Published Articles

Youth dialogue and design for educational possibility: eliciting youth voice in community development

Richardson Bruna, K., McNelly, C., Greder K., & Rongerude, J. (2020). Youth dialogue and design for educational possibility: eliciting youth voice in community development. Journal of Community Practice 28:2, 121-131, DOI: 10.1080/10705422.2020.1757006


Working with a community-based organization, we engaged middle school youth in mapping the realities of and dreams for their neighborhoods. We document the process we used to guide youth reflection on themselves as learners and, more specifically, detail our discoveries about their schools as learning places. Using critical literacy as a frame, we assert that youth insights about the physical, relational, and agentive environments of school reveal that they were able to read themselves as products of their community “text” in ways supported by scholarly understandings of educational inequity. This advanced and legitimized youth representation in our university-school-community partnership effort.

Who Takes the Cake in Community and Economic Development? ‘Going along’ with Metaphor to Problematize the Collective Impact of a Place-Based Promise Programme

Richardson Bruna, K., McNelly, C., & Rongerude, J. (2019). Who takes the cake in community and economic development? ‘Going along’ with metaphor to problematize the collective impact of a place-based promise programme. Ethnography and Education 15 (2).


Linguists understand metaphors to be shortcuts to an individual’s tacit knowledge about the world. As ethnographers and planners building a university-school partnership and seeking to understand residents’ perceptions of their urban neighbourhood, attention to use of metaphor allowed us insight into an insider’s mental model of who is in the community. In this article, we describe how, in our interview-based ethnographic needs assessment, one of our project participant’s metaphors helped us discern the lived nature of social stratification as racialised economic inequality. This insight not only informs our partnership work but subverts some important assumptions about programme impact. Our experience suggests metaphor analysis contributes an important tool for ethnographic interpretation.

If We Build It, Will They Come? Fielding Dreams of College Access

Richardson Bruna, K., Farley, F., McNelly, C., Sellers, D., & Johnson, R. (2017). If we build it, will they come?: Fielding dreams of college access & affordability through an innovative promise programJournal of Higher Education Outreach and Engagement 21 (4).

ISU 4U Promise Director, Dr. Katherine Richardson Bruna, and a team of collaborators representing early postdoctoral, doctoral, Extension and Outreach, and Financial Aid contributions to the initiative have written an article describing its unique characteristics. The article was published in December 2017.


This article describes the ISU 4U Promise, an innovative college access and affordability initiative. Through this early-commitment partnership program between Iowa State University and Des Moines Public Schools, youth from two urban elementary schools are eligible for tuition awards when they enroll as undergraduates at Iowa State University. Drawing on a review of promise programs in the educational scholarly literature, this article identifies what makes the ISU 4U Promise distinctive among promise efforts in terms of contextual antecedents, implementation processes, and potential institutional outcomes. Unique features include its early childhood focus; sole university sponsorship; “wide-net” reach; and collaborative, critical orientation to education and evaluation. With a bidirectional understanding of knowledge and a bivalent orientation to social justice, the ISU 4U Promise is a promising pathway for universities aspiring to update their approach to college access outreach.

The Urban Ecosystem Project

Richardson Bruna and colleague Lyric Bartholomay, a medical entomologist from the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, are co-principal investigators of a $1.25 million grant from the National Institutes of Health. The project, Young Scientists, Ambitious Teachers Improving Health in an Urban Ecosystem (or UEP), uses the theme of mosquitoes and public health to engage ISU 4U Promise youth in authentic science activity, inspired by natural curiosity about insects and the natural world. They have presented on this work at the American Anthropological Association, the Association of Science Teacher Education, and the Anthropological Society for Tropical Medicine and Hygiene. For more information, please visit the UEP website.

Community context needs assessments

Richardson Bruna and ISU 4U Promise Postdoctoral Research Associate, Carla A. McNelly, collaborated on two projects in support of the ISU 4U Promise program. One used interviews with community leaders to learn about the demographically transitioning neighborhoods served by the initiative and, from these, identified priorities for ongoing design and implementation as informed by place-based perspectives. The second, Designing Dialogues for Youth and Community Transformation, used a series of mapping activities with ISU 4U Promise youth to identify learning assets and barriers in the community. In this Design Dialogues project, Richardson Bruna and McNelly collaborate with co-PIs, Jane Rongerude from Community and Regional Planning in the College of Design, and Kim Greder from Human Development and Family Studies in the College of Human Sciences. Presentations on these needs assessments efforts have been made at the American Educational Research Association and American Anthropological Association meetings.

The ISU 4U Promise Scholar 12th grade pathway to college

Wendy Robinder, a School of Education doctoral student and graduate research assistant working with the Admissions Office in support of the ISU 4U Promise, is researching the resources, needs, and challenges of the first fall 2018 Promise Scholar cohort. Katie Seifert, the ISU 4U Promise graduate research assistant and ISU’s first Peace Corps Coverdell Fellow, is using the theoretical lens and methodological tools of portraiture to capture the experiences of three 12th-grade Promise Scholars as they develop college-going identities and build among them a sense of belonging. Robinder’s and Seifert’s research will be integral in helping shape collaborative efforts between Admissions and the ISU 4U Promise and ensure effective outreach for future cohorts.

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