Research Initiative: Student Pathways in Civic Engagement

Each fall, incoming and returning students arrive on university and college campuses with a variety of engaged experiences, hoping to integrate these experiences and their attendant learnings, questions and skills into their academic courses of study. Once on campus, who helps students integrate these experiences into a holistic pathway to and through engaged learning? Research suggests that in the absence of university-suggested or -recommended pathways, students must navigate complex choices and create their own pathways to coherent engagement while in college (Pasque, Bowman, Small, & Lewis, 2009).

Service-learning and civic engagement scholars know that these engaged experiences have significant impact on students. According to Kuh (2008), for example, service-learning and diversity/global learning experiences are high-impact practices, forms of teaching and learning widely tested and shown to be beneficial for college students and their learning. Engaged experiences, therefore, are known to be beneficial for students’ cognitive, affective, and civic learning. In spite of these findings, however, a review of the literature on students’ pathways through engaged experiences in higher education reveals few actual or theoretical models for providing students potential roadmaps to facilitate congruency in their academic and civic engagement goals. Instead, we suggest that students are frequently left to collect engaged experiences without benefit of a narrative thread to scaffold their academic, personal and civic interests. While colleges and universities make available and encourage student involvement in curricular and co-curricular opportunities, we argue that institutional silos result in faculty and staff ill-equipped to help students navigate the labyrinth that might lead to a coherent pathway.

Our research focuses on ways service-learning and civic engagement professionals can facilitate and support students’ journeys through engaged coursework and co-curricular pathways. If you are interested in learning more about this project please contact Amy Anderson at