Pursuing interests and getting involved: Exploring the conditions of sponsorship in youth learning

Carrie Allen, Daniela DiGiacomo, Katie Van Horne, William Penuel


The phenomenon of “brokering”—or connecting youth to present or future opportunities—is now well known in the field of learning and youth development as an integral part of how and why youth pursue and remain in particular interest-related learning opportunities. More recently, the related term sponsorship refers to the multiple ways in which youth experience brokering-like moments related to their interests. This article aims to better understand how sponsorship functions in the everyday conduct of youths’ lives, as well as if and how sponsorship mediates young people’s sustained participation and planned future in relation to their interest(s). We leverage a longitudinal data set collected over three years of youth participation in interest-related activities to retrospectively understand sponsorship within the existing conditions of young people’s lives, including youth interest and access to program resources. Findings suggest that interest was often not the initial driver for youth entering an activity, but that youth joined activities based on other perceived benefits. Once involved, however, they found themselves developing skills, making friends, and seeing a possible future in the activity. We conclude with design principles intended to support young people in joining an activity, sustaining their participation, and seeing new possibilities for their futures.  


Interest-related learning; sponsorship; social connections; planned futures

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