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Voices of Change

Nicole Webster travels the world to help minority youth find their voices.

Young people's voices often are not heard, especially if they are on the "fringe" of society.

Fortunately, those young people have a champion in Nicole Webster, a faculty member in the college who's made it her mission to ensure their voices are heard--loud and clear.

"All people should feel valued and included, and have their opinions matter, especially youth who are marginalized by society because of their race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, gender, or sexual orientation," says Webster, associate professor of youth and international development in the Department of Agricultural Economics, Sociology, and Education. "Diversity, inclusion, and respect should be part of our daily walk."

Those principles are at the heart of Webster's ongoing research examining the role of youth in civic engagement and social change, especially in the global setting. Her purpose is twofold: to help young people see that they can be change agents within their communities, and to assist governments and ministries in crafting policies that are inclusive of the youth voice.

In addition to teaching courses focusing on international development, community and economic development, and qualitative research methodologies, Webster travels several times a year to help youth in the developing countries of Nicaragua and Burkina Faso in West Africa.

A scholarship from the U.S. State Department's Fulbright Scholars Program, which provides funding for scholars to undertake advanced research and teaching activities around the world, supports Webster's work in Nicaragua, where she spearheads positive youth development and vocational education programs for Latino and Afro-Latino/Creole youths living in Bluefields, a city along the country's east coast. Those programs include learning technical skills and communication strategies to be better prepared for employment.

Webster's studies also frequently take her to Burkina Faso, where youth activists were the driving force behind a political uprising in October 2014. Public outcry and protests forced the ousting of long-serving ruler Blaise Compaoré, who was accused of corruption and nepotism during his 27-year-long regime.

Webster plans to continue to have a positive impact on youth domestically and globally as she pursues her research on civic engagement in marginalized communities in Latin America and parts of West Africa. She also imparts the knowledge she's gained to colleagues, government leaders, and youth activists.

"I want to be a conduit for helping young people who have been voiceless for so long know that they do have a voice," says Webster, "and that their voice is meaningful, powerful, and can be heard."

--Amy Duke