Class of 2016: Curry School Graduates Inaugural Class of Newest Major

YSI Class of 2016Six students make up the inaugural graduating class of Youth and Social Innovation (YSI) majors from the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education. These five students were pioneers at UVA and do not plan on doing anything less upon commencement.

The YSI major is one of the first of its kind.  The major was designed to prepare graduates to design and implement effective youth programming and policy for today’s youth.

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.

“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 Edith "Winx" Lawrence, professor and program coordinator.  “In the Youth and Social Innovation major, our graduates learn to do all three.”

The members of the YSI class of 2016 are the first to leave the University of Virginia tasked with taking the knowledge they have gained to help unleash the creativity going untapped in our nation’s youth.

“Teenagers have the eagerness and the capacity to take on some of our nation’s greatest challenges: public education, a productive economy, environmental degradation, massive inequality, and a rapidly aging population,” said Bob Pianta, dean of the Curry School of Education. “Our YSI graduates are now prepared to help facilitate that capacity through policy, programming and leadership.”

Emily Campbell, from Roanoke, VA, admits that she did not quite know what she was getting into when she joined YSI. When she realized the quality of the faculty and her fellow majors, whatever anxiety she had quickly turned into enthusiasm.

“What surprised me the most was how much I learned not just from my professors but from the rest of my cohort,” Campbell said. “They are going to and have already done some pretty incredible things.”

Some of the most memorable times for Campbell took place during class discussions.

“In the classroom we had the opportunity to discuss our frustrations, hopes, and experiences engaging with youth and innovation around us,” Campbell said.  “I have learned through them how to search for hope in the midst of broken systems, how to look from a different perspective at the issues facing those around us, and how to truly value difference in the beautiful humans of this world.”

A critical element of the YSI program is the emphasis on research. To create or join effective efforts to engage and unleash the potential of young people, one must first evaluate what programs, policies and other efforts are effective.

For Rachel Kappel (not pictured), a member of the YSI graduating class who hails from Arlington, VA, research was where she found her stride.

“I had no idea how life changing and perspective altering YSI would really be,” Kappel said. “I fell in love with research and actually enjoyed my statistics class.”

Like Campbell, the relationships Kappel forged in the program were deep and inspiring.

“I quickly grew close with and inspired by my peers in my cohort as well as program faculty,” Kappel said.  “I could have never anticipated the depth and breadth of these relationships.

During their tenure in the program, the YSI class of 2016 put into practice what they were learning in myriad ways.  Through what were called design thinking projects, the students worked to create or improve a number of youth-focused efforts.

“Not only were these students engaged in the work, they were and are thoughtful change makers,” Lawrence said. “They are committed to tackling major issues facing youth today in collaboration with youth themselves.”

Members of this class worked to enhance and create programs designed to empower and unleash the capacity of youth, from Charlottesville to Uganda.

Jack Baker, a member of the YSI Class of 2016, along with other undergraduates at UVA, worked to improve the quality of tutors that are provided by the Curry School’s Day in the Life (DITL) program. DITL is a community assistance and tutoring program that connects UVA students with Charlottesville and Albemarle County public school students.

Campbell, and others partnered with the Mbara University of Science and Technology to bring a collaborative adaptation of the Young Women Leaders Program to the young women of Uganda. YWLP, founded by the Curry School and the UVA Women’s Center in 1997, is a mentoring program that empowers middle school girls to be leaders by combining one-on-one mentoring with targeted group activities.

Amy Scheel, a member of the YSI graduating class, inherited a bit of her innovative spirit. Her family owns an educational toy business. During her time as a student, she worked with her father on a start-up project for a game called Fourple, a strategy game designed to also serve as a piece of art in your living room.

Rounding out this first graduating class of YSI majors is Cameron Strange and Ashlee Lester. Alongside their other four classmates, these graduates have set quite a standard for the younger YSI majors.

“The excellence and the innovative spirit with which this inaugural class has approached this major has set the bar incredibly high,” Lawrence said.