The Application of Faith and Learning

Faith-Based Anchor Institutions and Community Engagement


  • Theresa Harrison University of South Carolina
  • Dottie Weigel Messiah University
  • Melinda Smith Messiah University



community-university partnerships, experiential learning, cultural humility, service-learning, faith integration


Higher education institutions face many competing priorities and are still expected to serve the public good. Faith-based institutions, in particular, aim to meet a faith-inspired calling and serve the communities in which they are situated while guiding students in their faith formation by integrating service and academic priorities. In this paper, the authors explore, through a case study methodology, the unique positionality of Messiah University, a faith-based university located near the capital city of Harrisburg, PA. Specifically, this study explores the impact of a community engaged course with an urban nonprofit agency.

Author Biographies

Theresa Harrison, University of South Carolina

Theresa Harrison serves as the project manager of the Carolina Family Engagement Center at the University of South Carolina. She is also a second-year doctoral student in the Educational Leadership and Policies department at the UofSC. Her research interests include community-university relationships and partnerships, anchor institutions, and civic leadership. Ms. Harrison has served in various administrative roles within residence life, campus life, living-learning communities, and integrative and experiential learning services. She is passionate about encouraging students to intentionally reflect on their beyond the classroom experiences and helping students see themselves as leaders for social change. She has taught first-year seminar service-learning classes focused on the topics of hunger, disability awareness, and refugee integration, senior seminar courses on integrative learning, led numerous alternative break trips, and co-led international study abroad experiences.

Dottie Weigel, Messiah University

Dr. Dottie Weigel is an Assistant Professor of Higher Education and Director of the Graduate Program in Higher Education at Messiah College. Her research interests include transition in the first college year, with a focus on the experiences of third-culture students. Dr. Weigel has published and presented on topics such as high-impact practices and the first-year experience. In 2016, Dr. Weigel co-edited and published Transitions, a textbook for first-year students at the University of South Carolina. She is currently writing a chapter on assessment for an upcoming book on supporting first-year students on academic probation. Prior to her ranked faculty appointment at Messiah College, Dr. Weigel served in various administrative roles within first-year programs, service-learning, residence life, and career services. She is an active member of professional student affairs organizations such as NASPA and ACPA and served as the Bottom Line editor with About Campus. She currently serves as a review board member for the Journal of The First-Year Experience and Students in Transition. In May 2019, Dr. Weigel was honored with the Outstanding Graduate Teaching Award. She is an advocate for graduate students pursuing professional development opportunities and is committed to helping students stay abreast of trends and issues in higher education.

Melinda Smith, Messiah University

Dr. Melinda (Mindy) Smith is the director of Student Wellness and Senior Lecturer in the Health, Nutrition, and Exercise Science Department at Messiah College. Mindy is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist through the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Her research interests include strategies for promoting meaningful lifetime physical activity for collegiate student-athletes as they transition to alumni and the impact of Pilates training on current collegiate student-athletes. In addition to her teaching and advising, Mindy serves as a faculty fellow in community engagement at Messiah. She also tailors Pilates training for undergraduate and graduate students, student-athletes, and employees of all ages. Mindy is passionate about promoting wellness for individuals of diverse interests and experiences.


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