Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (Ded)


Professional Studies in Education

First Advisor

Kelli R. Paquette, Ed.D.

Second Advisor

Richard J. Hoch, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Joseph Marcoline, D.Ed.


Colleges and universities are being increasingly recognized as key contributors to the well-being of the places in which they are located. However, in spite of the promise and potential of place-based engagement, there is little agreement about what place and place-building means or how these concepts can be operationalized in within the context of institutional community engagement (Siemers, Harrison, Clayton, & Stanley, 2015). The central purpose of this study was to explore these topics inside the institution with the aim of better understanding how place is being considered and built through institutional community engagement activities and partnerships.

To accomplish this purpose, the study employed a unique explanatory mixed methods descriptive case study design that examined place and place-building at a single, highly-engaged, institution of higher learning located in northwestern Pennsylvania. The design used Organizational Place-Building Theory (OPBT) which is designed to explain the degree to which institutions value and invest in their social and geographic locations (Kimball & Thomas, 2012). In other words, how they create place from space (Tuan, 1977). Using OPBT as a theoretical lens, the following three research questions guided the study: 1) how has the institution conceptualized place and place-building within the context of community engagement? 2) according to OPBT, what are the institution’s place-building profiles? and 3) how, and to what degree, are the institution’s place-building profiles reflected in its community engagement activities and partnerships? To answer these questions the study focused on the collection and analysis of three types of qualitative and quantitative data: institutional documents, survey results, and focus group interview transcripts. The purposeful sample for this research consisted of institutional administrators and faculty members who were directly involved in community engagement programing at the college.

Findings from the study indicated that the institution is a highly-engaged place builder. The College conceptualizes place as being local and sees itself as mutually responsible for the well-being of the place in which it exists. The concentration of the institution’s community engagement programming is in the local community and focused on the social, natural, and man-made aspects of place. The institution has adopted a relationship building role in the larger community that is focused on creating relationships that reflect reciprocity, structure, sustained commitment, and inclusion. The review of institutional documents, survey results, and focus group interview transcripts were analyzed The College was found to exhibit a highly contributive place-building profile through which the institution cultivates and promotes its role as a key player and contributor in the well-being of place. These findings provided a better understanding of how place and place-building are being considered and operationalized by one institution. This limitation presents opportunities for further study that employs the OPBT framework and the methods used here at other institutions interested in better understanding the place-based orientation of their community engagement activities and partnerships.