ESC Awards Program
Distinguished Dissertation Award 2024


The Distinguished Dissertation Award recognizes emerging scholars who advance research on community engagement scholarship through rigorous and innovative dissertation inquiry and whose work contributes to the field by having the potential for impact on the study, practice, and policies of community engagement.


Nominees can be from any academic discipline or interdisciplinary program and have defended and filed their dissertation no more than 24 months prior to the submission deadline (e.g., doctoral graduates who completed their dissertations between Spring 2021 and Fall 2023 academic years for consideration by March 25, 2024).

Evaluation Criteria

  1. Significance of questions addressed in the dissertation for community engagement as a field of study, including originality and potential to generate new avenues of inquiry.
  2. Relevance and robustness of theoretical or conceptual frameworks used and developed.
  3. Quality of analysis, as indicated by rigorous and ethical methods of inquiry, in-depth analysis, and compelling conclusions.
  4. Potential impact of results and conclusions on community engagement research and scholarship, practice, policy, institutional or system change, etc.

In acknowledging that the field of community engagement scholarship is broad, dissertations may address many aspects, such as the following:

Scholarship of Engagement

  • The scholarship of engagement is defined by relationships between those in the university and those outside the university to generate knowledge to address social issues grounded in the qualities of reciprocity, mutual respect, shared authority, and co-creation of goals and outcomes. Such relationships are by their very nature trans-disciplinary (knowledge transcending the disciplines and the college or university) and asset-based (where the strengths, skills, and knowledges of those in the community are validated and legitimized).

Scholarship On or About Engagement

  • Scholarship on or about engagement involves the study of the processes and/or outcomes of collaboration, decision-making, research, and action within the relationship between scholars and communities. The partnerships or engagement dynamics, and their implications for organizational change, are the subjects of the study. The scholarship is not necessarily undertaken by those involved with community partnerships.

Scholarship for Engagement

  • Scholarship for engagement is undertaken to prepare for and support engagement between higher education scholars and communities toward specific social actions, outcomes, and impacts. Scholarship for engagement focuses on policies, structures, and practices that improve the capacity and ability of campuses and communities to collaborate, for campuses to create an institutional environment supportive of community engagement, and for faculty to be involved in the scholarship of engagement.

Saltmarsh, J. (2017)


Submissions will be handled through the ESC online portal. The submission should include:

  • A cover letter (submitted via an online form) that identifies:
    • Dissertation title
    • Author’s name
    • Author’s current affiliation
    • Author’s current email address
    • Author’s current telephone number
    • Program degree earned
    • Degree-granting institution
    • Date of defense and academic year degree is granted
    • Name of the dissertation chair
  • PDF upload of the dissertation’s abstract and Chapter 1. (If Chapter 1 does not include the dissertation’s problem, purpose, theoretical framework, research questions, and significance of the study, please also include a supplemental description of this content in your document.)
  • An essay (submitted via an online form) of 1000-1500 words that responds to the following question:
    • In what ways does this dissertation extend and inform the study or practice of community engagement scholarship. Consider theoretical framework, methodology, research findings, and implications for practice in responding to this question in this short essay.
  • PDF upload of a recommendation letter and verification of defense date from the candidate’s dissertation committee chair or advisor (if the chair is unavailable, the letter can come from another committee member) (not to exceed three pages).

Submission Deadline and Recognition Process

Nominations for 2024 recognitions are due by March 29, 2024 through the online ESC Award portal. Materials are reviewed by a selection committee identified by the ESC Awards Committee Chair. The ESC Awards Committee and Board receive and approve committee recommendations. All nominees will be notified of their status in May 2024.

Annual Award

$1,000; plaque; one conference registration fee waived