Katie Richards-Schuster’s research at U-M focuses on understanding the strategies and approaches for engaging young people in their communities, the contexts and environments in which they thrive, and the impact of youth participation in creating community change. Richards-Schuster helped develop the School of Social Work’s Michigan Youth and Community Program (MYCP) to ensure that more young voices across the U.S. are being heard.
“So much of what happens within a community directly impacts its young population, yet they’re usually left out of the dialogue,” says Richards-Schuster. “We believe that when the voice of youth is included in issues such as school reform, environmental justice, neighborhood development, and civil rights, communities become stronger.”
Richards-Schuster, along with U-M Professor Barry Checkoway, supports the MYCP, which works in racially segregated, under-resourced, and marginalized areas of the country. Over the years, the program’s projects have involved communities including the South Bronx, Boston, Chicago, the Mississippi Delta, Appalachia, Albuquerque, East Oakland, and others. Here in Michigan, current work is focused on engaging young people in creating change in schools and communities across metropolitan Detroit.
“A large portion of our work is centered on building the capacity of young people to address the critical issues in their own communities,” says Richards-Schuster. “We look at how we can encourage them to ask questions about their environment, evaluate programs in which they’re involved, and generate knowledge around the issues they care about.”
The MYCP collaborates with grassroots groups and community agencies to rally youth and adult allies as change agents. The program advocates for youth and community organizing, encourages youth participation in evaluating and creating public policy, facilitates youth dialogues on race and ethnicity, and guides community-based research around program evaluation, community assessment, and policy analysis. The MYCP also coordinates the National Community Scholars Program (NCS) at U-M. The NCS provides tuition funding for MSW students who are interested in youth and community work, and offers field placements in communities such as Central Appalachia, the Mississippi Delta, the San Francisco Bay Area, and Chicago.
Richards-Schuster, who is a U-M alum, also directs the School of Social Work’s undergraduate minor in Community Action and Social Change and is engaged in projects to assess the impact of civic engagement and social action efforts on college students and recent alumni.
A current research project engages young people in a youth-led metropolitan social justice assessment to develop policy recommendations to address critical issues in the southeast Michigan region.
“Young people have the right, as well as a responsibility, to contribute to their communities,” says Richards-Schuster. “Young people CAN create change!”