Investigating community impacts of a university outreach program through the lens of service-learning and community engagement
Higher education has been encouraged to become more engaged with its constituent communities in recent years. This encouragement has come from many sources--state legislatures, the Kellogg Commission on the Future of State and Land-grant Universities, and through the establishment of designations such as the Carnegie Community Engagement Classification. As a result, service-learning and community engagement activities have grown over the last two decades and recommendations for best practices have emerged. However, very little study has focused on the communities being engaged in these efforts. Do they receive benefits from student involvement and if so, how can those benefits be defined?
This research investigated community impacts of the PLaCE (Partnering Landscape and Community Enhancement) program at Iowa State University's College of Design. The research involved interviews with stakeholders from communities where engagement activities had taken place. Research results indicated that communities benefitted in several ways from student and university involvement of the PLaCE program. These included physical improvements to the community, expanded community capacity, increased project legitimacy, and stimulation of local dialogue, activities, and creative capacity. Some suggestions for maximizing program outcomes and for targeting further research emerged, such as assessment of a community's level of support and determining what constitutes a meaningful project conclusion.