Community Leadership 1
AN ANALYSIS OF AND APPROACH TO REFRAMING CRITICAL SERVICE-LEARNING
A project submitted to the
Department of Educational Studies and Leadership
of the University of Cincinnati
in partial fulfillment of the requirements of the
MASTER OF ARTS
in Educational Studies
Jessica L. King
BA, University of Cincinnati, 2007
Committee Chair: Vanessa Allen-Brown, PhD
Committee Member: MJ Woeste, EdD
Community Leadership 2
Through an examination of the history and current manifestations of service-learning, one of the goals
of this research is to not only compile an extensive review of the associated literature but to point to
areas of concern and critique. That discussion is followed by a course sequence proposal of what could
be envisioned as the next phase of experiential learning, placed in the context of critical service-
learning. This model embraces a long-term commitment that is free of artificial boundaries by discipline,
while being a simultaneously student-centered and community-centered approach to service-learning.
The course sequence, Community Leadership, is intended to create lasting, transformational change for
Community Leadership 3
TABLE OF CONTENTS
An Ongoing Discourse of Terminology and Intentions 5
A Closer Look at Pedagogy, Philosophy, and Underlying Principles 11
Desired and Demonstrated Outcomes 17
Case Studies 21
Limitations, Obstacles, and Future Directions 28
Community Leadership 36
Identity and Community Awareness 41
Structural Inequalities and Leadership 43
Social Justice and Commitment to Action 45
Appendix A: Honors Seminars Request for Proposals 56
Appendix B: Community Leadership Summary 58
Community Leadership 4
No person exists in isolation from a larger whole, much as no community exists without its
citizens. Institutions of higher education find themselves located within communities and subsequently
bear a responsibility to acknowledge and embrace their fundamental connectedness to these locales.
Their graduates must progress to the oft-referenced “real world” of these local communities and
beyond, where they will be expected to apply the skills they have diligently committed themselves to
learning during the four- (or more) year moratorium experienced in pursuit of their degree (Eifler,
Kerssen-Griep, & Thacker, 2008; Eyler & Giles, 1999). Are institutions of higher education preparing their
graduates for this challenge? Our evolving society requires young professional entering the workforce to
not only be able to work diligently and follow direction, but to think critically through complex situations
and novel moments, to create visions, and bring insightful outlooks and sound judgments to their work
(Colby, Ehrlick, Beaumont, Rosner, & Stephens, 2000; Eyler & Giles, 1999; Simmons & Roberts-Weah,
2000). Beyond the sheer ability to apply academic skills and critical thinking comes the challenge of
active citizenship to make good, ethical use of one’s talents, gifts, and knowledge in order to impact
society and larger social structures (Schulz, 2007). Can this not also be the true test of academic success
and preparedness? This push toward civic engagement is the root of the 2009 Edward M. Kennedy
Service America Act and will continue to characterize the political and social nature of our country as we
move forward (Corporation for National and Community Service, 2009).
It is within this symbiotic and cyclical existence that we find two pressing but united points
permeating academia: the need for accountability in higher education and the growth and exploration
of the role of active citizens in today’s increasingly interconnected society. It could be argued that these
two movements are parallel to the established approach of service-learning as both an experiential
learning pedagogy and a means of achieving active citizenship. Regardless of the chronology, service-
learning in its many forms will undoubtedly prove to be influenced and expanded in the shadow of these
Community Leadership 5
larger initiatives, which raises a third, key question: What is the role of service-learning in higher
education and the larger goal of not only graduating academically-enlightened and motivated young
adults but, further, in pointing those with such education and privilege in the direction of their
communities, to the exploration of community needs and social justice that would allow others to
actualize their own interests and needs?
Through an examination of the history and current manifestations of service-learning, one of the
goals of this research is to not only compile an extensive review of the associated literature but to point
to areas of concern and critique. That discussion is followed by a course sequence proposal of what
could be envisioned as the next phase of experiential learning, placed in the context of critical service-
learning. This model embraces a long-term commitment that is free of artificial boundaries by discipline,
while being a simultaneously student-centered and community-centered approach to critical service-
learning. The course sequence, Community Leadership, is intended to create lasting, transformational
change for everyone involved.
AN ONGOING DISCOURSE OF TERMINOLOGY AND INTENTIONS
Experiential learning is an umbrella phrase used to describe any range of activities intended to
merge classroom theory and real world practice (Cantor, 1997). A key foundation of such experiential
learning is that experience and education are inseparable and cumulative (Dalton & Ingram, 2004).
Further, progressive educators like John Dewey advocated for education as a means of not only personal
growth and development but as a way to integrate young people into an equitable society, devoid of “-
isms” and injustices (Densmore, 2000). Profession-oriented approaches to service-learning include such
activities as internships, student-teaching opportunities, cooperative education placements, clinical
rotations and residencies in the medical field, among other forms. Parallel opportunities may be thought
of as the more traditional, straight-to-employment preparation options often referred to as vocational
Community Leadership 6
training. Vocational training is frequently stigmatized for its “blue collar” nature and lack of theoretical
and academic foundation. Further confounded among these limitations of vocational training is the
history of tracking and ability grouping that often funneled so many students into such professions or
fields due to their ascribed characteristics and the perhaps short-sighted perspective of their teachers,
counselors, and mentors (Noddings, 2006). Regardless of the precise form or the underlying social
current driving the various activities, experiential education in its broader form has a deeply entrenched
history in the educational system, both within formal and informal educational settings.
In addition to these approaches, other forms of experiential learning, some rooted in the
seminal works of Dewey and other progressive and constructivist theorists, have gained a stronger
following in recent years and are the focus of the research presented here. In particular, a subgroup of
experiential learning opportunities are intended to not only merge the academic and the world outside
of the classroom, while incorporating a strong focus on service that, in many cases, may be intended to
supersede purely professional outcomes. These activities transition into a pedagogy that, like those
discussed above, may be classified under any range of terms and embrace an even more elaborate
range of foci and desired learning objectives and outcomes. Depending on the focus, the discipline, the
institution, and the individual disposition of the leader(s) of the experience, these differences become
not only a distinction in terminology but, in some cases, a crucial differentiation pertaining to the true
intention of the approach as it relates to both immediate and long-term outcomes (Bednarz, Chalkley,
Fletcher, Kay, Heron, Mohan, et al., 2008). To understand the foundation behind these experiences, it is
imperative to analyze not only the words used to describe these opportunities in higher education, but
to closely examine what associations come along with the terms of choice. What follows certainly falls
short of being an exhaustive list, given the dynamic nature of language and the infinite combinations of
words and associations that can be entrenched in academia. With that in mind, the author has strived to
highlight those key words and phrases leading to an accurate enough depiction of what most frequently
Community Leadership 7
occurs in the literature on experiential learning that may or may not fulfill the triad of merging theory,
practice, and service. The phrases analyzed here include: volunteerism, community service, community
and civic engagement, service learning and service-learning, and critical service-learning.
For the sake of parsimony, volunteerism and community service have enough overlap in their
intentions as discussed in the literature that their analysis can unfold simultaneously. Of first importance
to note, nothing within the definition of such experiences requires or specifically recommends that they
be merged with the academic or an underlying theory of action. Various authors have pointed to ways in
which a spirit of volunteerism and community service is ingrained in the history of the United States,
irrelevant from curricular concerns (Enos & Morton, 2003; Hollander & Hartley, 2003; Oden & Casey,
2007). Volunteerism, for example, is a way in which people can help others at the individual level,
independent of governmental or structural intervention. Densmore (2000) suggests that this approach
alleviates temporal social tensions or problems with no focus on underlying issues or social ills. As an
example, while volunteering at a soup kitchen each Thanksgiving is a charitable gesture that certainly
serves a function and fulfills a temporary need, it does not move to a deeper level of service or
engagement, one that could, perhaps, address why there is a need for soup kitchens in the first place.
Further, volunteerism and community service are often enacted through a “one-directional” and
hierarchical approach, where one relatively privileged group has services to offer to another, needy
group (Enos & Morton, 2003; Jacoby, 2003).
Taking these good intentions a step further brings us to notions of community and civic
engagement. While there is almost certainly overlap between the lexicon of community service and
community engagement, many have purported that “engagement” moves closer to a picture of
citizenship grounded in the collectivity rather than efforts at individual, isolated acts of charity or
volunteer activity (Densmore, 2000; O’Grady, 2000). While there may have been a recent surge in such
activities, “*t+he grass-roots movement to reengage citizens in community building has been going on
Community Leadership 8
for at least two decades… when successful, such efforts serve as a powerful antidote to the cynicism
about national politics and the possibilities for citizen influence” (Hollander & Hartley, 2003, p. 304).
This movement grew from a sentiment that individual interests were being advanced before
community, with an intention to return the focus to the interconnectedness of our interests and actions
(Enos & Morton, 2003). Emphasizing the collectivity, civic and community engagement may or may not
come to involve more long-term activities as compared to volunteering or community service. Again, the
focus here is on citizenship and engagement in the community, with no explicit or necessary
connections to the world of academia.
This important distinction leads to service-learning. Activities of volunteerism or community
service move closer to the realm of service-learning when they are intentionally and purposefully linked
with a focus on the academic (McClam, Diambra, Burton, Fuss, & Fudge, 2008; O’Grady, 2000). Some
frame service-learning as “*serving+ the needs of a marginalized group while acquiring necessary
knowledge, skills, and dispositions to which they would not otherwise have access” (Eifler, Kerssen-
Griep, & Thacker, 2008). Even though the authors go on to explain that this can be a highly reciprocal
relationship with all parties involved learning and growing, this definition brings forth a particularly
hierarchical and student-centered characterization, wherein students possess a knowledge that the
community or those they serve needs, arguably perpetuating inequality by entering the dialogue seeing
a group of privilege reaching out to a “marginalized” group. Further, service-learning necessitates a
more reciprocal relationship than may otherwise be found through the previously articulated constructs,
wherein the student is both serving and learning, growing and helping. Stated another way, the “student
is not the all-knowing expert who chooses to offer services to a needy community. Rather, the student
serves as a potential resource who may possess what the community members want or need” (Bender
& Randall, 2005, p. 85). While some researchers (i.e., Rosenberger, 2000) have questioned the very use
of the word “service” in characterizing such activities due to its seemingly inherent hierarchical
Community Leadership 9
implications, others have defended the use of the term as they advocate for a more encompassing
definition of the word when used in the context of service-learning. Namely, “Service-learning thus
stands in contrast to the traditional, paternalistic, one-way approach to service, where one person or
group has resources that they share with a person or group that they assumes lacks resources.
Reciprocity also eschews the traditional concept of volunteerism, which is based on the idea that a more
competent person comes to the aid of a less competent” (Jacoby, 2003, p. 4).The incorporation of
reciprocity and positive outcomes for all involved is an extremely important aspect of service-learning as
Many educators would agree, however, that what nudges simple and perhaps isolated
volunteerism into true service and service-learning is the integration of reflection alongside academic
study and action, which work together to address community needs (Rosenberger, 2000). In fact, a
distinction has been made between service learning and service-learning, with some asserting that the
hyphen shows the true interconnectedness of learning and action, joined by and through reflection
(Eyler & Giles, 1999; Jacoby, 2003; Oden & Casey, 2007). In order for service-learning to be a truly
academic and civically-oriented pedagogy, it requires an intentional focus on both the academic and
related needs of students, along with a purposeful focus on the needs of the community, as defined by
the community. One of the more succinct and all-encompassing definition of this approach was
advanced by Ash and Clayton (2004): “Service-learning, a form of experiential education, is a
collaborative teaching and learning strategy designed to promote academic enhancement, personal
growth, and civic engagement. Students render meaningful service in community settings that provide
experiences related to academic material. Through guided reflection, students examine their
experiences critically, thus enhancing the quality of both their learning and their service” (p. 138). To a
greater or lesser degree, these are the goals with which practitioners of service-learning approach such
learning opportunities in higher education.
Community Leadership 10
The prevalence of opportunities to pursue service-learning at the collegiate level has grown
exponentially in recent years (Colby, Ehrick, Beaumont, Rosner, & Stephens, 2000). Schulz (2007)
articulated the point that all disciplines provide their students with concepts and theories intended for
practical use but, in one regard, it is the linkage with service-learning that actually cultivates that utility.
With that in mind, a wide array of courses, disciplines, departments, and institutions across the country
have incorporated some form of service-learning into their pedagogies. These disciplines include
business (Govekar & Rishi, 2007); communication (Borden, 2007; Schulz, 2007); education (Eifler,
Kerssen-Griep, & Thacker, 2008; Renner, 2009; Téllez, 2000); electronic media (Dalton & Ingram, 2004);
family and consumer sciences (Toews & Cerny, 2005); human service (McClam, Diambra, Burton, Fuss, &
Fudge, 2008); interior design (Sterling, 2007); nursing (Lashley, 2007); 2006); physical and occupational
therapy (Bender & Randall, 2005); psychology (Simons & Cleary, public policy (Johnson & Chope, 2007);
sociology (Luquet, 2009; Kouri, 2007); Spanish (Bloom, 2008); and women’s studies (Bettcher, 2007;
Ituarte, 2007; Ward, 2007; Williams & Ferber, 2008), among others. Despite this evidence of a wide-
ranging application of service-learning, it must also be acknowledged that the vast majority of such
ventures occur in so-called “soft” disciplines, such as the social sciences (Butin, 2006).
Much as reflection is needed to merge learning and service in order to constitute service-
learning, the nature and quality of the service itself is vital to result in an optimal experience. As one
author wrote, “Service should not be undertaken merely to nudge students toward civic engagement,
especially when they are earning college credit to do so… Students should work toward an education in
humanity and social change, not solely service and philanthropy” (Roberts, 2008, p. 102). This
movement toward not just community engagement married to the academic setting, but toward doing
all of that while simultaneously leaning toward social change leads to a particular branch of service-
learning, often referenced as critical service-learning (Mitchell, 2007). The point here is that it is not
enough to simply put in a set number of hours of service to the community to fulfill a course
Community Leadership 11
requirement or expectation. Rather, critical service-learning pushes the envelope, requiring and
expecting that through their experiences “students see the larger social phenomena contributing to why
people are in need in the first place, and will thereby be inspired into social action,” characterized as a
transformational learning experience (Téllez, 2000, p. 76). Students will not only see the pressing
urgency and need of now but also become cognizant of the underlying structural and root causes of
such need and disadvantage, thereby igniting a desire to create lasting and meaningful change rather
than temporal relief (Oden & Casey, 2007; Roberts, 2008). This need to see change and intention to
foster equality, to improve the human condition, bridges the gulf between service for charity and service
for social justice (Boyle-Baise, Bridgwaters, Brinson, Hiestand, Johnson, & Wilson, 2003; Butin, 2006;
Goodman, 2000). As Mitchell (2007) wrote, “Belief in, hope for, and imagination of a different kind of
society is the entry point for theorizing about social justice” (p. 102). The unity of theory and action
inherent in service-learning allows us to begin the journey toward realizing social justice (Schulz, 2007).
For the sake of clarity, critical service-learning will be employed throughout the remainder of
this work to distinguish those programs that not only merge the academic and the real world but that do
so in the context of an engaged, critical pedagogy designed to be both collaborative and
transformational in its intention to work toward goals of social change and social justice. Note that,
while social justice is explicitly incorporated into this definition, it is a piece of critical service-learning,
rather than its sole domain. In other words, “service-learning is a vehicle for social justice,” actualized by
way of multicultural education as a method of pedagogy (O’Grady, 2000, p. 2). Both of these elements
will be further explored throughout the duration of the current research.
A CLOSER LOOK AT PEDAGOGY, PHILOSOPHY, AND UNDERLYING PRINCIPLES
Various pedagogical techniques inform service-learning. To be clear, however, many researchers
(e.g., Jacoby, 2003) have advanced service-learning as both pedagogy and philosophy, particularly when
Community Leadership 12
viewed from the critical perspective of the current research. As a practice, service-learning is inherently
inductive and constructivist (Eyler & Giles, 1999; Goodman, 2000; Noddings, 2006; Rogers, 2001).
Further, Butin (2006) maintained that service-learning “ is an amalgam of… experiential education,
action research, critical theory, progressive education, adult education, social justice education,
constructivism, community-based research, multicultural education, and undergraduate research,” in
addition to being classified as “a form of community service, as a pedagogical methodology, as a
strategy for cultural competence and awareness, as a social justice orientation, and as a philosophical
worldview” (p. 490). Much as with the terminology of experiential education, the nature of the
underlying principles to implement a service-learning course(s) depends to an extent on the preferences
and dispositions of the facilitator, discipline, institution, and community partnership. As one attempt at
reconciling such multiplicity, Honnet and Poulsen (as cited in Oden & Casey, 2007, pp. 18-19) published
the Wingspread Principles of Good Practice for Combining Service and Learning, including such charges
as the need for all activities to be both responsible and challenging, requiring critical reflection, having
clear goals for all stakeholders, being collaborative with an element of commitment, incorporating
adequate training, maintaining the best interests of all constituents, and engaging diverse populations.
As already discussed, in order for service-learning to constitute a true learning experience, the
service activity must be integrally tied to the academic content. In line with that need, the seminal work
of Freire (2006) provides guidance in pivotal ways. First, elements of dialogic education are valuable,
wherein the perspectives, experiences, and knowledge of both teacher and student must be respected
and valued throughout the process. Students will be engaged in the community and will have authentic,
often troublesome, sometimes overwhelming experiences that must be acknowledged and discussed,
just as teachers have insight to share about their own lived experiences and activities in addition to their
academic foundation and background (Nagda, Gurin, & Lopez, 2003). Another important contribution of
Freire that pertains to the pedagogy of service learning is the concept of praxis, relating to the continual
Community Leadership 13
cycle of action and reflection. Engaging in the community (action) is a crucial element of service but, as
stated earlier, reflection is what truly binds the service to the learning, making service-learning an
academic endeavor with such strong potential (Lashley, 2007). One recurrent model of praxis involves a
period of preparation prior to action, followed by action, then reflection on the experiences and learning
outcomes (Bednarz, 2008; Horton, Kohl, & Kohl, 1990). Stated differently, praxis necessitates that
reflection is both preceded and followed by action (Rosenberger, 2001).
In a persistent theme, the pedagogy of reflection also varies widely, with rampant inconsistency
and range in descriptors relating to the integration of reflective activities into the pedagogy of service-
learning (Rogers, 2001). One of the seminal models of reflection comes from Kolb (1984). This four-step
model begins with concrete experience, followed by reflection on and about that experience, proceeded
by synthesis of newly acquired information and a movement toward abstract conceptualization,
rounded out by active engagement and experimentation again to test the new information, allowing
the cycle to begin anew. Other researchers have built upon this formula, emphasizing that it should have
no clear beginning or end point in order to be truly effective, and that deep reflection requires students
moving beyond their normal comfort zones through an adequate balance of challenge and support in
the classroom and in the community (Eyler & Giles, 1999; Rogers, 2001; Schulz, 2007). Following these
models of reflection can help students move beyond superficial discussions to a more critical analysis of
challenging situations encountered and the underlying causes. It is worth noting that this cyclical
approach also works well with various learning styles found in the classroom, as students are engaged in
hands-on learning, experiencing the context associated with content, and have room to look for the
value behind concepts and academic approaches (Cantor, 1997).
Regardless of the precise model, a variety of forms can be used to capture, assess, and make use
of reflective activities. First, Bloom (2008) reminds instructors not to assume that students know how to
approach reflection, in general, or in the specific ways the professor has in mind, for fear of gathering
Community Leadership 14
nothing more than superficial narrations of lived experience. Most common techniques discussed in the
literature include journals (e.g., Bettcher, 2007) and reflective papers (e.g., Hyten & Warren, 2003). As
another method of assessment, Ward (2007) incorporated ongoing analysis of journal entries using a
standard method of evaluation during classroom sessions, looking not only for completion, but content
relating to state objectives, and attempts to integrate classroom theory to active experience. A less time
intensive approach includes spotlighting a few student journal entries for class discussion and
exploration, allowing all students to benefit from the analysis and synthesis without, perhaps,
overtaxing the abilities of a single instructor (Eyler & Giles, 1999). Journals further provide an
opportunity to students to give voice to their experiences, discontent, dilemmas, and emerging
consciousness without exposing their classmates to what may be classified as overtly prejudiced or
discriminatory content (in the form of stereotypes, misinformation, and the like), while also creating one
can be a one-on-one, dynamic dialogue between instructor and student as instructors give feedback on
entries (Rice & Pollack, 2000). Regardless of whether reflection is completed through formal papers, less
formal journal entries, or another method entirely, Ash and Clayton (2004) propose a model referred to
as Articulated Learning. This model is designed to encourage students to demonstrate learning
outcomes via reflection, rather than just report them, in an attempt to also help students uncover a
more complex picture of the issues at hand. Their approach involves three dimensions of learning
outcomes: academic, personal, and civic. Students analyze outcomes in each of these dimensions using
three basic phases: objective description of the experience, analysis of the experience, and articulation
of learning outcomes. Guiding questions such as “What did I learn?,” “How, specifically, did I learn it?,”
and “Why does this learning matter?” help students scaffold their responses as they begin to engage in
this process (Ash & Clayton, 2004, p. 142). Because of both the standardized approach and the
demonstration of learning outcomes, the authors also suggest that this technique can be valuable for
measures of accountability relating to the true outcomes of service-learning activities.
Community Leadership 15
For reflection to be truly critical and in line with the tenets of critical service-learning, students’
experiences must begin to make them challenge the status quo and their previous assumptions about
how and why the world functions as it does (Rogers, 2001). This challenge makes clear the point that
reflection is a cognitive and affective pursuit, fostered by an usual or perplexing situation wherein
students must looking closely at their own beliefs and values in light of new information. Critical
reflection is what pushes students toward a transformation of perspective, wherein they must analyze
their experiences and come to new conclusions, rather than following back on prior schema to make
sense of new situations and deal with dissonance (Eyler & Giles, 1999). In order for students to have
experience upon which they can critically reflect, the nature of their service must be purposeful and
suited to these ideals. Rosenberger (2000) charged educators to “create service learning experiences
that extend beyond empathy and ‘helping others.’ Important as these are, service learning must be an
avenue of education that enlarges students’ critical consciousness and contributes to the transformation
of society. Such transformation must be toward a fuller humanity for all of us” (p. 42). To be clear,
transformation is the antithesis of transactional activities, where service or work may be completed, a
pressing need may be addressed, but little (or no) true or lasting change is expected (Enos & Morton,
One of the ultimate goals of critical service-learning, specifically, and critical pedagogy, more
generally, is to create dissonance as a means of reframing the way in which people see the world (Freire,
2006; hooks, 1994). Of note, perspective transformation may not occur during the short span of time of
one course or even within a course sequence – perspective transformation may take a lifetime. But if
the seeds are planted during a course, most would agree that a goal of critical service-learning has been
achieved, such that students have been empowered to do something relating to social change (Eyler &
Giles, 1999). By problematizing structural inequality and exposing students to alternative possibilities
using the approaches of multicultural education and social justice goals, these seeds can be nurtured
Community Leadership 16
(Nagda, Gurin, & Lopez, 2003). A nonhierarchical approach to pedagogy and engaging the various
stakeholders – instructors, students, community – can work toward this end (Rosenberger, 2000). By
approaching community partnerships in a way that is strengths-based, sustainable, incremental,
strategic, enterprising, dissemination-oriented, and creative (Ersing, Jetson, Jones, & Keller, 2007),
critical service-learning can be a means of transforming both students and communities (Densmore,
These transformational experiences can ultimately eradicate the need for service in the first
place by incorporating tenets of social justice education (Boyle-Baise & Langford, 2004). As instructors of
critical service-learning strive toward the realization of such lofty aspirations, it’s of note the true
relevance of the work at hand: “Content without a transformative pedagogy may be rhetorical,
intellectualizing, and divorced from reality. An active and engaging pedagogy without a critical
knowledge base may result in temporary ‘feel good’ emotions” (Nagda, Gurin, and Lopez, 2003, p. 168).
One method of exploring and seeking to attain the tenets of social justice can come through
multicultural education as a theoretical perspective used to inform service-learning pedagogy. Within
this framework, a strand of multicultural education known as social reconstructionist multicultural
education can be employed. As O’Grady (2000) explained, this approach “teaches directly about
oppression, discrimination, social justice, and how to take action against these inequities… When
students can learn to analyze, to critically reflect on, and ultimately – if they choose to – to transform
oppressive situations through action, they are engaged in a form of political activism inherent in social
reconstructionist multicultural education” (pp. 2-6). Incorporating this perspective is challenging, as
multicultural education can carry an overtly political association, thereby making it controversial
depending on the meaning attached to it by the person doing the interpretation (Densmore, 2000). The
political natural of multiculturalism (and social justice) is but one of many in the realm of education,
making it a point of caution but not a cause for alarm or discouragement (Butin, 2006). Taken together,
Community Leadership 17
the positive impact that can come from a well-orchestrated program incorporating the ideals of social
justice and multicultural education should far outweigh the negative possibilities as utilized in the
pedagogy of critical service-learning.
DESIRED AND DEMONSTRATED OUTCOMES
In one of its most encompassing forms, critical service-learning as a “scholarship of engagement
is seen to link theory and practice, cognitive and affective learning, and colleges with communities…
breach[ing] the bifurcation of lofty academics with the lived reality of everyday life to promote critical
inquiry and reflective practice across complex and contested local, national, and international issues”
(Butin, 2006, p. 474). On the path to attaining these goals, smaller, incremental outcomes can also be
documented and achieved that feed into the larger picture of transformation already discussed. As with
any the implications of any other pedagogical practice, Eyler and Giles (1999) presented this caution:
“Simply requiring service hours has a tenuous link to student outcomes, but community service that is
well integrated with an academic course of study contributes to personal and interpersonal
development, learning and application of knowledge, critical thinking ability, and perspective
transformation” (p. 182). As such, the way in which the ideals of service-learning are cared out in
practice contribute significantly in terms of demonstrated outcomes, be they related most directly to
areas of academics, personal development, or civic engagement (Astin, Vogelgesand, Ikeda, & Yee,
2000). Further, the specific goals of each program or opportunity may be different, in that some “may
have goals in the areas of leadership, ethical development, spiritual development, critical thinking,
analytical or creative writing, citizenship or civic education, social justice, or increased understanding of
human difference and commonality” (Jacoby, 2003, p. 5). Consequently, these distinctions have
implications for the ways in which outcomes are processed or evaluated. A standard method of
evaluation that should permeate all approaches, then, is through academic performance. Grade point
Community Leadership 18
average, the most common indicator of academic achievement, has been evaluated to positive effects
by some researchers (Astin, Vogelgesang, Ikeda, & Yee, 2000), while many others have found no
significant changes in grades as a result of service-learning. These mixed results have led many
researchers to not doubt the validity of service-learning but, rather, to appreciate that its outcomes are
perhaps more qualitative than quantitative. The possible combinations of variables interacting in such
complex, evolving situations points to the need to take a more well-rounded approach to measuring the
outcomes of service-learning (Butin, 2006). This holistic view of academic achievement leads to the
following discussion of results and outcomes.
Nagda, Gurin, and Lopez (2003) conceptualized the idea of engaged learning, a method that
involves carrying the material of the classroom beyond the boundaries of class sessions and times,
discussing and mulling over theory and learning, to applying the content to real-life, complex, and
dynamic settings. This very process of engaged learning can be an example of increased cognitive
development and a growth in critical thinking skills, as demonstrated by other researchers (Cantor,
1999; Ward, 2007). Eyler and Giles (1999) found that students in well-developed service-learning
courses where the academic and service components were interdependent were better able to apply
information learned in the classroom to real-life settings and had more sophisticated approaches to
problem solving that incorporated community needs and made room for overcoming gaps in their
personal knowledge and experience. They further explained that students believed, irrelevant of
quantitative measures of academic achievement, they had learned more in the classroom setting,
perhaps by virtue of their ability to apply such information rather than seeing it as a series of isolated
facts and theories. Johnson and Chope’s (2007) students studying public policy were able to better
analyze sampling techniques and process descriptive data as compared to their non-service-learning
counterparts, in addition to being able to more critically analyze the implications of public policy work.
Similarly, Govekar and Rishi (2007) found that their business students who had engaged in quality
Community Leadership 19
service-learning felt more comfortable deviating from planned activities and had more confidence and a
perceived increase in abilities to engage in or lead group discussions, move beyond basic answers from a
textbook, and actualize resources and contacts to complete a task if needed. Some learning outcomes
have been mixed, as Simons and Cleary (2006) showed. While their students expressed a deeper
understanding of theoretical concepts, they also reported a decreased interest in the course and its
content; whether this is a consequence of the actual service experience or some other variable entirely
Thinking about outcomes that play a role not only academically but in educating the student
academically and socially for success in an ever-changing, fast-paced society, innumerable personal
outcomes have been documented. As Simmons and Roberts-Weah (2000) pointed out, service-learning
“provides higher education with a unique opportunity to teach the ‘whole’ student by strategically
connecting the curricular and cocurricular aspects of student life in higher education through teaching,
research, and citizenship” (p. 205). Students have widely reported increased feelings of self-efficacy and
self-confidence, at a personal level and as it relates to their ability to make a difference in the lives of
others (Simons & Cleary, 2006; McClaim, Diambra, Burton, Fuss, & Fudge, 2008; Toews & Cerny, 2005).
Students have also reported or demonstrated an increased appreciation for diversity, increased
tolerance, along with an appreciation for other cultural frameworks and ways of seeing the world
(Bednarz et al., 2008; Eyler & Giles, 1999; Simons & Cleary, 2006; Toews & Cerny, 2005). Heightened
interpersonal skills and other forms of social capital have also been shown to be common outcomes of
service-learning activities (Bednarz et al., 2008; Eyler & Giles, 1999; Keen & Hall, 2009). Other
researchers have also documented students’ reports of spiritual growth in conjunction with their
increased commitment to social justice initiatives, even when it was not an explicit objective (Bernacki &
Bernt, 2007). Thinking in terms of long-term impact, many researchers have found that students made
changes in their intended career path and/or said they would be committed to continuing their
Community Leadership 20
engagement in the community at the conclusion of their structured course requirements (Astin,
Vogelgesang, Ikeda, & Yee, 2000; Bettcher, 2007; Eyler & Giles, 1999; Williams & Ferber, 2008).
While these student-centered outcomes are prevalent throughout the literature, less accessible
and less documented are the impacts and outcomes for members of the community. While this dearth
of information will be discussed further in the next section, there are some key findings to highlight.
Elsons, Johns, and Petrie (2007) studied the longitudinal impact of students in service-learning programs
helping preschool students in collaboration with the pre-existing Jumpstart program. While all mentors
work one-on-one with a preschool student following and during a total of 60 hours of training, those
mentors engaging in this experience in conjunction with a service-learning course achieved higher gains
with their preschooler than did mentors not enrolled in a similar course. Another example comes from
the University of Southern Florida (USF). As Ersing, Jetson, Jones, and Keller (2007) discussed, the
purposeful redesign and strategic vision to grow the research power and notoriety of USF led to a
partnership known as the East Tampa Initiative, which necessitates true collaboration with the
surrounding community and has led to valuable outcomes for all stakeholders. Through this reciprocal
partnership, community members give input on all activities, the university utilizes a strengths-based
approach in undertaking research and course design in the area, and research findings are widely
disseminated and used for positive change in the surrounding community. These two examples begin to
show just how service-learning can be “win-win-win” for students, faculty, and the community (Bednarz
et al., 2008).
For all the successes documented here, the results beg the question of what other results can
come from concerted engagement in critical service-learning activities, and how much of a lasting
impact these experiences can have. Through critical service-learning’s ultimate goal of fostering
transformational learning experiences, the intention is not only to improve and change the ways that
students learn, but to do this in cooperation and collaboration with the community, while bringing in the
Community Leadership 21
skills and talents of committed members of faculty and student services (Enos & Morton, 2003).
Through this praxis, the hope is the planting and cultivation of seeds of positive social change (Dalton &
Ingram, 2004). To illustrate examples of these broader outcomes as achieved through intentional
approaches to critical service-learning, a variety of case studies follow.
University of San Francisco
Johnson and Chope (2007), professors at the University of San Francisco, instruct a course on
public policy, focusing on homelessness and incorporating a purposeful focus on service-learning. The
upper division course is for public policy majors, wherein students are assigned to work in a community
agency for a minimum of two hours per week over the course of the semester. With the explicit
objective of students understanding the human consequences of policy work, the instructors strive to
remove the otherwise neutral focus of most public policy courses. Through their work, students see the
patterns and personal implications of public policy. Of note, before students began their internship they
articulated their desired outcomes as predominantly informational (i.e., to learn the inner workings of
and daily operations of community agencies), but by the end of the semester they found themselves
more transformed by the personal connections they had made along the way than by this basic
It is these personal connections and this profound change of outlook that led Johnson and
Chope (2007) to describe the course as transformational for the students. Students studying public
policy with these professors could no longer maintain the neutrality that they had largely encountered
before their internship, nor could they shake this experience as they moved forward. Unfortunately, the
analysis presented does not discuss the impact on the communities and the agencies the students
worked with, so the level of collaboration remains in question even though an element of
transformation that is invaluable to critical service-learning is exhibited.
Community Leadership 22
California State University-Monterey Bay
If there is any doubt regarding the move to institutionalize service-learning as pedagogy, the
case of California State University-Monterey Bay (CSUMB) adds credence to the movement. Rice and
Pollack (2000) highlight the approach of CSUMB, a relatively-new university built on the grounds of a
former Army base, Fort Ord. Members of the surrounding community were actively consulted through
the conception of this university and the formulation of its mission, requiring that it be both accessible
and truly a part of its surroundings. The resulting curriculum requires all graduates to have completed at
least two service-learning experiences throughout their tenure at the school. The first, a required
general education seminar, creates a common experience for all students to explore elements of power,
compassion and blame, including focused study about privilege and oppression. In addition to explicitly
focusing attention on entering and exiting communities thoughtfully, students put all of this knowledge
into action by completing 30 hours of required service. Aside from this introductory experience,
students go on to complete at least one required course specific to their program of study prior to
graduation. Throughout both courses, students critically reflect on their own identities and self-
awareness while they seek to observe and describe the work they are doing in the community.
The structured and intentional approaches built into the design of these courses reflect
elements of critical service-learning pedagogy. Students are encouraged to not only understand their
own perspectives, experiences, and bias, but to look deeper at structural factors they are witnessing and
explore this exposure under the guises of compassion, responsibility, and social justice. CSUMB provides
an example of the process of institutionalizing service-learning and being collaborative with the
community, though the current research on outcomes does not directly attest to moments of
transformational learning. Future research will, perhaps, delve deeper into this aspect as the legacy of
CSUMB and its approach grows.
Community Leadership 23
Another example of service-learning comes from Bonner Scholars, a program highlighted by the
research of Keen and Hall (2009). Bonner Scholars are students selected through the college admissions
process at approximately 25 institutions each year, located predominantly at private, liberal arts schools
of higher learning in Appalachian areas. In total, 10-20 students are selected at each school annually
based in part on financial need (loosely connected to Pell Grant eligibility as determined through the
Free Application for Federal Student Aid). As a part of a financial package, students are responsible for
completing ten hours of training, community service, and reflection on a weekly basis, in addition to
opportunities to engage in more extensive service experiences during academic break periods. Students
choose their site of service and, in all, have completed over 1,500 hours of service at that site by the
time they graduate. Through their commitments, students reflect on what Keen and Hall (2009) term
otherness, which they go on to define as the lives, opportunities, culture, and experiences of those
perceived to be different from oneself. Longitudinal surveys administered to students at various touch
points throughout their commitment show increased attention to social justice issues over time, an
internalization of experiences, and appreciation for the continued support of Bonner Scholars staff
This program appears to be unique as compared to some other examples available for analysis,
in that it is tied to financial aid and involves a longitudinal time commitment. Students are selected to
participate by college admissions staff members and, while they do ultimately elect to participate and
stay engaged as Bonner Scholars, there is a tangible benefit being allocated to students above and
beyond the intrinsic reward or motivation for otherwise engaging in service. Nonetheless, the
longitudinal nature of the program provides an interesting case for the role of sustained approaches to
service-learning among a cohort of students within a college or university.
Community Leadership 24
Williams and Ferber (2008) present findings of a non-hierarchical mentorship program known as
Smart-Girl, wherein adolescent girls are partnered with college-age women to explore life skills,
empowerment, and developing self confidence through a feminist model. The mentors undergo 24
hours of training before working with the younger girls which, in this particular example, is incorporated
into an internship offered through a women’s studies department. Mentors also reflect and debrief as a
group following each activity with the younger girls. At the close of the program, the mentees
demonstrate growth in measures of problem solving and critical thinking, emotional intelligence,
conflict resolution, and resilience. But the experience is reciprocal and mutually reinforcing, as the
university women improve their own communication and problem-solving skills, and feel more
confident in their ability to create social change.
The measured outcomes for both mentors and mentees make the program transformative; the
younger girls leave with valuable and empowering life skills as do the mentors, many of whom continue
to work with the Smart-Girl curriculum after their commitment has ended. This transformation and
consciousness raising, the purposeful praxis of action and reflection throughout, and the approach to
addressing a genuine community need (bolstering the often fledgling self esteem of young girls), makes
the Smart-Girl curriculum a prime example of critical service-learning.
Bridge Builders Academic Mentoring Program
The Bridge Builders Academic Mentoring Program (BAMP) is a service-learning option for pre-
service teachers, housed at a Catholic, university in the northwest (Eifler, Kerssen-Griep, & Thacker,
2008). The program is a one-year partnership between secondary education majors and Bridge Builders,
an already established community organization for Black adolescent males. The education majors serve
Community Leadership 25
not as tutors but as academic mentors to these young men who are frequently labeled as “at risk” – at
risk, perhaps, of dropping out of school, of being incarcerated or otherwise in trouble with the law, and
many other obstacles that may prevent them from achieving their full potential. Through BAMP, the
mentors and the Gents (as the BAMP participants are known) meet for three hours each Monday, over
dinner, focused academic study, and a more flexible “study hall” hour led by the Gents. Through online
discussion boards and group reflection sessions, “Mentors were not allowed to become mired in their
own limitations and occasional stumbles; they were expected to seek and implement effective strategies
to solve the complex educational and curricular problems they encountered, but not alone and not
without support” (Eifler, Kerssen-Griep, & Thacker, 2008, p. 65). In this novel and initially overwhelming
experience of what may be the first true relationship or exposure that these future teachers have had
with African Americans, in general, or elements of the urban lifestyle they have been raised in, the
victories and successes seem to dramatically outweigh the challenges that are overcome through this
active network of support.
The outcomes of BAMP speak for themselves: all of the Gents have graduated from high school
and 97% of them have matriculated into college. Further, all of the academic mentors have gone on to
professions in teaching, in many cases in high schools attended by the Gents they have mentored, at
which point their mentees have served a protective and socializing role for their new teachers, providing
them with invaluable social capital as they make their transition into the professional world and seek to
gain credibility with their students. These are some of the more quantifiable achievements of BAMP.
Other outcomes are, perhaps, not as easy to illustrate by way of statistics or simple words:
“As the program matures, each year a handful of Gents decide to make this small, primarily
White campus their college destination. They have found a home here and the many welcoming
gestures of support, in the form of scholarships, study, and support groups, provide ample
evidence of that. However, they and their fellow Gents have also made important contributions
Community Leadership 26
to this community and know they are valued for those. For themselves, they have broadened
their original view of what life might hold for them and have taken the first important step in
achieving their dreams. Along the way, they have catalyzed others; their mentors and their
mentors’ teachers and institutions are transformed in fundamental ways. This is shown in the
teaching jobs they take, the choices they make within those classrooms, and their attitudes and
actions toward marginalized people. These instances of grace point to the power of engaging in
social justice to teach social justice.” (Eifler, Kerssen-Griep, and Thacker, 2008, p. 68)
This is the transformative nature for which service-learning practitioners strive; not only was the
experience mutually reinforcing and truly collaborative, but the outcomes live on beyond the conclusion
of the formal partnership and even past the reach of those directly engaged. As with other existing
experiences, it is not readily apparent how deeply the practitioners delved into issues of structural
inequality, but the broader community impact speaks volumes and lends itself, at least in large part, to
the goals of critical service-learning.
The Citizen Scholars Program
A final case study is that of the Citizen Scholars Program (CSP) at the University of
Massachusetts-Amherst (Mitchell, 2007). CSP is a cohort of students within the honors program who
have applied and been accepted to the four-semester learning experience. The goal of the program is to
develop in students the ability and desire to elicit positive social change through a two year engagement
in service. Students choose the agency for themselves and are provided with a solid grounding in social
justice theory and study to support their activities. As Mitchell (2007) explained of the approach,
“students must first come to believe and understand that the current community is somehow flawed.
Then, the student should seek to be aware of root causes that lead to the flaws and problems they now
recognize in the community” (p. 102). Students complete well over 200 hours of service over the course
Community Leadership 27
of two years, divided into a requirement of 60 hours of service per semester, and are compensated via a
$500 scholarship each semester. Highly structured course meetings give way to student-led discussions
and research focused on experiences and challenges that arise through the community commitment.
Students reflect critically on their activities throughout, focusing on privilege and oppression, as
well as their own identity, perspectives, and responsibilities to those around them. They explore the
meaning and root causes of inequality, shatter pre-existing stereotypes, and make privilege visible while
participating in structured discussion sessions about their community engagement with classmates and
instructors. Students are also evaluated throughout their experience by their community partners. As a
culmination of knowledge gained, in the third semester, students seek community input and research
and design a capstone experience intended to elicit meaningful social change. This capstone is to be
grounded in social justice approaches, questioning unequal status and inequitable social structures.
Partnered with the short-term benefits realized through such experiences, the Citizen Scholars Program
“benefits everyone as a new generation of leaders, with visions of justice guiding their efforts, leave the
University with intent to live their social justice commitments and to work for meaningful social change”
(Mitchell, 2007, p. 110).
In each of these structured experiences, we find incidents of transformational learning and
profound outcomes. As invaluable and thrilling as each of these programs are, it must be remembered
that seemingly isolated, individual experiences also have transformational outcomes that may or may
not make their way to the literature. Such is the story of a devout young woman who volunteered with
an AIDS outreach organization as a part of one of her courses:
“Although she felt that homosexuality was sinful, she also worked closely with many gay men
and women whom she liked and respected and spent a good deal of time grappling with her
dilemma of accepting and yet not accepting homosexuality. She spent a good deal of time in her
Community Leadership 28
journal and in group reflection puzzling over her contradictory feelings. For her the defining
moment came when she spent a day working alongside a man living with HIV who shared with
her his experiences in his own church. She was particularly struck by his story of rejection by a
fellow parishioner: ‘He told me that AIDS was God’s punishment for my sins but I asked him if
perhaps AIDS hadn’t been sent into the world to test his Christian compassion.’ This story
provided an insight that allowed her to restructure the way she thought about AIDS and her
own faith; suddenly there was no conflict between her own moral values and her friendship and
compassion for the people she was working with. Her new perspective on Christian compassion
had room for both.” (Eyler & Giles, 1999, p. 143)
These moments should remind all practitioners and advocates of service-learning that the impacts of
quality experiences truly do make a difference in the lives of others and, perhaps not immediately or in
an obvious way, they also are relevant as we work toward broader movements toward social change
and developing in students a passion for social justice as fostered through critical service-learning.
LIMITATIONS, OBSTACLES, AND FUTURE DIRECTIONS
The growth and development of service-learning programs at institutions of higher learning
across the country has led to a deductive scramble to document results and outcomes, seeking to
thereby solidify the approach as a worthwhile academic endeavor for faculty, students, and
communities, alike. Perhaps despite and because of this, the path has been challenging. As Eyler and
Giles (1999) point out, “service-learning programs sprang up without the benefit of a research base or
systematic attempts at evaluation. Founded and developed by bright and passionate students,
enthusiastic faculty, and community-oriented student services staffs, these programs have flourished
but have not become well connected to the academic core of most institutions that house them” (p. 13).
Four pressing and recurrent challenges yet to be adequately resolved include the full integration of and
Community Leadership 29
sensitivity to community needs and interests, keeping student needs and development at the fore of
design and implementation, the impact on faculty and instructors of service-learning activities, and the
future direction of service-learning as pedagogy throughout all areas of higher education.
Just as the principles of critical service-learning espouse a need for students to uncover the
structural roots of their proximal experiences, Roberts (2008) reminds us that, “Societal relationships
between majority and minority groups are necessarily mirrored in the dynamic between students and
community partners” (p. 104), necessitating an open and honest acknowledgement of this occurrence
and a way to move beyond such perpetuation of inequality. In a colloquial articulation of this, Horton
(1990) explained that “even somebody who does try to identify with poor people by dressing poor can
still go back home or use a credit card. There’s always an escape .That’s perceived by poor people as
being a lark. Whether they’re doing it for the experience or from guilt, it’s always slightly artificial” (p.
197). One way to strive to avoid such a touristic model of service-learning is to ensure accountability to
community members throughout the process (Engstrom, 2003). In high-trust, high-responsibility
partnerships, true collaboration can be found that serves the purposes of eliciting social change that is
transformational for all stakeholders, not just for students. Without these intentions, the one-sided
relationship that benefits students and leaves communities the same as they were – or perhaps worse –
will be counterproductive to the objectives of critical service-learning (Langseth, 2000).
One of the first challenges to overcome to orchestrate truly reciprocal, collaborative service-
learning is to openly acknowledge, address, and seek to rectify what may be a community’s negative
perceptions of the university. In the case of urban institutions, negative perceptions may be the result of
“gentrification” initiatives being undertaken that oust long-time residents to make way for university
growth (Enos & Morton, 2003; Jones, 2003), or even the consequence of even more daunting
relationships wherein the university uses the community for the purposes of research, expansion, or
development without giving anything in return (Langseth, 2000). Jones (2003) and Mitchell (2007) have
Community Leadership 30
pointed out that an imbalance of power can be at the root of such dysfunctional relationships, and that
critical service-learning pedagogy “seeks to challenge the imbalance and redistribute power through the
ways that service-learning experiences are both planned and implemented” (p. 103). As such, a starting
point would be realizing that communities are under no obligation to be subjected to or appreciative of
offers of service as they relate to the advancement of campus agendas (Roberts, 2008). A true goal
should be one of reaching a trusting, responsible, and respectful relationship wherein the boundaries
between campus and community are blurred because objectives of all of the stakeholders are one and
the same (Jones, 2003). Such a high-trust relationship not only enables mutual understanding and
shared interests, but allows for partnerships to persist and flourish through obstacles, difficulties, or
changes in leadership (Enos & Morton, 2003).
The need to become increasingly community-centered by no means negates the urgency of
remaining student-centered. While the outcomes already documented show significant gains have been
made, there are still innumerable pitfalls to avoid and areas in need of improvement as service-learning
grows. First, the point cannot be overemphasized that academic content and service experience must be
truly and deeply intertwined to add the most value to the curriculum; research has shown that making
service an optional component of a course, not fully reflecting upon or discussing the service experience
in the classroom, or allowing students to enter haphazardly into an activity may and certainly can add
value, overall, but will not be at an optimal level (Eyler & Giles, 1999). If we accept that the service or
engagement experience is required, then, we must go on to acknowledge a variety of obstacles that may
appear as a result. First, the very notion of requiring students to volunteer, can be a contradiction of
terms with counterproductive results, subject to challenge by students. Ward (2007) shared a challenge
that occurred in her women’s studies courses, wherein the young women questioned the role of
volunteerism as counter to feminine empowerment and emancipation as it exploited their labor; turning
this argument on its side (indeed, by reflecting critically) Ward worked with students to reframe their
Community Leadership 31
perceptions of community service, embracing it as a means to be proactive in a community and address
the needs of others while learning about oneself. While this critical analysis quelled the concerns of
Ward’s students, circumventing other such obstacles certainly requires an upfront articulation of
expectations and commitments so that students are able to make an informed decision as they enroll in
a course or course sequence.
Once students endeavor to commit to such activities, the probability of encountering
unexpected barriers – whether they are in the community or specific to the student’s life – is strong and
must be planned for as much as possible. First, “There may be some tension between doing what is
needed in the community and doing intellectually stimulating work; when students are not actively
engaged in partnership in developing a project, they may feel less engaged in work identified by the
community while acknowledging that it is work that the community needs to get done” (Eyler and Giles,
1999, p. 72). Further, availability of time, level of motivation, and degree of engagement can vary over
time. One consequence of framing service-learning as “easy” as a recruitment strategy for students
could have undue consequences in the community if students want to drop the course or discontinue
their service mid-experience due to unexpected time constraints or concerns (St. Clair and Tschirhart,
2007, p. 50). One professor, in particular, addressed this challenge by requiring her students to sign a
contract vowing their commitment and respect to the course, its content, and all community members
(Kouri, 2007). Of course, the social and personal aspects involved in higher education necessitate some
flexibility in policies and scheduling, no matter how good intentions are in defining restrictions and
constructing contracts. As articuled by Téllez (2007), a professor at a large, urban research university,
states, “I have been told by several students that in order to complete the service learning project, they
would have to quit their jobs, sometimes putting the family’s finances seriously at risk. The students
who face such difficulties nearly always see the value in service learning and are willing to work hard for
Community Leadership 32
their classes, but many did not plan for extra hours outside of class” (p. 79). Bettcher (2007) addressed
similar concerns about opportunity costs to students.
Continuing to respect the needs and interests of members of the community while
simultaneously fostering student growth and development must be an ongoing task throughout the
service-learning experience. Students must be aware of the situations they are entering, including being
provided with enough background information to not only enter and exit a community with as much
grace and lack of disruption as possible (Break Away, 2009). They must also have a thorough working of
oppression and structural inequality before and during their experience, as a lack of this knowledge can
inadvertently reinforce oppressive outcomes (O’Grady, 2000). Recognizing these underpinnings is
important and should be fostered alongside an emphasis on a sense of respect and humility as students
enter a community that is probably not their own. This includes not jumping to conclusions about
observed behavior, maintaining respect and courtesy even in moments of disagreement, and striving to
learn from members of the community through an asset-based approach at all times (Noddings, 2006;
Téllez, 2000). For all of these precautions and urgings already acknowledged, there will also be novel
circumstances and individual needs and requests that arise as students engage in critical service-
learning. The dialogical nature of this pedagogy requires that faculty and instructors not only be open
and willing to explore this possibility, but that they also instill this openness in their students so that
they feel comfortable enough to voice dissent, question what is happening, and authentically share their
thoughts and perceptions – be they positive, negative, or indifferent. Eyler and Giles (1999) explained
that “if our enthusiasm discourages students from sharing their honest observations, then we block
critical analysis and prevent growth… When the instructor acknowledges from the beginning that
community service is difficult and may bring the student into situations that are uncomfortable and
challenging, students may feel freer to express their disappointments or concerns in ways that are
productive” (pp. 201-202). In this approach, students can begin to understand and appreciation the
Community Leadership 33
intrinsic complexity associated with working in real-life situations and contexts (Cantor, 1997; Ward,
An important undertaking is fostering a strong community in the classroom early on in the
encounter, which can help diffuse challenging situations as engagement progresses (hooks, 1994).
Engstrom (2003) and Young, Shinnah, Ackerman, Carruthers, and Young (2007) also stress the need to
engage not only faculty members but student affairs professionals as practitioners of service learning
address the academic, social, personal, and civic needs of students. The full support and engagement of
the lead instructor must also remain strong and influential throughout the experience. In particular,
faculty members who do not engage in community activities required of their students run the risk of
encountering resentment by students, some of whom may see a service requirement as a lack of
teaching on the part of the instructor (Betther, 2007; Téllez, 2003). As a consequence of this time
commitment and need for active involvement, a consistent concern is that engaging in such activities
takes time away from that which tenure-track professors may need to use to conduct research and
other scholarly activities leading to tenure, ultimately harming their career advancement Bednarz et al.,
2008; Colby et al., 2000).
In response to these and other concerns, there is a growing scholarship of engagement intended
to shed light on the intense and worthwhile work of service learning (Boyle-Baise & Langford, 2004).
Professors are further encouraged to share their work with departmental chairs, deans, and provosts as
institutions are increasingly under pressure to link with their surrounding communities through
concerted efforts leading to tangible outcomes, all of which may in turn feed into institutional buy-in
and credibility for the discipline (Ward, 2007; Young et al., 2007). Similarly, Hollander and Hartley (2003)
suggest that the future of service-learning as an institutionalized approach within higher education rests
on practitioners’ abilities to link service-learning with the broader, growing agenda of civic engagement
and renewal. Embracing this framework can not only help ease the concerns of professors interested in
Community Leadership 34
engaging in the activity by demonstrating that the goal is to work with and develop communities, rather
than just engage in charitable activities, but it simultaneously gives service-learning relevancy at a higher
level in postsecondary education, arguably embracing both the civic renewal agenda and objectives of
multicultural education (O’Grady, 2000).
These many challenges should point to opportunities for growth within the realm of service-
learning. Much of student services and other aspects of higher education are inherently dynamic as we
work with changing and evolving student populations, suggesting that pedagogy must also maintain
such an evolutionary approach. In this evolutionary trajectory, many observations have been made.
First, to make such investments of time and energy worthwhile, to develop solid collaborations and
partnerships in the community, more time is needed than the traditional semester-length course that
only serves to skim the surface of such issues, while failing to get closer to the transformational goal of
service-learning. As Keen and Hall (2009) wrote, “Our data support the idea that dialogue demands
more than ‘interaction’; one-semester courses may be too short for students to appreciate dialogue
across difference, which also makes it more difficult to meet the needs of the community… students
need sustained and reflective dialogue across boundaries of perceived difference to effectively engage
with the intellectual, moral, and spiritual challenges such engagement can create” (p. 71). Are the
outcomes of such superficial experiences temporary or even counterproductive to the lofty goals that
service-learning hopes to achieve? If we acknowledge this limitation and begin to think critically about
ways to address it, exploration of longer-term commitments must be given thorough consideration.
Even with this shift in timing and structure, Butin (2006) has gone on record to say that in order
for service-learning to be institutionalized and continue to grow and flourish on college campuses across
the country, it must be re-envisioned. As a starting point, service-learning has to this point been
advanced as a politics to transform higher education, but this logic is fundamentally flawed. Even though
service-learning has garnered bipartisan support in recent years (Hollander & Hartley, 2003), it advances
Community Leadership 35
an essentially liberal and progressive agenda subject to critique by conservative ideologues (Butin,
2006). According to Butin (2006): “Service-learning is in a double-bind. If it attempts to be a truly radical
and transformative (liberal) practice, it faces potential censure and sanction. If it attempts to be
politically balanced to avoid such an attack, it risks losing any power to make a difference” (pp. 485-
486). In its intentions to move students from orientations of individual charity to addressing social
justice by way of structural and social change, Butin (2006) and Eyler and Giles (1999) both advanced a
convincing argument that it runs the spectrum of idiomatic understandings of the differences between
Republic and Democratic political orientations. Left unresolved, this political limitation will hamper the
advancement and institutionalization of service-learning as pedagogy and in practice.
How does service-learning and, more specifically, critical service-learning, overcome such an
inherent challenge in structure? Butin (2006) suggested that the future of service-learning rests on
reframing itself not as a method of transforming the institution of higher education but, instead, on
transforming itself into an academic discipline subject to scholarly debate, questioning, and
modification. This shift in focus to, for example, a discipline of community studies, allows the
community to be the mode of inquiry rather than a passive player in the realization of service-learning
and eradicates some (though certainly not all) of the political pressures weighing on service-learning as
it currently exists. As others have stated, “Service-learning too often falls short of the transformational
ideal and instead stagnates on the board of ‘doing nice things’ to help ‘those people’ on ‘those issues’”
(Simmons & Roberts-Weah, 2000, p. 199). Though this reframing would lead to small, incremental steps
in the overall picture, Butin (2006) posited that it is this slow and steady progress that will ultimately
lead to widespread realization of transformational change in students, on university campuses, and in
communities. It is with that orientation in mind that the project move to a vision of one approach to
critical service-learning, advanced as Community Leadership.
Community Leadership 36
“You have to start where people are, because their growth is going to be from there, not from some
abstraction or where you are or someone else is.” (Horton, Kohl, & Kohl, 1990, p. 131)
The simple yet profound words of Myles Horton serve as a reminder that no element of
academia should be so far removed from the reach of its students, instructors, or community as to be
ineffectual. In what follows, the intention is not to formulate a static plan for implementation but to
instead build the foundation for a dynamic, living outline of pedagogy and course content designed to
continue the dialogue of reframing critical service-learning. This method most closely aligns with the
proposal of an action research project with the specific direction and outcomes to be determined as the
process evolves (Boyle-Baise et al., 2003). As already discussed, existing literature has pointed to the
need for service-learning to not only be re-envisioned to be continued and legitimized in higher
education but to do so through a different lens, full of altered approaches and somewhat different
foundations. In response to these urgings and an inherently felt need on behalf of the author, the focus
of this project shifts to the description of a proposed course sequence that grows out of and in response
to the existing practices and the ever-growing recommendations to solidify and further propel service-
learning into an entrenched place in higher education. Just as life is persistently changing, communities
are continually evolving, and the role of higher education progresses in response to these needs, so is
the intention of the Community Leadership course sequence. Bednarz et al. (2008) believe “the purpose
of community engagement is dependent on several factors: (1) university context, (2) student group
involved, (3) community group involved, and (4) desired learning outcomes” (p. 91). Using these four
factors as a way to begin the discussion, the vision proposed here for the future of critical service-
Community Leadership 37
learning at the University of Cincinnati involves a course sequence designed not around a particular
discipline, but around the underlying principles of critical service-learning and social justice goals.
Hailed as a new, urban research university, the University of Cincinnati is located in Cincinnati,
Ohio, a city of over 300,000 residents housed within a larger metropolitan area of over two million
people. UC has a long-established role in the implementation of experiential education as an option or
requirement of many of its degree programs. As the founding institution of cooperative education in
1906, its legacy to the goals and relevance of such approaches is deeply entrenched in the university’s
existing structure and current mission statement (University of Cincinnati, 2009). As Colby et al. (2000)
noted, major research universities are the least likely to have comprehensive models of service-learning
but may instead have targeted opportunities that reach a segment of their populations; this trend holds
true for the University of Cincinnati. A key segment of the student population widely exposed to
experiential learning opportunities is the community of students in the University Honors Program. Per
their website, “The University Honors Program comprises the top 7% of University of Cincinnati students
and offers an engaging environment in which students are inspired to learn more, do more, and be
more. Students are challenged through honors seminars and experiential learning projects that focus
on: community engagement, global studies, leadership, research and creative arts” (University Honors
Program, 2009). Students in the University Honors Program are not only academically-talented, but have
a track record of intense and significant engagement in activities and service at the high school level, in
addition to representing a cross-section of the university’s colleges and programs of study. Through a
combination of curricular and co-curricular opportunities, University Honors students are challenged to
use their talents not only for their own benefit and continued success, but to think critically about how
to outwardly apply their skills and abilities.
Honors Seminars are interdisciplinary and innovative courses available each year, chosen based
on proposals submitted by interested faculty members from across the university (to see a sample call
Community Leadership 38
for proposals, refer to Appendix A). A successful seminar is student-centered and intended to be
accessible to students from all disciplines, designed to incorporate diverse perspectives and theoretical
backgrounds, and is expected to include at least some element of experiential learning. The model of
community leadership proposed here is intended to translate into a proposal for an innovative course
sequence by the same name, designed to expose sophomores and juniors within the University Honors
Program to a long-term, transformational approach to critical service-learning that transcends
disciplinary boundaries. The student population is purposefully limited to sophomores and juniors in
University Honors for myriad reasons. Relating to the limitation by year in school, this is designed to
recognize that first year students may need time to acclimate to the university itself and their program
of study before undertaking such endeavors, while seniors may find it increasingly difficult to integrate
such a committed experience into their remaining tenure as undergraduates. The population of students
in the University Honors Program is ideal for such an undertaking for a variety of reasons: it presents an
existing and accessible cohort of students within a large student body; the fact that Community
Leadership, as a sequence, directly aligns to two thematic areas of the program (leadership and
community engagement); and the author’s pre-existing relationship with the program and its students.
To briefly digress, by intending to work with students who could be thought of as the upper
echelon of the University of Cincinnati’s undergraduate population, a selection bias and limitation must
be acknowledged. Butin (2006) has already indicated that “there is a distinct possibility that service-
learning may ultimately come to be viewed as the ‘Whitest of the White’ enclave of postsecondary
education… service-learning may come to signify a luxury available only to the privileged few” (p. 482).
While the student body of the University Honors Program certainly is fairly homogeneous in some
regards, students nonetheless represent a vast array of life experiences, backgrounds, and educational
and personal goals, combined with an inquisitive nature and a disposition toward critical thinking skills
that can make such a pursuit a highly worthwhile endeavor. For these reasons and more, the author
Community Leadership 39
stands by the decision to attempt to pilot Community Leadership within the University Honors Program,
while leaving open the possibility of expansion to other sectors of the University of Cincinnati’s student
population at a future time.
Having highlighted the university context, including a brief discussion of the community (to be
expanded below), and the student population, it is time to move to a discussion of desired learning
objectives and outcomes and more detail about what, exactly, Community Leadership as a course
sequence would entail. The sequence would be removed from any one disciplinary boundary, embracing
perspectives garnered from fields as wide-ranging as African-American studies, anthropology,
communication, education, history, political science, public policy, psychology, social work, sociology,
urban planning and studies, and women’s studies. In short form, the goal is to recruit a cohort of
approximately 15-20 students from the University Honors Program who commit to the sequence for a
full academic year, spanning autumn to spring quarters. In the first quarter, students would explore
elements of identity and community, while gaining exposure to Cincinnati through guest presentations
and class sessions held at various locations. During the second quarter, students would be immersed in
their self-selected agency, collaborating with stakeholders there to work toward goals that fulfill a
genuine need, while using class sessions to explore structural inequality and leadership theory. The third
quarter would be a continuation of involvement in the community agency, and become increasingly
student-led as sessions move toward students determining the overall direction of discussions,
conducting independent research, and exploring ways in which social justice can be incorporated and
embraced as they look commit to action now and in the future. Ultimately, the true litmus test to gauge
the success of this course sequence in achieving its goals would be what students do at the conclusion of
the formal course structure. Was the course content transformative enough for students to refuse to be
idle over their summer break period or beyond? Will they pursue their community partnerships, outside
of the formal period of engagement? Further, will they [continue to] critically examine their own life and
Community Leadership 40
goals, their impact on society, their elements of privilege, and commit themselves to positive social
One of the foundational aspects of the courses would be problem-posing (Renner, 2009). As
explained by Rosenberger (2000), “Problem-posing is the process of unveiling and problematizing reality
for the purpose of searching for more humane and just ways of living. Problem-posing breaks open the
mental constructs we bring to a service learning situation and allows us to see what we previously had
not seen. We develop new consciousness and imagine new possibilities for action and reflection” (p. 41).
Reflection would be integrated throughout the experience to help students deconstruct and analyze
their activities. In addition, a nonhierarchical and supportive model of discussion and collaboration in
the classroom setting would be embraced. By purposefully putting students into situations that
challenge their assumptions and preconceived notions about self and community, the courses would be
intended to foster critical thinking skills and, hopefully, a desire to elicit positive social change as a
consequence of both their actions and reflections (Rogers, 2001).
This intentional goal of striving for transformational learning outcomes is lofty, especially given
the fact that such experiences can take a lifetime to grow and develop. Nonetheless, with the focus on
transformation, even if the goal is not realized over the duration of the course sequence, at the very
least the hope is that the seeds will be planted for student and community transformation, over the long
term, and tangible outcomes will be observed in the short-term (Eyler & Giles, 1999). Before turning to a
more detailed description of each course (a summary of which can be found in Appendix B), the words
of Horton again ring true in thinking about this vision of transformation: “*Y+ou have to have a goal. That
goal shouldn’t be one that inhibits the people you’re working with, but it should be beyond the goal you
expect them to strive for. If your goal isn’t way out there somewhere and isn’t challenging and daring
enough, then it is going to get in your way and it will also stand in the way of other people” (Horton,
Kohl, & Kohl, 1990, p. 108).
Community Leadership 41
Community Leadership I: Identity and Community Awareness
In this introductory course, students would begin to critically explore their own identities and
develop community awareness in the context of both the University of Cincinnati and the city of
Cincinnati (Langseth, 2000). The traditionally-scheduled course would ideally meet once per week for an
extended period of time. Rather than holding class sessions in a conventional setting, one of the means
of cultivating awareness of the community would be meeting in different locations each week – on
campus at the Center for Community Engagement, Office of Ethnic Programs and Services, or Women’s
Center, for example, and off campus at places such as Hughes High School, a branch of the Cincinnati
Public Library, or the Corryville Recreation Center – to truly take learning into the community (Renner,
2009). Partnered with these changes in venue, students would have the opportunity to hear from
various guest speakers on aspects of Cincinnati’s history; its current challenges and promising aspects
for the future; the University’s evolution and role as, in some ways, a microcosm of the larger
community (Enos & Morton, 2003); and other elements of the area’s social fabric (Colby, Ehrick,
Beaumont, Rosner, & Stephens, 2000). In addition to the sheer informational value of these
opportunities, guest presentations would contribute to “breaking down the model of professor as chief
information source” (Bettcher, 2007, p. 16). A reflective activity at the beginning of the quarter could
ask students to articulate their perceptions of Cincinnati: what they see, what their preconceived
notions about the city were when they enrolled at UC, what frustrates them and what they are curious
about. Revisiting this activity closer to the end of the quarter, following the experiences exploring and
learning about the community, would be a means of allowing students to see how their ideas change (or
perhaps stay the same).
In addition to building outward-oriented community awareness, it is imperative to build
community in the classroom and help students explore their own identities in a safe, supportive
Community Leadership 42
environment to stay true to the principles of critical service-learning. As Boyle-Baise and Langford (2004)
found in their own experiences, “Negative perceptions stymied students’ ability to learn from and with
each other,” suggesting that “community building activities are needed for students, in the field as well
as in the seminar, to shake our perceptions of motivational differences and to affirm cultural and social
diversity” (p. 63). Another key objective of the first quarter would be forming community within the
classroom where everyone feels a responsibility to contribute (hooks, 1994; Noddings, 2006). This would
help students feel challenged but supported as they engage in the complex settings and circumstances
they are sure to find through their community engagement with local agencies: as they make mistakes,
have difficult discussions, and remain open to the possibility of new ideas and receptive to the common
experiences of others (Mitchell, 2007). Further, as Bettcher (2007) articulated, “our own sense of self
(self-conception) may blind us to some of our actions, to their meanings, to their effects upon others.
This is especially important because insofar as our own identities involve a larger picture of the world
and how we fit into it, they also include a conception of other people and our relations to them” (p. 14).
Helping students achieve this awareness through a purposeful exploration of the intersections of their
own identities during the first quarter will give them a foundation upon which to build throughout the
course sequence and beyond (Rice & Pollack, 2000).
Formal placements and service activities would not actually begin during this quarter, for a
variety of reasons. First, much research has pointed to the need for students to self-select their
placements based on areas of interest, availability, and passions about making a change. In addition to
the pragmatic outcomes of such an approach, it is student-centered, affording to students ownership
and control over their own learning, while increasing the likelihood of full investment in their placement
and the overall outcomes (Bloom, 2008; Eyler & Giles, 1999; Rosenberger, 2000). Further, other
researchers have shown that identifying an agency to collaborate with can be a time-intensive initiative
that ultimately does not lead to the most fruitful outcomes over the span of one short quarter or
Community Leadership 43
semester (Ward, 2007). To address both of these limitations, the intention here would be for students
to spend the first quarter exploring notions of self and community, becoming exposed to various
constituencies, agencies, and opportunities in the local area, and then making the decision to commit to
a particular group by the end of the quarter, such that their intensive involvement can immediately
commence alongside the beginning of winter quarter. Integrating the knowledge gained, the
culminating experience of the first quarter would be that students both identify a community agency
they intend to serve with and also collaboratively work with representatives from that group to develop
an action plan. This action plan would need to include both short- and long-term goals, outcomes that
can be realized during the time period of commitment and those that may outlast the structure of the
course all together, in an attempt to not only give students both a feeling of accomplishment as they see
results but to also leave open an element of possibility and continued need to lend the engagement a
broader perspective (Simons & Cleary, 2006).
Community Leadership II: Structural Inequalities and Leadership
As already noted, students would begin their regular engagement with the community agency
from the start of this quarter, beginning to work toward achieving the goals articulated in their action
plan. Barring any unforeseen or extenuating circumstances, students would be expected to commit to
this agency from a time spanning roughly from early January through early June (the end of spring
quarter). During this second course, the expectation is that students would commit 30 hours of service
to the agency, over the course of what is traditionally an 11-week quarter, averaging approximately
three hours of service per week. Coordinating the timing of this service would again be a collaborative
venture, choosing opportunities that work not only with the class schedule and other commitments of
the student, but that provide optimal levels of assistance to the community agency, thereby giving the
best and most relevant exposure to the student and heightened impact for the agency. This time
Community Leadership 44
commitment is admittedly steep, though it seems imperative that students have such an immersion
experience so that they may move beyond the touristic phase of community exploration (Borden, 2007)
to a point where they gain significant, deepened knowledge about the workings and needs of that
community. Further, long-term placements are arguably the most productive and rewarding for both
students and members of the community, as they allow time to move beyond basic orientation and
training to achieving real results (Enos & Morton, 2003). Students would be held accountable not only to
themselves but to members of the community agencies. Their experiences would need to be
documented in weekly journals to serve as a point of student-instructor and student-student discussion
and dialogue (Oden & Casey, 2007); formative assessments would also need to be completed by the
person overseeing their community service at the particular agency (Bettcher, 2007).
Concurrently, students would still have responsibilities in the traditional course setting, which
would again meet on a weekly basis for an extended period of time. The content in this second quarter
would, in some ways, be heavier and perhaps more daunting than that of the first quarter’s explorations
of self and building of awareness, which is, again, why that groundwork is imperative (hooks, 1994;
Renner, 2009). Students would be exposed to open dialogue about matters of structural inequality,
including analyses of oppression and privilege, and approaches from the vantage points of race, class,
gender, sexuality, nationality, religion, and perhaps others as the content progresses. The intention
would not be to rehash elements of “diversity education” in their watered-down forms, but to take a
focused, critical look at the interrelationship of these elements as they relate to society, social
structures, and macro-level implications (Gordon, 2005). This approach, articulated by Rice and Pollack
(2000) is crucial because “If community involvement is not to result in the reinforcement of structural
injustice and inequity, students must be introduced to these concepts [and] must develop heightened
capacities for self-reflection to examine their own role in perpetuating or transforming these systems of
power and privilege in society” (p. 132). Their explanation further addresses why this cannot be a
Community Leadership 45
cursory treatment of social structures, but one that sets students on the path to a transformative
experience, wherein they must reassess their own values and beliefs to account for this (theoretically)
newly acquired information (Goodman, 2000).
Returning to the work of Freire (2006), it is not good pedagogy to deconstruct society without
also providing room for its reconstruction. Through the reflective activities and explorations already
referenced, students would also have a forum to undertake this work. In addition, students would be
exposed to leadership theories and their applications – what it means to be a leader, types of
leadership; as they may find these approaches both empowering and directly applicable to what they
would be encountering in their community setting. Particular theories of note and relevance include
collaborative, servant, authentic, multicultural, emergent, and inclusive leadership, ultimately hoping to
reach a point where students can broadly classify leaders as those who serve others (Simmons &
Roberts-Weah, 2000). As Simmons and Roberts-Weah (2000) put forward, “Leadership… is not a thing to
be merely acquired, but something to be shared. Becoming a leader is a process that is often
accelerated by the intersection of the two paradigms of service-learning and multicultural education” (p.
206). Integrating leadership theory into this second quarter not only provides an added resource to
students to support their service-learning activities, it also incorporates another thematic area of the
University Honors Program, and sets the stage for students to progress to an even more focused
exploration of positive social change.
Community Leadership III: Social Justice and Commitment to Action
In the third and final part of the Community Leadership course sequence, students would
continue their involvement in the same agency and still be expected to commit a minimum of 30 hours
of service throughout the quarter. At the beginning of the quarter, they would revisit their action plan to
not only evaluate progress, but to look for areas in need of refinement in light of the ways in which the
Community Leadership 46
service commitment has evolved. As with the previous quarter, students would also continue the use of
weekly journals, along with active discussion and reflection during class sessions. The direction of this
quarter would be left purposefully open and lightly structured, to encourage a very student-centered
approach that gives prominence to the real-time evolution of their involvement in the community. The
intention would be for students to choose topics and determine the direction of class-based discussions,
in addition to allowing them the personal space and freedom to independently research areas of
interest and relevance to their placement.
By way of activities that would be structured, a key starting point in this quarter would be more
explicitly incorporating elements of social justice. Shulz (2007) suggested that coauthoring a definition of
social justice specific to the classroom and the environment can be a worthwhile endeavor, due not only
to the myriad definitions of the phrase but in order to continue to foster feelings of ownership and
authentic learning for all involved. Using this definition as a foundation, Oden and Casey (2007) note
that “Understanding social justice and doing social justice work are two separate and distinct activities.
However, the linking of these elements brings about the potential for social change within communities
that are in need” (p. 4). Through their experiences, their research, their reflections and discussions,
students would be pushed to further integrate theory and practice, taking critical looks at how the two
do (or do not) align in the contexts of critical service-learning and striving for social justice. The
culmination of the sequence would require that students summarize and analyze their experiences in
presentation and print forms, including objective description, comparison with goals articulated in the
action plan, lessons learned, impact on self and community, and next steps. Within the next steps and as
a conclusion to this scrutiny of their lived experience, they would also actively and openly explore ways
in which they would commit themselves to action in the short-term and over their lifetimes. Would that
commitment continue to involve the agency with which they have been working? If the commitment
takes an entirely different form, what would it look like? Why would they choose the approach that they
Community Leadership 47
do, why may it be effective, and what would be some anticipated challenges for which they should
prepare? As stated in the introduction to the Community Leadership framework, the extent to which
students do this will be the true acid test indicating success in pursuit of transformational outcomes for
all stakeholders involved.
Again, to return to earlier assertions, the ultimate goal is transformation, understanding that
reality suggests this may not fully or even partially manifest itself over the span of an academic year of
critical service-learning. In helping students prepare and complete their reflective capstone analyses, it
would be imperative to bear in mind the urgings of Mitchell (2007), grounded in her own experiences
teaching students: “Support students where they are and affirm the commitments they are able and
willing to make… While some students felt prepared to engage in revolutionary action that challenged
current structures and systems in an effort to transform society, others believed that continued
involvement in service and acting with their votes… were the appropriate next steps to acting on their
commitments” (p. 110). If students have acquired the skills to think critically about themselves and their
communities, to question the status quo and look more closely at issues of societal structure, and to
endeavor to do something with this knowledge, the tenets of critical service-learning have been
In giving students theoretical knowledge and academic foundations, higher education fulfills but
one of its overarching goals. Using this knowledge as fertile ground upon which to build real-world
applications, to merge theory and practice, and prepare students for a life of active citizenship and
engagement in their communities endows institutions of higher education with a much more relevant
purpose in today’s interconnected, complex, and evolving society. The analysis of service-learning, in
general, and critical service-learning, in particular, presented here began with a closer look at
Community Leadership 48
terminology and underlying intentions, proceeded to a discussion of pedagogy and principles, and
shared demonstrated outcomes along with spaces ripe for improvement. From these insights came the
evolution of Community Leadership, a proposed course sequence grounded in best practices of critical
service-learning, with the intention of achieving transformational outcomes for all stakeholders
involved. The actualization of the course sequence will be a testament to the commitments of higher
education and its true possibilities. In the words of bell hooks (1994), “The classroom, with all its
limitations, remains a location of possibility. In that field of possibility we have the opportunity to labor
for freedom, to demand of ourselves and our comrades, an openness of mind and heart that allows us
to face reality even as we collectively imagine ways to move beyond boundaries, to transgress. This is
education as the practice of freedom” (p. 207). Critical service-learning is and can continue to be a
means of achieving this freedom.
Community Leadership 49
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UNIVERSITY HONORS PROGRAM
HONORS SEMINAR REQUEST FOR PROPOSALS
The University Honors Program enriches the educational experience of academically talented and highly
motivated students from across UC’s undergraduate colleges. The University Honors Program was
completely revised for students entering in and after fall 2007 and engages students in honors seminars
and experiential learning projects focused on the four thematic areas of the program:
• Community engagement
• Global studies
• Research and creative arts.
Honors Seminar Content and Structure
Honors seminars are expected to align with one or more of the thematic areas - community
engagement, global studies, leadership, and research and creative arts. Courses are not expected to
align with all four thematic areas. Rather, a course with an in-depth focus in one area is better received
than a course that tries to fit in multiple areas on a surface level.
Honors seminars are also expected to engage students in experiential learning. They should challenge
students with creative projects and experiences that take learning beyond the typical classroom.
Experiential components may include service-learning, domestic or international study tours, visits to
local museums, other types of site visits, integration of lab work, or other activities in which students are
actively engaged in learning outside of the typical classroom setting.
Honors seminars challenge and broaden the intellectual horizons of honors students at all levels,
regardless of the disciplines in which students are majoring. These courses should be rigorous and,
therefore, are not introductory survey courses. They do not normally require any prerequisites and
should provide a positive learning experience for students from across disciplines. Proposals can come
from any discipline in any college at the University. Proposals for interdisciplinary courses are
It is expected that faculty lecture is kept to a minimum and that faculty/student dialogue will serve as a
primary mode of interaction. Collaborative work amongst students is encouraged. Students should be
challenged by reading assignments focused on important primary sources and writing assignments that
demand clear articulation of ideas. The use of innovative technology is encouraged. Evaluation of
students should be based on their willingness to explore and critique concepts, rather than on their
absorption of facts.
Honors seminars are offered as 300-level, three credit hour courses and are listed by the respective
faculty members department. Class size is generally limited to 20-25 students. Honors seminars are
open only to students enrolled in the University Honors Program.
Community Leadership 57
The faculty member and his/her department, in consultation with the University Honors Program, will
determine the scheduling of the course. Final acceptance of a course proposal is dependent on reaching
agreement about course scheduling.
Students in the new University Honors Program (our current freshman and sophomores) are required to
maintain e-portfolios that showcase their honors work. These students will be expected to create a page
in their e-portfolio for each honors seminar that they take, to showcase their experiences and learning.
Each faculty member teaching an honors seminar is expected to administer a University Honors course
evaluation via blackboard at the end of the quarter in which the course is offered.
Proposal Review Process
Proposals are evaluated by a subcommittee of the Honors Council, comprised of faculty members and
students from across colleges. Criteria for selection will focus on how well the course meets the
guidelines described in this document, especially related to experiential learning and the thematic areas.
In addition, we also strive to achieve a balance of courses based on the University’s general education
The number of courses accepted is based on budget. We anticipate being able to fund approximately 30
courses. For each course accepted, the originating department will receive a payment of $2000. In the
case of a team-taught course, $2500 will be split evenly amongst participating departments.
Faculty will learn of the status of proposals in early January 2009. Email notifications will be sent to both
faculty and department heads.
Proposals are due on Monday, December 1, 2008. Please submit the following via email to
1. Completed proposal form
2. Course syllabus
3. Curriculum vitae
4. A letter of support from your department head
Community Leadership 58
COMMUNITY LEADERSHIP SUMMARY
The Community Leadership course sequence provides students with an opportunity to practice critical
service-learning through long-term engagement with an agency in the Cincinnati area, incorporating
explorations of identity, community, personal agency and structural inequality, leadership theories,
social justice initiatives, and a commitment to action.
Community Leadership I: Identity and Community Awareness
Provides students with a forum to begin to critically explore their own identities and develop
community awareness in the context of both the University of Cincinnati and the city of
Think critically about identity, values and history
Analyze, define, and foster “community” both within and outside of the classroom
Acquire and demonstrate a broad, thorough understanding of the history of Cincinnati and its
current position, culturally, socially, regionally, etc.
Develop connections with community agencies and constituents and begin to explore
community needs through the development of an action plan
Focus and refine interests relating to a critical service-learning project in the Cincinnati area
Question preconceived “truths” about themselves, the community, and the nature of social
Sample Activities and Deliverables
Class sessions held at various location on campus and in the city
Action Plan: Developed collaboratively between the student and members of the community
agency; including short- and long-term goals and objectives
Community Leadership II: Structural Inequalities and Leadership
Provides students with a forum to not only engage in intensive, structured activities in the
community, but to complement this real-world experience with a firm grounding in the nature
of structural inequalities and the application of leadership theories
Become immersed in a community agency, gaining “insider” knowledge about needs,
responsibilities, and expectations while working toward a tangible, self-defined goal
Articulate, define, and defend the differences between individual agency and
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Analyze “-isms” and elements of privilege and oppression relating to race, class, gender,
nationality, disabilities, religious beliefs, etc.
Recognize the interconnectedness of society and people
Explore and demonstrate various theories of leadership, including but not limited to: authentic
leadership, emergent leadership, transformational leadership, multicultural leadership
Apply theory to practice, incorporating these ideas to the service experience, while thinking
critically about the possible shortcomings of applying theory to practice
Sample Activities and Deliverables
A minimum of 30 hours of service to the student’s selected agency of the course of the quarter
Weekly journal entries, including objective descriptions of experiences and analyses
Evaluations about the activities of students, completed by members of the community
engagement, intended to help students learn and grow as the partnership progresses
Circle-sharing activities (Horton, Kohl, & Kohl, 1990) wherein students: dialogue about the ways
in which oppression benefits some, in addition to the costs for all (Goodman, 2000; Ituarte,
2007); discuss, decompress, and support one another through the ups-and-downs of the service
Community Leadership III: Social Justice and Commitment to Action
Advances the accumulated experiences to incorporate an analysis of social justice, involving
student-led discussions and research, culminating in a targeted exploration of how students can
commit to action now and in the future
Deepen engagement with community agency
Explore and define social justice, its historical manifestations and current implications
Reflect on what individuals and groups can do to achieve social justice
Analyze what it means to commit to action and develop tangible ways in which students can
indeed commit themselves to action
Sample Activities and Deliverables
A minimum of 30 hours of service to the student’s selected agency of the course of the quarter
Revisit, refine, and refocus action plan developed at the end of the first quarter
Collaboratively developed definition of social justice
Weekly journal entries, including objective descriptions of experiences and analyses, including
added focus on theoretical perspectives
Comprehensive presentation and written account of the experience – including summary,
journal excerpts, lessons learned, outcomes, directions for the future, and ways to commit to
action – to be shared with the class and perhaps a larger community (i.e., the university
community, the agency the student worked with)