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Final Examination of Thomas A. Penniston (LLC Cohort 12)

Monday, April 7, 2014
3:00 PM - 4:30 PM
Public Policy : 107
Title: The Impacts of Service-Learning Participation upon Post-Secondary Students’ Academic, Personal, and Social Development

Service-Learning is a form of applied learning that engages students in solving social problems within community-based settings. It is philosophically rooted in the social and educational ideas of John Dewey’s Pragmatist tradition. As a pedagogy, service-learning presents students with opportunities for personal, social, and intellectual growth by complementing school-based classroom learning with authentic community-based experiential learning. The goal of this current research project is to improve our understanding of the academic, personal, and, social impacts of service learning participation in the context of higher education. This study incorporates a mixed methodological design that is comprised of a large primary quantitative study that meets a gap in the research literature of this field, and a complementary qualitative study that allows for additional themes and insights to emerge and illustrate the larger findings of the primary study.

The University of Maryland, Baltimore County is an ideal location for this research because of its history of service-learning and institutional leadership. Through rigorous, quasi- experimental, longitudinal analysis of a robust data set, the quantitative analysis investigates a potential causal relationship between service-learning participation and student academic development (e.g., increased GPA). By utilizing a quasi-experimental design (e.g., fixed effects), I limit the potential bias due to non-random selection into service-learning. Qualitative analysis complements the quantitative assessment and provides an in-depth understanding of students’ academic, personal, and, social development, with a particular focus upon their pro-social growth, or “voluntary behavior intended to benefit another" such as altruism (Eisenberg, et al., 2006, p. 646) through servicelearning participation. To this end, I draw a non-probability, purposive sample (Singleton & Straits, 2005), conduct semi-structured interviews (Singleton & Straits, 2005), and perform thematic analysis (Marks & Yardley, 2004).

This research makes important theoretical and methodological contributions to the fields of applied and service-learning research because of the innovative institutional practices at the university I investigate; my attempt to identify causal effects and to address threats to internal validity that account for students’ self-selection (i.e., endogenous bias; Meyer, 1995); and the implementation of a mixed methodological design, which allow me to illustrate student growth as simultaneous process and product (Johnson & Onwuegbuzie, 2004). A study of this scale and design informs an improved
understanding of the extent to which service-learning programming deserves institutional resources and commitment as a core pedagogy in higher education.

Dissertation Committee: Claudia Galindo, Chair
Joby Taylor, Co-Chair
Beverly Bickel
Dave Marcotte
Diane Lee
Michele Wolff

The public is welcome to observe.

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