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Policy Pathways: Laying a Foundation for Advocacy in the Future

by Gretchen Kent with Policy Pathways

In a city and nation often fraught with social and political discontent, it is difficult to determine what one should be doing to make a difference and how to go about it. Be it on social media, in lunchrooms, or sidewalks, younger generations have been yielding the baton in this arena more than ever before. With the absence of public protests, marches, and demonstrations of last year’s magnitude, some parents breathed a sigh of relief, but at what cost to their children who still yearn to have their voices heard and hope to make a difference in the world? 

If your teenagers seek to stretch their civic engagement muscles, Policy Pathways is the organization that can equip them with the knowledge, skills, and networks to do just that.

This spring, I became the newest recruit for Policy Pathways, a Richmond-based nonprofit centered around training our youth in making their voices heard. I met the organization’s president and CEO, Dr. D. Pulane Lucas, by happenstance at REI, and her honest inquiries into my search for experience unraveled into a beautiful opportunity. I now have the privilege of furthering her magnanimous cause, sharing the organization’s mission, and touting the accomplishments of program graduates.

Policy Pathways promotes equitable access to high quality policy education. Its college preparatory year-round and summer programs are available to youth and young adults aged fifteen to twenty-five who are interested in making a difference in their communities and society. A signature program of the organization is its Policy and Society Year-Round College Preparatory Program offered in partnership with Richmond Public Schools. The credit-bearing semester-long course, Shaping Our Future: Policy Pathways, was offered Spring 2021 at John Marshall and George Wythe High Schools. One participant said, “The class helped me listen more and be more open about my responses. It also helped me look for key points and get a chance to talk to different people, see their point of view.”

Curriculum for Young Leaders in Civics

The Shaping Our Future: Policy Pathways course boasts instruction from renowned professors, government, business, and nonprofit leaders, and experts in the fields of public policy and administration. By operating online, we benefit from international guest lecturers, such as Dr. Nana Sarfo Agyemang Derkyi, Associate Professor and Dean of the School of Engineering, University of Energy and Natural Resources (UENR), Sunyani, Ghana, who joined our classroom remotely to speak on climate change and energy policy.

Wayne Thomas, social studies teacher at George Wythe High School, cites the core value of the program as “the design and strategy of the learning management system [which] allows teachers to differentiate instruction for students to learn at their own pace.” Indeed, they must exercise much in the way of time management to keep themselves on track, both in collaborations with students and independent work.

The Spring 2021 term culminated June 10 with a Virtual Capstone Showcase entitled Young Minds: Pathways to REAL Change in conjunction with Richmond Public Schools’ REAL Richmond course. The capstone projects were the semester’s culminating academic experiences. Capstone projects challenge students to learn about real-world issues and experiences. These educational opportunities developed students’ creative thinking, critical thinking, collaboration, communication, and citizenship skills, while helping them explore new ways to approach, think about, and solve problems at the local, national, and international levels.

Policy Pathways collaborated with academic institutions and for-profit and nonprofit organizations to offer students invaluable learning opportunities. This year’s capstone projects were as follows:

  • Columbia University’s International Research Institute for Climate and Society: Climate Information for Disaster Risk Management During Monsoon Season in Central Vietnam.
  • The Center for Women and Food Security- Ghana & The Commonwealth (VA) Chapter of The Links Incorporated: Climate Change and the Restoration of Depleted Forests to Build Food Security in Rural Ghana.
  • Hampton Redevelopment and Housing Authority: Understanding the Needs of HRHA Residents.
  • Create One: Your Life Your Destiny Workforce Media Project: Sealing the Cracks in the Pipeline: Increasing the Number of Black Male Doctors in the United States.
  • City of Richmond Office of Community Wealth Building: U.S. Census Data: The Implications of Persistent Undercounting on Communities of Color.

“The Virtual Capstone Showcase presentation for some students was the first time presenting.  It was an accomplishment for them to follow through with a group effort to step in and make contributions to the project where and when needed,” Thomas said.

Just as important as the goals of educating, preparing, and empowering young people to pursue futures in policy leadership, Policy Pathways also seeks to decrease racial disparities in public policy degree programs and careers. The real-world opportunities and critical thinking skills these courses afford students truly build the stepping stones they require to make a difference from the inside. Preliminary findings from the Shaping Our Future: Policy Pathways course post-assessment revealed that respondents indicated a 76 percent likelihood of pursuing a college degree in public policy.

Policy Pathways has the know-how and experience to transform young advocates into the public leaders our communities need.

For more information, please visit

Gretchen Kent is the communications specialist for Policy Pathways, Inc., where she coordinates brand awareness and marketing through media lines and publications, as well as maintains internal and external communication in the company. She is a new resident of Richmond. When she is not working or reading, she enjoys backpacking in the mountains, camping on the coast, and playing tennis or slacklining in parks.


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