RFI project develops conceptual white paper on youth leadership


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According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the United States is poised to experience one of the largest transfers of leadership in its history, as evidenced by employed individuals aged 45 and over holding approximately 56 percent of all management occupations. To address this leadership transfer, two researchers funded by the Rural Futures Institute (RFI) have written a white paper presenting a theory of positive youth leadership identity.

The Rural Civic Action Project (RCAP), a program created from two RFI-funded research and teaching projects, has resulted in increased confidence of rural youth in their community leadership capacity and a white paper conceptualizing a theory of positive youth leadership.

During the teaching project, which created a senior-level course in which University of Nebraska undergraduate student fellows facilitate a service learning project with middle school and high school rural youth in rural communities, 105 undergraduate fellows at UNL and UNK engaged with over 450 middle and high school students to complete 36 youth civic engagement projects at multiple school locations in 26 Nebraska communities. Evidence suggests that the middle and high school students who participated in the RCAP program are more confident in their capacity to engage in community work in the future.

The research component expands the reach and research capacity of RCAP by developing a psychometrically sound measure of youth leadership and examining its relationship to community outcomes, such as retention, civic engagement, entrepreneurial activity and community attachment. Data from 836 youth have been collected and are currently being analyzed to help create a psychometrically sound measure of positive youth leadership identity.

From these RFI-funded projects, L.J. McElravy, Ph.D., and Lindsay J. Hastings, Ph.D., wrote a conceptual paper to build a theory and measure around positive youth leadership identity, which they define as “the dynamic relational influence process that promotes positive attitudes and/or behaviors in others and/or collective group action.”

In the paper, they propose that positive youth leadership identity and its four factors (motivation to lead, positive task affect in groups, social influence capital and human relations capital) provide further conceptualization around self-management in youth leaders.