Jesse Mala is an Assistant Visiting Professor in the UConn Department of Educational Leadership sports management program. He studies how sport can be used to promote positive development among Black and Latinx youth in poverty.
Mala himself grew up in poverty, in the housing projects in New Britain, Connecticut but still had access to some sports through the Police Athletic League in his neighborhood. There he learned crucial life skills and lessons that he feels contributed to his overall development and eventual academic success.
“I always consider how did a boy from the projects make it out, and get his Ph.D?” says Mala. “While I can attribute this to many factors in my life, those critical life lessons learned early on during youth sport through caring coaches, and supportive peers played a significant role.”
Mala did not know the sport-based youth development research field existed until he stumbled upon a course taught by CSCH Steering Committee member Jennifer McGarry during the second year of his exercise science Master’s program. Mala knew immediately that the field would be a terrific fit. Soon after, he began his doctoral studies in the UConn sports management program and began working with Husky Sport, the UConn sport-based youth development program. He was hooked and began his current research into whether sport-based youth development programs can improve cognitive, academic, and health related outcomes among youth in poverty.
“We know that the current social system and racism and its harmful effects are the reason why we still have a disproportionate amount of Black and Latinx people living in poverty in the US, but unfortunately change takes a long time,” says Mala. “While we wait for real change, I feel that my research can highlight a path and empower youth currently living in poverty to navigate the current oppressive systems—similar to what my experience has been.
Mala views his research as a potential service to the poor communities with which he identifies but also acknowledges that it helps him too. “Examining how sport can be used to promote positive outcomes among youth in poverty is almost therapeutic to me,” says Mala. “The more I dive into this line of research, the more my experiences of being a child growing up in poverty becomes validated.”
Involvement with CSCH
Mala joined CSCH because he recognized that researching the impact that school and school programs have on the well-being of children requires an interdisciplinary approach. “I really appreciate that CSCH is attempting to foster a team science approach among scientists, clinicians, and community partners,” says Mala. “We’re all working toward the same goal of improving schools and the lives of children, and having the Collaboratory gives us a way to connect, and do it together.” Mala was a guest on a recent CSCH Podcast episode.
Mala was an Army Ranger who served in a special operations unit who parachuted into combat. He loves to cook and play hide and seek with his kids. Follow him on Twitter: @DrBueno_notMala