Needed Program Improvements
It is evident that students’ commitment to service, community, and social justice is enhanced during their time in PULSE. We can conclude that PULSE leads to students increasing their social awareness, as evidenced by an average of 64% of students across the past ten years having either disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement “My awareness of societal inequities has been unchanged” as a result of participating in PULSE. In addition, an average of 90% of students each year asserts that PULSE is either the most or one of the most influential courses in their personal development over the course of the year they enrolled in PULSE. While it is true that the PULSE course demands 40% of the average enrolled student’s academic load each semester in addition to the number of servicelearning hours each student takes on, so it would seem odd if students did not report the influence of PULSE during their year in the program: these two data points taken together suggest PULSE’s direct contribution to the immediate intellectual, moral, and spiritual development of students. But at this time, we do not have evidence to determine whether PULSE creates in students a lifelong desire to keep up the work after they leave the PULSE experience.
Students are asked about the frequency with which they have participated in certain activities within a year of enrolling in PULSE (begin-ning-of-year survey) or their plans to participate in those same activities as a result of PULSE (end-of-year survey). Three key activities best encapsulate the kinds of habits that connect to the core dispositions taught in PULSE: contributing voluntary time to a non-profit organization; working toward influencing the political structure; and making efforts to improve my understanding of other cultures. For instance, an average of 68% of students say they have frequently or very frequently made efforts to improve their understanding of other cultures before PULSE, and an average of 86% of students indicate their willingness to frequently or very frequently make this effort as a result of PULSE. This trend holds: whereas an average of 45% of students say they have frequently or very frequently contributed voluntary time to a non-profit organization in the year before PULSE, an average of 72% of students indicate their willingness to frequently or very frequently contribute this time as a result of PULSE. Comparing student responses to these prompts shows the kind of growth that PULSE has prided itself in, especially when it comes to having students engage their communities influenced by Jesuit ideals.
It is telling, though, that the habit that students are far and away most likely to practice before and after is political engagement (making efforts to improve one’s own understanding about society and difference). This is consistent with trends in students’ free responses that the PULSE experience led them to reconsider and refine their perspectives. Students talk about the relationships, the encounter, the stories, the conversations they have in PULSE. They mention the people with whom they work in their service-learning placements. All of these factors arc rated highly in free responses about what was most significant about the PULSE experience. But there is no consensus across student responses that PULSE led students to become more directly active: a majority of students will consider direct political activity, as opposed to the stark minority of students who have done so prior to the PULSE experience. But there is not yet evidence that PULSE contributes to students translating these dispositions into action. Only an average of 15% of students say they have frequently or very frequently worked toward influencing the political structure prior to PULSE, but only a slim average majority of students (51%) indicate their willingness to do so once PULSE has concluded.
The translation of disposition into action is a major desire of the PULSE course design (as explored above), but there is, as of yet, little evidence to show that the program as designed is having this intended effect. Students through PULSE locate themselves as part of a broader community; they do not necessarily define their new community orientation as something that must be taken up actively beyond the confines of the PULSE experience. This raises questions about the extent to which the questioning of conventional wisdom and raising of critical consciousness central to PULSE’s service-learning/social justice approach arc happening outside of the confines of the academic experience of the year students are enrolled. More evidence would be necessary to test whether or not such development is stable.