UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO, has established a UNESCO Chair in Rural Community, Leadership, and Youth Development in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences.
Co-hosted by the college's Center for Economic and Community Development and its Office of International Programs, the chair will be held by Mark Brennan, associate professor of rural community and leadership development.
According to Penn State President Rodney Erickson, the opportunity to establish a UNESCO chair is a rare and prestigious honor.
"We are gratified that UNESCO recognizes Penn State's expertise and track record in affecting positive change for people in rural communities and developing countries around the world," he said. "This chair will enable Penn State to foster leadership training and youth development in regions where it's most critically needed."
Erickson noted that only 18 UNESCO Chairs are located in the United States, with just four housed at land-grant institutions. None exist in colleges of agriculture or in the Big Ten, and only four worldwide are related to youth issues.
UNESCO chairs are part of the organization's University Twinning and Networking Program. Established in 1992, the program was conceived 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.
The chair in Rural Community, Leadership and Youth Development at Penn State will support UNESCO's priorities for addressing the specific needs of rural youth and communities, Brennan explained.
"A well-documented need exists for rural community, leadership and youth development research, teaching and programming," he 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. In addition, 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.
"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."
Brennan said to achieve its research and educational goals, the program will collaborate with other UNESCO Chairs and a range of international universities and nongovernmental organizations. Partners include 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 links 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.
"The program will establish a think-tank and serve as a significant bridge builder between universities, civil society, communities, researchers and policymakers," Brennan said.
The UNESCO Chair in Rural Community, Leadership and Youth Development will be formally launched with an inaugural lecture or symposium at Penn State this spring. Several government and United Nations officials, scholars and collaborators are expected to attend.
"This unprecedented opportunity through the United Nations will allow us to be a leading force in international research, programming and policy related to rural and youth development," he said.