Past Projects

Improving Adult Practice in Character Development to Transform the Culture of Youth Sports, funded by the S.D. Bechtel Jr. Foundation

The Improving Adult Practice in Character Development to Transform the Culture of Youth Sports project is a collaboration with Positive Coaching Alliance (PCA), a national non-profit organization dedicated to training coaches and athletes to provide a positive, character-building youth sport experience. This one-year project is funded by S.D. Bechtel Jr. Foundation. In this study, we will evaluate the impact of PCA coach education workshops in promoting the behaviors consistent with attributes of good character virtues among Little League baseball coaches. Through this evaluation research, we hope to gain further understanding about how, and if, specific coaching techniques can promote positive youth development and healthy mentoring relationships.

The Girl Scouts of the USA Theory, Measurement, and Research Project: Phases 1 & 2, funded by the Girl Scouts of the USA and Girl Scouts Research Institute

Our collaboration with the Girl Scouts of the USA involves exploring the rich data the Girl Scouts Research Institute have collected over the years regarding how GSUSA programs enhance the skills and thriving of the youth they serve. During the first phase of this collaboration, we assessed the utility of measures previously used by GSUSA, created a conceptual framework for the constructs GSUSA was interested in measuring, and devised measurement scales assessing both individual and contextual characteristics relevant to the Girl Scout experience. In the second phase (currently underway), we are validating measures developed in Phase One with data collected from Girl Scouts ranging in age from 5 to 14 years from four Councils across the USA. Together, results from Phase One and Phase Two have allowed us to explore the positive development of youth in Girl Scouts through empirically-valid measures.

Doing the Right Thing: Intentional Self Regulation and the Promotion of Character Development, funded by the Templeton Religion Trust

The “Doing the Right Thing” project is designed to answer the question: “Why do adolescents who believe themselves to be of high character, virtue, or morality, behave in ways that fall short of their standards?” The purpose of the project is to examine the role that intentional self regulation skills and character exemplars play in the virtuous behaviors of adolescents. Exemplars may demonstrate to others, and particularly to youth in the process of developing their moral identities, how one can regulate or control one’s behaviors in manners reflecting character virtues.

This project is a four-wave, cohort-sequential, mixed methods study. In Spring 2015, we collected pilot survey data from about 200 young people in the Boston area, and we also collected data from one of their parents or guardians. We also asked the youth to nominate a staff member at their school who knows them well, and we asked those individuals to complete surveys with questions about the young person. These pilot participants will be contacted three more times over the next two years. In Fall 2015, we will recruit a larger sample (about 600 more young people) and survey them twice more over the two year period. Finally, we will also interview a subsample of young people to learn about their perspectives regarding the roles of self regulation skills and character exemplars in their lives. The key goal of the study is to provide new research findings about the development of virtues and moral behavior in adolescence. As such, this project will provide the evidence base for interventions that may substantially narrow the gap between espoused positive character and enacted virtuous behavior.

Evaluating the Positive Coaching Alliance Model: Developing Competitors of Character,  funded by the John Templeton Foundation

The Positive Coaching Alliance (PCA) is a national non-profit organization dedicated to training coaches and athletes to provide a positive, character-building youth sports experience. This project, funded by the John Templeton Foundation, is a three-year longitudinal study evaluating the impact of PCA programs in Boston-area high schools. Specifically, this project aims to assess whether, and how, the PCA model can be effectively used to enhance the character attributes of high school athletes such that these attributes are applied in the sport context, in school, and in the wider community. Through this evaluation research, we hope to gain insight into the ways in which youth engagement in athletic contexts can translate to engagement in schools, communities, and civic life.

Arthur Interactive Media Study (AIMS),  funded by the John Templeton Foundation

As part of a three-year longitudinal, mixed method and multi-reporter project funded by the John Templeton Foundation, IARYD has been working in collaboration with the WGBH Educational Foundation, a leader in educational children’s media and the producer of PBS’s Emmy award-winning ARTHUR series, to develop the Arthur Interactive Media (AIM) program. The AIM program is a social, emotional, and character development curriculum involving both digital interactive media and cross-age peer mentoring targeting elementary school students. We have adapted content from ARTHUR episodes and storylines to make them into digital interactive features (comics and games) that promote five specific and interrelated topics: empathy, honesty, forgiveness, generosity, and learning from others (intellectual humility). Cross-age buddy pairs (1st and 4th graders; 2nd and 5th) read, play, and engage with the interactive features, which contain various questions and prompts meant to encourage rich conversations and reflections. The accompanying curriculum centers around these topics and interactive features, and includes sessions such as buddy training as well as relevant activities before and after the sessions of the interactive features.

We are implementing and evaluating the AIM program in elementary schools surrounding the Boston area this school year (2015-2016). Our theory of change posits that the program will enhance students’ social-emotional competencies (e.g., empathy) and character virtues (e.g., generosity) as well as their relationships (e.g., peer, teacher, and parent support) and related attitudes and behaviors that reflect an improved classroom/school climate (e.g., reduced bullying). To test whether children’s positive outcomes are a function of the social-emotional and character content in the AIM program, we seek to compare them to children participating in another WGBH Educational Foundation program – the Martha Speaks Reading Buddies Program. This reading program also has media and buddy-pairing components but focuses on promoting oral vocabulary and literacy in young children. In addition, we will compare schools using either program to other schools operating as usual, and we will use child as well as teacher- and parent-reports, along with process evaluation measures constituting ongoing feedback, observations, and interviews, to obtain a comprehensive assessment of children’s development as well as program effectiveness within and across all schools.

Assessment of Character in the Trades (ACT): Promoting Character Development and Productive and Engaged Citizenship among Young American Men, funded by the John Templeton Foundation

The Assessment of Character in the Trades (ACT) is a longitudinal mixed methods study designed to address the gap in knowledge about technical, vocational, and community college education and the positive development of youth in the United States who choose this educational path. Substantial research in developmental science has focused on young people attending four year colleges and universities, with considerably less attention given to the personal development and educational experiences of trade school and community college students. The ACT team hoped that by evaluating the implementation and impact of trade school or community college education, with this phase of research focusing on young men, more information will be available about how to enhance the educational attainments of American youth, in addition to supporting life achievements and character, moral, and civic development. We conducted the three-year study by examining and evaluating the Williamson College (WC) model for developing its students into alumni who embody Williamson College’s core values of faith, integrity, diligence, excellence, and service. To understand the impact that WC has on the character development of young men, the study collected data pertaining to attitudes, behaviors, and beliefs of Williamson College students, and compared them to students from nearby schools in the greater Philadelphia region. The ACT Study recently finished data collection and is undertaking final analysis of the data. 

The quantitative data, gathered through an online questionnaire, included questions about the variables in the WC educational model (such as honesty, frugality, and entrepreneurship) as well as additional variables (such as civic attitudes and vocational development). Research in youth development suggests that these variables play an important role in the lives of young people. 

The primary source of qualitative data came from interviews with WC and comparison school (CS) students at the beginning of their education; these students were also interviewed in their second and third years of the study. We also collected qualitative data from (a) alumni (who graduated more than five years before the beginning of the study) to obtain a longer term perspective of the WC experience and its impact on young men and (b) faculty and administrators regarding their perceptions of the school mission, climate, and student body. This information was used to obtain a deeper understanding of the character based education model at WC and its impact on students.

Quandary: The Impact on Moral Development,  funded by the Poses Family Foundation

Quandary is an educational online game that uses engaging storylines and characters to challenge players, aged eight to 14 years, to make difficult ethical decisions through considering the perspectives of others. This project is a collaboration with Professor Marina Bers of Tufts University, and is supported by the Poses Family Foundation. The project investigated the impact of playing the Quandary computer game on dimensions of children’s moral development. We explored the effects of playing three existing Quandary episodes and measured the impact of the episodes on children’s moral functioning and ability to take the perspective of others. In addition, we designed and implemented a school-based curriculum, called Project 360, in partnership with Citizen Schools. Sixth grade students played the Quandary computer game and applied the perspective-taking and problem-solving skills developed through game play to a real-life “quandary” in their community chosen by students: bullying. Through youth-led strategies that included surveying classmates and engaging in a panel discussion with school administrators and local high school students, the sixth graders gained a greater understanding of the issue and the diverse perspectives of members of their community. The students presented this understanding and discussed their own research process in a final presentation to family, friends, and local community members.

Character and Merit Project (CAMP),  funded by the John Templeton Foundation

Through support provided by the John Templeton Foundation, IARYD has been working with the Cradle of Liberty Council of the Boy Scouts of America (COLBSA) to study the impact of the BSA programs on character and positive youth development. The goal of the CAMP study is to learn about the development of youth in the BSA Cub Scouts programs and, specifically, if and how the different facets of the program may help build character, life skills, and positive goals among participants. Across three years, we collected quantitative data from more than 2,500 Scouts and comparison group youth between the ages of six and 10 years. We have also collected quantitative data from parents and qualitative data from COLBSA adult leaders, council executives, and Scouts to gain a deeper understanding of how the BSA program may influence character. We have completed the data collection for this study and are continuing to analyze data and develop publications from this project. We believe this research will provide information that may enhance the out-of-school-time education of youth and serve to promote character development and life successes.

The YES Project – The Development of Entrepreneurship in Adolescents and Young Adults: A Longitudinal Study of the Individual Basis for American Free Enterprise,  funded by the John Templeton Foundation

The Young Entrepreneurs Study (YES) is a joint project with the Institute for Applied Research in Youth Development (IARYD) at Tufts University and the Stanford Center on Adolescence. Made possible through the support of the John Templeton Foundation, the YES project is a longitudinal study of the development of entrepreneurial purpose, achievements, and character attributes among diverse adolescents and young adults in the United States. Specifically, we are interested in identifying the cognitive, motivational, behavioral, and ecological bases of entrepreneurship development. 

We define entrepreneurship as “The process of creating something new with value by devoting the necessary time and effort, assuming the risks, and receiving the resulting rewards.” Among young people, entrepreneurship refers to the application of enterprising qualities within both new and existing organizations, and using the appropriate skills necessary for success in that environment and culture. Accordingly, we are interested in both traditional perceptions of entrepreneurship, such as starting a business, and the more novel pathways that young adults take to build a career. Entrepreneurship affords promising opportunities to people in low-income communities, and has the potential to contribute in positive ways to economic well-being and positive social change in society. Therefore, we believe that fostering entrepreneurship will significantly enhance our business and social communities. 

The quantitative and qualitative findings from this study will provide scientifically validated information needed for creating effective educational programs and policies designed to foster entrepreneurial capacity. In addition, this project will provide a theory of youth entrepreneurship, as well as a model for future entrepreneurship research on this essential but under-studied area of American life.

The 4-H Study of Positive Youth Development, funded by the National 4-H Council

The 4-H Study of Positive Youth Development finished data collection and is undertaking final analysis of the data.

In this study, we longitudinally assessed across adolescence the key characteristics of positive youth development, that is the “5 Cs” of positive development — competence, confidence, character, connection, and caring (or compassion).

The research also evaluates the impact on positive youth development of key ecological assets — found in families, schools, and community-based programs, such as youth development (YD) programs. YD programs are marked by the “Big 3” characteristics of positive and sustained adult-youth relations; life skills-building activities for youth; and opportunities for youth participation in and leadership of valued community activities). We have found that YD programs are key assets in the promotion of PYD.

We have also found that the factors representing the “Five Cs” of PYD lead to a 6th C — Contribution. Both PYD and participation in YD programs independently relate to contribution. In turn, longitudinally, PYD predicts both community contributions and lessened likelihood of risk/problem behaviors. For example, PYD in Grade 5 predicted higher youth contributions and lower risk behaviors and depression at Grade 6. However, the pattern of PYD across time indicates that both promotion of strengths and prevention of risks need to be undertaken when working with youth.

Project GPS – Building Goal Management Skills in Young People, funded by the Thrive Foundation

Project GPS is a joint collaboration between the Institute for Applied Research in Youth Development (IARYD) of the Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Study and Human Development at Tufts University and the Thrive Foundation for Youth of Menlo Park, California. The aim of this project is to promote the positive development of youth across the U.S. by designing a set of materials pertinent to adolescents’ goal management skills, or what we term GPS (Goal Selection, Pursuit of Strategies, and Shifting Gears in the face of challenge). The materials are designed to be used by youth and mentors in youth-serving organizations. We are also evaluating the implementation of these materials and activities across a number of youth-serving organizations throughout the US.

Cutting-edge research conducted by scholars at the IARYD and utilizing data from the 4-H Study of Positive Youth Development indicates that adolescents who exhibit higher levels of goal-directed strategies and behaviors are more likely to be thriving and contributing to society. Project GPS applies the findings from our work, as well as from the work of researchers around the globe, to develop tools that will guide mentors to assist youth in the growth of these GPS skills.

Leveraging the strengths of youths and of mentors, Project GPS aims to improve goal-directed strategies and behaviors as well as positive development through the implementation of youth-focused multimedia activities and theoretically-based, scientifically rigorous instrumentation. Tools are currently being evaluated, with data collection set to culminate in January 2012.

The Role of Intentional Self-Regulation in Achievement in Engineering, funded by the National Science Foundation

This collaborative engineering education research grant was awarded to the Institute for Applied Research in Youth Development at Tufts University and Northwestern University. The question being asked is: Are intentional Self-regulation skills (often termed soft skills) of particular importance to engineers as they develop their knowledge base and launch their careers?

The proposed research is a first-ever assessment of the relations among

  1. Engineering achievement among male and female students beginning through advanced undergraduate engineering students (as indexed by GPA for engineering courses);
  2. The status of their “hard” (intellectual) skills (indexed by SAT scores and GPA’s for science and math courses); and
  3. The “soft” (life, motivational, or pragmatic) skills that have been identified in developmental research to be linked significantly to school achievement and life success.

The study will use a cross-sectional design to assess a random sample of about 200 sophomore through senior engineering students on the above-noted sets of measures. In addition, the same assessments will be made with a matched comparison sample of about 200 male and female, sophomore through senior, arts and science students, with non-math/science majors (i.e., with majors in the social sciences or in the humanities).

The contribution of the proposed research lies in the attention paid to the role that intentional self-regulation skills may play in successful engineering education. The results of this research will provide to engineering educators, to policy makers, and to business and industry leaders heretofore-unavailable scientific information about how to assess and integrate key features of the development of the “whole person” � his or her cognitive, motivational, emotional, and behavioral characteristics � in promoting engineering achievement across college years.

The broader impacts resulting from the proposed research include providing a model for future engineering education and education research and a baseline against which future educational innovations may be measured. It will also help faculty better balance the hard (science and math) and soft skill sets in the undergraduate curriculum.

The Role of Spiritual Development in Growth of Purpose, Generosity, and Psychological Health in Adolescence, funded by the John Templeton Foundation

This project was a John Templeton Foundation study designed to be both “field building” and “field defining” in the study of spirituality and positive youth development during adolescence. The project ended in August 2009. The project consisted of three different phases: 1. The assembly of a national group of scholars interested in studying spirituality and youth development who collaborate in defining the measures and methods relevant to such a study; 2. a collaborative, cross-sectional pilot study spanning the second decade of life; and 3. dissemination of findings and preparation for the launch of a national longitudinal study of spirituality and youth development. Through this project we enlarged the scholarly community directly involved in the study of spirituality and human development. Our work elucidated the links among neural growth, generosity, purpose, and exemplary healthy development during adolescence.

A book entitled Positive Youth Development and Spirituality was published by Templeton Press in 2008.

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