Building a Strong Foundation

Content Overview

  1. Principles for Project Based Partnerships

  2. Putting it in Writing: A Template for Collaborators' Agreements

  3. Intellectual Foundations of SLS's Approach to SLCE


Principles for Project-based Partnerships

At SLS we are developing principles for project-based partnerships. These principles arise out of the practice and scholarship of leading centers and practitioners (please take a look at Intellectual Foundations to find out more!). SLS affiliated projects strive to:

  1. Advance broader social change efforts addressing systemic causes.
  2. Incorporate technological expertise as one of many types of expertise.
  3. Highlight community expertise and assets.
  4. Prioritize equity.
  5. Forward community visions and solutions.
  6. Enhance human capital and self-sufficiency.


We also offer, in the “Serve” section of the SLS Big Ideas page, links to SLS-affiliated courses and faculty whose subjects and approaches embody several guiding principles of strong partnerships, including: asset-based community development; collaborative problem solving; mutually beneficial partnerships; long-term relationships; reciprocal teaching and learning; and shared values.   


Putting it in Writing

Should I have a verbal or written agreement with my SLCE partner about expectations?

We recommend that you set aside time to establish mutual understandings; here you’ll find a conversation guide/worksheet and an agreement template to use in your initial meeting with your partner. Please do email Ruthie Yow, Service Learning and Partnerships Specialist, if you have any questions about or would like assistance with the document.


Intellectual Foundations for SLS’s Approach to SLCE

Below are titles we at SLS particularly recommend for those new to SLCE, as well as those looking for perspectives specific to SLCE in engineering and sustainability education.


Grace Lee Boggs, “A Paradigm Shift in our Concept of Education” The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activism for the 21st Century (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012).  ProQuest Ebook Central,

In this chapter of her longer work on transformational education, Boggs takes aim at the “factory model” of education and celebrates a place-based pedagogy that centers showing local students how to tackle the problems and challenges in their home communities.  Her examples will resonate powerfully with faculty and students undertaking sustainability-themed projects locally, especially in the cases of partnerships that engage K12 institutions and networks.


Brundiers, Katja and Arnim Wiek. "Educating Students in Real-world Sustainability Research: Vision and Implementation." Innovative Higher Education, 36 (2) (2011) 107–124.

Brundiers and Wiek, through their work at Arizona State University, one of the leading sustainability programs in the nation, have created a compelling “vision of sustainability research.” Through examining specific cases, they discuss the benefits and challenges of problem-based learning with outside partners, and they offer insight into what makes such projects successful.


Cipolle, Susan Benigni. Service-Learning and Social Justice: Engaging Students in Social Change. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2010.

Cipolle offers a broader framework for SLCE, suggesting that it is an integral part of the moral and civic education of undergraduate students. In accessible language, she outlines the advantages of using SLCE in a "co-created curriculum," one in which students and professors are engaged in the development of critical perspectives on social problems and on ways to produce solutions in collaboration and dialogue with community partners. 


Corvers, R., Wiek A., de Kraker J., Lang D.J., Martens P., “Problem-Based and Project-Based Learning for Sustainable Development.” in Sustainability Science, eds., Heinrichs H., Martens P., Michelsen G., Wiek A. (2016).

Cörvers et al argue that it is incumbent upon institutions of higher education to create opportunities for students to engage sustainability problems and questions in an experiential learning, project-based setting.  Speaking to the role of universities to equip their students as citizens engaged with contemporary real-world crises, the authors outline (drawing on others’ work) five types of “sustainability experts” and discuss how higher education curriculum and instruction can produce graduates across that spectrum of sustainability professionals (the “broker”; the “expert”; the “pure scientist”; the “arbiter”; and the “participatory expert”).


Kenny, Maureen E., Lou Anna K. Simon, Karen Kiley-Brabeck, Richard M. Lerner. Learning to Serve: Promoting Civil Society Through Service Learning (New York: Springer 2002).

Although not recent, this collection’s introduction and first chapters are an excellent primer on how service learning is connected to the shaping of engaged citizens; the authors argue very presciently for SLCE as a way to keep, particularly, a humanities education “relevant.”  The introduction moves over the familiar “outcomes” terrain (SLCE as cultivating skills and competencies– ie the ability to work in diverse environments and on real problems—that are integral to students’ future professional roles and practice). But it also makes a case for more sophisticated assessments of the registers of impact (student learning, outreach scholarship, and community impact) of SLCE and offers key examples through describing five university-based programs that have institutionalized SLCE in different and highly effective ways. Importantly, the concluding section engages the perspectives of partner organizations and eschews the “celebratory” narrative that typified much of the service learning research of the 1990s.


Mitchell, Tania D. "Traditional vs. Critical Service-Learning: Engaging the Literature to Differentiate Two Models." Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning 14.2 (2008).

In this important article, Mitchell challenges the ways that “traditional service learning” leaves structural inequality unexamined, failing to guide students toward an understanding of its roots. What Mitchell calls “a social change orientation” and an aim to “redistribute power” distinguish critical service learning from traditional service learning.  It is not necessary to be logged in as a GT user on the library website to read this article; you can access it here.


Oakes, William and Marybeth Lima. Service Learning Engineering in Your Community. St. Louis, MO: Great Lakes Press, 2006.

This volume is an excellent introduction to what makes for successful, “socially beneficial” engineering projects that engage challenges faced by non-profits or community partners.  Oakes, the Co-Director of Engineering Projects in Community Service at Purdue, and Lima review components of such projects—such as reflection, communication, and ethics in partnerships—which contribute to productive and reciprocal partnerships and high impact experiences for students.


Tinkler, Alan, et al. "Key Elements of Effective Service-Learning Partnerships from the Perspective of Community Partners." Partnerships 5.2 (2014).

This collaboratively written article helpfully urges readers on the instructor/professor side to consider what makes for a successful and reciprocal relationship for the community partner. In concert with their own local partners, Tinkler et al identify six main characteristics of successful partnerships, pointing out that the development of an “effective relationship” is different from the creation of an effective deliverable.  Effective relationships are the product of intentional work, which places considerations such as partner resources and partner mission at the center of relationship-building between instructors and community organizations.