Mentoring Youth

Find out more about our work on youth mentoring, including video presentations from leading researchers participating in the Summer Institute on Youth Mentoring, publications on topical issues in the field of mentoring research and practice, and examples of our current research projects

The Summer Institute on Youth Mentoring

"Portland State University and MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership are proud to present the Summer Institute on Youth Mentoring. The Summer Institute offers a truly distinctive educational opportunity for experienced mentoring professionals. Participants attend an intensive week-long seminar presenting the latest developments in theory and research on youth mentoring. Each session is led by a prominent, internationally recognized research fellow. The aim is a series of highly interactive discussions that provide an in-depth view of the research and examine its implications for program policies and practices. Sessions include time for participants to think critically and creatively about their own program issues and explore opportunities for innovation. A fundamental premise of the institute is that a sustained dialogue between experienced professionals and researchers stimulates research with relevance to the field and enhances its translation to practical application. As a general theme, the 2016 Summer Institute will focus on the ending of mentoring relationships, particularly early match closures. Attention will be given to how programs manage both planned and unplanned closures.   

Research fellows are selected for their expertise and influence in the field of mentoring. Fellows give presentations and contribute their insights to the discussions throughout the week. The Director of the Summer Institute is Thomas Keller, the Duncan and Cindy Campbell Professor for Children, Youth, and Families with an Emphasis on Mentoring at Portland State University. Research fellows for 2016 are Antoinette Basualdo-Delmonico of Boston University, Michael Karcher of the University of Texas—San Antonio, Elizabeth Raposa of College of William and Mary, and Renee Spencer of Boston University. In addition, the Institute will feature several guest speakers.

To encourage an active exchange among professional peers and with researchers, the Summer Institute seminar is limited to 25 participants. Ideal participants have several years of experience in the field of youth development and are seeking an advanced level of professional development. They are experienced professionals who hold positions enabling them to influence the training and supervision of staff, the development of program models, and the implementation of service delivery changes based on the latest advances in the field (e.g., CEO’s, program directors). 

>>Find out more about the Summer Insititute


Focus On: Youth in the Juvenile Justice and Foster Care Systems

The 2011 Summer Institute on Youth Mentoring brought researchers and lead practitioners from across the globe for a week-long intensive look into  what is known about mentoring youth who have been involved in the juvenile justice, foster care or mental health systems. In conjunction with the Institute, we held special forums for policy-makers, community leaders and youth practitioners.

Presentations Included:
Kym Ahrens University of Washington
Jeffrey Butts John Jay College of Criminal Justice, CUNY
Tim Cavell University of Arkansas
Sarah Geenen Portland State University
Roger Jarjoura Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis
Thomas Keller Portland State University
Leslie Leve Oregon Social Learning Center
Michelle Munson New York University
Laurie Powers Portland State University
Julia Pryce Loyola University Chicago
Renee Spencer Boston University
Heather Taussig University of Colorado
& the Fosterclub Allstars

In a special capstone event we gave eleven leading researchers, 20 minutes to tell us what they think is important about their pivotal research.

>>View their presentations

An in-depth look at the findings from the full-week institute can be found in the 2011 Summer Institute report: "It May Be the Missing Piece" - Exploring the Mentoring of Youth in Systems of Care.

>>Download the 2011 Report


Focus On: Mentoring Youth with Disabilities in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) Fields

Youth with disabilities, along with girls and racial/ethnic minorities are under-represented in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) fields, and they are a largely untapped pool of potential talent to help fill the need that America has in these areas. CIMR researchers, Laurie Powers and Jo-Ann Sowers review research and literature about mentoring for youth with disabilities. Scott Bellman of the DO-IT program at the University of Washington joins the panel to share the many mentoring activities and resources they make available to the field.

Speakers: CIMR Researchers Dr. Jo-Ann Sowers and Dr. Laurie Powers and Scott Bellman of the Disability, Opportunity, Interworking, and Technology (DO-IT) program at the University of Washington
Sponsors: The collaborative webinar series is presented by the National Mentoring Center, Oregon Mentors, the Mentoring Partnership of Minnesota, Friends for Youth Mentoring Institute and MENTOR/the National Mentoring Partnership and other partners


Focus On: What Does the New Meta-Analysis Mean for Your Mentoring Program?

Mike Garringer of the National Mentoring Center moderated a discussion with David DuBois, and CIMR director Thomas Keller around Dr. Dubois'new meta-analysis, which combines the results of over 70 mentoring program evaluations into one compelling picture of the overall impact of mentoring programs nationwide. This webinar is the first in a collaboration between the National Mentoring Center, Friends for Youth, Oregon Mentors, and the Mentoring Partnership of Minnesota.

>>Link to video


Featured Publications: A Closer Look at on School-based Mentoring

Since 2007 there have been three large scale, multi-site, randomized trials of school-based mentoring programs looking at the effects of mentoring over one school year. The results from these studies have impacted policy and practice, and even the bottom line of federal funding, but do we really know what they are telling us? Researchers Marc Wheeler and Thomas Keller for the PSU Center for Interdisciplinary Mentoring Research, and David Dubois from the University of Illinois, Chicago, have done an analysis of the research for the field, distilling the key findings for policy makers and practitioners.

Social Policy Report

Wheeler, M.E., Keller, T.E., & Dubois, D.L., (2010). Review of three recent randomized trials of school-based mentoring. Social Policy Report, 24(3). (full text and french translation, Society for Research on Child Development:

Review of Three Recent Randomized Trials of School-Based Mentoring: Making Sense of Mixed Findings

Wheeler, M.E., Dubois, D.L., Keller, T.E. (2010). Detailed summary of meta-analysis performed for review of three recent randomized trials of school-based mentoring: Making sense of mixed findings (download pdf).

Time and Stability Seen as Key to Effective Mentoring

Time and stability seen as key to effective mentoring. Education Week, September 20, 2010, Sarah D. Sparks (link to article on school-based mentoring research of Wheeler, M.E., Dubois, D.L., Keller, T.E.)


Featured Projects

My Life: Evaluation of Self-Determination Enhancement for Adolescents in Foster Care
(Investigators: Sarah Geenen, Laurie Powers; Funding: NICHD)
This randomized trial focuses on an innovative mentoring/coaching intervention designed to enhance the self-determination of youth transitioning out of foster care, testing for positive effects on health, mental health, behavior, and education.

STEM Peer Mentor Project
(Investigators: Laurie Powers, Jo-Ann Sowers; Funding: NSF)
This study is an exploratory randomized clinical trial investigating the effects mentoring designed to promote STEM-related career planning knowledge, self-efficacy, and engagement among high school students with disabilities. All mentors are in STEM fields, and the study compares mentors with and without disabilities themselves.

Youth-Centered Match Support: Delinquency Prevention in Community-Based Mentoring
(Investigators: David DuBois, Thomas Keller; Funding: OJJDP)
This national, multi-site randomized trial evaluates the benefits of incorporating a positive youth development framework into Big Brothers Big Sisters mentoring programs. The new model was developed by the Thrive Foundation for Youth to help adults promote thriving among youth.


CIMR Researchers

Thomas Keller, Ph.D., CIMR Director, PSU
Thomas Keller is the Duncan & Cindy Campbell Professor for Children, Youth and Families with an Emphasis on Mentoring, in the School of Social Work at Portland State University. In addition to directing the CIMR, Dr. Keller also directs the PSU Summer Institute on Youth Mentoring. His research focuses on the development and influence of relationships established in youth mentoring programs, the role of mentoring within a young person’s social network, and the professional development of staff in youth mentoring programs.

Jennifer Blakeslee, Research Assistant Professor, School of Social Work
Jennifer studies social networks, including formal and informal mentors, of youth aging out of the child welfare system.

Marcelo Diversi, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Human Development, Washington State University-Vancouver
Diversi has studied the development of empowering adult-youth relationships among Latino/a students and Caucasian mentors and his current work focuses on mentoring relationships for youth in foster care.

Mark Eddy, Ph.D., University of Washington and Oregon Social Learning Center
Eddy is the principal investigator on several randomized prevention trials of interventions delivered within systems of care relevant to children and families. He currently is conducting an NIH-sponsored longitudinal evaluation of the innovative Friends of the Children mentoring program.

Sarah Geenen, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Regional Research Institute on Human Services, PSU
Geenen is the director of two federally funded studies examining the impact of one-on-one coaching/mentoring to enhance self-determination and improve the education and post-school outcomes of foster youth with disabilities.

Kris Gowen, Ph.D., Research Associate, Regional Research Institute on Human Services, PSU
Gowen’s work focuses on adolescent development and transitions to adulthood, with special attention to adolescent sexuality and sexual education.

Kevin Jones, Practicum Director of Social Work, University of Portland
Kevin was the first recipient of a special CIMR fellowship created by Big Brothers Big Sisters-Columbia Northwest. He studies the organizational history and culture of successful youth mentoring programs as well as partnerships to promote dialogue between research and practice communities in the field of youth mentoring.

Jana Meinhold, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Child and Family Studies, PSU
Meinhold investigates how positive youth development programs influence adolescent behaviors, knowledge, and attitudes, with special attention to programs that provide education in environmental issues and sustainability.

José Padín, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Sociology, PSU
José Padín focuses on intersections of race, immigration, and disparities in communities, and he directs a mentoring program designed to promote the educational attainment of Latino youth.

Laurie Powers, Ph.D., Associate Dean for Research, School of Social Work, and Director, Regional Research Institute on Human Services, PSU
Laurie Powers’ research interests include the promotion of self-determination by individuals with diverse abilities, positive youth development and transition. She studies how one-on-one coaching and mentoring can be used to enhance self-determination and improve the education and post-school outcomes of young people with disabilities.

Robert Roeser, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Psychology, PSU
Robert Roeser's research focuses primarily on how schools, as central cultural contexts of human development, affect both academic and non-academic aspects of "whole persons" across childhood, adolescence, and emerging adulthood.

Jo-Ann Sowers, Ph.D., Research Professor, Regional Research Institute on Human Services
Sowers conducts research on the impact of career-focused mentoring and E-Mentoring on the aspirations of youth and young adults with disabilities who are interested in careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

Alma Trinidad, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, University Studies and Child & Family Studies
Trinidad has investigated the role of mentors and adult allies in supporting youth working toward social justice and environmental sustainability. She also studies tiered mentoring processes (instructor-mentor-student) in Freshman Inquiry courses.

Mark Van Ryzin, Ph.D., Research Scientist, Oregon Social Learning Center
Mark Van Ryzin investigates the influence of school advisers and counselors from the perspective of the mentoring relationships they form with students. He also is interested in non-traditional school environments and their potential to address the diverse range of student needs and interests.

Marc Wheeler, Adjunct Research Associate, Regional Research Institute for Human Services
Wheeler is a Distinguished Fellow of the William T. Grant Foundation with PSU as his fellowship host site and Thomas Keller and David DuBois as his research mentors. Marc worked for eight years as an executive at a Big Brothers Big Sisters agency in Alaska. He is currently studying the diffusion of research-based innovation within Big Brothers Big Sisters mentoring organizations.

Miranda Cunningham, Ph.D. Student, School of Social Work
Miranda is a doctoral student in Social Work whose area of interest is natural mentoring relationships in the lives of transition-aged foster youth.

Amanda Fixsen, Ph.D. Student, School of Social Work
Amanda is a doctoral student in Social Work whose dissertation research is examining organizational factors that influence the implementation of an enhanced school-based mentoring model by Big Brothers Big Sisters agencies.

Rhenne Molly Miles, BBBS-CIMR Doctoral Research Fellow
Rhenne is the recipient of a special CIMR fellowship created by Big Brothers Big Sisters-Columbia Northwest. She is in the combined MSW, doctoral program of the PSU School of Social Work. She studies social-emotional learning in the school environment and is interested in how school-based mentoring programs support social-emotional development for students, including young students that mentor.

Bahia Overton, Ph.D. Student, Graduate School of Social Work
Bahia is undertaking research that investigates the role of parent involvement in a mentoring program designed for early adolescent girls.

Jennifer Rainer, Ed.D Student, Graduate School of Education
Jennifer is a doctoral student in Education whose research focuses on the dynamics of race and ethnicity in youth mentoring relationships. Jennifer is a recipient of a CIMR Student Research Scholarship.

Christian Rummell, Ed.D Student, Graduate School of Education
Christian is a doctoral student in Education whose dissertation research is investigating the experiences of participants in mentoring programs designed for GLBT youth. Christian is a recipient of a CIMR Student Research Scholarship.

Amy Salazar, Ph.D. Student, School of Social Work
Amy Salazar is a doctoral student in Social Work whose area of interest is mentoring to support youth in foster care.

Jessica Schmidt, Ph.D student, School of Social Work
Jessica works on an NSF-funded study testing the effects of a mentoring program designed to encourage STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) careers among students with disabilities.