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Elon research team shares findings about impact of partnerships with community groups

As part of their research study, Frances Ward-Johnson, Alexa Darby and Tammy Cobb found that nearly 90 percent of community organizations considered their respective partnerships with Elon University to be worthwhile and meaningful.

An Elon research team recently shared its findings with representatives from Alamance County agencies who took part in a study assessing strengths and weaknesses of curricular and co-curricular student services.

Frances Ward-Johnson (from left), Alexa Darby and Tammy Cobb examined the strengths and weaknesses of curricular and co-curricular student services in Alamance County.

Frances Ward-Johnson, associate professor of communications, Alexa Darby, associate professor of psychology, and Tammy Cobb, assistant director of the Kernodle Center for Service Learning and Community Engagement, presented their research results to 19 community representatives at the Downtown Center for Community Engagement on Dec. 15.

Their study, titled “Community Impact of Curricular and Co-Curricular Student Service,” also investigated ways to strengthen partnerships and deal with challenges such as student preparation and innovative ways to utilize student volunteers.

While research demonstrates the benefits of academic service-learning for students, faculty and institutions, few studies assess impact of student service within communities. Their survey research included nearly 40 questions that investigated community impact perception, partnerships, operations, student-learning outcomes, capacity building and economics.

Nearly 70 community partner organizations, from areas such as social services, health, education, housing and environment, participated in the study.

Highlights of the study include the fact that nearly 90 percent of organizations considered their partnership with Elon University to be worthwhile and meaningful.

In addition, a regression analysis revealed the higher the number of years an organization has been associated with the university, the greater the perceived organizational benefits. Additionally, the study found, when student skills can be matched to an organization’s needs, a higher number of organizations perceive larger benefits.

Giving students more information about organizations in preparation for service is one of the ways to help strengthen partnerships, the survey revealed. Among the respondents, 68 percent felt students have adequate knowledge of their organizations.

“For some institutions, this is considered a high number,” Cobb told community representatives. “But for Elon, we want this number to be even higher.”

In terms of financial significance, almost half of the organizations said they use in-kind dollar value to document the economic impact of student volunteers, which contributes to the attainment of grants and other funding.

Ward-Johnson, Darby and Cobb also presented their findings at the 2016 International Association for Research on Service-Learning and Community Engagement Conference held in New Orleans earlier in the fall.

Tommy Kopetskie,
12/16/2016 4:05 PM