January 14, 2014—The Curry School of Education will launch a new major for undergraduates beginning in the fall of 2014. Named Youth and Social Innovation (YSI), the major is designed for students interested in ultimately working with or on behalf of youth in settings beyond traditional schools and classrooms.
Today, the major was approved by the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, the final step needed to officially launch the program. The major was approved by the University of Virginia’s Faculty Senate and Board of Visitors in 2013.
“There is a growing array of career opportunities for those interested in working with youth,” said Edith “Winx” Lawrence, professor at the Curry School of Education and coordinator for the new major.
The Youth and Social Innovation major intends to prepare students to work in a variety of settings, including, for example, working with youth directly in established out-of-school programs like the Boys & Girls Club or Big Brothers/Big Sisters. Graduates from the major may also go on to work on behalf of youth in policy settings such as think tanks or alongside elected officials in Washington, D.C. Or, a graduate may become an innovator and develop a new program benefiting teens.
“The Curry School has long been a leader in teacher preparation,” said Robert Pianta, dean of the Curry School. “This major expands the high-level of scholarship and experiential learning for which the Curry School is known for to those seeking to work with children and youth outside of school settings.”
The YSI major is one of the first of its kind. Though several college majors may prepare college students to work with youth upon graduation, rarely do those programs include the level of integration of theory and research on youth development with direct application to youth programming and policy that YSI offers. In addition to hands-on experience promoting positive youth development, the curriculum offers students opportunities to engage in the critical analysis of measuring and evaluating what makes a program or policy effective for youth.
“Learning how to engage youth is very different than learning the skills needed to be an effective evaluator of youth programs and policy or to be an innovator of new programs that work,” said Lawrence. “In the Youth and Social Innovation major, our students will learn to do all three.”
Students majoring in YSI will spend a significant part of their coursework in hands-on settings. These engaged learning experiences draw from a variety of work already taking place at the Curry School.
The Young Women Leaders Program, a mentoring program co-founded by Lawrence in 1997, will provide YSI students an opportunity to serve as a mentor for a middle school girl for a year within a research-based curriculum that includes regular feedback and instruction.
The EdPolicyWorks research center will afford YSI students an opportunity to engage in the analysis and development of policy and position papers focused on youth.
Youth-Nex: The Center to Promote Effective Youth Development will provide YSI students opportunities to work with Curry faculty whose teaching and research focuses on a wide variety of areas including health management, civic engagement and education,, and the translation of that research into application that impacts the lives of youth.
And for YSI students interested in working with young children, there will be opportunities to engage in the research and programming for Head Start that is being done as part of Curry’s Center for Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning.
“Being able to engage our majors in these real-world scenarios with the support and guidance of outstanding Curry faculty members almost allows students to combine what’s often called a ‘gap year’ with their four years of undergraduate studies,” said Lawrence. “The YSI major is designed to be the best of both by integrating hands-on experiences with academic course work.”