Clemson Ph.D. student earns grant to study effects of volunteerism
A volunteer’s background has a bearing on their experience, whether they are working to better a community or rushing to the scene of a natural disaster. Matthew Flege, a Ph.D. student in Clemson’s youth, family and community studies department, will use a grant award of over $25,000 from the Corporation for National and Community Service to study how the effects of volunteerism change from person to person.
Flege will study a large data set of members in AmeriCorps, a program that engages young adults in public service work across the U.S. He hopes to better understand these volunteers to improve both their experience and organizations’ understanding of effective recruitment.
“My hypothesis is that volunteer experiences have a positive effect that is more or less pronounced depending on factors such as age, education and motivation,” Flege said. “These factors may also have a bearing on the degree to which a volunteer is challenged by their experience.”
Flege has already generated four profiles for volunteers based on age and levels of motivation and education. He wants to see how a year of volunteer service affects an adventure-seeking volunteer fresh out of high school versus a recent college graduate with a high level of public service motivation.
Flege’s research centers on a secondary analysis of an eight-year, longitudinal AmeriCorps study of 4,000 people split between those who served in AmeriCorps and those who expressed an interest but did not serve.
Flege is no stranger to volunteering or AmeriCorps, as he spent a year volunteering through the program in and around Sacramento, California after high school. He engaged in short-term projects over the year that included tutoring, food bank organization and trail building in a state park. Flege is using his 18-year-old self and the many volunteers he has encountered through his years working in the non-profit world as a compass to guide his work.
“I’ve taken my personal experience and applied it,” Flege said. “As I developed the member profiles that will be studied, I conceptualized them by thinking of myself, people I served with and people who’ve worked for me.”
Flege knows from experience that a group of volunteers is anything but homogenous, so he hopes his research can reveal just how different these groups are so that AmeriCorps can more effectively recruit and retain them. Through the research, he plans to make onboarding and training recommendations for each demographic group so that AmeriCorps’ recruitment and training strategies can be tailored for each audience.
Flege will travel to Washington, D.C. twice to present findings to staff and other researchers representing AmeriCorps. Flege said he’s happy to know that he isn’t conducting this research in a bubble; he has an eager audience in the form of an organization that wants to put his research findings into action as soon as possible.
“The unique thing about this award is that it comes directly from the Corporation for National Community Service, which is hands on in administering these programs,” Flege said. “It’s nice to know that what I’m doing will reach an audience that can make things happen with the research results.”