Multicampus Research Project on Student Well-Being and Civic Engagement Led by Project Pericles

By Garret S. Batten, Assistant Director, Project Pericles, and Jan R. Liss, Executive Director, Project Pericles

Project Pericles and its collaborators commenced work this spring on a multi-campus research project that examines the impact of civic engagement on student well-being. Bates College, Goucher College, Hendrix College, and Pitzer College are collaborating on the study supported by Bringing Theory to Practice (BTtoP).

Periclean Program Directors are leading the work on each campus. The group has met multiple times to discuss and fine-tune the research protocol. In the fall semester, the group will be conducting pre- and post-course surveys of students in a variety of courses that incorporate civic engagement. These surveys will use a flourishing scale as well as additional questions. To reach students on all four campuses, we will be administering the survey using Qualtrics.

“Pitzer College is thrilled to participate, once again, with long-time partners Project Pericles and Bringing Theory to Practice, in the important work of studying the impact of civic engagement on student wellness,” says Tessa Hicks Peterson, assistant vice president of community engagement and assistant professor of urban studies at Pitzer College. “This unique focus on well-being within community engagement is one that does not get nearly enough attention. We believe that aims to enhance the well-being of our students (as well as our communities) must be at the forefront of our efforts to educate, support, and inspire those in and connected to Pitzer College around our core values of social responsibility and social justice.”

This multicampus research project looks at the ways in which incorporating civic engagement in the curricula influences the well-being of college students. We are examining a number of high-impact practices including community-based learning and first-year seminars. “Our goal is to gain a fuller understanding of the distinctive impact of our required first-semester course, The Engaged Citizen, on our students both in that first year and then as they follow their civic engagement pathways across their time at Hendrix College. Of course, this impact includes the students’ social and emotional development as young adults honing their citizenship skills,” says Jay Barth, M. E. and Ima Graves Peace Distinguished Professor of Politics and director of civic engagement projects at Hendrix College.

The project will pay close attention both to the type of course taken and to the impact of programs on Pell-eligible and first-generation students.

Our group of Periclean Program Directors is interested in and motivated by big questions concerning student flourishing and the role of higher education in developing engaged citizens. “The education of the whole person and the cultivation of informed civic action are animating priorities at Bates College,” says Darby K. Ray, director of the Harward Center for Community Partnerships and Donald W. & Ann M. Harward Professor of Civic Engagement at Bates College. “We look forward to asking questions such as: Does the full-bodied integration of the civic into the academic enterprise—not as an afterthought or footnote but as integral to student learning and experience—have a demonstrable effect on students’ resiliency, self-efficacy, or responses to stress? When student learning is focused not only on the edification and preparation of the individual but also on the transformation and flourishing of communities, are students (and communities) more likely to flourish? We need to be asking these kinds of questions in higher education, and this study invites us to do so.”

At Goucher College, “we believe that working in a focused way will help us ask better questions and more knowledgably define key factors that link community-based work to psychosocial well-being,” says Cass Friedland, France-Merrick Director of Community-Based Learning. “We will also tie this work to our conversations around the equitable dissemination of high-impact practices (e.g., community-based learning, study abroad, internships) throughout the entire student body.”

Project Pericles is pleased to be undertaking this work with such a distinguished group of scholars and colleagues. We look forward to sharing our results when they become available in 2017.