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

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,

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 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:


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

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.

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.

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 (

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.

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 ( 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.

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.

Broadening Perspectives: A Multidisciplinary Collaborative Teaching and Learning Experience

Carol Plummer, Teresa K. Buchanan, C. Barrett Kennedy, Lawrence Rouse, and John Pine


Following in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and conducted when Hurricanes Gustav and Ike struck the coast of Louisiana, a unique service-learning course stretched the boundaries of students and faculty in new ways. First, students and faculty from five distinctive disciplines designed the course collaboratively, infusing different perspectives into every aspect of planning and teaching. Second, the content area—human impacts of disasters and disease—required students (future leaders who will one day make critical decisions in the midst of uncertainty and conflict) to grapple with major human tragedies. Third, the course objective—to encourage critical analysis—required students to examine multifaceted and complex issues as they considered the environmental, political, and social effects of disaster and disease. Finally, this course used a qualitative research project as its service component, and the partner was our own university. The goal of the project was to offer information that would help the administration plan for future disasters. Students directly experienced disaster-related challenges through planned assignments requiring critical analysis and a ropes challenge experience simulating a crisis environment. In the first few weeks of class, proving that in education as in life timing is everything, Hurricane Gustav severely damaged the community and simulation became reality. While this course, entitled Honors 2000: Critical Analysis and Social Responsibility: The Human Response to Disaster and Disease, is not precisely replicable because of unique hurricane occurrences, any team of faculty can replicate the collaboration, flexibility, responsiveness, and authenticity that characterized the experience.


Service-learning is a pedagogical approach that integrates community service with academic study to promote student reflection, critical thinking, and creative problem solving. Bringle and Hatcher (1996) provided a comprehensive definition of service-learning as “a credit-bearing educational experience in which students participate in an organized service activity that meets identified community needs and reflect on the service activity in such a way as to gain further understanding of the course content, a broader appreciation of the discipline, and an enhanced sense of service responsibility” (p. 68).

Adult learning theory is the framework for service-learning. Knowles (1972), with his explanation of andragogy as the art and science of teaching adults, viewed adult learners as mature and self-directed people who come into learning experiences to solve problems. Life experience is a valuable learning resource, and demands of social roles stimulate an adult’s readiness to learn. The teacher is a facilitator of knowledge who creates a comfortable and respectful learning environment using an andragogical pedagogy that responds to students’ needs and expectations with student-centered authentic learning activities.

Student-centered instruction uses pragmatic approaches to teaching that encourage self-awareness, personal responsibility for learning, and ongoing evaluation (Ephross, 1989).

Honors 2000 is a service-learning course offered to all entering Honors College freshmen and sophomores at Louisiana State University. This course, Critical Analysis and Social Responsibility: The Human Response to Disaster and Disease, is taught collaboratively by multidisciplinary teams of faculty. In the semester in which this research was carried out, three five-member teams and one three-member team taught 350 students in 18 sections of 20 students each. One of the teams, the one described in this paper, consisted of five faculty members who came from the following academic units: architecture, education, environmental studies, oceanography, and social work. Each member of this team had been directly and actively involved in recovery activities following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita (2005 to the present). Their goal was to create a communication-intensive, experiential learning course that would introduce students to research while surveying the broad interdisciplinary parameters of disaster preparedness and response. With the university administration and student government as community partners, the faculty developed a service-learning project for which students interviewed senior level students who were on campus during the 2005 hurricane season (Katrina/Rita, fall 2005). The course was designed to: (1) offer multidisciplinary perspectives about disaster and disease; (2) survey literature related to human response to disaster and disease; (3) help students develop critical thinking skills; and (4) introduce the use of qualitative research as both a service and community activity.

Course Description

This course was planned over the summer by a team of five faculty members and three students. Two students had taken this course in the preceding school year, and one was a freshman when Hurricane Katrina disrupted her studies. The students compiled, analyzed, and evaluated multiple texts, videos, and online teaching resources. They also conducted a pilot of the research project. The faculty, using that information, together crafted a syllabus with planned readings, experiences, and assignments to facilitate student learning (see Appendix A for a list of assignments).

Honors 2000 was designed to foster critical thinking about the universal and particular aspects of human response to crises. The course consisted of 100 undergraduate college students, divided into five sections of 20 students each. Each week, the class met together (all 100 students and five faculty members), and later in the week the sections met independently for small group discussions and activities. These activities included:

1. Lectures and large group presentations of provocative content and activities

2. Weekly small group processing, discussion, and activities

3. An experiential learning component, the obstacle course

4. A research project suitable for freshmen that introduced qualitative methodology

5. Written assignments with peer and faculty feedback for content and writing style

6. Oral presentations of findings from 200 interviews about hurricane experiences

In addition to traditional academic instruction (readings, lectures, in-class activities, traditional assignments), the course incorporated two features described in detail below. The first unique feature engaged students in a simulated crisis environment (an obstacle course) that used andragogical pedagogy through experiential learning in activities that required students to make authentic decisions as a community, work with fellow students as team members, and exercise leadership. This occurred early in the course and served as a reference point throughout the semester, as faculty members reminded the students of the discomfort, successes, and challenges they experienced.

The second unique feature used a slightly different approach to service-learning. To provide valuable information for future planning by university administrators, the course participants interviewed students who had directly experienced the impact of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita on campus. This activity took place toward the end of the course. The interviews were integrated into the curriculum after consultation with administrators and student government officers who requested information in the form of a report on student experiences and suggestions. The team decided that gathering information from seniors (who were freshmen in the fall of 2005) was most critical because many would be graduating the following semester.

During this course, students developed their critical thinking skills as they solved faculty-generated dilemmas, grappled with provocative guest lectures, and examined their own and others’ decision making processes during disasters. The following sections describe how these features were used to present multidisciplinary perspectives about disaster and disease, survey literature about human response to disaster and disease, help students develop critical thinking skills, and use research methods for service-learning.

Multidisciplinary Perspectives

In addition to meeting throughout the summer to plan the course, faculty met weekly during the semester to discuss the class and make any necessary adjustments to course readings and activities. Each faculty member, representing distinctive disciplines, consistently and continuously provided input from the point of view of their academic background and expertise. For example, the social work professor lectured on post-traumatic stress disorder, presenting the internal challenges faced by those who experience disaster. The professor of coastal environment lectured on the unique vulnerabilities of the coastal area to natural disasters, presenting his own research to deepen understanding of the creation and prevention of such disasters. The professor of disaster management had much to contribute regarding the history of disasters and human responses to disaster and disease. The professor of architecture lectured about the importance of place and space, including safe building designs for safe communities. The professor of education helped design, facilitate, and consolidate learning and assessment activities. Thus, the students learned concepts related to the broader social issue without being limited to a single lens or subject delineation (Beane, 1997).

The content of the course draws from a number of disciplines. Disaster science management draws from the fields of business, environmental studies, geography, anthropology, human ecology, landscape architecture, sociology, political science, public health, public administration, religious studies, architecture, education, civil and environmental engineering, oceanography and coastal studies, and others (Auerswald, Branscomb, LaPorte, &, Michel-Kerian, 2006; Haddow, Bullock, & Coppola, 2007). The required readings, presented below, reflect the multidisciplinary nature of the content:

The Complete Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi (2003)

Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, by Jared Diamond (2005)

Bayou Farewell by Mike Tidwell (2003)

The First Horseman: Disease in Human History by John Aberth (2007)

The Plague by Albert Camus (1960)

The entire Honors College faculty selected those texts for use in all the sections of the course. For the sections described in this paper, students also read and reported on a text from the list below. The texts selected by this particular faculty and student planning team were:

The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History, by John M. Barry, 2004.

Rising Tide: The great Mississippi flood of 1927 and how it changed America, by John M. Barry, 1997.

Everything in its Path: Destruction of Community in the Buffalo Creek Flood, by Kai T. Erikson, 1976, winner of the Sorokin Award

Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago, by Eric Klinenberg, 2002

Isaac’s Storm: A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History, by Eric Larson, 1999

The Road, by Cormac McCarthy, 2006 (2007 Pulitzer Prize, fiction)

Down and Out in the Great Depression: Letters from the Forgotten Man, Robert McElvaine, editor, 1983.

Polio: An American Story—The Crusade That Mobilized the Nation Against the 20th Century’s Most Feared Disease, by David M. Oshinsky, 2005 (2006 Pulitzer Prize, history)

Category 5, by Ernest Zebrowski and Judith Howard, 2005

Finally, students attended and reflected upon showings of these movies: “Hotel Rwanda”; “An Inconvenient Truth”; “Low and Behold” (a movie directed by LSU graduate Zach Godshall about an insurance adjuster after Katrina); and “The Sleeper,” a play about New Yorkers after 9/11 directed by LSU Honors College student Kathleen McMurray.

Human Response to Disaster and Disease

Through these readings and course experiences, students examined the human impacts of disaster on their own lives, families, friends, and associates in both their home and campus communities. The content of the course was presented as the history of disaster response and the difficulties and complexities associated with disaster and disease. Through readings about historical responses to catastrophes, personal accounts of reactions, and both futuristic fiction and classic literature, students learned about the powerful forces that accompany disasters. Students examined hurricanes and floods associated with hurricanes Camille, 1969, and Katrina, 2005. They also studied coastal erosion, the bubonic plague of the late 14th century, and the AIDS epidemic. Course discussion linked current and historical events to ethical considerations about citizenship and individual responsibility.

Just weeks after the course began, an authentic learning experience emerged when Hurricane Gustav devastated the campus and surrounding areas. The faculty immediately incorporated this disaster into the class by integrating information about this hurricane into the course material, focusing on the students’ own experiences and developing their self-awareness through journals and reflection papers, class discussion, and individual discussions about students’ decisions during this disaster (e.g., to go home, do volunteer work). Because Hurricane Gustav seriously damaged the city and campus, much of the course content paralleled the students’ own experiences.

Critical Analysis

Throughout the various class experiences, faculty emphasized critical thinking and student reflection about disaster preparation, effects, and responses. The foundation for this approach, a crisis decision making and leadership development activity (obstacle course) with the LSU Sports and Adventure Complex, was scheduled early in the course. The objective of the experience was to help students understand the role of individuals and communities in disaster preparedness and response through this authentic, experiential learning activity. A ropes course, or Challenge Course, is an obstacle course designed to help individuals and groups develop strong concepts of leadership and teamwork. The challenge experience combines action and reflection to open the door to personal discovery and interpersonal understanding through demanding cooperative work on a series of physical activities (on high or low ropes, for example) or group problem solving to accomplish a joint physical task (climbing over a wall, balancing on a platform). A key objective of the approach is for team members to discover how individual contributions are vital to the success of the team.

This experiential program explores the intricacies of communication, cooperation, and trust within a safe, structured environment. Through a combination of mental and physical demands within a controlled setting, the groups were challenged to effectively overcome obstacles while developing trust and teamwork, thus encouraging personal confidence and initiative and creating a learning environment that was comfortable and respectful. Class members had opportunities to take risks and have fun, a time-proven mechanism for breaking down interpersonal communication barriers and providing opportunities for growth. This form of active engagement promised long-lasting benefits that would allow each student to continue to learn from this experience, through reflection exercises, discussion, and experiential learning activities over the course of the semester.

This experience incorporated the Challenge by Choice ( philosophy in which participants are encouraged to try new things, take risks, and push the boundaries of their individual comfort zones, a philosophy that allowed group members to choose their own level of involvement. With this in mind, the challenge program activities were intended to be accessible to all levels of physical ability and fitness. There were a variety of roles, from observing to strategizing to getting intimately involved in the action. The fundamental key to success was not a measure of individual strength, skill, or agility, but a measure of the group’s cohesiveness.

One of the highest priorities of the challenge program is physical and emotional safety. For this experience, developing and exercising compassion, tolerance, and understanding were essential goals of the team-building exercises. Faculty worked with the program facilitators to create experiential learning activities that provided appropriate challenges in an environment that fostered emotional and physical peer support. The success of the semester was premised on the ability of the students to work as a team in their critical analysis. The course was also tailored for students to gain experience in leadership, team-building, and problem solving, while fostering communication, creativity, cooperation, camaraderie, self-awareness, and self-esteem. A key goal was that participants would leave this experience with skills that could be applied not only to all aspects of the course, but to the rest of their lives.

One challenge of the course was to prompt Piaget’s disequilibrium to help students learn and grow, so faculty deliberately simulated the kind of discomfort that they might experience through the process of interviewing students affected by Katrina-Rita, necessitating the asking of tough questions and eliciting uncomfortable, emotional memories about the personal impact of the 2005 hurricanes. It was essential to engage students in their own simulated crisis environment that would build a sense of community and create a foundation for teamwork. The exercise on the Challenge Course required them to define and analyze choices, work with fellow students as a team, and negotiate and implement action plans. This class activity was designed to make students more aware of their own responses to a crisis, how their class-mates deal with crisis, and how peer pressure impacted their own decision-making. This crisis simulation introduced students to many of the disaster response themes presented throughout the semester, and through student-faculty interactions, it also established the basis for a learning community of students and faculty.

The challenge program offered a team-building exercise that challenged the analytical, social, and physical skills of most students. Students stretched themselves by literally getting (uncomfortably) close in order to understand that teamwork is fully operational only when based on collaboration and trust. Collective problem identification and articulation (defining the problem), analytical thinking coupled with dialogue and negotiation, identification of objectives and development of strategies for achieving them—all provided the foundation for a successful semester.

In addition, the students reflected on the practice of good leadership skills through engaged “followship.” As Honors College students, many viewed themselves as leaders. Through the challenge ropes course, they were forced to think about the broadest possible definition of shared leadership roles and responsibilities in the context of a community, and to consider that leadership qualities were essential attributes of good team players (“followers”).

Faculty also encouraged students to explore the limits of their self-confidence by engaging in what were for the most part unfamiliar physical challenges through a variety of Challenge Course elements. By doing so, faculty hoped to establish the community group as a safe arena for taking risks without fear of failure, knowing this would likely energize the semester’s discussions by encouraging students to express divergent opinions and perspectives while overcoming their conditioned fear of failure (exceed self-imposed limitations), which serves only to limit our ability to learn and achieve.

Importantly, an inclusive dialogue and coordinated, collective action were necessary for success in the Challenge Course. Whether by working together to raise a horizontal, segmented tent pole on their extended finger-tips through coordinated group action or rearranging themselves on a horizontal telephone pole by age, then first name alphabetical order, then height without falling off, students demonstrated a capacity to transcend basic inhibitions and exercise the thinking and communication skills necessary to achieve the objectives of each course element.

It was important to emphasize that each student had input, and even the quietest voice has a role and responsibility in the collective dialogue. Each individual member of the community could conceive of possible solutions and everyone had to succeed collectively in order for each one to succeed individually, with the chain only as strong as its weakest link. Importantly, this approach both demands and fosters an environment of respect and trust as a basis for building success.

The intensive progression of Challenge Course activities (elements) were intended to habituate students to the process of authentically stepping out of their comfort zone as a means to keep learning, building self-awareness and self-confidence, practicing compassion and respect, and measuring how and when to trust. A key objective was that the students would discover new levels of personal and collective confidence through engagement with the Challenge Course and would begin to conceptualize a comfortable and respectful learning environment. In this environment, students might shed inhibitions, get over any fear of failure, and become bolder and less risk-averse, so that they might be better able to sort out the different possibilities and permutations of problem-solving.

Qualitative Research as Service and

Community Engagement

A key experience that helped students think about preparedness and disaster response from a multi-disciplinary perspective was the research project. After many meetings and iterations of interview drafts, and with expert help from the campus Oral History Center, the faculty team finalized an interview protocol focused on student perspectives about the campus response to Katrina and Rita, immediately and over time. The protocol consciously avoided a focus on sensitive issues or personal tragedy. Instead, it consisted of open-ended questions that allowed students to only share details about their experiences they chose to discuss. This activity was not designed to produce publishable or generalizable findings, but rather to introduce students to research methodology in a way that was suitable for first-year undergraduates. It was also designed to facilitate individual engagement with the university community, a new setting for the freshmen whose individual needs called for an introduction to the university culture.

During the summer, the faculty planned the study and obtained IRB approval. After audio-recording equipment was obtained, the student workers were trained in use of the recorder, trained in qualitative interviewing skills, and asked to pilot the interview schedule. Two student workers interviewed the third who had been a freshman in 2005 when the hurricanes struck. They also piloted the interview with several faculty and staff members. Together, the student workers and faculty used the pilot experience to finalize the interview questions and process. Student workers also transcribed the interviews and noted how much time each task took to accomplish, helping to ensure the student assignments would be reasonable.

This data collection activity was designed with multiple objectives that encouraged students to take personal responsibility for their own learning, work as a team, provide input to the university on successes and failures regarding their responses to Hurricane Katrina, recognize opportunities to help and support those impacted by disasters, learn about qualitative research, and model civic engagement in our university community. Although the students conducted the interviews in the latter half of the semester, they were prepared from the beginning to interview seniors who had been freshmen (like the students in this course) at the time of Katrina. Specifically, early in the course, students were given background information about the project, provided with an interview schedule, and instructed in the basics of recruitment and interview engagement. They were given a coding framework along with information and lectures about human response to disaster and disease throughout history.

Data Collection

In pairs, students conducted four interviews—two where they were the primary interviewer and two where they observed and managed the technical details associated with recording the interview. In this way, each student directly participated in four interviews, but each individual student was only responsible for the transcription and coding of two interviews. They recruited people for the interviews from personal contacts (fraternities, dorms, friends, and family members) or, for those few who could not find students who had been at LSU during Katrina, from a list of students provided by the faculty. All interviews were done with informed consent and were audio-recorded. Interviews were conducted outdoors, in public buildings, or at locations based on the preference and comfort of the interviewee. Most interviews took a half hour or less. A total of 200 interviews were completed for this project.

Data Processing and Analysis

After the interviews were completed and transcribed, students did an individual overall reading of their four transcripts and looked for the emergence of major themes. Some also did line-by-line coding based on a schema provided by the instructors. After doing their own coding, they compared their coding with those of their partner. After this, small groups pooled their findings and looked for common themes across multiple interviews. Individually, and then in groups, using the critical analysis skills promoted throughout the course, students began to generate general conclusions. Additionally, students noted unique and unusual statements or experiences. They selected quotes that represented the range of responses and integrated all of the information into a final report prepared by each group. Emphasis throughout the process was placed on student reflection and finding a deeper understanding of student concerns regarding preparedness and response. Students used grounded theory to ascertain the key points interviewees made in their responses, rather than having coding schema that was predetermined.

Results and Reports

After discussion and analysis within each section, each group presented its findings to the entire class. After presentations about these findings, each group was given ongoing evaluation in the form of written feedback from faculty members and other students, with both positive comments and suggestions for improvement and additional critical analysis. Each group used the feedback to improve their presentation for a final public presentation given to the community partners, the university administration, and student government. Students prepared both a written report and a presentation that described their assessment of student and campus awareness of the need of emergency preparedness and what constitutes appropriate emergency response.

The overarching conclusion of one group was that disasters create a sense of the unknown, the uncertain, and the unexpected. Based on quotes from their interviews, the group documented a sense of the unknown—with a lack of information creating anxiety, people seeking rapid and accurate updates, and a recognition that some anxiety is inevitable in such circumstances. The students found evidence in the transcripts of their interviews that disasters create unanticipated stressors. A heightened sense of vulnerability was also apparent in the interviews. Here is evidence of this in their own words:

Driving became a nightmare. …I was worried that my whole freshman semester was going to be pretty messed up. …The PMAC (Athletic Center) was like a big emergency triage center. …It was pretty crazy. …There was no food in the grocery store. …Everything was slightly more difficult, well significantly more difficult, for everyone.

It was just a little frightening to know that a city so big and so close to us could just be completely demolished like it was. …[I had] general worries about the campus and the population increase and how I was going to fit into all that. …I mean, just the overall shock of you know, holy cow, this happened to us.

Additional findings included a denial of vulnerability, feelings of losing control over one’s life, and fears about the possibility of other crises. For example, one student said:

You know, on TV, we see all these things about the Virginia Tech shooting. That doesn’t worry me on a daily basis, but it could happen.

As they examined the university response to the disaster, students in all sections found that most LSU students enrolled at the time of Hurricane Katrina had positive perceptions about the actions taken by the LSU administration. Specifically, the interviewees made positive comments about the university’s flexibility, openness to new students (who joined the campus after being displaced by the hurricanes), and faculty adaptability.

Because the disaster created by hurricanes Gustav and Ike occurred in the midst of the semester, the interviewers’ own experiences closely resembled those experienced by the interviewees. Also, many of the interviewees compared and contrasted the university responses to hurricanes Katrina and Rita with those following Gustav. The students reported that the interviewees often unfavorably compared the university response following Gustav and Ike with that following Katrina and Rita. That was interesting because the administration had changed after Katrina and Rita, and the response to the second set of storms (which actually had a much worse direct impact on the campus community than the storms of 2005) was perceived as substantially different by faculty and staff who were also present during each storm.

The faculty team was extremely impressed with the students’ observations and conclusions from the interview analysis and class discussions. The process demonstrated that undergraduate students were quite capable of partnering with faculty as full members of a research effort. The student analysis was insightful, sensitive, and developed through a unique perspective.

In summary, as researchers students gained interviewing skills, learned the basics of data collection, obtained knowledge in use of equipment and data management, experienced coding and learned about inter-rater reliability, were able to provide a synthesis of massive amounts of data, and engaged as members of their campus community taking responsibility to contribute by providing feedback to our community partners. They took the responsibility for this learning activity and they benefited from ongoing self, peer, and faculty evaluations.

Integrating Course Components

Given the multi-faceted nature of this course, integration of various components was essential to help the research hang together rather than fall apart. In addition to ongoing cross-referencing of experiences such as films in the small seminar meetings, interview responses in the large class lectures, and the obstacle course in journal entries, the following specific examples further illuminate faculty efforts at integration. Explicit linkages were necessary to help students weave the entire class experience into a coherent whole.

Faculty provided suggestions for weekly journal writing that included questions like, “How do the things you did in the ropes course relate to the lecture topic on facing fear of the plague, or help you acknowledge your fear about interviewing, but move forward and do it?” In their journaling, students practiced critical analysis skills learned from information provided both online and in class activities throughout the course.

In order to emphasize the prevention aspect of human response to disaster and disease, faculty used a concrete personal symbol—aluminum water bottles—to represent how individual actions can assist in disaster prevention. The bottles were given to each student to help them think about what the environment, sustainability, and personal health issues. This concrete item helped ground their examination of disaster and disease in the consideration of personal responsibility and the importance of taking small actions to prevent future problems.

A problem occurred during one of the large class student presentations when the technology failed, and the designated student speaker froze, The rest of his group involved in the presentation did nothing to assist. The faculty used this as an opportunity to discuss teamwork, joint responsibility, and relate their obstacle course experiences to other settings.

Finally, a very important linkage occurred when a formal reception was scheduled for university administrators and student leaders (our community partners) to hear student presentations of their combined findings about student experiences following Katrina. The students took the presentations very seriously, believing they had something essential and important to contribute, potentially making a difference when and if future disasters happened at our university. A positive experience of civic engagement, being aware they could contribute something valuable, and being carefully listened to, may translate to increased community involvement in the future.


This course exemplified the successful implementation of a number of innovative characteristics of service-learning and progressive higher education. In addition to being an exemplar of a grant-funded service-learning class, it also was a model of effective multidisciplinary teaching and of research conducted by undergraduates.

The team collaboration went beyond what is usually possible in college teaching, with weekly meetings lasting from June through December. For this type of complex teaching and learning experience, faculty found that a high level of coordination and communication was essential (Brookfield, 1986). One faculty member noted, “When we didn’t meet regularly things got more difficult.” Being supported by a small grant made the amount of work and commitment more palatable for faculty. The funding supported the purchase of equipment and funded student workers who helped develop the course readings, assignments, and research protocol. It also subsidized student participation in the ropes course experience.

This course was characterized by extreme collaboration, including strong leadership involvement of students. Faculty modeled and required a great deal of collaboration, thus facilitating a comfortable and respectful learning context and showing the type of cooperation that is required of individuals, communities, and societies after a disaster. Effective coping requires people to take risks and to attempt new actions. Student collaboration included an expectation to team with a classmate (someone they did not know) to conduct interviews. It was challenging for these new college students to find a senior to interview. In fact, although this experience was designed to meet their developmental need to fit into the campus community, it was a difficult and somewhat frightening experience for most students. As Kolb and Fry (1975) maintained, the facilitation of this type of learning is entirely different from typical college instruction—an engaged learning that helps students make meaning and can be widely generalized. Planned ambiguity challenged students to take responsibility for their learning while emphasizing the critical analysis component of the course, both essential in this format, to student learning (Mezirow & Associates, 1990; Tennant & Pogson, 1995).

Multiple perspectives was an important theme of the course. The faculty provided different perspectives, not only from their distinctive disciplines, but also through authentic learning activities and using a wide variety of readings (graphic and classic novels, chapters, and texts), videos, movies, online activities, lectures, and guest speakers. They covered many topics (the collapse of societies, hurricanes Katrina/Rita and Gustav/Ike, the effects of Camille on Nelson County, Virginia, the Buffalo Creek flood, the Black Plague, AIDS, and polio). Students were asked repeatedly to reflect upon their feelings and opinions about content of the course and their experiences, individually and in small groups, in order to develop self-awareness through comparisons and contrasts with others’ experiences. These experiences represented many different perspectives related to disasters, and the faculty continually inserted thinking that represented their distinctive disciplines into the course learning.

Traditionally, solitary and logical reasoning about philosophical issues has defined critical thinking. The best metaphor for that model is Rodin’s sculpture of The Thinker. A typical scholarly definition that embodies this idea is “the process of analyzing and assessing thinking with a view to improving it” (Paul & Elder, 2007). However, that type of critical thinking is not particularly well-matched to the demands and characteristics of our post-modern world (Mezirow & Associates, 1990).

Alternatively, the metaphor of a quilt can portray modern transformational critical thinking. In this metaphor, the member of a community of learners actively brings together shared pieces of different perspectives to create new knowledge that is creative, striking, and relevant (Thayer-Bacon, 2000). This service-learning course experience successfully facilitated transformational critical thinking. The students’ final papers, conversations in class, and their exam responses all showed evidence of this. Students began to construct an understanding of human response to disaster while developing their critical thinking skills. This course was an exciting teaching and learning experience that was particularly effective at facilitating post-modern critical thinking. As Knowles provided guidance and an underlying theory for this course, we return to his major precepts, recognizing their significance in building this successful educational endeavor. In order to help students learn how to be skillful in directing social change, we drew on activities that would increase their self-awareness, be guided by a friendly and informal climate, and would build skills in human relations and group work, built through respect for others (Knowles, 1972).


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About the Authors

Carol Plummer is an associate professor in the Myron B. Thompson School of Social Work at the University of Hawaii. John Pine is director of the Research Institute for Environment, Energy, and Economics at Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina. C. Barrett Kennedy is a professor in the School of Architecture at Louisiana State University. Lawrence Rouse is an associate professor in the School of Coast and Environment at LSU. Teresa K. Buchanan is an associate professor in the College of Education at LSU.

Community Engagement: A Student Perspective

Morgan Bessaw, Genevieve Gerke, Melissa Britt Hamilton, and Liza Pulsipher

As students in the multidisciplinary master’s of bioregional planning program at the University of Idaho, we worked with a local community during our first year studio class. In 2010 we partnered with Priest River, a small (population 1,700) north Idaho town. This town’s heritage is tied to the logging industry, and the town is experiencing high unemployment due to mill closures and a reduced demand for wood.

As one of several teams working on different areas of community development, we began by meeting with key stakeholders. We brainstormed ideas for joint goals and objectives and collaboratively decided on three succinct goals: establishing a common vision, creating a toolbox for the community to use for future engagement projects, and identifying leaders to ensure project sustainability after we graduated.

During our time there we faced unanticipated hurdles. The biggest obstacles were student constraints, a compressed time frame, community apathy, and lack of community trust. As students, we had tight schedules and limited budgets. We funded most of our own transportation and food expenses and also supplied most of the meeting supplies. Over the course of the semester, we hosted five community engagement meetings.

Time is an essential component when working with a community, and it was difficult to accomplish our goals in a 16-week semester. A core group of about 10 residents consistently attended our meetings, but we also had casual participants. Due to our time constraint we could not continually revisit materials and conversations from the earlier sessions, which left new participants confused and unwilling to commit to leadership roles. Residents were curious about the long-term sustainability of the project, but when presented the opportunity to assume leadership, no one stepped up to the challenge. The distance to Priest River from Moscow, Idaho, about a 3-hour drive, limited the number of meetings we could host and affected our ability to fully gain the trust of local residents. Without gaining acceptance we were not able to match community’s expectations with our abilities and time frame.

Though we were invited to the community by leaders seeking new vision and community resilience, other community members remembered previous failures and assumed failure. In the face of the obstacles, it was hard for us to garner support or have productive dialogue. Those who invited us didn’t always show up to the meetings because of their previous negative experiences.

Despite these obstacles and setbacks, we still met our pedagogical goal: to learn first-hand what collaborating in a rural community can be like. We were also able to remind the community through our presentation of the successes they had been able to engineer during our tenure with them. These successes included strengthening the existing Citizens of Priest River Group and obtaining several economic development grants, including funding for a community garden and an economic development specialist. A critical lesson learned from this project was the importance of working with a physically and socially accessible community. Placing student teams in a community full-time could be beneficial in gaining the trust of local residents and building enthusiasm for ideas generated. Creating momentum for planning goals is a long-term process that requires the full commitment and engagement of community members to create the kind of support needed for community change. Community development requires a major commitment of time, while community engagement takes patience and trust.


Our thanks go to Dr. Nick Sanyal for his continued support throughout this project.

About the Authors 

The authors are all 2011 M.S. graduates in bioregional planning and community design from the University of Idaho. The program is multidisciplinary and encourages learning by working in local communities. Morgan Bessaw received her B.S. in environmental science from the University of San Francisco. Genevieve Gerke has a B.S. in environmenal studies from The College of Idaho. Melissa Hamilton received her B.S. in biology from the University of South Carolina. Liza Pulsipher received her B.S. in conservation social sciences from the University of Idaho.

Community Engagement: A Model Mental Health Partnership

Gerry Akland

I am a member of the Board of Directors for the Wake County North Carolina affiliate of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), a volunteer nonprofit organization with the mission of improving the lives of individuals and their families living with severe and persistent mental illness. NAMI Wake is made up of volunteers who are united in that mission. Our board represents a cross-section of the community because mental illness affects all people regardless of race, gender, religion, ethnic origin, and even political party.

In late 2007, Dr. Jessica Jameson of North Carolina State University reached out to our organization to research our board’s communication processes and help us function more efficiently. Although I am a natural born skeptic, I nevertheless joined with all the other board members and agreed to be “studied.” What I initially thought was going to be an enormous waste of the board’s time to fulfill the needs of the N.C. State students and their professor has resulted in an ongoing source of technical assistance, training, and support that has been invaluable to our nonprofit.

The N.C. State team observed and audio recorded all our monthly board meetings from January 2008 through February 2009. They also had private, individual interviews with each board member. My understanding is that they wanted to use methods that were sufficiently robust to capture the primary activities between and among the board members. It should be noted that no one on the board ever complained about being taped or having another visitor or two at the board meeting. I would also add that, in my opinion, their being present did not affect our behavior.

Based on the observations and interviews, the investigative team worked with us to develop skills and ways of operating that helped us become more efficient. For example, they suggested that we needed procedures to identify when it is appropriate and efficient to use email to make board decisions that require timely decisions. Additionally, after noting a lack of full involvement from all board members, they suggested strategies for improving the involvement. They also suggested ways to balance the governance and operations portion of our meeting to ensure that the most important issues were being addressed. The team even suggested that we should consider changing our agendas to reflect an element of excitement and variation from meeting to meeting. It never occurred to me that agendas could be exciting!

Our partnership with Dr. Jameson and her students did not end with their final report or with the legacy of procedures we have developed or changed based on their recommendations. NAMI Wake has developed a continuing relationship with the individuals involved, and we know we have passed on our passion for our mission and vision for those with mental illness.

As we all agree that our partnership is an outstanding example of a successful partnership, I would like to ask the readers to offer their time and talents to nonprofits, especially NAMI affiliates across the nation. Just Google NAMI and you can find links to the affiliates in all states. I have no doubt that you would be welcomed with a big hug. N.C. State’s ability to do field research in a way that is beneficial to all involved and to then take what they have learned beyond just our group to effect change is how a university-community partnership should work.

Book Reviews

Making the Case for Progressive Community Planning

Tom Angotti, New York for Sale: Community Planning Confronts Global Real Estate. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2008. ISBN 978-0-262-01247-8

Reviewed by Tammy Arnstein

Tom Angotti’s New York For Sale: Community Planning Confronts Global Real Estate articulates both a systemic community problem and a diverse array of community-based solutions. The problem—displacement of the poor and people of color from their homes and communities—is reflected in the struggle for community rights and empowerment that Angotti views as intrinsic to combating this displacement. The text offers concrete examples of how the displaced and those threatened by displacement are organizing and educating their communities to combat dislocation and to demand justice.

The insights into successful practices are informed by Angotti’s more than 20 years of experience as a professional planner and professor of Urban Affairs and Planning at Hunter College, City University of New York. His community and activist planning qualifications are notable: former chair of the Pratt Institute Graduate Center for Planning and the Environment, member of the activist-oriented Steering Committee of Planners Network, and founding member of the New York Campaign and Task Force on Community-based Planning. In New York For Sale, Angotti redacts his practitioner and academic experiences, deftly blending the two perspectives to offer a searing critique of what he regards as planning at the service of industrial capitalism and neoliberalism. The author examines New York City community planning responses to a range of community injustices, including urban renewal, gentrification, real estate speculation, large-scale planning, and the concentrations of environmentally hazardous activities in poor communities, while also situating these responses within wider economic, political, and social contexts.

Angotti begins with an overview of the terms and concepts used throughout his text, including his Marxist-derived theoretical perspective on how state-sponsored planning “both reflects and mediates the contradictions of capitalism—contradictions within the capitalist class and between capital and labor” (p. 7). This creates highly unequal and unjust urban and suburban land use patterns and economic and environmental conditions, most notably displacement and environmental injustices. Angotti views the relatively recent movement to resist these oppressions as political acts, stating that he wrote this book explicitly to document the strategies, insights, and knowledge gained by community planners over the years to help inform future community planning efforts. He also gives voice and recognition to community planning and activist groups who often go unrecognized, explaining:

This book…looks at urban policy from the bottom up from the vantage point of the mature, progressive community movements whose struggles for social justice continue to play a powerful role in shaping the city (p. 6).

One of Angotti’s basic premises is that planning—“a conscious human activity that envisions and may ultimately determine the urban future” (p. 7)—is not a neutral process and, in fact, is political. The role of planning has seen an ideological shift reflected in the move away from Keynesian state interventionism to neoliberalism, which calls for decentralization, deregulation, and the privatization of public services. In the former political climate, a planner’s role was to create technical solutions to social problems, while in the neoliberal regime the planner strives to prevent any interference to market forces to ensure the most efficient and profitable delivery of goods and services. Both systems have created racial, class, and social inequities that persist today, and that have been instrumental in displacing and marginalizing people of color and poor communities through state-sponsored urban renewal programs in the 1950s and 1960s, divestment in urban communities in the 1970s, real estate speculation and megaprojects, and gentrification.

According to Angotti, progressive community planning is the optimal means by which to counteract the private and public sector actions that historically have degraded community stability and well-being. Progressive community planning, Angotti explains, is

uniquely characterized by its focus on local and global equality, social inclusion, environmental justice, and community land. …{I}ts purpose is to yield new strategies to bring about fundamental change in our economic and political systems (p. 19).

In essence, progressive community planning is simultaneously a social movement, an incubator for alternatives to the neoliberal planning model, and an avenue of expression for populations whose needs have historically not been taken into consideration.

Angotti is aware that this type of planning is a challenge. He cites two themes that recur throughout the book as critically important caveats and as potential pitfalls in progressive community planning. First, he warns that it is difficult to balance mitigating environmentally dangerous land use practices while simultaneously limiting gentrification and real estate speculation. Angotti points out that after some poor communities took ownership over improvement of their abandoned and crumbling neighborhoods during the period of federal disinvestment from urban communities, they ended up subsequently being displaced by wealthier residents and speculators who were drawn to the revitalizing neighborhoods and who drove up housing values to where the original tenants could not afford to remain. This represents the tragedy of gentrification: residents who put their love and labor into improving their neighborhoods, by, for instance, working to combat unfair burdens of toxic land usage or by cultivating community gardens on abandoned lots, unwittingly create the conditions for their own displacement, precisely because there are no controls or policies in place to protect them. This is the logic of neoliberal policy, according to Angotti; within this system the government’s main role is to facilitate profit at the expense of the guarantee of a decent quality of life for all residents.

The second issue that Angotti identifies as an obstacle for progressive community planning involves challenging the notion of community participation that government or real estate developers claim to embrace as part of their decision-making process. Angotti refers to participatory planning as a “myth,” explaining that:

…[P]articipation can mean nothing more than sitting silently at a public hearing or attending scores of meetings that have no significant role in making decisions that matter. Participation can be confused with real democracy—the power of people to collectively control the decisions that affect their economic and environmental futures. Progressive community planning must be inspired by new visions of participatory democracy and not the traditional approach of representative democracy, in which stakeholders represent other people in the planning game (p. 29).

Angotti proposes a corollary to the myth of participatory planning: consensus planning. He refutes the assumption that planning can be conflict-free and yield a win-win situation for every stakeholder. He presents examples of community-planning efforts that consisted of alliances made between groups that did not always agree on outcomes or situations where diverse opinions played out through compromise and negotiation.

Although the book’s title pits the interests of disenfranchised communities against those of global real estate, Angotti provides a historical analysis of both the real estate industry and of government planning and policy roles in marginalizing and displacing people of color and low-income communities. He describes the character of the contemporary real estate market in New York City by noting that, in New York, real estate is local while finance is global. Given that these two sectors intersect in many city areas and neighborhoods, the struggle against global finance-backed real estate is simultaneously part of both the local and global arenas. Angotti provides a history of how government policy has facilitated the rise of a powerful real estate market that has systematically segregated communities by race and class and has displaced disempowered communities in its quest for additional profit. He also outlines some of the historical oppositional responses to economic, political, and social marginalization, such as the labor union and civil rights movements and efforts to combat exploitation by the real estate market and powerful industries that have been and continue to be economically and politically intertwined.

Angotti provides case study examples of community planning efforts that he has personally documented. There are varying degrees of success with each of these efforts, but the author has identified the reasons for successes and the obstacles that have resulted in failure, resulting in teachable moments within each community planning effort presented. Angotti believes that these lessons are transferable to other urban contexts; yet I question this portability in some cases, given that much of the social, political, and economic landscape discussed is unique to the New York City context. Nevertheless, the organizing tactics employed by community planners offer both inspirational and tactical examples and lessons for progressive community organizers working in varied contexts.

Angotti is not able to offer a recipe for how gentrification and displacement can be kept safely in check, but in his final chapter he provides a list of strategies that progressive urban planners and activists can use in their work, including land use and people-oriented strategies that focus on future generations and prioritize quality of life over profit margins. Ultimately, Angotti’s examples of community planning failures and challenges appeared to outweigh the number of successes; yet he remains hopeful that community planning can be a powerful force for social justice if its strategy is to become a multifaceted movement representing a diversity of interests, such as LGTBQ rights, environmental justice, right to housing, anti-racism, and immigrant organizing, to name a few. The most compelling contribution of this book is Angotti’s obvious faith in progressive community and social movements and the work of community activists and planners to triumph over neoliberal policies that exacerbate long-standing inequalities. Angotti’s argument that there are vital linkages between collective action, community empowerment, and participatory democracy is at once compelling and motivating.

About the Reviewer

Tammy Arnstein is a Ph.D. student in comparative and international education at Teachers College, Columbia University.


Education in Times of Emergencies Requires Balancing Theory, Practice

Kevin M. Cahill, editor, Even in Chaos: Education in Times of Emergency. New York: Fordham University Press and The Center for International Humanitarian Cooperation, 2010

Reviewed by Megan Scanlon

For generations, the humanitarian world has by and large been reactive, responding to man-made and natural disasters with food, shelter, and medicine. In the past decade, however, there has been a marked shift in the humanitarian dialogue, prompting a growing debate about what works and what doesn’t, as evidenced by books such as Michael Barnett’s and Thomas G. Weiss’ Humanitarianism in Question and Fiona Terry’s Condemned to Repeat, not to mention a growing number of humanitarian blogs such as “How Matters, “Blood and Milk,” and “Aid Watch” that revolve around the “do no harm” imperative. Consequently, songwriter Leonard Cohen said, “There is a crack in everything; that’s how the light gets in.” The emerging field of education in emergencies is that light making its way through some of the identified cracks in the humanitarian world, as illuminated by Even in Chaos: Education in Times of Emergency, edited by Kevin M. Cahill, M.D. The bedrocks of education in emergencies, as stated in Vernor Munoz’s chapter, “Protecting Human Rights in Emergency Situations,” lie in their “physical, psychosocial, and cognitive protection” properties “that can be both life-saving and life-sustaining” (p. 13). Accordingly, Cahill tells us that “Education is, as contributors in this volume will attest, not only an expression of a basic human right, but represents the only proven path to growth, development, and peace” (p. 2). Even in Chaos demonstrates that providing educational opportunities in emergency situations is needed, doable, and can be fruitful for affected individuals and communities.

Balancing theory and practice, Even in Chaos provides new perspective for its audience. In an appropriate and refreshing manner this compilation gives much needed attention to the voices being affected, providing valuable anecdotal evidence while reporting a wealth of statistics with the praxis to influence policy, and therefore giving the reader a grander and detailed scope of the problem. Each chapter is rooted in Munoz’s suggestion that “for those that do offer assistance, they should act with those affected rather than for them” (p. 10), while simultaneously managing to illuminate the multiple layers of difficulty that accompany the concept of acting with. The authors facilitate to the reader a sense of ownership and empowerment among newly and loosely formed communities of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) that could not be further from a “melting pot.” In his chapter, Gonzalo Sanchez-Teran exemplifies this by explaining the many complications concomitant with forming a parents’ association for an IDP site in Dar Sila, Chad: “No less than 20 villages are present in each site, often coming from different geographical areas and sometimes with serious problems of understanding among each other. It is difficult to involve people in a school that involves so many actors. Making each village feel not only just a part but also an owner of the school, and therefore responsible for it, proved to be a challenging task” (p. 220).

According to the Inter-Agency Network for Education in Emergencies, “approximately 75 million children are out of school worldwide; more than half of these children are living in conflict-affected states. Millions more are living in situations affected by natural disasters,” adding up to almost one sixth of the world’s population and projecting significant consequences such as individual and collective trauma, political instability, economic turmoil, and the high potential for social disintegration and social disunity. Youth refugees and IDPs like Valentino Achak Deng, Sudanese author of What Is the What: The Autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng” (McSweeney’s, 2006) writes that much of their development occurred in refugee camps, a decidedly bleak existence if little to no opportunity is presented. However, this is not to say that youth affected by conflict and displacement are not active participants. Neil Boothby, internationally recognized expert and advocate for children affected by war and displacement, says in a Center for Defense Information interview (

[B]y and large children are…resilient…if we understand resilience as not something that magically exists, but [as] the interaction of the child and the opportunity. So it’s the interior and the external that merge. And I think again our role in this is to recognize the fact that kids can overcome adversity, but they’re not going to do that necessarily on their own.

Boothby’s statement reflects the book’s overall theme of human dignity. An example is Arancha Garcia del Soto’s chapter on psychosocial issues in education, who writes:

Resiliency is closely tied to the consideration of the mutual support and interaction between individual and community wellness. It permeates every single emergency program.

Furthermore, in their respective chapters, “Hear Our Voices: Experiences of Conflict Affected Children,” and “After the Storm: Minority School Development in New Orleans,” Zlata Filipovic and Juan Rangel deftly illustrate the role played by quality education as a stabilizing and enriching agent of socialization. In Filipovic’s chapter, a young man named Kon says, education can allow children of war and disaster

to gain back a sense of humanity…to become a social being again through interaction with others…without this…the effects of war are carried until they explode somewhere along the line and hurt more people (p. 78).

Moreover, Rangel speaks to the power of the United Neighborhood Organization’s outlook, one that views schools as “anchors of communities, institutions where immigrant assimilation plays out, and children and families are socialized to…norms of…society” (p. 285).

Even in Chaos truly covers all of its bases. Yet, what could be strengthened is a rich narrative that organically allows the reader to empathize consistently throughout each chapter. While recognizing that Even in Chaos is not a piece of fiction, the bottom line is that in a world of six billion people we are moved by the characters in our lives; moved not even necessarily by what they say or do but how they say or do it. These stories of the lived experiences of those in emergencies remain, for some parts, absent. However, the feel of the book reflects the idea that the best policy makes use of the resources available, and as the proceeds from sales go to training humanitarian workers, on a grander scale, above any book review, the contributors are indeed making use of the resources available, and making concerted, quality coordination efforts to improve the field of education in emergencies.

While reading Even in Chaos, the reviewer was reminded of an interview she conducted with a former gang member, who said, “Education is the best form of intervention for any social ill of any kind,” which is perhaps the most important message to take away from this compilation. It is evident that the contributors of Even in Chaos strive to make that intervention a reality for those severely affected by emergency situations. As Deng says, “Perhaps the most that can be accomplished [in emergency situations] is a process of trial and error and of learning from practical experience” (p. 313).

About the Reviewer

Megan Scanlon is a New York University alumna.


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

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

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