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Character Counts

The Kern Family Foundation Awards $150,000 to Montclair’s Institute for Research on Youth Thriving and Evaluation

Posted in: Homepage News, Human Services, Research, University

Photo of Miriam Linver and Jennifer Urban
(L to R) Miriam Linver and Jennifer Urban received a grant from the Kern Family Foundation for $150,000 toward the RYTE Institute research into character development in adolescents.

The Kern Family Foundation, which supports initiatives with long-term systemic impact, awarded $150,000 to Montclair State University in support of the Institute for Research on Youth Thriving and Evaluation (RYTE Institute) and its work in developing future character development scholars.

“We are incredibly grateful to the Kern Family Foundation for supporting our work with post-doctoral fellows who will go on to be the next leaders in the field of adolescent character development,” says RYTE Co-director Jennifer Brown Urban, a Family Science and Human Development professor. “The postdoctoral fellow will be able to analyze and publish using our data from closed studies. This is a tremendous opportunity since we have a wealth of data that we otherwise would not have the resources to continue analyzing.”

RYTE Institute co-directors Jennifer Brown Urban and Miriam R. Linver, Family Science and Human Development professors in the College of Education and Human Services, have been exploring questions related to youth thriving, developmental science, character development, and program evaluation and planning from a systems science perspective for years. Their work through the Institute is grounded in research-practice partnerships, elevating the practitioner perspective, and empowering practitioners by enhancing their program planning and evaluation capacity.

Since its inception in 2009, the RYTE Institute has trained nine postdoctoral researchers, 20 doctoral students, 18 master’s students and 17 undergraduate students. It has been the recipient of nearly $13 million in funding and served as a research hub and training ground for more than 75 students and staff.

The Kern Family Foundation’s grant will enable the RYTE Institute to advance developmental science and particularly an understanding of character development by engaging a postdoctoral fellow to analyze data from two projects: “Inspiring Purpose: Global Citizens in the Making” and “Boy Scouts of America: Building Evidence in Scouting Together” (BSA BEST).

Deeper analysis of “Inspiring Purpose: Global Citizens in the Making” will help build understanding about how adolescents choose their friends and how peers influence their behavior. From this, RYTE Institute researchers hope to develop and study interventions that capitalize on peer influence to effect positive character development.

The data gathered through “BSA BEST” offers insights into how adult experiences and training impact youth character outcomes. Themes studied include ethical and moral decision-making, sense of purpose, humility, leadership, sense of connection, contribution to others, civic engagement, self-reflection and communication skills. Since the third wave of data collection was conducted just when the COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States, researchers were able to include questions related to character development during the pandemic.

“Data from this study will allow us to explore the impact of COVID-19 on adolescent social and emotional outcomes, the experiences of girls who joined Scouts BSA when the program opened to them in 2019, and how out-of-school time programs like Scouts BSA accommodates youth with special needs,” says Urban.

The Kern Family Foundation was established in 1998 by Generac Power Systems founders Robert D. and Patricia E. Kern. The work of the RYTE Institute and the planned activities of the funded postdoctoral fellow align with the Kern Family Foundation’s mission to empower the rising generation of Americans to build flourishing lives anchored in strong character, inspired by quality education, driven by an entrepreneurial mindset and guided by the desire to create value for others.

“The Kern Family Foundation is grateful for the work of the Institute in advancing assessment and evaluation of character formation in the rising generation,” says Foundation Senior Program Director Beth Purvis.

The grant-funded postdoctoral fellow will help bring these research initiatives to broader academic and public attention by preparing manuscripts for publication and presentations for professional conferences sponsored by such organizations as the Society for Research in Child Development, the Society for Research on Adolescence, the Society for the Study of Human Development and the Association for Moral Education.

Story by Development Writer Michele Hickey