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MA in Youth Studies
For those that aren’t aware, can you explain the field of youth studies?
It's a unique and emerging discipline that explores the developmental stages, culture, history, and politics of young people from early childhood to adolescent youth and their place in society. Catering to everyday practitioners, it delves deep into what it means to promote positive youth development while finding key techniques that provide safe spaces for youth, especially youth belonging to marginalized populations. I'd like to think of my experience as one that merges psychology, youth development, and social work (with an emphasis on group work), all in one.
Why do you think there was a need to develop degree and certificate programs that focus on this field?
Youth studies is a promising field, which is growing rapidly, both in practice and in research. The benefits of instilling positive youth development in programs are being more understood now, than in past years.
Due to this, we are met with an abundance of opportunities to expand youth programming. A few years ago, Mayor Bill de Blasio kicked off his historic middle school after school program investment in New York City. It allowed community-based organizations everywhere the opportunity to expand or fill in critical programming for thousands of young people. There was a huge call back then and now for competent youth workers to serve as role models, mentors, and professionals to enrich the lives of this age group.
Through this program, you stay abreast of key trends, policies, and information that impact the lives of young people and those who serve them. As a supervisor for youth-based programs, it is important that I stay on beat with these trends and inform my own staff of pertinent information that will enhance the lives of the youth we serve. I have found that informed and competent staff are also engaged staff, which only speaks to the high-quality programs we have the potential to deliver.
How does your current work relate to the field of youth studies? What is the most gratifying aspect of your job? What is the most difficult aspect?
Right now, I oversee my own not-for-profit organization: The Gem Project, an organization rooted in developing the next generation of change agents through public service fellowships. Over the years, we have held signature programs led by college students who facilitated educational programs for school-age youth focusing on literacy, career readiness, leadership workshops, and more. Currently, the organization is shifting and focusing on one initiative: the development of our public service program that will assign college students at high schools in underserved communities. For the first part of the school year, college students serve as fellows, working alongside high school students on a service-learning initiative with a social justice framework. During the spring and summer months, high school students receive financial literacy workshops, early college awareness, job development, and career readiness support. Supporting youth to reach their goals, while seeing themselves as a member of their community capable of bringing forth social change, is most gratifying. The most challenging aspect right now is changing our program offerings and making time to apply for different funding sources. For those interested in learning on how to get involved, can e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Why did you choose to pursue the MA in Youth Studies? Why at CUNY SPS?
I started the MA in Youth Studies program upon completing the Advanced Certificate in Youth Studies. I first heard about the program through my previous work directing a chartered Boys & Girls Club at Educational Alliance. In supervising my own staff there, I was always on the lookout for meaningful ways to coach and train employees about best practices. The Youth Studies courses support my work as a supervisor. I truly enjoy bringing back a wealth of information from class about youth culture, history, policy, group work, and ways to deepen our relationships with youth.
The intimate and supportive culture at CUNY School of Professional Studies allows one to blossom as a scholar and practitioner simultaneously. My Youth Studies adviser Dr. Sarah Zeller-Berkman has truly been incredible. She is always accessible to our cohort and open to feedback to enhance our experience.
What has been most beautiful about my experience here is witnessing the growth among colleagues. It is truly amazing to track career growth in a single semester as well as colleagues moving on into doctoral programs.
Which courses/aspects of the program have you enjoyed the most so far?
Being the first graduating cohort of the MA in Youth Studies, the critical conversations I've had with my small-sized cohort has truly been transformative. We share similar interests as youth practitioners but come with very diverse skill sets and range in services. We are evaluators, directors, direct service providers, middle management, counselors, group workers, and more!
It also helps that we are taught by one of the best leading professionals in this industry. I especially look forward to having our guest lecturers who sometimes travel locally, across the country, or abroad to speak with us and discuss their research or practice. It widens our perspective to have a space to reflect and speak openly with each other and our professors. The power in the room is shared and leveled. Everyone has something of value to contribute to the space.
Two courses I have enjoyed the most have been Youth Participatory Action Research and Research Methods. They have challenged me to think critically about research topics in order to support youth and move toward meaningful social change. It is as if my world has been flipped. I am more equipped to advocate for and build a brighter future for all young people. These courses have also inspired me to look into doctoral programs.
A majority of the programs we offer at CUNY SPS offer online courses. Youth Studies, however, offers classes on campus. What do you enjoy most about the on campus course format?
Right before class, we often discuss our jobs and check in with each other. Speaking with my classmates who are in the field has been a game-changer. We are such a close group. We also encourage each other in personal endeavors and take the time to visit each other's programs. In my cohort, we have held a two-year WhatsApp (online mobile chat group) group. It's like having your own cheer squad or support group in your pocket. I've now met colleagues who I consider to be real friends.
What is your relationship like with other students/professors?
All of our professors have been equal partners in our learning process. Contributions and experiences are shared and equally valued, which is what I find most appealing. Our cohort is very close and open to sharing our experiences on the ground, both good and bad. It is through sharing and ongoing reflection that we have matured and arrived at a better place than where we had started.
Which professional and/or personal goals would you like to achieve while enrolled in the program? In which ways would you like to see yourself grow as a result of taking the program?
While enrolled in the program I have skillfully expanded my networks within youth service in both the New York/New Jersey areas. When I first started in the program, I submitted an RFP to present at the NYS Network for Youth Success and was accepted. I attribute the knowledge and new perspective I have gained to the Youth Studies experience, which has deepened my presentational skills and expertise with fellow practitioners. I'd like to continue to nurture the potential of youth and their abilities through long-term educational policy. With a current Youth Studies colleague, I submitted to present at 2018 NYS Network for Youth Success and found out that we were accepted! As I approach the end of this program, I realize that my educational journey is just beginning. I hope to use research and practice to improve lives.
Do you foresee any advancements/changes occurring in youth studies agencies as a result of their employees taking this program?
Yes, the program equips practitioners with more tools to best support their employees, colleagues, and programs. It also allows one to develop better relationships with clients and employees in ways that will also promote safe spaces that are critical to their overall development. With more competent practitioners, you'll have a more engaged workforce. This also translates to high-quality programming and better outcomes for youth.
What advice can you give to someone who is considering returning to school for an advanced certificate?
Create a team. Working and going to school is a challenge for many. I benefited from a group of people who had similar experiences (my cohort). Don't be afraid to ask your entire class or a few colleagues to form a network online or offline to check-in and hold each other accountable. For my cohort, it was the WhatsApp application. For another, it may be meeting off-site a few minutes early before entering class or creating a private Facebook group to communicate and offer support.