Engineering community engagement partnerships: Investigating motivation, nature, and structure
Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Committee Member 1
Committee Member 2
Committee Member 3
Engineering community engagement programs have increased in popularity over the last decade or so, with related research and scholarship in this area focused primarily on student motivation and learning outcomes. Since 2000, however, the wider service-learning field has started investigating partnerships and community voice. Building from the existing service-learning literature, this study aims to better understand community-university partnerships in engineering community engagement programs from the perspectives of both the academic program and the served community. This study addresses three research questions: (1) Why are individuals and local community organizations involved in engineering service-learning partnerships?, (2) How does engineering community engagement program structure relate to the nature of the partnerships?, and (3) What is the role of the project in community engagement partnerships? ^ A multi-site case study approach was used to address these questions, which included interviews with community partners, faculty, and program administrators at three engineering community engagement programs at three different U.S. universities each of which maintains long-term domestic partnerships. These cases include: Engineering Projects In Community Service (EPICS) at Purdue University, select U.S. project centers for Worcester Polytechnic Institute's Global Projects Program (GPP-US), and the Community Playground Project (CPP) at Louisiana State University (LSU). Primary study participants were advisors, community partners, administrators and students (n=30) who are familiar with the partnerships and programs. From Spring 2011 to Spring 2014, I conducted semi-formal interviews with them about their experiences. Informal conversation and observations, as well as literature and program policy materials, were also used to triangulate findings. Data analysis and reporting were carried out as separate procedures for the first research question and then the second and third questions together. ^ Data analysis for the first question, on motivation, involved use of deductive codes, based on previous research examining service learning partnerships not specific to engineering, along with inductive analysis using a combination of thematic analysis and typological analysis. The motivations of the programs and partners/sponsors were organized in three categories: motivations connected to students, personal motivation, and organizational motivations. Most of the motivations found within this study are similar to motivations found in other service learning literature. However, there were some differences between the stakeholders, with the community partners more likely to focus on having the students learn about the specific organizations, while the advisors were more likely to focus on the learning objectives of the course. ^ The second and third research questions involved two phases of analysis. The first involved application of the Phillips-Ward framework in an attempt to find the stage of development of each partnership under investigation, and the second phase involving development and use of the Transactional, Cooperative, and Communal (TCC) framework for coding the data. The TCC framework categorizes interactions and activities as: transactional, which increases the boundaries between stakeholders; cooperative, which attempts to blur the boundaries; and communal, which transcends the boundaries for a higher purpose. Additionally, six structural themes were found to influence the nature of the partnerships: program purpose and objectives, overall program structure, type of partnering agencies, characteristics of participating individuals, types of projects, and the role of students. ^ The findings from this study contribute to the existing literature in at least three major ways. First, they provide additional insights about how engineering community engagement partnerships can be examined as a series of relationships among individuals and/or as organizations. Second, the research findings, and specifically the TCC framework, can help support programs within the engineering community engagement programs reflect on and improve their relationships with their partner organizations and wider communities. And third, findings suggest how a project-based approach, coupled with the TCC framework, can further expand the ontology of engineering. That is, by having engineers work with community, the students' mindsets can be challenged, and their way of doing engineering and being engineers could essentially transform. I conclude the study with an overview of the limitations and future research, as well as my desired outcomes and next steps. It is my hope that community engagement programs will reflect on the desired nature of their own partnerships and make intentional decisions to align the purpose of the program with the structure of the program (including policies and procedures), the type of agencies they work with, the individuals involved, and the projects they do. This way, the programs will more likely reflect the nature of the partnerships they wish to cultivate
Thompson, Julia D., "Engineering community engagement partnerships: Investigating motivation, nature, and structure" (2014). Open Access Dissertations. 570.