Fostering Environmental Justice, Socioemotional Skills, Workforce Development, and Youth Empowerment in Rantoul

1/17/2024 6:24:00 AM Hannah Wirth

The Carter Education & Community Foundation, Inc logoAcademic mentor: Kevin Tan

Community partner: The Carter Education and Community Foundation

Project Description: 
This project will foster understanding around youth and environmental justice issues in Rantoul through the lens of socioemotional skills and workforce development. Rantoul, with its history as an abandoned air force base, experiences a host of environmental challenges in which youths are disproportionately affected. This project will promote solutions focusing on youth empowerment, socioemotional growth, and workforce development:  

  • How can the integration of socioemotional skills within environmental justice initiatives promote youth empowerment and workforce development?
  • What are the needs and challenges within Rantoul around environmental justice, youth socioemotional and workforce development?
  • What are the strategies that can foster youth socioemotional growth and collective community empowerment towards environmental justice and workforce development in Rantoul?

We will employ a mixed methods approach towards a community needs assessment project. We will identify not only environmental challenges but also understand gaps and challenges around youth socioemotional skills and workforce development. In addition to administering survey measures, we will conduct qualitative interviews and focus group discussions.

Our community partner, The Carter Foundation, will be hosting summer youth activities which will serve as opportunities to conduct the needs assessment, interviews, and focus groups. The Rantoul City School District will also be delivering summer programs which will serve as another point of data collection. Additionally, the Carter Foundation has strong relationships with the City of Rantoul and various community partners that will facilitate overall data collection.

The project will cumulate with a report on the findings that will be made accessible to Rantoul's community and partners through the Carter Foundation. By infusing socioemotional skills into environmental education, youth and workforce development, this project aims to create a paradigm shift in how Rantoul approaches environmental justice and its impact on young people.  

Role of the Community-Academic Scholar:
The Community-Academic Scholar's primary role is to develop and implement a needs assessment study within Rantoul to identify environmental challenges, socioemotional and workforce development gaps with the goal of recommending strategies that advances collective community youth empowerment.

The project requires the scholar to collaborate with myself, my doctoral student (Babu Gounder), the Carter Foundation, and partners in Rantoul to design and implement the needs assessment in ways that aligns with the project goals. 

The scholar will gain knowledge in environmental sciences and develop skills in community engagement, social-emotional learning, and workforce development. As part of developing the needs assessment, the scholar will be required to research the history of Rantoul and document the environmental, socioemotional and workforce challenges. We will also ask the scholar to research strategies and solutions related to community revitalization specific to young people and families who reside around abandoned air force bases across America (and possibly globally). As part of this process, the scholar will conduct a comprehensive literature review. 

During the data collection stage, the scholar will gain skills associated with data collection, including survey administration, interviews, and focus group discussions. The scholar will analyze and interpret data to inform the development of solutions and strategies. The scholar will also synthesize and apply the research on other abandoned air force bases in interpreting Rantoul study findings.

Towards the end of the project, the scholar will develop outputs for disseminating findings. We will ensure that outputs are produced in ways that the Carter Foundation can utilize to further engage the community beyond the life of the CAS program (e.g., developing infographics and posters). If appropriate, the scholar will support the writing of reports and publishable manuscripts with my doctoral student and the Carter Foundation.