a court-ordered program for parents seeking a divorce decree (McKenry, Clark, & Stone, 1999). The program is designed to improve children’s post divorce adjustment by helping parents understand the ways divorce affects children and how parents’ conduct toward each other affects children’s adjustment. The intervention is a one-time, 2.5 hour group session that utilizes program handbooks covering parenting skills, child development, and perceiving family dynamics from the child’s perspective. In addition to the program handbooks, participants also engage in videos and role plays.

The Preparing for the Drug Free Years program is a curriculum-based preventive intervention designed to empower the parents of 8-14 year old children at risk for drug and alcohol abuse (Haggerty, Kosterman, Catalano, & Hawkins, 1999). The program recruits parents through the public school system. They participate in five group sessions that last for two hours each. The program is implemented by experienced co-facilitators and makes use of a curriculum manual, videos, and a family activity workbook. All program content focuses on ways to enhance children’s bonds with family, school, and peers by addressing topics such as family meetings, expectations, refusal skills, handling conflict, and developing bonds to reduce the likelihood that children will abuse drugs and alcohol.

The Fairfax County Fatherhood Program for Incarcerated Dads targets recently incarcerated fathers and is designed to promote responsible fatherhood during and after release from incarceration (Robbers, 2005). The program is voluntary and consists of 10 weekly group sessions lasting 90 minutes each. The program features a curriculum that emphasizes parenting skills, positive communication, and minimizing parental conflict. Participation in the program also requires contact between fathers and their children so that the fathers can begin to apply the skills that they develop within the program.

The Video Self-modeling Parent Education program uses videotaped self modeling to help fathers increase their parenting skills (Magill-Evans, Harrison, Benzies, Gierl, & Kimack, 2007). The program targets co-resident, first-time fathers and focuses on parenting skills related to fathers’ recognition of and ability to respond to their infants’ behavioral cues. Fathers receive four home visits that last one hour each. The visits occur at baseline and again five, six, and eight months later. These home visits are conducted by trained home visitors who record fathers’ interactions with their infants and provide them with constructive feedback that affirms their parenting strengths and instruction on how to address their parenting challenges.

The Young Dads program was designed as an intervention targeting first-time, adolescent fathers recruited through their female partners’ participation in a mothers’ support group (Mazza, 2002). The program was designed to enhance the young fathers’ parenting skills, as well as their life skills and decision making skills. The 6-month program consisted of bi-weekly group parenting classes and weekly appointments with social workers who provided case management services aimed at increasing the fathers’ social and economic capital so that they could be better positioned to maintain their involvement with their child. Specifically, through their social work case manager, program participants were provided with services and referrals for vocational training, medical care, and housing assistance.

Although there is no doubt that these programs have successfully served many fathers and extended our knowledge, they each have limitations. First, several of the programs targeted and only recruited co-resident fathers or fathers who had been legally married, but were later divorced or seeking a divorce. This leaves never married, non-resident fathers, an increasing demographic group (DeBell, 2008), ineligible for programs’ services. Second, many of these programs did not serve fathers exclusively, and the FTP program provided no fatherhood-specific services at all. Finally, none of these programs documented any efforts to engage the fathers in events and activities beyond those directly related to program curricula or data collection. This is surprising, given that many researchers have found that establishing strong relationships and connections with fathers has been associated with positive program outcomes (Fagan, 2007; Pruett, Cowan, Cowan, & Pruett, 2009). Therefore, despite the contributions of existing programs, there remains a gap in the literature with regard to the development of fatherhood programs that not only engage in parenting skill development and outcome driven data collection, but also engage fathers at a level that affirms and celebrates who they are as men and fathers. The Man Up program is one such program. The remainder of this article is dedicated to discussing the development of this grassroots program, which combines parent education and community engagement events and activities to engage fathers at a deeper level.

Man Up Fatherhood Program 

The Man Up fatherhood program was established in 2009 and is operated and managed by the Community Empowerment Center (CEC), a faith- based organization in Louisville, Kentucky. Man Up was developed in response to the growing concern that many children in the neighborhood immediately surrounding the CEC were growing up with low levels of involvement from their fathers and susceptible to many social problems such as poverty (Nock & Einolf, 2008) and low educational attainment (McBride, Schoppe-Sullivan, & Ho, 2005) associated with absent fathers. Man Up’s mission is to empower men in the roles of fathers by providing them with the tools necessary for them to serve as responsible fathers through a continuing program of activities and services that promote healthy marriage, financial stability, and life planning. It should be noted that although Man Up encourages marriage as the most sustainable pathway for involved fatherhood, it actively recruits and provides services to fathers who are not married and show no interest in marriage. Man Up advances its mission by providing parent education workshops and sponsoring community activities and events that promote responsible and engaged fathering.

Program History

The initial funding for Man Up was secured from the NFI through one of its $25,000 capacity building grants. In addition to the funding, the program director and administrator attended NFIs Certification College, where they received 40 hours of technical assistance from expert consultants in the areas of leadership development, program development, organizational development, and community engagement. As an NFI capacity-building grantee, Man Up was awarded an additional 40 hours of technical assistance over a 10-month period following the certification college.

Program Staff and Volunteers 

Man Up is directed by a young and enthusiastic pastor whose values and faith led him to engage the local community in developing solutions to its challenges rather than focusing on its deficits. The program’s administrative staff person is a native of Louisville, Kentucky, who has over 30 years of experience in working with grassroots community organizations. In addition to its two staff members, Man Up also relies on the work of a volunteer advisory board that helps plan and co-ordinate events, as well as facilitates the program’s parent education workshops. Comprised of four members, the advisory board includes a university professor whose research interest is fathers’ involvement with their children, the director of a university cultural center, a certified truck driver and father, and the chief administrative officer of a community health clinic.

Man Up Overview/Program Development Model

Man Up delivers innovative fatherhood programming through a model that combines parent education workshops, father and family friendly activities, and community outreach events. The purpose of the workshops, activities, and events is to enhance fathers’ parenting skills and to increase awareness regarding the unique and irreplaceable role that fathers play in the lives of their children. The parent education component comes in the form of workshops for fathers facilitated by members of the volunteer advisory board. Although fathers of all ages and experience levels are invited to participate in the workshops, the target population is new and expecting fathers who are more likely to benefit from the NFI-developed Dr. Dad parent education curriculum that focuses on infant and toddler health and safety (National Fatherhood Initiative, 2005). The workshops consist of two four-hour sessions organized into four modules (the well child, the sick child, the injured child, and the safe child). The topics covered in the curriculum include learning a child’s temperament, treating fevers and the common cold, taking children’s temperature, treating minor burns, and addressing nutrition, immunization, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, and parental anger. Participants for the Dr. Dad parent education workshops are recruited from local social service agencies that serve new and expectant mothers, local community centers, public recreational facilities, and neighborhood barber shops; Promoters also rely on church announcements, social networking media, and word-of-mouth testimonials and endorsements from fathers who have completed the workshops. Although beyond the scope of this article, the effectiveness of the Dr. Dad parent education workshops is currently being evaluated using pre and post assessments that examine participants’ knowledge regarding infant health and safety.

In addition to Man Up’s parent education workshops, what makes it unique is its emphasis on community engagement through its father- and family-friendly activities and outreach efforts. In its attempt to simultaneously encourage its participants in father-child interaction and to increase public awareness about the importance of responsible and involved fatherhood, Man Up sponsors community events designed to show participants as committed, active fathers. This presents the public with images of caring, generative fathers that dispel many of the myths associated with being a young, low income, minority, or non-resident father, demographic groups represented by Man Up’s participants. It also provides other fathers in similar circumstances with tangible examples of responsible and involved fathers. Among these events are Fatherhood Family Fun Days and Dad’s Day at the Movies. To date, Man Up has sponsored three Fatherhood Family Fun Days, all held in local parks so that children had ample space to run, play, and bounce on inflatable playground toys. In addition to renting the inflatable playground toys, Man Up also provided free refreshments to all participating parents (fathers and mothers) and their children. Local television covered one of the Fatherhood Family Fun Days, which included interviews featuring Man Up’s director and one of its advisory board members. Both discussed the important role fathers play in the lives of their children and encouraged the public to support future Fatherhood Family Fun Days. The other community event, Dad’s Day at the Movies, involved a group of fathers accompanying their young children to a local movie theater to participate in a private screening of Disney’s “The Princess and the Frog.” To coordinate this event, Man Up partnered with a chapter of Delta Sigma Theta, Inc., an international sorority, to negotiate a group discount ticket rate with the theater to have a private screening of the film on a Saturday morning before normal business hours. Man Up also partnered with several churches to arrange for fathers without transportation to ride to and from the movie in vans at no cost.

Although the Fatherhood Family Fun Days and Dad’s Day at the Movies have advanced Man Up’s mission by promoting engaged fatherhood and collaborating with community partners to increase awareness related to the importance of fatherhood, perhaps its largest community outreach effort has been its Fatherhood Leadership Summit. Based on the recommendations of the NFI (2006), Man Up convened a forum of community leaders from various sectors to discuss issues related to fatherhood. Included in this discussion were the roles of fathers with their children, within the family, and the ways that each sector could work collaboratively with Man Up to help fathers facilitate engaged and responsible fathering among its participants. In the planning of the leadership summit, Man Up’s staff and its advisory board leveraged its relationship with the University of Louisville’s Office of Community Engagement to identify and invite four leaders in each of eight sectors (e.g. education, business, government, health, social services, media, law enforcement, and civic leaders), as well as lay members of the community to participate in the leadership summit. In sum, a total of 21 of the invited leaders (representing seven sectors) and 17 lay members of the community participated in the summit.

The summit was held at the University of Louisville and lasted for two hours. After opening introductions and a brief overview of the Man Up program, the keynote speaker, a consultant from NFI, gave a 30-minute talk regarding the importance of fathers and the positive outcomes for families and children associated with high levels of paternal involvement. The next hour consisted of three concurrent breakout sessions moderated by Man Up advisory board members aimed at responding to the question, “What are fathers’ specific roles in the lives of their children, families, and communities?” Each session addressed one of the three contexts (children, families, and communities) for engaged and responsible fathering. At the conclusion of the breakout sessions, the entire group reconvened to report the findings from the individual breakout sessions and to discuss what each sector could do in collaboration with Man Up to promote engaged and responsible fatherhood.

Man Up Vs. Model Programs

Although Man Up is early in its development, it compares favorably with many of the programs identified in the literature as model programs. See Table 1 for a comparison of the most popular models for fatherhood programs in the literature. First and foremost, Man Up is unlike any of the model programs in its efforts to engage fathers in community activities and events. In maintaining its uniqueness, Man Up has sponsored events to facilitate father-child bonds, provided the public with images of actively involved fathers and solicited the input and assistance of various community partners to enhance its ability to provide services to fathers. Beyond the differences in the level of community engagement, Man Up is different from the model programs in other ways as well. The other major difference is that Man Up’s target population is more diverse and inclusive than any of the programs. For the model programs, access to services is driven by the eligibility criteria of the program evaluations. This means that the program target populations are rather homogenous and are limited in their ability to account for differences in environmental contexts that shape fathering behavior. Contrarily, by not restricting services to resident fathers, married fathers, adolescent fathers, first-time fathers, or biological fathers, Man Up is better positioned to serve a more comprehensive cross section of fathers and father figures representing the diversity of fathering contexts.

Aside from the differences, Man Up is similar to the model programs in many ways. Man Up is consistent with almost all of the other model programs in its provision of services to enhance fathers’ parenting skills. The one exception is the FTP program that provided no services to fathers. Despite the generally universal provision of parenting skills training, the types of parenting skills varied by program. Man Up, the Parenting Together Project, Young Dads, and the Video Self-modeling programs’ focus on skills primarily used with infants and toddlers, while the Preparing for the Drug Free Years program emphasizes attachment and communication skills with school age children. Similar to the model programs, Man Up engages in research and evaluation data collection to determine the effectiveness of its services to fathers. The difference in this area is that the other programs were identified as model programs based largely on having publicly available evaluation results showing some signs of positive impact while Man Up has yet to complete its evaluation. However, Man Up is currently collecting data that will soon be analyzed and made publicly available. Finally, Man Up is similar to most of the model programs in that most of the programs, including Man Up, do not provide services aimed at increasing fathers’ parenting capacity. The Young Dads program is the only model program providing such services, which consist of collaboration between program participants and social work case managers to secure vouchers and referrals for assistance with housing, health care, and vocational services. It should be noted that although to date Man Up does not provide parenting capacity services, it does partner with many of its community partners to ensure that its participants receive appropriate services.


We have chronicled the Man Up fatherhood program since its beginning, described the model it is using to integrate fatherhood programming and community engagement, and distinguished it from other well-documented fatherhood programs. Conceptualized as a response to one of a community’s most pressing needs, Man Up realized a major goal when it received a NFI capacity building grant in 2009. Since that time, the program has served fathers and families through educational workshops, interactive activities, and community events. In fact, it is this emphasis on engaging and promoting responsible fatherhood through community events that makes Man Up unique. In sponsoring such events and activities, Man Up works collaboratively with community partners to make the most of its resources and to bring attention to the importance of involved fathers. In promoting the development of a father-friendly community, Man Up has established and cultivated relationships with the University of Louisville, other community and faith-based organizations, governmental agencies, businesses, the news media, and other institutions. Through these collaborations, not only is Man Up helping to enhance father-child attachments and increased levels of paternal involvement, but it is also working strategically with its partners to make the community more welcoming to fathers and the organizations that serve them.

Lessons Learned

Given the complexities of implementing a new fatherhood program, Man Up’s program development model, which integrates fatherhood programming and community engagement, may inform community organizers and practitioners’ efforts to establish relationships with community partners and advance their programmatic missions. Although Man Up plans to capitalize on the momentum it has built in and around Louisville, it has faced several challenges that serve as potential barriers to its long term success. Following is a discussion of lessons learned and several recommendations for practitioners interested in developing a new fatherhood program:

Consistency with regard to logistics promotes retention and cohesion. The first major lesson Man Up learned was the importance of being consistent with the logistics of the Dr. Dad parent education workshops, especially with regard to dates, times, and location of group sessions. In other words, meeting at the same time on the same day of the week and at the same location facilitated participant retention. This type of consistency also enhances the level of cohesion among the Dr. Dad parent education workshop participants who develop relationships and serve as informal support systems for one another based on their common experiences.

Recruiting strategies should be based on strengths and resonate with the target population. Man Up learned not to refer to the parent education workshops as “workshops.” Rather, in marketing they are referred to as “Man Up Fatherhood Rap Sessions.” In many urban contexts, a “rap session” is understood to be a gathering of likeminded individuals who come together to share and receive information on a given topic. It should be noted that not referring to the workshops as workshops is in no way meant to mislead potential participants. Rather, this is an attempt to adopt language that resonates with potential participants and comes from a strengths perspective. In fact, the idea of not using the word workshop came from a program participant who discussd his initial reluctance to participate based on previous experiences with other programs’ workshops that operated under the assumption that he needed instruction or remediation instead of recognizing his potential to contribute to the group.

To the extent possible, fatherhood programs need to address parenting capacity. Addressing fathers’ parenting capacity involves assisting fathers in securing the social and financial resources necessary to fulfill their roles as parents. This is important in that the lives of many fatherhood program participants are very complex, and when they do not have a means to secure basic necessities for themselves and their children, issues related to enhancing their parenting capacity take precedence over enhancing their parenting skills (Weinman, Buzi, & Smith, 2005). Although Man Up does not yet have the staff to address many of its participants’ parenting capacity concerns, it is currently building relationships with community partners that are better positioned to provide job placement, educational, medical, and housing assistance services similar to those described in the Young Dads program (Mazza, 2002).

Recommendations from the Field

We anticipate that our experience with Man Up will provide us with rich data from which we expect to learn a great deal. So far the experience has provided us with some realizations and recommendations that may be helpful to others working to establish successful fatherhood programs. Here are some preliminary recommendations:

More fatherhood programs should partner with organizations that provide services to mothers and children. As Vann (2007) pointed out, ultimately fatherhood programs should strive to empower fathers to positively contribute to their children’s growth and development. Moreover, since mothers are often children’s primary caregivers, the extent to which both resident and non-resident fathers have access to their children influences their opportunities to apply the skills that they develop in fatherhood programs. Therefore, it may be that partnering with agencies that provide services to mothers and children can facilitate programming aimed at addressing negative interpersonal issues that inhibit fathers’ involvement.

Increase the number of partnerships between fatherhood programs that compete with each other. While turf battles and the competition for scarce resources may preclude many fatherhood programs from working collaboratively, there are benefits to forming coalitions with other fatherhood programs. Because there is so much variability in the environmental circumstances affecting different types of fathers’ willingness and ability to stay active in their children’s lives, individual programs may have difficulty providing comprehensive services across various groups of fathers. However, partnering with other programs allows programs to focus on their target populations. For example, Man Up has partnered with another local fatherhood program that is more established and recognized, particularly for its work in the area conflict resolution and mediation services to non-resident fathers. Before Man Up was established, the other program was compelled to serve all fathers, regardless of their individual needs. Therefore, agency resources and personnel were being spread very thin, ultimately to the detriment of the program’s target population. Given Man Up’s interest in working with new and expecting fathers and the more established program’s willingness to collaborate, the more established program is now able to commit more of its resources to serving its intended target population while also creating a space for Man Up to develop its own identity.

Take advantage of opportunities to creatively market fatherhood programs. This can be accomplished through traditional media such as newspapers and broadcast media. As mentioned, Man Up regularly sends press releases to media personnel seeking coverage of its events so that the community notnot only becomes aware of Man Up’s existence, but also is exposed to positive images of fathers engaging in the lives of their children. However, securing coverage of community events is not always possible. Establishing media connections is difficult given the competition for news coverage. Also, there is no guarantee that coverage will portray the program or its fathers in the intended light. Therefore, it is recommended that fatherhood programs and administrators disseminate their messages on social media such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube. Utilizing these resources is a cost effective way to get the message out. Moreover, as people shift the way that they seek out and receive news and information, social media will become more and more important. Using multiple media streams, of course, is the best way to educate the greatest number about the program.


Among social scientists, practitioners, and policymakers, there has been an increased interest in fathers’ influence on families and their involvement with their children. This increased interest represents an opportunity to develop new programs to provide services to fathers aimed at promoting their positive contributions to their children and families’ growth and development. Man Up is one such program. It was established out of concern for children in the surrounding community. Its model features the integration of fatherhood parent education programming with community engagement. Although it is still developing, if its initial success is any indication, Man Up, through the combination of fatherhood programming and community engagement, will be a well supported, sustainable asset to the community that in turn facilitates the development of well supported, sustainable families who also will serve as assets to the community.


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About the Author

Armon Perry is an assistant professor at the Raymond A. Kent School of Social Work at the University of Louisville.

Service-Learning: Expanding Educational Attainment

Research from the field
This section emphasizes manuscripts that help sustain and explain academic and community partnerships. These manuscripts are likely to be practice- or case-study oriented, with less emphasis on theory and extensive literature reviews. Manuscripts that share best practices, practice wisdom, and applied knowledge are especially appropriate for Research from the Field. Unique partnerships have the potential to make highly interesting pieces. Research methodologies of all types are appropriate for this section, and research projects with strong application and practice implications will be given favorable consideration. Research from the Field manuscripts should follow JCES submission guidelines, including APA 6th edition referencing style, and be in the range of 10–20 double-spaced pages. As with all manuscripts we accept, our reviewers are looking for context and clear language and the philosophical, historical, and theoretical principles underlying the work. Authors are especially encouraged to submit candid photographs, along with explanatory captions, that contribute to the research narrative.

Dominique Derbigny 

Service-learning involves applying knowledge gained from the classroom to assist others in response to community needs (Robinson, 2009). From national crises relief efforts to local community initiatives, service-learning opportunities were well integrated with the Elon University curriculum.

Located in Elon, North Carolina, Elon University is a small liberal arts college known for its extensive study abroad programs and numerous service-learning opportunities. An astounding 87% of undergraduate students participate in volunteer service at Elon, which has been proclaimed as one of the top three universities in the nation for community service by the Corporation for National and Community Service (Elon University, 2010). During my Human Services studies at Elon, three of my courses each required that I complete 20 or more service hours to receive course credit. These varied service opportunities allowed me to explore learning beyond the classroom setting, expand knowledge of social systems, and address social issues.

I completed my first service experience with E. Bynum Education Center in Burlington, North Carolina. My role was to provide mentorship and leadership for disadvantaged youth, grades K-8 in an after school setting. Though I was nervous and unsure of what to expect, I quickly established rapport with the students. It was empowering to interact with different students, and witness their excitement for having a mentor with whom to communicate. I particularly remember one student who was struggling with his math assignments. For several weeks I devoted additional one-on-one time to this student. I grew extremely proud as he progressed, and his enthusiasm brought a new joy that I had not previously experienced. Unfortunately, a couple weeks after he began making progress, the student’s mother suddenly pulled him from the program. I was devastated because he was beginning to realize his potential, but the director explained that these students often come and go depending on their situation. It was difficult realizing that beyond academic struggles these children often had multiple challenges in their lives. At this point I made a commitment to focus on helping others empower

My second service experience offered an alternative macro level approach; I collaborated with a student peer group to generate a successful fundraiser proposal for a local community agency. Our group selected Girls Inc., of Greensboro, N.C., an agency that empowers young girls to achieve their goals by providing after school activities and summer camps that promote academia, social interactions, and career and financial planning. We coordinated with the director of Girls Inc. to determine agency funding needs, established a fashion show fundraiser involving Girls Inc. members, determined appropriate grants that could be attained, and created a video public service announcement (PSA). The PSA captured client and staff testimony regarding the benefits of the program, and was given to the agency to use for promotional activities. As a Human Services major and Communications minor, it was interesting to bridge the two fields. This opportunity helped me to understand the systems perspective, and I was able to explore linkages between individuals, communities, and organizations as well as connections between disciplines.

A third service-learning opportunity involved using the Mentoring Violence Prevention (MVP) program to communicate with high school freshmen about relationship violence. This was an interesting experience because instead of simply presenting content information about domestic violence my team and I used role-plays and vignettes to facilitate discussions concerning verbal, physical, and sexual abuse. Many students were deeply engaged in the conversation, asking questions and sharing stories about personal experiences. I remember feeling moments of shock that several young students, 14-15 years old, had witnessed or been victims to partner violence. The students completed a pre- and post-test questionnaire to evaluate their knowledge of partner violence, and it was rewarding to review written evidence from the post instrument that students were learning from the program. The data collected was used to evaluate the effectiveness of MVP in comparison to other available violence prevention programs, which gave me an opportunity to compose an evaluative intervention research piece as part of my course work. Through this experience I was able to practice clinical skills of rapport building and empathic listening while also gaining macro- level skills surrounding program evaluation. Although a valuable learning experience, it may have been more beneficial if the project adopted more of an engaged scholarship approach and the data had been used to publish a scholarly paper concerning the MVP program.

Through service-learning opportunities at Elon University I established a strong foundation in human services work. These hands-on experiences fostered my appreciation for helping others and have driven me to become a beneficial contributor to society. I always knew that I learned better from experience, and service-learning afforded the opportunity to practice integrating classroom knowledge with real world application.

These experiences prepared me for graduate school field internships, illuminated the necessity of helping others, and motivated me to become a civically engaged member of society.

Robinson, M. (2009). Strengthening skills and ties through service-learning. Teaching Music, 17(3), 60. Elon University (2010). About Elon University. Retrieved Feb. 23, 2010, from, http://www.elon. edu/e-web/visit/about_elon.

About the Author
Dominique Derbigny is a master’s student in social work at the University of Maryland, Baltimore.


The graduate student editorial board of the Journal of Community Engagement and Scholarship (JCES) invites the submission of original student manuscripts for the summer 2010 issue. JCES is a refereed journal, published three times a year, providing a mechanism through which faculty, staff, and students of academic institutions and their community partners may disseminate scholarly works from all academic disciplines. A goal of the publication is to integrate teaching, research, and community engagement. All forms of writing, analysis, creative approaches, and methodologies are acceptable for the journal. Student research not only bridges the gap between knowledge and experience, but also has the benefit of laying the groundwork for career exploration and development. The opportunity for students to publish in a national journal becomes an added value to their overall educational experience.

Manuscripts that demonstrate central involvement of students and community partners and that advance community engagement scholarship will be given favorable consideration. Manuscripts should be free of racial, religious, gender, ethnic, or any other form of bias. Manuscripts submitted are for exclusive publication in JCES. Submission of a manuscript implies commitment to publish in this journal. Authors submitting manuscripts to the journal should not simultaneously submit them to another journal. Manuscripts should not have been published elsewhere in substantially the same form. Authors in doubt about what constitutes prior publication should consult the editor. Inquiries and submissions should be e-mailed to Jessica Averitt Taylor, assistant to the editor, at jces.ua.edu. At this time, hardcopy submissions are not accepted.

Book Reviews

Dr. Heather Pleasants Book Review Editor
Dr. Heather Pleasants
Book Review Editor

Behringer, B., Bach, B., Daudistel, H., Fraser, J., Kriesky, J., & Lang, G. (2004). Pursuing opportunities through partnerships: Higher education and communities. Morgantown, WV: West Virginia University Press. 277 pages. ISBN 0-937058-93-9 ($45.00).

Reviewed by April Heiselt, assistant professor, counseling and educational psychology and service-learning coordinator at Mississippi State University

When an author writes a journal article, there is often not enough space to discuss a program or event in full detail. The author’s perspective may be shared, and perhaps that of the participants, but not much else, as only highlights or lowlights can be discussed before proceeding to a discussion of the methodology and research results. Unlike a journal article, a book gives the author, and reader, the opportunity to examine a program from multiple perspectives and from varying levels, both within and outside of the university. This is precisely what Behringer et al. accomplish in Pursuing Opportunities Through Partnerships.

Building upon their successful “Community Partnerships for Health Professions Education” program, funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation in 1991, East Tennessee State University (ETSU), the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP), West Virginia University (WVU), and Northeastern University (NU) reunited a second time to “boldly take on an even greater challenge—changing the entire university structure” (n.p.).

In 1996, Kellogg commissioned a study that involved the university presidents from all four institutions. The “underlying charge for the study was to consider if the concept of community-university partnerships that had been previously tested in the health sciences could be expanded and embedded within other units of the general university” (p. 23).

These four institutions formed the Community Partnerships in Higher Education Consortium and were awarded $1.25 million over four years from Kellogg “to form partnerships with cooperating communities using models similar to those established in the health sciences to reach deeper and broader into the expertise of academe with educational approaches based in community issues” (p. 26). The Expanding Community Partnerships Program (ECPP) became the way in which these universities built upon their former

The book begins with an introduction written by Dr. Gail McClure, Kellogg Foundation vice president for programs. McClure illustrates the importance of the ECPP as perceived by the Kellogg Foundation. This is buoyed by the preface written by Dr. Ronald Richards, University of Illinois-Chicago professor and former program director at Kellogg. Their comments about relationships, university-community partnerships, and the learning outcomes obtained through this experience provide the reader with an informal backdrop as to what will unfold in the chapters to come.

Part one is written by three of the editors of the book: Bruce Behringer, assistant vice president and executive director of ETSU; Gerald Lang, provost and vice president for Academic Affairs and Research at WVU, and Jill Kriesky, former director of the Office of Service-Learning Programs (OSLP) at WVU. Behringer, Lang, and Kriesky provide details as to how the presidents of the four institutions worked together to formulate the four program principles: student socialization, faculty reward systems, structured partnership with communities, and interdisciplinary collaboration, that would guide the ECPP community-university partnerships and “promote deep and lasting transformative change to the benefit of both the universities and the communities they serve” (p. 25). Although the four program principles were the same among the institutions, the ways in which they were implemented differed. This is illustrated in the way the rest of the book unfolds.

Just as the ECPP is a partnership, the writing of this book is as well. Parts two through four of the book are written by the faculty, staff, students, and community partners who participated at each of the four institutions. Each part is separated into five chapters. The first chapter is written by the person responsible for the daily operations of the program, and as such it provides the reader with insight into how the ECPP philosophy was perceived and implemented at each institution. Chapters two through four are written by faculty, students, and community partners who provide their perspectives from a programmatic level. The fifth chapter, written by the principal investigator, sheds light on the institutional impact of the ECPP.

While each part of the book is written by individuals from within the same units within an institution (i.e. faculty, students) or even from outside the university (community partners), the experiences are vastly different. This is illustrated by the unique perspectives found in each section of the book. For instance, in part two, chapter one, Dr. Donald R. Johnson, professor of English and former dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at ETSU, shares his concerns about getting his faculty motivated to work on projects involving rural counties. However, after working with the other members of the institutions of the ECPP, he changes his philosophy, acknowledging that “I was still thinking of the University as the area’s reservoir of knowledge and talent, not as a fountainhead charged by the numerous springs, creeks, and rivers that nurtured our region” (p. 41). Later, Johnson shares some of the benefits the ECPP gave to him personally as an administrator, but also in how these partnerships strengthened the local community and the university. The detailing of this kind of reflection and action is a strength of the book, as the stories these individuals share encourage others to make an effort to think outside the box to create successful partnerships in their own neighborhoods.

The WVU perspective is illustrated in part three of the book. Highlights from this section include the way in which students were included as full partners in the ECPP. In chapter one, Kriesky, former OSLP director at WVU, discusses how her institution expanded its office to better facilitate the ECPP partnership. By employing three different strategies the OSLP became the office through which grant resources were distributed. One unique strategy used by the OSLP was to involve the University’s extension department to better reach community partners. This provided opportunities for students to work in service-learning projects with community members who functioned as “real world” instructors. Students were able to act as “legitimate contributors to community projects” and were transformed from ‘knowledge consumers’ to ‘knowledge producers’ through the service-learning experience” (p. 102). This is explored in more detail in chapter three, written by Goss and Prettyman, two undergraduate students, who share information about four service-learning projects and their impact on WVU students.

Part four of the book includes information from Northeastern University. In chapter four, Sandras Barnes shared her experience as a community partner: “As we interacted with the University people over time, we saw that they really listened to us and did not try to impose their ideas on us” (p. 211). As part of the ECPP, all four institutions met at an annual conference. Each year the conference was conducted by a different institution. Barnes reflected on how the university introduced the conference idea to the community partners and how the partners quickly got involved and started working with the university partners to make the conference a reality. Barnes said, “The ease with which we worked together reflected the deep level of trust we had established and the sense of ownership we felt” (p. 211). The inclusion of community partner experiences offers an important perspective that is not always shared at the culmination of a project.

The University of Texas at El Paso’s part five highlights the way in which the community-university partnerships created by the ECPP influenced not only a campus, but also a community at large. One of the book editors, Howard Daudistel, professor of sociology and dean of the College of Liberal Arts at UTEP, shared his perspective on the community of El Paso. His reflections discuss the realities of making change happen within a university campus. Daudistel credited University President Dr. Diana Natalicio with the vision to see how these three elements— “having a vision and articulating it simply, linking change to an institution’s history, and breaking down barriers to collaboration” (p. 258)—could impact the university and the local community in order to make change. Daudistel reminds the reader that “success flows from the commitment and efforts of people—faculty, students, and community members” (p. 262). His comments remind the reader of the importance of the depth of the commitment that is made when creating community-university partnerships.

The final part of the book discusses what occurred when the five-year effort to develop the ECPP came to an end in 2003. In that year, principal investigators from each institution met to share their experiences. These meetings culminated in the production of eight shared “lessons learned” that emphasized the impact of community partnerships within multiple levels of a university, how to sustain these vital partnerships, and the learning outcomes that can be obtained by providing the members of a university with avenues to work within the community. Overall, this book provides the reader with unique perspectives on the realities of a true community-university partnership as experienced by administrators, faculty, students, and community partners. Each part of the book gives first-hand accounts of “aha” experiences, skepticism, challenges, and success stories of the ECPP. The reader will find the book easy to read and will most likely identify with the authors while learning about the efforts made in building and maintaining sustainable community-university partnerships.

Expectations and Realities of Engaged Scholarship: Evaluating a Social Economy Collaborative Research Partnership

Karen Heisler, Mary Beckie, and Sean Markey


This paper examines and evaluates the dynamics of engaged scholarship within a complex community-university research partnership. The British Columbia–Alberta Social Economy Research Alliance (BALTA) brings together academics and practitioners with the goal of advancing understanding of the social economy and contributing to the development of a social economy research network in western Canada. Engagement in BALTA refers to both internal (academic and practitioner research partnerships) and external (research process) project components. Our findings indicate that the structure of the project, dictated in large part by funder requirements and the professional cultures of research participants, greatly influenced the nature and quality of engagement. This paper examines the BALTA initiative and the reflexive and adaptive process it has undergone as it responds to various challenges and seeks to realize the ideals and potential of engaged scholarship.


This case study assesses the successes and challenges of participants in an engaged scholarship project as they navigated the requirements of an academic funding agency and negotiated their shared and sometimes conflicting research objectives and outcomes. BALTA is one of six regional research partnerships established across Canada to investigate the social economy, with five years of funding (2006–2011) from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) of Canada, the federal agency for higher education research and training in the humanities and social sciences across disciplines and all sectors of society (http://www.sshrc-crsh.gc.ca/about-au_sujet/index-eng.aspx).

Created by an act of Canada’s Parliament in 1977, the SSHRC reports to Parliament through the Minister of Industry. These partnerships, collectively referred to as the Canadian Social Economy Research Partnerships, are “made up of university-based researchers and representatives of community-based organizations operating as intellectual partners to create regional nodes (networks) that will conduct research relevant to the social economy in Canada” (SSHRC of Canada, 2006, p. 3).

The BALTA partnership consists of 50 academics and practitioners based in British Columbia and Alberta, as well as nine national and international collaborators, and over 70 student research assistants. In addition to practitioners from a number of different social economy organizations, the academics involved represent a range of social science disciplines.

BALTA’s definition of the social economy includes those organizations animated by the principle of reciprocity in pursuit of mutual economic or social goals, often through social control of capital. This definition would include all cooperatives and credit unions, nonprofit and volunteer organizations, charities and foundations, service associations, community enterprises, and social enterprises that use market mechanisms to pursue explicit social objectives. It would also include for-profit businesses where those businesses share surpluses and benefits with members (and/or the wider community) in a collectively owned structure (for example, a cooperative). For the purpose of our study, this definition would not include entirely grant or donation-dependent nonprofit and voluntary organizations.

Conceptually, the social economy is often considered to be the third sector of the economy, as distinguished from the public and private (for-profit) sectors. The social economy is, however, engaged in a process of continuous evolution and may partner with public and private sectors and, in this way, is founded on the principles of pluralism, reciprocity, and social integration (Pearce, 2003; Neamtan, 2009).

This paper draws upon the literature of engaged scholarship to provide a conceptual framework for our analysis. To organize our findings, we draw upon a three-part framework developed by Schulz et al. (2003) consisting of context, structure, and function. The community-university research model, which emphasizes institutional and community collaboration for mutual benefit, is well suited to an investigation of the social economy. Engaged scholarship is also seen as particularly advantageous in addressing emerging and complex social issues or social movements where knowledge about the subject is fragmented, uneven, or lacking cohesion (Holland and Ramaley, 2008). The social economy is one such case. Despite representing a significant and rapidly expanding segment of the national social and economic infrastructure, the social economy is still relatively poorly defined throughout most of Canada.

Of the six social economy research nodes funded by the SSHRC, BALTA is the only node led by a practitioner organization. The Canadian Centre for Community Renewal (CCCR), a community economic development non-profit organization specializing in resources and expertise to support social economy organizations, serves as the coordinating organization for the research alliance. The CCCR executive director holds the position of principal investigator for the research partnership. The leadership of the research partnership by a practitioner organization has had significant impact on the evolution of BALTA’s administrative and governance structures.

In this investigation of the relationship between structure and function in a practitioner-led research alliance, we explore the boundaries and assumptions framing community-university partnerships and how these are impacting the effectiveness of engagement within this particular case. This analysis provides a glimpse of the experiences of academics and practitioners as they try to negotiate the differences and demands of their professional cultures while also creating a space for genuine engagement. Our goal is to further understand the challenges and potential of community-university engagement to build and mobilize knowledge about emerging and complex social movements.

In the following sections, we will expand upon the definition of the social economy before situating this study within the literature on engaged scholarship. Following these sections, we provide a more detailed description of the BALTA research process and discuss the dynamics of the research and engagement processes and outcomes.

The Social Economy: A Platform for Engaged Scholarship

In 2004, the term “social economy” was officially recognized in Canada in the Speech from the Throne as “the myriad not-for-profit activities and enterprises that harness civic and entrepreneurial energies for community benefit right across Canada” (Governor General Adrienne Clarkson, 2004). In fact, the social economy has been in practice for decades and constitutes a $100 billion activity that has been all but unrecognized by senior levels of government (Fairholm, 2007). Although an exact portrait of the social economy in Canada is still incomplete, there is ample evidence to suggest that it represents a significant and rapidly expanding part of the national socio-economic infrastructure (Neamtan & Downing, 2005).

The social economy is often distinguished from the public and private sector economies on the basis of differences in the organization of production, distribution, and consumption (Lloyd, 2007; Neamtan, 2009). Lukkarinen (2005) writes that organizations and companies within the social economy arise in response to social needs that are not being met by the market or existing government programs. Social economy organizations (SEOs) may have economic objectives, but are not driven by a profit motive; they can, however, have significant job-generating potential, particularly for those who are disadvantaged by the labour market.

SEOs are described in more detail by Brown (2008):

Rooted in local communities and independent from government, Social Economy organizations are democratic and/or participatory, pull together many types of resources in a socially owned entity, and prioritize social objectives and social values. While they may intend to make a profit, they do so in a context that sees profit as a means to meet social goals, not primarily as a means to create individual wealth. They may rely on volunteer labour as well as, or instead of, paid employees. The Social Economy is characterized by mutual self-help initiatives, and by initiatives to meet the needs of disadvantaged members of society.

Given that SEOs tend to be closely linked to the communities in which they operate, often relying on volunteer labour and partnerships with government, labour, and the private sectors (Neamtan, 2009), engagement forms a critical part of social economy development. This emphasis on engagement in the social economy set the foundation for the BALTA partnership.

Engaged Scholarship 

Interest in community-university engagement and partnering has been gaining momentum over the past two decades as part of an evolving discourse on the nature of knowledge, knowledge mobilization, and the role of academic institutions in society. Although relationships between universities and communities have long existed, engaged scholarship represents a partnership that “blends the intellectual assets and questions of the academy with the intellectual expertise and questions of the public” (Holland, 2005, p. 11). Reciprocity and mutual benefit are acknowledged as core elements of engagement (Boyer, 1996; Holland, 2001; Holland and Ramaley 2008; McNall et al., 2009).

Community engagement is the collaboration between institutions of higher education and their larger communities (local, regional/state, national, global) for the mutually beneficial exchange of knowledge and resources in a context of partnership and reciprocity (Carnegie Foundation, 2008, p. 1).

In Canada, recent changes in federal research funding criteria and growing awareness of the concept and benefits of university-community engagement are beginning to transform the way in which academic institutions interact with the larger community. Canada’s three research councils—the SSHRC, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, and the Canadian Institutes for Health Research—specifically target community-university research projects for funding. Driven in part by the availability of funding support, universities across Canada are adopting, and in some cases institutionalizing, community engagement, as noted by Hall (2009). Hall adds that although engagement may not be the “only trend in Canada’s higher education,” it appears to be increasingly significant and it is revitalizing enthusiasm in the concept of universities as a force for the public good (2009, p. 12).

Boyer’s 1990 report for the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, “Scholarship Reconsidered: Priorities of the Professoriate,” is often cited as the seminal piece triggering discourse on engagement in North America (Boyer, 1990). In his report, Boyer critiques the rigidness of academic institutions stemming from the division of knowledge into disciplinary silos and the narrow view of what constitutes knowledge and academic quality. This traditional model of knowledge construction, prevalent throughout most of the past century, is also socially stratified in that academics are viewed as “society’s primary generators and transmitters of knowledge” (Holland 2005, p. 12). Boyer calls for a “reconceptualizing of the relationship between academic reflection and civic involvement” (1990, p. xii), which he describes more fully in “The Scholarship of Engagement” (Boyer, 1996). Over the past two decades, there have been wide-spread dialogue and reflection on the nature of knowledge construction and mobilization and the role of institutions of higher learning. Although much work still needs to be done before engagement “achieves consistency and coherence as an academic activity” (Holland, 2001, p. 1), in North America, agreement is forming around definitions and terminology. Whereas engaged scholarship refers to the process of “doing engagement” (McNall et al., p. 319), the scholarship of engagement is now defined as the process whereby academics and their partners “reflect on, study, write about, and disseminate scholarship about their [engagement] activities” (National Centre for the Study of University Engagement 2008, p. 1).

Sandmann (2008) and Stanton (2008) describe two different perspectives on what qualifies as engaged scholarship. There are those who view engagement as an overarching framework, encompassing a broad spectrum of collaboration and knowledge exchange processes, all striving to create systematic change (Muirhead and Woolcock, 2008; Toof, 2006). Community-based research, participatory research, service-learning, and public scholarship are scholarly methods often identified with this broader view of “institutional civic engagement” (Sandmann, 2007, p. 549). Other advocates of the scholarship of engagement contend that if it is to be a truly collaborative process, it is most accurately and effectively represented by those community-university partnerships that are reciprocal in nature and generate mutual benefits for both academic scholarship and society (Holland, 2005, Gibbons, 2006). To achieve this, Pearce et al. identify the need to “break down barriers between academics and practitioners, encouraging mutual respect and building shared approaches” (Pearce et al., 2008, p. 23).

Currently, there is no unified theoretical framework for engaged scholarship although some analysis has been informed by equity and social change theory (Fogel and Cook 2006, Bringle and Hatchen 2002, Maurrasse 2002). Weerts (2005) applies Havelock’s theory of knowledge flow, and Prins (2006) draws upon social theory on knowledge and power. Knowledge is central to community-university research partnerships, and as Foucault reminds us, knowledge is always contested ground (Foucault, 1980). According to Foucault, what constitutes knowledge, what is to be excluded, and who is designated as qualified to know all involve acts of power. Prins writes that “because power is embedded in all social relationships, individual actions, no matter how well-intentioned, both reflect and alter the power relations among [community-university] partnership members” (2006, p. 3). She cites several studies that illustrate how the expert status of academic institutions maintains a stronghold in specific research collaborations, which allows them “intentionally or unintentionally” to influence the research agenda and control resources (Ibid, p. 3). However, Stoecker (1999) maintains that the project initiator will always retain more power in a research partnership, regardless of whether the initiator is a university or community member. Shragge and Hanley (2006) contend that power imbalances can also be supported by existing research funding policies, and they suggest a need for changes in policy directions.

There is a tendency to place knowledge into distinct categories and positions of dominance or subordination. But knowledge, whether academic or community-practitioner based, is never discrete, uniform, or static. Rather, knowledge emerges out of complex social processes, through “the discontinuous, diffuse, and value-bound interactions of different actors and networks; it is a process of both interpretation and negotiation” (Long & Villareal, 1994, p. 49). Therefore, in supporting the view of engaged scholarship as a social contract for democratizing the knowledge process, we argue that it is necessary to acknowledge and examine social context and relations of power in the process of knowledge construction and mobilization.

A useful framework for investigating the connections between context, structure, and function was developed by Schulz et al. (2003) and adapted more recently by McNall et al. (2009). In this framework, context (identified as environmental characteristics) is seen to have a direct influence on the structural characteristics of the partnership, on the way the partnership works, and also on the types of programs or interventions put in place to guide the partnership. McNall et al. list contextual factors that can influence the structural characteristics of the research alliance: prior relationships and motivations of the partners, competing institutional [and professional] demands, and trust and the balance of power (2009, p. 320). Criteria for successful engagement are also identified by McNall et al. including: shared leadership and resources, two-way communication, participatory decision making and agreed-upon problem-solving processes, mutual respect and benefit, flexibility and innovation, and ongoing evaluation. The ability of a partnership to meet the criteria for engaged scholarship and its targeted outcomes is directly influenced by context, structure, and function. Following the methods section below, we will examine the interrelatedness of these aspects of community-university partnerships and the nature of relationships formed between various BALTA engagement process actors.

Research Methods

The purpose of our investigation was to examine and evaluate the process of engagement in a practitioner-led community-university research partnership. Our case study draws on the results of BALTA’s monitoring and evaluation program (see Table 1). The SSHRC funding agreement requires BALTA to conduct ongoing evaluations of the process, outputs, and outcomes that are then reported back to the SSHRC. BALTA developed a monitoring and evaluation program that included gathering quantitative and qualitative data for reporting to the SSHRC and to gain feedback and suggestions from participants about the development and implementation of the research partnership. Detailed records were collected on the number of participants, types of research outputs, and allocation of funds. Feedback was obtained from practitioners and academics by conducting three rounds of telephone or in-person interviews in late 2007 and via two email questionnaires in the spring of 2008 and the fall of 2009. In addition to these activities, feedback from participants was solicited at each BALTA annual planning forum and a special focus group was conducted with student research assistants in early 2008. The results were reported to the BALTA Steering Committee and used to compile information for the mid-term review and report to the SSHRC in 2008 and to measure the progress and success of the partnership to secure continued funding. Drawing upon the findings of this evaluation process, we explore the dynamics of the BALTA research partnership and the convergence of two professional cultures in order to contribute to a greater understanding of the process of engagement in a practitioner-led community-university research project.

Framing the Partnership

From the beginning, proponents of the BALTA partnership were motivated to create a model of engagement that was genuinely collaborative and would generate both theoretical and practical knowledge about the social economy. In BALTA’s case, the model is at least as important as the specific research that is implemented. From its inception, the intent has been to develop a platform for social economy research that is jointly conceived and prioritized by both practitioners and academics and that addresses the needs of both groups (BALTA, 2008, p. 1).

The work framed by the BALTA partnership is outlined in the following five objectives:

(1) To create an effective network of academics, researchers, and social economy partners in order to sustain the kind of long-term knowledge production and exchange necessary to strengthen and grow the social economy for many years to come.

(2) To understand better the scope and characteristics of the social economy in the region and to contribute to designing measures for tracking its progress.

(3) To assess and better understand exemplary practices, both within and outside the region, and analyze the requirements for their replication and/or scaling up in the region.

(4) To speed the exploitation of knowledge about these exemplary practices in and between both provinces; and

(5) To contribute to the design and development of the social economy infrastructure in British Columbia and Alberta, especially to contribute to defining and promoting policy and regulatory changes and other infrastructure that will support the growth of the social economy (BALTA, 2008, p. 15).

The structure of BALTA was developed to be consistent with a collaborative model of engagement that could meet the objectives identified for the partnership. This structure has been defined and shaped by the dynamic relationships formed among the stakeholders: the funding agency (the SSHRC); the Canadian Centre for Community Renewal (CCCR) serving as lead coordinating organization; academics; and practitioners. Some of these relationships can be viewed as external to the actual research partnership between academics and practitioners, while other relationships are more central or internal to the partnership, as shown in Figure 1.

At the top of the diagram is the vertical level of engagement formed by the administrative relationship that takes place between the SSHRC and CCCR. This hierarchical relationship defines the funding context within which the BALTA research partnership must function and the guidelines to which it must conform, but is viewed as being external to the daily workings of the research partnership. Beneath this level is the internal and horizontal level of engagement formed between CCCR and the practitioners and academics, as well as the relationships forged between individual research partners. CCCR, holds the position of principal investigator and is responsible for managing the research based on the terms and requirements of the funding agreement. CCCR also facilitates and mediates the relationships between the academics and practitioners in order to establish and maintain a collaborative research partnership.

The External Process of Engagement

The external process of engagement consists of the research policies, relationships, and professional cultures that are independent of the research partnership but which have a significant influence over how BALTA is structured and functions. In particular, the overarching context of the SSHRC’s funding policies has framed BALTA’s development.

Despite receiving project approval by SSHRC for five years of funding, CCCR encountered considerable challenges navigating through the terms, conditions, and administrative requirements needed to initiate the project. As a community development organization without academic status or previous SSHRC contract experience, CCCR was required to pass an approval process to qualify as the administrative body for the SSHRC funding (BALTA, 2008). While awaiting the SSHRC’s decision BALTA demonstrated flexibility and innovation by entering into an administrative partnership with a local university, which had approval by SSHRC. This co-administrative relationship allowed BALTA to move forward with planning the research partnership by having the funds channeled through the university to BALTA. As part of this arrangement, an academic co-principal investigator position was established in BALTA for a faculty member from the partnering university.

In 2008, following two years of SSHRC deliberation, CCCR withdrew its application and has continued with the co-administrative arrangement with the partnering university. The academic co-principal investigator position has since been dissolved and the executive director of CCCR has continued the role of principal investigator. In essence, this arrangement has enabled BALTA to run its own administrative duties, with the assistance of a project manager, under the supervision of the steering committee and the principal investigator, with funding from the SSHRC being directed through the partnering university (BALTA, 2008).

The second external process of engagement that surrounds the BALTA collaborative platform is the established professional cultures and networks of both the practitioners and the academics. As the leading government funding agency for social science research in Canada, many of the academic partners have an established history of working within SSHRC’s funding framework and have a shared professional culture of knowledge with the organization. This relationship occurs outside of BALTA and is not mediated by the lead administrative organization. Practitioners, however, did not have a prior relationship with or professional knowledge of the SSHRC’s academic funding policies. Thus, their relationship with the SSHRC has been mediated through CCCR.

As will be discussed below, these external relationships between the funding policies and professional cultures have significantly influenced how BALTA has engaged in the community-university research process. CCCR and the BALTA steering committee have had to navigate these external challenges and move toward creating a successful collaborative research partnership.

The Internal Process of Engagement

Horizontal collaborations among CCCR, academics and practitioners occur within the internal or core of the BALTA research partnership. These relationships also influence the structure and function of the BALTA research alliance, but in a more direct and immediate way than the external relationships described above. The collaborative university-community partnership was created to identify research that would be strong in both theoretical exploration and practical results. To achieve this, BALTA adopted a governance structure that is based on shared leadership and participatory decision-making, and has equitable representation by academics and practitioners. It is comprised of a steering committee, the central governance body in which the principal investigator is the chair, and three thematically defined social economy research clusters (SERCs).

The steering committee consists of equal representation of practitioners and academics. Similar to a board of directors, it is responsible for setting the general directions of the research, establishing policies in line with SSHRC guidelines, and approving research proposals submitted from the clusters. The balanced composition of the steering committee is to ensure equitable and participatory decision-making by representative research partners. This committee and CCCR, as the primary administrative body, are held responsible for transparency and accountability to SSHRC and the BALTA research alliance as a whole.

All research members of BALTA are identified with one of the three clusters that focus on human services and affordable housing; rural revitalization and development; and analysis, evaluation, and infrastructure development. The SERCs are composed of varying numbers of academic and practitioner partners. The role of individual members is to propose and supervise the implementation of the research projects. Each SERC is chaired by an academic and a practitioner. The academic-practitioner co-chairing was an adaptation to the SERC structure introduced in 2008 to ensure the involvement of practitioners in the research projects.

From Planning to Implementation: 

The Challenges of Collaboration

To realize BALTA’s objective of creating a robust research network, three research forums, facilitated by the principal investigator, were conducted between 2006-2008 to identify shared objectives between the practitioners and academics and to design and assess the ongoing research program for each social economy research cluster. The development of the BALTA research program evolved with each forum as new researchers joined the partnership. Feedback from participants reflected concern and confusion about the overall direction of the program.

Here is an example from a BALTA participant in 2007:

Principles of working together need to be defined; there needs to be some clearly articulated game plan with goals, actions, and to do items with roles and responsibilities identified and people to take ownership.

Responses from participants interviewed in the year following, however, reflected a general optimism for the research alliance.

There has been a high degree of respect between both groups and a recognition of skills and interests, high level of commitment and an increased understanding of the needs and expertise and methods. …Really good, starting to come together, respecting the differences between the partners and the different goals that each group has for participating (BALTA participant, 2008).

In general, participants expressed a commitment to integrate the interests and on-the-ground expertise of social economy practitioners with the theoretical foundations and critical analysis of academic research. What facilitated this change in attitude was a growing level of trust and mutual respect developed through individuals communicating and working together. The sharing of leadership and resources was also viewed as fundamental to forming equitable partnerships.

There have been challenges in the early stages in understanding the perspectives and realities of each culture—practitioner and academic—and forging a strategic common perspective and agenda, but learning has occurred and the general assessment was that the second planning cycle, culminating in the approval of 2008-2009 research plans, exhibited a much stronger strategic analysis and united perspective. A greater number of projects are also being co-led by both an academic and a practitioner (BALTA, 2008, p. 2).

As BALTA moved from the planning phase of the research program into project implementation, participants identified other issues that emerged as the collaborative research model was tested. These can be grouped according to four themes: lack of clarity about roles and responsibilities; lack of engagement of all partners; concern over methodology and research quality; and concern about the productivity and output of research projects.

Clarity and understanding of roles and responsibilities was a primary theme throughout all the meeting evaluations, participant interviews, and the student focus group. Although a terms of reference document was developed and made available, confusion over the scope of various roles and their associated responsibilities—who was supposed to be doing what—was a common early criticism of the BALTA partnership. The original design of the SERCs identified two co-chairs and nine to twelve research partners for each cluster. Two of the three clusters were chaired by two practitioners and the third was chaired by two academics. The ratio of practitioners and academics varied significantly between the three clusters, from an equal number of practitioners and academics in SERC 1 to two practitioners and nine academics in SERC 2 to nine practitioners and two academics in SERC 3. The steering committee addressed this imbalance by recruiting and redistributing practitioners and academics more evenly throughout the SERCs and by making changes in the co-chair positions to balance academic and community co-chairs in each SERC.

It became clear that our initial cadre of co-investigators and collaborators, both academic and practitioner, did not include a sufficient number of people with capacity to lead research projects and supervise students. We have recruited new members with such capacity, mainly academics but also some practitioners with research experience (BALTA, 2008, p. 2).

When partners were asked the following year if they had experienced or noted any changes in research clusters functioning, most reported an improvement in communication and organization. These internal structural modifications have not, however, completely resolved the challenge of achieving equal participation in research projects. We have witnessed clear benefits associated with co-implementation of research projects. However, it is also important to recognize the differential capacity of academics and practitioners for engaging in research (time, methodological approach, access to research assistants) such that BALTA has experienced positive collaborations in designing and analyzing research, while leaving the operation of the research process to the academic partners.

It was widely acknowledged by all members that a major obstacle to practitioners fully engaging with BALTA has been the funding policy that restricts direct compensation of practitioner involvement in BALTA. This policy therefore presents a dilemma for practitioners wanting to be fully engage in BALTA research, yet at the same time needing to fulfill their responsibilities as paid staff in community organizations. With the exception of funding for the principle investigator, the SSHRC’s funding polices proved cumbersome and largely inappropriate for community-based researchers. The following comments reflect the frustration of two participants over this issue:

A systematic challenge from the beginning is the structure of the SSHRC funding–it is supposed to be a community and academic program but there is only funding to pay for the academics and students. If we want to have someone from the community participate, they have to do it for free (BALTA participant, 2007).

But it isn’t working related to how SSHRC has set up how the funding is distributed; there is zero incentive for the practitioners to participate because they cannot be compensated for their work and other priorities end up taking precedence (BALTA participant, 2007).

These comments prompted a suggestion in a 2007 BALTA report to the SSHRC for changes in funding policies so as to be more aligned with the goals of equal participation and mutual benefit for academics and practitioners in engaged research projects:

We find that many long established SSHRC policies–for example with respect to funding of community based researchers–hinder the realization of the vision. We have continued to evolve strategies to deal with this challenge, but would strongly encourage SSHRC to consider how to better tailor its operational and financial policies to the aim of effective community-university research collaboration” (BALTA, 2007, p. 1).

As a result of the existing policy structure, the majority of research continues to be conducted by academics and student research assistants. Practitioners report that most of their time dedicated to BALTA has been focused on the identification and design of research projects, with little time and effort afforded for project implementation. This brings into question the expectations and realities of participation in engaged research and speaks to the need for deeper analysis of the impact of funding policies on research partners.

One of the key challenges experienced by academic partners is balancing the professional needs and interests of the community partners with their own professional mandate of ensuring academic research standards. These different and sometimes conflicting agendas have impacted the effectiveness of leadership within the SERCs and the project teams, and consequently, the timely completion of some projects. As mentioned previously, most of the research has been conducted by undergraduate and graduate student research assistants working under the supervision of academic partners. For students without a background in the social economy, it has been challenging getting up to speed on the subject and meeting research expectations within the identified time frame. Particularly during some of the early research projects, the students reported that they were not receiving adequate guidance and support from project supervisors in order to fulfill their research tasks effectively. This led to a revamping of how research assistants were recruited and supervised to ensure that research was carried out with the necessary academic rigor and also within the contracted time frame. Changes in student hiring also included longer contracts and assigning academic and practitioner co-leaders to many projects to ensure adequate supervision of research activities (BALTA, 2008). Involvement of practitioners in research supervision was part of the strategy to increase their participation in the implementation phase.

One participant expressed a concern shared by both academics and practitioners in the overall integration and integrity of the BALTA research program:

We are…nearing the end of the project and attempts at synthesis seem weak. My fear is that at the end of BALTA we will end up with a bunch of fragmented stuff that will have little strategic, practical, or academic value. It will be a website that simply and very quickly becomes out of date (BALTA participant, 2009).

For BALTA to reach its research objectives there is a need to synthesize and present the research findings in formats accessible to both academic and practitioner audiences. The productivity rate in the early stages of the project needed to be improved if the collaborative research partnership was to be considered successful in advancing and mobilizing knowledge about the social economy in western Canada. The 2008 SSHRC midterm review commended BALTA on the collaborative research network it was developing, but raised concerns about how effective the partnership was in generating research outputs. Prior to the midterm review there was a concerted effort to produce and mobilize research results to a broad audience. This did increase the number of academic papers presented at conferences and practitioner-oriented discussion papers, but there were only a small number of articles submitted to academic, peer reviewed journals. In the final year of BALTA funding, efforts are focusing on the completion of all research projects, with targeted outputs for both practitioners (e.g. reports, website development, resource tools) and academics (e.g. journal articles, book projects, curriculum). This reflects the desire to meet academic and SSHRC expectations for academic outputs while also addressing the interests and needs of practitioner partners.

Lessons Learned

In this paper, we have identified and described key internal and external relationships that have defined and influenced the structure and process of engagement in BALTA. This case study raises important questions concerning the disconnect between the goals of engaged scholarship and the realities of institutional funding policies and the collaboration of two professional spheres with different and sometimes conflicting objectives and methodologies. Canada’s research councils’ commitment to funding university-community research partnerships has created a significant and timely opportunity for academics and practitioners to work together on important socio-economic and environmental issues, drawing upon each other’s skills and expertise. These partnerships have great potential to enrich both professional spheres and, in the case of BALTA, have helped to build a greater understanding of the social economy in Canada. However, our analysis of the BALTA experience reveals that there can be significant obstacles to actualizing the ideal of truly collaborative and engaged scholarship.

First, our research shows that restrictive funding policies can limit participation of practitioner research partners, which in turn impacts on the equitable contribution of time and effort that partners can dedicate to the design and implementation of the research program. Funding arrangements thus created a power imbalance within the internal dynamics of the partnership (Shragge & Hanley 2006). As part of their job description, academics are able to dedicate time to research and are also able to expand their involvement through access to SSHRC’s release [from teaching] funding. Although efforts were made in BALTA to maintain a structural balance of academics and practitioners within the SERCs, the involvement of practitioners was limited by their difficulty in accessing release funding in addition to the fact that research was not built into most community participants’ job descriptions and work time commitments. Given these conditions, this type of research partnership severely limits the capacity for the direct engagement of practitioners.

Second, our research reveals that the dynamics of external and internal relationships influence the process of engagement. The unique challenges of BALTA associated with its practitioner-led partnership model underlines the need for continued exploration of not only why engagement is important but also how the process of engagement works, in its various forms. BALTA’s leadership by a social economy organization had a significant impact on the evolution of BALTA’s administrative and governance structures. Although community partners are eligible to lead research programs, they need to undergo a rigorous approval process by SSHRC, which in the case of BALTA significantly impeded progress in the initial phase and required innovative structural adjustments. Hence, this case demonstrates that context and relations of power need to be acknowledged and taken into account if engaged scholarship is to truly fulfill the potential for equal participation and mutual benefit (Prins 2006).

Third, forming a research partnership between two professional cultures with different methodologies and goals is challenging. Common interests may bring the partnership together, but as the BALTA experience indicates, a good deal of time and effort is required to ensure that the research partnership is structured in a way that is sensitive to the context, needs, and objectives of all participants. It is also important to recognize, value, and incorporate the contributions of different participants, for example the formal research expertise of academics with the local knowledge, contacts, and mobilization strengths of practitioners.


This study moves the discourse beyond conventional structures and relations of power of institution-based civic engagement processes to an examination of the impacts of context, structure, and function in a practitioner-led research alliance. We support the view that there is a need to “break down barriers between academics and practitioners, encouraging mutual respect and building shared approaches” (Pearce et al., 2008, p. 23), but contend that changes in funding policies and in the assumptions about research partners’ participation, roles, and responsibilities would help to enable truly engaged and collaborative scholarship. We argue that funding agencies, academic institutions, and community organizations need to realize the value of engaged scholarship by working together to create more concrete and equitable forms of support and engagement. Existing barriers and boundaries of effective co-creation and mobilization of knowledge in the BALTA experience highlight the critical importance of recognizing and examining the diversity of research partnerships forming under the rubric of engaged scholarship.


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The authors thank the anonymous reviewers and the editor for their helpful insights and suggestions about the paper. We would also like to acknowledge the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada for its support of the BALTA project. Thanks to the BALTA research team for five years of engaged scholarship. Finally, thanks to Stuart Wulff, coordinator, BALTA Research Alliance, for his helpful suggestions and contributions to the paper.

About the Authors

Karent Heisler is a Ph.D. candidate in geography at Simon Fraser Universiy in Burnaby, British Columbia. Dr. Mary A. Beckie is an assistant professor, University of Alberta Extension. Dr. Sean Markey is an assistant professor at the Centre for Sustainable Community Development at Simon Fraser University.


Publisher Samory T. Pruitt Vice President for Community Affairs The University of Alabama
Editor Cassandra E. Simon The University of Alabama
Production Editor Edward Mullins The University of Alabama
Editorial Assistant Jessica Averitt Taylor The University of Alabama
Design Intern Antonio Rogers The University of Alabama
Web Producer Andrea Mabry 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 jces@ua.edu or call 205-348-7392. Cover design by UA students Antonio Rogers and Jack Batchelor. 

Editor Board

Marsha H. Adams, The University of Alabama Andrea Adolph, Kent State University Stark Campus Katrice A. Albert, Louisiana State University Theodore R. Alter, Penn State University Robert E. Bardon, North Carolina State University Anna Sims Bartel, Bates College Delicia Carey, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention James D. Cashman, The University of Alabama Jeremy Cohen, Penn State University Jan Cohen-Cruz, Syracuse 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 Susan Scheriffius Jakes, North Carolina State University Phillip W. Johnson, The University of Alabama Lisa M. Hooper, The University of Alabama Rhoda E. Johnson, The University of Alabama Mary Jolley, Community Development, Tuscaloosa, Ala. Kimberly L. King-Jupiter, Lewis University William S. Kisaalita, University of Georgia J. Robert Krueger, Worcester Polytechnic Institute Jay Lamar, Auburn University Hal A. Lawson, The University at Albany, State University of New York James Leeper, The University of Alabama Robert C. Liebman, Portland State University Marybeth Lima, Louisiana State University Hildy L. Miller, Portland State University Robert L. Miller, Jr., The University at Albany, State University of New York Mary Ann Murphy, Pace University dt ogilvie, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey Jacob Oludoye Oluwoye, Alabama A&M University Michael E. Orok, Alabama A&M University Ruth Paris, Boston University Clement Alesander Price, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey 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 L. Steven Smutko, North Carolina State University Lee H. Staples, Boston University John J. Stretch, Saint Louis University John R. Wheat, The University of Alabama Kim L. Wilson, Purdue University Diane F. Witmer, California State University

Dedication to Community Engagement: A Higher Education Conundrum?

Nicole Nicotera, Nick Cutforth, Eric Fretz, and Sheila Summers Thompson


Universities and colleges are increasingly providing internal grants to encourage faculty and staff involvement in community-based research and service-learning projects; however, little attention has been given to the impact of institutional support of these efforts. This qualitative study employed focus group interviews with 17 faculty and staff at one mid-size private research university (high activity) to explore the impact of institutional funding on their professional roles and practice of community engaged work. Findings revealed that community-based projects energized the participants, helped them make their academic work relevant in communities, created formal and informal university-community partnerships, and elevated the University’s public image. However, a conundrum was evident in the tension between the University’s public expression of the importance of community engagement and participants’ concerns that the traditional academic reward structure could jeopardize their long-term commitment to community work. A framework is offered that may assist institutions that are pondering or have already committed to using institutional dollars to support engaged scholarship.


The landscape of higher education has changed as a result of campus responses to calls for greater engagement with communities (Boyer, 1990, 1996; Bloomgarden & O’Meara, 2007; Campus Compact, 2000; Percy, Zimpher, & Brukardt, 2006; Peters, Jordan, Adamek, & Alter, 2005). Community engagement has emerged as an unofficial movement in higher education, with terms such as “the engaged campus,” “civic engagement,” and “the public good” commonly found in institutions’ mission statements (Alter, Bird, & Letven, 2006; Hartley, 2006; Holland 1997, 2001). Within higher education institutions, there has been a proliferation of centers that provide pedagogical, programmatic, and research support for community partnerships, most of which have been supported by institutional dollars and, in a few cases, by large endowments. Nearly 1,200 American colleges and universities are members of Campus Compact. Additionally, community partnerships involving a range of institutions attract substantial grant funding from federal agencies (e.g., the Center for Disease Control’s Prevention Research Centers Program) and other funding sources.

Part and parcel with this changing landscape, the terms “scholarship of engagement” (Boyer, 1996) and “public scholarship” (Peters et al., 2005) are increasingly being used to capture a type of faculty work that has at its core four dimensions of scholarship (discovery, integration, application, and teaching) that simultaneously meet the mission and goals of campuses, as well as community needs. Rather than being limited to the acquisition of grants or the publication of journal articles or books, this expanded concept of scholarship recognizes the diversity of scholarly activity. More significantly, however, the scholarship of engagement challenges the notion that knowledge is generated by academics and then applied in a one-way direction out of the academy. Instead, the scholarship of engagement emphasizes the mutually beneficial relationships between higher education and community partners, the reciprocal connections between theory and practice, the importance of involving students in community-based research, and making scholarly activities relevant and useful for communities, as well as the academy. In their extensive discussion of this type of faculty work, O’Meara and Rice (2005) stressed the importance of “…genuine collaboration [in order] that the learning and teaching be multidirectional and the expertise shared” (p. 28). They also reinforced the need for a nuanced definition of university-community based work in which scholars go “beyond the expert model that often gets in the way of constructive university-community collaboration…to move beyond outreach…to go beyond ‘service’ with its overtones of noblesse oblige” (p. 28).

The ideas of scholars such as Boyer (1996),

Peters et al. (2005), and O’Meara and Rice (2005) reflect excitement as well as tension and confusion within the academy. Individual institutions have defined and operationalized engaged scholarship in unique ways depending on their relative size and mission. In her survey of 729 chief academic officers, O’Meara (2005) discovered that the “majority of the [surveyed institutions] have initiated formal policies/procedures to encourage and reward multiple forms of scholarship over the last decade” (p. 488). Two-thirds of the participants reported revised mission statements, faculty evaluation criteria, financial incentives and/or workload redistribution in order to support expanded definitions of scholarship. Nevertheless, the scholarship of engagement remains a contested mode of academic inquiry that is often simplistically linked to service and outreach missions (O’Meara & Rice, 2005).

This new vista on scholarship has the potential to sustain and reward professors who integrate their teaching, research, and service activities and apply their expertise for the purpose of addressing issues of importance to local communities (Bloomgarden & O’Meara, 2007). However, as O’Meara (2005) discovered, the extent to which this new classification of scholarship is clearly defined and recognized in institutional reward systems is likely to influence professors’ motivation to participate in community engagement activities. For example, adopting this new vista on scholarship takes the faculty member outside the confines of her office, laboratory, or existing data set. Instead it places her into direct interaction with community members and organizations as she collaborates to develop projects that benefit communities and to produce knowledge that has immediate value to community partners and the academic literature. Traditional standards for promotion and tenure accord minimal credibility to engagement and do not account for the extensive time and effort to produce community-based research compared to other research methods (Strand, Marullo, Cutforth, Stoecker, & Donohue, 2003). These traditional standards raise concerns about how engaged faculty will be assessed when the total number of publications is often the unit of measure for scholarly production. This raises a question about equity in the assessment of faculty who expend the extra time and effort to produce research and scholarly products while simultaneously attending to the needs of local communities in comparison to their colleagues whose research activity is centered in laboratory settings or those who apply existing data sets to develop scholarly products. In fact, Richards (1996) notes that faculty, especially untenured faculty, often must choose between creating products that foster career growth and creating a connection between the academy and the community.

A number of scholars have suggested ways for the scholarship of engagement to be considered in promotion and tenure guidelines (Bringle, Hatcher, & Clayton, 2006; Shomberg, 2006; Ward, 2005), and a few institutions have adopted tenure guidelines that incorporate engaged scholarship (e.g., Portland State University) or include outreach scholarship in their annual review processes (e.g., Michigan State University and Pennsylvania State University). The report, “Scholarship in Public: Knowledge Creation and Tenure Policy in the Engaged University” (Imagining America, 2008), includes examples of public scholarship in the arts and humanities and offers strategies that colleges and universities can use to create attractive environments for such work to be conducted and reviewed. Colbeck, O’Meara, and Austin (2008) focus attention on the challenges and rewards facing future professors who integrate teaching, research, and service into their scholarly work. However, there is little empirical evidence to suggest how this broader definition of scholarship is influencing merit reviews and tenure considerations, and even less evidence describing the impact of institutional support on these efforts through grants.

These dilemmas and dearth of evidence inform this study’s quest to understand what happens when an institution commits financial resources to community engaged work and how faculty and staff members respond to that support. In this regard, our study is a specific response to Moore and Ward’s (2010) call for empirical studies into the factors supporting and hindering faculty in their pursuit of engaged scholarship. Our study presents the voices of those who have been awarded institutional funding to connect their research and scholarly products to the community’s needs. Guiding questions include: What effect does funding have on recipients’ understanding of their professional roles aimed toward community engagement? What challenges are associated with their community engaged projects? How does the receipt of these grants influence their scholarly work and experiences of producing that work? What are their perceptions of the benefits that accrue to their community partners? To what extent do they view their work as valued in light of the current culture of institutional rewards? What are the implications of these nascent understandings for institutions that are pondering or have already committed to using institutional dollars to support engaged scholarship? Consideration of these questions in one university may help shed light on the processes by which community engagement is institutionalized in others.

Study Context

In 2001, the University of Denver’s Board of Trustees approved a new vision statement that highlighted the mutual benefits derived from the integration of university resources and expertise with community defined needs. Two years later, an internal funding source (hereafter referred to as The Fund) was established to support faculty and staff in conducting innovative community-based research and service-learning projects. Since its inception, The Fund has provided over $600,000, in annual allocations of $100,000, to faculty and staff engaged in community-based projects and research. These funds are awarded in the form of small grants via a competitive process facilitated by a review committee comprised of faculty, staff, and community members. As a result of this institutional commitment, faculty and staff have developed more than 50 projects in collaboration with community partners. The experiences and perspectives of a sample of these grant recipients inform the content of this study.


Given the limited research on this topic, we employed focus group interviews (Patton, 2002) as a methodology that allowed for open exploration of grant recipients’ experiences in developing and implementing their projects and disseminating the results. This comparison of unique experiences through which participants might expand each other’s and their own perspectives was key for the development of data through which the meaning of conducting engaged scholarship within a traditional academic environment could be assessed.

Sample and Procedures

At the time of the study, 22 staff and faculty had received grants and all 22 were contacted via email and invited to participate in the study. Seventeen agreed to attend one of the focus groups. The 5 recipients who did not participate included 3 who were no longer on campus (1 staff member and 2 faculty members) and 2 others (both faculty) who were unable to attend. The resulting sample consists of 17 participants (9 women; 8 men) who are staff members (25%) and faculty members (75%) from a range of academic units.

Four 90-minute focus groups were conducted, with four to five grant recipients in each group. There was no special arrangement that determined which participants attended which focus group; instead participants attended the focus group that best fit their schedules. The same two facilitators led each focus group and also created the protocol of questions to which participants responded. Each facilitator was experienced in conducting focus groups. This allowed for a standardized focus group interview procedure across all four groups.

The IRB-approved protocol for the focus groups posed questions regarding the motivation for applying for the grants, the community needs their projects addressed, the professional challenges and rewards of accomplishing community engaged projects, the perceived impact of the grants on their teaching and research, and how the funds have influenced the recipients’ thinking about engaged work. All focus groups were audio taped, transcribed, and emailed to the participants for member checking.


Transcripts were loaded onto Atlas-Ti (Muhr, 2004) which is a software program for managing qualitative data. This program is not an automated data analysis system and does not analyze data, nor does it provide any point and click solutions to data analysis. Instead, Atlas-Ti is a data management system that allows analysts to keep careful track of codes and their direct relationship to quotes made by participants. It also serves as an efficient means to review codes and quotes to ensure that resulting themes represent the voices of the participants and not one particular individual or focus group.

Data analysis followed the constant comparative method outlined by Lincoln and Guba (1985), which consisted of four specific steps. During the first step, three of the four authors completed an initial analysis during which the transcripts were examined for in-vivo codes (key words directly quoted from the participants) that responded to the queries in the focus group protocol, which are listed above. This first step in the analysis occurred prior to any discussion among the analysts about the data, as this could falsify the outcome of the second step in the analysis, also known as the process of inter-rater reliability. During this process the in-vivo codes and related quotes deemed appropriate for each of the protocol categories by one analyst were compared against those viewed as appropriate by the two other analysts for either agreement or disagreement among all three analysts. The resulting inter-rater reliability of 75%, as calculated using the Miles and Huberman (1994) formula, indicates a high level of consistency in comprehending the data prior to the development of a code book. Miles and Huberman note that conducting an initial inter-rater reliability in this manner does not usually yield a rate higher than 70 percent.

The initial step in analysis and the inter-rater reliability step were followed by a third step in the analysis. This third step involved a process by which the in-vivo codes were grouped by similarity into categories or themes in order to ensure that the themes aligned with the local language or exact words of the participants (Lincoln & Guba, 1985). For example, qualitative analysts pay specific attention to ensure that the themes they create honor the actual language used by participants. This is integral to confirming that findings are an accurate reflection of the participants and not an artifact of the researchers’ perspectives. The final or fourth step in the analysis involved comparison of themes and related quotes within and between focus groups to assure the representativeness of each theme across all the data for the focus groups. This fourth step ensures that the findings mirror the entirety of the participants and are not an artifact of only one focus group or several participants.


The small sample size and the fact that all of the participants are members of the same university community limit the generalizability of our findings. However, Hill, Thompson, and Williams (1997) point out that in the qualitative tradition, 8 to 15 cases are recommended for establishing whether findings apply to several people or are just representative of one or two people (p. 532). Additionally, in the qualitative tradition, concerns about transferability surmount those of generalization. Thus, readers will want to note the specifics of the research context and make an informed judgment about the degree to which this study’s findings transfer to their institutional situation (Lincoln & Guba, 1985).

The focus groups were comprised of tenured faculty, untenured faculty, and staff members, all of whom held different statuses in the University hierarchy. One of the focus group facilitators was, at the time, the director of the University’s service-learning center. Therefore, it is feasible that some of the focus group discussion was influenced by these power disparities. Finally, two of the focus group participants were involved in the data analysis. These members of the analysis team were careful to bracket their personal experiences as recipients of the grants so that the findings would reflect the experiences of all participants and not reflect the biases of these two analysts (Patton, 2002). For example, these two analysts shared their own views and biases with the entire research team as a means of creating a system of checks and balances as the team compiled and discussed the findings.


Four major themes emerged from the analysis and are discussed below. One of the themes, student learning and development, has been discussed at length in other studies (Colby, Ehrlich, Beaumont, & Stephens, 2003; Eyler & Giles, 1999; McCauley, Nicotera, Fretz, Agnoletti, Goedert, Neff, Rowe, & Takeall, 2011; Willis, Peresie, Waldref, & Stockmann, 2003) and therefore is briefly discussed. Three other themes, 1) development of community partner capacity; 2) expanded professional roles; and 3) community engagement conundrum, have received less attention in the empirical literature and will be discussed at length. The common thread that runs through the four themes is that implementing their grants and seeing their community engaged projects through to fruition was a catalyst for focus group participants to re-envision their roles as instructors, researchers, and members of an engaged campus community.

Theme 1: Student Learning and Development 

Study participants described the impact of their community engaged projects on students as transformative in many ways. This theme describes the impact on students from the faculty perspectives and not from a direct assessment of students. However, the impacts that faculty note mirror those described by scholars who conducted assessments on students involved in community engagement (Colby, Ehrlich et al., 2003; Eyler & Giles, 1999; McCauley et al., 2011; Willis et al., 2003). The focus group participants noted that the undergraduate and graduate students involved in these projects grew in ways they had not witnessed among students in their regular classroom teaching. For example, focus group members highlighted the integrative nature of the community engaged projects in terms of providing students with real-world experiences that took them out of the comfort zone of the academic classroom. Two participants described the one-on-one interviews students conducted with community members:

…[T]his kind of work is transformative [for students]. …[T]his project which brought them out into people’s homes [interviewing] on a regular basis really opened their eyes. …So you can’t underestimate the positive effect on students’ educations.

One of the students in class would go on interviews…and she was really trying to conceptualize the coursework with what she experienced. I think there was a triangulation. Pedagogically, she got a lot out of it.

Similarly, other focus group participants emphasized that students developed broader perspectives about the relationship between the issues they read about in books and articles and the lived experiences of community members who deal with those issues on a day-to-day basis. An ethos of community engagement resulted from these experiences that enabled students to realize their own passion for this type of experiential learning and long-term community involvement. Here are three examples:

I have eager young students who actually have histories of doing service in other ways, so now we want to blend their service with this passion [for their academic discipline].

[S]ervice is simultaneous to our learning.

We’re educating students to go out into the world!

Theme 2: Community Partner Capacity

Development of capacity in community organizations was a prevalent theme that emerged from the analysis. Although the data were not derived from community partner interviews, grant recipients served as valid informants given the intensive nature of their work with the community partners. This theme resulted from participant references to enhancing community organizations’ tools and efficacy and to fostering the organizations’ capability to sustain the original community engaged project and continue the work that had begun. This was an unanticipated benefit for grant recipients, particularly faculty who were rethinking their professional roles and realizing the potential impact of the institutional funding to extend their work beyond the campus and academic journals.

The data that support this theme suggest that community partner capacity was enhanced in tangible ways (e.g., enhanced tools and efficacy) and intangible ways (e.g., the ideas or philosophy engendered by the projects live on in agency culture). The focus group participants provided numerous examples of how community partners enhanced their capacity for leadership through the acquisition of tools and knowledge. These examples from the projects completed by focus group participants include: (1) enduring skills for the creation of potable water in rural villages outside the Unite States; (2) ongoing training programs for early learning center directors; (3) academic research and resource directory/information availability for domestic violence support programs; and (4) ongoing activities to facilitate empowerment and inclusion of typically disenfranchised parents in struggling urban public schools. This concrete capacity is exemplified in the following comment made by a focus group participant who collaborated with an agency whose goal is to develop the leadership skills of early childhood educators:

…[A]t the culmination of our project [our community partners] didn’t want to stop. They wanted to start affecting these critical issues of using our model of strategic, collaborative, and instructional leadership. They wanted to use these tools that they had learned to impact the critical issues that they had identified…in their program.

In this same vein, another participant, who collaborated with a public school whose goal is to engage parents from diverse cultures who do not speak English, noted:

I addressed a need to look at better ways to get monolingual families engaged in schools, and that required that the students do a lot of research and a lot of talking to people about [how] the normal ways like back to school night or PTA weren’t going to work [and] that the [community partner] had to do other things [to engage these families].

Similarly, another focus group participant described how her project enhanced the agency’s efforts to build the academic capacity of the young people it serves:

All of the work [the children] did in [the project] supports the other work of the [agency], which is reading and writing skills and their speaking skills and being assertive and having a voice.

In addition to these tangible changes, community partners’ capacities were enhanced by shifts in understanding their work and its impact. For example, one participant pointed out, “The seed is planted and grows; ideas live on.” Another noted the excitement of the children who took part in the project and its effects on them:

I look at these two goals of my project as sustainability of the long-term [service] to the community as nice, but really the most impact that I see is from the children; they get engaged, and they get excited about science and really have an awareness about the environment around them.

Theme 3: Expanded Professional Roles 

The theme, expanded professional roles, applies mostly to faculty but also, to a certain extent, the staff members. It represents the integration of the traditional expectations of faculty and the ways in which their professional opportunities and goals are expanded by their engagement with the community. This integration surfaces in the genuine excitement of faculty who are involved in these projects, but also raises awareness of the challenges of working in the real life of community organizations. Participants expanded their professional roles by embedding their disciplinary expertise and personal interests, passions, and identities with needs that exist beyond the campus.

The community engaged projects of both new and more experienced participants enabled them to better understand gaps and opportunities in services for marginalized groups, and to better understand their own professional roles. One study participant who was new to the University used his grant to connect his academic work to the GLBT community. Another participant, who was new to higher education, noted that the grant provided an opportunity to undertake a line of community-based research that might otherwise have been left until later in her career. Additionally, this participant pointed out the lessons she learned about community organizing as a byproduct of her community engaged project. On coming to the University, she had not expected to find a link between her scholarship and community organizing. However, as a result of the grant, she is now interested in developing an academic program in community organizing.

A more seasoned participant, for whom the personal and professional aspects of community engagement “are very much intertwined,” stated that his community-based research projects have “earned the trust of community folks which has meant that [the local community] has ended up being an incredible career home for me.” However, for another participant with established roots at the university, The Fund sparked a new interest in connecting his academic interests to the community. He stated, “Until this project, I hadn’t had the opportunity to do a job with roots in the community and to get directly involved.” Similarly, another participant felt that his community engaged work enabled him to grow professionally. Labeling himself an advocate for making “academic research real [by] getting down and dirty to make it credible,” the grant provided him with the opportunity for “personal education and long term retooling.”

For other participants, whose previous occupations or professional experiences were community- or school-based, the funding provided the opportunity to re-connect with important practical social and educational issues outside the university. This connection to their roots took various forms. For example, one participant stated:

One of the personal rewards is knowing the kids. Before my doctorate I was directly involved in serving kids and families. So to have that connection and be in academia is just amazing. It allows me to stay connected to the subject matter that I teach. You lose that [hands-on practice experience] if you are a full time faculty member.

Similarly, another participant welcomed the chance to return to a familiar environment, the public schools. She enjoyed “getting to go back to a school and feel a part of it at some level. As a [former] school psychologist, now a professor, I miss feeling part of a school.” Other study participants, who had not previously worked in community oriented professions, noted that they gained a better understanding of the challenges that face community partners, an understanding that likely would not have occurred without the grants that allowed them to be engaged in the community and expand the perceptions of their professional roles in higher education. As one said:

It keeps me honest. Even though we have the same stated goals, I can easily lose touch as I hang out with just other academics.

However, the focus group participants’ expanded professional roles also involved several challenges that arose from the unpredictable and labor-intensive nature of interfacing with community partners. The data from the focus groups indicate that these included listening to the community, understanding and meeting community needs, establishing and maintaining relationships, and managing projects even when it was not clear if the community organization being served would be functioning beyond several months time. For example, one participant’s project with Latino/a parents in a public school was undertaken under the cloud of the school’s possible closure. Hence, the project was developed and implemented in an unstable environment in which the faculty member leading the project, the public school personnel, and the parents were unsure if the school district would close that particular school prior to the end of the academic year. Another participant further expands on this idea:

…[C]ommunity organizations…are not stable in the way that we think of research topics…we have seen massive leadership changes in terms of the project… . You have to reintroduce yourself, reintroduce the project, people have new ideas; even the directors and the communities change.

Additional challenges of the expanded role theme were described by participants who juxtaposed the time commitment required for developing, implementing, and disseminating traditional research projects with the enormous time commitment involved in completing the same process for community engaged projects. The following comment is typical:

…[M]eeting fifteen hours a week in the community … over two hundred and fifty hours of observations… and that’s on top of one hundred [hours] of interviews. So, it has taken over my own life as a second-year faculty. It’s taken over almost everything I was doing.

In summary, the expanded roles theme provides empirical evidence for the current conceptual literature (Franz, 2009; Judd & Adams, 2008), which indicates that community engaged projects require multiple, ongoing, and open channels of communication and power sharing between University employees and community partners, as well as the authentic interchange of ideas, histories, and understandings. While this requirement takes faculty outside of their traditional roles as academics, participants described the positive relationships that developed through their collaborations with community partners.

Theme 4: Community Engagement Conundrum

The data from the focus groups also support a fourth theme labeled Community Engagement Conundrum. Quotes from the focus groups that portray this theme represent an unpleasant riddle for faculty who become enamored with community engagement. On the one hand focus group participants noted the excitement generated by the University’s allocation of internal funds to develop community engaged projects as well as the passion they developed as a result of implementing the grants. However, on the other hand, in the aftermath of their completed projects and recognition of the added time and energy required to complete them (see Theme 3, Expanded Professional Role), the focus group participants voiced apprehension about how to continue community engaged work in a context of working to attain promotion and/or tenure, which requires more rapid production of research and publication than community engaged work allows. Quotes from the focus group participants that represent this experience are presented next.

The following exchange between three focus group participants highlights one aspect of the community engagement conundrum with the first two participants speaking positively about their experience but the third introducing a huge caveat:

(Focus group participant 1): …I liked being out there more because it keeps me honest, sort of helps me understand better what the community need is. … So, I think it’s good for us, as social scientists, to be reminded of how people actually live.

(Focus group participant 2): It is very beneficial for the kind of personal education and long-term retooling of your typical scholar.

(Focus group participant 3): “…There is actually disincentive, I think, perpetuated for doing community-based research. And so it’s not even just that there’s not support for us, but there are actually barriers to doing it; …as junior faculty there’s other costs too: it is not valued in the reviews.

Another perspective on the conundrum is suggested by this participant’s statement:

We have been [in the community] consistently and [they] recognize us as representatives of [the university]…there [are] gains to the university’s reputation…I hope that the university can make the choice that the kind of research that’s in the community, where we’re actually going to people’s houses [and] are actually showing up and looking at agencies’ practice…it’s still valuable.

The next three comments suggest a positive side of the conundrum equation, while reinforcing the importance of internal funds for community engagement:

[The funds mean] that the administration is putting something behind those words [to make community engagement as noted in the University mission statement]…a reality.

An important message that I got from the [funds] was that there is university support to do this, and that community service can be a sanctioned part of my role.

[My] project helped me realize that I could combine what I am passionate about, in terms of working in the community, with students learning in a more intensive way than I get in a large classroom of 30, [with] scholarly work, so that I really could make all those three [research, teaching, and service] come together.

However the hesitancy suggested in the following quotes tempers the positive side of the conundrum noted above. One participant stated:

…[S]ay you publish something that might have a community contribution or publication to an agency or an entity [but it] doesn’t count as a peer-reviewed journal; that’s where we get bogged down, somewhere in the curriculum or portfolio they’ve got to count for something. I think it’s a crucial responsibility of the university to make these kinds of contributions, but if we don’t get rewarded for it…and where we are talking about publish or perish, we’re talking about trying to get tenure…that’s a reality of our lives.

Another participant was even more direct about the intricacies of the conundrum when he stated

…[T]he elephant in the room still remains promotion and tenure…I am not even that optimistic…that can be addressed.

The following quotes by two participants from the same focus group pointed out a tension beyond the concern about publish or perish just noted.

(Focus group participant A) I wanted to use [the grant] to meet the community’s identified needs. …I have this other personal/professional agenda of needing to publish and to create scholarly work…how do I manage those two, is there a way to manage those two? I am trying to figure that out.

(Focus group participant B) There is a tension between doing and writing about doing in this work… It’s not impossible to do, but …the momentum can take over very quickly and then stepping back… if you’re going to write about it, it’s going to come out of your hide.

Other participants, spread across the four focus groups, discussed their perspectives on the challenging aspects of the conundrum. One expressed concern about whether or not the broader academic world views community engaged work and scholarship as research when he stated:

I think the real challenge is to the values to the academic world and the emphasis on research, and what is meant by research.

Another focus group participant raised concerns about how an absence of community engagement will perpetuate isolationism within the academy when she stated:

At the danger of being isolationist on two levels, the university level…not being part of the community, and at the disciplinary level that we only stay within our own and only give to our own and that kind of deal…I think that’s a critical piece that’s…again, it’s a choice that I think the larger university has to [make]… is this something that we’re going to support and provide the time and the recognition…that concerns me the most.

Finally, another participant posed the following question, which combines both the positive and negative aspects of the conundrum:

…[L]ong term, what are the consequences of these involvements [in the community], and is it something that while it creates a great amount of community engagement at the same time, maybe it will [also] contribute to promotion and scholarship?

In summary, Theme 4, the community engagement conundrum, represents both internal and external conflicts for the study participants. Internally, study participants noted a tension within themselves between balancing the time needed for “doing” community engaged projects and the time for “writing” about the results of these projects. Participants also discussed external conflicts or tensions between themselves and (1) academic culture (e.g., what is viewed as research among national colleagues) and (2) university expectations (e.g., producing publications in a timely manner).


The findings reveal the manner in which institutional funds and the subsequent community engaged projects influenced focus group participants’ perceptions of: 1) community partner capacity; 2) effects on student learning; 3) their own professional roles; and 4) the value of their community engaged work in the academy. Taken together, the four themes indicate that participants developed a passion for community engaged work while simultaneously uncovering a tension between the work and meeting traditional academic standards for what counts as research and scholarly publication. The expanded professional roles theme and the community engagement conundrum theme provide the most effective demonstration of this tension.

The four themes echo current discussions among community engaged scholars from other institutions, most notably via the Community- Campus Partnerships for Health listserv and website (http://www.ccph.info/). The findings also provide an empirical base for the conceptual literature that notes the benefits (Gelmon, Lederer, Seifer, & Wong 2009) and tensions (Blanchard, Hanssmann, Strauss, Belliard, Krichbaum, Waters, & Seifer, 2009) of community engaged projects and scholarship and thus may have relevance for professors and administrators who are committed to creating a culture of engaged scholarship at their institutions. The authors compiled these findings from this study to propose a framework that represents a potential progression from financial support for community engagement toward a path of institutional change on the one hand or toward maintenance of the status quo on the other hand (see Figure 1; phases are italicized in this section for the reader’s convenience). This framework may be helpful to institutions that are pondering or have already committed to using institutional dollars to support engaged scholarship. In fact, audience members at a conference presentation of these findings noted enthusiastically the relevance of this framework for understanding their own institutions’ paths toward community engagement (Fretz, Cutforth, Nicotera, & Summers Thompson, 2007). The framework is discussed next.

While it is conceivable that a college or university could begin the phases of this framework at any point, often the first step is grounded in an institution’s vision and mission. For some institutions, this may mean revising the vision and mission to support community engaged work; for others it may mean operationalizing an existing mission statement. Initiating the framework at this step is in line with Holland’s (1997, 1999, 2001) findings on the role that vision and mission play in engaged institutions. Our study illustrates Holland’s (1999) assertion “that adoption of a well-articulated and broad level of commitment to community engagement as an aspect of mission creates organizational and individual needs that institutions must respond to through appropriate changes” (p. 62).

The framework suggests that vision and mission matter; however, the findings of this study indicate that vision and mission are the tip of the iceberg. For example, as campuses operationalize a vision of community engagement through incentives such as grants for community-based projects, a significant challenge remains for those that aspire to mainstream community engagement. This challenge includes: 1) fostering a campus-wide conversation on how community engagement aligns with the institution’s central identity; 2) enacting the institution’s engaged vision so that the community views faculty, staff, and students as approachable collaborators; and 3) valuing engaged scholarship as a criterion for assessing the success and merits of faculty, staff, and students. As the findings of this study demonstrate, once an engaged vision is explicitly stated and supported through internal grants, the complexity of concretizing it only increases!

The findings further suggest that modest investment in grants for community-based projects will set in motion a cycle of faculty transformation. Faculty’s expanded professional roles enhance the relevance of their academic work to communities, create formal and informal university/community relationships, and elevate the institutions’s image. However, the resulting heightened expectations for these expanded roles may result in a push back by traditionalists. As the framework implies, when there is tension between an institution’s vision for community engagement and its traditional criteria for ascertaining merit, faculty and staff may feel an internal and/or external pressure to choose between community engagement and successfully navigating the merit and reward systems of their institutions.

It is this pressure, most notably expressed in Theme 3 (expanded professional roles) and Theme 4 (community engagement conundrum), that reveals the struggle that many institutions may face in the aftermath of operationalizing a vision for community engagement through incentives to collaborate with the community. In other words, vision and incentives for community collaborations do not necessarily equate with a college or university being prepared for the resulting benefits and challenges. The final phase of the framework suggests two possible institutional responses that fall on senior academic officers who make decisions regarding the support and development of engaged scholarship. In the framework, these decisions are referred to as status quo and dynamic responses.

The status quo response involves senior academic officers speaking publicly about the university’s engaged mission and distributing incentive grants to faculty interested in community projects. While this may result in several high quality projects each year, this kind of work is unlikely to be sustained because faculty discover that the time required for successful community engagement may put them at odds with the traditional criteria by which their work is valued and rewarded both by their campus and their individual discipline. Potential consequences of this response include the allocated funds going unused due to fleeting involvement and possible withdrawal from engaged scholarly work in favor of conducting research that results more quickly in publications highly valued in traditional academic culture. Hence, this status quo response may result in a vision and mission without action. In turn, community expectations of the university will be dashed, and the university will remain as an ivory tower. This coincides with O’Meara’s (2005) point that without institutional rewards, professors will be less motivated to participate in engaged scholarship.

The dynamic response demonstrates full institutional support for engaged scholarship. In this scenario, when colleges and universities begin to develop a vision for an engaged campus, they proactively collaborate with faculty to create supportive reward structures that encourage a more inclusive and diverse view of scholarship. Such a response regards engaged scholarship projects as a type of research scholarship, and not as a part of the lesser “service” category. This response would acknowledge the contributions of engaged scholarship, both to the intellectual life of the university and to the quality of life in the local community. While publications would remain a factor in merit decisions, additional credit could be amassed for those who conduct engaged scholarship. This additional credit would accrue from the extended effort and time required for conducting research that not only results in publications, but also produces positive change for community members and an enhancement of the reputation of the university within the community. The likely result of this dynamic response is a continuation and deepening of engaged scholarship with concomitant benefits for the university and community. Hence, the institution moves toward its vision of becoming a community engaged campus.

In conclusion, the framework has implications for higher education institutions as they chart their desired futures in ways that are consistent with their vision and mission (Eckel, Hill, & Green, 1998). When they commit to scholarship for the public good and energize faculty and staff by providing funds as part of that commitment, they can expect the production of useful research and publications as well as mutually beneficial campus-community partnerships. However, much more institutional work needs to be accomplished in order for a university’s vision to become a reality. In short, while a vision statement combined with funding provides incentives for faculty and staff members to conduct engaged scholarship, a crucial step is for institutions to reward those endeavors in promotion and tenure reviews in order to sustain public good work in the long term. We invite colleagues from other institutions (public, private, comprehensive, liberal arts, community colleges) to critique the framework and add to the empirical evidence for understanding this process by exploring these and other questions:

• How do faculty and administrators work together to expand and deepen their institutions’ commitment to community engagement and engaged scholarship?

• What types of changes occur when campuses connect with their communities?

• How are these change processes initiated and sustained?

• Are these changes superficial and peripheral to teaching, learning, and research, or do they reshape institutional practices and purposes?

• What do they mean for the potential of higher education to take on the issues and problems of our time?


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About the Authors

Nicole Nicotera is an associate professor in the Graduate School of Social Work at the University of Denver. Nick Cutforth is a professor of research methods and statistics in the Morgridge College of Education at the University of Denver. Eric Fretz is an assistant professor of peace and justice studies at Regis University in Denver, Colorado. Sheila Summers Thompson is the associate vice president of Academic Affairs at Metropolitan State College of Denver.

Editor’s Message: JCES Steadily Improving its Position

Cassandra E. Simon, Editor

As editor, and on behalf of the editorial board and local production team, I proudly present the second issue of the Journal of Community Engagement and Scholarship (JCES). Since release of the inaugural issue in fall 2008, JCES finds itself better positioned to fulfill its vision of providing the premier venue for advancing authentic engaged scholarship. Response to the journal has been tremendous.

In talking with editors of other journals, I have learned that the number of manuscripts submitted to JCES is above average for a new journal. This leads me to thank the editorial board and reviewers, whose generous donation of time ensures the journal’s academic integrity. JCES would not be possible without them.

Inaugural issue feedback was overwhelmingly positive, with readers using such words as “innovative,” “wonderful,” “refreshing,” “excellent,” and “impressive.” At the 2009 Gulf South Summit on Service-Learning and Civic Engagement through Higher Education hosted by Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, JCES was the focus of a roundtable discussion arranged by editorial board member Richard L. Conville of The University of Southern Mississippi and led by Meta Mendel-Reyes, director of Service-Learning at Berea College. The program drew the largest number of pre-registrants of any roundtable. The overall summary from the roundtable strongly supported JCES, with roundtable participants specifically mentioning and appreciating “inclusion of student and community partner voices.”

Recognizing a quality product when it sees one, the highly respected University of Alabama Press has taken on marketing and distribution of JCES. Its partnership with the University of Chicago Press will increase visibility and accessibility of the journal, especially by increasing circulation in libraries and with professional associations. This increased circulation and visibility will serve not only to expand our readership, but also to increase our influence in the world of engaged scholarship as JCES moves toward quarterly publication.

Adding to JCES’ visibility, an interview with production editor Ed Mullins was published in the Spring 2009 newsletter Imagining America: Artists and Scholars in Public Life. On the international front, Mullins and I, along with publisher Samory Pruitt, will be on a program at the Ninth International Research Conference on Service-Learning and Community Engagement in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada in October. JCES will also be on display at the National Outreach Scholarship Conference in Athens, Georgia, September 28-30, and at the Imagining America Conference October 1-3, in New Orleans.

The current issue of JCES reflects the diversity present in engaged scholarship. You will find insights from Gulf Coast researchers staying their course during Hurricane Katrina; a practice piece on the poetic arts in a prison setting; research gleaned from 20 years of service-learning at a prominent college of medicine; an insightful commentary and review of civically engaged scholars swimming against the academic tides to fulfill personal and community goals; and senior and junior scholars seeking ways to learn research while practicing service-learning. And we get all of this as well as innovative research from the field and perceptive book reviews. Community and student voices are once again present, stressing the importance of acknowledging and understanding what their expertise contributes to our mission.

Just as the specific manuscripts and topics in the journal are diverse, so are their methodologies, presentations, and writing styles. We recognize the need to accommodate the diversity of disciplines and approaches reflected in engaged scholarship and the need to be accessible to lay readers, while maintaining a level of quality that will keep JCES on the radar of the nation’s best engagement scholars. This issue demonstrates this awareness and provides something of interest to a wide variety of readers.

As always we welcome your insights, suggestions, and feedback. Send notes to jces@bama.ua.edu. You may remember from the first issue that I said that, by definition, JCES is not completely charted, and we look to you, our readership, to help us shape it into what community engagement needs. I remain excited about JCES and its potential and am looking forward to seeing what future issues have in store. I hope you are too.

About the Editor
Cassandra E. Simon, from Lake Charles, Louisiana, is an associate professor of social work at The University of Alabama. Her Ph.D. is from the University of Texas at Arlington. She can be reached at csimon@bama.ua.edu

Navigating International, Interdisciplinary, and Indigenous Collaborative Inquiry

Olga Ulturgasheva, Lisa Wexler, Michael Kral, James Allen, Gerald V. Mohatt, and Kristine Nystad


This report describes how multiple community constituents came together with university researchers to develop a shared agenda for studying young indigenous people in five international circumpolar communities. The paper focuses on the setup and process of an initial face-to-face methodological planning workshop involving youth and adult community members and academics. Members of Yup’ik, Inupiat, Eveny, Inuit, and Sámi communities from Siberia to Norway participated in the workshop and engaged in negotiations to arrive at shared research interests. This was essential since the ultimate goal of the research is translational and transformative, spurring social action in communities. Describing the beginning stage of this project and the underlying participatory methodology offers insight into how the approach engaged community members with varying degrees of sustained interest and practical success. It, therefore, articulates a methodological approach for international community-based participatory research.

Community-based participatory research (CBPR) promises to bridge the gap between research and practice, and extend the benefits of both. This is particularly important in indigenous communities that are often the subject of researchers’ scrutiny but too rarely reap direct benefits from the research process (LaVeaux & Christopher, 2009). This paper describes the first phase of an international, interdisciplinary CBPR study of indigenous resilience in the Arctic. The project builds on and extends local understandings of Alaskan Inupiaq and Yupik, Canadian Inuit, Norwegian Sámi, and Siberian Eveny people by bringing them into dialogue with international perspectives from youth and adults from these five different communities. The paper recounts the development of the project and how the process worked with varying degrees of sustained interest and practical success. It articulates a methodological approach for international CBPR.

The aim of this project is to document indigenous understandings of resilience in circumpolar settings. This is of intense interest to participating communities and important to the academic literature. Rapid social change has dramatically affected the political, cultural, and economic systems of circumpolar indigenous peoples. The impact of a shared colonial history and contemporary social suffering among indigenous communities in the Arctic has been extensively documented over decades of Arctic social science research, most recently in the Arctic Human Development Report (2004) and the Survey of Living Conditions in the Arctic (2007). More recent directions in the literature considered the protective value of community and cultural factors in the lives of young indigenous people. This research links indigenous resilience and well-being with cultural continuity, enculturation in the culture of origin, and community control and action (e.g. Allen, Mohatt, Fok, Henry, & People Awakening Team, 2009; Chandler & Lalonde, 1998; Kral & Idlout, 2009). These studies identify a connection between positive outcomes, or resilience (the ability to overcome acute and cumulative stressors), and the successful negotiation of indigenous and dominant cultural expectations. However, they fail to provide a coherent understanding of how this is done in adolescence. The project attempts to generate new insights into how rapid social change is manifested in the moving expectations and challenges young indigenous people face in worlds much different from that of their parents and grandparents. This study aims to understand how these youth negotiate these difficulties as they become adults.

To investigate indigenous youth resilience, the project focuses on pathways to adulthood in five indigenous circumpolar communities: Northeast Siberia (Eveny); Northwest Alaska (Inupiat); Southwest Alaska (Yup’ik); Nunavut, Canada (Inuit); and Norway (Sámi). The research aims to describe how young people understand and respond to the challenges they face, and to portray the contexts that give rise to them. The study aims to explore youth resilience within categories of kinship and relatedness that are core to circumpolar indigenous cultures (e.g., Bodenhorn, 2000; Briggs, 1998; Brody, 2001; Condon, 1990; Kerttula, 2000; Nuttall, 1992; Vitebsky, 2005). To gain a culturally grounded picture of how indigenous youth negotiate tensions of rapid social change, we intend to elicit the experiences, meaning systems, and cultural contexts using collaborative discursive processes (Wexler, Dufulvio, & Burke, 2009). This focal point came from many years of collaborative research in the participating communities.

The project embraces a CBPR perspective defined as:

a collaborative process that equitably involves all partners in the research process and recognizes the unique strengths that each brings. CBPR begins with a research topic of importance to the community with the aim of combining knowledge and action for social change to improve community health and eliminate health disparities (Minkler, Blackwell, Thompson, & Tamir, 2003, p. 1210).

All of the academic researchers involved in the study have a long history in their host community. Each of the four non-indigenous university researchers has over a decade of collaborative research experience with their respective communities, while two of the university researchers are indigenous and working with their home communities. These previous CBPR relationships have enabled researchers to engage local people more fully in the research process and with a tone of shared respect (NAHO, 2007; Smith, 1999). Community member involvement ensures that local, situated knowledge guides research and informs the production of knowledge, and communities are invested in (and in joint control of) the outcomes from it.

CBPR and participatory action research (PAR) developed out of collective action for social justice, much of it taking place outside of academic settings (Brydon-Miller, Kral, Maguire, Noffke, & Sabhlok, in press). Rather than being a particular research method, it is a relational method of sharing power in the research process from beginning to end, a decolonizing method of collaboration and respect (Kidd & Kral, 2005). Many indigenous communities have had bad experiences with researchers who have studied their lives and then never returned or brought anything back to the community that might be helpful (Smith, 1999). CBPR and PAR are ways of doing research that have become acceptable, even required, in indigenous communities (Cochran et al., 2008; Holkup, Tripp-Reimer, Salois, & Weinert, 2004; LaVeaux & Christopher, 2009). In the United States, a tribal participatory research model has been developed that emphasizes the inclusion of community members and the social construction of knowledge (Fisher & Ball, 2002; Fisher & Ball, 2003). Such tribal participatory research has been conducted on topics ranging from health (Manson, McGoughh, Henderson, & Buchwald, 2007) to environmental justice (Minkler, Vasquez, & Tajik, 2008) and water quality (Crescentia, et al., 2010). Internationally, numerous indigenous organizations, commissions, and health research groups have developed ethical principles of research that include indigenous community participation as standard practice (American Indian Law Center, 1999; Australian Health Ethics Committee National Health and Medical Research Council, 2005; Canadian Institutes for Health Research, 2007; National Aboriginal Health Organization, 2007; National Health and Medical Research Council, 2003; Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, 1993), and several researchers have highlighted these ethical standards for work in indigenous communities (e.g., Castellano, 2004; Trimble, 2009).

Although there have been some examples of successful university-indigenous community partnerships (e.g. Mohatt, et. al, 2004; Kral & Idlout, 2006; Wexler, 2006), the practice of doing truly participatory research remains murky. It is particularly unclear how to facilitate and manage a large-scale international research project that actively engages diverse groups. Very little description of methods of community participation exists to guide the researcher in international research. This is particularly difficult with the variability of colonial timelines, sequences and details of colonial experience, differing contemporary national social policies, and critical cultural and linguistic distinctiveness. By describing details of the process of our participatory, international collaboration, this paper will identify benefits (and drawbacks) of one particular approach. More specifically, we will discuss the participatory research process we implemented as it unfolded in the first year of the project, which concluded with an international, face-to-face workshop. We concentrate on the work during this first year, as it has proven crucial and formative to the quality of the cross-site data we are now collecting, and more importantly, to the nature of the community co-researcher relationships that we have now established, relationships that will outlive this project.

The international workshop aims were: to (1) develop platforms to negotiate across indigenous communities, age groups, and researchers and to use them to agree on decision-making protocols for a circumpolar research program focused on indigenous youth resilience; (2) identify consensual research questions on common stressors, resources, and developmental trajectories shaping resilience strategies in the circumpolar north among young people; and (3) link imposed social change and diverse cross-national social policies to stressors and resilience strategies of young people across sites. Basically, the research meeting between youth, adult, and elder community members and researchers established a shared set of research questions and data collection strategies to use in the circumpolar study. Moreover, the meeting was intended to provide indigenous youth and adults from each community with an opportunity to articulate their own social experiences while encountering and communicating with people from other field sites. This exchange was essential for facilitating community member participation in the cross-site study. In addition, the workshop was meant to generate new ideas about how to pursue collaborative inquiry across cultural, national, and disciplinary boundaries.

Developing Local Oversight, International Representation and Scientific Integrity

In this first phase of the study, each community established a Local Steering Committee (LSC) to guide the research from start to finish. The LSCs developed local research questions to structure the research in an emic (intracultural) way. The international workshop was intended to bring members of the LSCs together to arrive at a consensus around a shared core set of cross-site research questions. The local questions, then, needed to be modified in order to fit with the ecological frameworks across all the participating sites. Lastly, the university researchers were responsible for a research process and questions that were scientifically defensible, met sponsor expectations, were feasible, and could be accomplished within the time constraints of the study.

Though not the primary focus of our discussion, university researchers from diverse disciplines and cultural and ethnic backgrounds also were required to forge common ground through a merging of different perspectives. In this way, the experience of the university researchers, by virtue of their composition of indigenous and non-indigenous researchers from North American and European perspectives, mirrored processes that unfolded when working with (and translating between) circumpolar indigenous communities in the participatory study. This interdisciplinary approach required the academic research team to think outside of their respective disciplines (clinical, community, and cultural psychology; public health; social work; medical and social/cultural anthropology; and education) in order to compromise and come to a shared approach. This is something each university researcher had already been doing in terms of collaborating with communities, but for this study we had to come to consensus on method from different epistemologies, synergistically merging them into something larger, and different, from any of the component disciplines.

Pre-Workshop Activities: Creating Space 

for International Collaboration

In order to initiate this process of international collaboration, the team of university researchers and LSC members (including youth) in each community helped develop the circumpolar workshop agenda to reflect their communities’ perspectives and local interests. Several months before the workshop, the LSC from each community selected one adult and two young people from the communities to travel to this first international research workshop at the Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge. Selection of workshop participants involved local variations of a community nomination process. One site conducted a formal essay contest in their middle and high school, with the winners traveling to the workshop. Other sites nominated young people who best represented their community or who had promise and would benefit from the international experience. There were nine young people selected to attend the workshop, and as will be discussed later, only one of the selected youth was male. All the participating communities sent two young people, except the Siberian site where only one youth was selected due to passport and visa issues. Only three of the young people (both of the Sámi and one Alaskan Inupiaq) had traveled outside of their country before.

To encourage their participation, youth participants were asked to prepare a community portrait, in the form of a digital photographic slide show or video paired with a narrative they composed about their community. This, in effect, gave young people the opportunity to “introduce their community” to other groups across the circumpolar north at the workshop. The level of academic researcher involvement in this was different for each site. For instance, young people from one of the communities put together their community portrait without any outside guidance or equipment. Other sites developed their presentations with help from local adults or with academic researchers who were from the communities. The digital images, films, and accompanying stories kicked-off the international workshop.

In addition to the youth community portrait, the LSCs were asked to develop a historical timeline of their communities. All sites experienced a shared colonial history characterized by rapid, imposed social transition and forced acculturation. For instance, Siberian Eveny hunting and reindeer herding was subject in Soviet times to special development policies, which included constructing villages and placing children in boarding schools beginning in the 1930s. Mandatory schooling of Inupiaq children began 20 years earlier, but also involved curtailing traditional seasonal migrations. Although done differently and within different timeframes, the colonial policies of all participating communities included forced schooling, political domination, and suppression of the indigenous language. This results in a common legacy of cultural disruption. Asking community members to reflect on their colonial histories encouraged the participants to identify with potential shared areas of interest related to social and political policies that affected them all.

International Workshop Design

While designing the workshop, it was important for the researcher group to model a spirit of communication and cooperation with youth and community co-researchers. To emphasize the collaborative nature of the project, each component of the workshop was facilitated by a university and community co-researcher team that encouraged equal participation. This co-leadership format encouraged youth and adult community members to participate more fully in the exchange. This was vitally important for the workshop outcomes. The university researchers had conceptualized the original research proposal based on extensive work in these communities; this venue was intended to elicit exchanges and build a shared research agenda across the communities based on community members’ input.

Researchers, as well as indigenous youth and elders, spoke more than seven different languages. Our Sámi, Yup’ik, Inupiaq, and Nunavut Inuit colleagues agreed to use English to reduce logistical complexity and costs, as all but the Siberian Eveny participants spoke English. For them English was translated into Russian. Power imbalances were inherent in the choice to hold the meeting in English, since it is the third or second language of some of the participants. This also meant that meetings conducted in English were asymmetrical on an additional level. Language is a key form of expression, and some of our participants at times described the feeling of being paralyzed by not being fluent in English, unable to express their opinions. This caused some silences to be misunderstood. The researcher group often risked arriving at a false consensus as a result of these language issues.

To foster equal participation and ensure one group or individual did not dominate the proceedings, we organized the sessions in such a way that all groups and individuals were sequentially offered an opportunity to speak. Speaking was elective, and no one was required to speak at their turn. Participants were also asked to refrain from directly commenting on what a previous speaker had said. Following this initial turn taking, a second inclusive go-round was initiated for comment, discussion, or elaboration on what was stated previously. Often a participant’s opinions were followed by a few more comments until no one had anything additional to add. Finally, at the end of a discussion session, one community-university co-researcher pair summarized what they had heard. To close a particular discussion, everyone was given a final chance to speak before moving on. These comments were integrated into summative statements. Though time consuming, we found this procedure increased opportunities for all attendees to speak, especially nonacademic participants.

To facilitate active exchange of ideas between indigenous youth and the older participants, the workshop included youth breakout sessions. This enabled young people to identify and discuss with each other their shared challenges, difficulties, and problems. The youth breakout sessions occurred alongside concurrent adult/elder breakout sessions. Breakout sessions conducted in a friendly and non-intimidating way encouraged youth participation, providing them with a key role in developing the research agenda. Each evening, a brief summary of the day’s meeting and draft consensus statements from the day’s work were compiled and translated for morning review.

How the Circumpolar Workshop Worked: International, Participatory Dialogue

The workshop began with youth presenting their shared ideas about the project and then presenting the digital community portraits. Young participants were encouraged to think about and utilize their collective voice by beginning the gathering with a youth meeting. Just prior to the start of the workshop, the youth met without adults to develop ideas about what they saw as the most important goals for this study. One young woman acted as spokesperson and shared their views with the full group to orient the workshop toward youth priorities. The youth views focused on strengths, struggles, and issues the youth thought were important to keep in mind as we began the research. After this short youth introduction, digital images, films, and accompanying stories produced by youth from each community launched the international workshop. They provided a context for discussion and introduced, in tangible form, a way to conceptualize cross-cultural and international research. The community portrait exercise proved to be engaging and invigorating as indigenous co-researchers introduced their communities to one another. These portraits also highlighted the viewpoints of young people, the priorities of their communities, and the value of youth involvement.

Digital images served as a rich source providing an accessible way for youth participants to begin to discern similarities and differences across sites. Youth asked each other questions about the social lives of the communities. Their cross-questioning raised a whole set of research interests, particularly involving issues related to challenges and difficulties of Arctic young people. Questions asked by the audience covered traditional food, clothes, transportation, schooling, family lives, subsistence activities, social events important for youth in their communities, indigenous language, sports activities, governments, housing, racism, institutional exclusion, and how to maintain strong native and cultural identiy. The similarities of experience across communities served as another mode of solidarity.

Through these activities, young participants observed that many youth struggles across communities were strikingly similar and offered rich possibilities for comparative study. As just one example, the youth report identified a shared problem of trying to be successful in the face of the sometimes contradictory demands of their indigenous culture and those of the dominant one. This idea was extended when a school building was shown in the portrait of one community. Young people talked about the challenges brought by the educational trajectories they feel compelled to follow in order to succeed. Because higher education is unavailable in most of the participants’ home communities, many youth feel confronted with a hard choice between continuing school or staying in their community. This choice introduces a whole cluster of problems, including lack of jobs in local communities, outmigration to find employment, unavailability of local housing, high living costs in remote rural villages, and the prospect of leaving families and aspirations.

Such discussions highlighted rich, shared areas to pursue through data collection. These threads were identified at the close of each day of the workshop. On the last meeting day, the dominant themes served as a shared cross-site focus of the study. For instance, a young Siberian participant brought up young people’s sense of “feeling trapped” in one remote settlement far from regional and urban centers. She expressed local sense of isolation by pointing at repercussions of withdrawal of the state support and collapse of transport infrastructure that has happened over last 15 years in Siberia. The expressed sense of “feeling trapped” resonated among young Alaskan Inupiat participants, who responded by speaking about a friend who had committed suicide after his girlfriend moved out of the community. His inability to join his girlfriend was seen as one of the reasons for his suicide.

This latter sense of “feeling trapped” among youth emphasized their sense of powerlessness in dealing with the lack of social and spatial mobility. This sense is especially acute when it comes to youth romantic relations, which have recently become more important for many indigenous young people than family relations. In contrast, Canadian Inuit pointed out that they do not feel so isolated from the Western world or from urban Canada, and their lives are still very family-centered. In responding to this comment, an adult participant from the Sámi community highlighted the local sense of rapid social change and its implications for Sámi youth:

[A]mong Sámi, life and social norms are changing too fast; young people do not know how to deal with their emotional feelings and deal with such important things in our lives as relationships and education. Lots of youth don’t know what they need to be doing.

In regard to the issue of education and youth outmigration, a young Siberian Eveny reindeer herder responded by saying:

[Y]ou need a better degree of education to get a job in the city. Once you get a degree, you can’t get hired in the village. Since there are no jobs in the village, everyone strives to move to the city. As a result youth leave the community.

Thus, the tension between fulfilling community and family expectations and succeeding in the dominant society became a reccurring theme.

This strain was even articulated in regard to participating in subsistence activities, but this was different across sites. For example, one young participant talked about needing to have a job and regular wages in her Inupiaq Alaskan community in order to engage in traditional subsistence activities such as hunting and berry-picking. To summarize, she said: “Traditional ways do not fund our everyday needs. That is why very few are engaged in it.” That is to say, one has to survive by earning money from a job, which then enables pursuit of traditional subsistence activities that require gas, boats, snow machines, etc.

The opposite was true for the Eveny community, as a youth explained:

It’s crucial to be involved in reindeer herding on full-time basis. If it disappears, then there is no way you can survive. It’s absolutely crucial to stay next to your family reindeer herd all the time. There is no alternative way to support ourselves and we can’t have two jobs at the same time or have a job which would fund reindeer herding. There are no other ways to support yourself.

These juxtaposed perspectives were explored through dialogue at the meeting, and enabled cultural perspectives to be clarified and extended through the development of collaborative accounts. A young Alaskan Yupik participant mentioned her first dance without drawing out the significance of this initiation (or “coming of age”) ritual for girls, a cultural developmental milestone. An adult community member made certain to emphasize this point, praising the girl for her accomplishment and humility in recounting it. Later, an Alaska youth encouraged all participants to dance in a circle as part of our meeting, bringing further immediacy to the significance.

At other points, elders and adults provided participants with a valuable intergenerational link that clarified distinctive local histories, customs, and institutional practices. As a Sámi elder explained:

[M]any young mothers from Sámi community, who had to work and earn money, were supposed to give children to kindergarten. As a result neither children had time to learn from their mothers, nor [did] mothers have a chance to teach their children Sámi ways of cooking food and sewing clothes. So the young generation of that time lost their chance to gain that knowledge. Nowadays, young women are able to learn those skills as a part of educational curriculum. These institutional arrangements bring hope to the community as knowledge and skills now might be taught and transmitted to our younger generation.

In this way, the methodology of structured engagement allowed for the exchange of ideas across generations, and for ideas to flow from youth into a broader historical interpretative frame provided by adults and in particular, elders. This was particularly valuable for the circumpolar youth who had not always been given the opportunity to have their own experiences put into a historical frame.

In addition, the format allowed youth to be heard by their elders, something that is not offered to young people in the participating communities as often as they would like. As one young Inuit participant put it:

In our community, we, the youth, are pretty fluent in Inuktitut and know well about our culture, [more] than the rest of communities in the Canadian North. But the important issue is that our adults need to try to understand us youth. We are dealing with the stuff they didn’t have to deal with when they were young. We know their life was hard but we are dealing with the problems which are also quite hard.

Here, the issue of interaction and exchange across generations emerged as a vital community interest, and another important point for inquiry.

After three days of such youth discussions, highlighting both similarities and differences, an adult representative from the Inupiaq community summarized in this way:

We have heard lots of positive things here. This is what inspires youth in so many positive ways, ’cause…Native elders know [have been through] so many negative things. So youth don’t have to repeat the mistakes we did and some of the stuff we had to go through growing up—oppression, losing our cultural ways and languages. Our youth don’t have to. In my home area there needs to be strong relationships between adults and youth. …To help each other, especially when youth come from problem families and there is no support from the family, youth can help; they can sit and speak to each other. Youth often step up for each other and that’s a good thing. I saw today how it is done internationally. I admire the stories, especially international ones.

Differences across sites were another dominant theme. Youth participants continually questioned and compared what they noticed about their home communities and those of other youth participants. Although all young participants were indigenous, a major difference between communities is the extent of use of the indigenous language in each. Two of the Alaskan Native young people mentioned to one of the adult members that the Sámi youth spoke to each other only in their native language. One of the young people then asked the adult, “How do they do that, how have they learned to speak their own language?” In contrast, none of the youth in her village spoke the indigenous language although the adults and elders did. She was perplexed, asking about profound issues of cultural and linguistic retention, and learning about varying effects of colonial language policies.

In this way, throughout the days of the workshop, participants began to discern convergent interests and define the parameters of future work. We have illustrated the process through a few examples, which suggest important areas for comparative analysis. Listening to suggestions, personal reflections, and points raised by young, adult, and elder community members allowed the university researchers to formulate common cross-site research questions and identify important content areas for inquiry.

The final day of the workshop was devoted solely to arriving at consensus. The core research questions were finalized. These common cross-site research questions can be summarized as:

• What challenges do youth face (i.e., drugs, suicide, transportation, finances)?

• What are the common and distinctive values shared between the circumpolar, indigenous regions represented and across the generations living in these regions?

• What are the experiences of racism and exclusion, and how are youth, in response, navigating ways into the larger society?

• How are young people fitting into local, regional, and national institutions, including education, work, and family?

• How are young people making these perspectives known to adults, elders, and other young people in their community?

• What are youth perspectives on their identity and culture, including language, and how does culture help youth to grow and be healthy?

Preliminary ideas were recorded and discussed in the aforementioned round-robin style to allow all participants to comment on, extend, or change the areas of focus.

Reflecting on What Worked Best

This paper describes how we brought youth and adult community members from five cultural groups across four countries together to develop a shared research program. The established relationships between the university researchers and the communities enabled the research process to begin locally even before funding was secured. More specifically, the research questions were established collaboratively across researchers and communities in a two-tiered process, beginning locally and culminating in a face-to-face workshop. This process began with each LSC first discussing research questions of interest to their community. This was followed by community representatives meeting at the Cambridge workshop. Before coming together, each community agreed to have the same cross-site interview protocol for comparison, and each had established some general areas of local interest. This preparation facilitated lively discussions about overlapping interests related to youth stress and resilience across the circumpolar north. The workshop structure gave youth many opportunities to influence the direction of the study, and the ongoing process of listening, reflecting, and engaging in dialogue, encouraged a form of consensus that was essential to reaching the goals of the meeting.

We think it vital that this meeting was in person, not over email or a phone conference. At this first international workshop, we were able to get to know each other better this way, moving beyond the development of methodology to having people introduce their communities to one another and to share their experiences and ideas. We ate meals together, took a short boat trip together, were hosted one evening by Pembroke College of Cambridge University, explored Cambridge together, and developed a working solidarity that we believe is critical to the success of this study.

In retrospect, the workshop design worked to facilitate youth involvement. Starting with a meeting of young people and opening the general discussion with youth-produced digital portraits of their communities gave young participants an active role in setting the meeting goals and working to meet them. It also catalyzed communication across generations and cultural groups The visual imagery of the community portraits gave all participants the opportunity to see other communities with shared environmental characteristics, presenting both similar and very different youth experiences. This modality of engaging youth in the research process has emerged as one way to integrate their perspectives and voices into the research agenda. This allowed participants to reflect on conditions that could account for both differences and similarities. Through continued dialogue, along with the historical personal perspectives of adults and elders, young participants began to talk about the ways in which their life experiences both converged and diverged. The deeper intergenerational and cross-site dialogue brought social, economic, and political issues of difference to the forefront, and encouraged community participants, young and old, to investigate the ways that these also play out in their everyday lives.

These discussions and consensual research foci structured the subsequent directions of the project. The university researchers continued working with their respective communities, and a cross-site interview protocol was constructed based on the ideas developed at the workshop. This protocol was shared with the LSCs at each community and blended with additional local research questions of interest. At the time of this writing, Phase II of the study is under way as interviews are completed in all communities. The Siberian community was first to complete data collection, and we learned lessons from their experience that helped in the other communities (for example, having shorter interview sessions with younger participants and clarifying some of the questions). Phases III and IV are data translation, transcription, collaborative analysis, and dissemination.

In Phase IV we will meet again as university researchers and representative LSC youth, adult, and elder members to discuss cross-site analysis, dissemination, and action. The resilience strategies identified among youth in this study will be used by the communities for programs and policies to develop youth well-being. In one community, the LSC is already planning for the elementary and high schools to use the findings, in addition to the local Community Wellness Committee. It is thus the intention of the participating communities to employ these results for community action toward youth suicide prevention and well-being.


We have provided in some detail the participatory methods in this international, community health research project. This approach is not only symbolically important for indigenous communities who have been the subjects of much inquiry; it also directs the research to incorporate the questions of significance to the participating communities. This kind of knowledge generation both extends the literature and has real effects on the community members who participate in it. Participatory research fosters engagement by community members, who then have a stake in these projects. This is the meaning of community-based research; it is the community’s research project. This is how the LSCs in this study view the research, as they have helped develop the research questions and methods and gather the data and will be involved in interpretation and dissemination. This form of research is thus member-driven and meaningful to community members, and is designed to be of benefit to the community.

We believe the workshop was successful, in part, because of how the meeting was structured. Beginning with the youth meeting, young people were able to coalesce as a group and begin to articulate their shared experiences and interests. Starting the larger gathering with an accessible platform—in this case images and stories about each of the participating sites—invited youth and adults to represent themselves as experts about their communities. This empowering model was strengthened by the equal turn-taking process and the co-facilitation of the meeting by university and community participants.

This workshop was an important first step, but only a first step, in the research process. Though it provided ideas and even shared hypotheses for the next phase of data collection, it left open many unanswered questions. Out of our work, a core set of cross-site interview questions was finalized. The next task in this process will require similar agreement surrounding a consensual cross-site analytic strategy spanning a diverse set of cultures, countries, communities, and academic disciplines.


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The Circumpolar Indigenous Pathways to Adulthood Team is composed of Deborah Ahlstrom, Leah Angutimarik, Gunhild Berit Sara Buljo, Sabrina Hansen, Benedicte Ingstad, Pakkak Inuksuk, Linda Joule, Vasily Keymetinov, Mikkel Rasmus Logje, Jacklynn Nanini, Lanea Paul, Varvara Struchkova, Anni Rauna Triumf, Natar Ungalaq, Nikita Ungalaq, and Kristen Walker.

This work was funded by awards from the National Science Foundation and National Institutes for Health Center for Research Resources.

About the Authors

Olga Ulturgasheva is a post-doctoral research fellow at at the Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge, United Kingdom. Lisa Wexler is an assistant professor of Community Health Studies in the School of Public Health and Health Sciences at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Michael Kral is an assistant professor of psychology at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. James Allen is a professor of psychology at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. The late Gerald V. Mohatt was director of the Center for Alaska Native Health Research and a professor of psychology at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Kristine Nystad is an assistant professor at Sámi University College, Kautokeino, Norway.

Research after Natural Disasters: Recommendations and Lessons Learned

U.S. Army Photo

“When natural disasters strike, researchers may be called on to perform double duty: generating knowledge while also addressing human needs.” 

Roslyn C. Richardson, Carol Ann Plummer, Juan J. Barthelemy, and Daphne S. Cain 

When natural disasters occur, university researchers and their community partners, particularly those in the disaster areas, are often expected to assume responsibility for generating knowledge from these events. As both natural and man-made disasters continue to occur, more faculty will be unexpectedly thrust into the arena of disaster-related research. This article explores the opportunities and challenges experienced by four social work faculty who made their initial forays into disaster-related research in the midst of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The research projects, partnerships, innovations, and problems associated with their research endeavors are discussed. In addition, recommendations for engaging in disaster- related research for researchers new to this area of inquiry are explored.

The need for researchers and service providers to respond to natural disasters becomes more vital as the occurrence of natural disasters increases and the number of people affected continues to rise. Social workers, for example, will be called upon not only to provide services on the front-lines, but also to engage in research to address human needs in terms of coping, stress, resiliency, the ability of organizations to deliver services, and the impact of disasters on survivors (Streeter & Murty, 1996). In the future, university faculty members are likely to be approached to engage in disaster research while they themselves are in the midst of natural disasters (Zakour & Harrell, 2003). However, the realities of research on disaster situations are far different from most empirical academic research, especially in areas that have just suffered greatly. Researchers in the affected areas are often untrained in disaster research; research institutions and their personnel may be adversely affected; and the community infrastructure, people, and services to be studied are often in disarray. Being aware of the challenges, obstacles, and difficulties associated with this area of inquiry prior to the occurrence of a natural or man-made disaster may facilitate more effective and productive research efforts (Padgett, 2002).

This article details the authors’ disaster- related research experiences following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. It discusses the opportunities and challenges experienced in conducting three unique disaster-related research studies. Recommendations for engaging in disaster related research based on those experiences are provided, especially those new to this area of inquiry.

The Storms and the Need to Respond
In the summer of 2005, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita (which made landfall within weeks of each other) caused catastrophic damage to the U.S. Gulf Coast region. The hurricanes led to major disruptions in communications, basic utilities, and the delivery of social and health care services. Changes to the infrastructure of service delivery systems were exacerbated by the personal and professional challenges of personnel, many of whom had to deal with issues of relocation and loss, among other stressors (Bacher, Devlin, Calongne, Duplechain, & Pertuit, 2005).

While universities, departments, and individual faculty members within the Gulf Coast region were also victimized by the hurricanes, they simultaneously felt compelled to provide help (Allen, 2007). Immediate needs took precedence and resulted in faculty members donating full-time work for several weeks to assist at shelters, area hospitals, pet rescue centers, or in efforts to support children separated from parents at the New Orleans airport (Allen, 2007). Faculty were also faced with accommodating displaced students, helping students deal with personal and educational challenges, and balancing increased teaching loads and overcrowded classrooms. Given their professional training and the severity of needs, responding to the crisis was the primary concern for many faculty for almost a month. This left little time for attention to research issues.

It was within the midst of this environmental context that the authors (four faculty members in schools and departments of social work located within the Gulf Coast area) were introduced to research on disaster situations. Prior to the hurricanes, none of the four had ever conducted work on or had a primary interest in disaster- related research. In fact, each had diverse research interests that included adolescent aggression and school violence; child welfare; religion/ spirituality and social work practice; and social work education. However, as both academicians and practitioners, the authors felt compelled to conduct research related to the disasters. This impetus stemmed from the emergence of funding opportunities and numerous requests from other universities to collaborate, as well as from a sense of responsibility to generate knowledge from these events — a responsibility felt even as we ourselves recovered from the disaster and began to respond to extreme community needs.

Research Projects
The three disaster-related research projects undertaken by the authors focused on religious institutions and the provision of services subsequent to the hurricanes; the impact of the hurricanes on undergraduate and graduate social work students; and clinical services for children and caregivers who were survivors of the hurricanes. The first project was a descriptive study of the services provided by religious institutions following Hurricane Katrina. The study employed a mailed questionnaire to a random sample of churches within a metropolitan area and a telephone survey follow-up. Specifically, the study identified the extent to which religious institutions provided both tangible (food, shelter, financial assistance) and intangible (spiritual) support for hurricane survivors. Interview questions related to the churches’ primary sources of funding for these activities were also included (Cain & Barthelemy, 2008).

The second project was a cross-campus survey of five Gulf Coast-area schools and departments of social work in four states. The study examined social work students’ reactions to and ability to cope with the aftermath of the hurricanes. Specifically, the study focused on social work students’ faith, religion, and spirituality; previous traumatic experiences; altruism; volunteer activities (during and after the hurricanes); social work values; and commitment to the profession. This study was initiated by a social work researcher (outside the Gulf area) who had conducted prior studies with social work students related to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

Social work faculty within the five programs recruited student participants. All social work majors were eligible to participate, including students who were transfers from universities temporarily closed because of the hurricanes. Data was collected through self-administered anonymous surveys. Initial findings of the study indicated that despite experiencing multiple hurricane-related stressors, the vast majority of social work students in the sample engaged in some form of volunteer activity. Stressors, altruism, and increased commitment to social work values were found to be the strongest predictors of volunteerism (Plummer et al., 2008).

The third project focused on the delivery and evaluation of psycho-educational Psychological First Aid (PFA) groups for children and their hurricane-survivor caregivers. Groups met weekly in area schools and onsite at one of the FEMA trailer communities. The study included measures of anxiety, depression, coping ability, and educational outcomes. A social work practitioner with a primary interest in the delivery of services to this population initiated this study. A total of 158 children and 18 caregivers participated from May 2006 through December 2007. Pre- and post-test data on child outcomes and lessons learned (Plummer et al., 2009), as well as focus group data on caregivers’ outcomes, are currently being analyzed and will be published.

Despite the many challenges and obstacles that emerged as a result of the natural (Hurricanes Katrina and Rita) and man-made disasters (the levee failures in New Orleans) (Knabb, Rhome, & Brown, 2006; Murphy, 2005), positive outcomes resulted. These included the development of new partnerships and collaborations, opportunities to expand research directions, and the ability to strengthen community connections.

1. Partnerships/Collaborations
The projects in which the authors participated involved interdepartmental, multi-university, and community-university collaborations. These projects resulted in faculty within the same school (with diverse research interests) serving as research partners, while also facilitating new professional relationships and overall more collaborative ventures. One project helped foster a mentoring relationship between junior and senior social work faculty from different universities, a relationship that sparked ongoing collaborations. In addition, the authors partnered with community organizations, established relationships with researchers who had experience in the research on disaster situations from other universities, and formed ongoing collaborations among faculty and practitioners.

In most instances, the unique partnerships that developed as a result of these disaster-related research studies were not likely to have occurred otherwise. For example, a faculty member from a west-coast university solicited involvement from social work faculty in five Gulf-Coast schools. None of these faculty knew one another previously, but they now work jointly in analyzing and publishing data, co-present at national conferences, and have even found ways to work together on new research projects.

2. Opportunities to Expand Research Directions
Each of the authors was well established in their chosen topical areas and knew a literature that was unique to their specialization. However, the hurricanes led to opportunities to expand their research in new directions. For example, two assistant professors at the same land-grant public university in the affected area who studied child abuse trauma and parenting practices expanded their research areas to include disaster trauma and PFA interventions for children and their parents (Plummer et al., 2009).

Another assistant professor, interested in social work education pedagogy, joined with additional faculty members to study the impact of the hurricanes on social work students, incorporating their adherence to social work values as a variable to consider in their reactions and coping responses (Plummer et al., 2008). Still other faculty members, previously involved in research on adolescent aggression and violence and African-American parenting practices, decided to engage in the study of church response after the hurricanes (Cain & Barthelemy, 2008). While remaining grounded within their original areas of research, all of the authors expanded the scope of their research to encompass disaster- related issues.

3. Funding The abundance of funding for hurricane- related studies also created an opportunity to engage in research on disaster situations. Faculty within the disaster area were encouraged by department deans and chairs, as well as a variety of university administrators, to take advantage of funding streams. The unique position of those situated within the disaster area, where culture, place, and tradition were familiar, made the expansion of research into new areas relatively easy.

First, faculty members living within the disaster area were familiar with the culture, people, organizations, and systems with which interaction would be required in order to perform effective research. Second, receiving research support from federal or large foundation sources was viewed as a means by which to recover at least a small part of the catastrophic losses suffered by communities within the disaster area. Third, money would be spent on research, and so it seemed only reasonable that local institutions should receive a fair share of those funds. Finally, faculty were encouraged to utilize disaster-related funding to build their university’s research infrastructure and enhance community- university partnerships.

Further, in this unique position, experienced researchers contacted local faculty members and provided them with opportunities to learn about research on disaster situations. These partners enhanced funding possibilities for local faculty since well-known disaster researchers already knew the questions and literature in the field and had proven records of grant writing and in conducting disaster-related research.

4. Strengthening Community Connections
Because of a pervasive sense that “we are all in this together,” faculty and community groups worked more closely than ever before, sharing resources, asking for help, filling in where there were urgent needs, and providing mutual support. This led to a broad exploration of needs, including research needs. In one case, a community therapist approached one university to pilot an intervention she had adapted for use with children, complete with several funding possibilities. Two faculty members decided to collaborate with her and wrote the grant that was eventually funded.

This partnership led to student involvement under the therapist’s direction, additional research funding for the faculty members, and many services for children and their caregivers displaced by the storms. In addition, this project strengthened bonds between community practitioners and university faculty, extending opportunities for both. Because the practitioner was not affiliated with a private non-profit, her partnership with the university made it possible for her to receive funding both to perform her intervention and evaluate its effectiveness (Plummer et al., 2009).

Another example of strengthened community connections involved meeting the needs of individuals and families at Renaissance Village, the largest FEMA trailer park in the Baton Rouge area. Area schools, the mayor of the town, social work professors, community practitioners, and agencies as diverse as Big Buddy, Catholic Charities, the Children’s Health Fund, and the Children’s Health Project met one another and embarked on joint service and research projects.

Engaging in disaster-related research in the midst of the chaos created by the hurricanes was both difficult and overwhelming. Despite the different focus of each of the research projects, the authors experienced many of the same challenges related to conducting disaster-related research. The challenges included managing multiple requests for research participation, balancing personal and professional needs and obligations, funding obstacles, and staying focused on established research agendas. Additional challenges involved difficulties with collaborations and information sharing, ensuring sensitivity to the needs of research respondents, and effectively managing outside influences that sought to minimize results and censor research participants’ remarks.

1. Managing Multiple Requests for Research Participation One of the primary challenges involved in disaster-related research carried out in areas affected by the disaster is evaluating the feasibility of requests to engage in various research projects. A part of the challenge in responding to these requests was that at the time they were initially made, the authors were in the midst of addressing the immediate needs of their friends, family, students, and communities. In light of this, many of the requests appeared insensitive. So, in addition to dealing with feelings of being overwhelmed and taxed by family and community needs, faculty also had to expend energy determining diplomatic ways to deny many requests for research-related assistance, information, and/or support. Even opportunities for collaboration and participation in laudable projects that fit firmly within the authors’ areas of interest had to be declined.

2. Balancing Personal and Professional Needs and Obligations
The act of balancing research, teaching, and other professional obligations with personal obligations and needs was an additional challenge. The authors participated in the disaster-related research projects in the immediate aftermath of the hurricanes. Thus, they found it difficult to balance research projects with their hurricane- related volunteer activities, needs of immediate family and friends who were victims of the hurricanes, and the additional needs of their students. Balancing multiple roles and obligations under normal conditions can be a challenge. Simultaneously serving as mentors and advisors for students displaced by the storms, developing and implementing viable teaching methods, and engaging in research seemed at times to be impossible tasks.

3. Obstacles to Funding
Securing funding to engage in the research projects was extremely difficult despite its apparent availability. Part of the problem involved the need to collect the data in a time sensitive way. The immediacy with which data needed to be collected, combined with the stressors associated with being in the disaster-affected areas, restricted the authors’ ability to identify and apply for funding. As a result, the authors themselves provided primary funding for research activities. For example, two faculty members personally paid for the expense of a citywide mail survey on the provision of social services by churches to hurricane displaced individuals immediately following Hurricane Katrina.

Because of the low response rate with the initial mail survey, the dean of the school provided some funding from school discretionary funds to offset the costs of the subsequent telephone survey that provided data suitable for publication of the research (Cain & Barthelemy, 2008). In contrast, universities across the country that were not affected by the hurricanes were able to mobilize quickly and apply for federal disaster research funds. Some of those funded from outside the affected area requested local faculty to provide information, contacts, and consultation, but usually without compensation or an offer to include them in the funding package. In addition, the lack of experience in federal procedures made for a steeper learning curve and was responsible for some critical mistakes by those who had not previously applied for funding at the national level. For example, two of the co- authors worked with a third colleague to write a proposal that studied parent/child relationships in the aftermath of a natural disaster. Using a model similar to a study conducted after the 9-11 tragedy and collaborating with researchers in New York, the group detailed their plans in an inquiry, complete with instruments, consultants, and design details, to a federal project officer. The response was very discouraging and, as a result, the proposal was scrapped. Later these colleagues learned two things: This project officer often initially responds negatively, asking questions in a “devil’s advocate manner,” and that another similar project submitted, despite the project officer’s negative remarks, was viewed positively by the review committee and ultimately funded.

4. Continuing to Focus on Ongoing Research Agenda
Despite being new to the field of research on disaster situations, each of the four faculty members desired to find a way to participate in research projects that would contribute to the body of knowledge on disasters, while in some way relating this research to their specific areas of interest. The challenge inherent in this goal was the need to focus on their own research interests while simultaneously facilitating and engaging in research agendas stimulated by the disaster and in collaboration with university partners. Although some collaborative efforts became problematic, most partnerships were strengthened through frank discussions about shared interests, misunderstandings, and the specific goals of each researcher.

Differences were not always easily resolved. For example, lack of clarity regarding authorship credit resulted in conflict. An additional example occurred when community partners did not understand the need to adhere to university and Institutional Review Board (IRB) guidelines. Specifically, a service provider desired to change an intervention protocol which had already been approved by a university IRB, resulting in broken communications and the eventual suspension of her involvement in the project when the conflict could not be resolved. The authors came to realize that such partnerships must be defined in advance, and that the ongoing research agenda of each member involved must be understood and respected.

5. Lack of Shared Information/Collaboration
In some instances, the authors had to contend with the refusal of some groups, institutions, and organizations to share information or engage in collaborative efforts. This unwillingness of outside entities to partner with or commit to provide ongoing support to the community after research projects were completed led to feelings of anger, frustration, and discontent. The authors perceived that for many of the outside researchers, data collection was the primary concern, and that there was little intention to contribute to ongoing service-delivery needs.

At times when out-of-state researchers had money to pay participants, but local researchers had not acquired such funds, the lack of cooperation may even have compromised the ability of local researchers to collect data. For example, at one of the FEMA parks where area faculty had volunteered services for months, residents may have self-selected out of the interviews or surveys where they were not paid, electing instead to speak with those who could give them Wal-Mart gift cards. This may have affected the sample adversely for generalizing and made continued recruitment more difficult.

6. Maintaining Sensitivity to the Needs of Survivors (Victims as Respondents)
The authors wanted to ensure that they did not allow research to take precedence over the need to provide services. They wanted to engage in service-oriented research that in some way provided practical answers to questions of vital importance. Their primary goal was to assist and find ways to use knowledge gained to promote the effective delivery of services. Along these same lines, it was vital to ensure that the research conducted upheld the highest standards of ethical considerations and was both fair and useful to participants. This goal was all the more important in light of the vulnerable positions in which many of the people who served as research participants found themselves.

As a result of being displaced, many survivors were in temporary housing, including trailer communities. Many experienced depression, anxiety, and other forms of psychological distress and had to deal with issues of uncertainty about their futures. While in the midst of all of these difficulties, survivors were bombarded with requests to be participants in research studies. The challenge for faculty was to find ways to be sensitive to the needs and challenges faced by this population while engaging in their research projects. This included being aware of participants’ research burnout, ensuring that no study was exploitative, and promoting ethical standards while interacting with and collecting data about participants. These ethical standards included the ability to give informed consent, ensuring participants had the mental and/or physical capacity to make decisions, an analysis of the potential risks and benefits to participants, and the commitment to be aware of and eliminate any implied pressure from researchers to participate (Kilpatrick, 2004; Knack, Chen, Williams, & Jensen-Campbell, 2006).

Familiarity with research participants through frequent service delivery made the transition from person to service provider to researcher more fluid and personable. This helped reduce role divisions and facilitated “small talk,” more often than not leading to interviews being conducted on trailer steps or in the laundry room than in university offices.

7. Outside Influences to Minimize Results and Remarks Shortly after collecting data for one of the research projects mentioned earlier, those researchers were contacted by numerous newspapers and other organizations interested in the study. As a result of this interest, the researchers granted several interviews and shared some of the preliminary findings of the study. While most of the feedback received was very positive, not everyone shared those feelings. For example, at least one agency did not find the results to be very flattering, and the researchers were contacted by a representative of the agency. The representative expressed displeasure with the results of the study and suggested that the researchers retract their reported findings. However, the agency withdrew its request once it was explained that these findings were derived directly from responses of those who participated in the study and were not the opinions of the researchers.

Based on the authors’ experiences, the following recommendations for engaging in research on disaster situations are provided:

1. Be strategic about partnerships and collaborations. Successful collaborations require that all roles and responsibilities be clearly defined and mutually beneficial. Goals and specific tasks must be clearly stated and agreed upon. Also, engaging in continuous dialogue is essential to ensure that the ongoing research agenda of each scholar, community practitioner, and others is understood, being satisfactorily met, and respected. These tasks can be particularly difficult to accomplish in the midst of a disaster.

2. Build disaster research agendas on areas of expertise.
Disaster research is a multi-faceted field. Be creative in identifying and developing useful, practical studies that relate to your own areas of interest. Social workers are encouraged to remain focused on their research trajectories with the added variable of disaster. This creates a body of work that is connected to their research agenda. At the same time, be creative in obtaining necessary funding from a diversity of sources.

3. Determine the feasibility of research projects.
One unique element of research on disaster situations is that they occur in the midst of chaos. Therefore, there are numerous constraints relative to time, funding, and access to additional resources. It is important that faculty be reasonable when making decisions about the feasibility of participating in specific projects. Making realistic assessments about other personal and professional obligations, interest in the proposed projects, and the level of knowledge/experience in the area should all be considered.

4. Meet immediate human needs before considering research interests.
Do not allow research to take precedence over the need to provide services. Related to community services, applied research is research in which the knowledge gained is used to promote the effective delivery of services. It is vital that disaster-related research, especially research involving those affected, guarantee commitments to the welfare of individuals and communities and that this take precedence over research interests. This is especially true for human service professions like social worker where the first responsibility is to assist in meeting human needs, alleviate suffering, and improve societal conditions. Moreover, disaster-related research specifically needs to be made available to and be useful for end-user communities (i.e., usable by those affected by the disaster).

5. Use current partnerships/relationships/ collaborations where possible.
Utilizing pre-established partnerships to engage in disaster research has several advantages. Trust is already established. This eliminates the need to engage in building rapport because it already exists. As a result, lines of communication are already open and roles may be pre-defined. Also, knowledge of one another’s strengths and weaknesses is already established, which may increase the likelihood of success. Finally, future collaborative efforts may be possible since experiences are being built around common interests and concerns.

6. Be flexible, adaptable, and able to improvise.
The nature of work within disaster areas is fraught with unpredictability and change. There may be a need to establish relationships with people who are traumatized; organizations and service providers may be in flux or inaccessible; and there are likely to be fluctuations in terms of needs and resources. Issues of instability and uncertainty often arise. Possibilities are likely to shift, dissipate, and disappear and new ones appear. To successfully engage in research in this context requires the ability to adapt and improvise.

7. Respond to the needs of communities and practitioners.
There is an ongoing need to make research relevant and useful to end-users (those affected by the disaster) and to bridge the gap between research, policy, and practice (Russel, Rodriguez, & Wachtendorf, 2004). Therefore, research on disaster situations should respond to the needs of both practitioners and communities within the disaster area. This is especially important for social work with its professional charge to promote social and economic justice. In some instances, as was the case with Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, at-risk populations were more adversely affected by the natural and man-made disasters, and they served as the primary research subjects because of their extreme condition and experiences. As such, researchers should commit to engaging these populations in the initial research decision- making process, as well as making research findings and results readily available to them.

University faculty are faced with multiple and often competing roles and responsibilities, including training the next generation of professionals, conducting research, and competing for funding. While this balance is always difficult, the potential conflicts among the roles of serving both the community and the university are exacerbated when disaster strikes. In the authors’ experiences, challenges to effective research after natural disasters ranged from the governmental and institutional to the psychological and intellectual. The breakdown of delivery systems and infrastructure, including the influx of displaced students, put increased strain on both institutional and personal resources and energy. At the same time, despite an enticing flood of funding opportunities, it was difficult to assess the feasibility of research projects and the value of collaborations, ultimately preventing adequate funding from reaching affected areas.

However, along with these challenges came unrivaled opportunities to improve the lives of those affected and to contribute to academic knowledge, to make research and practice congruent, and to forge productive ties to the community and to faculty across the city, state, and country.

Disaster-related research by definition emerges from catastrophe and tragedy, confusion, and chaos. While understanding the obstacles of such a research environment in advance cannot prevent the challenges associated with disaster- related research, it can help prepare researchers for the difficulties and opportunities ahead. Although beyond the scope of this article, it is also important for researchers interested in this field of study to be aware of a variety of methodological approaches appropriate for conducting research in disaster situations (Norris, 2006; Stallings, 2002; Stallings, 2007) including alternative survey methodologies (Henderson et al., 2009), as well as ethical issues in disaster- related research (Barron Ausbrooks, Barrett, & Martinez-Cosio, 2009; Kilpatrick, 2004). The authors hope that this article will build awareness and preparedness among researches faced with the unique set of conflicting responsibilities faced by faculty and community partners in the midst of a disaster.

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About the Authors
Roslyn C. Richardson is assistant professor of social work at Southern University. Carol Ann Plummer, Juan J. Barthelemy, and Daphne S. Cain are assistant professors of social work at Louisiana State University. Richardson may be reached at roslyn_richardson@subr.edu.

This scene from Biloxi, Mississippi, shows how complete was the devastation of the hardest-hit sites, putting a halt to normal living for months and complicating field research. (U.S. Army photo)
This scene from Biloxi, Mississippi, shows how complete was the devastation of the hardest-hit sites,                   putting a halt to normal living for months and complicating field research. (U.S. Army photo)