A Convergent Mixed-Methods Exploration of the Effects of Community-Engaged Coursework on Graduate Student Learning

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Abstract

Objective: To examine the impact of a community-engaged assignment on graduate student learning in the nutritional sciences. Design: Convergent mixed-methods design with parallel data collection and terminal merging of data. Data were composed of grant proposals, reflection papers, and informal course evaluations from 2 semesters of the same course. Fall students wrote proposals on behalf of a community partner whereas spring students wrote fictitious grants to improve nutrition on their campus. Setting: A large public university in northeastern US. Participants: Students enrolled in the fall (n = 19) or spring (n = 14) semester of the same graduate nutrition course. Phenomenon of Interest: Grant quality, student engagement, and collaboration with peers. Analysis: Quantitative rubric-based rating of grant proposals, emergent and thematic qualitative coding of open-ended responses, and independent-samples t test of Likert-scale questions. Data were compared between semesters and reported in a contiguous narrative approach. Results: Students across semesters experienced academic and personal gains from the assignment. Comparatively, fall students expressed enhanced engagement, improved group dynamics, more frequent application of the assignment to their lives, and a better aggregate grant score. Conclusions and Implications: Both experiential and community-engaged coursework can enhance learning outcomes at the graduate level and prepare students for careers in nutrition.

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