Curry School's new major emphasizes hands-on community involvement

Youth and Social Innovation majors work with community youth programs


Researchers from the Curry School and the College of Arts and Sciences will be conducting four educational research projects that received $9.2 million in funding from the IES.

John Pappas | Cavalier Daily

The Education School created a new major this fall named Youth and Social Innovation in which students learn about youth development, planning and policy.

The new major joins two existing bachelor of science in education degrees to focus on the development of programs which address social, cultural and educational challenges young people may face.

“You don't have to wait to see how what you're learning is going to apply to real life, because you are already applying it,” Campbell said.

YSI emphasizes hands-on community involvement, allowing students to be involved directly in youth programs such as Big Brothers/Big Sisters and Head Start. The major also requires work in a University youth-focused lab.

This past month, students worked to improve Day in the Life, a University tutoring program which connects University students to local elementary and high school students.

Many of the classes within the major have a required academic service learning component, YSI Program Director Edith Lawrence said. The Day in the Life project was a part of the course "Introduction to Youth and Social Innovation," while another class — "Issues Facing Adolescent Girls" — incorporated mentoring middle school girls.

“It differs [from other Education School majors] in that these are students who are interested in youth but don’t want to be restricted to a classroom,” Lawrence said. “Each major has a huge focus in helping others, but this is really focused on youth programming and innovation.”

Lawrence and a group of faculty worked on the YSI curriculum for two years before it was approved by the State Council for Higher Education in Virginia in February. In April, the team accepted their first group of majors — made up of only 10 students.

“We’re very excited about it,” Lawrence said. “This cohort has exceeded our expectations — the Day in the Life projects are very innovative and creative, and we’re looking forward to getting better.”

Third-year Education student Emily Campbell was among the 10 students accepted to the major in April.

“You don't have to wait to see how what you're learning is going to apply to real life, because you are already applying it,” Campbell said. “The major is also pretty small, so you get to work closely with your cohort along with faculty and staff who care about your individual passions. You will not be lost in the crowd. It is definitely not a cookie-cutter major.”

To be accepted into the major, students need to show an interest in youth — typically demonstrated through volunteering work — and exhibit an interest in evidence-based approaches for youth intervention, Lawrence said.

“I have always been interested in working with youth and drawn to the non-profit sector, specifically internationally,” Campbell said. “However, I never really knew what that entailed or actually looked like as a career. I had seen many programs that were impacting kid's lives so powerfully, but many that seemed to be failing. YSI seemed to be approaching these questions head on, and I thought that was really exciting.”

As the semester comes to an end, Lawrence said she is looking forward to accepting a larger group of students into the major, as well as getting students involved in more youth programs.

“We’ve already heard from other organizations — they like the idea and would like us to come in and look at opportunities for enhancement,” Lawrence said. “Boys and Girls Club are interested in working with us as well as Habitat for Humanities, so a variety of programs have already heard about us and are interested.”

Lawrence said students who choose a YSI major will be prepared to join private and nonprofit youth-based organizations, such as child welfare services, social service agencies and community services.

“In the future I hope to use the skills and process[es] I have learned in this program along with my love of all things culture, and work with Christian youth development programs,” Campbell said. “What are the things that really bring hope and passion to a young person's life, no matter their context? These are the questions I am excited to someday answer.”

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