Our work at SLS is informed by the larger national and global fields in which we work, including their scholarship and the conversations, teaching, research, and practice of both our colleagues and ourselves in these fields. Specifically, we are engaged in and influenced by work taking place related to five themes, listed below. For example, we draw on asset-based approaches to inform our work with faculty, students, and partners, and we use recent scholarship around critical service learning to shape both how we think about the role of service learning in the curriculum and how we build meaningful community engagement experiences for students. The centrality of networks to our partnership work is evident in this list, as is our emphasis on equity and social change. In each section, we provide brief annotations of some of the publications that are most influential in the field and/or have been most influential in our work. We hope that you will be intrigued by a few of these publications and explore them further.


Theme 1: Asset-Based Community Development

Hirsch, J. & Winter, A. (2014, January-February). Engaging Diverse Communities in Climate Action: Lessons from Chicago. Solutions, 5(1), 35-39. Retrieved from https://www.thesolutionsjournal.com/article/engaging-diverse-communities-in-climate-action-lessons-from-chicago/

SLS’ founding director, Jennifer Hirsch, is nationally and internationally known for her work as a scholar-practitioner engaging communities and universities in sustainability and climate action using an asset-based community engagement approach. In this article, Hirsch and Winter – a former colleague from The Field Museum of Natural History – discuss their work as consultants to the City of Chicago, engaging four communities from across the city in implementing the Chicago Climate Action Plan in different, culturally-driven ways that built on their community assets to address community concerns and simultaneously advance the City’s strategies to tackle climate change. See more publications and presentations about Dr. Hirsch’s work here.

Kretzmann, J.P., & McKnight, J.L. (1993). Building Communities from the Inside Out: A Path Toward Finding and Mobilizing a Community's Assets. ACTA Publications.

Asset-based Community Development – commonly referred to as “ABCD” - is an approach to working with communities starting with their assets, or strengths, rather than their deficits or problems, and engaging community leaders and residents in envisioning and building the community they want to live in. This approach was largely developed and popularized by The ABCD Institute, formerly housed at Northwestern University and now located at DePaul University in Chicago, together with their affiliated “faculty.” This book, written by ABCD Institute founders John McKnight and Jody Kretzmann, is basically the Bible of the ABCD field of practice. Based on McKnight’s and Kretzmann’s research into successful community-building initiatives across the U.S., it introduces the basics of ABCD and, as a workbook, provides hands-on exercises for identifying and mapping community assets. Fun fact: the book is fondly referred to by affiliated faculty and many ABCD practitioners as “the green book” due to its green cover. 

Theme 2: Re-Orienting Engineering Education for Social Justice and Sustainable Development

Bridger, J.C. & Luloff, A.E. (1999). Toward an interactional approach to sustainable community development. Journal of Rural Studies, 15, 377-387.

This article applies concepts of community to sustainable development and lays out criteria and a conceptual framework for achieving sustainability at the level of local communities. It was crucial in helping us develop our approach to sustainable community development presented in this Partnership Strategy.

Hirsch, J., Yow, R., & Wu, S. (2023). Teaching students to collaborate with communities: expanding engineering education to create a sustainable future. Engineering Studies, DOI: 10.1080/19378629.2023.2176767.

Hirsch, Yow, and Wu draw on examples from Serve-Learn-Sustain's programs, and their impact on students, to illustrate how engineering education might be re-imagined, orienting engineering majors toward partnering with communities and sharing expertise reciprocally to co-create a more sustainable and just future. The authors highlight course partnerships and co-curricular social innovation programs with a specific orientation toward innovators and communities of color, illustrating through detailed examples how students are better equipped to address the graves sustainability challenges of our time if they are positioned to use their disciplinary expertise in social context and embrace the perspectives and knowledge of a diversity of stakeholders. 

Leydens, J. A., Lucena, J. C., & Nieusma, D. (2014, June). What is design for social justice. ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, 26, 24.1368.1 - 24.1368.30. Retrieved from https://peer.asee.org/what-is-design-for-social-justice

In this paper, Leydens, Lucena and Nieusma offer a cogent overview of four forms of design, in order to introduce and contextualize “design for social justice.”  They cover four forms of design: design for technology, HCD for users, HDC for communities, and design for social justice.   The authors explore where and how social justice has been integrated into or left entirely out of design contexts; they target design within engineering education and lay out ways for scholars and teachers to bring social justice substantively into design education.  

Lucena, J., Schneider, J., & Leydens, Jon A. (2010). Engineering and Sustainable Community Development. Morgan & Claypool Publishers. Retrieved from https://isfcolombia.uniandes.edu.co/images/documentos/lucena.pdf

Lucena, Schneider and Leydens’s text is a touchstone for scholar-practitioners and teachers seeking guidance and two excellent case studies on community-engaged engineering projects. Lucena et al helpfully include an overview of engineering as related to the histories of colonialism and the politics of international development, helping readers and students to understand the complex legacies of engineering projects executed by Westerners in the “developing” world. They offer many tools for preparing engineers to work with and listen to community members. Crucially, they include student reactions to and reflections on taking a collaborative approach that centers on the expertise that already resides in every community.

Ottinger, G. (2011). Rupturing Engineering Education: Opportunities for Transforming Expert Identities through Community-Based Projects. Technoscience and Environmental Justice: Expert Cultures in a Grassroots Movement. MIT Press, 229-248.

Scholar Gwen Ottinger points toward the constituting and mobilizing of “expertise” as key to intervening in traditional relationships between universities and communities and between students and knowledge production. In this article, Ottinger argues that intentionally sharing expertise produces new ways of interacting and collaborating outside of a client-consultant or client-provider model. Challenging the widely-held notion that scientific knowledge is “predictable and enduring” and instead asserting its mutability as a “cultural creation, made and remade through the daily practices of scientists and engineers,” Ottinger builds her argument that engineers can “find room to maneuver” and refashion their relationship to knowledge, to problem-solving, and to the communities with which they work.  

Theme 3: Networks for Social Impact

Fadeeva, Z., Galkute, L., Chhokar, K. (2018). Academia and Communities: Engaging for Change - Learning Contributions of Regional Centres of Expertise on Education for Sustainable Development. Tokyo: United Nations University Institute for the Advanced Study of Sustainability. Retrieved from http://collections.unu.edu/view/UNU:6601#viewAttachments

This online book includes case studies from 17 Regional Centres of Expertise on Education for Sustainable Development (RCEs) around the world describing their work to advance Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) in their regions, as part of the Global RCE Network coordinated by United Nations University. The Foreword introduces the structure and purpose of the RCEs and the importance of working through multi-stakeholder networks to create regional change. The Introduction discusses the meaning, goals, and learning competencies of ESD – including the ways in which ESD is intended to transform higher education institutions themselves. With SLS being a co-founder of RCE Greater Atlanta, we have found this publication invaluable in helping us both connect with other RCEs and start to envision how our work on sustainability, and through RCE Greater Atlanta and the Global RCE Network, might significantly impact our institution in the future.

Plastrik, P., Taylor, M., & Cleveland, J. (2014). Connecting to Change the World: Harnessing the Power of Networks for Social Impact. Island Press.

This practical book, written by three veteran practitioners in network consulting, describes why and how to establish and run networks for social impact and provides case studies of successful social impact networks around the country, both sustainability-related and otherwise. It is particularly helpful in thinking through the differences between a network and an organization and how and when network structures in particular can advance social change in ways that organizations cannot.

Theme 4: Service-Learning in Higher Education

Bringle, R. G., & Hatcher, J. A. (1995). A service-learning curriculum for faculty. Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning, 2(1), 112-122. Retrieved from: https://quod.lib.umich.edu/m/mjcsl/3239521.0002.111/1

Bringle and Hatcher, long-time leaders in service learning research, offer that faculty development is key to robust and high-impact service learning curriculum. In this piece they argue for the importance of supporting and preparing faculty to “implement new pedagogy” that engages service learning experiences and integrates them well into academic courses.  The series of faculty workshops that they propose and describe supports faculty new to service learning in building syllabi and service learning experiences that are founded on best practices and relevant research, as well as offering insight about the connection between faculty development and the institutionalization of service learning.

Brundiers, K., & Beaudoin, F. (2017). A Guide for Applied Sustainability Learning Projects: Advancing Sustainability Outcomes on Campus and in the Community. Retrieved from https://hub-media.aashe.org/uploads/A+Guide+for+Applied+Sustainability+Learning+Projects_v1.0_03.03.17_Final.pdf

Brundiers and Beaudoin, through their respective work at Arizona State University, which houses one of the leading sustainability programs in the nation, and Portland State which boasts a deep and fruitful sustainability and community engagement partnership with the City of Portland, have created a compelling and thorough guide to building programs for real-world sustainability projects. Through laying out distinct stages, they invite readers to locate their own work within a development continuum, and they discuss the benefits and challenges of project-based learning with outside partners, offering substantial insight into the program infrastructure that makes such projects successful.

Chupp, M. G., & Joseph, M. L. (2010). Getting the most out of service learning: Maximizing student, university and community impact. Journal of Community Practice, 18(2-3), 190-212. Retrieved from: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/10705422.2010.487045

Service learning scholars Chupp and Joseph offer a helpful overview of the service learning field, and its major trends and shifts (such as “experiential” and “social justice” service learning) over the past three decades. They persuasively argue that “service learning should seek to promote social change through authentic relationships and impacts at three levels: the student, the academic institution, and the community.” In their case study of the Case Western Reserve School of Social Work, they unfold how this three-level model informs a service learning program based on strengthening relationships with Cleveland neighborhoods surrounding campus.

Eby, John. (1998). "Why Service-Learning Is Bad.” Service Learning, General, 27. Retrieved from: https://digitalcommons.unomaha.edu/slceslgen/27

John Eby cogently argues that service learning is geared toward students, faculty, course outcomes, and institutional reputations, not toward meeting community needs. He writes that, despite its potential positive impacts, service learning can do "real harm" by propagating a deficit- instead of asset- based view of communities and by leaning on the resources of agencies to train and supervise students who will not be engaged in long-term community change work.  He also cites a lack of big-picture or systemic analysis in most service learning courses, and suggests that service learning often only orients students toward individual relationships and needs instead of illuminating systemic inequalities and deeply rooted social problems. Pointing to the celebration of service learning by academicians who want to see it more widely integrated in college classes, he writes that community members and organizations are too often unheard in scholarly discussions of the boons of service learning and therefore unable to assert the ways in which it needs to transform in order to truly benefit communities. Eby offers some ways that service learning can be beneficial for both students and community partners; namely 1) responding to the voices and critiques of all stakeholders; 2) developing reciprocal long-term partnerships between institutions and community organizations; 3) learning from the best practices of strong, community-oriented service learning programs; 4) developing students' "sociological imagination" (ie cultivating a critical lens and structural analysis); 5) creating and embracing community development opportunities instead of one-off projects; and 6) doing assessment that leads to continual programmatic improvement.

McNall, M., Barnes-Najor, J., Brown, R., Doberneck, D., & Fitzgerald, H. (2015). Systemic Engagement: Universities as Partners in Systemic Approaches to Community Change. Journal of Higher Education Outreach and Engagement, 19(1), 7-32. Retrieved from http://openjournals.libs.uga.edu/index.php/jheoe/article/view/1390

McNall et al focus in this piece on how to shift the approach of universities from “isolated” to “systemic” impact, suggesting that it will be impossible to effect change on broad scale challenges without the leverage provided by networks of diverse partners sharing a focus. The authors outline six principles of systemic impact (systems thinking; collaborative inquiry; support for ongoing learning; emergent design; multiple strands of inquiry and action; and transdisciplinary learning) and use the example of Wiba Anung partnerships, forged between Michigan State University, Inter-Tribal Council of Michigan, Bay Mills CommunityCollege, and nine Michigan tribes, an alliance formed to address entrenched educational inequality among white and native children in Michigan.

Mitchell, Tania D. (Spring 2008). Traditional vs. Critical Service-Learning: Engaging the Literature to Differentiate Two Models. Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning, 14(2), 50-65. Retrieved from: https://quod.lib.umich.edu/m/mjcsl/3239521.0014.205/--traditional-vs-critical-service-learning-engaging?view=image

In this important article that had a huge impact on the service learning field, 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.

Stoecker, Randy, et al. (2010) Can community-based research guide service learning?. Journal of Community Practice 18.2-3, 280-296. Retrieved from: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/10705422.2010.485878

This piece explores how to resolve what the authors pose as a core contradiction within service learning courses and projects: the “service” doesn’t bring substantial, or some cases any, benefits to the partner, but rather taxes partner resources and time.  Stoecker et al describe their work to create a program that uses community-based research (CBR) and project- based research to create better outcomes for partners, while still supporting students’ learning and development. In this model, Students engage in CBR- for example interviewing or surveying community partners- and then translate those results into project-based research that specifically attends to the issues identified by community partners.  Their case study is focused on an initiative the authors created called TechShop which aims to support community-based organizations seeking information and communication technology (ICT) solutions to issues that impact their work, staff, and service-delivery. Stoecker et al describe the two- semester experiment and share some of the best practices (frequent check-ins, early and clear identification of project goals, rigorous preparation and training of students before they begin any work with community partners) as well as shortcomings of their program, some of which- like the short duration that the semester imposes on project work- are very familiar to all service learning practitioners working in or with higher ed. Stoecker reflects that even if the pilot project described didn’t “solve” the contradiction in service-learning they set out to confront, it did make more clear where barriers exist and how to navigate some of them.

Tinkler, Alan, Barri Tinkler, Ethan Hausman, and Gabriella Tufo Strouse. (2014). Key Elements of Effective Service-Learning Partnerships from the Perspective of Community Partners. Partnerships: A Journal of Service-Learning and Civic Engagement, 5(2), 137-152. Retrieved from: http://libjournal.uncg.edu/prt/article/view/944/703

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.

Theme 5: Sustainable Development - Equity & Higher Education

Agyeman, J. (2011). Equity? That’s not an issue for us, we’re here to save the world. Retrieved from https://julianagyeman.com/2011/08/24/equity-thats-not-an-issue-for-us-were-here-to-save-the-world/

There are many publications explaining the centrality of equity to sustainability. Julian Agyeman, a Professor of Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning at Tuft University, developed the influential concept of “just sustainabilities” and has become one of the most well-known scholars in this area among sustainability practitioners. In addition to his scholarly publications, he blogs about equity and sustainability and regularly presents at practitioner conferences around the U.S. and the world. This blog post is one of his most succinct publications on the importance of equity in advancing sustainability and also references a major literature review related to equity and its societal impacts overall.  

Lederman, D. (2021). 'The Black Experience in Higher Education': A New Compilation. Retrieved from https://www.insidehighered.com/quicktakes/2021/03/30/%E2%80%98-black-experience-higher-education%E2%80%99-new-compilation

Inside Higher Ed published a free compilation that pulls together eight articles that explore the Black experience in higher education, covering topics such as faculty diversity, admissions barriers for Black students, curriculum and academic life, government funding and policies, and the status of Black staff and senior administrators.

Trencher, G., Yarime, M., McCormick, K. B., Doll, C. N., & Kraines, S. B. (2013). Beyond the third mission: Exploring the emerging university function of co-creation for sustainability. Science and Public Policy, 41(2), 151-179. Retrieved from: https://portal.research.lu.se/ws/files/3123266/4393557.pdf

In this article, the authors argue that there is an emerging new role for universities around the world, surfacing in response to the global sustainability crisis: acting as conveners of multi-stakeholder, regional collaborations aimed at advancing sustainable development in the university’s geographical region. Based on research into universities around the world that are assuming this role, the article lays out a conceptual framework and then presents two in depth case studies, one from the U.S. and one from Europe.

UNESCO (2016). Education 2030: Incheon Declaration and Framework for Action for the implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 4: Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all. Retrieved from https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000245656

Advancing SDG 4: Quality Education is the central purpose of the work of all RCE networks. This document from the United Nations is a thorough description of SDG 4 and its targets and also lays out recommendations for implementation. Importantly, Target 4.7 is the target most related to higher education institutions: “By 2030, ensure that all learners acquire the knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development, including, among others, through education for sustainable development and sustainable lifestyles, human rights, gender equality, promotion of a culture of peace and non-violence, global citizenship and appreciation of cultural diversity and of culture’s contribution to sustainable development.”


Theme 6: Sustainability & Equity in Atlanta

Housing Justice League and Research|Action Cooperative (2017). Beltlining: Gentrification, Broken Promises, and Hope on Atlanta’s Southside. Retrieved from https://static1.squarespace.com/static/59da49b712abd904963589b6/t/59dedb75f7e0ab47a08224b5/1507777424592/Beltlining+Report+-+HJL+and+RA+Oct+9.pdf.

Housing Justice League is a grassroots, member-led organization that builds power in low- to moderate-income, metro-Atlanta neighborhoods highly affected by the housing crisis. Research|Action Cooperative is a worker-owned firm of professionals who champion research and popular communication as vital and necessary to the project of social change. Support was also provided by Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) and the Local data Design Lab at Georgia Tech. This report documents the failure of the City of Atlanta and organizations charged with implementing the Beltline plan to provide the affordable housing originally promised. The authors use survey data and build upon a participatory action research project in three historic Black neighborhoods on the Southside near the BeltLine to make their case. The report chronicles the hopes of the residents for planned Beltline development, how they have been affected by it, and the forces of gentrification that are likely to undermine the economic and racial diversity that long-term residents and newcomers point to as a community strength.

Immergluck, D (2017). Sustainable for Whom? Large-scale sustainable urban development projects and “environmental gentrification. Shelterforce, September 1, 2017. Retrieved from https://shelterforce.org/2017/09/01/sustainable-large-scale-sustainable-urban-development-projects-environmental-gentrification/

Georgia State University urban planning professor Dan Immergluck – previously faculty in City and Regional Planning at Georgia Tech – has studied the Atlanta BeltLine for many years. In this article, he uses his research on the BeltLine to argue that “large-scale sustainable development projects are likely to become engines of what has been termed ‘environmental gentrification.’” A complement to this article, presenting an alternative approach to city and neighborhood sustainability, is the concept of “Just Green Enough.” Read about Jennifer Wolch’s research in this area in Next City, here.

Johnson, R., Ramsey-White, K., Fuller, C. (2016). Socio-demographic Differences in Toxic Release Inventory Siting and Emissions in Metro Atlanta. Retrieved from https://d8-sls.oit.gatech.edu/sites/default/files/2022-09/socio-demographic_differences_in_toxic_release_inventory_siting_and_emissions_in_metro_atlanta.pdf

Prior research has found that low socioeconomic status (SES) populations and minorities in some areas reside in communities with disproportionate exposure to hazardous chemicals. The objectives of this study were to evaluate the relevance of socio-demographic characteristics on the presence of Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) facilities, air releases, and prevalence and resolution of air quality complaints in the 20-county Atlanta Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA). We found that there were 4.7% more minority residents in census tracts where TRI facilities were located. The odds ratio (OR) for the presence of a TRI facility was 0.89 (p < 0.01) for each 1% increase of females with a college degree and 2.4 (p < 0.01) for households with an income of $22,000–$55,000. The estimated reduction in the amount of chemicals emitted per release associated with population of females with a college degree was 18.53 pounds (p < 0.01). Complaints took longer to resolve in census tracts with higher Hispanic populations (OR = 1.031, 95% CI: 1.010–1.054). Overall, results indicate that SES and  race/ethnicity are related to TRI facility siting, releases, and complaints in the Atlanta area. These findings have not been documented previously and suggest that lower SES and non-White communities may be disproportionately exposed.

Keenan, S K (2020). City halts all building permits near Westside Park project to confront ‘rapid gentrification.’ Retrieved from https://atlanta.curbed.com/2020/2/18/21141160/atlanta-gentrification-westside-bellwood-quarry-park-construction-permits.

With residents in the neighborhoods of Grove Park, Knight Park/Howell Station, and Rockdale concerned about the impacts of rapid development underway associated with massive new park on the Westside Beltline, this article discusses Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms decision to place a temporary hold on all building permits in the area. Neighborhood association leaders are working with the city to develop an “Equitable Development Framework” for the community, to address equity in housing, transportation, greenspace and other are priorities.

Pendergast, M (2017). Recreational Infrastructure: Using the Quarry Lake for Leisure. Atlanta Studies. Retrieved from https://www.atlantastudies.org/2017/12/01/mark-pendergrast-recreational-infrastructure-using-the-quarry-lake-for-leisure/.

Mark Pendergast received the Judy Turner Prize at the 2017 Decatur Book Festival for his book, City on the Verge: Atlanta and the Fight for America’s Urban Future.  In this Atlanta Studies article, published by the Atlanta Studies Network, Pendergrast makes the case that the Westside Quarry Park, literally the biggest project on the Atlanta Beltline, should be accessible to residents to recreation. He argues that plans to fence off the reservoir from residents undermines the park’s potential to become a true community asset.

Vashi, S (2019). All Eyes on Equity: How nonprofits are mobilizing to solve Atlanta's structural inequities.  Retrieved from https://www.atlantamagazine.com/news-culture-articles/all-eyes-on-equity/

Atlanta routinely ranks among the nation's most unequal cities.  But across the city, organizations and funders have found new momentum to change the narrative, and the unequal systems.