Developing and Understanding My Research Network

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Through my research this summer I hope to learn more technical aspects of data coding and collection. Specifically, this summer I am working with my faculty mentor and research team to utilize a software called Dedoose to analyze interviews of alum from the Justice Scholars Program in hopes of finding key data that can lead to program enhancement and development.

Emerging themes will be identified, with the goal to highlight knowledge, attitudes, behaviors and/or skills obtained as a result of participation in the Justice Scholars Program, specifically those that contribute to academic and psychosocial success. I am currently continuing to develop my skill set as a qualitative researcher through interviewing students, coding interviews, and reviewing literature for social justice and Youth Participatory Action Research (YPAR) curriculum and their long-term benefits for marginalised youth. The program outcomes have heavily correlated with literature based outcomes of out of school time programming for youth-adult partnerships based in social justice curriculum.

When looking at similarities of my research with other youth-adult programming partnerships of mentors and students, research continually suggests how these programs allowed students to deliberately take action to promote social justice. An important part of having an effective partnership is that mentors collaborate with students. In an article titled“Applying a Social Justice Lens to Youth Mentoring: A Review of the Literature and Recommendations for Practice”(Albright, Hurd, Hussain, 2017), the author’s goal was “to identify and promote positive outcomes among marginalized youth.” By using a social justice framework, this model assisted in empowering mentors to equip youth to take on positions that allow them to acquire social capital and ultimately become conscious social activists. 

The authors emphasized the critical role in selecting unique and community focused relevant mentors. A social justice lens when used in youth mentoring allows for careful consideration of the unique backgrounds and experiences that mentors and proteges bring to the mentoring relationship and creates a more ideal partnership (Albright et al, 2017). Also considering that mentors often occupy positions of power whether it be in the community or school and students can belong to marginalized groups in society, this emphasizes the crucial role of the Youth Adult Partnership (Y-AP) model. Additional positive outcomes were realized in programs that allowed for collaboration and student leadership with a focus on social justice programming. 

Results of this study concluded that Out of School Time Programming (OST) with a focus on social justice produced the following positive outcomes: long-lasting mentoring relationships; youth outcomes; reduced relationship hierarchies; and empowered youth in becoming agents of social change. This research further supports the importance of focused out of school time programs in engaging youth with suitable mentors, curriculum, and social activism to promote academic and social success. 

In support of these findings, “Constructing Meaning About Violence, School, and Community: Participatory Action Research with Urban Youth” (Alice McIntyre, The Urban Review, Vol. 32, No. 2, 2000) published in “The Urban Review” focuses on examining students lives’ utilizing Youth Participatory Action (YPAR) curriculum that provides young people with the opportunity to take deliberate action to enhance their community well-being.  This study reports further positive outcomes to Youth Participatory Action Research (YPAR), and social justice-based OST programming. Also, long-term benefits of the focused curriculum for students whose voices have often been overlooked in addressing issues in their community and life experiences is an established theme.The outcomes across the social justice out of school time programming heavily identify an increase in engagement in the youth who participated in the program.

This partnership is supported continuously in programs that engage youth through social justice and research projects. Moreover, the continued partnership approach in program evaluation in this project that strives to gain insight directly from the youth involved in the program is why I have been drawn to this research. The process of gathering data from alumni in the Justice Scholars Program and ensuring their input drives the program development is not only important but has proven highly beneficial to both youth and adult mentors.  This particular project engages the community of Homewood, specifically the youth. This is crucial to gaining direct insight into their experiences in High school and how they have adjusted to college based on their preparation. This community-based research promises to listen to these students and enhance programing based on their experiences. Additionally, the project is rooted in evidence-based decision making due to the fact that three years of existing interviews from Justice Scholar Alum are available for researchers to analyze and use for practice. The potential for the program is increased dramatically when program alumni input is highly considered and utilized to make future program enhancements.

In order to continue to increase program development and potential I have learned a lot about different aspects of community-based programs. Working with my faculty mentor, I have discovered the foundation of any high functioning program must begin with connections and contacts with stakeholders. This research project has forced me to realize the components of any partnership within a community that must incorporate many sectors. This can create obstacles but is necessary in order to develop a comprehensive program for the community’s youth. Obstacles including different agendas and trying to collaborate when an educator has a very different skill set than someone who directs a community center has potential for miscommunication because everyone has varying ideas. What is crucial for any collaboration between community members that I have witnessed with my research this summer is the understanding of why someone feels the way they do. More importantly, if you can establish a common ground similar the idea that we both want to enhance support systems for students, I can see why you think it should be done this way with your experience in school settings, can we incorporate that into what students are saying they need to be successful. I found that a lot of people wanted the same thing, that there were just different ideas on how to do it based on their experiences.

When I think about my professional goals, either related to my current research or career plans I like to think about how a community functions. The more sectors of a community that are in cohesion the smoother that community will operate in their goals. I think about myself being an undergraduate student with limited knowledge on the community of Homewood and only 3 years of being part of the Justice Scholars Program. I then think of the students that I engage with who have spent their whole lives in the community. I think of my research mentors who have been developing the program for years before I became involved. The teachers, counselors, and principal at Westinghouse High School in Homewood have invested and continue to be invested in their students’ development and success. All of these people in the community have connected to produce the most effective out of school time programming they can offer the youth in Homewood and continue to enhance. My own goals related to my current research are to continue to enhance myself, my knowledge, understanding and engagement as an individual and mentor for the Justice Scholars Program. I believe my continued connecting and engagement with these different stakeholders will develop my understanding of what I can do to better promote engagement of the youth in Homewood. This program would be incomplete without the comprehensive functioning of all of these components. I am learning every day the contributions of different sectors of the community to the youth’s success. Developing my ability to become a more effective mentor and researcher for the youth in Homewood is where I feel that I can start as an undergraduate. I believe this research will continue to help me be a more effective mentor for the JS Program in the future. Understanding the various components that help create an effective out of school time curriculum and space has promoted my development and understanding of the program for the purpose of becoming a better mentor and advocate for Homewood youth.

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