Our 2021 conference aimed to explore the current ‘state of play’ for universities in responding to the challenges and opportunities for service-learning and university-community engagement in a ‘post-COVID’ world, while taking the time to reflect on the responses and learnings from the efforts of the field during the pandemic.

The global COVID-19 pandemic disrupted many of our ways of doing and being. Those practising service-learning and university-community engagement were challenged to respond rapidly to the new landscape while being sensitive to the challenges of community partners.

With these challenges however came opportunities for new ways of working together in partnership for the common good and social justice. Over 200 delegates from across the world joined us for our first online conference to explore these challenges and opportunities with presenters sharing insights, ideas and learnings from a time like no other. 

In the tradition of coming together and sharing our cultures we were fortunate to have performances from The Duribang Ganjiyil Indigenous Dance Group (Quandamooka country) and Tai Pu Manawa Kapa Haka dance group (Brisbane Bayside) from Australia, and Kuumba Lynx dance group from Chicago. Delegates also participated in a 'Cultural Cuisine Cook-off', sharing recipes for Aussie treats such as Lamingtons and ANZAC biscuits and Chicago classics such as Biscuits and Gravy and Pepper and Egg Sandwiches.

Virtual student conversation

During the conference we also hosted our first virtual community engagement and service-learning conversation between students of ACU and DePaul. The 90 minute discussion session was an opportunity for students to share their perspectives, knowledge, learnings and experiences across national and local contexts. Co-facilitated by students and staff from both organisations, the session was a great success with rich discussion and collaboration. We intend to grow this program into the future and already have some exciting plans in the pipeline.

Conference outputs

We were grateful to have the support of Accenture, a leading global consulting and technology firm, in facilitating design thinking activities and sessions throughout the conference. Delegates contributed their thoughts, ideas and challenges to the design thinking process which included appreciative inquiry, affinity clustering, and design matrices. The outcomes of these exercises can be downloaded below.

Read conference outputs

Our second conference was a great success and provided an opportunity to explore the challenges, opportunities, and learnings for community engagement and Service-Learning during the pandemic. Students and community members had more involvement than ever before, as well as academics from Catholic and Secular institutions globally. This has led to important shared knowledge production and directions. I look forward to seeing how the 2023 conference develops.
Dr Matthew Pink
Associate Director, ACU Engagement

Conference program

Day one: Monday 4 (USA) / Tuesday 5 (AUS) October, 2021

Pivoting during COVID-19: Learning and implications from a time like no other

Keynote panel presentation

The ‘new normal’ for service-learning and community engagement in a post-COVID world

This keynote panel discussion included prominent service-learning and community engagement academics, Professor Jim Nyland (ACU/Engagement Australia), Dr Howard Rosing (DePaul), Carol-Joy Patrick (Griffith, Service-Learning Australia), and Rachel Tomas Morgan (Notre Dame, US) who discussed the impact of COVID-19 on service-learning and community engagement and explored the challenges, opportunities, and new directions the pandemic has created for the field. 


Day one involved presentations from academics involved with community engagement and service-learning, community partners, and students who 'pivoted' in their work during the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • Heather Wallace, Australian Catholic University
  • Teoni McHale, Australian Catholic University
  • Lia Catanzariti, Australian Catholic University


It is important for midwifery students to have the opportunity to gain global perspectives, facilitating the development of culturally safe practice and cultural insights. Concurrently, participation in community engagement (CE) in international settings provides rich opportunities for sharing knowledge, meaningful collaboration and potentially life-changing paradigm shifts.

ACU midwifery students are required to complete 40 hours of CE. Previously, many achieved this through participation in a highly anticipated Short-Term International Study Experience (STISE), however due to Covid-19 and closed borders, this opportunity has temporarily ceased.

Despite the travel restrictions, we wanted to provide students with an alternate international CE opportunity, to facilitate connection, understanding and friendship with midwifery students in other global settings.


To do this, we pivoted the Vanuatu STISE program. Collaborating with Ni-Vanuatu colleagues, we designed a virtual 6 week ‘online’ international program, incorporating interactive, ‘virtually immersive’ experiences, including Zoom meetings, presentations, and membership to a closed Facebook group, whereby our students shared aspects of midwifery care and education with Ni-Vanuatu students.

Additionally, students from both countries collaborated to create evidence-based, culturally appropriate learning resources/health promotion materials for use by midwives and students in Ni-Vanuatu health settings. The program concluded with an online sharing session of the co-developed resources.

Outcomes and implications

The virtual STISE enabled the strengthening of the long-standing connection ACU’s midwifery program has with the midwifery education and service sectors in Vanuatu.

The students formed connections and shared experiences, while developing mutual understanding, knowledge and insights, in respectful, collaborative, Covid-safe ways. It provided students the opportunity to strengthen communication and health promotion skills and contribute meaningfully towards potentially improving maternal health outcomes in Vanuatu through the development of evidence based, culturally appropriate resources.

  • Raegan Quandt, DePaul University
  • Michelle Neuman, DePaul University
  • Jonathan Handrup, DePaul University
  • Terri Haid, Be the Match

The COVID-19 pandemic presented several unique challenges for DePaul University’s School of Nursing Community-based Service Learning program. Unlike other community engagement courses and projects, our nursing students traditionally complete 12 hours a quarter at one community organization throughout their entire program. When the COVID-19 pandemic forced the closure of organizations to volunteers, many of our students could not meet their required hours by doing remote work for their community partners. The Steans Center stepped up to fill the gap by creating some amazing online educational modules and hosting “live” zoom events. As the pandemic progressed, the SON partnered with the Chicago Department of Public Health to have students participate in the mass COVID-19 vaccination clinics.

  • Jen Azordegan, Australian Catholic University

This research focuses on the experiences of students participating in community-engaged courses as part of the core curriculum at ACU, and specifically looks at student survey data from 2020 when most community placements were severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Drawing from the responses of 186 students across 10 community engaged courses (units) and seven disciplines, this presentation will explore the range of ways different courses adapted to cancelled placements (e.g. shifting to online placements; truncated in-person placements; alternative tasks) and how students reported on these modified community engagement activities. Through ACU’s Student Community Engagement Survey, students reported on the extent to which they were able to complete their required community engagement placement hours. If their placement was interrupted or cancelled, students were asked about any alternative tasks completed in lieu of direct placements and whether they felt these contributed to their understanding of community engagement. The survey also sought students’ ideas on how such tasks could be enhanced.

This presentation offers a unique account into how the COVID-19 pandemic affected a substantial, compulsory community-engaged curricular program; provides insight about the effectiveness of alternative community engagement tasks in lieu of direct placements; and offers critical student voice on what contributes to an effective alternative community engagement experience. Conference participants will be invited to share their experiences of supplemental community engagement activities during COVID-related disruptions—and will be challenged to envision how such experiences can be designed to be meaningful and authentic even in the face of unpredictable, yet on-going, disruption.

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  • Renata Cinelli, Australian Catholic University
  • Mellita Jones, Australian Catholic University
  • Mary Gallagher, Australian Catholic University
  • Lily-Claire Deenamode, Australian Catholic University

COVID-19 has brought about a myriad of challenges globally, including restrictions to international travel and stay at home orders halting any international teaching experiences for Australian students for the foreseeable future. Given the known benefits of international intercultural engagement experiences for preservice teachers (PSTs) and in-country partners (e.g., Cinelli & Jones, 2017; Klein & Wikan, 2019), we choose to view our inability to travel internationally as a unique opportunity to ‘pivot’ and trial an innovative online exchange with our existing partner school in Solomon Islands.

Solomon Islands, an archipelago, is one of Australia’s closest neighbouring countries, and yet remains starkly different in many aspects. These include culture, social structures, climate, access to basic infrastructure such as power and running water, and relatively poor access to education.

In semester two 2021, our existing 12-year partnership will continue via Zoom, with PSTs working with children and teachers in Solomon Islands. The programme is supported by Australian Federal Government New Colombo Funding, enabling the establishment of the infrastructure in the school to support our exchange (internet and computers). The intention is to collaborate with grade six children to re-story a children’s book and to work with Solomon Islands teachers to plan a literacy learning sequence. Both aspects will have a focus on Solomon Islands culture, building English language skills and literacy exchange opportunities.

In this presentation, we will share our challenges, triumphs, experiences, and progress with this novel programme.

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  • Emily LaHood-Olsen, DePaul University
  • Andreina Barrientos, Crispaz
  • Sarah Dababneh, DePaul University

Every year, DePaul’s Division of Mission and Ministry hosts 13 Service Immersions. Here, students travel to cities around the U.S. and in Latin America to build relationships, engage in service, and learn from social justice advocates in those communities.

While the Service Immersions program could not travel during the 2020-2021 academic year, we knew that students needed a sense of belonging and community. We also heard from Crispaz, our community partners in El Salvador, “Solidarity can’t wait.” Thus, the Service Immersion team pivoted to offer seven virtual immersions.

The immersions ranged from 3-5 days, and students explored the themes of food insecurity, homelessness, root causes of poverty, racial justice, and immigration. They learned from community experts, built community with one another, engaged in hands-on activities, and explored questions of systemic change. Over Zoom, students “traveled” to Chicago, Cincinnati, Philadelphia, St. Louis, and El Salvador. Some partners hosted immersions twice for both winter and spring immersions.

In this presentation, we hope to highlight the success, challenges, and lessons learned from the virtual immersion program through the voices of Sarah Dababneh, the student Service Immersion Assistant, and Andy Barrientos, a community partner at Crispaz International. Sarah and Andy were instrumental to creating this new opportunity, and they have much wisdom to share regarding social-distanced solidarity, virtual community building, and creative thinking. The presentation will involve participants in engaging ways on zoom and include time for questions and conversation.

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  • Mia E. Eballo, De La Salle University, Manila
  • Niku E. Vicente, De La Salle University, Manila

The Corona Virus (COVID-19) pandemic has posed a great challenge in all aspects of our human existence. The abrupt shift from face-to-face interaction to distance and online learning mode became a necessary option and basis for organizations to proceed with their services. In the school set-up, the area of service learning in the curricular implementation was highly affected because of restrictions in human interaction. However, technology has presented opportunities for school services to continue not only to the students but also to the partner communities. Using case study and the Lasallian Reflection Framework, this study explored new perspectives in doing service learning in the online distance learning set-up and identified opportunities for learning to the students who have participated, organized and implemented their projects with various sectors from the school’s partner communities. The results showed that despite the circumstances that deter students and partner communities from having the usual community engagement activities, both parties were able to achieve their goal of extending their assistance to their beneficiaries. Significant learning outcomes were also noted on the aspect of the students’ self-identity. The feeling of being in isolation and impact on mental health were addressed. Student participants expressed their satisfaction of being able to help others. On the other hand, partner communities expressed their satisfaction and gratitude towards the outcome of the projects implemented by the students for them and their beneficiaries. The findings of this study would be significant in formulating plans for service-learning and community engagement in an online distance learning mode.

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  • Charmaine Swanson, University of Melbourne
  • Lauren Woodhart, University of Melbourne
  • William Ma, Beaufort and Skipton Health Service

The Going Rural Health Program, a workforce retention program situated in the University of Melbourne’s Department of Rural Health, has supported physiotherapy and occupational therapy placements in a service learning model delivering services in rural aged care for four years. In 2020/21, the Covid-19 pandemic significantly challenged the program due to restrictions placed on student movement within the state and within health services. Adapting these service learning placements to allow their continuation was an ongoing process in response to fluctuating restrictions and unpredictable circumstances. Solutions to ensuring placements continued included online learning opportunities, telehealth, online simulation and remote supervision. Students developed innovative online resources which were available to the health service and which staff could continually access throughout 2020/21. Although students faced challenges, such as traveling far from home to be on these placements or completing placements remotely, they also experienced ‘wins’ which ensured they still gained valuable work ready and discipline specific skills. As these placements continue in 2021, this presentation reflects on the learnings of 2020 and how these are positively influencing current service learning placement development. This presentation will provide a short presentation of key learnings, including online service learning activities to embed in future placements and is then followed by a panel discussion with a supervisor, student and academics, allowing audience members to ask questions to understand the experience of each member of the panel.

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Day two: Tuesday 5 (USA) / Wednesday 6 (AUS) October, 2021

'Doing' service-learning and community engagement in a post-COVID world

Keynote presentation

Diversity, equity and inclusion matters

Associate Professor Valerie C. Johnson delivered a keynote address on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion with respect to service-learning. Dr. Johnson is a Presidential Diversity Fellow, Endowed Professor of Urban Diplomacy at the Grace School of Applied Diplomacy, and associate professor of Political Science Department at DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois. Dr. Johnson is the former national education spokesperson for Reverend Jesse L. Jackson, Sr. and the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, and has served as a consultant for elected officials and community organisations nationwide.

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Day two involved presentations that discussed the praxis of service-learning and community engagement in our present-day world. Presentations were made by academics, community partners, and students reporting on the broad spectrum of community engagement and service-learning activities.

  • Gabriele Strohschen, DePaul University
  • Jamika Smith, Teena's Legacy

The dialogue seeks to inspire students, NfPs, and faculty to consider how activist art promotes community engagement, entrepreneurship development, and student service opportunities in disinvested communities. Teena’s Legacy is dedicated to helping people explore their skills and talents to strengthen their authentic self, skills, and talents through guided self-discovery. Using the metaphor of refurbishing discarded furniture to recognize the assets in even the broken, participants learn to identify, analyze, and address their needs in a trustworthy, mutually supportive environment in upholstery workshops.

In partnership with the Pilsen Storefront community resource hub, this concept is expanded to a model for community engagement for disinvested community through activist art. The focus for students in service-learning courses is competence-based, wherein students work on skills they wish to learn (e.g., action research, instruction, canvassing, marketing, ABCD, activist art, social justice projects) while working alongside NfP staffers. For workshop participants, the workshops focus on furthering self-efficacy, gaining, entrepreneurship skills, and planning to generate income in a mutual support group setting. NfPs and faculty benefit from a ready-made curriculum with clearly defined tasks for students. This overcomes training needs for students or relegating service-learning to menial ones for students during a term.

Service-learning projects in the context of this model emphasize myriad knowledge and skill development for students and community members while supporting NfPs application of activist art approaches for community organizing and development work.

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  • Isabelle Lys, Australian Catholic University

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) heritage trails are becoming increasingly important in Australia [1] as they can translate intergenerational knowledge, culture and experiential learning for everyone [1]. There is a need for virtual tours of gardens and online maps such as those utilized by the national botanical gardens in Victoria [2] so access to natural resources is easier for both education purposes and public enjoyment. At Australian Catholic University (ACU) we plan to digitize the ATSI Brisbane campus garden and create a sustainable and accessible learning environment for everyone by co-creating teaching resources with students and local community and promotion of local sustainable community engagement activities. This project will involve recruitment of students and local community to support creation of photos, videos and plant medicinal use of plants at ACU ASTI garden, in order to develop an online video and interactive ATSI heritage garden map at ACU, in consultation with local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community and Weemala Indigenous Higher Education Unit at ACU. Resulting online resources can also be used in promotion of health, visits and collaborations from local schools and in teaching of health sciences disciplines such as biomedical science, nutrition, midwifery and nursing. Results from this community engagement project can be shared nationally in Australia, and globally with a view to continue to develop longer term collaborative relationships and mentorship between staff, students and local community in ATSI knowings in science and sustainability.

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1. Muecke, S. and J. Eadie, Ways of life: Knowledge transfer and Aboriginal heritage trails. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 2020. 52(11): p. 1201-1213.

2. Royal Botanical Gardens Victoria. 2020; Available from: https://www.rbg.vic.gov.au/virtualgarden/aboriginal-knowledge.

  • Claudia Cabrera, Chicago Coalition for the Homeless
  • Edrika Fulford, Chicago Coalition for the Homeless
  • Karl Nass, DePaul University

St. Vincent de Paul, and the Vincentian mission he inspired, sought to serve the material and spiritual needs of marginalized communities with a profound embrace and recognition of their gifts and dignity.

In 1617, Madame de Gondi, Vincent's benefactor, turned to Vincent de Paul and asked "what must be done?" Often referred to as the Vincentian Question, it has shaped the Vincentian mission ever since. This legacy has animated a global Vincentian family to work towards sustainable, institutionalized solutions that address society’s most pressing issues.

In the service-learning course Spirituality & Homelessness, DePaul University students address the Vincentian question by exploring how they should respond to homelessness on a personal, organizational, and societal level. In light of their service-learning experience, students reflect on their own beliefs and perceptions of homelessness and analyze the history, causes, policy, sustained efforts and solutions associated with homelessness.

This conference presentation underscores the co-educator role of a key community partner within the course. Claudia Cabrera and Edrika Fulford from the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless (CCH) will present their organization’s mission and in-class Speakers Bureau approach. Karl Nass, course instructor, will highlight how the CCH co-educators have advanced learning objectives with students in the pre- and current pandemic contexts. Presenters will conclude the first half of the session by facilitating a virtual Speakers Bureau experiential learning activity utilized in class. The second half will engage session participants in a dialogue based on course reflective learning prompts along with an open space for questions.

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  • Alfredo Gomez-Beloz, DePaul University

This presentation focuses on the experience of service learning during the pandemic for an urban and community agriculture course at DePaul University. Service learning immerses students with local community-based organizations for real life experiences. The course instructor works directly with the DePaul Steans Center for Community-Based Service Learning & Community Service Studies staff to assign students to a diverse group of Chicagoland community-based organizations that operate community gardens. Students submit their top three choices, are selected for one of them, and spend 24 hours of service-learning experience over an academic quarter. During the pandemic the course was offered on-line. However, students were not allowed to physically go to a service learning site. To maintain the spirit of working with a local community garden, students were offered a different choice. The Steans Center, along with other organizations, maintains the Chicago Urban Agriculture Mapping Project (CUAMP), a collaboration with individuals, organizations, businesses, and institutions that collaboratively map and inventory urban agriculture and community gardens in Chicago. Students were required to contact two community gardens and update the garden’s information. Also, students had the opportunity to ask questions of what it is like to start and maintain a community garden. This gave students the opportunity to meet community organizers via Zoom or over the phone and learn about their real-life experiences. The completed surveys were then used to update the CUAMP website. While not ideal, this was the best service learning approach for this course during the pandemic.

  • Mónica Ramos, DePaul University
  • Mia Andersen, DePaul University

The Egan Family Engagement and Coalition (EFECt) Initiative began its work in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic and the wake of civil unrest worldwide demanding social justice. The issues that emerged from the unrest moved the project forward with greater urgency and intentionality. We witnessed grassroots support from Latino and African-American communities that fostered unity. EFECt provided a space for families to share their voices, the stories of their communities, and their hopes. The Covid-19 pandemic presented challenges such as the need to navigate technology, the restrictions in building community among the members, and other infrastructural barriers. Despite these, the families were resilient and brought in their gifts, which are crucial in supporting community engagement from an asset-based community development framework. This presentation describes how a new family engagement and coalition initiative brought families from two minoritized communities together by using technology to empower, organize and support one another and their families amid an ever-changing society.

The presentation will be delivered in collaboration with a DePaul University graduate student. We plan to use technology to provide the audience with opportunities for engagement via note boards and dialogue using prompts for critical discussion. The participants are encouraged to exchange ideas, imagine possibilities, and share community and family engagement examples.

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  • Meg Noack, Australian Lutheran College
  • Stephanie Maher, Lutheran Education Queensland
  • Helena Lambert, Lutheran Education Queensland


Embedding service-learning and community engagement in a K-12 setting presented challenges:

  • Students are in Lutheran schools to receive 13 years of schooling
  • Practices labelled ‘Service-Learning’ may be mislabeled and disconnected
  • Previously, there has been no common language to develop and deepen students’ knowledge, understanding & empathy.


Could a conceptual approach to service-learning and community engagement act as a bridge?

  • To connect diverse practices and experiences?
  • To deepen preparation and reflective practices?
  • To provide a common language across faculties?
  • To strengthen links to underpinning beliefs and values?

A conceptual approach to service-learning and community engagement also provides an opportunity to re-focus. The service-learning concepts (affirmed by practitioner-leaders) cluster around 3 big ideas:

  1. being human,
  2. being human together
  3. being human together on a fragile planet.

A number of educators in Lutheran Schools in Queensland are developing this conceptual approach across their classes, faculties and school. This initiative is being supported by Lutheran Education Queensland’s staff-members and the Australian Lutheran College/Melbourne College of Divinity.

Conversations and feedback loops

This presentation will:

  • share the seminal research literature underpinning the development of a conceptual approach,
  • provide diagrammatic and defining explanations of the selected concepts.

Narratives of practice (focusing on support for teachers) will demonstrate how this approach enriches and challenges current thinking.

An essential component of this presentation is to facilitate a conversation that will provide insightful feedback about this conceptual approach.

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  • Romina Martiniello, Caritas Australia

In 2021, Caritas Australia launched a Virtual Immersion program to engage students and teachers with an interest in community service, challenging them to move from actions of charity to actions of justice. Participants engage in an online conversation with Caritas in-country partners and students and teachers are able to discover the story behind our stories, developing their understanding of the diverse needs of people around the world and what the work of international development agencies looks like in real terms.

Online engagement ensures a strengths-based approach where Caritas stories are told by the people who are in those stories, or those who work closely with them. By centring local voices and lived experiences, we promote more accurate storytelling and are able to build openness and trust with the Australian community. Authentic engagement inspires the movement from fundraising and other acts of charity, to a commitment to long-term justice advocacy, as well as education. Through localisation, we are working to break down the pedagogy of whiteness and colonial undertones that are synonymous with both international development and service learning.

The program is offered at no cost to participants, enabling participation from schools who experience financial or geographical barriers in accessing service learning opportunities. Mutually beneficial, the program invites our partners to engage with the Australian community, developing a culture of reciprocity where both parties become aware of the possibilities for relationship through Catholic Social Teaching principles and our core values of compassion, courage, partnership and stewardship.

We are working to expand and develop the program into the future, challenged by the diverse needs of the Australian Catholic education sector as well as the complexity of the development landscape and the priorities of the communities for whom it exists.

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  • Christopher D. Tirres, DePaul University

This presentation shares our findings from a two-year initiative that focused on implementing and assessing pedagogies of community engagement as high impact teaching practices. The purpose of the initiative, which was funded by the Wabash Center for Teaching and Learning, was to help faculty to refine and/or create teaching strategies that facilitate student engagement in community-related classes, particularly within the field of Religious Studies and related fields. The initiative leveraged resources currently offered through the DePaul's Irwin W. Steans Center for Community-based Service Learning as well as the Center for Teaching and Learning. One of our most significant conversations dealt with the question of the students’ “first contact” with the community-partner, and all that is entailed before, during, and after this contact to make it a pedagogically-significant experience. The presentation will spend some time discussing this aspect, in particular.

Day three: Wednesday 6 (USA) / Thursday 7 (AUS) October, 2021 

Service-learning and community engagement research: Producing knowledge together

Keynote panel presentation

The Stakeholder Engaged Scholarship Unit: A model of facilitating university-community research partnerships for the common good

This keynote panel presentation explored the establishment of the Stakeholder Engaged Scholarship Unit (SESU) which works to foster university and community partnered research projects for the common good. Vivien Cinque (ACU) delivered a presentation on SESU followed by a panel discussion with Professor Sandra Jones (ACU), Netty Horton (CatholicCare Victoria) and David Stefanoff (CatholicCare Sydney).

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Day three involved presentations from academics and community partners that reported on service-learning and community engagement research in its myriad forms. This day also engaged the delegation in shared knowledge production as the key themes and desired actions from the conference were finalised.

  • Osvaldo Valenzuela, Restaurant Opportunities Centers (ROC) United
  • Cheyenne Lockhart, DePaul University
  • Nila Ginger Hofman, DePaul University

In the 2021 winter quarter (January-March) DePaul University partnered with Restaurant Opportunities Centers (ROC) United, a nonprofit organization fighting to improve wages and working conditions for restaurant workers, in a course-based research project involving DePaul students. Designed as a collaborative project, anthropology students complied 24 interviews with restaurant workers and provided a thorough analysis of their lived experiences over a ten-week period. In this session, we briefly discuss the project objectives and outcomes, and the challenges and successes imbedded in conducting Online course-based research. We address the lessons learned from Online service-learning and community engagement; including the perspectives from Osvaldo Valenzuela (ROC), Cheyenne Lockhart (DePaul University anthropology major), and Nila Ginger Hofman (anthropologist at DePaul).

  • Dr Chloe Gordon, Australian Catholic University
  • Dr Matthew Pink, Australian Catholic University

What outcomes do we want students to achieve as a result of participating in service-learning placements? We argue that empathy development is critical in order for Higher Education institutions to stay true to one of their original purposes in developing civic-minded students. This presentation will cover:

1. Why should service-learning aim to improve student empathy?

2. Is there a link between participation in service-learning and empathy and what factors influence empathy development?

3. What does this mean for the way we run and evaluate service-learning placements?

In this presentation, we will draw insights from our systematic meta-analysis and meta-synthesis of 35 studies to answer the above questions. Participants will gain an understanding of the features within service-learning programs that appear to contribute to the development of empathy among Higher Education students, and the quantitative and qualitative measurement tools and data that can be used to evaluate empathy development through service-learning placements. We will provide illustrative examples from studies conducted with students from varied disciplines and allow plenty of opportunity for discussion.

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  • Kate Robinson, Australian Catholic University
  • Renata Cinelli, Australian Catholic University

Transgenerational trauma has a significant impact on children (Atkinson et al., 2014; Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2021). Gunawirra, an Aboriginal controlled organisation, delivers programmes that provide knowledge of culture, interpersonal skills and practical support to build mothers’ capacity and support future generations. One programme, the Mothers Group, invites women with children aged 0-5 to engage in weekly activities to heal the past and enhance the future.

Our project is an evaluation of Gunawirra’s Mother’s Group, an opportunity for Gunawirra to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the program. We are using Community-based participatory research (Riley, 2021), so that researchers and Gunawirra staff are involved at all stages of the research. This method ensures ethical treatment of the women and of Gunawirra, as each is given collaborative power within the research team. Gunawirra participants, staff, and the researchers are working together to understand the womens’ experience of the programme and determine residual knowledge and actions to inform future Gunawirra projects.

Hence, as well as informing Gunawirra’s future services, the results of our evaluation will contribute to knowledge of best practice that can inform current and future programs aiming to reduce the impact of transgenerational trauma. Recommendations from this information can be used to inform the development and delivery of external programs for and with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

While our evaluation is in the initial stages, we’ll share our experiences of working together to establish mutually beneficial research partnership between a university and an Aboriginal community organisation.

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Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2021). Child protection. https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/australias-welfare/child-protection

Atkinson, J., Nelson, J., Brooks, R., Atkinson, C. & Ryan, K. (2014). Addressing individual and community transgenerational trauma. In P. Dudgeon, H. Milroy & R. Walker (Eds.) Working together: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mental health and wellbeing principles and practice (2nd ed., pp. 289-306). Commonwealth of Australia.

Riley, L. (2021). Community-led research through an Aboriginal lens. In V. Rawlings, J. Flexner & L. Riley (Eds.), Community-led research – walking new pathways together (pp. 9-38). Sydney University Press.

  • Jen Couch, Australian Catholic University
  • Sebastian Trew, Australian Catholic University
  • Rhiannon Cook, St Vincent de Paul Society NSW
  • Nishadh Rego, Jesuit Refugee Service Australia
  • Jillian Cox, Australian Catholic University

University–community research partnerships have the potential to respond to society’s most pressing needs through engaged scholarship. Yet, unequal interests, power and status have led to many research projects being fraught with misunderstandings. As engaged scholarship gains momentum, it is important that successful university-community partnerships not only respond to emerging practice but help define it.

Since each partnership must effectively engage university personnel as well as the community, both the approach to and execution of the partnership are critical to its success. Resources dedicating to supporting this process can help ensure a partnership’s success.

This paper showcases a partnership facilitated by ACU’s SESU, between ACU researchers and three diverse community organisations - St Vincent De Paul Society NSW, Jesuit Refugee Service and Lord Somers Camp and Power House - which explores the impact of COVID-19 on the agencies’ clients.

The partnership has been positive for the community partners, enabling participation in research on a large scale to support their future service delivery without having to invest time to recruit researchers. For the researchers, it provided opportunity to move into the community, applying their skills and knowledge to urgent real-world challenges.

Co-delivered by the researchers and community partners, the paper will explore effective university-community partnering, including relationship-building, commitment to outcomes, sharing authority, and open, reciprocal communication strategies throughout the collaboration. The paper makes the point that partnerships must extend beyond respect to include reciprocity in developing shared goals and understand the needs of both the community and the university.

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  • Ben Coyte, Australian Catholic University
  • Sara Bayes, Australian Catholic University
  • Robina Bradley, St Mary’s House of Welcome

It is well established that people with a psychosocial disability are amongst the most marginalised in the community and frequently have to navigate mental illness, homelessness, discrimination, physical illnesses and pronounced economic and social disadvantage. Mental health advocates in Australia have welcomed the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) as an opportunity to provide essential support for persons with a psychosocial disability, but emphasise that it is crucial to understand and address the complex barriers to their engagement with the NDIS and support services.

For more than 60 years, St Mary’s House of Welcome (SMHOW) has provided care and essential services to people who have been most at risk of falling through the gaps. SMHOW now also provide a psychosocial wellbeing program supported by individual service users’ NDIS funding, delivering comprehensive, structured activities with an emphasis on creating the social inclusion opportunities that most of us take for granted. However, participant engagement noticeably varies between participants, potentially hindering the provision of help to those who need it the most. This led to an invitation to ACU in early 2021 to work with SMHOW staff and service users to identify and address NDIS access barriers.

Taking a participatory action approach, SMHOW service users and staff members at all levels are working together with ACU academics and project facilitators to establish the challenges and co-create solutions to this issue. In this presentation, team members from SMHOW and ACU will share the highlights and lessons learned in the process of getting the project underway.

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  • Joel Anderson, Australian Catholic University
  • Paul Chalkley, Australian Catholic University
  • Thuy-Linh-Nguyen, Australian Catholic University
  • Nestor Estampa, CatholicCare Victoria
  • Chris McNamara, CatholicCare Victoria

“Settle Well” is a philanthropy-funded school-based program for vulnerable young refugees and asylum seekers at risk of disengagement from school and community life. Using a trauma-informed framework, it offers case management, counselling, group therapy, career planning and social support to facilitate transition to further education, training or sustainable employment. Settle Well is delivered in Geelong, a key settlement location in Victoria for refugees and asylum seekers. This project constitutes a formal evaluation of this innovative program with the aim to demonstrate its effectiveness in achieving its longer-term goals to enhance participants’ educational, social and communal engagement, and its contribution to social cohesion and community harmony. We adopted a co-designed, mixed-methods approach to the evaluation. In this talk, we will provide a program overview, and present the details of the co-designed project with a summary of the plans for conducting the evaluation. Finally, the program originator and convener will offer reflections on co-design of this evaluation. We hope the evaluation will be able to guide practitioners and educators working with young people and students of similar backgrounds in ensuring they adopt evidence-based best practice in their work.

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