About Us


rwPrincipal Investigator

Roderick Watts has lived in ten cities over the years and now resides in Harlem, New York City. His interest in social activism began with student government and protest activities at Oberlin College, and continued with a dissertation on sociopolitical development while earning a doctoral degree in psychology at the University of Maryland, College Park. While on the faculty at DePaul University in Chicago, he developed the “Young Warriors” project for African American young men in a South-Side high school, aimed at promoting critical consciousness on issues of race, gender and social justice. As both a Community psychologist and a licensed clinical psychologist, his research and applied work looks at human behavior and social change from multiple levels of analysis. As a practitioner, he has served as a program development and evaluation consultant to governmental organizations, schools, foundations, research and public-policy organizations, universities, and other nonprofit organizations on a variety of projects. His action and research interests include liberation studies and action (LiSA), sociopolitical development theory, men’s development (especially tapping the potential of Black men leaving prison), and participatory action research. Currently, Watts is a professor of Professor of Psychology at the Graduate Center of City University of New York (CUNY) and a Professor of Social Welfare at the Silberman school of Social Work at Hunter College. He is a fellow in the American Psychological Association and the Society for Community Research and Action. In past years, Watts on the faculty of Georgia State University, and held positions at The Consultation Center and Yale University’s School of Medicine.


Ben Kirshner grew up in Brookline, Massachusetts and in his twenties lived in the San Francisco Bay Area where he worked in an organization called Youth in Action. His experiences working with young people in San Francisco’s Mission District motivated him to study educational equity and the design of learning environments, which he pursued at Stanford’s Graduate School of Education. Ben is now an Associate Professor in the School of Education at CU-Boulder and serves as Faculty Director for CU Engage: Center for Community-Based Learning and Research. Through his new work with CU Engage Ben seeks to develop and sustain university-community partnerships that leverage the resources of the university to address persistent public challenges. Ben’s research examines community-based youth organizing, participatory action research, and new forms of digital media as contexts for learning, development, and social change. In addition to his work on the International Youth Organizing Study, Ben is co-PI for a study of community organizing for More and Better Learning Time (funded by the Ford Foundation) and Network Advisor to the MacArthur Foundation’s Connected Learning Research Network. Ben is also PI for a new grant from the Spencer Foundation to measure the quality of young people’s policy arguments in public settings and design tools for educators based on the results.


Project Director

Rashida H. Govan is an educator, activist and writer who has worked for almost 20 years in education and youth development. Govan is a 2011 graduate of the University of New Orleans (UNO) where she earned her Ph.D. in educational administration. She is currently completing a postdoctoral position as project director of the International Study on Youth Community Organizing. Her other research interests include African American girls’ adolescent development and college readiness, access and success. Rashida is also a budding entrepreneur who launched a small consulting business in 2012, Rashida H. Govan, LLC, whose clients have included the Office of the Mayor of the City of New Orleans, the Urban League of Greater New Orleans and College Track. Govan is deeply committed to the uplift of girls and women and is the founder and executive director of Project Butterfly New Orleans, an African-centered rites of passage program for girls. To date, Project Butterfly New Orleans has served nearly 150 high school girls in New Orleans. Rashida is deeply engaged in the New Orleans community and is credited with facilitating a number of community education programs including parent leadership trainings with the Fatherhood Consortium and the PRIDE Parent Leadership Academy, the Trayvon Martin Teach-In and the Assata Shakur Teach-In. Govan also has spoken nationally on hip hop culture and has been a featured speaker in panels with the Hip Hop President, Dr. Walter Kimbrough of Dillard University, Lupe Fiasco, Mannie Fresh and Mia X. She has spoken widely on issues concerning girls and women and is a proud alumna of Morgan State University.

FernandezPost-doctoral Fellow

Jesica Siham Fernández was born in Mexico and raised by a transmigrant family in the labor fields of California. She completed her PhD in social-community psychology and Latin American & Latino Studies (LALS) from the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC). Over the years she’s been active in organizing for undocumented families, and the implementation of ethnic studies curricula. Trained as a community-based researcher, she is committed to engaging in social justice research that decolonizes knowledge, theory, and methods by centering individual and community experiences. Through the use of participatory action research (PAR), Jesica has collaborated with community members on identifying social problems affecting their lives, determining actions to address them, and facilitating sustainable structural change. She was the program coordinator and assistant coordinator of the Change 4 Good After-school Program between 2009-2013. Currently, she a faculty member in the Ethnic Studies Department at Santa Clara University, where she teaches courses on race and ethnicity, community-based research, diversity & inequality in education, and Chicanx/Latinx studies. Jesica’s research is centered on documenting the sociopolitical practices and embodiments of critical cultural citizenship and sociopolitical development among young people  of color. Her current project centers on identifying the processes and practices that contribute to the development of sociopolitical justice-oriented citizenship among women of color student-activists. Jesica’s pedagogy strives to challenge students to approach learning in critical and self-reflexive ways. The goals of her scholarship and pedagogy are one and the same: to engage in a praxis of solidarity for justice-oriented social change.