Capacity Building for Community Engagement in Community Colleges

Jennifer W Purcell
Kennesaw State University


The current article presents an action research case study that explored efforts to increase institutional capacity for community engagement at a public two-year college.  There is a wealth of research supporting best practices within campus-community partnerships for community-engaged pedagogies; however, there remains a gap in the literature on how to implement these identified best practices, particularly within the community college sector.  This article presents insights on this process, including leadership and organizational development to support the community engagement, within community colleges.


The purpose of this study was to explore how community colleges increase their capacity for community engagement.  To meet this objective, individuals identified as service leaders within a public two-year college were recruited to participate in a series of interventions designed to improve current practices for community engagement within the college.  These professional development interventions were tailored to respond to areas of need confirmed during initial data collection involving the assessment of the college’s level of service-learning institutionalization.  For this study, service leaders were identified as both faculty and staff who were recognized by the college’s administration for their contribution to community engagement efforts, including service-learning and outreach programs.

Based on initial findings from preliminary data collection within the college and a review of the literature, the study’s research questions were defined as follows:

What are the characteristics of leadership for community engagement within the community college?

Who informs decision-making regarding community engagement with the community college?

How does the community partner voice inform decision-making among service leaders?

How does the informal service leader voice inform decision-making among senior leaders at the college?


Action research (AR) is a method of inquiry that engages researchers in problem solving and responds to growth opportunities while contributing to the knowledge of a particular field (Merriam, 2009).  Merriam (2009) notes that action research pits real world people against real world challenges as the methodology identifies practical solutions for challenges in a specific context. AR involves a cyclical approach that engages the research in continuous cycles of planning, acting, and evaluation (Coghlan & Brannick, 2010; Stringer, 2007).  Although the cycles in which practitioners engage may vary slightly by preference and situational needs, the core of action research is the three-phase cycle. AR addresses the unique situational needs of a specific organization; however, its findings are intended to aid in the improvement or transformation of other organizations in similar contexts (Coghlan & Brannick, 2010).

Research Site and Participants

Southeastern Community College (SCC) served as the research site for this study.  SCC is a pseudonym for a public, two-year college that is comprised of multiple campuses located throughout a region of its home state.  As a community engagement scholar-practitioner embedded in the community college sector during a four year period preceding this study, I had the opportunity to connect with institutional leaders who support depended and expanded community engagement efforts.  Through these connections, I was positioned to facilitate this research with a college whose senior leaders were familiar with my career and scholarship.  These senior college leaders at SCC served formally as the stakeholders for the study.  A combination of opportunity, purposeful networking, and thoughtful, client system-centered negotiations allowed me the opportunity to conduct research with SCC.  In recent years, SCC had begun to increase its efforts to intentionally and systematically engage its multiple communities.  As such, the research stakeholders and I recognized the opportunity to learn from the college’s current efforts and document strategies for deepened and expanded impacts for both student learning and community impact.

The participants in the study are the members of a learning community formed as a professional development intervention during the three-year study and representatives from their respective community partnerships.  The six members of the learning community are faculty and staff at the college who were recruited to participate in a study of current campus-community partnerships connected to the college.  The college stakeholders who provided access for this research identified these individuals as prospective participants based on their ongoing work with community partners.  For the purpose of anonymity, participants were assigned pseudonyms.  Table 1 includes each member of the learning community and their leadership role related to community engagement at the college.  These participants were recruited because of their direct involvement with such partnerships at the college.  Community partners were also invited to participate in the study.  The three community partners were included for two reasons.  First, their participation in the study reflects best practices that emphasize partner involvement and voice in developing and assessing campus-community partnerships (Sandy & Holland, 2006).  Secondly, the literature indicates the value of a strong underlying relationship between the representatives of campus-community partnerships, and the partners’ participation in the study is an opportunity to strengthen those relationships (Bringle & Hatcher, 2002; Sandy & Holland, 2006).  Additionally, the three members of the college leadership team who served as stakeholders for the study also participated in interviews.

Table 1

Service Leader Classification and Leadership Role

Service Leader Classification Community Engagement Leadership Role
Carol, Academic Professional Coordinates community garden campus-community partnership
Richard, Academic Administrator Coordinates writers academy with local elementary schools
Louisa, Administrative Professional Coordinates local K-12 campus-community partnerships
Sarah, Faculty Member Coordinates research partnerships with local science museum
Julia, Student Services Professional Coordinates volunteer opportunities for students
Mary, Administrative Professional Coordinates children’s camp hosted at the college

Professional Development Interventions

Table 2 provides an overview of the professional development interventions designed collaboratively between the researchers and the study’s stakeholders.  Each intervention was developed with input from members of SCC’s senior leadership team and members of the service leader learning community.

Table 2

The Intervention Plan

Key Intervention CI Group Process Anticipated Outcomes Proposed Timeline
Faculty and Staff Learning Community Engage in collaborative learning (action inquiry) Participants increase capacity for supporting partnerships February – October
Assessment of Partnerships Select tools, collect and analyze data Formative evaluation report is produced March – July
Professional Development Event Oversee event planning and coordination Participants increase their capacity to create and sustain partnerships. April – October

Faculty and staff learning community.  The faculty and staff learning community was a central element on this action research case study.  The study stakeholders and I agreed to provide a space for collaborative learning among the service leaders identified for the study.  We utilized a case convening process through which the group focused on a single partnership, or case, and engaged in peer coaching to support the presenting members’ learning around the case.  Our intent was to provide a model for collaborative action inquiry through which participants would be empowered to further advance their respective community engagement initiatives.

I originally proposed that the community partner involved in the case be invited to participate to direct the group’s attention to the partners’ perspectives, including their needs and perceived opportunities associated with the partnerships.  However, participants were hesitant to engage their partners early in the study citing that they were uncomfortable with inviting community partners at that point, but would be open to engaging the partners once they were comfortable with the process and felt more organized.  Based on their feedback and hesitancy to engage their partners as this stage, the stakeholders and I decided to move forward with the college employee sessions only for this intervention.

The six participants presented written cases to the group with one participant sharing a verbal account of her experiences.  The cases were sent via email before our scheduled face-to-face convenings, and participants were asked to read the case and make comments before the convening.  During the convenings, participants shared a summary of their case before the group engaged in dialogue around the challenges presented in the case.  Then, a group discussion of the case continued for approximately forty-five minutes during which group members shared their comments, insights, and posed additional questions as necessary.

During the discussion of each case, group members would offer insights based on their experiences.  In several instances, group members shared suggestions and offered solutions that the case presenter had not considered.  The tone was conversational and there was rarely a silent moment.  It was not uncommon to hear group members share remarks that began with “in my experience” which indicated the perceived value of their personal experiences as service leaders.  That is, the convening process encouraged reflection on their individual leadership practices and associated experiences, and participants were confident in the contribution of their reflections to the group’s learning.  Our goal was to identify challenges that each group member had experienced so that an organization-level solution could be developed.  I routinely asked, “What support structures would need to be in place” so that you and other service leaders could avoid this challenge?  My intent was to help direct the group toward the bigger-picture, organizational needs that were evident in their cases.

Assessment of partnerships.  During the study, members of the faculty and staff learning community convened three community partner sessions during which attendees were asked to reflect on and share their experiences collaborating with the college, including its employees and students.  The qualitative data collected during these sessions provided a formative assessment of existing partnerships.  This data was then integrated into the case convenings as the participants began to develop a more information and comprehensive assessment of the community partnerships each supported.  

Professional development event.  Upon completion of the case convenings, members of the faculty and staff learning community organized a college-wide professional development event on community-engaged pedagogies and practices.  The events including presentations on data collected through the learning community, multiple breakout sessions lead by members of the learning community, and a keynote speaker from a national community engagement organization.  Attendees included faculty and staff, deans, and community members.

Data Analysis and Findings

Data collection analysis began early in the study and informed subsequent actions and the direction of the study as is typical of action research (Stringer, 2007).  Data were collected via interviews with service leaders, college leaders, and community partners.  Field notes, researcher memos, and document review were also sources of data.  The research design included collecting multiple data sets in order to use triangulation to support reliable data analysis (Coghlan & Brannick, 2010).  Table 3 presents the varied sources and quantity of data collected.

Table 3

Data Sources and Collection Time Period

Data Source Collection Time Period Quantity
Case Convening Sessions Spring 2012 – Summer 2012 350 minutes
Service Leader Reflections (6) Spring 2012 – Summer 2012 Six; 3-5 pages each
College Leader Interviews (3) Fall 2012 Three; 45-60 minutes each
Service Leader Interviews (6) Spring 2013 Six; 30-60 minutes each
Community Partner Group Sessions (3) Fall 2012 Three; 60-120 minutes each
Community Partner Interviews (3) Fall 2012 Three; 45-60 minutes each
Document Review Ongoing Reports and emails
Field Notes Ongoing Approximately 75 pages
Researcher Memos Ongoing Eight; 1-3 pages each

Ruona’s (2005) method for qualitative data analysis was implemented in this study.   Ruona’s method for qualitative data analysis includes four steps:  Step 1 – Data Preparation; Step 2 – Data Familiarization; Stept 3 – Data Coding; and Step 4 – Making Meaning From Data.  I included a fifth step that included data triangulation in order to cross reference data across multiple data points and validate the findings (Stringer, 2007).  Table 4 presents an overview of the findings.

Table 4

Research Findings

Research Question Findings from Data Sub-Category of Findings
1.      What are the characteristics of leadership for community engagement within community colleges?


Community engaged leadership is distributed. ·   Informal Leadership

·   Individual Leadership

Community engaged leaders are boundary spanners. ·   Individual Expertise

·   Community Representation

Community engaged leaders struggle with constant change. ·   Position Shifts

·   Pre and Post AR Study

Community engaged leaders share an optimal leadership model. ·   Representative

·   Centralized Structure

·   Formal Communication

2.      Who informs decision-making regarding community engagement with the community college? Decision-making for community engagement has distinct characteristics. ·   Reactive vs. Proactive

·   Independent

·   Collaborative

Decision-making for community engagement includes the needs of internal and external stakeholder groups. ·   Community Needs

·   College Needs

·   Student Needs

A.    How does the community partner voice inform decision-making among service leaders? The community partners’ voice is shared through partnerships when considered in decision-making. ·   Partner Needs

·   Partnership Recruitment

·   Partnership Implementation

B.     How does the informal service leader voice inform decision-making among senior leaders at the college? The informal service leader’s voice is considered by senior leaders when decisions are made. ·   Informal

·   Inconsistent

These findings from the data inform four conclusions drawn from the study.  The conclusions address leadership, communication, and authenticity as each topic relates to community engagement.  The following section will introduce each conclusion and situate what was learned through this research within the existing literature on the topic that originally guided the development of the study.


Conclusion 1:  Distributed leadership to advance community engagement is derived from college employees’ and community partners’ boundary spanning behaviors.

Leadership for community engagement reflects the complex network of individuals within the college and the community.  Traditional leadership theories that define leadership as an individual’s set of knowledge and authority are insufficient for understanding the breadth of individuals involved in leadership for community engagement.  Burke (2010) suggests,

“Traditional leadership theory overwhelmingly emphasizes the power and influence of a single individual to direct followers in organizational action. In order to create self-directed learners, leadership theory shifted with the aims of empowering all individuals within an organization. For both educational and organizational theory, the shift occurs due to the fact that no one individual can demonstrate leadership in all contexts” (2010, p. 52).

Burke’s argument against traditional leadership theory is exemplified by the case of community engagement leadership at SCC.

In this study, data suggests leadership for community engagement is not encapsulated in a single individual or office.  Instead, leadership is distributed throughout the organization and within the community through community partners.  Distributed leadership theory recognizes that leadership within educational organizations extends beyond the influence of a single individual (Spillane, 2005).  The theory suggests leadership is comprised of the sum of multiple individuals within an organization.  Moreover, distributed leadership theory emphasizes the influence of leadership practices rather than leadership positions within organizations and individual leadership knowledge.  Spillane (2005) suggests leadership practice is a product of interaction of leaders, followers, and the context rather than a result from a leader’s knowledge and skills.  The distributed perspective defines leadership as the interactions between people and their situation.

This study also revealed distinct behaviors that were common among service leaders.  The particular set of behaviors documented in interviews and researcher observations are boundary-spanning behaviors.  Boundary-spanning characteristics include enhanced communication skills, connections to multiple contexts internal and external to one’s organizations, and servings as an information gatekeeper between two contexts (Tushman & Scanlan, 1981).  Research indicates that boundary-spanning behaviors are prevalent among community engagement leaders in higher education.  Sandmann and Weerts (2008) contend that higher education institutions reshape their boundaries to adopt and promote engagement agendas.  Boundary spanners within organizations function as natural extensions of institutional boundaries that may limit community engagement.  In subsequent research, Weerts and Sandmann (2010) affirmed that boundary spanners supported community engagement initiatives as four overlapping roles:  technical expert; internal engagement advocate; engagement champion, and community-based problem solver.

In this study, we found representation of each of the four roles among service leaders in the college.  The distributed nature of the college’s leadership for engagement unified by the collaborative action inquiry intervention leveraged the individual boundary spanning roles held by each service leader.  Community partners exhibited boundary-spanning characteristics as well.  For example, one community partner included in the study is also a student at SCC.  The other two leaders had ties to the college prior to the creation of their respective campus-community partnership.  Distributed leadership for community engagement included community partners.  Therefore, the distributed leadership model leveraged the boundary spanning characteristics of the community partners as well as the service leaders employed by the college.

Conclusion 2:  Within community colleges, the creation and extension of communication channels among multiple stakeholder groups for community engagement parallels the advancement of community engagement.

Just as leadership abilities are constructed through intentional development, so are communication channels constructed intentionally to inform decision-making.  Spillane (2005) argues that the situation “constitutes leadership practice” suggesting that the situation defines leadership practice in the interaction with leaders and followers” (p. 145).  Situational elements are also critical in enhancing communication.  The collaborative action inquiry intervention in this study created a situation, or context, in which individual leaders formed a community of practice.  Founded in social constructivist learning theory, Wenger (1998) suggests that groups of people who meet regularly on a specific, shared interest form a community of practice.  This community of practice has the potential to increase collective learning.

This study illustrated how a community of practice also supports enhanced communication among participants.  Spillane (2005) posits, “Individuals play off one another, creating a reciprocal interdependency between their actions” (p. 146).  In the community of practice formed during this study, actions produced increased communication between service leaders and the college administration.  Researcher observations and participant interviews provided evidence of movement toward enhanced collaborative decision-making to inform community engagement.  As a result of strengthened communication among multiple stakeholder groups including service leaders, college administrators, and community partners, the college advanced its community engagement agenda.  Therefore, results of the study suggest that the level communication across multiple stakeholder groups is associated with the extent to which the college’s engagement agenda is advanced.  Hence, increased, directed communication among stakeholder groups supports the institutionalization of engagement.

Conclusion 3:  Authentic engagement exists in various degrees throughout distinct stages of institutionalization reflecting the unique contexts and stakeholder interests involved.

Authentic engagement between institutions of higher education and community partners is foremost characterized by reciprocity and mutuality (Holland, 2001).  Research provides practitioners with numerous sets of best practices which are each built on the fundamental principles of reciprocity and the concept of creating mutually beneficial partnerships in which both the college and community partner’s interests and needs are reflected in the activities and outcomes of the partnership.  One prominent recommendation across recommended best practices is early and ongoing inclusion of the community partner voice.

Authentic community engagement reflects activities done in concert with community partners.  The emphasis of action is “with,” meaning in conjunction with versus alternative approaches of less authentic community engagement activities that are guided by the premise of providing a service or charity “to” or “for” community-based partners or even merely “in” a community (Moely, et. al, 2008; Sandy & Holland, 2006).  The latter creates a context in which power dynamics, particularly the authority of the college, undercut the objective of creating mutuality in the campus-community partnership.  Research suggests that, in order to establish reciprocity and mutuality as the foundation of community engagement, colleges must invite and incorporate community partner input beginning in the initial stages of planning and development (Bringle & Hatcher, 2002).

At SCC, service leaders were hesitant to include community partners in the initial planning phase of the study.  Once the study was underway, the researcher’s recommendation to include community partners in the learning community was considered but ultimately rejected.  Service leaders presented genuine concerns to rationalize their preferences.  Such reasoning included the notion that community partners, with all that they are responsible for in their own organizations, do not have time to meet with the group, and their concern that the group and college administration’s plans for future growth in community engagement initiatives lacked clarity.  In fairness to the service leaders, they were considering the needs of their community partner in making these decisions.  However, these needs were assumed by the service leaders without an actual offer to include the community partner and consider their responses.

As evidenced by community partner interview responses, this study supports the many directions colleges take in developing community engagement programs.  To suggest a right and wrong way of engaging community partners and institutionalizing community engagement is narrow and shortsighted.  Yet, these important decisions must include careful consideration of community partner needs.  True, best practices indicate early and ongoing collaboration with community partners is ideal; however, unique contextual factors and a myriad of variables that cannot be controlled determine actual practice.  The future success of SCC’s community engagement program will further validate their decision to exclude the community partner voice in the development and planning for community engagement.  At the conclusion of this study, evidence in the form of community partner and service leader responses supported the alternative approach of purposefully delayed community partner collaboration following the early creation and implementation of internal organizational structures to support community engagement.

Learning Model for Distributed Leadership for Community Engagement

In defining the theoretical connection between leadership behaviors and structures found that Spillane (2005) proposed,

“Structures, routines, and tools are the means through which people act. Yet, these same structures, routines, and tools are created and remade through leadership practice” (p. 147).

Distributed leadership theory holds that leadership behavior emerges through existing structures, or the lack thereof.  Similarly, structures are shaped through leadership behavior.

Figure 1 illustrates the introduction of a learning intervention to support the advancement of community engagement when distributed leadership in apparent within the college.  This learning model for distributed leadership demonstrates the connectivity of learning and change in relation to cycles of developing leadership behaviors and structures that emerge through collaborative action inquiry.  The model integrates Coghlan’s (2006) model of first, second, and third-person learning.  Multiple cycles of inquiry and action are represented in the model in addition to the progression of learning for the first, second, and third-person.  Furthermore, the model illustrates the influence of individual, group, and organizational on organizational change.  The model also illustrates the influence of organizational change on learning within an organization.  Through iterative cycles of action and inquiry, leadership behaviors are honed, equipping service leaders with the knowledge and skills to support campus community partnerships and advance a college’s community engagement agenda.

Figure 1

Learning Model for Distributed Leadership of Community Engagement

In the absence of organizational structures for community engagement leadership, leadership behavior among service leaders will initially inform the development of necessary organizational structures that support the sustained expansion of community engagement.  In this study, distributed leadership is evidenced by the emergence of service leaders throughout the organization before formal structures were in place to support community engagement.  In situations where organizational structures are in place prior to the emergence of service leaders, such structures potentially influence the behaviors of service leaders as they emerge.  For example, the creation of the faculty and staff learning community, which is now a formal advisory committee and a community engagement administrative unit, will now influence the behaviors of the service leaders.  The cycles of influence included in Figure 1 illustrate Spillane’s argument that organizational structures are created and remade through leadership behavior.  Spillane (2005) posits structures, routines, and tools are the means through which people act.  Yet, the same structures, routines, and tools are created and remade through leadership practice.  In discussing distributed leadership theory, Spillane (2005) argues, “There is a two-way relationship between situation and practice. Aspects of the situation can either enable or constrain practice, while practice can transform the situation” (p. 149).

This concept that “practice creates and recreates” is reflected in the multiple cycles included in the model (Spillane, 2005, p. 148).  Hence, cycles of influence could be generative or degenerative depending on the context.  This leads to the consideration of how collaborative action inquiry can be aligned mindfully to the cycles of influence to yield a positive, generative outcome.


The study presented multiple implications for community engagement practice.  The value of communication across the multiple stakeholder groups involved in community engagement emerged as a paramount finding early in this study and remained at the forefront throughout its duration.  The importance of leadership in change initiatives related to community engagement was also evident.  Specifically, the findings suggest that existing leadership distributed throughout an organization can be leveraged through alignment.  The findings also suggest that both faculty and staff members can be valuable service leaders who may benefit from professional development.  Finally, the findings demonstrate the impact of organizational learning to support the institutionalization of engagement.

Enhanced Communication for Community Engagement

The benefits of communication channels across multiple stakeholder groups were demonstrated throughout this study.  The study highlighted opportunities for enhanced institutional practices and possible strategies for continued communication.  For example, the study evidenced the positive impact of communication among service leaders, between service leaders and college leaders, and among community partners and service leaders.  This simple, though overlooked strategy for organizational learning and change is critical to the institutionalization of engagement, particularly in decentralized higher education institutions.  Through the faculty and staff learning community, existing communication channels were strengthened and new communication channels were created.  These enhanced communication channels allowed participants to coalesce as a community of practice, adopt a shared language for community engagement at SCC, and explore strategies to extend community engagement efforts.

Leadership Alignment for Change

The study demonstrated the impact of aligning leaders dispersed throughout an organization.  College administrators and community engagement leaders may find that the talent needed to institutionalize community engagement within their organization already exists.  Aligning these service leaders’ efforts and defining common goals increases their collective ability to effect change for engagement.  This study, therefore, suggests that practitioners should provide space for collaboration and opportunities for group learning.  These experiences will strengthen alignment among service leaders and provide a base of support for the college’s community engagement agenda.

Alignment for change may be achieved in multiple ways that leverage an institution’s existing structure and meets the needs of its particular challenges and growth opportunities.  For example, a limited enrollment, single campus institution may be served effectively by a community engagement advisory committee; whereas, a more structurally complex institution with a greater number of employees and students may require a centralized unit with dedicated staff.  The findings from this study emphasize the necessity of starting at the point of greatest opportunity within a particular institution.  There are a variety of structures to support and advance community engagement.  Leaders are wise to leverage existing expertise and effective practices within their college while advocating for expanded support.  The ideal design of a college’s expansion is informed by data from existing community partnerships, prospective community partners, student learning needs, and the institutional culture.

Professional Development Practices

Much of the literature on hiring, professional development, and promotion practices that support community engagement has focused on faculty members (O’Meara et. al, 2011).  Specifically, promotion and tenure policies that support faculty community engagement have been of interest among researchers.  This is due to the emphasis of academic service learning in community engagement within higher education.  However, this study highlighted the leadership role of college staff, including those who do not work for a community engagement office, in advancing the college’s community engagement agenda.

This study demonstrates that both faculty and staff members are important contributors to community engagement.  Staff members are largely overlooked in existing literature of the professional support structures required for the institutionalization of engagement.  Hence, leader-practitioners should make a concerted effort to include staff members in professional development opportunities and provide a basis for future research.

Leveraging Organizational Learning

The learning interventions included in this study had minimal hard costs.  In kind expenses included meeting space, technology, and limited office supplies.  Most sessions involving college employees occurred during the lunch hour and therefore had minimal interference with the participants’ work productivity.  Organizational learning studies such as these are valuable, cost effective means of supporting community engagement within higher education.  The growth of SSC’s community engagement program during the course of the study indicates the influence such a study has on the institutionalization of service learning with limited fiscal investment.  Therefore, colleges interested in advancing their community engagement agendas should consider leveraging existing professional development opportunities available to service leaders and consider additional learning interventions to support community engagement initiatives.

Future Research

This study provided insight for research on the institutionalization of engagement with the community college sector.  It relied on knowledge of advancing community engagement in four-year institutions and considered the characteristics of community colleges as civic organizations.  As a new avenue of research, additional study is needed to further increase our understanding of institutionalized engagement in community colleges.  Recommendations for future research include replication of this case study as well as modifications to advance the knowledge base on interventions to increase community engagement.

Within the context of community engagement, it is important to understand how collaborative action inquiry supports the cycles of influence between leadership behaviors and organization structures, because the scope and depth of both influence the sustainability of community engagement programs, their impact on student success, and objectives related to campus-community partnerships.  For example, Sandmann and Liang (2012) found that distributed leadership practices were common among institutions awarded the community engaged classification by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching in the 2008 and 2010 cycles.  It is, therefore, helpful to consider the extent to which distributed leadership is evident within a college that seek the community-engaged classification.


This study illustrated how professional development supports organizational learning for community engagement.  According to one service leader, the action research study advanced the college’s engagement agenda.  She said,

“I think it put structure around [community engagement efforts].  I think that we have an ear that we didn’t have before.  I think we still have some missing pieces, but that’s with anything. In time, it will get better and better but I think we’ve made strides.  I think we’ve uncovered things that we didn’t think … never even thought of, but that’s the whole idea.  That’s not a failure.  That’s the idea of working together.  Working together – what a concept. (laughs) Teamwork, the variance in the group and what a great dynamic. I see it as just all around as positive and I’m impressed. We have a great group of people here. Now we just need to get that out. All we need is to get that out.”

Findings indicate this type of inquiry leveraged existing distributed leaders with boundary spanning characteristics who were previously dispersed throughout organization and leading engagement without institutional structures to support their work.  Though a modification of best practices for authentic engagement, early planning and decision-making without community partner collaboration is one of many alternative means of inclusive practices that prioritizes the service leader’s and college’s needs.  One significant contribution of community engagement related professional development for community colleges is the enhanced communication it creates throughout the organization and across multiple stakeholder groups in the community.  This study set change into motion and facilitated the institutionalization process while providing an insider’s perspective of the institutionalization of engagement within a multi-campus community college.  Future research is warranted and will further inform our understanding of challenges and supports of the advancement of community engagement within the community college sector.


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About the author:

Jennifer W. Purcell

Jennifer W. Purcell, Ed.D., is an assistant professor in the Department of Leadership and Integrative Studies at Kennesaw State University.  Dr. Purcell teaches undergraduate courses on leadership and organizational theory through community-engaged pedagogies.  Her research explores leadership and organizational development to support cross-sector partnerships, in particular those between colleges and universities and their communities.

Community College National Center for Community Engagement (CCNCCE) sunsetted October 1, 2015. Mesa Community College hosts content from The Journal for Civic Commitment, published by the CCNCCE, to ensure it remains publicly available.

The important work of the CCNCCE was made possible through the financial support from many civic-minded foundations and organizations, including the Corporation for National and Community Service’s Learn and Serve America-Higher Education program, the Kettering Foundation, Campus Compact (through funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation), Arizona Community Foundation, Arizona Foundation for Women, Freeport McMoRan Copper and Gold Foundation, and The Teagle Foundation.