UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A call to support research aided by Penn State on how COVID-19 has changed the lives of young people was answered by more than 6,000 youth in at least 50 countries.
The global, interdisciplinary research initiative is designed to support youth and empower them to play an active role in addressing the challenges left in the pandemic’s wake, according to co-investigator Kaila Thorn, a graduate student in agricultural and extension education at Penn State.
“Our goal was to have about 200 youth between the ages of 18 and 35 identify COVID-related challenges in their communities,” she said. “Three weeks after we distributed applications, we had thousands of responses, from Haiti to Northern Ireland to America and everywhere in between, which shows the severity of the problem and the drive of youth to make a difference.”
She explained that while COVID-19 has touched every segment of the population, youth — who make up more than half of the world’s population — face many long-term effects on their mental health, education, social lives and career opportunities.
The project at Penn State is led by Youth as Researchers, an initiative that engages youth to make positive changes in their communities. The program is under the auspices of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, known as UNESCO, which encourages peace and universal respect for human rights through collaboration among nations. Penn State is home to one of 18 UNESCO Chairs in the U.S.
“Youth historically have been the guiding force of change, positive social action and engagement, and in many ways, the first responders to a crisis,” said Mark Brennan, professor and UNESCO Chair in Community, Leadership, and Youth Development, housed in the College of Agricultural Sciences.
“This initial project was small and sought to get youth input on the impacts of COVID-19,” he said. “It has snowballed beyond our wildest dreams. The impact of this work has the potential to have massive implications for global policy and new programs to address the challenges of the pandemic.”