Teens Today, Leaders Tomorrow

The UNESCO Chair in Rural Community, Leadership, and Youth Development at Penn State reaches out to youth worldwide to help them become leaders who will guide their communities.

How do you teach teenagers to be community leaders? That’s a question Dr. Mark A. Brennan will answer many times around the world as holder of the UNESCO Chair in Rural Community, Leadership, and Youth Development.

Brennan, professor of rural community and leadership development in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences, said that because of violence, epidemics, and other factors, young children in many countries frequently find themselves heading households. By the time those children are teens, they are depended upon to lead their local communities.

In Kenya, for example, violence has led to the loss of two generations, Brennan said. In Zambia, the population includes huge numbers of AIDS orphans.

Leadership education is helping young people to learn about responsibility and succeed. “The education of young leaders is transformational at a local level,” Brennan said.

Student confer around a table; a blackboard in the background; bright sunlight streams in from windows on the left.

Children, Youth Empowerment Centre

Penn State students work with youth during a session of business enterprise training at the Children, Youth Empowerment Centre in Nyeri, Kenya.

Image: Brad Olson

“The education of young leaders is transformational at a local level,” Mark Brennan, UNESCO Chair

Educational efforts in Kenya and Zambia are rolling out to South Africa, he said, as well as Asia and other areas. Middle Eastern countries may also be moving toward this way of thinking, he said, as young people continue to establish a voice in democracy movements.

“No matter what the political system, people are recognizing the need for local leadership,” Brennan said.

“The programs we develop will concentrate on issues of youth and community capacity building, equality and education, economic development, social justice, and sustainable development, focusing primarily in Africa, throughout the Global South, and in other developing regions,” he said.

Educating young leaders through the establishment of a UNESCO Chair is a rare opportunity for Penn State. Only eighteen UNESCO Chairs are located in the United States, with only four at land-grant schools. No other Chairs exist in colleges of agriculture or in the Big Ten, and only four worldwide are related to youth issues.

Brennan, who has been involved with UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) for some years, has been awarded the Chair in recognition of his efforts in youth leadership education in Pennsylvania communities and the United States.

“First I worked with youth in rural Pennsylvania, and now I am working in Africa and other countries where help is needed,” Brennan said. “It’s a different spin on what I’ve already done and really exciting. This is helping millions of kids in thousands of schools worldwide.”

Mark Brennan stands on the Penn State University Park campus.

Mark Brennan

Led by Dr. Mark A. Brennan, the UNESCO Chair in Rural Community, Leadership, and Youth Development at Penn State carries out its mission: aspiring to be the leading source of high-impact research, educational programs, policy, and partnerships that improve the lives of youth and communities worldwide.

Image: College of Agricultural Sciences

From rural Pennsylvania to Africa and beyond, Mark Brennan is teaching the world's youth to be leaders.

The UNESCO Chair in Rural Community, Leadership, and Youth Development, co-hosted by the College of Agricultural Sciences’ Center for Economic and Community Development and its Office of International Programs, pulls together Penn State faculty from across colleges and disciplines, leading to new ideas and funding levels, Brennan said.

UNESCO Chairs are part of the organization's University Twinning and Networking Program. Established in 1992, the program was created as a way to advance research, training, and program development by building university networks and encouraging inter-university cooperation through the transfer of knowledge across borders.

"A well-documented need exists for rural community leadership and youth development research, teaching, and programming," Brennan said. "This is particularly true in Africa and the Global South, where an increasing 'youth bulge' exists alongside a heavy dependence on agriculture."

According to the U.N. Department of Economic and Social Affairs, 27 percent of the world population is age 15 or younger, with 85 percent of all youth living in less-developed countries. Also, nearly half of the world's population resides in rural areas, and more than 90 percent of all rural residents live in less-developed regions.

"This reality creates an environment in which the active engagement of rural communities is essential to capacity building, gender equality, equal access to education for women and girls, and a host of socioeconomic development outcomes," Brennan said.

Milton Eisenhower and students stand near a table of books under a sign reading "UNESCO."

Milton Eisenhower

Penn State President Milton Eisenhower (1950-56), as the first chairman of the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO, organizes a University book drive to raise funds for foreign aid.

Image: Penn State Archives

Brennan said to achieve its research and educational goals, the program will collaborate with other UNESCO Chairs, international universities, and nongovernmental organizations, including the UNESCO Chair in Children, Youth, and Civic Engagement at the National University of Ireland, Galway, and the UNESCO Chair in Education for Pluralism, Human Rights, and Democracy at the University of Ulster.

Other universities will participate through existing connections between Penn State and academic and research institutions in Zambia, Kenya, South Africa, Vietnam, Eastern Europe, Australia, and Latin America.

Educational activities will include sharing teaching materials and best practices, establishing postdoctoral fellowships, initiating student/faculty exchanges, creating internships, and contributing to an online global graduate degree program in youth leadership.

Brennan said the program will serve as a bridge builder among universities, civil society, communities, researchers, and policymakers.

 “This unprecedented opportunity through the United Nations,” he said, will position Penn State as “a leading force in international research, programming, and policy related to rural and youth development.”

Portions of this story are from a news release written by Chuck Gill, Public Relations Specialist and News Coordinator for the College of Agricultural Sciences.

Top photo: Kenyan primary school students participate in Albert Schweitzer's Leadership for Life training, funded in part by the UNESCO Chair. 


UNESCO Chair Inaugural Lecture and Event

The first public event for the UNESCO Chair in Rural Community, Leadership, and Youth Development was held Tuesday, July 16, 2013, and included a moderated panel discussion and lecture from Penn State Professor Mark Brennan, holder of the Chair.

This inaugural event featured internationally recognized experts, policy makers, practitioners, and a lively panel discussion titled, “Empowering Youth for Community Engagement and Development.”

Dr. Brennan delivered the inaugural lecture, “Achieving Education for All, Realizing Engaged Communities, and Creating Global Citizens for Change Through the UNESCO Chairs Program," issuing a call to action for groundbreaking research, teaching, and applied programs for the betterment of young people and communities worldwide.