Catalysts for Learning and Stewards of Place: A Study of Change in Engaged Universities

Ariane Elizabeth Hoy, University of Pennsylvania


A civic engagement movement has taken root across U.S. higher education. Known by many names, it is found in community service, service-learning, civic dialogue, public scholarship, applied research, and democratic engagement (Hartley, Saltmarsh, & Clayton, 2010). Through it, students, faculty, and professionals contribute to the well-being and vitality of people and neighborhoods. They put knowledge into action – strengthening our schools, places of worship, community centers, clinics, city councils, nonprofits, and government offices. They address challenges – like poverty, environmental degradation, and economic, racial, and social inequities – across our nation. These institutions enact their public purpose, teaching citizenship by doing it, and serving as “Stewards of Place.” This qualitative research study examined civic engagement at two public comprehensive universities. Each university was identified through purposeful site selection involving external review by leaders in the civic engagement field. Each institution earned the 2015 Carnegie Community Engagement Classification, a rigorous designation through which institutions demonstrate deep, pervasive, and integrated community engagement. Each is part of the American Democracy Project, a project of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, that focuses on civic knowledge and practice. Each university collects and tracks data on civic engagement and its link to other institutional outcomes. Finally, each university visibly engages faculty and students in teaching, research, and service that reflect civic commitments. This study examined change, viewing civic engagement as a diffusion of innovation (Rogers, 1962, 2003). Case studies involved 44 interviews, four focus groups, and a review of institutional documents. The cases shed insight on roles that individuals at many levels play as change agents within higher education. The study demonstrates how civic engagement has been linked with culture and curriculum change. Key factors – such as the field, scholarship, funding, data, and assessment – facilitate change. The analysis identifies first-order and second-order change, and relationships between them. Finally, it suggests both diffusion and institutionalization are important to the integration of civic engagement. The study offers lessons for change leaders and aspiring institutions, relevant for future practice. Civic engagement is a lever – for enhancing teaching, research, and impact – and a tool for reimagining higher education’s future.

Subject Area

Organization Theory|Curriculum development|Higher education

Recommended Citation

Hoy, Ariane Elizabeth, "Catalysts for Learning and Stewards of Place: A Study of Change in Engaged Universities" (2017). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI10599172.