The Research Training Internship at Ma’yan


I. Project Overviewtop

This pilot project is a partnership among three primary groups: Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago (JUF), Ma’yan, and DePaul University Faculty led by Dr. Beth Catlett, Associate Professor, Department of Women’s and Gender Studies; Dr. Amira Proweller, Associate Professor, Department of Educational Policy Studies and Research, and Dr. Sonya Crabtree-Nelson, Assistant Professor of Social Work. The Research Training Institute (RTI), a project of Ma’yan, was created to generate new knowledge about the lives and experiences of Jewish teen girls and to develop the capacity for teen girls to engage critically with social issues that impact their lives through a feminist lens. As a feminist educational organization, Ma’yan is committed to working with teen girls to broaden knowledge about their lives and experiences; cultivate leadership capacities that will enable these youth to engage in dialogue and decision-making with other teens and women inside and beyond the Jewish community, and to build partnerships among feminist scholars, activists, and Jewish communal professionals. The Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago is one of the largest not-for-profit social welfare institutions in Illinois, whose initiatives include outreach and innovative programming for Jewish youth. The DePaul University faculty involved in the pilot have research priorities centered on community partnerships with focal interests in issues that impact youth, particularly young girls and women.

In line with the mission of the RTI, this project will involve the development of a youth participatory action research (YPAR) project that the teen girls will develop, in conjunction with the facilitation and guidance of the university faculty, a graduate student, and a youth professional from the JUF. Together, we envision a youth participatory action research project shaped by the concerns and interests of a diverse group of Jewish teens mobilized around asking critical questions about how power, privilege and oppression inform their lives as young Jewish girls across multiple and intersecting dimensions. We seek to work together to critically consider and impact the knowledge and skills for inspiring positive social change within the lives of these youth, their communities, and beyond. As these youth engage in local knowledge production with the goal of developing solutions to problems they believe need to be addressed to improve conditions for young girls, Jewish and otherwise, the DePaul participating faculty and collaborators share a commitment to deepening understanding of the benefits of youth-led models of participation in research and how such approaches can potentially give youth access to the conversation, politics, practice, and theory to which they have and continue to be denied. In addition to the youth-led participatory action research project generated by program participants, the DePaul participating faculty plan to undertake a qualitative research study exploring the implications of the YPAR research model for youth empowerment and action for social change.

II. Context, Methodology & Primary Findingstop

Theoretical Foundations

The pilot is undertaken from an asset-based model of youth that emphasizes their strengths and resiliencies rather than a deficit-based model that denies them agency (Ginwright & Cammarota, 2002; Cammarota & Fine, 2008). Within the scholarship on positive youth development, youth participatory action research is an approach that centers youth in decisions and practices on issues of importance in their lives. “Youth-led participatory action research (YPAR) is a change process that engages students in identifying problems that they want to improve, conducting research to understand the nature of the programs, and advocating for changes based on research evidence” (London, Zimmerman, & Erbstein, 2003, as cited in Ozer & Wright, 2012, p. 268). It is based on the assumption that youth have the capacity to critically reflect on and assess their social context, to engage in critical inquiry in a collective fashion, and to take steps to find solutions to extant problems. As such, it is grounded in several fundamental principles, among them active participation of the youth in the research process, as they draw on their own lives and experiences in formulating a relevant and meaningful research question; collaboration between youth and adults; and understanding research as a process that is advocacy and action oriented, aimed at raising awareness about privilege and oppression and empowering youth, in this case, to take action toward individual and social change. Feminist theory is central in this YPAR project, as a guide for engaging in research grounded in girls’ experiences (Way, 2001). Feminist PAR creates a space for local knowledge to be constructed from voices that are often muted, laying important and much needed groundwork for potential change (Frisby et al., 2009)


The research design for the YPAR pilot is an interactive model that will involve the student participants, DePaul University faculty, and youth professional from the Jewish United Federation in a shared partnership. Everyone involved in this pilot will collaborate on various stages of the research. The DePaul University faculty, JUF youth professional, and the graduate assistant will provide the participating youth with instruction in the design and conduct of a participatory action research study, and will work with the youth to facilitate development of the main research question, data collection and analysis, and crafting a written report or related product for disseminating research findings. Depending on the focal research question, the youth could potentially be involved in data collection involving such methods as participant observation, interviews, questionnaires, document review, and analysis of popular culture forms.

Ancillary to the youth-led project, the university researchers will conduct additional research on the YPAR process itself for publication in academic journals. Findings from the youth led study and the university researcher’s ancillary studies will inform program evaluation and recommendations for future pilot sites.

III. Leadership Team and Community Partnerstop

DePaul University
  • Beth Catlett, Ph.D. Co-founder of BRI and Chair of the Department of Women’s and Gender Studies

Dr. Beth Catlett is the Department Chair and an Associate Professor in the Women’s and Gender Studies Program at DePaul University. Professor Catlett received her B.A. and M.A. from the University of Pennsylvania, and her doctorate in Family Relations and Human Development from the Ohio State University. Her areas of scholarly interest include community development, community-based participatory action research, diversity in families, violence in intimate relationships, qualitative research methodologies, and the social construction of masculinities. Dr. Catlett specializes in community-based research involving gendered violence, adolescent relationships, and social movements to create community change. Her research has been published in several journals including Family Science Review, Men and Masculinities, Violence and Victims, Family Relations, the American Journal of Community Psychology, and the Journal of Divorce and Remarriage. She was most recently published in the Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning.

  • Amira Proweller, Ph.D. Chair of the Education Department and Associate Professor of Educational Policy Studies and Research

Dr. Amira Proweller, Education Department Chair and Associate Professor of Educational Policy Studies and Research, received her Ph.D. in the Social Foundations of Education from the State University of New York at Buffalo. She is the author of Constructing Female Identities: Meaning Making in an Upper-Middle Class Youth Culture and has also written several articles on youth culture and gender issues in a school context. Her research interests have focused on the cultural politics of schooling, youth culture and identity construction, qualitative research methodologies, and the socialization of urban teachers. Most recently, she has conducted collaborative research on the experiences of college students involved in a community-based service learning program on teen violence prevention in public schooling. Dr. Proweller serves as chair of the Department of Educational Policy Studies and Research in the College of Education at DePaul University and also teaches courses in the sociology of education, identity in education, social and historical issues in education, and qualitative research methods.

  • Dr. Sonya Crabtree-Nelson, Ph.D. Assistant Professor of Social Work

Sonya Crabtree-Nelson, PhD, LCSW received her Doctorate of Philosophy in Social Work from Loyola University Chicago and her MSW from the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) Jane Addams College of Social Work. Dr. Crabtree-Nelson is excited to join the DePaul University MSW Program. Previously, she has had the opportunity to teach as an adjunct Professor at various area colleges and universities. She also has fifteen years of direct practice experience working in the areas of child welfare and domestic violence. Her research interests include domestic violence, elder abuse and issues related to boundaries in mezzo and macro practice.

Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago,
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V. Funding & Sponsorstop

William and Irene Beck Foundation

The William and Irene Beck Foundation is a long time sponsor of the Beck Research Initiative for Women, Gender and Community and provides generous financial support for community based research and special projects, graduate assistantships, the faculty fellowship program, and other underwriting. The Foundation was a generous supporter of Take Back the Halls: Ending Violence in Relationships and Schools.

Beck Foundation LOGOAbout

The William and Irene Beck Foundation is a not-for-profit corporation that provides grants, contributions, and in-kind services to other not-for-profit organizations with 501(C)3 status. It is a family foundation committed to helping programs that work against discrimination, particularly related to racism and sexism. Its primary foci are directed toward those with financial needs by providing program support and educational opportunities for low-income youth, children, as well as opportunities for job-related training for adults.

The foundation is intended to act as a catalyst for change, and supports innovative ideas, plans, and projects; it takes a pro-active part in the prevention of further problems. Its board and family members participate in as well as contribute to programs involving education, youth, and the disadvantaged. The foundation seeks to ally itself with activities and organizations which reach out to those who most need help.

Jewish Women’s Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago

The Jewish Women’s Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago seeks to expand and improve opportunities and choices in all aspects of Jewish women and girls’ lives through strategic and effective grant-making. At the same time, the Foundation empowers women as leaders, funders, and decision makers.


Since 1997, the Jewish Women’s Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago (JWF) has worked to expand and improve opportunities and choices in all aspects of Jewish women and girls’ lives through strategic and effective grant-making. In our short history, we have grown from a small group of committed donors into one of the largest Jewish Women’s Foundations in the country.

The JWF seeks to promote systemic change by funding projects which improve the overall status and well-being of Jewish women and girls and by targeting the root causes of the challenges we face. The foundation funds organizations that address issues through a “gender lens” and a “Jewish lens” because we recognize that Jewish women and girls have unique needs both because of our gender and our religious and cultural heritage.