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Youth Development Leadership (YDL)

Youth Development Leadership is a graduate degree offered by the School of Social Work in the College of Education and Human Development. The program assists professionals who work with and on behalf of youth to better understand the youth development process and to demonstrate leadership skills in their personal work settings. We honor the precepts of adult learning, allowing for utilization of knowledge gained from experience and from peer interaction, and the concept of individualized instruction, where students select and investigate issues of their own choosing, preferably in settings which have maximum learning potential for their own goals. Leadership in this field depends upon keeping up with the challenges facing today's youth, which requires continual learning and professional growth, thus this degree is an excellent career opportunity for anyone working with youth, regardless of previous academic background.



A unique program feature is the cohort model. Admitted students take core courses together, one course per semester over a two -year period. Ideally, each cohort becomes a self-sustaining group, capable of developing and mentoring its own members and those of succeeding cohorts. The program establishes a family of learners and performers who assume expanding roles of leadership, continuously supported by involved faculty and nurturing classmates.  This supportive, community environment establishes a network of professional connections, personal support and fun. 

People in the YDL program come from different experiences and backgrounds, not only in their personal lives, but also in the field of youth work. Everyone has different passions, but we're all working toward a similar goal. There's a very real sense of support and camaraderie that I haven't felt anywhere else."

Jessica Pierson Russo, teacher, multicultural community educator


The four YDL core courses focus on the world of youth, the experiential learning process, the systems of youth programming, and the role of youth in work, families, and community (link to course description page). Through these courses, current theories of learning and youth development are connected to existing student understandings of the youth world gained from volunteer and work experience. Students will take four one-credit seminars to share with peers and faculty personal areas of knowledge. Additionally, based upon a student's individual vision of youth leadership and professional interests students choose 10 credits of elective courses from departments across the University. Students exercise further control over their learning as they design and implement their own field experience.

The YDL program culminates in a portfolio presentation based upon the knowledge gained through courses, field experience and personal achievements in the field of youth work. Each student, in consultation with advisers and the cohort produces an array of papers, projects, and performance data to demonstrate the academic and practical world the levels of accomplishment in youth leadership achieved. The final result is a youth leader, armed with academic and practical knowledge, who demonstrates leadership through action. In so doing, the student benefits, the college fulfills its purpose, and community youth programming is enhanced.

The YDL program has facilitated opportunities to connect with a group of people who have a wide range of experience and do youth work in so many capacities. Also, the YDL program offers a perspective of youth work that validates it as an important profession and allows us to see how the profession has developed nationally and internationally."

Cardina Esparza, elementary ed afterschool program coordinator