Toolkit Resources: Campus Models & Case Studies

Quality Enhancement through Community Engagement at Radford University

For decades, Radford University—a public university in Radford, Virginia—has been proud to engage students through high-impact practices (HIPs).

But in 2010, when the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools asked Radford to develop a quality enhancement plan (QEP) as a requirement for reaccreditation, the university decided to renew its commitment to one high-impact practice—community engagement—and institutionally weave it throughout the curriculum and cocurriculum.

Bringing Learning to the Front

After the campus community identified eight possible topics for the QEP by soliciting white papers and hosting focus groups with faculty and students, a campus-wide vote chose to create a “Citizen-Scholar” program to increase student opportunities for community engagement.

In the summer of 2011, Erin Webster Garrett, the QEP’s director and a professor of English, served as cochair of a writing team comprising faculty from each of Radford’s six colleges and staff representatives from various student support offices. The writing team held town meetings and focus groups with each college to discuss learning outcomes, ways for the colleges to connect to the initiative, and potential barriers to success.

“About halfway through summer, we realized that . . . being a good, engaged partner in this world really comes down to being well-educated on how to sift through information, harness that information to make good arguments, and dialogue with others across values, differences, and experiences,” Webster Garrett said. “So we flipped [the QEP’s name] to ‘Scholar-Citizen,’ putting the academic focus at the front of the initiative.”

Institutionalizing High-Impact Practices

As the initial planning for the QEP began, Sam Minner joined Radford as provost and vice president for academic affairs. According to Jeanne Mekolichick, assistant provost of academic programs, Minner “came with a vision” to elevate and institutionally support high-impact practices.

From 2011 to 2013, Minner established a task force of administrators, faculty, and staff to improve the International Education Center and the Honors Academy and create the Office of Undergraduate Research and Scholarship.

But “what was really valuable,” Mekolichick said, “was when he brought those areas together and created . . . the Office of High Impact Practices," which also includes learning communities and eportfolios. Minner and his team attended the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) 2014 Summer Institute for High-Impact Practices and Student Success and drafted a plan for the office.

“Having one area where faculty and students [from different parts of campus] can come for support of engaging and innovative pedagogies . . . has really generated some exciting projects on campus, increased enthusiasm among faculty, and increased opportunities for our students both within and beyond the classroom,” Mekolichick said.

Launching SCI

Faculty and staff buy-in was imperative during the planning process for the Scholar-Citizen Initiative (SCI, pronounced “sky”). To get feedback from faculty, staff, and students, the SCI writing team organized approximately fifty focus groups and stakeholder consultations during the 2010–11 school year, as well as larger town hall meetings and retreats that were open to the campus community.

Before the 2012–13 pilot year, Webster Garrett—who is now the director of the Scholar-Citizen Initiative—convened a “launch team” to identify criteria for courses and students to participate in SCI.

SCI students can earn two levels of distinction, Scholar-Citizen and Scholar-Citizen Fellow, which include rigorous criteria. To become a Scholar-Citizen, students must complete six credits of coursework; participate in one cocurricular activity and five hours of community service each semester; and create an ongoing eportfolio that they reflect upon, defend, and publicly present before graduation. In addition to these requirements, Scholar-Citizen Fellows must also lead a discussion connected to a cocurricular activity, mentor other students, complete an “intensive capstone experience,” and include these activities in their eportfolio.

Every course and cocurricular activity seeking SCI designation must be approved by SCI’s sixteen-member steering committee. Cocurricular activities must include one of SCI’s essential learning outcomes and meet one of SCI’s program goals: creating more opportunities for intercultural dialogue, study abroad, and service learning. Courses must also directly incorporate three core pedagogies:

  • Social—students must have opportunities to communicate outside of class about issues they discuss in class.
  • Experiential—students must engage in an applied-learning activity.
  • Integrative Reflection—students must have intentional and scaffolded opportunities to reflect in a written artifact about how their learning connects to prior learning, future goals, and personal development.

In the pilot year, while SCI courses were required to incorporate all three pedagogies, written reflections were not a requirement.

“It was difficult figuring out how to get student artifacts that could be assessed using a common rubric when some disciplines don’t use written reflections,” Webster Garrett said. “For example, a dancer might not want to write her reflection, she might want to perform it. But as an English professor, I’m not going to necessarily understand the language of dance.”

Every SCI course now includes a written reflection, making SCI “an indirect writing-intensive experience, because students who might not normally be asked to record their growth in a written essay are now engaged in that process,” Webster Garrett said.

Integrating SCI in the Majors

At first, Webster Garrett expected Radford’s core curriculum, a mandatory four-course sequence for first- and second-year students, to serve as a gateway into SCI experiences. Instead, faculty introduced SCI into their departments, and several majors—including nursing and biology—have formal and informal pathways of several courses that build toward a signature work capstone experience. Several other departments are also exploring new pathways.

Eunyoung Lee, associate professor of nursing and a member of the SCI steering committee, valued the idea of students connecting their learning to real-world problems, with faculty guiding them “to identify best practices and apply those practices to solve problems in the community.” But, because of nursing’s tightly streamlined curriculum, it was “almost impossible” for her students to graduate with SCI distinction.

In early 2016, she convened a task force to develop a SCI pathway model with two other faculty members, Linda Ely and Megan Hebdon. The nursing program piloted their new pathway during the 2016–17 academic year, graduated their first SCI Fellow in May 2017, and now includes four SCI courses.

Lee, who leads study abroad trips to Taiwan and South Korea, engages her SCI students in discussions about differences between the healthcare systems of these countries and the United States. Students reflect on ways to improve their own healthcare practice or the larger local and national healthcare systems.

Another nursing course, “Community Health Nursing,” partners with community health organizations in rural Roanoke Valley and New River Valley. Students read relevant literature and conduct research to identify a target population, study the population’s demographics, and locate available resources. Later, students travel to these communities to provide free health screenings and health education programs.

Lee also organized a two-day cocurricular workshop on migraine management in the general population and pregnant women. These workshops, which were open to the campus community and attended by students in other healthcare fields, featured health practitioners from traditional medicine and Western medicine—including acupuncturists; chiropractors; internists; and practitioners of other alternative therapies including mind-body interventions (such as tai chi)— who talked about stress and pain management. Students learned about the collaborative nature of medicine, Lee said, with “different types of health providers working together” to manage migraines.

These nursing curricular and cocurricular activities do not work in silos, Lee said, but continually inform each other. “Once more and more students know about an issue [through cocurricular activities], it becomes a driving force to strategically incorporate it into several courses.” For example, the nursing department introduced students to the SBIRT (Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment) strategy through a series of cocurricular activities, and six or seven nursing courses now incorporate these strategies into the curriculum.

Lee highlighted Rachel Jones, the nursing department’s first SCI Fellow, as an example of a student’s progression through SCI. Jones served as the president of the Student Nurses Organization, led nursing students as they volunteered at nursing homes and hospitals, and developed a peer-mentoring system that is still used among nursing students. For her self-directed SCI capstone, Jones visited a hospital for elderly veterans and identified the need for better communication strategies for patients coming out of surgery or suffering from aphasia caused by stroke. To help these patients, she developed a system of cards that use pictures and simple words to communicate patients’ needs. For all of these experiences, Jones wrote written reflections that she collected in an eportfolio.

These opportunities, which combine classroom and cocurricular experiences with community engagement, are powerful because the learning not only focuses on “skills or knowledge competency,” Lee said, but also gives students time for in-depth reflection on their personal, academic, and clinical experiences.

Eporfolios

Reflection in SCI occurs primarily in eportfolios that students build throughout their experience.

“Initially we thought every [faculty member] who’s doing a Scholar-Citizen class must incorporate an eportfolio. And we backed way off that—that is just not a feasible or reasonable request to make,” Webster Garrett said. “We went from putting that on faculty to instead thinking about, ‘Ok, who’s really involved in developing an eportfolio?’ It’s students. It has to be student owned, and it has to follow the student.”

As students attend classes, participate in cocurricular activities, and apply for grants to support projects, they write reflections, add photos, and create multimedia to display their learning. Before receiving their distinction as a Scholar-Citizen or SCI Fellow, students write a final reflection and defend their eportfolios in a small group setting. They get feedback for revision and publicly present at the Scholar-Citizen Symposium—part of the Student Engagement Forum, a three-day showcase of undergraduate research, scholarship, and creative activities organized and hosted by the Office of Undergraduate Research and Scholarship, one of the areas brought together under the Office of High Impact Practices. 

In this presentation, students “talk about their growth over time and the ways that their classes and their cocurriculars connect with their life philosophy, with their career goals,” Webster Garrett said. “International students who have participated in SCI have talked about the cultural transitions and how the [SCI] program has helped them to connect what they’re doing and what they’re thinking and then communicate that to an external audience. And that’s been a very powerful part of the initiative.”

According to Lee, students often use eportfolios to show future employers details about skills and experiences beyond what a CV or transcript can display. However, the real value of eportfolios comes from the constant self-reflection and communication with faculty that they require.

“To know, ‘Am I going into the right direction?’ That’s the time when learning really happens,” Lee said. Through this process of engaging with real problems in the community and reflecting on their learning, students “can find more joyfulness in their learning, they become more connected to the community, and . . . they get more passion for their profession and become more sound citizens. . . . That’s the whole philosophy of SCI.”  

Scholar-Citizen Initiative Learning Outcomes:

  1.  Critically analyze different viewpoints of or theories about a contemporary issue using reliable sources.
  2.  Make connections between one‘s academic experiences/knowledge and one‘s own participation in civic life, politics, and government.
  3.  Apply ethical reasoning to contemporary local, national, or global issues.
  4.  Propose or evaluate solutions to problems in the context of contemporary local, national, or global issues.
  5. Engage in a self-reflective process as a means of understanding civic experiences. 

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Assessing SCI

According to Ebenezer F. Kolajo, assistant provost of academic assessment, SCI is assessed both qualitatively (through student surveys of SCI participants) and quantitatively. Prior to the pilot year, the SCI steering committee developed rubrics that were modified from AAC&U’s VALUE rubrics. Student artifacts are randomly selected from SCI courses and assessed for performance on SCI’s five learning outcomes.

During the pilot year, Radford faculty rated the artifacts and “the results were too high,” Webster Garrett said. The learning outcomes were “high order and developmentally focused,” but almost all students scored above 85 percent.

Wanting to account for possible bias, SCI and the Office of Academic Assessment hired external raters to assess the artifacts. SCI has been “very lucky . . . to work with the same [external raters each year] and get their feedback on the instrument,” Webster Garrett said.

Because of their long-term involvement, these raters are familiar with the SCI program, receive training in assessment methods, and “meet to review the rubrics so that they can have some consistency in how they evaluate the artifacts,” Kolajo said.

Overall, most student artifacts scored below the program’s target (80 percent) for each learning outcome assessed. However, most Scholar-Citizens and Scholar-Citizen Fellows scored much higher than 80 percent on both the student learning outcomes and the eportfolio experience. 

SCI has also tracked student participation, and even though SCI was not implemented as an equity or retention program, students of color, first-generation students, Pell grant recipients, and female students have participated in SCI experiences at higher rates than their overall representation on campus. Preliminary analysis of the data suggests that students who participated in SCI courses may be retained at a higher rate than students who did not participate, but this analysis did not control for other high-impact practices or employ a control group comparison.

Taking SCI to Scale

SCI is now university-wide and continues to grow. All six of Radford’s colleges have implemented a SCI course, for a total of over 250 course sections since the launch in 2012. According to Webster Garrett, 1572 students enrolled in SCI courses during the 2016–17 academic year. Since the program’s launch, forty-five students have graduated as Scholar-Citizens or Scholar-Citizen Fellows.

As Radford prepared for the QEP’s official completion on June 30, 2017, Webster Garrett held a “Taking SCI to Scale” workshop in May, attended by Kate McConnell, AAC&U’s senior director for research and assessment, that featured nine departmental teams and two individual faculty who were interested in developing new SCI experiences for students.

Webster Garrett also took a “tour” of campus to facilitate more conversations with campus constituents, examine the assessment data, and decide what “we take forward, what’s important to preserve, and what we need to do as leaders of the initiative to break down barriers and increase access for students and for faculty to participate.”

Overall, SCI’s future is bright because the campus community has been collaborating, making changes, and scaling up from the beginning.

“It was kind of an ongoing process of ‘Ok, we tried this, this is what we learned,’ and making adjustments along the way,” Webster Garrett said. “[Those were] probably some of the strongest and richest experiences I’ve had as a faculty member and as a member of this incredible community.”