Researchers Delve into Service Learning Faculty’s Needs

Service learning opportunities are an invaluable educational channel for university students and often are a tremendous resource to underserved communities. That’s why two Radford University professors are researching faculty members’ experiences in leading service learning initiatives.

Funded by a Carla B. Howery Teaching Enhancement Grant, Carla Corroto and Beth Lyman, professors in the Department of Sociology, are digging through data to learn about those leading the projects, what their qualifications are and how they find time for all the work required.

Corroto has already conducted a number of interviews with architecture professors and directors of service learning projects across the United States. The funds from the Howery grant will provide her and Lyman with access to results of faculty surveys through the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) to determine which faculty members are typically asked to lead service learning programs.

“Our hunch is it’s mostly untenured, mostly women, faculty of color who have the privilege and sometimes burden of being between the university and the community,” Corroto said. “We just want to see how much support they’re getting.”

Corroto and Lyman’s conjecture is based on National Center for Education statistics from 2004, which “wasn’t large enough to home in specific departments and disciplines, and that’s something we can get with the HERI data,” Lyman said.

Corroto, who has studied service learning applied in university architecture departments, and Lyman, whose expertise is in higher education research and theory, have been working on their research for a year and hope to extend it further, delving into more specific information about university and college directors, departments and faculty.

“Many of the faculty we have talked with are frustrated, “Corroto said. They have a lot of work to do with limited resources. Many are told to do service learning and yet they have no experience with it. So they’re kind of clumsy in the community. They’re not even sure how to get started.”

Winning support from the university and the community is the key component to service learning success, the professors said.

“If it’s not done well and supported well, will it be effective?” Lyman asked. “The support is really important, and it looks like right now many faculty aren’t getting the support they need to be effective.”

Corroto and Lyman have presented their research at several conferences and will give a presentation at the August 2012 meeting of the American Sociological Association in Denver.

Oct 10, 2011
Chad Osborne