Center for Youth and Communities

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About CYC


    Established at the Heller School in 1983, the Center for Youth and Communities works to improve the quality of education, workforce development, and community systems in order to prepare young people for college, work, and life.  By combining scholarly research and practical experience with an emphasis on young people whose supports and opportunities have been few, the Center’s work is guided by three goals:
    •    Using science-based research to improve the quality and impact of youth programs and policies.
    •    Strengthening governance, leadership and management in philanthropy, the non-profit sector and socially responsible business.
    •    Developing and using outcome-based planning and evaluation methods to deepen public understanding, strengthen and prove the efficacy of particular programs, and shape policies.


    "Reflection on 30 Years" by Susan P. Curnan in Heller Magazine, Spring/Summer 2015

    Curnan, S. P. "Using Research to Prepare and Support People to Manage Change: The Scholarship of Practice." In The View from the Hill, The Heller Graduate School Alumni Newsletter, Spring 1998.

    The following highlights four Center strategies:

    EDUCATION: District Level Systems Change in New England and transitioning to and persisting in postsecondary education
    Access to postsecondary education is limited for many young people; successful completion of postsecondary programs is rare.  Several Center initiatives have focused on this important area.  For example, the Center's work with seven school districts engaged in a multi‐year, district‐wide school reform effort (focused on student‐centered learning) funded by the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, including helping the Foundation develop student‐level and systems level logic models and facilitated the districts’ logic models and engagement strategies and coordinating technical assistance and evaluation efforts; facilitating district‐level task forces; and synthesizing and analyzing data to assess the initiative. And, with grants totaling $1.5M+ from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Social Innovation Fund and New Profit, Inc., the Center worked with more than 30 national and local organizations to create a pathway to and through college for former dropouts by establishing partnerships between community-based education programs and community colleges.  As the evaluation partner for nearly five years, the Center documented and analyzed the partnerships with community colleges to provide enriched academic preparation, bridge programs, and consistent postsecondary support.  The evaluation parameters also expanded to include supporting young parents to and through college.

    CITIZEN LEADERSHIP: Eli J. Segal Citizen Leadership Program
    The Eli J. Segal Citizen Leadership Program was created to inspire and support new generations of leaders to commit to a lifetime of contributing to the common good. It aims to elevate service and citizen leadership as central strategies critical to the health and well-being of our democracy.
    This innovative program is designed to encourage emerging leaders to engage in a lifetime of citizen service, serve as a platform to promote service and citizen leadership, and commemorate and honor the extraordinary contributions of the late Eli J. Segal ’64.
    Segal was an entrepreneur and a brilliant political strategist who helped run Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign and then joined Clinton’s White House staff. He was the founding CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service (which includes the AmeriCorps program), and, most importantly, he was an extraordinary friend and mentor to many people from all walks of life.
    To learn more about the Eli J. Segal Citizen Leadership Program, please visit

    WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT: Preparing Youth for the 21st Century Workforce
    Many young people have few opportunities to get prepared for the workforce.  High unemployment rates are both a cause and a reflection of this lack of preparation.  The Center aimed at enhancing employability through summer youth employability initiatives and the evaluation partnership with FIRST Robotics.
    •    For the past decade, the Center has been the evaluation partner for FIRST (For the Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), a national organization that promotes involvement in STEM (Science Technology Engineering Math) and development of life and workplace skills through after-school robotics competitions for middle and high school-aged youth.  The program reaches about 150,000 young people each year.  Center studies have found that FIRST programs successfully increase interest in STEM education and careers among participants while building teamwork, communications, time planning, and project management skills among participants.  The Center has received about $1.5M in grants to conduct the work to date and is currently launching a 5-year longitudinal study to assess longer term program impacts on student involvement in STEM education in college and STEM careers.

    COMMUNITY SYSTEMS: Putting comprehensive youth development into practice
    Youth programs are often limited in scope or to a single service.  The Center has worked with several comprehensive place-based initiatives that show promising results in helping youth gain critical life, education, and workplace skills.  For example, as evaluation and learning partner with the Hyams Foundation in Boston and The Skillman Foundation in Detroit.
    •    Teen Futures in Boston, a 5-year initiative that aimedto increase the number of young people ages 16-22 who, despite having dropped out of school and being unemployed, gain a high school credential and transition to post-secondary education and employment.  The Center worked closely with the Hyams Foundation and eight grantees to design and conduct the evaluation involving 350 young people.  Improving the grantees’ evaluation capacity and helping them to improve their programs were critical factors in the evaluation partnership.  Hyams invested more than $300,000 in the Center.
    •    The Good Neighborhoods and Good Schools Initiative concentrated Skillman Foundation resources in six Detroit neighborhoods with the ten-year goal of ensuring that an estimated 50,000 young neighborhood residents graduate from high school ready for college and a career.  The Center worked closely with the Foundation and with nearly 300 programs to refine the theory of change based on ongoing evaluation results; evaluate the initiative through collaborating with key stakeholders in youth development, schools and education reform, and systems and policy change; and engage Foundation staff and partners in continuous learning and improvement informed by evaluation and experience.  At the heart of this work was the question of how best to manage and support large-scale systems change aimed at improving outcomes for children and families.  The Center also co-designed a web-based performance dashboard for the initiative and staffed and co-chaired a Task Force, a governing body that brought together key stakeholders who invest in, oversee and monitor progress of the $100M investment in comprehensive community change.  The Foundation invested more than $3.5M in the Center over eight years. [Sample report excerpt: "Kids Matter Here: An analytic review of the 10-year Good Neighborhoods Initiative," Theory of Change and Ecological Model]

    Susan P. Curnan, Executive Director, Professor – 781-736-3771 or
    Lanni Isenberg, Executive Assistant – 781-736-4835 or
    415 South St, MS035, Waltham, MA  02453

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