Student Pathways to Diverse Democracy Outcomes
Journey Toward Democracy: An Analysis of Student Pathways to Diverse Democracy Outcomes


In this research study, we examined the curricular and co-curricular careers of 23 selected undergraduate students at the University of Michigan to determine whether the choices they made could be grouped into coherent pathways that advanced the students toward a set of desired learning outcomes related to preparing students for life in a diverse democracy.  The study utilized an emic approach, in which the findings emerged directly from the study participants.  Ultimately, this led us to identify four pathways (Trailblazers, Active Inhabitants, Explorers, and Outlanders) that exemplify particular forms of the student experience at the University of Michigan.  The findings help us to understand the various pathways that students have created for themselves in the absence of established university sanctioned pathways.  From these, we suggest changes for creating a more intentional undergraduate experience that will lead to Diverse Democracy Outcomes.



In the spring of 2001, a group of faculty and staff at the University of Michigan came together to form the Provost’s Committee for Education for a Diverse Democracy.[1] Two of the main purposes of this committee were to renew the University’s civic mission and to integrate democracy and diversity as complementary educational objectives.  After several months of deliberation and a review of the current literature, the Provost’s Committee identified several learning objectives, which they entitled “Student Diverse Democracy Outcomes.”  See Table 1 for a full listing of these Outcomes.

As the work of the Provost’s Committee proceeded, a problem quickly became clear: the University of Michigan offered many choices to students who wanted to be involved with diversity issues, social change, and community service, but provided no coherent way for students to navigate the myriad options available to them.  Departments and organizations that offered these experiences were siloed and had little history of cooperation or integration.  In addition, there was no certainty that students would create these experiences for themselves: “Students generally seek comfort in familiarity, avoid negative interactions, and sometimes avoid the kind of challenge that promotes growth” (Hurtado, 2003, p. 47).  It is up to higher education institutions to foster intentional experiences that promote challenge and growth.

The purpose of this study was to determine how undergraduate students at the University of Michigan navigate through complex choices in curricula and co-curricula toward learning outcomes identified for engagement in a diverse democracy (Gurin, Dey, Hurtado, & Gurin, 2002) in the absence of official “pathways” articulated by the University.  For the purposes of this study, a pathway is a student-created avenue of curricular and co-curricular experiences that fosters an acquisition of substantive knowledge of and experiences relating to a diverse democracy.  Given the considerable number of formal and informal learning options students have at large universities, identifying these non-institutionalized pathways would allow the University’s faculty and administration to better understand the choices and priorities of undergraduates looking for engagement in a diverse democracy.

At the conclusion of the research period, it is intended that the Provost’s Committee will utilize this and other information to frame pathways that students might take to enhance their educations for civic engagement in a diverse democracy.  The results of this research will be important not only to the University of Michigan, but also to other colleges and universities that are looking for ways to guide their students through the myriad curricular and co-curricular choices available to them.

Literature Review

According to Hurtado, student engagement with diversity and service-learning provides experiences that “prepare students to participate in a diverse democracy and increase student engagement with diverse perspectives” (2003, p. i).  Additionally, leadership has been found to increase students’ focus, capacity, and will to “make a difference to benefit the common good” (Komives, Lucas, and McMahon, 1988, p. 21).  For the purposes of this study, we will refer to the outcomes of these encounters with diversity, service-learning, and leadership as “Diverse Democracy Outcomes.”  The bodies of literature on the outcomes from these experiences overlap to some degree; each is explored below.

Diversity Outcomes

This research examines the impact of student immersion and interactions within a diverse campus environment.  The literature has overwhelmingly demonstrated the positive nature of this impact.  For example, Hurtado (1996) has noted that the presence of diverse populations on college and university campuses has changed education permanently.  Studies have shown that student interaction with people from diverse racial or ethnic backgrounds is associated with an increase in leadership abilities, civic participation, cultural knowledge and understanding, commitment to promoting racial understanding and greater openness to diverse perspectives, and a willingness to change their own beliefs (Antonio, 1998; Gurin et al., 2002; Hurtado, 2001; Milem, 1994; Pascarella, Edison, Nora, Hagedorn, & Terenzini, 1996).  Multicultural education prepares students to reach higher levels of personal development, academic excellence, and social competence for the benefit of everyone in society (Gay, 1997).  In addition, Milem, Umbah, and Liang (2004) provided evidence that exposure to diverse people, information, and ideas through university curricular programs can disrupt the cycle of perpetuation of segregation and plays an important role in stimulating greater involvement in diversity-related activities outside the classroom.  Astin (1993) found numerous positive effects of student exposure to racial and gender diversity, including promoting in students enhanced racial understanding and care for the environment.  Chang and Astin (1997) also found numerous positive effects, including a “stronger commitment to multiculturalism, a greater faculty emphasis on racial and gender issues in their research and in the classroom, and more frequent student involvement in cultural awareness workshops and ethnic studies courses” (¶ 8).

Experiences with diversity come in several forms.  Gurin et al. (2002) distinguish between structural diversity (the number of people from diverse groups), informal interactional diversity (the frequency and quality of intergroup interaction), and classroom diversity (learning about and gaining experience with diverse people).  Specifically, the authors examined the relationship between these different types of diversity and four dependent variables (intellectual engagement, academic skills, citizenship engagement, and racial / cultural engagement), finding that each type of student experience with diversity has a positive impact on student outcomes.  Building upon this distinction, Hurtado (2003) points out two key ingredients that have an impact on the understanding of diversity on students: interaction with a diverse peer group and the clear intentionality of the institution in supporting diversity measures.  She showed that students who enroll in a diversity course have positive development around leadership and citizenship skills.  In addition, Pascarella et al. (1996) found that “the more students interact with diverse peers and the greater the extent to which such interactions focus on controversial or value-laden issues…the greater one’s development of openness to diversity and challenge” (p. 188).  The findings of all of these studies demonstrate the need for students to experience diversity both inside and outside of the classroom setting.

In a report for the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U), Humphries (1998) summarized a collection of diversity studies.  She made seven main points about the impact of diversity on students:

1.      Diversity on campus has positive effects for students of all racial backgrounds,
2.      Diversity also promotes numerous cognitive and affective results
3.      Minority populations are still marginalized in higher education,
4.      Specialized theme houses or groups have positive effects for students of all racial backgrounds,
5.      Interactions with students of other backgrounds are positive experiences, but do not happen as frequently as students would like,
6.      Students respond favorably to clear administrative support of diversity, and
7.      Diversity issues studied through the curriculum have the strongest positive effects for white students.

It is important to note that not all studies in this area have universally demonstrated positive effects of diversity.  In 2003, The Chronicle of Higher Education pointed out that three scholars had taken issue with the 2002 findings of Gurin et al. (Selingo, 2003).  Chang (2002), however, disputed these types of critics, claiming that they “appear much more concerned about maintaining and securing the privileges traditionally associated with learning than about whether diversity initiatives actually foster students’ capacity to learn” (p. 134).

Service-Learning Outcomes

Service-learning was a second area of interest for this research because evidence suggests that civic engagement pedagogies such as service-learning prepare students to engage in a democracy (Colby and Ehrlich, 2000; Maxwell, Traxler-Ballew, & Dimopoulos, 2004).  Service-learning was defined by Jacoby (1996) as “a form of experiential education in which students engage in activities that address human and community needs together with structured opportunities intentionally designed to promote student learning and development.  Reflection and reciprocity are key components of service-learning” (p. 5).

Service-learning has been found to have positive effects on students. According to Astin and Sax (1998), participation in service activities “substantially enhances the student’s academic development, life skill development, and sense of civic responsibility” (p. 251).  Astin, Sax, and Avalos (1999) also found that volunteerism during the undergraduate years had positive short- and long-term effects; the long-term included a greater likelihood to persist in higher education to graduate school.

Pascarella and Terenzini’s (2005) work compiled the findings of many studies on service-learning programs.  The authors found that students who participated in service-learning activities tended to have higher test scores and grades than students in courses without a service component (also see Markus, Howard, & King, 1993).  In addition to improved learning in a specific content area, general cognitive abilities also showed improvement.  The following statement nicely summarizes the strong relationship between service and student attitudes and values: “The weight of evidence shows – conclusively, we think – that participation in community service in general, and service learning in particular, has statistically significant and positive net effects on students’ sociopolitical attitudes and beliefs” (p. 304).

Leadership Outcomes

A third area of interest was student leadership experiences that lead to Diverse Democracy Outcomes (for a review of relevant leadership theories, see Bensimon, Neumann, & Birnbaum, 2000).  Leadership “opens up richer forms of involvement and rewards in groups, organizations, and society at large” (Hollander, 1993, p. 43).  Pascarella et al. (1996) found that high levels of leadership and engagement, in the broadest sense, can have a positive impact on diversity-related outcomes: “Students who lived on campus, who studied the most, and who were most engaged with their student peers tended to have the highest levels of end-of-first year openness to diversity / challenge” (p. 188).

Current Study

Building upon this literature, the current study examined students’ experiences with diversity, service-learning, and leadership in the curriculum and co-curriculum.  Our sample consisted of students who had significant experiences in these areas and who were formally recognized for their involvement and achievement.  We chose this population (a) to illustrate how some students have successfully created these pathways for themselves, and (b) to provide a basis for suggesting more formalized pathways to facilitate these sorts of experiences.



The pool of potential participants included all undergraduate students who received a leadership, diversity, service, and/or civic engagement award from the University of Michigan during the 2003-2004 academic year.  To determine departmental awards given throughout the University, we contacted student affairs officers at each of the schools and colleges which serve undergraduates across the university.  In addition, co-curricular student activities and organizations were contacted to identify additional awards that pertained to the Diverse Democracy Outcomes.  Finally, we searched the University website to locate any awards that were not found through the previous two strategies.

The awards selected represented programs that were consistent with the intended Diverse Democracy Outcomes identified by the Provost’s Committee for Education for a Diverse Democracy (see Table 1).  Awards that were deemed “outside of” or “not congruent with” the diverse democracy themes and the associated awardees were discarded.  The awards that were congruent with the diverse democracy themes were utilized in the data corpus. To ensure that our sample of students had varied college experiences, we drew from a fairly broad range of leadership and engagement awards.  Awards were given either by specific academic colleges or programs (e.g., School of Nursing) or by co-curricular and service organizations (e.g., Ginsberg Center for Community Service Learning).  All awards were all publicly announced.

After campus administrators provided lists of award recipients, these recipients were contacted via e-mail and asked to participate in the study and to provide their resumes.  Of the 71 people who were contacted, 23 (14 women and 9 men) agreed to participate, yielding a 32% response rate.  Of these, nine had received departmental awards, and 14 had received non-departmental awards.


Type of Award Received:
Student Activities and Leadership (2), Intergroup Relations (4), Academic Leadership (7, from one of three different departments), Academic Honors (2), Community Service (8)

Female (14), Male (9)

Year Entered College
1998 (1), 1999 (1), 2000 (15), 2001 (5), 2002 (1)

Year Graduated from College
2003 (2), 2004 (14), Still Enrolled (7, as of Winter 2005)

Major Type
Social Sciences (13), Natural Sciences (8), Humanities/Social Sciences Double Major (3),  Professional (2)


The highest number of participants studied social sciences, and this tendency was as expected.  According to Hendershott and Wright, [t]he disciplines of sociology, political science, economics, psychology, and anthropology are beginning to work together to address social problems inside and outside the classrooms … Some of the most creative interdisciplinary innovations in the undergraduate curriculum couple one or more of the social sciences … in an effort to address … varied social problems. (1997, p. 314)

Data Corpus

Both formal and informal experiences on the college campus influence students’ openness to diversity.  Therefore, we gathered unofficial transcripts, award applications, and resumes for as many of the 23 participants as possible.  Unofficial transcripts were provided by the Registrar’s Office, and award applications were sent by the departments that had provided the awards to students.  Participants submitted their resumes via e-mail attachment, and several students provided additional information regarding co-curricular activities within the text of their e-mail correspondence.  We created a separate folder for each student that contained these various documents.  Once the documents were organized, all identifying information was removed to ensure anonymity.

Role of the Researchers

We employed a social constructivist relationship to the data (Creswell, 2003).  According to this view of the research process, meaning is socially constructed by all individuals, and context is critically important to the meaning that is generated.  These meanings are “varied and multiple” (p. 8), which means that we were not seeking to deduce one particular answer (or in this case, pathway) to recommend for use by all students at this University.

This paradigm allowed us to take advantage of the unique experiences of members of the research team.  One researcher was recently an undergraduate at the University of Michigan, and therefore had first-hand knowledge of the student experience.  Another researcher previously worked on campus in a service-learning and social justice learning community, and therefore had a strong understanding of the programmatic elements of the University of Michigan.  Three of the four researchers are also doctoral students or candidates in the University’s Center for the Study of Higher and Postsecondary Education.  It is critical to identify the experience of the researchers as it relates with the study within the social constructivist framework, as this may add or create a particular bias to the results of the study.

Data Analysis

In this study, we did not attempt to measure the degree to which the Diverse Democracy Outcomes were achieved.  Instead, we were particularly interested in whether or not students participated in activities that fostered an understanding of these areas.  In order to track this understanding, we focused on the first Diverse Democracy Outcome identified by the Provost’s Committee (listed as #1 in Table 1), referring to these content areas as diverse democracy themes.  We did not quantitatively measure the Diverse Democracy Outcomes in this study.  We utilized both an etic approach (where set categories were utilized to code the data), and an emic approach (where themes emerged from within the data itself).  Each process will be described in more detail in this section.  In addition, we analyzed the demographic categories (gender, discipline, year, diverse democracy themes encountered, etc.) in relation to the data.  These are referred to in this study as demographic categories.

When utilizing the etic, we used these given diverse democracy themes as an initial lens through which we could determine whether a leadership award was consistent with the broader Diverse Democracy Outcomes.  Furthermore, in order to gain an initial snapshot of students’ involvement with curricular and co-curricular experiences, we analyzed the number and types of activities in which students encountered these themes.  This was done through a series of weekly meetings and additional iterative discussions.  Some of the themes were more difficult to operationalize than others (e.g., “democracy,” “justice”), so we discussed the definitions of the themes and what was included in the them, making refinements where appropriate  These themes were not mutually exclusive; some courses and activities clearly encompassed more than one of these categories.  However, many of the newly shaped categories matched the original categories defined by the Provost’s Committee, giving further credence to the results.

Diverse Democracy Themes:

Civil Liberties
Educational Equity
Gender / Sexuality
Global Dynamics
Human Rights
Political / Civic Engagement
Political /Social Change
Power / Privilege
Race / Ethnicity


Some of our orienting questions included the following: Were the awardees primarily from one group (e.g., social science majors, women, etc.)?  In what sorts of activities were they involved?  Were there important differences in experiences across groups (e.g., social science majors versus natural sciences)?

In the next stage, we examined the transcripts, resumes, and award applications through an emic approach, in which the categories emerged from the data.  The research group met once a week and triangulated our individual thematic analyses to ensure the reliability of the results.  The themes that emerged from the data include four distinct student pathways.  The thematic analysis describes how students moved through their self-designed curricular and co-curricular pathways.  This emergent process required that we considered not only the types of activities in which students engaged, but also the sequence and timing of these activities.  To more clearly articulate the findings, we created one case study for each of the four emergent pathways.

Finally, we designed the most common student-crafted pathways in figure form, in order to visually illustrate our findings.  During this process, we created myriad figures and pictures in order to describe the pathways.  These included bar graphs, scatterplots, pictures of bricks that, combined, crafted a “yellow brick pathway,” etc.  We feel that the final figures, shared in the Findings section, are the least complicated and the most comprehensive of our options.  Our recommendations for change are based on the four student-determined pathways, and on the figures presented.



The research team found two limitations of our analysis of student pathways to Diverse Democracy Outcomes.  First, our participant pool may not have been representative of all civically engaged undergraduate student leaders.  To examine a range of students who participated in relevant activities, we drew from a broad range of student leadership and engagement awards, rather than focusing on the small number of awards that related most directly to diversity.  This sample selection resulted in a participant pool that consisted of winners of seven types of awards.  The nature and purposes of those awards varied significantly; the most notable distinction emerged between the four departmental leadership awards—which were given through the School of Nursing, Division of Kinesiology, College of Engineering, and the College of Literature, Science and the Arts Honors program—and the three interdepartmental service awards for co-curricular and service-oriented engagement.  The differences between these two categories of awards yielded two disparate groups of participants, thus creating a participant pool that was aligned with the outcomes defined by the Provost’s Committee in different ways.  Furthermore, by narrowing the participant pool to include only award winners, the study excluded many students at the University whose involvement in curricular and co-curricular activities related to the outcomes.  However, we decided to focus on award winners, since this sampling would ensure that most (if not all) participants had managed to find a successful pathway toward Diverse Democracy Outcomes.

Second, the amount and detail of information about participants’ curricular and co-curricular experiences varied across participants.  We asked participants to provide a current resume that listed their co-curricular involvement while a student at the University.  However, participants interpreted these instructions in different ways and sent various forms of resumes and documents that listed their co-curricular activities.  In addition, 3 of the 23 participants did not send any information about their co-curricular engagement.  In these few cases, nomination essays submitted to award grantors on behalf of the participant were analyzed.  In addition, transcripts did not always provide adequate information for assessing the content of some courses.  Specifically, because many courses listed on transcripts contain several different sections, each with a different faculty member and covering a different subject matter, some of these sections related to the outcomes more than did others.  Whenever possible, course syllabi from those semesters were inspected to determine course content.


Demographic categories were items from students’ transcripts and resumes that could be tabulated.  These categories included traditional demographics (e.g., sex, state of residency) as well as the type and duration of curricular and co-curricular experiences in college.  Pathway patterns were notable exemplars of the avenues through which students negotiated the curriculum and co-curriculum as they engaged with activities pertaining to diverse democracy.  We share each of the four pathway patterns through a description, a representative case study, and a diagram.  The diagrams also provide approximations of the average number of relevant curricular and co-curricular activities chosen by students we identified as representative of these pathway patterns.

Demographic Categories

These demographic categories provided an overview of the experiences that students had and how these experiences varied across groups.  The categories also served as a starting point for exploring the types of activities in which students engaged in activities related to diverse democracy and began to create their own individualized pathways within their undergraduate careers.  A complete list of the demographic categories, along with some basic descriptive information about each, appears in Appendix A.  In addition, some of the most noteworthy findings from these categories are discussed below.

Although students in the sample were primarily selected for their involvement in co-curricular activities, they also performed well in the classroom.  The average overall college GPA was 3.40, and 60% of students served as research assistants.  In addition, approximately half of the students worked as a teaching assistant or facilitator of a dialogue group, and 30% studied abroad.  Students who had already received their undergraduate degrees subsequently entered graduate school (3 participants), joined Teach for America (3), worked for service / non-profit organizations (3), became Fulbright Scholars (2), and worked at a for-profit corporation (1).  In sum, the vast majority of these students continued their education or entered positions related to public service.

The frequency with which students took courses that related to the diverse democracy themes varied dramatically by field of study.  Natural science majors took an average of 1.25 courses in these areas, whereas social science and humanities majors took 10.23 and 10.33 courses, respectively.  There were also gaps by field of study in co-curricular activities that focused on diverse democracy themes.  Natural science majors participated the least (an average of 3.25 years of service[2]) and professional majors the most (9.50 years), with social science majors (5.25) and humanities majors (8.00) in between.

Although natural science majors were generally the least involved in diverse democracy experiences, they were highly involved in co-curricular activities in general.  They were members of student organizations for an average of 10.71 years (compared with 5.83 for social science and 9.50 for humanities majors) and served in leadership positions for an average of 4.50 years (compared with 2.11 for social science and 2.50 for humanities majors).  The two students in the sample who majored in professional fields were also highly involved as members and leaders of co-curricular organizations (11.50 and 4.50 years, respectively).

One surprising finding dealt with whether awardees majored in gender-typical disciplines.[3] Upon a cursory glance, it was intriguing that the majority of Engineering award recipients (four out of five) were female.  However, most participants in the sample had majored in fields that were gender-typical (61%), and the proportion of female awardees in the sample (also 61%) is comparable to the proportion of female undergraduate students on campus (51%).  Upon further investigation, gender typicality of participants’ majors varied across fields of study.  Five out of six engineering majors in this study were female, even though in both 1999-2000 and 2003-2004, exactly 29% of the University’s
engineering graduates were female.  Ten out of 13 students who majored in social sciences were in gender-typical disciplines, along with both professional majors, and all three humanities students.[4] In contrast, only one of the eight natural science students was in a gender-typical discipline (this pattern included one male student who majored in athletic training, which is mostly comprised of women at the University of Michigan).  It was difficult to know for certain why this dynamic occurred.  However, it highlights the importance of ensuring that all students have access and opportunity to engage in activities related to the diverse democracy themes.

A final noteworthy demographic finding is the prevalence of the 13 diverse democracy themes (for a listing of the themes, see Table 3).  The themes that were encountered by the greatest number of students were: Race / Ethnicity (14), Gender (10), Dialogue (10), Political / Civic Engagement (7), and Religion (7).  This was an important aspect of our findings, as it emphasized that it was more than just the process of how students move through curricula and co-curricula that seemed to be relevant to the student pathways; the content students encountered influenced the various undergraduate experiences as well.

Pathway Patterns

Pathway patterns were notable exemplars of the avenues through which students negotiated the curriculum and co-curriculum as they engaged with activities pertaining to diverse democracy.  The pathway patterns emerged directly from our interactions with the data and how they shaped our growing familiarity with the students’ experiences at the University.  The narratives below consist of a general description of each of the four pathways, followed by a case study of an individual student who best exemplified the pathway.  Figures 1-4, which follow the narrative descriptions of the pathways, summarize each of the four patterns of student pathways: the Trailblazers, the Active Inhabitants, the Explorers, and the Outlanders.  These visual summaries include approximations of the average number of curricular and co-curricular activities chosen by the students we identified as representative of each of these pathways

The Trailblazers: Students who create their own “major” pertaining to the diverse democracy themes.

The two participants whose pathways emerged as the most clearly and consistently related to the diverse democracy themes did not major in one of the University of Michigan’s existing departments.  We found this pattern to reflect the substantial personal initiative that was required of students who fully immersed themselves in activities related to diverse democracy.  These determined students quite literally paved their own curricular and co-curricular pathways to enact the type of learning experiences they desired at the University of Michigan.  The creation of a personalized major happened in two distinct ways. One Trailblazer (we will call him Frank, as a pseudonym) used the flexibility of his General Studies concentration to take coursework on broad, varied, and explicitly interdepartmental issues of diversity, social change, and engagement.  General Studies majors are unusual on this campus; only 3% of the University’s student body selects this option.  The other Trailblazer declared an individualized concentration in Performance and Social Identity in the fall of his senior year, incorporating a vast range of coursework relating to issues of gender, ethnicity, diversity, and engagement with his extensive co-curricular involvement in the theatrical arts.  Individualized Concentrators are also unusual.  3-5% of University of Michigan students received a degree in an individualized concentration from 1999-2002.  However, only 1.1% received an individualized concentration degree in 2002-2003, which dropped further to 0.6% in 2003-2004.  The reasons for this drop are unknown, perhaps resulting from a change in record-keeping or classification.  Both Trailblazers were male students who declared their interdisciplinary majors after over two years of curricular and co-curricular exploration.  What set the Trailblazers apart from the other participants was the deliberate nature of their choice to create a new and innovative pathway that led to the Diverse Democracy Outcomes.  Figure 1 presents a graphical representation of the Trailblazers pattern.




Figure 1: the Trailblazers Pathway

A closer look at Frank’s choices, both curricular and co-curricular—from international grassroots development to urban politics to gender, race and the Christian right—illustrates the flexibility of a general studies major, which is independent of the departmental boundaries of most conventional majors.  With the curricular freedom that his general studies major afforded him, Frank took 18 classes that touched upon diverse democracy themes, the most of any participant in the study.  In addition to this substantial curricular involvement, Frank was a founder of two organizations on campus, a leader in two others (Voice Your Vote Commission and MLK Symposium), and a member of over ten campus groups.

The Active Inhabitants: Students who major in the social sciences and take courses pertaining to the diverse democracy themes.

Of the 23 participants in this study, 13 majored in the social sciences.  This distribution revealed the significance of a student’s concentration in his/her development of a pathway toward the Diverse Democracy Outcomes.  A choice to major in sociology, psychology, or political science, for example, often reflected and/or resulted in a personal commitment to the diverse democracy themes.

At a recent commencement of undergraduate sociology majors, a student speaker (and participant in this study[5]) articulated her thoughts on leaving college and her place in the Sociology department: “A fear that haunts me specifically is heading home where the diversity, energy, and motivation of college can never be duplicated.  Where the homogeneity and stagnant air might blind me from my progressive, social justice nature here.”

Although this engagement with diversity and social justice could have taken place in any department, the declaration of a major in sociology—or similarly (although not equally) of a major in any of the social sciences—was the first step toward the curricular pathway most accommodating for students who were interested in the diverse democracy themes.  The initiative required of Active Inhabitants to travel such a pathway should not be underestimated, yet the load was certainly made lighter by the departmental support and institutional encouragement of theme-related course requirements and co-curricular accessibility not available to students whose majors fell outside the social sciences.  Specifically, the Ginsberg Center for Community Service Learning seemed to be a pivotal place of assistance for many of the Active Inhabitants who succeeded in developing their diverse democracy pathway.  Students whose majors fell outside the social sciences were often less involved (if at all) in the Ginsberg Center’s coursework and co-curricular offerings.

Figure 2 presents a graphical representation of the Active Inhabitants pattern.

Kim exemplifies the pathway pattern of an Active Inhabitant because, as a sociology major, both her curricular and co-curricular choices consistently reflected the Diverse Democracy Outcomes.  Before declaring her sociology major, she took the bulk of her introductory courses in the natural sciences, with only one class per semester during her first year in the social sciences.  Her more defined

curricular pathway began her second year with an introductory sociology course and a subsequent choice to major in sociology with a double concentration in Social Welfare and Social Service, and Social Inequality: Race, Class and Gender.  Being a sociology major helped her to pave a curricular pathway with 14 courses related to diverse democracy themes, many of which she was able to take as requirements for her major.  She acted as a facilitator in a dialogue-centered service-learning course through the Department of Sociology (entitled Project Community), an opportunity available (but not nearly as accessible) to non-social science majors.  In addition to the courses within her concentration, she also took outcome-related courses in religion, history, women’s studies, cultural anthropology, and in the Center for African and African-American Studies.  Kim also studied abroad fall semester of her fourth year in Cape Town, South Africa—a curricular choice that exemplified her commitment to issues of race and ethnicity.

Kim’s co-curricular involvement reflected a deep commitment to public service and civic engagement.  She participated in numerous activities related to diverse democracy themes, including Project Serve, Alternative Spring Break and Dance Marathon, and was a leader in those organizations for four out of her five years at the University.  Her participation in these service-related activities began in the winter semester of her freshman year, the semester immediately prior to her declaration of a sociology major.

The Explorers: Students whose majors fall outside the social sciences but who participate in curricular and co-curricular activities that pertain to the diverse democracy themes.

In contrast to the students whose academic majors related directly to the diverse democracy themes, students whose curricular focus lay outside of the social sciences often had to prioritize carefully their elective coursework and co-curricular activities.  Like a true explorer, students in the Explorers category had limited time and resources, not to mention a lack of familiarity with the landscape.  For the nursing, engineering and business students in this study, a pathway often consisted of a few elective courses that related to the outcomes, supplemented by a rich involvement in co-curricular activities.  One of the unique attributes of Explorers was their ingenuity in linking their relatively insular field of study within a specific college to certain related diverse democracy themes.  For instance, students examined issues of race and ethnicity that intersected with medicine, issues of social activism that informed their understanding of entrepreneurship, or issues of gender that framed a new way of conceptualizing the field of engineering.  Oftentimes, these students chose summer internships or service experiences that reflected such meaningful connections; for example, one business student spent a summer as a full-time AmeriCorps volunteer in a Michigan community.  The Explorers’ engagement on campus often looked quite different from students in the previous two categories: Their transcripts were lightly punctuated with coursework directly related to the diverse democracy themes, and their co-curricular activities were more specified and directed than the often sprawling range of clubs and activities touched upon by Trailblazers and Active Inhabitants.  Figure 3 presents a graphical representation of the Explorers pattern.  The student who best exemplified the Explorer pathway was Julie, whose strategic associations between health and issues of civic engagement, gender, and social justice reflected the characteristic bridging ability found in students of this category.  Julie transferred to the School of Nursing from the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts (LSA) after three semesters.  During that first year and a half, she took a broad range of introductory coursework and one course on women’s health during the fall of her second year.  Her strong commitment to social issues, mostly relating to gender and civic engagement, continued from LSA to Nursing.  The change in curriculum limited her ability to take coursework that related to diverse democracy themes, but she chose her electives strategically, enrolling in two more women’s studies courses and one intergroup dialogue course on diversity.  She also elected to take a summer course in introductory sociology.

Julie also exemplified Explorers because along with her critical curricular choices, she involved herself in co-curricular activities that allowed her to further explore themes of gender, sexual orientation, and civic engagement.  She participated in a variety of committees, including Health Education and Awareness for the LGBT community, the Eating Disorders Task Team, and the President’s Advisory Committee on Women’s Issues.  She embodies the importance of maintaining strong and coherent themes in coursework and co-curricular activities for students whose major falls outside of the social sciences but who care deeply about issues related to diverse democracy.

The Outlanders: Students whose major falls outside the social sciences who participate in co-curricular activities closely related to their field of study.

For most of the students who won a leadership award from an academic department, the pathway that led to such a distinction was often less closely related to the Diverse Democracy Outcomes than were those of students who had won a civic engagement award.  This discipline-centered pathways tended to remain almost exclusively within the students’ field of study, with both curricular and co-curricular choices not venturing far from departmental and college boundaries.  Oftentimes, the students’ level of engagement on campus was as rich and persistent as that of the majority of students involved in the study, especially in terms of co-curricular leadership.  However, the Outlanders’ range of co-curricular and curricular experiences did not span departmental boundaries in the same way we observed in students of the other three categories, nor did their co-curricular involvement reflect a diversity of interests.  For example, many of the engineering students were extensively—yet exclusively—involved with the Engineering Honors societies and organizations.  Figure 4 presents a graphical representation of the Outlanders pattern.

Fig 4. Outlanders Pattern

The Outlanders’ pathway was exemplified by Zach, a model student whose engagement and initiative were clear, but who touched upon fewer of the diverse democracy themes than did most participants.  Zach entered the University as an engineering major and stayed on this curricular path asa Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering major throughout his four years.  Although he took only one course related to a diverse democracy theme, he was highly involved in co-curricular and leadership activities within the engineering community.  He served as an officer of the Quarterdeck Honors Society (an academic and service organization affiliated with the Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers) for four years.  For three years, he served as a captain and/or team leader of the campus human powered submarine team.  He also volunteered for an urban area pre-college engineering program, serving as a teaching assistant and coordinator.  Clearly, Zach was actively engaged in meaningful activities related to his field of study, but he did not branch out in the same way as some of the participants with social science majors.  However, through his leadership in these activities, Zach’s co-curricular pathway encompassed some of the desired outcomes associated with the diverse democracy themes (i.e., civic engagement, educational equity, social change).


Recommendations for Practice

The four emergent pathway pattern findings lead us to make a number of recommendations for change at the University of Michigan.  The first recommendation is that the University should create formalized curricular and co-curricular pathways for students.  We hope that the pathways presented in our results section, which have emerged from students’ undergraduate careers, may aid the Provost’s Committee for Education for a Diverse Democracy in the creation of university sanctioned pathways that aid student learning as well as their ability to navigate the complex UM system.  We also have identified more specific recommendations for UM as a whole.  These recommendations have been divided in terms of the “point of impact” of the recommendation: the student level, department level, institutional level.

Student-Level Recommendations

Make the Diverse Democracy Pathways accessible for students from multiple points within the institution. UM is a large institution, and often, first year students will become familiar mainly with their residence hall, a few student organizations, and their classes.  For students to learn about and access the Diverse Democracy Pathways that are available to them, the pathways need to be accessible from multiple entry points.  For example, a student may learn about the pathways at orientation, through their residence hall, from their first year seminar, and from their academic advisor.  Learning about the same information from multiple points at the University reinforces the importance of the pathways (accessibility), as well as ensures that students will learn about the options available to them (visibility).

Connect curricular and co-curricular advising. Students often choose co-curricular activities that enhance their curricular choices, and vice versa, yet UM does not often advise or counsel students about how to connect strategically these two aspects of academic life.  In addition, not all co-curricular activities need to directly enhance a student’s curricular efforts, and often students may choose co-curricular activities to further an interest that is not linked to a major in order to develop other interests.  Either way, the co-curricular lives of students directly connect to student learning in terms of leadership ability (Komives, Lucas, & McMahon, 1988) and student cognitive development (Hollander, 1993).  Therefore, when advising students about the Diverse Democracy Pathways available, an explicit connection between the curricular and co-curricular academic life should be made.  We recommend an institutional infrastructure that helps undergraduates make an intentional connection between these two aspects of student life.  This recommendation is also linked to the “A statement of curricular and co-curricular enhancement” recommendation in the institutional recommendations section.

Department-Level Recommendations

Enhance communication between departments about what is available throughout the institution. Currently, there are a number of stellar programs that support the Diverse Democracy Outcomes mentioned in this report.  Yet many faculty and administrators, let alone students, are not aware of all of these opportunities. Increasing communication between departments about the Diverse Democracy Pathways that exist will enhance knowledge about what is available and will help faculty and administrators to advise students regarding the various options that they may put together to meet their needs.

Clarify curricular options in non-major departments. The curricular options for a student in non-major departments are not always clear.  For example, if a student is enrolled in the School of Nursing, a Project Community course offered through the Sociology department may be beneficial, yet an unknown entity.  Information about the curricular options for students in various schools and colleges must be shared among departments with faculty and academic advisors. In this manner, faculty and academic advisors may share curricular options throughout the University with advisees.

Institution-Level Recommendations

Establish an institutional effort. We recommend an institution-wide effort surrounding the Diverse Democracy Pathways.  The pathways will not be successful if they are limited to specific academic or student affairs departments; a joint effort is required.  This initiative will need administrative support and funding in order to orchestrate the institutional effort that is required for a successful program.  This support could come in the form of a statement of support from the incoming provost, central funding offered to departments that make unique contributions to the effort, and a connection to the current offices that serve the entire campus in relation to diverse democracy efforts (such as the Ginsberg Center for Community Service and Learning, Intergroup Relations, and the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching).

Coordinate efforts between departments. Coordinated effort across schools, colleges, and co-curricular departments is needed in order to centralize the initiative.  A University “hub” to gather administrators from departments across campus should be created.  This coordinated effort might be through regular monthly meetings to share information, efforts, and streamline ideas (a similar university-wide effort was created by Dr. Linda Gillum with regard to the learning communities in 2000) or through a department that is dedicated to Diverse Democracy Pathways (such as is found with the Ginsberg Center and academic community service learning and co-curricular volunteer efforts).

Connect with orientation and academic advising. The institution-wide Diverse Democracy Pathways initiative also needs to be strongly linked to New Student Orientation and academic advising in every school and college.  A visible presence at Welcome Week that continues throughout the undergraduate career in academic advising will help students learn about the pathways, and access the pathways at a point in their academic career that makes sense for them.  For example, in the data, we found that many of the students choose to participate in an identified diverse democracy pathway later in their academic career – after their second year, or after experiencing a particular course.  Therefore, we believe that enabling students to enter a pathway at any point (earlier or later) in their career is crucial to student participation in the pathways.

Draft a statement of curricular and co-curricular enhancement. Students often choose co-curricular activities that enhance their curricular choices, and vice versa.  Others do not make this connection until later in their academic careers or specifically choose to select co-curricular activities that are not linked to their academic major.  The Diverse Democracy Pathways should make the curricular and co-curricular connection, and benefits of such a connection, explicit to undergraduates.  This recommendation is also linked to the “curricular and co-curricular advising” recommendation in the student section.  The statement and institutional infrastructure to help students connect the curricular and co-curricular aspects of their academic careers is imperative.

Market the Diverse Democracy Pathways. Marketing the Diverse Democracy Pathways to students, parents, faculty, administrators and academic advisors is critical to the success of the initiative.  A visible marketing plan, along with an accessible website, will widen the viability and the scope of the initiative. This recommendation is also connected to the administrative and financial institutional support that was mentioned earlier.  We highly recommend that a concerted effort be paid to marketing the program to undergraduates, parents, faculty, administrators, and academic advisors.

Continue research and assessment. We recommend that ongoing assessment and research occur simultaneously with the development and implementation of the Diverse Democracy Pathways.  Assessment efforts specific to the initiative’s mission, goals and objectives should be designed.  One possible research design could include this current study as a pre-test, and then conduct a similar research project after the program has been in place for a number of years as a post-test.  A qualitative study could yield further information about the pathway initiative such as:

  • narratives from students about the usefulness of the pathways,
  • discourse surrounding students’ vision of the connectedness of curricular and co-curricular aspects of student life,
  • thematic analysis of students’ perceptions of benefits of connecting the curricular and co-curricular aspects of student life, and
  • discourse analysis of whether / how Diverse Democracy Outcomes have enhanced student life and life after graduation.

Quantitative analysis results could yield further information about the pathway initiative, such as:

  • pre- and post- information about the availability of Diverse Democracy Pathways, and
  • data about the relevance of Diverse Democracy Pathways to student curricular and co-curricular life


In addition to informing the efforts of University of Michigan administration and faculty, we believe that these findings and recommendations have the potential to impact other institutions of higher education throughout the United States.  Therefore, other leaders may consider the following:

Conduct internal research on curricular and co-curricular pathways to Diverse Democracy Outcomes. Although these findings cannot be generalized and directly applied to other higher education institutions, the research methods employed can instruct other colleges and universities in ways to assess the pathways taken by their students so that they may restructure their curricula and co-curricula accordingly.  Research teams should examine the model pathways demonstrated by students who are campus leaders in the areas of civic engagement, service-learning, and general leadership activities.  Once determined, these model pathways can be compared against the ideal learning outcomes desired by the research sponsors of the institution to determine exactly what types of pathways can be constructed for the general student population.

Implement student-level, department-level, and institution-level changes. As stated in the Recommendations section of this report, there are three points of impact that can be made at each institution.  Administrative and faculty leaders should endeavor to include all three levels in any changes made.

In addition, all institutions, including the University of Michigan, have the opportunity to influence the field of higher education more broadly by coming together to emphasize the importance of supporting diverse democracy learning outcomes in undergraduates.  There is potential for networks to begin discussion and creative planning, for conferences to be convened to promote additional research and scholarship in the area, and for graduate study to be conducted on the topic.  Although this particular research study began as an internal agenda item for one particular university, the significance of its message allows it the possibility for reaching a wider audience.


According to the fight song of the University of Michigan, UM students are “the leaders and best” (Regents of the University of Michigan, 2002).  The pathways described in this study inform any new, intentional plans for faculty and administration of the University to continue fostering success among the student body.  These experiences lead to positive effects not only on student learning and growth, but also on students’ ability to participate in a diverse democracy.  Clearly articulated diverse democracy curricular and co-curricular pathways will help support students through their college experience.  Finally, by adopting these pathways and the administrative and academic infrastructure on campus to support them, the University of Michigan will act as a role model to other higher education institutions looking to foster similar learning outcomes in their students, further strengthening its role among the leaders and best of American universities.



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Appendix A

Demographic categories and descriptive information

Award Academic Departments/Colleges (7 participants), Ginsberg (8),

Intergroup Relations (4), Student Activities and Leadership (2),

LSA Honors (2)

Award Type 9 departmental (includes LSA Honors), 14 non-departmental

Sex 14 female, 9 male

Year of Birth 1979 (1), 1980 (1), 1981 (3), 1982 (11), 1983 (7)

In State v. Out of State 14 in-state, 9 out-of-state

AP classes Average number of courses = 2.22

Year Entered College 1998 (1), 1999 (1), 2000 (15), 2001 (5), 2002 (1)

Major Various

Major Type Professional (2), Science (8), Social Science (10), Social

Science/Humanities double major (3)

Minor 5 had minors

College GPA Mean = 3.40 (one student had a GPA below 2.0; if

this participant’s data is excluded, average GPA = 3.47)

Internship Average number of internships = 1.35

Resident Advisor 3 were resident advisors

Research Assistant 12 were research assistants

Teaching Assistant 11 were TAs or facilitators

Study Abroad 7 studied abroad

Sports 5 played sports (all non-varsity)

Non-University Service Work Average number of years = 1.70

Club/Organization Member Average number of years = 8.36

Club/Organization Leader Average number of years = 3.31

Club/Organization Founder 3 participants founded 6 organizations

Career/Grad School Type For-profit corporation (1), Fulbright award (2), Graduate school (3),

Service/Non-profit (3), Still enrolled (7), Teach for America (3),

Unknown (4)

Number of Classes that relate Average number of courses = 6.61

to Diverse Democracy Themes

Number of Co-Curricular Average number of years = 4.88

activities that relate to

Diverse Democracy Themes

Diverse Democracy Themes Average number of themes encountered = 4.48



[1] This study was funded by a grant from the Office of the Vice President for Research at the University of Michigan.  In particular, the authors wish to thank Dr. Marvin Parnes, Associate Vice President and Executive Director for Research Administration

[2] We decided to count the number of years that participants engaged in activities, because it seemed misleading simply to count the number of activities, regardless of how long participants were involved in these activities.  We counted each semester as ½ of one year.  Since many participants engaged in multiple activities and leadership positions simultaneously, it is possible to have more than 4 or 5 years of participation in these categories.

[3] “Gender-typical” majors were determined by examining institutional data on the proportion of male and female students who had graduated from 2000-2004.  The gender typicality for all majors was consistent across all five years except for Political Science, which had a majority of male degree recipients for four out of the five years examined.

[4] Three students double-majored in social sciences and humanities; that is, all humanities majors were also social science majors.

[5] This participant was chosen by the Department of Sociology to give the graduation speech after we selected her as a participant for this study.  In addition, when one of our researchers went to the Department of Sociology to inquire about students engaged in the Diverse Democracy Outcomes, this same participants’ name was provided to our researcher. This adds to our reliability, that we did, in fact, choose exemplar students at University of Michigan who were dedicated to Diverse Democracy Outcomes.


Table 2

Descriptors of Study Participants

DescriptorParticipant Data

Type of Award Received Student Activities and Leadership (2), Intergroup Relations (4), Academic Leadership (7, from one of three different departments), Academic Honors (2), Community Service (8)

Sex Female (14), Male (9)

Year Entered College1998 (1), 1999 (1), 2000 (15), 2001 (5), 2002 (1)

Year Graduated from College 2003 (2), 2004 (14), Still Enrolled (7, as of

Winter 2005)

Major TypeSocial Sciences (13), Natural Sciences (8), Humanities/Social Sciences Double Major (3),Professional (2)