Community Engagement as a Curricular Cornerstone: A Comprehensive Commitment to Service Promotes Excellence in Education


The purpose of this session is to present utilization of community-engaged education as a cornerstone of a DPT program. Our innovative approach to learning embeds extensive community engagement in 4 of the first 5 semesters of the DPT program. Community-engaged activities are linked in time and by objectives to nearly all of the coursework in the first 2 years of our 3-year program. Participants of this session will learn about the evolution, organization, strategies for sustainability, and outcomes of our programs. They will enhance their abilities to employ long term and episodic service learning programs as avenues to excellence in PT education.

Methods and/or Description of Project

We apply an integrated academic-community service learning approach to provide rehabilitation and health promotion services for local and global partners whose access to ongoing rehabilitation and wellness care is limited by economic and social factors. We provide both long term and episodic programming in on-campus and off-campus locations for community members across the lifespan with a variety of disorders. Prolonged engagement with the community is achieved by offering programs for 10-12 weeks in the Fall and Spring semesters. Long term programs include a twice-weekly stroke exercise program, twice-weekly open rehabilitation hours at an enrichment program for people with head injury, a weekly service program at an elementary school, and a weekly program at a day habilitation center for adults with developmental conditions. Episodic programs include falls risk screening for older adults, a program for adults recovering from total joint arthroplasty, gross motor screening for children, musculoskeletal screening for dancers, and curricular instruction at a local middle school. An elective 8-day service learning trip to Haiti rounds out the offerings. This variety of offerings is coordinated across the curriculum through a Center for Community-Engaged Education in Physical Therapy (CECEPT).

Curriculum: DPT students participate in most CECEPT activities through enrollment each semester in Integrated Clinical Education (ICE) and clinical courses. By the conclusion of the didactic portion of the curriculum, and prior to 30 weeks of full-time clinical education, students take part in at least 32 faculty-led, clinical service learning experiences totaling nearly 40 hours per student. [An additional 80 clinical hours are accumulated through more traditional ICE rotations.] Activities and learning objectives for each service learning rotation are commensurate with knowledge and skills accumulated through the curriculum. Expectations for student performance become increasingly higher as students progress.

Personnel: Programs are administered and supervised by one or more physical therapist faculty members. Faculty ICE workload is assigned in 2-credit-hour increments for the stroke exercise, day enrichment, and day habilitation programs. Faculty are responsible for all elements of the teaching, learning and client management elements of those experiences. CECEPT faculty collaborate with the DCE, who manages the master schedules for clinics and students, facilitates seminar activities, and evaluates written assignments. Workload above that derived from the ICE course load is subsidized through a contractual agreement with the day enrichment program. An endowment-funded graduate student associate assists with administrative duties for several of the community programs.

Outcomes: Student outcomes are evaluated through written reflections submitted to an online discussion forum after each experience. Faculty provide formative evaluation and guidance throughout the clinical service activities. Community partner outcomes are evaluated by assessment of satisfaction and by evaluation of individual client progress. Faculty outcomes are measured in terms of the faculty development impact of the service portfolio and scholarly products derived from community-engaged work.


Service provided: The oldest CECEPT program has been running continuously for 11 years. The newest program is the Haiti experience, inaugurated this year. Across all programs during the 2014-2015 academic year, we provided 214 clinical sessions and 276 hours of clinical service. We provided 1,543 client-hours of service to 135 individual members of the community. Seventy-three DPT students participated in community-engaged activities.

Student outcomes: Students progress in skill through 4 semesters of community-engaged learning. Early journal entries are dominated by basic description of what they did, how they felt and how it went as they performed basic skills under close supervision by faculty and upper level students. Reflections from later experiences demonstrate more sophisticated analysis, synthesis, evaluation and independence. Early dependence on faculty guidance is replaced by self-initiated real-time assessment that results in immediate modification of performance and growing levels of independence.

Partner outcomes: Organizational partners are highly satisfied with the service-learning partnerships. Satisfaction is reflected in communications between faculty and community program staff. Individual partners are equally satisfied. Program attendance rates are high: approximately 85% per stroke exercise group session and a gym at full capacity during enrichment center hours. Community partners demonstrate enhancement in physical performance and report significant psychosocial benefit.

Faculty outcomes: Faculty have published or presented 9 peer reviewed products based on community-engaged activities and research. Two funded sabbaticals and 2 faculty fellowship programs are additional products of the department’s commitment to community engagement.

Conclusions/Relevance to the conference theme: Shaping the Future of Physical Therapy Education

By organizing community-engaged activities through the CECEPT in a coordinated and intentional manner across the curriculum, we support student success in a number of ways:
- Early and ongoing service-based clinical experiences improve the mastery of knowledge and skills in preparation for licensure and practice. Authentic learning experiences situated with high frequency in the first 2 years of the 3-year DPT program ensure early and consistent opportunities to apply a growing fund of knowledge and skills to carefully supervised clinical scenarios with real patients.
- Students have experiences and develop skills that will enable them to be innovators and leaders in their professional and civic communities in the future.
- Students gain insight into considerations for health care provision on a global scale.
- Community-engaged experiences help students understand and contribute to the development of model programs for health care and professional education processes of the future.


Furze J, Black L, Peck K, Jensen GM. Student perceptions of a community engagement experience: exploration of reflections on social responsibility and professional formation. Physiotherapy Theory and Practice. 2011;27(6):411-421.

Nowakowski K, Kaufman RR, Pelletier D. A clinical service learning model promotes mastery of essential competencies in geriatric physical therapy. Journal of Physical Therapy Education. 2014;28:46-53.

Kaufman R, Chevan J. The Center for Community-Engaged Education in Physical Therapy: A Roadmap for Strategic Planning and Departmental Advancement in a Community-Engaged Institution. Poster presentation, Eastern Regional Campus Compact Conference, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, October 2013.

Course Objectives

1. Participants will understand the importance of strategic planning, stake-holder buy-in, and faculty commitment required of a program-wide coordination of community-engaged teaching and learning.
2. Participants will identify the strategies we use for organization, curricular planning, administration and staffing, and funding structure of our community engagement model.
3. Participants will consider the applicability of strategic planning processes and coordinated organizational, administrative and curricular structures for enhancement of their own community-engaged work and service-related teaching and learning.

Instructional Methods

Lecture, visual presentation, small group discussion, large group discussion period.

Tentative Outline/Schedule

1. Overview of the CECEPT (45 minutes)
Strategic planning and evolution
Administrative structure and staffing
Curricular and workload organization
Community partner relationships
Funding and sustainability strategies

2. Outcomes (15 minutes)

3. Break out groups (15 minutes)
Applicability of elements of the CECEPT model to participants’ programs/curricula

4. General discussion (15 minutes)

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  • Control #: 2252538
  • Type: Educational Session
  • Event/Year: ELC2015
  • Authors: Dr. Regina Kaufman, Julia Chevan, Dawn Roberts, Kimberly Nowakowski, Deborah Pelletier, Kathleen Pappas, Elizabeth Montemagni, Angela Campbell, Dr. Salome Brooks, Jessica Maxwell
  • Keywords:

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