A Phenomenological Study of High-Impact Practices: Exploring Learning Through Coupling Internships and Service-Learning



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This study describes the experiences of college-age students (18?24 years) engaged in multiple high-impact practices simultaneously in an internship experience in Washington, DC, and in a service-learning experience. They reflected weekly on their experiences and wrote three culminating articulated learning statements focused on their academic, civic, and personal learning. The journals were analyzed via an interpretative phenomenological approach. Key findings were as follows: (a) reflection on personal growth helped the students to find clarity with career aspirations, (b) confidence was gained as a result of engaging in high-impact practices, (c) participants demonstrated heightened levels of self-awareness as a result of their experiences, (d) reflections shared by participants validated some core curriculum courses (e.g., writing-intensive courses, public speaking courses, and political science), (e) lifelong learning was addressed by some participants but could be a continued focus to address, (f) students engage in service-learning increased their understanding of social issues, (g) students who had internship and service-learning experiences that had overlapping social issues provided deep reflections, (h) learning occurred when students interacted with people different from themselves, (i) students should continue to engage in experiential learning practices as part of the core curriculum, and (j) students consistently learned through observation and experience across the three categories of personal, academic, and civic learning. Recommendations for practice focused on how to apply the Describe, Examine, and Article Learning (DEAL) model of critical reflection and how to prepare and structure reflection for participants in these programs. It was concluded that the addition of service-learning to the internship created additional learning opportunities. Understanding learning styles could benefit program coordinators of service site placements. Recommendations for future research included the following: (a) content analysis of program and reflection materials between the Public Policy Internship Program and Natural Resources Policy Internship Programs, (b) individual case studies of students whose internship and service-learning experiences were in alignment, (c) longitudinal study of past participants, (d) scoring of reflections using the critical thinking rubric developed by Ash and Clayton, and (e) application of the Socially Responsible Leadership Scale or Kolb?s learning style inventory to create additional avenues for research.