Youth Work 101: Empowering Students to be Leaders

Empowering Students to be Leaders
By Allie Bradford Brown

Welcome to the Youth Work 101 Series! Student U started this blog series to support youth work practitioners, educators, advocates for young people, and after-school professionals in their work by sharing what has worked for us. For insights on this month’s topic, Allie Bradford Brown, Student U’s Advancement Writing Associate, interviewed Korinna Edwards, one of Student U’s outstanding High School Program Coordinators.



Are leaders born or made? At Student U, we definitely believe that all students are leaders-some seek leadership or come by it more naturally, but certainly all can learn leadership skills and become leaders in their communities. In fact, developing leaders is baked into our very mission: We empower and equip first-generation college students in Durham Public Schools, their families, and educators to become the leaders that will transform our city.

Korinna Edwards, one of Student U’s High School Program Coordinators, empowers students to be leaders like it’s her job. (It is.) Korinna believes it is important for all Student U students to develop leadership skills because they are, in fact, the future leaders of their communities. “Here in Durham is where they live, and this is where a lot of them will stay-if they can become skilled and empowered leaders, they can improve things for themselves, their classmates, their family, and everyone they know.” Empowered leaders impact our community in many positive ways. 


Leadership Skills and Values

“Many of the skills needed to be a leader are not typically taught during the regular school day,” says Korinna, “so we try to impart these skills here at Student U.” We explicitly teach skills like public speaking, giving presentations, note taking and networking skills, but we also discuss softer skills like how to move around a room, what kind of questions to ask, and how to be really present in meetings or conversations.

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At Student U, we have Six Core Values, and while all of them are important, Korinna highlights three that really help to develop a good leader: 

Respecting Self and Others-First and foremost, see yourself as a leader and see others for what they can offer. This gets students in the right mindset to try to make change and find solutions.

Dream Fearlessly-We encourage students to really invest and believe in themselves. Don’t get caught up in the challenges that surround you, but dream up better scenarios then figure out how to make them happen.

Share your Brilliance-Empowered students recognize their leadership qualities and feel motivated to share what they learn with the community. This is where our students can transform our city and the people around them.


How Student U Develops Leaders 

Here at Student U, we walk with students through the steps of achieving their dreams through their brilliance-tutoring, support with college applications, bringing in professionals for career day to envision different futures for themselves-things like this contribute to helping students achieve their dreams and share their brilliance with the world. 

Student U students have many opportunities to lead within Student U, such as having high school helpers assist with middle school events, or working with staff to develop a Student U student council. In addition, Student U seeks feedback from students about changes they want to see and incorporates their input in a variety of ways. Student U staff also shares opportunities within the community, offers enrichment funds for academic opportunities or personal leadership pursuits, and provides after-school tutoring and mental health counseling to ensure that students are in a position to make change when the opportunity presents itself. 


What Makes Student U Students and Alumni so Amazing? 

What inspires Korinna most about Student U students and the way they lead? “Knowing what some students go through day-by-day, how they keep going despite their past or present circumstances. How they show up here in this space-they’re still open to what we have for them. Some people might shut down or withdraw in those situations, but our students continue to show up, work hard, and set and achieve ambitious goals.”

Korinna also shouts out the passion and dedication of Student U’s staff-in particular, those Student U alumni who have gone through the program, then chose to work for Student U because of the impact that Student U has had on their life. Student U alumni have stepped into leadership roles here and now run programs in full-time staff roles. Their presence shows what a huge impact leadership training can have on students. Korinna sees this as a huge testament to Student U!

Empowering students to be leaders is essential for transforming communities and overcoming institutional obstacles. By developing leadership skills in students, organizations like Student U can help students reach their full potential and become the leaders who will transform our world.


1 Student U’s Six Core Values are: Share your brilliance, dream fearlessly, respect yourself and others, energize your community, achieve greatness, and discover your best self.

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