I believe this research expanded my understanding of interdisciplinary research as I see it. With an ultimate career path of becoming a healthcare provider, a more traditional research experience may be in a lab or hospital setting. I have also incorporated the traditional research experiences into my undergraduate career, but I strongly believe in the interdisciplinary nature of healthcare, education and inequity. The research that I am invested in this summer is focused on the Justice Scholars Out of School Time Program but the outcomes and developments of the program and the research I am doing span far past the educational sphere. I am continuing to realize the value of educational opportunities and programs for students in their long-term academic, social, physical, and emotional well-being. More specifically, the Justice Scholars Program in my opinion is directly correlated with engaging youth for their ultimate educational, social, and physical health. Justice Scholars is focused on engaging youth to promote activism and prepare students for post high school educational opportunities, but the indirect implications of these tools overlap in many aspects of health. According to an article published by Youth Today titled Health in Out-of-School Time Programs “After school, before school and summer programs can be a venue to tackle a range of critical health issues affecting youth, such as childhood obesity and diabetes, and to support pro-social behavior and healthy relationships among youth.” These health benefits are apparent for out of school time programs but the less obvious impacts of the self-efficacy and post-secondary educational opportunities the Justice Scholars Program promotes provide long-term benefits for students.
Acknowledging the impact of interdisciplinary research enriches my ability to communicate with colleagues outside of my discipline. With a clearer understanding of the interdisciplinary approach of research, I realize the importance of the Justice Scholars Program and program evaluation efforts for continued development of youth.
As a student interested in medicine it is crucial that I realize how educational programs can carry long-term health benefits. The research experiences this summer has made me realize the nature of interdisciplinary research but also the overlapping aspects of my career as a healthcare worker and my commitment to incorporating education, community engagement, and understanding for my community in my practice. As a college student these mentorship and research partnership that I have engaged in this summer as a Justice Scholars Team Member have taught me a deeper appreciation for the overlapping fields of developing an out of school time program for youth in the Homewood community.
Currently, the U.S. struggles to respond to a global pandemic and address long overdue systematic oppression of African Americans. In a time in our country where dismantling oppression has been brought to more people’s attention than ever before, our nation has been forced to look at how we can create long-term change that will continue to push us forward as a country and human race. More specifically, this summer I have attempted to explore how I personally can be investing in youth today. How I can become an interdisciplinary healthcare provider in addressing inequalities in my community and how can I engage my community specifically the youth population. How can we invest in youth that have unique experiences and understanding of everyday oppression so that they can become agents of change in their own world based on their experiences? Throughout my research this summer this question has and continues to feel very personal and extremely relevant at this time in history. What have I done as a Justice Scholars Mentor and current researcher that has promoted the narrative of a student in the program? The research this summer has supported my development as a mentor but also as a student who has access to additional resources mentees do not. The combination of the connections I have the privilege to access and the students who have unique experiences to provide is a unique partnership that I have continued to cherish and grow from identifying these connections across many sectors of a community. The experience in interdisciplinary research I am a part of now and continue to be a part of as an undergraduate student, medical student, healthcare provider, researcher, and community mentor has taught me the dependency of every aspect of a community that are critical in moving us toward a more just world. When communicating with someone outside of my discipline the strategy of understanding how both of our works are or potentially interdependent is how we can begin to establish and address how to work together in a community. This realization of interdependency for the ultimate purpose of reducing disparities (inequalities) and creating a just society is something I have learned a lot about through my out of school time program evaluation efforts.
When reflecting on the skills that I have developed I think the opportunity to collaborate with professors, researchers, and peers has helped me to develop in ways I am still discovering. More concrete are the hard skills I have been able to develop as a qualitative researcher. This summer I have learned how to code using a software called Dedoose and I have also developed my ability to detect meaningful qualitative data. I also interviewed multiple students and acquired a knowledge of interviewing protocol. Additionally, I completed my IRB application and advanced my knowledge for protecting research subjects specifically vulnerable populations. In drafting my research methods and analysis I have developed my understanding of the ethics and difficulties of a community-based research project. Additionally, the continual development of my literature review allowed me to gain a deeper understanding of the curriculum and teaching methodologies behind the Justice Scholars Program. I have explored the outcomes of a Social Justice curriculum to engage youth in out of school time programming through Youth Participatory Action Research and the defense for using these methodologies for developing youth through out of school time programming. Through over 30 articles focusing on a social justice lens of engaging youth in the community I have as a researcher truly developed an extensive appreciation of the Justice Scholars Program.
A common soft skill that develops through conducting community-based research is communication. Communication looked very different this summer as the research took place entirely online. This research has really forced me to be aware and improve my communication because a lot of the project depended on my ability to communicate often and effectively via email, zoom, and phone with my research mentors. This meant being even more diligent and communicative due to the virtual circumstances. Moreover, communication needs to be organized and thoughtful because it is different to physically occupy a space with someone and ask them questions when needed than to ask for an hour of someone’s time via zoom. It was crucial and expected that the communication was always thoughtful of their schedule and time and virtual communication improved my understanding of how to make communication efficient and meaningful. This summer I developed a better understanding of what it meant to communicate efficiently with others entirely online. I learned a deeper respect for an individual’s time. One thing in particular I explored was creating a communication schedule with others so I could ensure each party’s time was being used effectively and we felt that the meeting was reciprocally engaging. I focused on scheduling meetings for the same time every week with my faculty mentor and setting clear expectations for communication. I began creating a meeting outline to send to my mentors before meetings so that we could be efficient during the meetings, both accomplish what we needed, and be prepared for the topics of conversation.
Empathy for the community you are working with, I believe, is always developed when doing community focused research. Through this research project I was able to explore more about the students in the program via interviews and conversations with community members. I have strengthened my respect for the deep commitment that my mentors have to their work, the Homewood community, and their investment in youth. By learning more about the community of Homewood and the Justice Scholars development, curriculum, mentors, and students, my appreciation for the community and working parts of the program throughout Homewood continues to develop.
Additionally, I would like to describe a more in-depth soft skill that I believe will be crucial to my development as a researcher, community member, and student. This skill I developed through my research this summer exploring the social justice framework of out of school time programming and its importance.
Social justice, a central tenet of community psychology, emphasizes equal access to resources, dissolution of power hierarchies, and the empowerment and promotion of wellness among marginalized populations (Constantine, Hage, Kindaichi, & Bryant, 2007; Cook, 1990; Freire, 1970a, 1970b; Prilleltensky, 2001; Torres-Harding, Siers, & Olson, 2012). With the ultimate goal of engaging in change-oriented action, social justice has been conceptualized as a process of shared decision-making among those with varying levels of power (Toporek &Williams, 2006).
Social justice lens to youth mentoring involves careful consideration of the unique backgrounds and experiences that mentors and proteges bring to the mentoring relationship. Considering that mentors tend to belong to groups that occupy positions of power in society whereas proteges tend to belong to marginalized groups, there is often an idea that the mentor is teaching the protege such as a teacher student relationship. I learned to challenge this idea when I began to realize the things the students in the Justice Scholars Program taught me as a mentor and as a researcher. I truly realized this when working on interview evaluation and the construct of the interview.
The approach to collect the data truly allowed students to answer the question based on their experiences due to the open-ended nature of the interview questions. This allowed the interview data to explore what an individual student gained from the program and how they view the Justice Scholars Program to be helpful to their development as well as their peers. So, the experiences of students paired with invested individuals willing to listen and commit to developing a program based on their needs is in itself grounds for a larger partnership that can be key to our development as a society. As Freire discusses power dynamics and how they can be utilized for something better is a concept sometimes overlooked in education. The partnership between a teacher/professor and their students can drive learning in a whole new manner. This idea as discussed in Pedagogy of the Oppressed is defined as the banking concept of education (Freire, 1970). As a teacher presents themselves to their students as opposites, being knowledgeable and therefore their students considered to know nothing is creating an ignorance of the student that is an exact characteristic of the idea of oppression. The issue with this is it shuts down inquiry and education because what is often overlooked is that students also educate the teacher. When thinking about how to engage a population that has routinely been oppressed by simply existing as POC and socioeconomic disadvantaged students there must be conversations and developments of how to engage these youth in ways that can reconsider their own capabilities and knowledge. This background I research in depth redirected my idea of effective learning. I believe I advanced my concept of how to engage with different populations and how learning does not always take place with a teacher and student. I continue to progress to see learning as something we can all engage in. This simple idea was demonstrated to me by the student’s I interviewed who had experienced unique circumstances of oppression in their lives. The banking concept of education reiterates this concept that I have developed what I believe to be a skill of realization that I can oftentimes learn more from the student’s I work with than they ever will from me. This idea of reciprocal learning has demonstrated to me a very important step to community engagement and community-based research that I believe will be crucial to research partnerships and collaborating with a community.