College of Science and Health Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award

Summer 8-17-2012

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Gary W. Harper, Ph.D., M.P. H

Second Advisor

Douglas Cellar, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Nathan Todd, Ph.D.


Within recent years, researchers have turned their attention to assessing community impact of community-university partnerships. The sustainability of successful partnerships hinges upon evaluating partnership outcomes and integrating community feedback into practice. Successful partnerships between universities and community-based organizations (CBOs) have the potential to critically address social issues and attain social change goals, but to what extent do existing partnerships actualize this potential? The present Dissertation research yields important insights that address this question.

Marullo et al. (2003) described four types of goals associated with social change initiatives: Enhancing capacity, increasing efficiency, empowering constituents, and altering policies or structures. The framework provided by Marullo et al. (2003) serves as the theoretical background for the current project, which entails capturing community partner perspectives on the ability of university-community partnerships to advance social change goals.

Interviews were conducted with 20 CBO staff members who have served as primary contacts for service learning, research, and evaluation projects with university students, faculty/instructors, and/or staff members. From the phenomenological analysis of the qualitative data, clustered respondents’ statements into categories of common narratives resulted. The following five content areas served to categorize the data: (1) experiences associated with enhancing or not enhancing capacity, (2) experiences associated with increasing or not increasing efficiency, (3) experiences associated with improving or not improving the ability to empower constituents, (4) experiences associated with improving or not improving the ability to alter policies or structures, and (5) perceptions of the ideal partnership. The first four content areas, derived from Marullo et al. (2003), were examined according to individual, organizational, and community level effects and processes. Challenges to achieving social change goals were also examined. The fifth content area was grouped into perceptions of ideal characteristics and perceptions of ideal structures.

Capacity-related effects included factors related to CBO staff, constituents, and university students; new organizational communication, resources, and practices; and increasing presence, and understanding as well as building a stronger community. Processes included meetings and trainings and partnership logistics.

Efficiency-related effects included factors related to CBO staff and constituents; better use of time and money as well as improved organizational practices; and enhanced service delivery and youth outreach within the community. Processes were identified as CBO logistics and university-driven operations improvement.

Effects related to empowering constituents included factors related to CBO staff and constituents; meeting organizational objectives and promoting self-reliant practices; and relational development and community support. Processes consisted of meetings and trainings as well as service and community engagement.

Effects related to altering policies included individual perspective change; improved advocacy related to work and policy change; and community change in norms and practices. Processes comprised applied research and university student development.

Ideal partnership characteristics included reciprocity; expanding engagement opportunities; individual student factors; on-campus support; clarity of goals; pipeline of support for constituents; and valuing community knowledge.

Ideal partnership structural elements included alignment; meetings, trainings, and orientations; student recruitment, management, and evaluation; and incentives, activities, and relationships to deepen community-university connections.

Findings from this study carry implications for understanding the multidirectional nature of partnerships, building on critiques of engagement models, and developing partnership evaluation and assessment. The present examination aims to inform, influence, and inspire present and future practices that draw universities and CBOs into more authentic partnership to

produce positive social outcomes for youth, families, and communities at large.