Date of Award

Spring 6-11-2016

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)



First Advisor

Gayle Mindes

Second Advisor

Hilary Conklin

Third Advisor

Stephen Haymes


This phenomenological study explored how African American high school students from a large Midwestern city make meaning of their service learning experiences within the framework of mandated service learning participation required for high school graduation, and how their lived experiences inform their self-efficacy development. Scholars have previously posited, “student voice in service learning projects positively correlated with improved self-concept, political engagement, and tolerance” (Morgan and Streb, 2001). Within this context, voice is synonymous with students’ self- reflection.

One-on-one semi-structured interviews were conducted utilizing a pre-printed protocol consisting of open- ended questions designed to elicit authentic responses, allowing the voice of the student to emerge in the narrative. Data was drawn from transcribed interviews. Manual data analysis and Computer Assisted Qualitative Data Analysis (CAQDA analysis) utilizing several modalities and incorporating multiple analytic qualitative and quantitative methods including: frequency counts, relational matrices, and similarity analysis were conducted to identify three primary code constructs: self-efficacy, altruism, and graduation requirement.

Utilizing the lens of culturally relevant pedagogy (CRP) of place (CRPP) grounded in critical race theory (CRT) to critically observe and present authentic interpretation of the lived experiences revealed through the students’ narratives (Brown-Jeffy & Cooper, 2011; Solórzano & Yosso, 2002), three emergent themes were developed that contextualized the students’ lived experiences and informed their understanding of the “purpose” behind their participation in service learning: 1) perceptions of student social and emotional development; 2) perceptions of student altruism; and 3) connection between service learning project participation and fulfilling the compulsory graduation requirement. The study revealed the evolutionary history of youth civic engagement, presenting the theoretical outline of how a citizen is constructed, and explaining how research reflects African American students’ “traditional” participation in service learning. Using a CRP lens, notwithstanding the extrinsic motivation of service learning participation through a compulsory graduation requirement, the lack of a culturally relevant curriculum with no connection to the students’ lived experiences or home-community, still yielded African American students who reflected high self-efficacy, high altruism, and displayed intrinsic motivation towards philanthropy. Future research recommendations include conducting a longitudinal study and to make closer student home-community connections to the curriculum.