How Service-Learning Influences Youth Purpose Around the World launches an ecological understanding of how high-impact education supports youth purpose internationally. Purpose, a key character strength, is a stable intention to accomplish something that is both personally meaningful and of contribution to the world (Damon, Menon, & Bronk, 2003). We aim to accelerate international collaborations around developing youth purpose in higher education practice. This is the first known attempt to coordinate a multinational investigation of youth purpose and education of this scope. Over the longer term, we aim to cultivate youth who contribute positively in ways that are sensitive to the specific contexts in which such opportunities arise, yet whose impacts “transcend the particulars of nation, ethnicity, creed, and circumstance” (Templeton.org).

The mixed-methods research examines youths’ perspectives on the affordances of high-impact educational experiences and university contexts for their life aims. We ask: How can we better understand purpose as an ecological concept that both emerges from and contributes to contexts in which the individual interacts? How does an educational experience become meaningful enough to launch or catalyze a purpose? How do youth purpose opportunities compare across collegiate and national contexts?

The project has two threads: (1) a U.S. study of differences in youth purpose between service-learning and experiential learning, and across university service missions; and (2) an extension of the U.S. study internationally through partnerships in Brazil, China, Finland, South Korea, and Spain, which will produce (a) a multinational dataset; (b) an internationally applicable coding manual; (c) translated and back-translated measures; (d) cross-cultural papers and an edited book; and (e) webinars discussing implications of cultural differences. Both studies will produce numerous journal publications and presentations.