Highlighting the Importance of My Research

Photo Credit: http://womeninastronomy.blogspot.com/2016/04/social-justice-in-physics-and-astronomy.html

When thinking about discussing the importance of my research to a general audience I try to think of what I may have in common with the audience. In general I think about where my audience and I may agree. A book that I always think of in addressing how to communicate something I feel important to an audience is “Talking to Strangers” by Malcolm Galdwell. The book discusses how assuming we know a stranger can be detrimental to effective communication and how getting to common ground is crucial in communicating. Having common ground with your audience is key. When I think about explaining my research to someone who is not in my field I try to explore the things that may be important to them.

 I believe the ultimate goal of my research is to continue to realize and develop how to promote engagement of youth to possess the tools necessary to become agents of change in their own community. At the root of this goal I would like to think that everyone agrees that youth have the power to advocate for change in their community if provided the proper tools. I also think people often agree that everyone should be given the opportunity to use their unique experiences to engage in their community. This begins with promoting youth development using safe spaces, classrooms, engagement, resources, education, expression, and access to mentors. My research attempts in vague terms to develop a program that provides all these key resources and more, to promote youth engagement and development. To develop these areas there are many assets within a community that must be included. It would be wrong to simply say that the research I am participating in only concerns professors in the field of education and out of school time program coordinators or mentors. The Justice Scholars Program through the Community Engagement Center, like many other out of school time programs, must encompass the needs of the community as the foundation of it’s approach. Developing a program for youth involves a community space, stakeholders, community members, educators, and countless others to effectively promote engagement of youth in a community. Involving personnel in the field of public health is crucial because education equality and providing out of school programs is a public health issue. Benefits from out of school time programs include health, social, and educational factors which in turn facilitate better opportunities for students and a more socially just community. All these aspects are connected. I would want to highlight the importance of out of school time programming for other aspects of life such as education equality and health equality.

This experience continues to teach me the innate connection between health, education, community, and youth. I would ask my audience to think of the ways in which their experiences have shaped their lives and how they were given the tools to produce change from their perspective of their world. I would want my audience to consider the benefit and key role of youth-adult collaboration in terms of youth development. My research explores these ideas deeper on how social justice and youth participatory action research are ways in which youth can speak up to the injustices they face on a daily basis.

An important idea to highlight from my research and out of school time programming that facilitates youth engagement is the impact youth can have on the community. I would focus my audience’s attention on past studies conducted with youth to illustrate that past literature justifies  the focused curriculum of the Justice Scholars Program and demonstrates long-term beneficial outcomes for students and communities. The following study, “The role of youth engagement in positive youth development and social justice youth development for high-risk, marginalised youth” began a community-based research project in the fall of 2011 focusing on youth and partner engagement.  Specifically, the research project involving youth participation had an impact on youth-serving agencies and building capacity of youth that was observed by community partners. The research also provided insight to an agency working with the youth with “valuable insights and information on the youth in our community and how we can work with them more effectively.” Additionally, the youth stated that they felt that their voices were being heard throughout the project. The research stated that the voices of the youth leaders and community agency partners throughout the research project support the integration of positive youth development and social justice youth development. I believe by highlighting the potential for programs like the Justice Scholars and the research I am doing to help evaluate and develop the program is crucial to the effectiveness of out of school time programs promoting long-term social and academic development for students and their communities development.

In my immediate post-undergraduate life this experience has and will promote my own growth in understanding the importance of any research project that strives to encompass the voices of a population that has overcome challenges. The youth in the Justice Scholars Program have unique experiences and insight that is invaluable in order to continuously improve the program. This development and improvement will ultimately better equip the program and mentors like myself to continue to effectively promote youth development in their lives and how to continue to engage in their community, as they adjust to post-secondary education, and engage in their communities throughout life. 

This experience has truly allowed me to spend time growing my passion for working with youth and allowed me to step outside the college bubble into the Pittsburgh community. As a result I have grown from the complexities and challenges of doing research and working with others beyond a classroom setting. Overall, I have developed in numerous ways socially and professionally through this research partnership that will continue my understanding, sensitivity and personal development as an undergraduate student, medical student, ultimate healthcare provider, and advocate for change. Most of all what I have learned from engaging in a community and youth in Homewood has transferred to other aspects of my life in my plans professionally and in simpler day to day personal interactions with others. I have learned that experiences of youth can drive passions and that listening to people who are directly affected by your research and developing research on what they see as long-term goals for themselves and community can help create a narrative for what is meaningful to a community and population. 

I will always acknowledge the great growth I have experienced as a student invested in a community and how research within a community must be sensitive, collaborative, and requires multiple perspectives. My relationship with the community and youth of Homewood is something I plan to always maintain in some capacity. As a student invested in my research and Justice Scholars Program, I have grown to understand that committing to promote engagement of youth does not start and end in a summer research project and requires an understanding, patience, and continued participation in a community. 

This experience will continue to push me to question my own involvement in a community in how I can be a more effective listener, mentor, and individual when working with youth and their community. I will use these tools and knowledge in how I communicate with others to better understand what they see as assets and challenges in their own lives and spaces.

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