Young Women's Initiative of Minnesota

Governor Dayton, Lt. Governor Smith, and the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota Release Young Women’s Initiative of Minnesota’s Blueprint for Action

Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton, Lt. Governor Tina Smith, and the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota have released the findings of a UROC-authored report for the Young Women's Initiative of MinnesotaAction Research Engagement Process: Community-Based Knowledge for the Young Women's Initiative of Minnesota  shares qualitative findings from the community-based action research engagement process conducted by a team from the University of Minnesota’s Urban Research and Outreach-Engagement Center (UROC) commissioned by the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota.  The report is a companion to the project's Blueprint for Action, which offers 20 key recommendations to build a Minnesota where every girl thrives and is the champion of her own life. The plan will engage cross-sector partners from nonprofits, businesses, government, universities, philanthropies, and young women in strategies to eliminate disparities in outcome for young women of color, American Indian young women, LGBTQ youth, young women with disabilities, and young women from Greater Minnesota.

What is the YWI?

The Young Women’s Initiative of Minnesota (YWI MN) is a first-of-its-kind public-private partnership between the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota (WMFN) and the Governor’s Office of the State of Minnesota to achieve equity in opportunity for women and girls ages 12-24. Data show that most young women in Minnesota are on a path for prosperity and well-being. However, when the data are broken down (or disaggregated) they show that some young women endure a disproportionate share of hardships and face barriers which often arise at the intersections of structural inequalities such as gender, race, locality, poverty, ability, and sexuality. YWI MN is inclusive of trans women and gender non-conforming youth. 

UROC's Role in YWI MN

The WFMN commissioned UROC to develop and implement an action research engagement process for YWI MN to surface knowledge, ideas and overarching recommendations to guide YWI MN so that it is rooted in the experience and wisdom of young women (including transgender and gender non-conforming young people) and their communities. The research engagement process was grounded in community experience to reflect the multiple and intersecting identities that shape experiences and outcomes, including gender, race and ethnicity, nationality of origin, geography, spectrums of ability and sexuality. A team at UROC developed a research engagement process rooted in eight communities: African American, African Immigrant, American Indian, Asian American and Pacific Islander, Latina/x and Hispanic, LGBTQ, young women with disabilities, and young women in Greater Minnesota. The research engagement process was anchored in eight community-specific Working Groups and the Young Women's Cabinet. Within each broad community we sought input from as many different community identities as possible. The process engaged over 500 participants including young women aged 16-24 and the community members that surround and support them to share their experience, knowledge and best thinking.

One question drove the action research process: What does it mean for young women in your community to thrive? UROC’s process was guided by a focus on assets – those things that are working well for young women including strengths, resources, hard work, role models, people, programs and organizations, behaviors and practices, and cultural norms and expectations. UROC also asked participants to describe the barriers that young women face in their lives so our recommendations could focus on creating more opportunities specifically crafted to address the most pressing challenges for young women in the eight communities that we engaged.  

For More Information:

If you have questions about the YWI-MN, please visit the Women's Foundation of Minnesota's here.

If you have questions about UROC's research for the YWI-MN, please contact either Lauren Martin at 612-624-4035 or email [email protected]; or Makeda Zulu-Gillespie at 612-626-9829 or email [email protected].


Young Women's Initiative action research engagement process


Young Women's Initiative Blueprint for Action





Feather Tapio

Feather Tapio, Graduate Research Assistant
American Indian and Latina Working Groups

Hi! My name is Feather Tapio and I am a Masters' student in the Counseling and Student Personnel Psychology Program (CSPP) at the University of Minnesota. When I am done with school, I want to be a counselor for women, Native American, and LGBTQ+ communities. My passion for life is to help people who are pushed aside and ignored by listening and finding solutions. I am excited to work with the YWI-MN because this project connects to my life zeal in every way. I get to help the communities of which I am a part, in the state in which I grew up, and make a real change by working with people who share the same passions are me. To say that I have having fun is an understatement! 

Aria Weatherspoon

Aria Weatherspoon, Graduate Research Assistant
African Immigrant Working Group

Hello! My name is Aria Weatherspoon. I am currently a Masters' of Public Health (MPH) candidate (2017) at the University of Minnesota. I am passionate about societal issues and problems, especially those surrounding social justice and sexuality/sexual health for all people. I am very excited to be working on the Young Women's Initiative of Minnesota (YWI-MN) project because as a young woman, I value embracing and empowering other young women (particularly young women of color) to be themselves, know they are magical, and strive for excellence.

Jonathan Watkins

Jonathan Watkins, Graduate Research Assistant

Greetings! My name is Jonathan Watkins. I am currently a second-year Masters' of Public Policy student at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota. I am concentrating on Advanced Policy Analysis and Population Studies. I am deeply grateful to engage in this work in collaboration with so many wonderful communities and a really amazing team of leaders.

Shakita Thomas

Shakita Thomas, Graduate Research Assistant

Hotep (peace)! My name is Shakita Thomas, I am a first year doctoral student in the Culture and Teaching program at the University of Minnesota. I am blessed to be able to work on the YWI MN project with other amazing people. I understand the importance of the work that we are doing, and I am glad that the state of Minnesota and the Women’s Foundation has taken this on. 

Shanelle Lalor

Shanelle Lalor, Research Assistant
African American Working Group

Hello! My name is Shanelle Lalor. I recently graduated from the University of Minnesota with a Bachelor's in Sociology and a minor in Public Health. I am grateful to be a part of this incredible project because it allows me truly improve the lived experiences of young women of color across Minnesota. I am also excited to connect with all the wonderful young women in this project and I look forward to sharing our stories and experiences!

Kaeblie Yang

Kaeblie Yang, Research Assistant
Asian-American / Pacific Islander Working Group

Greetings! My name is Kaeblie Yang and I just graduated from the University of Minnesota with a BA/BS in Sociology and Biology. As a young Asian American woman, I want our voices to create positive change. What drives my passion for anything in life is the journey. I am extremely excited to begin my endeavors with the YWI-MN project in helping young women succeed in their community and beyond. 

Montana Filoteo

Montana Filoteo, Research Assistant
LGBTQ and Young Women with Disabilities Working Groups

Hi! My name is Montana Filoteo and I'm graduating this semester from the University of Minnesota. I'm a double major in Gender, Women & Sexuality Studies and Urban Studies with a minor in Social Justice. I love action research (AR) and this is the fifth AR project I've worked on with various organizations. I think I've found my perfect fit here at UROC. I'm so excited about the YWI because not only do I get to amplify the voices of my loved ones around me, but my own narrative as well. As a person who identifies as Filipino, queer, non-binary and disabled, I feel valued on this project. When I tell people my job, I get to say that people like me matter and that we can make a difference!

Anna Borromeo

Anna Borromeo, Research Assistant

Hi there! My name is Anna Borromeo, and I am currently a second-year undergraduate student at the University of Minnesota. I am working towards receiving a BS in economics and a minor in global studies, focusing on human rights and justice and East Asia. I am particularly interested in development economics, community engagement, and social justice. As a young Asian-American woman and a member of the YWI-MN team, I am incredibly grateful to have this opportunity to empower others and improve the lives of young women, especially those of minority groups, in the various communities across Minnesota.

Lungten Zangmo

Lungten Zangmo, Humphrey International Fellow

Hello! I am the Deputy Chief Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Officer working with the Government to Citizen Office under the Cabinet Secretariat in Bhutan and am involved with improving public service delivery initiatives. I hold a Bachelor of Science and Engineering from Vellore Institute of Technology, India and a Master of Health Informatics from the University of Wollongong in Australia. Upon my return to Bhutan, I plan to address current shortfalls in the country’s public service delivery system, such as setting standards for all public services, designing policies and strategies to strengthen ICT governance models, compliance indicators and regulations. With the YWI-MN, I am focusing on data analysis and the creation of the Prosperity and Wellbeing Index.

Christina Melander

Christina Melander, Research Fellow

Good day! My name is Christina Melander, and I am a Research Fellow at the Robert J. Jones Urban Research Outreach/Engagement Center of the University of Minnesota. I received my Masters’ of Social Work from the U of M with a focus on Community Practice, and my Bachelors’ in Sociology from the University of Chicago. My experiences include direct service, mixed-methods research, and community organizing with survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault, homeless populations, low-income communities, and immigrants in Chicago and the Twin Cities. Currently I conduct community-based and participatory research on commercial sex and trafficking so that through rigorous methodology, research can tackle some of society’s biggest social issues. I am passionate about the Young Women's Initiative of Minnesota because of its community-engagement focus, and the significance of taking political and social action to advance equity in outcomes for young women, especially young women of color, in Minnesota.

Stephanie Bahr

Stephanie Bahr, Project Administration Coordinator
Young Women in Greater Minnesota Working Group

Hi! My name is Stephanie Bahr and I have the privilege of working as the Project Administration Coordinator for the Young Women's Initiative of Minnesota. I have over 25 years’ experience developing and managing constituent and community-led programs, striving to close the opportunity gaps for communities who are historically underserved and underrepresented in the US and in India. My work experience includes facilitation of community-led projects, research and program evaluation, and development and management of CBOs. I have work experience specializing in refugee advocacy, women’s and children’s rights, and sustainable environment education, as well as volunteer experience in India and Guatemala. I have a Bachelor of Science in Cultural Anthropology/Sociology and will soon be working on my Masters' degree. My daughter Emerson and I, and our three dogs, call Plymouth home.

Beulah Momanyi

Beulah Momanyi, AmeriCorps VISTA

Hello! I am currently an AmeriCorps VISTA on the Young Women's Initiative and the Trauma Recovery Project. I am passionate about social justice and changing perceptions in our society. I’m excited to be a part of the Young Women’s Initiative of Minnesota because it is promoting inclusive practices that stray away from the norm of researching on people and instead focuses on research that partners with young women and gives them a direct and clear voice in their own success.

Lauren Martin

Lauren Martin, Director of Research

Hi there! My name is Lauren Martin and I am the Director of Research at the University of Minnesota’s Urban Research Outreach-Engagement Center (UROC), as well as affiliated faculty at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs. My PhD is in Anthropology from the New School for Social Research in New York City. I have been conducting community based and action research with community partners since 2004. Most of my work is about sex trading, commercial sex and sex trafficking in its community context. My research mission is to co-create research that surfaces marginalized wisdom for social change. My official bio and links to publications are available on the UROC website’s People section.  I am so excited to lead the research engagement process for the YWI with my UROC colleague Makeda Zulu-Gillespie, and to work with an amazing team of emerging leaders and scholars. I am committed to the goals of YWI to advance equity in outcomes for young women in Minnesota and this is a great way for my work to move more upstream!

Makeda Zulu-Gillespie

Makeda Zulu-Gillespie, Director of Community Outreach

Hello! My name is Makeda Zulu-Gillespie and I am the Director of Community Outreach at the University of Minnesota's Urban Research Outreach-Engagement Center (UROC). I work with the North Minneapolis community to establish relationships with the University. I coordinate the University-Northside Partnership's Community Affairs Committee, respond to community inquires, represent UROC at community forums, and develop activities to strengthen long-term partnerships between the University and community members. As a native of North Minneapolis and a former community organizer, I have worked with area youth, families, and community for more than 22 years. I am also a graduate of the University's President's Emerging Leaders program. As part of the YWI-MN, I am leading our team in community engagement and outreach with communities. I am excited to be learning so much from young women through this initiative!