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Community service and service learning have been lauded as ways of teaching civic and social responsibility during college. In order to better understand the concept of social and civic responsibility and whether students gravitated toward these concepts, this study was undertaken. The grounded theory was designed to understand students' experiences with community service, what they see as outcomes from their involvement, and the role of responsibility in this dynamic.

Grounded theory was utilized as the methodology because of the lack of research and theory regarding service and the outcomes for the servers. To achieve depth of understanding, information-rich participants were selected, interviewed three times, and then they participated in a focus group to hone the findings using a constant comparative process. From this, the grounded theory of the service helix developed.

While the original intent was to explore the outcomes of service, the participants articulated that the whole process of service was the core category. They could not discuss the outcomes without describing their experiences with service, their background and motivations, and their identity. The main story line of this grounded theory was a developmental model for college students who participate in community service. The core category was a service helix that was comprised of key categories of background, catalysts, service, personalization and responsibility, and outcomes. The students cycle through the service helix, and the movement illustrates the development and growth while the rate of growth may vary.

The grounded theory offers insight into responsibility that evolved from service as students internalized a social issue or the need to serve. The participants defined this as a personal responsibility or personalization. The service helix highlights the importance of background and catalyst to initiate and continue service. The service experience was also important in their development. The next key category was personalization that describes an integration of service, responsibility, and a connection to others and issues. Finally, students move to a combination of outcomes from their experience. The service helix helps articulate how students grow from service and how service can be used as a learning tool on a college campus.


Copyright 2002 by Mary Kay Schneider

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