About This Project

As emerging adults (EA), 18-25 year olds make important decisions about college, work, + family. While this group comprises almost 10% of the population, there are few public policies supporting their positive development. This study explores the relationships between social agency and the pathway(s) to adulthood and will inform policymakers about new ways to support Rhode Island's young people.

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What is the context of this research?

Have you ever wondered why some young people are able to successfully transition to adulthood and some are not? Why some young people progress in a college environment and others can't stay in school or find a secure job? The U.S. relies on emerging adults for their innovation, their procreation, their contribution to the workforce, and their active participation in social, political, and civic life. This study examines the social agency of low-income emerging adults and emerging adults of color who have diminished access to power and resources. The study then identifies experiences that may facilitate social agency and how agency and its facilitators vary based on race, class, and gender.

What is the significance of this project?

This study measures how individual and structural conditions contribute to social agency and at the same time documents the experiences and opportunities of low-income young people and young people of color in Rhode Island. Additionally, the research brings public attention to opportunity youth (neither in college nor employed) who may require new and/or non-traditional paths in order to enable a successful transition to adulthood. Finally, the study provides voice to young people -- it is from their collective knowledge that researchers and policymakers may decide to place greater value on emerging adults and allocate the resources necessary to promote their collective social agency and to ensure a positive trajectory to adulthood.

What are the goals of the project?

The goal of this project is to better understand what factors are related to a young person's strength of social agency which is defined as (1) hope for the future, (2) efficacy, power, + control, (3) voice + engagement, and (4) ability to act, advocate, and make choices. Phase 1 is a web-based survey, Phase 2 are focus groups to review the survey findings and explore the concepts of social agency based on participants' personal experiences. Finally, Phase 3 is the analysis of findings and the historical documentation of national and state public policies that target emerging adults. The final product will be a set of policy recommendations surrounding the social agency of low-income EA and EA of color in Rhode Island.


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Valuing the contributions of young people is an important part of the study. 3 young people will be paid $30 each to review the survey before distribution. Opportunity youth participants who just began their training program will each receive $10 Dunkin Donut gift cards for participating in the survey. College students and opportunity youth who have progressed in their training program will either receive course credit or will be entered into a lottery for several $100 gift certificates for their survey participation. The 16 focus group participants who share their ideas and photographic images about the dimensions of social agency (hope, power, voice, and choice) will each receive $25 Amazon gift cards. $150 will help provide food for the two focus groups. $360 will cover the costs of transcribing the focus groups. $200 for supplies will help produce and distribute study findings to emerging adults in Rhode Island through arts-based formats on social media.

Endorsed by

I am really happy to endorse this great project as one of Perri Leviss’s former students. I have worked with her and based on my experience she certainly knows how to execute this type of work with the community. The concentration and dedication to research makes this all the more possible and who better than Perri Leviss to put in forth all of her effort and ambition to prepare for a better future for today’s youth.
I have witnessed firsthand Perri's commitment to the success of young people in this age group, including her generous and extended mentorship of Young Voices alumni. Perri will bring this passion for youths' success to her research, and will share her work with practitioners in the field to make a real difference in young people's lives.
I am delighted to endorse this very meaningful, creatively and thoughtfully planned research, which is asking beautifully framed questions about an important and understudied factor, social agency, which has the potential for significant impact in facilitating positive development for diverse emerging adults. Perri Leviss is already an extraordinary force for change in the lives of youth through her community partnered work, and is committed to research that translates knowledge into real world policies.
I'm happy to support this project. Perri has excellent people skills and excellent research skills. I'm confident she can handle the challenges in the field, and will produce important scholarship as a result of this project.
Perri is deeply invested in this work and in the young people she works with. Our relationship has transitioned between mentor-mentee, co-chairs, and close friends and through it all I have seen her dedication to young people finding avenues for social agency and positive social change. I am excited and inspired by the work she will do through this project!

Project Timeline

Survey and focus group data will be collected during the fall of 2017. At the same time, state and national public policy documents about emerging adults will be gathered and evaluated. Throughout the data collection and analysis process, findings will be shared with project backers and the young adult participants. In the winter of 2017/2018, data will be synthesized through qualitative and quantitative software and findings will be documented and distributed soon afterwards.

Oct 13, 2017

Project Launched

Nov 15, 2017

Administer web-based survey

Dec 01, 2017

Administer focus groups

Dec 01, 2017

Analyze state and national public policy

Jan 05, 2018

Analyze and synthesize survey and focus group data

Meet the Team

Perri Leviss
Perri Leviss
Doctoral Candidate


University of Massachusetts Boston
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Perri Leviss

I am currently a doctoral candidate in the Department of Public Policy and Public Affairs in the McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies at the University of Massachusetts Boston. I went back to school to get my PhD so that I could teach, further my commitment to underrepresented youth, and help young people create social change in their communities. I believe that I can contribute to the field by focusing on public policies that support positive pathways to adulthood for low-income emerging adults, emerging adults of color, and opportunity youth. I have spent my career in public sector planning and policy development in the areas of public health, public education, community service/civic engagement, and social services. I also maintained my own strategic planning and management consulting practice serving governments, non-profits and universities throughout New York and New England until returning to school for my PhD in 2012. I have served on the boards of youth leadership organizations and jewish philanthropies and have authored journal articles and textbook chapters.

I have a BA from Tufts University and a MPP from the University of Maryland's School of Public Policy. Most importantly, I am a mom of two young adult daughters who remind me about the amazing power of young people and the importance of having adults available to support their individual and collective journeys.

Additional Information

If somehow I raise more money than my $3,100 target, I will buy more gift cards for the survey lottery so that all the youth participants will have a greater chance to win.

A special thanks to Amy Lash-Boyes for her awesome graphic design work and patience with me. Amy volunteered her services for the project and I am so grateful for her work and friendship.

Participation in the BE HEARD! study is voluntary. The study has been approved by the University of Massachusetts Boston's Institutional Review Board.

Project Backers

  • 40Backers
  • 108%Funded
  • $3,350Total Donations
  • $84.86Average Donation
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