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Barry Garst was destined to spend his life helping youth. Raised in Virginia, his father Wayne worked for Cooperative Extension at Virginia Tech, while his mother Jean worked in banking. He started down the path to where he is today by watching his father.
“My dad’s work with extension was very important. I grew up watching my father lead and coordinate youth programs and events and teach other staff and volunteers to do the same,” said Garst, now an associate professor of youth development leadership at Clemson. “The fact that a few decades later my career centers on youth development is not a big surprise.”
Barry attended summer camps every year. Advancing through the leadership structures of those organizations gave him the first glimpses of his future.
“A lot of my interest in youth was fostered through the camp experience,” said Garst. “You remember counselors who were supportive as well as those who weren’t. You remember the ones that encouraged you to come out of your shell for the first time, to perform in front of the whole camp to develop a new skill, to try something you didn’t think you could do – and to sometimes fail, and be able to cope with that failure.”
Like his father, Garst attended Virginia Tech as an undergraduate student, where he received a bachelor’s degree in psychology. After three years working with youth through wilderness and clinic-based counseling in North Carolina, he attended Arizona State University to get his master’s degree in recreation administration. There he worked as a graduate research assistant on the project, examining the benefits of out-of-school time programs on youth well-being, spurring his future academic interests.
After earning his master’s degree, Garst returned to Virginia Tech, beginning a career path closely mirroring his father’s. He worked for Cooperative Extension as the director of a residential camp and conference center while also working on his doctorate in the human dimensions of forestry. After obtaining his Ph.D., he became an assistant professor and extension specialist.
His camp-related expertise steered Barry into a national research director position with the American Camp Association (ACA), but after several years with ACA he longed to reengage with academia.
Like Virginia Tech, Clemson is a land grant university, and that mission is what motivated him to become a Tiger after being a Hokie his entire life.
“I believe strongly in the land grant mission,” said Garst. “You feel like the work you do has a direct impact. It’s going to be applied toward solving community problems – that’s the kind of work that motivates me most.”
Garst came to Clemson in 2014 to help build Clemson’s Youth Development Leadership degree program and related areas of research. His applied research focuses on critical and emerging issues within out-of-school time settings such as summer camp, with an emphasis on the needs and concerns of parents.
“We help program providers understand how children and adolescents think, and why they behave the way they do. We ask [the question] ‘how can we provide out-of-school time experiences for youth that are as developmental as possible?’ In addition, through our research, we try to bridge the needs of parents and the needs of program providers. Recently those efforts have focused on better understanding parent anxiety and over-parenting.”
Garst and his colleagues dissect the delivery and outcomes of youth development programs to learn effective practices and to help program providers learn how they can better target outcomes like independence, cooperation and resilience.
Garst says helping program providers and parents learn to teach children and adolescents how to cope when things don’t go well for them and how to deal with people they don’t necessarily get along with is one of the most important aspects of his work.
“Those are skills that children and teens don’t always get,” he said. “Sometimes parents prop them up too much when it comes to their school work; sometimes parents don’t let their children fail enough at home. We need other settings in which young people can learn how to fail. One of the things kids do is experiment, so any time they’re in a new setting — like an out-of-school time program such as a summer camp or after-school program — they’ll experiment with different behaviors or even try out different identities.” Garst suggests that these are particularly important opportunities to make transformative impacts on youth.
One of the most rewarding elements of his work is teaching youth development professionals the knowledge and skills that shape and improve organizations, and through that impact enrich the lives of youth and families, Garst said.
“Our Youth Development Leadership M.S. degree program (YDL) is unique. We’ve been able to carve out a national reputation in this space,” he explained. “In addition to serving professionals who work in a variety of out-of-school time settings, we also find that teachers are interested in our degree. Teachers who come into our program say, ‘I know how to teach young people, but I don’t understand young people.’ We’re providing those professionals with the competencies they need to be successful and to advance in their careers.”
In his relatively short time here, the atmosphere at Clemson has persuaded Garst to go “All In” with being a Tiger.
“The faculty in our department are outstanding,” he said. “Our departmental culture includes an open-door approach, which allows us to walk down the hall and catch up with each other – ask about our families, our current projects and our research. It’s the kind of camaraderie that builds positive and productive collaboration.”
Reflecting on his 2018 Outstanding Graduate Teaching Award, Garst also shared how rewarding his teaching has been. “Because our students are full-time working professionals, they can immediately implement new practices for improving their youth development programs and organizations as soon as those practices are learned through their courses. Our YDL faculty get feedback from our students saying that we really helped them broaden what they thought was possible. Having that kind of feedback is tremendously rewarding, and we get it all the time.”
Garst and his wife Stephanie, who is the Executive Director of the US Play Coalition housed within PRTM, have two daughters Laurel (age 10) and Savannah (age 15) – and yes they attend summer camp. In their spare time the family loves to travel and spend time with their dog, Gypsy.
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