Patti Neiman, MA (She, Her, Hers)
University YMCA Director of Educational Efficacy and Leadership, Minneapolis

What brought you into the field of youth development?

Some of my earliest inspirational “lessons” about young people came during junior high school.  These lessons were woven into my school experiences, such as observing the impact of  poverty, racism, bullying and exclusion. Also interspersed in the weave was that I knew I was “different” than my peers due to belonging to a minority religion. I defiantly internalized generational trauma from anti-semitism  experienced in Europe and the Twin Cities.  As a youth I didn't use my voice when I saw people being bullied or mistreated. I didn’t know how to be brave, all I felt was fear and I knew what I was seeing went against my values. This emotional memory festered inside of me for many years and really pushed me to find and use my voice today. It also created the drive to become an advocate, mentor and prevention educator for those who had and have not found their voice.

Many years, experiences and memories later, I was propelled to seek a career in helping others. After my undergraduate degree in Human Services was completed, I worked for a year in a Women’s Clinic, then returned to higher education to complete a Masters in Educational Psychology, Counseling and Student Personnel Psychology (1988). My goal was to become a therapist to support young women.  I began learning the trade of “therapist” within a women’s mental health clinic during graduate school. This work taught me so much about the critical needs of young people during their transition into adulthood. I was 27 years old then, supporting women not much younger than myself, who were facing such immense crises across eating disorders, sexual abuse, depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation.

Eventually I started to feel that I was on the wrong end of serving others. Although a deeply impactful transition occurred professionally for me, I instinctively knew I could do more through providing advocacy and prevention education. It is truly painful to see and hear the impact of young people not having the experiences in their life that all should have the privilege to experience.  Mental illness see’s no boundaries, it can come into the world with us when we are born as well as develop due to lack of resources and/or support to work through complex experiences (e.g. trauma, stress).  I wanted to be part of the solution to prevent what I saw, to find a way to provide better access to resources, specifically through developmental relationships, such as mentoring.  I knew I could serve better by giving young people a chance to utilize my support, knowledge and resources.

We believe that Hello Insight is made up of a community of learners. How has a spirit of continuous learning played a role in your work?

I am very much at home in a community of learners, which explains my comfort working with Hello Insight staff!  From my perspective, you can’t be a Developmental Psychologist without understanding the value of continuous learning - they are intricately connected. I love the feeling that I never know everything I need to know. It truly fuels my curiosity and drives my motivation and growth - from intercultural competency to creating programs to striving toward equity - there’s a great deal out there if you are open to listening.

Much of the developmental work I do with young adults is coaching them to be brave and resilient as they push through the discomfort of their growth zones. When I reflect back upon my career - there were some pivotal “learning moments” during my growth zones that I believe were critical in my development. Most of them were what I would call “interpersonal exchanges” - but others were based on research that peaked my curiosity. A memory that stands out for me was when I first became aware of the research that was being done about identifying strengths as it relates to career decision making. I excitedly dove into learning about How to Soar with Your Strengths by Donald O. Clifton and Paula Nelson, and the rest was history. I learned a new approach to helping students understand what they naturally do best and how to lift their talents more naturally into their futures.

Have you faced any challenges translating all of your research into practice?

As a practitioner, we are often left to “connect the dots” from nuggets of compartmentalized information. The longer I live, the more I am convinced that much of what we learned at some point must be unlearned to make space for a new way to understand our changing world. Research is not a means to an end, it is a means for more questions to be asked, more rocks to be turned over, more unlearning and learning to be experienced. Often the results of research can  help us identify potential impacts and outcomes, but there is always a risk with research - so the limitations must always be taken into account.  The biggest danger is “stopping”, one should take the nuggets of learning with them, but keep open to the next application of an applied theory or body of knowledge.

How did you first get introduced to Hello Insight’s tools?

I first started using the Hello Insight tools when it was assigned to us through a grant I received with the Y USA project called Character Development Learning Institute. Implementing Hello Insight’s tools was a good learning experience for us. The reason we have continued to use Hello Insight is because more than any other tool, HI is rooted in people and experiences. The staff at Hello Insight are consistently willing and eager to talk about the measures, hear feedback, and continually develop perspective.

As I’ve delved further into Hello Insight’s framework, it’s become more clear how valuable the tools were in capturing our students’ experiences and growth.  The Hello Insight data gathered in our college readiness programs provided us a much better way to understand young people’s perspectives and how best to serve them through their development.

As we begin to surface from two years in a pandemic, and considering where you’re at in your learning journey,  how do you see social and emotional learning’s role in supporting young people’s healing?

Social Emotional Learning can never be implemented in isolation, it's part of who we are, but it’s not all of who we are. I recently dug into the current “resilience” discussions amongst educators and psychologists, looking at the pandemic education (and life) disruptions. As I think about the role I can play and the programming I can create (as well as the impact I can personally have with the young adults I mentor) I’ve committed to lifting the awareness and the power of self-efficacy. One of my greatest “aha” moments was last summer when I pieced together that children exposed to consistent recognition of effort were more likely to develop resilience skills.  This alone opened a door in my mind to how I would pivot my programming - eureka!
This past summer I had the opportunity to create a Learning Loss Recovery mentoring program where college students would serve as mentors in classrooms and out of school time.  In October 2021, the pilot was implemented at 3 sites for six weeks. During spring semester we were able to fully launch a 15 week program.  My goal was to provide the opportunity to grow self-efficacy in young people.  College mentors were trained to focus on identifying and recognizing the “effort” each child put into the activities, helping them identify and break down self-imposed and/or societal barriers into “stepping stones” that could be in their control - with goals they wanted to reach.
Building a learning loss recovery program required a great deal of thought and reflection. I utilized all that I was learning last summer and intentionally chose Hello Insight’s SEL tool to measure the growth and development of my mentors (college students). I was confident that this would compliment the training and experiential learning they would receive.  In the near future we will look to the young people for feedback, learning how the  “Y Step N’ Stones” model and practices impacted their self-efficacy.  We hope the framework introduced will be organic for them to continue as they face new challenges throughout their education and relationships. Believe it, Bridge it, Grow it, Glow it, the Y Step N’ Stones chant, was an impression we hope is life long for the young people we served.

Thank you for this opportunity to share my life’s work!