URCAD Research Profile: Does Service-Learning Result in Civic-Mindedness?

Kathleen Algire-Fedarcyk ’13, social work, is president of UMBC’s Social Work Students Association and BSW Representative for the National Association of Social Workers’ Maryland Chapter.

Kathleen Algire-FedarcykAs a social work major, I like the idea of service-learning.  I think it is important to involve students in the community they are living and learning in, and to acknowledge their work, skills-building and new insights with academic credit. But does engaging in service-learning make a student more community-oriented or civic-minded? With support from Social Work professor Jessica Guzman-Rea, I developed and carried out a research project to explore that question.

Dr. Guzman-Rea had received a BreakingGround grant to redesign her Social Work 200 course to include much more extensive service-learning and reflection components, with support from the Shriver Center. I served as the teaching assistant for the course. I examined and coded students’ writings from different points in the semester, and looked for patterns to gauge shifts in their perspectives. The theoretical models that guided my inquiry included the Social Change Model (a leadership development framework developed by Alexander Astin and Lena Astin), and Social Learning Theory (pioneered by Albert Bandura). These models suggest that learning is a process, and that the long-term impact of a learning experience may not be immediately evident, which is a challenge for a project designed to measure learning within an academic semester.

I had not participated in research before, and I found qualitative research principles and methods challenging to grasp. Thankfully, Dr. Guzman-Rea was able to guide me through the process. I spent many hours reading and re-reading students’ writings, but I was excited to participate. By the end of the semester, six of the 27 students enrolled in the course had gotten involved in community work beyond what they had done in connection with the class, and many more were able to identify issues and needs important to the community, insights they can bring to future community involvement.

I am excited to present a poster at UMBC’s Undergraduate Research and Creative Achievement Day (URCAD) because it gives me another opportunity to talk about the research! I feel that the research results are applicable to any situation that requires motivating people to change their behavior towards civic engagement. URCAD will also be a new experience for me; I have presented at conferences but I have never had to design a poster and present the material in this way. I am also looking forward to seeing the other posters. I am particularly interested in the presentation on using motivational interviewing. I think including motivational interviewing would be a great way to take my research to the next level. Maybe I can find a collaborator at URCAD as well!

Contact the author, Kathleen Algire-Fedarcyk, at algire1@umbc.edu. Read about more URCAD projects aimed at contributing to positive social change here.