Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Alison Buck


Alfredo Ortiz Aragón


Martha Ann Kirk


Traditionally, international service-learning (ISL) programs are created and led by host groups, which frequently overlook the international communities’ learning process and perspectives and the long-term impact of service missions on the community. Fundamentally, ISL is meant to address community needs. With the principal focus being on enriching students’ learning, community voice is often eclipsed. The research aim was to investigate the empowerment and efficacy of an ISL project to strengthen relationships between engaged scholars and international communities and improve future service-learning trips. Using a qualitive narrative research design, I investigated a 2021-2022 ISL Based Photovoice Project applying Kolb’s Experiential Learning (EL) Cycle and Dr. Dorothy Ettling’s Process of Empowerment Model as my principal frameworks. Photovoice (Wang & Burris, 1997) is a participatory research method designed to allow often marginalized groups to document their realities, create a narrative, and heighten public awareness on a social concern. According to Buck et al. (2019), Ettling’s model was used to create capacity in disadvantaged communities globally and at UIW, to align professors’ and students’ talents and abilities with the challenges of those vulnerable communities. This study’s sample consisted of a Chimbote-native RA and six Peruvian women, ages 55 to 75, who are all members of the same social entrepreneurship organization. Data collected for the study included seven individual, semi-structured interviews, photographs, and research journal/notes. In vivo and holistic coding were used to extract codes from the data for analysis, and Braun and Clarke’s (2006) six-step approach assisted in the identification of themes. To document and construct a narrative of my study participants’ journeys through the course of the project, Dan Harmon’s Story Circle was used. Six members of the Peruvian social entrepreneurial group, Pushaq Warmi, led workshops in three surrounding communities of Chimbote, Peru, including rural areas, providing education and awareness on coping and management of mental health issues brought on or exacerbated by the COVID pandemic in addition to domestic abuse in the home, demonstrating ways to motivate and inspire their female workshop participants. Pushaq Warmi used the Photovoice method to document their workshop experiences. A public exhibition of their work in Nuevo Chimbote raised awareness of leading mental health concerns women face in Peru and reinforced their group’s mission, as stated by one Pushaq Warmi member, “to bring development and well-being to women through training to strengthen organizational and leadership capacities” (personal communication, March 8, 2020). The findings explored the transformative experiences of the participants in an ISL project. The study revealed that Ettling’s Process of Empowerment together with Kolb’s theory of EL could be integrated effectively into community directed ISL projects. The study’s qualitative methodology shows how Dan Harmon’s Story Circle may be applied to document and analyze individual and collective growth. In this ISL Photovoice project, study participants underwent a transformative change fostered by the development of five components that promote individual and group empowerment: 1. Capacity building based on professional goals and community motives; 2. Purpose through motivation, inspiration, and knowledge-sharing; 3. Self-development and awareness through exposure to service oriented projects; 4. Collaboration stemming from group work; and 5. Building self-esteem and reinvigorating a commitment to social advocacy by community impact through service work. The study demonstrated the potential of international communities as co-developers of service-learning initiatives. As co-collaborators, students and faculty of ISL projects can empower international communities by providing them with knowledge and skills on self-directed participatory methods, with the understanding that the communities may employ these techniques in a manner that makes sense to them. This was Dr. Dorothy Ettling’s true vision. My work with the study participants in an ISL project underscored their ownership and control allowing community voice to flourish. The project introduced the group to a participatory method the women then tailored to their motives/agenda. Additionally, the project’s focus on the women’s capacity development demonstrated its sustainability potential. The instruction on Photovoice will continue to be drawn from and adapted by the women of Pushaq Warmi to educate and train different communities. The women they train will then be able to train other women. It is recommended that the traditional approach of student-centered learning in ISL projects shift to one of community-based learning. Faculty should also invest in establishing long-term relationships with groups, organizations, or members of the community at service sites. New projects must also involve local authorities, community agents, leaders of social organizations, and the general population. The results of this study will assist in the development of a UIW faculty service-learning handbook, which will focus on ISL projects based on long-term relationships/partnerships, community needs, a reflective process, and sustainability potential.