UNESCO Chair symposium to focus on rural communities and youth

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Mark Brennan believes there is a critical need to foster leadership and youth development in rural communities around the world. This belief, and Brennan's record of scholarship in this area, recently prompted the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, known as UNESCO, to name him the UNESCO Chair in Rural Community, Leadership, and Youth Development at Penn State.

Brennan will launch his UNESCO Chair program as the keynote speaker at a symposium, "Shaping the Future of International Development," July 15-16 at Penn State's University Park campus.

His inaugural lecture, titled "Achieving Education for All, Realizing Engaged Communities and Creating Global Citizens for Change through the UNESCO Chairs Program," will be a call to action for groundbreaking research, teaching and applied programs for the betterment of young people and communities worldwide.

"The UNESCO chair program is not about academic exercises," said Brennan, a professor of rural community and leadership development in the College of Agricultural Sciences. "It is not about wishful thinking, theoretical ramblings and charitable intentions.

"To me it’s about action and justice," he continued. "It is about achieving education for all. Education is the single biggest predictor in our social, physical and psychological development. It is the single biggest factor in fostering international development and global citizenship. Education is power and sets the stage for strong communities that take care of their own needs."

The kick-off event will feature internationally recognized experts, policymakers and practitioners. A moderated panel discussion, "Empowering Youth for Community Engagement and Development," will include representatives from the Children and Youth Empowerment Centre (Kenya), Alan Kerins Projects (Zambia), Foroige – The National Youth Organization of Ireland, the World Food Prize, the PATH Foundation and Penn State.

Among conference presenters will be Pat Dolan, UNESCO Chair in Civic Engagement at the National University of Ireland, Galway. Dolan, the first and only chair in Ireland, is one of the most renowned and visible members of the UNESCO chair program and a major contributor to European Union and UN policy and program development.

Also presenting will be Alan Smith, UNESCO Chair in Conflict Resolution at the University of Ulster in Northern Ireland. Smith, one of the first UNESCO Chairs, has been at the forefront of community-based conflict resolution in Northern Ireland, Africa, the Middle East and Eastern Europe. He is a leading contributor to policy for the British government, the European Union, UNESCO and UNICEF, the United Nations Children's Fund.

Brennan's UNESCO Chair program will focus on issues of youth and community capacity building, equality and education, economic development, social justice and sustainable development, particularly in Africa and the Global South.

Educational activities will include innovative worldwide programming, 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 and community leadership. A wide range of research and policy work also is planned.

The chair in Rural Community, Leadership and Youth Development at Penn State supports UNESCO's priorities for addressing the specific needs of rural youth and communities, Brennan explained.

"For all citizens, but especially young people, the impacts, outcomes and potentials of community are real, tangible and measurable," he said. "Tremendous things happen when folks care about the people and the place where they live. Strong communities equal stable, just, civil societies."

The panel discussion and inaugural lecture, to be held July 16 in the HUB-Robeson Center Alumni Ballroom, are free and open to the public, but space is limited. Anyone wishing to attend is asked to register by Friday, July 12, online or by calling 814-863-2822.

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Last Updated July 08, 2013