Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Arthur Hernandez


Susan Hall


Letitia Harding


This study, framed by Kolb’s experiential learning theory, explored the intentions, perceptions, and understanding of graduate faculty and staff on community engagement. Questions have arisen as to whether students with advanced degrees are entering the job market with sought-after skills. In response, universities have continued to seek program improvements to enhance quality learning experiences to better prepare them for what follows after graduation. Within higher education, community engagement programs have been identified as an approach to respond to challenges as they have been shown to add substance, meaning, and value to students’ learning.

An epistemological case study was conducted to better understand how graduate faculty and staff viewed the roles of graduate education and community engagement within their environments and how community engagement could be developed and integrated into graduate programs at a private faith-based University in south Texas. This approach also provided the opportunity to understand the “how” and “why” of a particular phenomenon that is both complex and contemporary in nature rather than historical.

Domain and taxonomic analyses of interviews revealed five main topics: the purpose of graduate education; how practicums provide engagement opportunities; serving others; the role of reflection; and, barriers limiting further engagement practice. Findings indicated that engagement makes a difference in what students learn; however, topics that emerged from the data expressed complex perspectives as to how engagement should function within graduate education. Continued exploration on these topics is likely to yield benefits to students with corresponding and reciprocal benefits to the University and the communities it serves.

The data revealed a willingness to support the inclusion of community engagement practices in graduate programs at a private faith-based University in south Texas. However, there was no clear indication to suggest how to overcome identified barriers that presently limit engagement practice to existing programs. Moving forward, it is likely that multiple approaches to engagement will need to be more fully examined. Advocates of greater engagement practice to achieve a fully engaged campus will likely need to address differences in how practices are structured but they may also find it helpful to assess those areas where there is common ground.