Civic Engagement in Seven Cities


This project focuses on the extent to which higher levels of social capital, civic engagement and volunteering among immigrants are associated with greater economic opportunity and success for individuals and communities.  The mixed-methods project calls first for in-depth quantitative analyses of an exciting new source of survey data on college educated immigrants in seven cities in the United States. These quantitative analyses will examine the sequence and timing of volunteer activities, social networks, and economic success to attempt to clarify whether community engagement and social ties are driving economic success or are consequences of success.  Further analysis will assess the influence of the cities themselves on the relationships among community engagement, social ties, and economic success.  These quantitative analyses will then guide and be supplemented by a series of qualitative follow-up interviews with survey participants, permitting a consideration of the mechanics of the relationships between civic engagement, volunteering and economic success. The aim is to examine the relationships identified through the quantitative analyses to specifically consider how, for example, volunteering translates into greater employment and earnings potential, and how the character of a city shapes that process. 

Supplemental funding for year two was requested and approved. 

This funding added graduate student support to assist with the transcription and coding of all qualitative interviews. Additional funding was also received to integrate address‐level IRS data on nonprofits with our survey data and data from the U.S. Census Bureau. This approach is designed to allow us consider how the location of these volunteer activities shapes the “opportunity structure” available for the civic engagement of New Americans.

This work is identifying the need for a richer concept of civic engagement—something that we are calling “intentional public engagement”—that gets at the wide ranch of activities through which individuals participate in public life. This need was motivated by our analyses of immigrant professionals; however, it has encouraged us to think more broadly than traditional forms of civic engagement, e.g., volunteering, charitable donations, and voting, to consider a wide range of political, economic, social, cultural and religious practices that influence the well‐being of all individuals and communities. Through our mixed method approach our qualitative interviews and analyses have highlighted areas where different types of survey data would aid in further understanding the relationship between economic activity, civic engagement, and intentional public engagement. Finally, this work is revealing the extent that the intentional public engagement of individuals extends beyond the local to include the translocal and transnational.

The project requested and received a no-cost extension beginning on October 1, 2019 and running through September 30, 2020. However, activities planned for this period were significantly disrupted as all work at Mason went virtual and academic conferences were cancelled. As detailed in the section below on future efforts, aspects of the CNCS funded project will continue with other support.

For more information about this project, please contact a member of the leadership team.