UC San Diego Extension’s Research Scholars Program Teaches Youth How To Advocate For Change, Removing Barriers To Success
Teens are experts in their own lives, and all students have something important to say about what’s working — and not working — for them. That’s the idea behind youth voice work, a field championed by researchers like Makeba Jones, Ph.D., who is an assistant teaching professor in UC San Diego’s Education Studies Department. Youth voice work gives students the opportunity to develop ideas and find forums where they can have their voices heard about what is blocking them from success. Most importantly, youth voice work also helps adults in power use that information to create change.
Earlier this month, 24 students honed these skills presenting on research topics they selected based on their own experiences. It was part of the college-level class for secondary school students, Research Scholars, offered through a new partnership with the Elementary Institute of Science (EIS), and UC San Diego Extension.
The UC San Diego Research Scholars program at EIS allows up to 25 total students to work with a UC San Diego Faculty researcher. “The idea was to give middle- and high-school students from an under-served area the opportunity to experience college-level environment, thinking, problem-solving, and course work,” said Jones, the program’s instructor. “We wanted to give them a sense that research can be a tool to improve peoples’ lives and communities, and that they have the power to advocate for the change they want to see.”
The theme of Jones’s social science course was education, and students worked with her for two hours, twice per week as part of the three-week, full-day Teen Program at EIS. Students ranged from 14 to 17 years old, and they conducted the interview research project on the most pressing issues facing teenagers, as identified by teenagers.
“They chose some really important topics,” said Jones. “I gave them parameters, and at the end of the third day they had to choose a topic they felt most passionate about, and that they felt was important to the success and future of teenagers.”
Jones instructed the students on how to conduct legitimate social science research, including interview techniques, and analysis. With these tools, student groups presented on the following areas:
Feeling smart: What makes students feel smart and competent in classrooms and in schools?
Teen resources and programming: Do teens find existing programs helpful? Are there are other programs/resources that are missing?
Relationships between teachers and students: How important are these relationships and how do they affect student participation in class? Are they comfortable asking questions or admitting they don’t know the answer?
Queer identity and experience: What do teens know about this topic? Have they been in classrooms where they felt students were different? Did queer students feel respected, accepted?
Real-world connections: Are our classrooms linking students’ interests to real-world learning? If a student loves skateboarding, could physics or geometry concepts be presented through skateboarding as a way for them to understand?
“Youth voice work is a fairly robust national field,” said Jones. “The next step for this class is to figure out how to help our students make connections to advocate for themselves.”
Jones plans to connect her experience with the success of this course — this is the first time it has been offered — with leaders who have the power to improve student achievement. “I want to help them understand that if you want to improve student motivation in school, then these are some of the ways students are recommending you do that.”
Jones’s vision is that this is just the beginning. She dreams of a strong cadre of students doing social science research in a number of areas that interest them such as the effect of social media, bullying, teen anxiety, teen depression, and youth violence. Together, they’ll look at a variety of areas of teens’ lives including online life, home life, and interactions with their peers. With this insight, she hopes to help more youth holistically navigate their schools, neighborhoods, and the future.
Learn more about UC San Diego Extension and the Elementary Institute of Science.