One of our commitments in Invincibility is to work towards authentic university-community-school partnerships in support of designing equitable STEM learning experiences for youth from non-dominant communities. This collaboration has been the forefront of creating serious conversations in our community around what high quality STEM experiences can be for youth in low-income communities, and the hoped for impacts on youth development.
For example, our collaboration with the Boys and Girls Club of Lansing began in 2006. At the heart of our partnership are a set of shared beliefs about working towards equitable outcomes, including drawing upon the strengths that each brings to the table, on-going communication for building a shared vision, and working for change – change in how we make sense of, design, and deliver equitable programs for youth, and change in ourselves as we learn from each other and the process. The process is not always smooth, even when the collaborative relationships are strong. Change is difficult, and the process is always under the stress of external forces, such as limited access to resources for community and public organizations, competing external priorities, and broader sociohistorical narratives/practices about equity and STEM.
In response, we have found that we are able to sustain our efforts by foregrounding the importance of youth perspectives. By inviting the youth to play powerful roles as co-researchers and co-developers, their voices provide a centering mechanism.
Inspired by the Research + Practice Collaboratory, three practices have helped us along the way that draw upon this youth-based focus.
First, youth participatory methodologies have served as a grounding mechanism of our partnership. We focus on the importance of a weekly conversation we hold with youth, where they provide on-going direction and feedback regarding our partnership programs. We also focus on the importance of youth researchers – youth who play the role of broker between our partnership and other participating youth and families. We also believe that youth participatory methodologies are important in supporting youth in trusting the process and the ones delivering the process.
Second, we have a set of both informal and formal tools and routines that have emerged from our efforts to listen to and learn from youth that keep us focused on our commitment to work for equity, such as the importance of deliberate efforts to talk about particular youth and their work/development, “thinking big” conversations (what we hope/dream for), and weekly check-ins on youth progress.
Third, we our committed attention to youth voices enables on-going productive change in ourselves and in our partnership. For example, what started off as a partnership focused on offering short term programs for middle school youth, has developed into year-round programming that incorporates family and community engagement, authentic community concerns, and opportunities for youth to form empowering relationships with leaders of local professional and academic communities. This partnership has also resulted in physical changes to the club, as they secured a new green roof based on youth research and action taking on energy- and community-related issues, and now with the construction of a dedicated makerspace.
If you have useful tools and practices towards research + partnerships, we would love to hear about them.