Teaching with the Future in Mind: The Importance of Community-Engaged Projects Incorporating Students


  • LaNita Wright Kennesaw State University
  • Kevin Fink University of Central Oklahoma
  • J. Sunshine Cowan University of Central Oklahoma


Engaging undergraduate students in meaningful community work holds benefit for students, faculty, and the broader community. The purpose of this manuscript is to detail the opportunities, barriers, and lessons learned related to three community research projects, utilizing the Socio-ecological Model as a guiding framework. Faculty created operational definitions for each level (intrapersonal, interpersonal, organization, community, and policy) of the Socio-ecological Model in order to consistently review and compare each project. The process allowed faculty to recognize shared opportunities, barriers, and lessons learned across multiple levels. Opportunities included fostering emotional intelligence and patience, researching in teams, developing qualitative research skills, incorporating community input in local health programming, fostering meaningful community partnerships, and influencing local policies. Barriers included having adequate time to conduct meaningful studies, providing time for training, and navigating conflicting priorities between partners. Lessons learned included knowing one’s motivation, as well as the importance of providing feedback, flexibility, and building intentional collaborations. Analyzing these factors will allow faculty the ability to recognize key issues to address as well as pitfalls to avoid in future community-focused, experiential learning research experiences with students.

Author Biographies

Kevin Fink, University of Central Oklahoma

Assistant Professor of Outdoor and Community Recreation at the University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond, OK

J. Sunshine Cowan, University of Central Oklahoma

Assistant Dean of the Jackson College of Graduate Studies and Professor of Public Health at the University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond, OK