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Kean University

Students Conduct Research in South Africa

Kean student Natalie Hernández interviews a volunteer in South Africa.

Global studies major Natalie Hernández interviews a volunteer on Mandela Day in South Africa.

Two Kean students and their professors spent more than two weeks of the summer in South Africa conducting research on volunteering for Mandela Day, a time of community service held annually in honor of the anti-apartheid revolutionary.

Sara Compion, Ph.D., the director of Kean’s Center for Interdisciplinary and Global Studies, and Bok Jeong, Ph.D., assistant professor of public administration, collaborated on the project, which was fully funded through a $15,000 Kean University Students Partnering with Faculty grant. Accompanying them were Natalie Hernández, a global studies major, and Titilola Price, a student in the Master of Public Administration program.

The Kean University research team poses for a selfie in South Africa.
(L-R) Kean's Sara Compion, Ph.D., students Natalie Hernández and Titilola Price, and Bok Jeong, Ph.D.

“Students often do not get the chance to take part in a global research study like this until their master’s or doctorate studies, so it is significant that Kean gave this opportunity to me, a student at the undergraduate level,” Hernández said.

The faculty and students worked as part of an international research collaboration on episodic volunteering. University professors in almost two dozen countries are part of the team, working with research leaders from the University of Pennsylvania and Erasmus University in the Netherlands.

Kean’s research team interviewed volunteers at Mandela Day events in cities across South Africa, in partnership with student fieldworkers from the University of Johannesburg and the University of Pretoria. They also studied the contribution of women’s leadership to community building in the region.

“To see the commitment and dedication that people put into helping one another is what resonated with me the most,” Price said. “This is what I'm looking to do and it inspires me to continue toward doing my part in making this world a better place.”

Hernández and Price worked with South African-based nonprofits — Lesedi La Batho Community Centre, a Christian faith-based Non Governmental Organization (NGO); the VIVA Foundation for vulnerable children and women; and The Heartfelt Project, a social enterprise specializing in hand-sewn felt products — and visited communities holding Mandela Day service events to observe volunteer efforts on a global scale.

“During this trip our students revealed their passion to learn more about community engagement,” Jeong said. “I was proud of them, and it strengthened my confidence in Kean students' capabilities and potential to be future leaders.”

The research will be published as an academic paper, and as a report to South African NGOs on how to best work with volunteers at large-scale events. It will also be presented at the Comparative Public Policy Around the World seminar organized by the Graduate School of Public Administration of Seoul National University in New York in October; the annual Association for Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Action (ARNOVA) conference in Austin in November; and Kean Research Days in the spring of 2019.