Interviewed by Cyanea Poon
Roger Jarjoura is a principal researcher at AIR. Previously he spent 19 years as a faculty member in the Indiana University School of Public and Environmental Affairs, where he served as a fellow on Community Engagement. Dr. Jarjoura has served as an investigator on several evaluation studies, including an OJJDP-funded, national process and outcome evaluation of a Boys and Girls Clubs of America (BGCA) Targeted Re-Entry program in four sites. Dr. Jarjoura has over 16 years of experience in developing and evaluating mentoring programs. He designed and evaluated a randomized-control study that examined the impact of mentoring as a component of a juvenile reentry initiative. He recently was the co-chair of the National Cadre of Mentoring Researchers, which sought to translate research on youth mentoring into practice for programs serving system-involved youth.
Chronicle: Can you tell our readers a little bit about your background and interests?
Roger Jarjoura (RJ): Sure, so I am a criminologist (I have a PhD in criminology) and I came to be interested in mentoring because I was trying to get college students involved working with juvenile offenders who were incarcerated. We developed a program to help juveniles return back to the community, and I wanted college students to be involved. It felt like the college students’ role was more like a mentor than any other label we could have given them. The program started in ’96, and was a randomized control trial (RCT), with a 4-year follow up. We found kids who were mentored were 60% less likely to ever return to any type of incarceration (as a juvenile or an adult), as compared with kids who were in the control group. We also had a third group that participated in the reentry program but they didn’t get a mentor, and turns out they looked a lot more like the control group after the four-year follow up. From this study, I was just intrigued with the fact that mentoring had really set these kids up for longer term success. So it just started a quest for me to figure out what it is about mentoring that works for this population? How do we prepare people to be good mentors, to be effective? So that is really how I came to be interested in this topic.
C: So since that first study, what work have you done specifically with mentoring?
RJ: I went on to lead that program for about 12 years, and along the way I was involved in training and technical assistance with other programs – to provide mentoring for system-involved kids. This includes the juvenile justice system, the foster care system and children of incarcerated parents. I have also worked on a large scale RCT for mentoring, that was a 5-year project funded by OJJDP, called the Mentoring Enhancement Demonstration Program (MEDP). In MEDP, we looked at whether mentors taking on the role of advocacy and teaching function will improve the youth outcomes compared to those in a business-as-usual mentoring model. I’m also doing a study now, another 5-year study on incorporating cognitive behavioral strategies into mentoring. It is also an RCT. So those are the big ways that I have been involved in mentoring research.
C: As a result of all these experiences, what has been the most valuable insight you have learnt from evaluating mentoring programs?
RJ: Firstly, I think the evidence shows that when mentoring is done well, it can make a difference. That is, I think mentoring can be an effective strategy even with some of the highest risk kids, like the kids we worked with in my first program, those who made it to the deepest end of the juvenile justice system. However, it has to be done well – we can be strategic about the way we train mentors and how we support them, so that we can get them to take on a more focused role, which I think also adds value to the mentoring experience.
I think there are some people who come to mentoring as the mentors who just have an intuition of how to do this right. These people are wonderful, but the average adult that thinks it might be nice to be a mentor, doesn’t come necessarily ready to be as effective as they should be, especially working with kids who might be coming to the program reluctantly. I think training and ongoing support are ways to maximize the likelihood that the mentor and mentee will develop a meaningful relationship.
C: Since not everyone comes in with the appropriate skills, can you elaborate more about what do you mean about being strategic in the program?
RJ: The most important thing is understanding what it is that you are asking mentors to do – what expectations you are placing on them. For instance, working with their mentee around setting goals, or working with their mentee around specific program-imposed goals. That said, it is not just having a good relationship, but it also helping to change the trajectory that the young person is on, helping them to move to more positive trajectory and making that clear to them. I think training also needs to be about helping mentors to have communication skills, listening skills, and understanding the nature of the population they are working with, so they can work well in providing ongoing support for the mentees. Furthermore, training needs to include understanding adolescent development, goal-setting, problem solving, and those kinds of skills that we want them to be role models for.
C: Do you have any advice on where people can find materials for these training?
RJ: If these programs are just getting started I would always point people to the Elements of Effective Practice. The current version of that is quite comprehensive – it has everything, including how to think realistically about training and ongoing support for staff. And I think the website for the National Mentoring Resource Center (NMRC) and the Chronicle are also great resources as well.
C: Thank you, so let’s switch gears look a little bit more to the research side. In your opinion what are the key areas that you think research should focus on as we move forward with mentoring research?
RJ: I think there is still more to learn about what’s the impact of training, I think the research shows when there is effective prematch training for mentors, the relationships that result are better, but I don’t think there is enough definition yet. I don’t think we have enough research that points program directors to know what is important about training and this is how to do it. I also think there is so much more to learn about the staff-mentor relationship. Furthermore, I think it would be great to know more about whether mentoring makes a difference for kids who have already connections with positive adults, and whether (formal) mentoring is particularly effective for kids who have none of that. Lastly, I think there is a promising line of work focused on youth-initiated mentoring, and so understanding more about that and the effectiveness of that approach would be great.
C: Thank you for all your insights!