The Institute for Research on Youth Thriving and Evaluation (RYTE Institute) at Montclair State University explores issues related to youth thriving, developmental science, and program evaluation and planning.
In May, Lisa Chauveron and Marisa MacDonnell became the University’s first RYTE Institute affiliated students to graduate with PhD’s in Family Science and Human Development.
Co-directed by Family Science and Human Development professors Jennifer Brown Urban and Miriam Linver, the RYTE Institute offers students research opportunities in interdisciplinary projects as well as collaborations with other institutions such as Character Scotland; American Institutes for Research; and Boy Scouts of America (BSA).
“Our doctoral students are able to actively engage in large-scale research projects where they get experience participating in all phases of research – from grant proposal writing to data collection and analysis and disseminating results. They also get experience with both quantitative and qualitative data,” says Urban.
According to Urban, most of her and Linver’s 11 doctoral students work on RYTE Institute projects. “We strongly encourage all of our students to present at conferences – where we help them network and meet leaders in the field – and we cover their travel expenses through our grants. There are also opportunities to lead-author or co-author publications and for peer mentoring,” she says.
A Career Focus
According to MacDonnell, while the PhD program encourages students to develop career goals from the start, courses in the program also balance the needs and career aspirations of students.
For MacDonnell, who has conditionally accepted a post-doctoral research position at Rutgers University in Social Emotional and Character Development, the work being done at the RYTE Institute influenced her decision to pursue a PhD at Montclair State. “The RYTE Institute has absolutely provided me with opportunities that have enhanced my degree,” she says.
As a PhD candidate, MacDonnell has been involved in a number of RYTE Institute projects. Most recently, she has recruited for the Institute’s BSA BEST Study – which explores how scoutmasters and other adult volunteers build character in scouts – and has conducted interviews with both youth participants and adult leaders across the country.
“I have also served as a project manager and recruited and facilitated focus groups with youth and adult leaders on a National Science Foundation-funded project that evaluates STEM scouts,” she says.
MacDonnell adds, “Through my work at the RYTE Institute, I’ve gained tremendous research experience, traveled to and presented at research conferences, improved as a writer and built enduring professional and personal relationships.”
A Flexible Program
As a doctoral student, Chauveron continued to work with Impact Development and Assessment, her own consulting company that provides grant writing and program evaluation services for youth – and family-focused organizations.
“I chose Montclair State’s program because its evening classes gave me the option to keep serving my clients while advancing my education,” she recalls. “I was also drawn to working with Jen Urban and the RYTE Institute specifically. RYTE’s work matched my previous experience working on programs and interventions in positive youth development and character education.”
RYTE’s Partnerships for Advancing Character Program Evaluation (PACE) Project, which takes an innovative approach to building evaluation capacity in youth character development programs, is among the projects Chauveron has worked on. “Working on PACE changed my work as a program evaluator, and showed me how the content we delivered and the analytical approaches we used could strengthen programming offered to youth across the country – and the globe,” she explains.
After graduating, she is confident that she will be able to apply knowledge and experience gained while earning her degree to help more organizations through her consulting firm. “The program expanded my horizons, strengthened my skills and fueled my intellectual spark,” Chauveron says.