Academic journal article Journal of Catholic Education

Served through Service: Undergraduate Students' Experiences in Community Engaged Learning at a Catholic and Marianist University/ Servir a Traves del Servicio: Experiencias De Estudiantes De Licenciatura En Aprendizaje Comprometido Con la Comunidad En Una Universidad Catolica Marianista

Academic journal article Journal of Catholic Education

Served through Service: Undergraduate Students' Experiences in Community Engaged Learning at a Catholic and Marianist University/ Servir a Traves del Servicio: Experiencias De Estudiantes De Licenciatura En Aprendizaje Comprometido Con la Comunidad En Una Universidad Catolica Marianista

Article excerpt

Within the past 15 years, research findings have shown an increasing number of colleges and universities incorporating service projects into their programs for undergraduate students (Astin, Sax, & Avalos, 1999; Eyler, Giles, & Braxton, 1997; Hellman, Hoppes, & Ellison, 2006). College students active in local communities link the university to their surrounding communities, a boon to both constituencies. Some students experience community service as an extension of their faith. On the other hand, by including real world experiences into the college years, community service benefits people's lives in both material and social assistance. Through service, young people can develop empathy, altruism, leadership, and generosity. This study began, in Fall 2013, when our research team, consisting of one professor and eight Ph.D. students in the Educational Leadership Doctoral Program, wanted to explore the dynamics of students who serve at our own university, the University of Dayton (UD).

Purpose of the Study

At the University of Dayton, the Fitz Center for Leadership in Community sponsors students who volunteer in the community. Students have an opportunity to supplement their traditional academic curriculum with various community service experiences. With the then-executive director of the Fitz Center, we explored the Center's mission. The Center had adopted a model, unlike the classical service-learning approach, in which learning and service are equally important goals (Chambers & Lavery, 2012). In that model, community service is linked to and structured by courses in a wider curriculum. Fitz Center programs were not linked to specific courses on a semester-by-semester basis but to service characterized by civically engaged partnerships.

The Fitz Center model was sustained community engagement, a model of "working with [not for] a community on a shared vision" in order that relationships based in inequality are not reinforced" (Fitz Center for Leadership in Community, n.d., p. 1). The problem we investigated was whether or not students active in community service were, in fact, making meaning that relates to community engagement on a sustained basis. For example, the executive director's questions included: to what extent and how did students' perceptions of community service include meaning related to continual, civically-engaged community service in Dayton long-term? With the executive director's input, the four Fitz Center programs chosen for study included: Semester of Service, Dayton Civic Scholars, Neighborhood School Centers, and River Stewards. The extent to which listening to student voices can add to the story of how these programs have value for students currently and for the long-term, for the community, and for the university, was what made this study important.

Conceptual Framework: Hindsight, Insight, Foresight

In this section, we provide a rationale for a conceptual framework that both guided the study and provided a lens through which we organized and analyzed the voices and experiences of the student participants. We then attempt to link that conceptual framework to a strong tradition in education, Dewey's (1938) notion of experiential education.

We employed a conceptual framework, rather than a theoretical framework, to guide our study. The conceptual framework was: hindsight, insight, and foresight. Our analytic perspective was to draw meaning from students' talking about service experiences prior to their lives at UD, talking about their experiences in sustained community engagement while at UD, as well as how their experiences may impact future service potential. Three lines of reasoning supported our decision for this conceptual framework.

The first was the structure driven by the a priori purpose of the study articulated in the prior section (i.e., how do students make meaning of engaged community service and does that meaning include sustained community engagement long-term). …

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