Summer jobs boost self-​​esteem and pro­mote lead­er­ship skills in at-​​risk youth, says Gia Bar­boza, a new assis­tant pro­fessor of African Amer­ican studies in the Col­lege of Social Sci­ences and Human­i­ties at North­eastern University.

Bar­boza recently ana­lyzed the impact of summer employ­ment on more than 400 14-​​to 24 year-​​olds in three high vio­lence Boston neigh­bor­hoods, including Grove Hall, Bowdoin—Geneva and Franklin Field.

Her research is an example of Northeastern’s core com­mit­ment to inte­grating research and edu­ca­tion with engage­ment in the com­mu­nity in ways that address global and soci­etal needs.

The project is part of a city­wide pro­gram led by the State Street Foun­da­tion to increase summer employ­ment oppor­tu­ni­ties for at-​​risk youth.

In June, John Han­cock, the United Way of Mass­a­chu­setts Bay and other pri­vate foun­da­tions and non­profits backed the ini­tia­tive by donating $635,000. The state gov­ern­ment pro­vided addi­tional funding.

This is really a community-​​participatory research project that has a lot of part­ner­ships across the city,” says Bar­boza, who praised Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino for sup­porting the program.

Bar­boza, whose schol­ar­ship focuses on the rela­tion­ship between public health indi­ca­tors and social prob­lems, advo­cates for treating social ills such as youth vio­lence with pre­ven­tion and inter­ven­tion as opposed to fun­neling offenders through the crim­inal jus­tice system.

The way Bar­boza sees it, “When you think about the long-​​term costs asso­ci­ated with incar­cer­a­tion, it’s much more effi­cient to fund orga­ni­za­tions that employ these youth and pro­vide them with skills that help them achieve their long-​​term goals.”

Before joining the North­eastern fac­ulty, Bar­boza served as director of research and eval­u­a­tion for the Dudley Street Neigh­bor­hood Ini­tia­tive, Inc., a community-​​based plan­ning and orga­nizing non­profit. She also served as a post-​​doctoral fellow at the Insti­tute for Quan­ti­ta­tive Social Sci­ence, at Har­vard Uni­ver­sity, and as a research asso­ciate at the Depart­ment of Emer­gency Med­i­cine, at Yale University.

For her most recent project, she held focus groups and admin­is­tered sur­veys to hun­dreds of young adults in the summer employ­ment pro­gram to find out what they learned, how the expe­ri­ence will shape their future behavior and to mea­sure both direct and indi­rect crim­ino­genic risk factors.

She finds that summer job pro­grams that focus on youth devel­op­ment and pro­vide inten­sive men­toring teach youth how to make good deci­sions, improve com­mu­ni­ca­tions skills and pre­pare them for future edu­ca­tional and pro­fes­sional opportunities.

As Bar­boza puts it, “Had it not been for the influx of funding this summer, the results for this city could have been disastrous.”

On the other hand, she has real­istic expec­ta­tions for how much change a six-​​week pro­gram could have on, say, a young person in a vio­lent gang, noting its goal of having an “indi­rect pos­i­tive impact on crime by teaching coop­er­a­tion, respect and how to react in trau­matic situations.”

Bar­boza plans to present her find­ings to mem­bers of the Youth Vio­lence Pre­ven­tion Col­lab­o­ra­tive com­prised of fun­ders, city offi­cials and other stake­holders across the city, in early December.

She’s working with North­eastern under­grad­uate stu­dents and com­mu­nity mem­bers to inter­pret the results.

I’m really pas­sionate about this work,” she says, “because it involves com­mu­nity in its most broad sense with the ulti­mate goal of changing people’s lives for the better.”