2017 Cohort, National Service and Civic Engagement Research Competition

In 2017, the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) awarded research grants to a second cohort of institutions of higher education. The awards support dissertators conducting their Ph.D. research, or scholars, researchers, and postdoctoral researchers with a proven track record and standing in their respective fields. The 2017 awardees included four dissertators and nine scholars.

Click on each grantee’s name to learn more about their CNCS funded research.

Arizona State University

A 2003 study titled “Survey on the Capacity of the Volunteer Infrastructure of Local Nonprofit Organization” asked a simple question: do nonprofit organizations have policies and procedures in place to maximize the experience and contributions of their volunteers? The study coined the term “volunteer management capacity” as a measurement of an organization’s capacity to effectively recruit and retain volunteers. Now, Dr. Mark Hager, Arizona State University, and Dr. Jeffery Brudney, University of North Carolina Wilmington, are using this operative concept to continue research under their 2017 National Service and Civic Engagement Research grant from CNCS.

The research team comprised of members from both schools are returning to the original nonprofit sample from the 2003 study to see how volunteer management capacity has evolved in these organizations over time. This sample will be supplemented with organizations that were founded after the original study to gain a current picture of the state of volunteer management capacity in nonprofit organizations across the United States. A web survey will provide the core data.

The focus will be on the organizational characteristics and practices associated with effective and productive volunteer management. The findings based on this analysis will be a resource to practitioners and policymakers who are reorganizing work to create economic opportunity in disadvantaged communities. It will also contribute to the broader conversation about redesigning civic infrastructure to reinvigorate American democracy.

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California State University, San Marcos

The National Latino Research Center (NLRC) is an applied research center at California State University, San Marcos (CSUSM) that engaged in community, culturally relevant, and participatory research methods. The researchers at NLRC successfully conducted research in the areas of education, civic engagement, youth justice, health, and disaster preparedness with a track record for outreach and credibility in the community.

Through a 2017 National Service and Civic Engagement Research grant, Drs. Marisol Clark-Ibanez and Arcela Nunez-Alvarez are conducting one of the largest mixed-method studies on volunteering and civic engagement among Latino elders. The study examines the impact of participation in a 10-week civic engagement class called Cultivando Sabiduría (Cultivating Wisdom) specifically created for low-income, Spanish-speaking Latino elders with little or no formal education. Pre- and post-tests to study 150 Latino participants will demonstrate how an individual’s civic engagement changes over the course of a lifetime. The study seeks to understand the impacts associated with civic engagement, volunteering, and national service.

The study’s goal is to develop methodological and theoretical innovations to help understand the economic, social, and health benefits of volunteering and civic engagement for Latino elders. The NLRC seeks to highlight the strength and resilience embodied by the participants. The results will be important to regional and national stakeholders who are committed to facilitating greater opportunities for lifelong volunteering and civic engagement, while also having the potential to inform more targeted program development.

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Clemson University

Matthew Hudson-Flege, a recent PhD graduate in the International Family & Community Studies program at Clemson University, received a 2017 National Service and Civic Engagement Research grant. Advised by Dr. Martie Thompson, a Professor in the Department of Youth, Family, and Community Studies and the Institute on Family and Neighborhood Life, Hudson-Flege examined the long-term impact of AmeriCorps service for diverse groups of members. His goal was to better understand the AmeriCorps members so he could make suggestions that would allow the organization to improve the member experience and effective recruitment practices. 

Analyses of the 1999?2007 AmeriCorps Longitudinal Study have demonstrated lasting, positive outcomes for members in the areas of civic engagement, education, employment, and life skills, but AmeriCorps members were typically considered as one homogenous group. This dissertation sought to address the knowledge gap by answering the following research questions through a secondary analysis of the AmeriCorps Longitudinal Study:

  • What types of diverse members serve in AmeriCorps?
  • How do outcome trajectories differ among diverse member profiles?

A cluster analysis generated four distinct profiles of AmeriCorps members: Young Idealists (recent high school grads with high public service motivation); Wanderers (19-20 year olds with low/moderate public service motivation); Gappers (recent college grads with low/moderate public service motivation); and Public Servants (recent college grads with high public service motivation). Repeated measures analyses of variance indicated that AmeriCorps members in all four profiles demonstrated positive growth in civic engagement outcomes relative to their peers in the comparison group. Gappers and Public servants also demonstrated positive growth in life skills. Finally, Gappers demonstrated positive growth in employment aptitude, but a small decline in education aptitude.

The findings indicate that AmeriCorps is successful at fostering civic engagement among a diverse array of members. Hudson-Flege, now a Research Assistant Professor at Clemson, hopes to work with CNCS staff to use the findings related to other outcome areas to develop more targeted recruitment and retention strategies for AmeriCorps.

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Trustees of Indiana University - Effects of Volunteering

With roots dating back to 1820, Indiana University (IU) is a school steeped in history, and CNCS is no stranger to their work. In 2010, IU published a Service Learning Research Primer based upon work supported by CNCS under Learn and Serve Clearinghouse. The 2017 National Service and Civic Engagement Research grant to IU’s Board of Trustees presents another opportunity for the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy to conduct research that impacts national service and volunteering.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 4.9 million (or 12 percent) of American youth between the ages of 16 and 24 were disconnected (i.e. neither working nor in school) in 2015 (Measure of America, 2017). Without social networks and support provided by school or work, disconnected youth are more vulnerable to social and economic risks and may face greater challenges accessing opportunities in adulthood. This study, led by Drs. Una Osili and Sara Konrath, will examine whether volunteerism during adolescence is associated with an increased likelihood of productive activity later in life during early adulthood, especially among socially and/or economically disadvantaged youth. The study posits that volunteering can provide access to job and education opportunities through social networks and improved health – thus reducing economic and social inequality.

The study will make a strong contribution to the scholarly literature by addressing an important research gap and combining two theoretical approaches to identify potential psychological and social mechanisms for the benefits of volunteering. Findings from the study will help facilitate nationwide discussions on this important issue and help practitioners and policymakers build programs and practices on volunteerism to reduce youth disconnection. The findings also will have the potential to provide the most compelling causal evidence of the role volunteering may play in enhancing economic opportunities.

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Trustees of Indiana University - Civil Society Organizations

The School of Public and Environmental Affairs (SPEA) is a nationally ranked academic institution located on the campus of Indiana University (IU). SPEA brings together management skills, science, policy analysis, and the humanities, with a focus on governing, managing, and leading. Drs. Matthew Baggetta and Brad Fulton received a 2017 National Service and Civic Engagement Research grant from the CNCS to lead a project that will use an innovative data collection technique – systematic social observation – to analyze the internal dynamics of civil society organizations (CSOs).  

Despite the widespread presence and prominent role of CSOs in U.S. communities, little is known about their internal workings or how these internal dynamics affect organizations? outcomes. The researchers seek to introduce a systematic means of measuring how people interact within CSOs, and how these interactions can strengthen civic infrastructure in organizations, promote civic engagement by individuals, and improve the quality of life in communities. Through a pilot study in Indianapolis, IN, the study will expand, refine, and test a new tool for observing and analyzing the internal dynamics of CSOs.

This new approach to measuring what happens in CSOs will provide a means of obtaining critical insight on how civic organizations can conduct their activities in ways that lead to greater engagement, endurance, and effectiveness. In particular, the findings will help civic organizers strengthen their CSOs as schools of democracy, increase local civic engagement, develop leaders, and encourage greater responsiveness from local governments. Findings will guide more strategic investments in organizations and inform agency strategies for strengthening community?based organizations.

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University of California, Los-Angeles

The University of California, Los-Angeles (UCLA) Luskin School of Public Affairs sits at the convergence of social work, urban planning, and public policy. The school identifies and develops emerging areas of research and teaching, cultivating leaders and change agents who advance solutions to society’s most pressing problems.

Two faculty members in the social welfare department of the school – Drs. Laura Wray-Lake and Laura Abrams – received a 2017 National Service and Civic Engagement Research grant to further their research on community service and activism among low-income, urban youth. The two-year study will advance theory and research by generating new understanding of what youth engagement looks like in low-income, urban contexts and how risks and assets shape urban youth civic engagement.

The first goal of the study is to contextualize urban youth’s civic engagement by analyzing qualitative interview data to determine how urban youth define community and engage in civic life. The second goal is to generate a conceptual model illustrating how individual, family, and neighborhood risks and assets impact urban youth civic engagement. Lastly, the study will test theories of how multiple risks and assets operate to predict urban youth civic engagement using a mixed methods approach. Through this work, the study will help advance positive youth development and resilience theories and practice by revealing how urban youth become civically engaged despite adversity.

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University of Denver Graduate School of Social Work & University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work

Drs. Nicole Nicotera, Amanda Moore McBride, Suzanne Pritzker, and Yolanda (Yoli) Anyon are leading the study, “Civic Engagement Through the Voices of Latino/a Youth: Exploring Definitions, Supports, and Barriers.” This study seeks to better understand how Latino/a youth conceptualize civic engagement, what supports and encourages them to be involved, what obstacles keep them from being involved, and how they think young people in general could be supported to engage civically.

This study, situated in Houston and Denver, uses participatory research methods to understand Latino/a youth voice on definitions, barriers, and supports of civic engagement. Leveraging partnerships with community organizations focused on positive youth development and civic engagement, the study will recruit 16 youth as co-researchers who will help design and facilitate focus groups with their peers. Methods include focus groups and active youth co-researcher involvement in study design, as well as co-facilitating focus groups, data analysis, and data interpretation.

Findings, including those specific to Latino/a youth-generated strategies to promote civic engagement among their peers, will be disseminated through peer-reviewed research publications and presentations and shared directly with local and national practitioners. Youth co-researchers will co-present findings to partner organizations, local entities, and national civic engagement organizations. The results will have the potential to advance the work of civic health as recommended in the National Academy of Sciences report that CNCS commissioned.

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University of Georgia

Dr. Rebecca Nesbit, from the Department of Public Administration and Policy at the University of Georgia, and Dr. Laurie Paarlberg, from the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, are recipients of a 2017 National Service and Civic Engagement Competition Research grant from CNCS. Their goal was to examine the determinants of rural and urban volunteering.

Public policy increasingly depends upon voluntary action to address local issues, yet local capacity for voluntary action differs significantly across the country. This project explores the place?based determinants (various factors unique to a specific location) of differences in volunteering behavior between rural and urban respondents by accessing the confidential Current Population Survey volunteering data, supplemented by existing administrative records and county?level census and demographic data. The study will analyze this unique dataset in a secure Census Bureau Research Data Center using a multi?level modeling approach with lagged community variables.

Analyzing the full population of CPS respondents across multiple years will enable researchers to understand how changing community dynamics affects volunteering and generalizes results to both rural and urban contexts. This research has the potential to make a significant contribution to the scholarship of volunteerism and professional discussions about building engaged communities by exploring the community?level drivers and inhibitors of volunteering. Findings also have the potential to inform efforts to expand service and volunteering in rural areas.

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University of Maine

Using funding from their 2017 National Service and Civic Engagement Competition Research grant, PhD graduate student Jennifer Crittenden, and her doctoral advisor, Dr. Sandra Butler, at the University of Maine are exploring older adults’ changing roles in Juggling Multiple Roles: An Examination of Role Conflict.

As the nature of the ?retirement years? continues to change in our society, older adults are increasingly occupying productive roles within their families, workplaces, and communities creating the opportunity for conflict of time and energy resources. The volunteer management sector is now faced with a critical task of engaging older adults who are increasingly giving of their time and talents to multiple life endeavors (roles). Specifically, the proposed project will utilize a national sample of current Senior Corps Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) volunteers to examine the extent to which older adult volunteers experience role conflict between their volunteer role and other social roles they occupy.

  • This exploratory study will examine the following research questions: 
  • Does the conflict between work, caregiving, informal helping roles, and volunteer roles predict role satisfaction and intention to leave volunteerism among older adults?
  • What are the compensatory strategies used by older adults to navigate role conflict? 
  • What benefits do older adults accrue in their volunteer roles that could effectively counterbalance role conflict?

Using the lens of successful aging theory, which suggests that positive aging is brought about by productive activity, and role theory, which posits that multiple social roles can create the opportunity for conflict and enhancement between roles, this project will examine the practical implications for volunteer recruitment and retention at a time when older volunteers are juggling multiple responsibilities.

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University of Michigan

Aixa Marchand is a PhD candidate in the Combined Program in Education and Psychology at the University of Michigan’s School of Education who received a 2017 National Service and Civic Engagement Research grant. Advised by Dr. Matthew Diemer, a professor of developmental psychology at the university, Marchand is seeking to understand how race influences Black parents’ experience and participation within the public education system.

Although there are decades of research noting the positive benefits of parent involvement, Black parents are often viewed as uninvolved in their children’s education. Using Critical Race Theory to understand how race influences Black parents’ participation within the public educational system, this mixed-method study will explore Black parents’ critical consciousness. That critical consciousness is conceptualized as an extension of civic engagement that encompasses activities performed to benefit the academic success of their children.

To explore these considerations, Marchand’s study will conduct qualitative interviews with 20 Black parents in Southeastern Michigan. The main research question motivating this study is: how do Black parents’ critical analysis of social and educational inequities influence their motivations to interact with their children’s school? Exploring the ways that Black parents critically view and engage with public schools has the potential to advance current scholarship, inform educational practice, and provide a better understanding of ways to strengthen relationships between public schools and Black parents.

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University of Texas at Austin

University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin) is a public research university and major center for academic research. Home to more than 51,000 students and 3,000 teaching faculty, UT Austin is one of the top 20 public universities, according to U.S. News & World Report.

Dr. Pamela Paxton, professor of sociology and public affairs at UT Austin, received a 2017 National Service and Civic Engagement Research grant to study nonprofits, civic infrastructure, and health and wellbeing. Using IRS data on 1.6 million nonprofit tax forms between 2010 and 2016, the project is creating a database of thousands of measures of nonprofit finances, expenditures, mission, capacity, and leadership. Then, through aggregation and text-analytics techniques, the project will create county- and city-level measures of civic infrastructure such as volunteerism, nonprofit capacity, and area mission focus based on features of the nonprofits in the community.

The project will explore such questions as:

  • How can we better measure and assess the civic infrastructure provided by nonprofit organizations?
  • Do large nonprofits or nonprofits that use more volunteers produce greater benefits to the communities they serve?
  • Do nonprofits that stress the positive in their mission statements attract more donors and volunteers?

By answering these questions, the project aims to help various stakeholders better understand how nonprofits support civic infrastructure and increase the health and wellbeing of individuals and communities.

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University of Wisconsin-Madison

At the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Laura Schlachter, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Community & Environmental Sociology and Department of Sociology, and Dr. Jane L. Collins, a faculty in the Department of Community and Environmental Sociology, are working on the study “Reevaluating the Workplace?Civic Engagement Relationship.”

Using a 2017 National Service and Civic Engagement Research grant from CNCS, the research leverages original survey and interview data to address questions about the relationship between workplace organization and civic engagement during one’s lifetime. Specifically, the researchers will analyze whether participatory forms of workplace organizations can be used a strategy to increase civic engagement. They will answer the following questions:

  • How do civic engagement levels of non?cooperative and cooperative workers compare?
  • What firm? and individual?level characteristics are associated with cooperative workers? levels of volunteering and voting outside the workplace?
  • How do cooperative workers? trajectories of employment and civic engagement intersect over the life course?

The results will serve as a resource to practitioners and policymakers who are reorganizing work to create economic opportunity in disadvantaged communities, as well as contribute to the broader conversation of redesigning civic infrastructure to reinvigorate American democracy.

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Virginia Commonwealth University

The VCU Center on Society and Health is an academic research center that studies the health implications of social factors such as education, income, neighborhood and community environmental conditions, and public policy. Dr. Emily Zimmerman is leading the “Resident Leadership and Local Capacity Building: Volunteerism in Disadvantaged Communities” study using a 2017 National Service and Civic Engagement Research grant to explore the characteristics of neighborhood?based and regional volunteers and organizations in the East End neighborhood of Richmond, VA.

The mixed methods research will focus on how the personal characteristics and volunteer activities of neighborhood?based and regional volunteers differ, whether there is synergy between the efforts of neighborhood?based and regional volunteers and organizations, and how these groups maximize collaboration with neighborhood?based volunteers, leaders, and organizations. It will also help to identify best practices for regional volunteers and organizations working in economically disadvantaged communities.

This study aims to contribute to knowledge about the processes and impact of volunteering. The findings can provide important information for organizations recruiting volunteers to work either within their own neighborhoods or to work in other areas – as all CNCS programs do – making findings potentially informative for enhancing how organizations engage communities with volunteers.

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