Phase 1 results

From October 2019 – April 2020, 24 students across the 12 colleges at University Park were interviewed to discover their student engagement journeys. Our three major findings are listed below.

To see the 24 student maps, view our interviewee guidebook.

Recognition of opportunity types

A sidewalk with the words "What do you mean?" written on the ground
Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

Some types of student engagement experiences are better recognized by students than others. We believe some of this is due to the advice students receive when coming to college, some is influenced by the Penn State culture that encourages organizational experiences, and some is due to pressure students feel that they need to gain enough experience to get a job upon graduation.

Finding your why

A picture of the ground with the words "Passion led us here"
Photo by Ian Schneider on Unsplash

Our mapping technique allowed students to reflect on their experiences at Penn State. As we talked to students about each experience on the map, our questions were able to uncover the meta-cognitive aspects and articulate their why statements. Some students had strong “why” statements going into opportunities while other students did not have a “why” that was as strongly articulated.

Institutional responsibility

Photo by Pixabay on

Students understand and value Penn State’s commitment to providing student engagement experiences. Because Penn State is invested in these experiences and has provided scaffolding including curriculum, faculty and staff support, and connections to opportunities beyond Penn State, students find these experiences meaningful and rewarding. Even within the most challenging experiences, students are still able to see the value gained from participating.

“…you definitely have to go outside your comfort zone in order to grow. And that’s the biggest thing that I’ve got from these experiences.”

Daniela, junior, Bellisario College of Communications

Learn more about our three findings in our white paper, linked below.

About our 24 students

The students interviewed in Phase 1 of this study were current students at the University Park campus. 12 students identified as male and 12 identified as female. Other relevant information about our sample includes:

  • Students ranged in age from 19-24
  • Five (21%) identified as first-generation college students
  • Two were classified as adult-learners
  • Two students started at Commonwealth campuses (Abington & Harrisburg) before transferring to University Park
  • Two students transferred to Penn State their junior years from a different institution
  • Our students completed 177 student engagement experiences. The number of experiences per student ranged from 4-17 experiences. On average, our interviewees completed 7.5 experiences.
A pie graph of the student breakdown by year in school. 66% were seniors, 29.2% were juniors, and 4.8% were sophomores.
Our interviewees were primarily seniors and juniors. We did interview one sophomore. We wanted to make sure the students were interviewed had completed at least one student engagement experience.

A pie graph that shows the breakdown of race/ethnicity in our sample. The sample was predominantly white (75%), followed by Asian (12.5%), Black or African American (8.3%), and Hispanic or Latino (4.2%).
The Penn State University Park fall 2018 enrollment by race/ethnicity demonstrates that our sample overrepresented White, Asian, and Black students and underrepresented Hispanic or Latino students. None of the students in our sample identified as two or more races, American Indian/Alaskan Native, or Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander, therefore, these groups were also underrepresented in our sample.