Place-Based Community Engagement in Higher Education

Book by Kent Koth and Erica Yamamura

Book cover: Place-Based Community Engagement in Higher Education

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While an increasing number of universities have or are committed to engaging their campuses in their surrounding communities, many recognize they lack the strategic focus and resources to maximize and sustain their impact on those communities. Place-based community engagement provides a powerful way to creatively connect campus and community to foster positive social transformation.

In developing community engagement strategies, most universities and community organizations face significant challenges in deciding who to partner with and why. Frequently this leads universities and community organizations to say “yes” to too many opportunities which significantly limit their ability to pursue long-term impact. Focusing on an established geographic area can make it much easier to decide where to deploy resources and which partnerships to prioritize and thus increase their ability to form strong and sustainable partnerships that are of greater value to all stakeholders.

This book presents the emerging model of place-based community engagement as a powerful process for attaining more positive and enduring results in their local communities as well as stimulating wider engagement by campus constituencies. Drawing upon the concept of collective impact and using data-driven decision making, place-based initiatives build long-term partnerships based upon a shared vision. Done thoughtfully, these place-based initiatives have attained impressive results.

Drawing upon the case studies of five institutions that have implemented place-based community engagement initiatives, the authors provide guidance on the opportunities, challenges, and considerations involved in putting a place-based approach into effect. By sharing the experiences of these five institutions, they describe in detail the routes each took to turn their place-based initiatives from concept to reality, and the results they achieved.

Table of Contents:
Foreword by Geoffrey Canada

Part One: Introduction, Context, and Methodology
1) Introduction to Place-Based Community Engagement
2) Place-Based Community Engagement in Practice
3) Methodology and Institutional Profiles

Part Two: Phases of Place-Based Community Engagement
4) The Exploration Phase: Listening and Visioning
5) The Development Phase: Experimenting and Growing
6) The Sustaining Phase: In it for the Long Haul

Part Three: Key Considerations for Practice
7) A View From the Community: Community Partners’ Perspectives
8) Pursuing Results: The Practice of Assessment and Outcomes
9) Lessons Learned and Moving Forward

About the Authors

four colleagues stand in front of a projected image for the lessons from place-based community engagement book project

Book talks, workshops and consultations available upon request. 

Contact Erica Yamamura at or Kent Koth at



This Compact Nation Podcast features Kent Koth speaking with Emily Shields (starting at minute 18) following his keynote address at the Iowa Campus Compact Conference: 




Erica K. Yamamura Ph.D. is an Associate Professor and Program Liaison Coordinator of the Student Development Administration Program in the College of Education at Seattle University. As a faculty member, she has utilized service-learning and community-based projects as part of her pedagogy at Carleton College, Texas State University, and Seattle University. For the last six years at Seattle University, she has engaged in project-based learning in her required student development theory course, one of the few in the country that utilizes this pedagogy in graduate education in the field of student affairs.  Since 2013, Dr. Yamamura has also conducted research on promising practices arising from the Seattle University Youth Initiative.

As a graduate student in the top-ranked Higher Education and Organizational Change program at UCLA, Dr. Yamamura served as a research assistant working on a quantitative longitudinal study of service and service-learning for Dr. Alexander Astin’s grant with the Atlantic Philanthropies. She also served as a Teaching Associate for an innovative college-access service learning program, the Career-Based Outreach Program (CBOP) at UCLA which provided hundreds of hours of college preparatory activities to low income and under-resourced schools in urban Los Angeles.

In addition to her teaching and scholarly activities, Dr. Yamamura has prior experience as a practitioner in the field of community engagement.  She served as a Site Coordinator at a Title 1 majority Latina/o school in the Los Angeles Unified School District working with industry, community organizations, and local colleges to build an academic mentor program on the campus.  She also served as an Educational Coordinator at the University of California, Los Angeles in the Center for Community Learning where she was the liaison for the undergraduate education minor, served as an internship coordinator for educational internships, coordinated two AmeriCorps grants (Students in Service and Bonner Foundation Fellows), and maintained a number of public school partnerships as part of the UCLA in LA initiative. She received her BA in Political Science and Asian American Studies, and MA and Ph.D. in Education (Higher Education and Organizational Change) from the University of California, Los Angeles.


Kent Koth M.A. is the founding director of the Seattle University Center for Community Engagement. In this role Kent has overseen a rapid expansion of campus-community partnerships that have received national recognition including the 2012 President’s National Community Service Higher Education Award.  Since 2009, he has also led the Seattle University Youth Initiative, a long-term commitment by Seattle University faculty, staff and students from all disciplines to join with parents, the Seattle School District, the City of Seattle, foundations, and more than 30 community organizations to empower the children of Seattle to succeed in school and life. 

As an adjunct faculty member in the Seattle University Interdisciplinary Liberal Studies Program, Kent has taught courses focusing on leadership and community engagement. He has also written, consulted and presented extensively on topics of spirituality and service-learning, place-based community engagement and the ethics of university-community partnerships.

With support from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Kent is currently leading an effort to create a national network of universities pursuing place-based community engagement. Since 2014, Seattle University, through Kent’s leadership, has organized five Place-Based Justice Institutes for teams from 30 institutions and communities. 

Earlier in his career, Kent served as Program Director at the Haas Center for Public Service at Stanford University and taught several courses in the Stanford University Urban Studies Program. Kent also worked as Executive Director of Youth Community Service in Palo Alto, California and led Willamette University’s effort to create a community engagement program.

Kent’s career in community engagement began when, upon finishing his undergraduate degree, he received a Samuel Huntington Public Service Fellowship to mobilize students from 10 universities and colleges in Oregon to serve and learn during their academic breaks.