2015 Cohort, National Service and Civic Engagement Research Competition

In 2015, CNCS awarded grants to seven higher education institutions to research the economic benefits of national service, volunteering, and civic engagement, develop innovative research methods that can be applied to national service models, and explore relationships among civic engagement, national service, and volunteering.

Click on each grantee’s name to learn more about their CNCS funded research.

Arizona State University

Principal Investigator: Morrison Institute

Morrison Institute for Public Policy is a statewide leader in examining critical issues for Arizona and the region, and is a catalyst for public dialogue. As an Arizona State University resource, Morrison Institute uses nonpartisan research, analysis, and public outreach to help improve the state's quality of life.

As a 2015 National Service and Civic Engagement Competition grantee through CNCS, Morrison Institute is conducting follow-up research on a pilot study to better understand the employability and employment outcomes of AmeriCorps members. The follow-up study expands a previous analysis of Arizona’s AmeriCorps programs to five states across the country: Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, Tennessee, and Washington. Using a mixed?methods research and evaluation design that includes 367 phone surveys, 15 focus groups with AmeriCorps alumni and supervisors, and eight interviews with AmeriCorps State Commissioners, the study examines the personal and professional networks emerging within the AmeriCorps program, which can lead to positive employment outcomes.

Overall, the findings of the cross-state study were consistent with the previous Morrison Institute’s 2016 report, “AmeriCorps: Arizona’s Pipeline to Employment.” Both studies found that AmeriCorps programming faces challenges in communication, coordination, and continuity. The takeaways for service members and organizations involved in the AmeriCorps program can best be described by those who served in the program: their service experience was transformative and it prepared them to work.

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California State University, San Marcos

The National Latino Research Center (NLRC) is an applied research center at California State University San Marcos (CSUSM) whose mission is to promote scientific and applied research, training, and the exchange of information that contribute to the knowledge and understanding of rapidly growing U.S. Latino populations. In order to fulfill this mission, the NLRC received a grant through the CNCS 2015 National Service and Civic Engagement Research Competition under the scholar category.

The Cultivando Liderazgo (Cultivating Leadership) study examines changes in civic engagement behavior, including traditional forms of political involvement (e.g., voting, volunteering for candidates or political organizations, contributions to campaigns) and nontraditional civic engagement activities (e.g., grassroots efforts aimed to shape local initiatives or produce positive social change at the community level) among Latino/a adults and youth. Through a longitudinal survey, the Cultivando Liderazgo study seeks to understand the civic engagement of participants who are learning the curriculum alongside their families and those attending the class as individuals. It also explores the dynamics of geographical infrastructure and accessibility on the effects of civic engagement curriculum. A supplemental study engaged in community conversations with Latinos/as using photo-elicitation interviews and oral histories with artifacts to showcase the depth of civic engagement.

The study is in the last year of the grant, so findings are forthcoming. Moving forward, the study will focus on completing data collection and analyzing data; broadly disseminating research findings to practitioners, stakeholders, and scholars; and scaling up the Cultivando Liderazgo approach.

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Case Western Reserve University

Principal Investigator: Nicholas Cohen, MD

Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) is a top-ranked private research university serving more than 10,000 students in Ohio.  As a recipient of a 2015 National Service and Civic Engagement Research Competition grant, Case Western Reserve studied an AmeriCorps program at University Hospitals of Cleveland, the largest healthcare provider in northeast Ohio and an affiliate hospital of CWRU.

Through the hospital, the program trained AmeriCorps members to serve as coaches and deliver a tobacco cessation intervention in primary care practices to patients who smoke. As part of the CNCS research grant, the university measured the impact of the coaches on providers’ likelihood to address tobacco use in visits with patients, the quit rates of smokers at six-month follow-up appointments, and revenue generated by practices that bill for referring patients to AmeriCorps service members to help quit smoking.

Initial study findings showed that providers are 10 times more likely to address tobacco cessation with smokers when a coach is available. The study also found that patients quit at a rate of 40 percent at six-month follow-up appointments, and that the average revenue generated for a referral to the service member was $11 per referral, across all insurance types.

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George Mason University

Principal Investigator: Dr. Jim Witte
Co-Principal Investigators: Drs. Amy Best, Shannon Davis, and John Dale

The mission of the George Mason University Institute for Immigration Research (IIR) is to refocus the immigration conversation among academics, policy-makers, and the public – including the business community and media – by producing and disseminating unbiased and objective, interdisciplinary academic research related to immigrants and immigration to the United States. Research conducted by the IIR examines the economic impact of all immigrant groups, with a particular emphasis on the economic contributions of immigrant entrepreneurs with high level of education or skills.

In an effort to develop innovative research methods for application to national service models, CNCS awarded the IIR a 2015 National Service and Civic Engagement Research Competition grant to research the economic benefits of national service, volunteering, and civic engagement. Specifically, the study examines the complex and dynamic relationship between professional success and civic engagement among educated immigrant professionals. Quantitative analysis of survey data collected across seven U.S. cities examined how volunteering translates into greater employment and earnings  A supplemental grant provided additional support to the study, while also integrating address-level IRS data on nonprofits with the study’s survey data and data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Interviews with immigrant professionals offer insight of the cultural and institutional mechanisms through which civic involvement and professional achievement intersect. The qualitative research has highlighted areas where different types of survey data would aid in further understanding the relationship between economic activity and civic engagement, to include intentional public engagement that is translocal and transnational. Both quantitative and qualitative data found robust formal and informal social networks influenced community engagement and professional advancement among these educated immigrants.

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Tulane University

Profile coming soon.

Tufts University

Principal Investigator: Dr. Peter Levine

Co-Principal Investigators: Dr. Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg (Tufts), Dr. Jodi Benenson (University, Nebraska Omaha)

Tufts University is home to more than 45 interdisciplinary centers and institutes focused on a broad range of topics, from medicine, science, and technology to animals and the environment. The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning & Engagement (CIRCLE) is one such center that focuses research in the field of youth civic engagement. CIRCLE is part of Tufts University’s Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life.

Tisch College’s CIRCLE received a CNCS 2015 National Service and Civic Engagement Research Competition grant to conduct a field experiment exploring whether listing national service on a job candidate’s application materials had a positive or significant impact on the prospect of getting a job.  Through a supplemental grant, the CIRCLE researchers are exploring the perceptions of AmeriCorps service among hiring managers using surveys, in-depth interviews, and a resume-based experiment to examine the Employers of National Service program.

Tisch College’s CIRCLE researchers applied for 2,010 jobs in the nonprofit and public sectors using fictitious resumes, receiving callbacks from 20 percent of employers. The callback rate was slightly higher for applicants with national service on their resumes regardless of educational attainment, though the strongest predictor of getting a call back was having a Bachelor’s degree—compared to just a high school diploma.  Early findings from the supplemental grant showed that hiring managers were familiar with AmeriCorps, and that once employers knew more about it they were more likely to say their organization would be open to hosting AmeriCorps members in the future. Finally, researchers found that building familiarity with national service through Employers of National Service has the potential to open employment pathways for AmeriCorps alumni.

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University of Texas at Austin

Principal Investigator: Dr. Pamela Paxton

University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin) is a public research university and major center for academic research. Home to more than 51,000 students and 3,000 teaching faculty, UT Austin is one of the top 20 public universities, according to U.S. News & World Report.

Through its 2015 National Service and Civic Engagement Research Competition grant, UT Austin used the Confirmatory Factor Analysis measurement technique to create a new multiple-indicator, county-level measure of social capital. Then, using cross-lagged panel models, researchers are relating aspects of social capital and community engagement to various outcomes such as well-being and self-reported health. As a result of this research, UT Austin has drafted several papers to evaluate declines in social capital, explore connections between nonprofits and engagement, and investigate how the presence of AmeriCorps programs affects measures of subjective well-being.  

The first paper, “Revisiting Declines in Social Capital: Evidence from a New Measure,” revealed that associational social capital appears to have declined during the great recession, but has since rebounded to normal levels. The second paper, “Nonprofits, Tweets, and Subjective Well?Being,” found that most types of nonprofit organizations are associated with decreases in tweeted expressions of negativity and disengagement. Finally, the third paper, “Do National Service Programs Improve Communities?” found that AmeriCorps VISTA programs are significantly associated with increases in subjective well-being.

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