Project leaders’ subjective experience of the psychological benefits of community engagement
Schalkwyk, Gizelle Geraldine
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Community engagement has become an important component of South African universities’ policy development. Universities have the duty to incorporate both the transfer of education and the promotion of community engagement amongst students. In a university environment, community engagement is the process through which students use the knowledge that they have gained from the teaching they receive and research to address the current and relevant issues experienced by communities. Although various studies have been done regarding students’ community engagement, very little research within the South African context have dealt with the possible psychological benefits students may or may not gain from such endeavours. It was the broad aim of this study to contribute to filling this gap in research. The Student Rag Community Service (SRCS) of the North-West University (NWU) was established in the late 1970’s and has grown into the largest student-driven non-profit organization in South Africa today. The SRCS includes students from different academic backgrounds who are trained to become effective project leaders and volunteers in engagement. This made them the ideal target group to ascertain if students who volunteer as project leaders gained psychological benefits from their participation in community engagement activities. The specific aim of the study was to explore how the SRCS projects leaders of 2015/2016 experienced their involvement in a leadership position of community engagement activities and if they gained psychological benefits/rewards through this process. From the theoretical framework of Self-Determination Theory (SDT), possible motivations for students’ sustained participations in community engagement were further explored. Since there is limited knowledge on this phenomenon, an in-depth qualitative study was conducted involving four students from the North-West University who were project leaders in the SRCS committee. The data was obtained by means of semi-structured interviews to gain an in-depth understanding of the project leaders’ experience. The data was analysed using the Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) method. Findings revealed that the participants’ initial perceptions of what the project leader position entailed were somewhat underestimated, and they experienced various challenges on both intra- and interpersonal levels. Internal and external motivational factors assisted participants in coping with the demands of the position, making room for psychological gains of increased competence, relatedness and autonomy, as well as psychological strengths, resilience and perseverance. This study therefore highlights the importance of the motivational and psychological needs for student community engagement and volunteering as project leaders. Findings could inform the development of future programmes aimed at promoting community engagement activities amongst a student population. The findings of the study may be used to improve the current SRCS programme with regard to students’ experiences while serving on the committee. It may also be used to develop programmes directed at the promotion of community engagement activities among student volunteers and project leaders.
- Humanities