Boy scouts

$5.7 Million Grant to Fund Character Development Research

What combination of training and experience of scoutmasters and other volunteers best builds character in scouts? How can that training be enhanced to strengthen the scouts’ character development? These are among the questions that Family Science and Human Development professors Jennifer Urban and Miriam Linver are asking in a new research project that seeks to reveal how adults build character in scouts.

The researchers, who are also co-directors of the Institute for Research on Youth Thriving and Evaluation (RYTE), at Montclair State University, will receive $1,868,050 for the first year of a two-year, $5.7 million Boy Scouts of America (BSA) National Character Initiative sub-award funded by the Stephen D. Bechtel Jr. Foundation. The grant supports the second phase of an ongoing project focused on uncovering the role of adults in youth character development.

“We’re very excited to have this opportunity to study one of the longest-running youth-serving organizations in the nation,” says Urban. “The RYTE Institute is focused on understanding what goes right with youth. A study of this magnitude could potentially impact hundreds of thousands of young people — as well as the adults who care about promoting their positive development.”

The first phase of the project, she says, “confirmed that BSA offers a distinctive character initiative that is deeply rooted in its culture, as well as ideal for exploring and documenting the relationship between adult practice and youth character development.”

The team’s primary goal with the second phase is to understand more fully the relationship between adult practice and youth outcomes.

To do this, Urban and Linver will look at the entire BSA system to pinpoint the existing trainings and other adult experiences that lead to the strongest character outcomes in scouts. They will be assisted in all aspects of their study — from data collection and analysis to disseminating results through reports and articles — by University undergraduate, master’s and doctoral students as well as post-doctoral fellows.

Ultimately, the data they collect will help BSA create a strategic professional development plan for all scout leaders, which will, in turn, result in a more efficient and consistent delivery of programming. Project findings can also serve as a blueprint for other youth-serving organizations.

According to Urban, identifying the pathways that build young people’s character is critically important. “It’s easy to be cynical about the state of civil society, but we only need to look as far as our youth to see the full potential for a brighter future,” she asserts. “We aren’t only going to be able to understand more about character development in youth, but we’ll also be able to understand more about how adult character develops through volunteering with BSA.”