A decade ago, research suggested that, when it came to graduate education, colleges and universities focused more on disciplinary knowledge than civic engagement, despite the emphasis on the latter at the undergraduate level (Stanton & Wagner, 2006). Graduate students in this environment had to put to the side their personal and professional interests in community work to focus on traditionally-construed academic work. In part driven by the proliferation of service-learning and community engagement (SLCE) in undergraduate curricular and co-curricular programs, however, today more and more graduate students are seeking, and finding, an engaged graduate education.

We are particularly excited by a new book that shines light on the possibilities and the challenges of engaged graduate education. Narratives by current and former graduate students about their journeys with SLCE have been included in a new volume edited by Margaret Post, Elaine Ward, Nick Longo, and John Saltmarsh (2016) called Publicly Engaged Scholars: Next Generation Engagement and the Future of Higher Education.

This book documents some of the ways in which graduate students (along with undergraduates and early career professionals in higher education and in communities) have helped shape what has come to be known as “next generation engagement” as they have worked to find their own pathways through and also transform traditional academic cultures.

Increasingly, this volume suggests, graduate students do not see themselves following the tenure paths of traditional academics. Many are making conscious decisions to build careers focused on community engagement outside the academy, and many who pursue positions within higher education institutions do not want to compartmentalize their academic lives into distinct arenas of research, teaching, and service. These graduate students want to integrate their personal identities and commitments (e.g., to justice, to communities) with their professional endeavors. They want to become practitioner-scholars who ground knowledge creation and dissemination in processes that align with the values and principles of SLCE.

Recognizing this demand and wanting to support the development of future engaged faculty and community-based professionals, many campuses offer graduate programs in community engagement. There are now awards for graduate research at international conferences such as the IARSLCE dissertation recognition and university specific awards such as Stanford’s Excellence in Community Engaged Scholarship Graduate Student Award. In 2017 the Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning (MJCSL) will feature a Special Section on graduate education and SLCE, assembling work that examines rationales for and models of integrating SLCE into graduate education.

Although momentum is building for engaged graduate education, current and future graduate students need to intentionally seek out opportunities and customize their graduate school experiences based on their values, goals, university and community setting, and scholarly interests. What, then, are some of the ways faculty, community members, and graduate students can work together to create robust engaged educational experiences at the graduate level?

The diagram below represents multiple activities and environments into which graduate students might integrate SLCE:

Two of these domains—networks and mentoring relationships—are, in our own experience, particularly important in the development of graduate student identities as engaged practitioner-scholars.

National and international networks. Two leading SLCE associations have initiatives led by and focused specifically on graduate students:

Mentoring relationships. Although academic mentoring is traditionally construed in terms of pairing an experienced scholar with a novice, SLCE’s emphasis on co-inquiry invites, in addition, the formation of multi-directional mentoring communities in which all participants (i.e., graduate students, faculty, staff, community members, undergraduates) support one another’s learning and growth as practitioner-scholars.

We advise incoming and current graduate students to review the cv’s of faculty at your institutions and in broader professional arenas—especially those who collaborate with graduate students, undergraduates, and/or community members—for shared academic and community interests as well as for ideas of professional conferences to attend. Seek out mentors in the local community and explore professional community networks. Form learning communities focused on scholarship related to SLCE and create opportunities to co-teach SLCE courses. We expect you will find, as we consistently have, that the community of SLCE practitioner-scholars is full of individuals who welcome opportunities to collaborate with graduate students.

The bottom line is that opportunities for engaged graduate student education are growing but are still not prolific or always easy to find. We are still trying to find a list of graduate programs that include SLCE! If we want future academic and community professionals with integrated engagement and practitioner-scholar identities and with the knowledge and skills to do this important work well, we all need to work together to establish learning environments and relationships that support the integration of academic study and engagement across the full range of graduate student activities.


We’d like to thank Elaine Ward for commenting on an earlier draft of this post.


Stanton, T. K., & Wagner, J. W. (2006). Educating for democratic citizenship: Renewing the civic mission of graduate and professional education at research universities. Stanford, CA: California Campus Compact.

Lori E. Kniffin (lekniffi@uncg.edu) is a doctoral student in Cultural Foundations of Education and a graduate assistant at the Institute for Community and Economic Engagement at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. In her previous role at the Staley School of Leadership Studies at Kansas State University, she taught an SLCE junior-level leadership course that worked to advance food justice on and off campus for five years. She is chair of the IARSLCE Graduate Student Network and the inaugural Fellow on the international Service-Learning and Community Engagement Future Directions Project (SLCE-FDP; www.slce-fdp.org).

Patti H. Clayton (patti.clayton@curricularengagement.com) is an SLCE consultant (PHC Ventures, www.curricularengagement.com), a Senior Scholar with IUPUI and UNCG, and a Visiting Senior Scholar with Kansas State University. She facilitates professional and organizational development, co-produces practice-oriented scholarly resources, and is currently co-facilitating the SLCE-FDP (www.slce-fdp.org).

Note: This is the sixth in a series of blog posts. Check in regularly to learn more about and contribute to discussion of foundational knowledge, promising practices, helpful resources, and future directions of SLCE.

How to cite this post:

Kniffin, Lori E. and Patti H. Clayton. 2017, April 28. Engaged Education: Not For Undergraduates Only. [Blog Post]. Retrieved from https://www.centerforengagedlearning.org/engaged-education-not-for-undergraduates-only/