Dr. Shelley Haddock (pictured at left), a professor in the Human Development and Family Studies Department at Colorado State University, was kind enough to answer our questions about her work. Her research focuses on the development and evaluation of effective preventive interventions to improve developmental outcomes of adolescents and college students. You can find our conversation with her about her contributions to the world of mentoring below.
Chronicle (C): Can you tell us a little about your background and the research you are currently working on?
Dr. Shelley Haddock (SH): I am a professor in the Human Development and Family Studies Department at Colorado State University (CSU), where I primarily teach in the Marriage and Family Therapy Program. I also am a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in the state of Colorado, and a Clinical Fellow and Approved Supervisor through the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists. I am a co-developer of Campus Connections Therapeutic Mentoring Program at CSU, along with Dr. Toni Zimmerman, Dr. Jen Krafchick, Dr. Lindsey Weiler, and Dr. Lise Youngblade.
Campus Connections (which used to be named Campus Corps) is a university-based mentoring program facilitated by family therapists, designed to provide a service-learning course for university students and a mentoring experience for youth exposed to adversity. My recent research collaborations have focused on investigating the outcomes of Campus Connections for both youth mentees and college student mentors. My team has also been working to optimize the design of the program by examining the impact of unique program components on these outcomes.
C: Can you tell our readers more about Campus Connections, and the impetus behind its development?
SH: About 10 years ago, our community was struggling with a scarcity of services available to youth who had been exposed to adversity—a problem that was worsened by the economic recession. Professionals in the juvenile justice system made a call to community leaders for creative solutions to this problem. My colleagues and I realized the incredible resources the university could bring to addressing this problem, particularly the large number of undergraduate students who would love to mentor a vulnerable youth, particularly within the context of a course for which they could receive college credit.
We gained funding from the Corporation for National and Community Service to design and pilot an innovative program that collaboratively unites the university and community in work that produces mutual benefits for disadvantaged youth, college students, and the larger community. By leveraging the resources of the university, especially our well-trained and eager students from over 90 majors across campus, the program is a cost-efficient way to strengthen our community systems to better serve our disadvantaged youth. Because of these mutual benefits, other universities have been interested in operating Campus Connections. We have manualized the program and licensed five other universities to operate the Campus Connections so far.
Within the context of a high-impact multidisciplinary service-learning course, Campus Connections pairs about 200 youth with university student mentors each year. The pairs spend four hours together each week over the course of a semester, and they build positive relationships, engage in prosocial activities, share a family-style meal, explore campus, and work together on homework. Campus Connections is a site-based mentoring program, which is offered on campus, and embeds the mentoring pair in a safe and vibrant community of other pairs where they can develop a sense of belonging, and have opportunities to gain support and friendship from one another. Within this larger community, mentoring pairs are further organized into small groups of four pairs that we call Mentor Families.
Family therapy graduate students and faculty are on-site and immediately available to support youth and their families with the challenging life situations they often face, or to support mentors in building positive relationships with mentees. We also have a leadership track for students who want to participate more than one semester. For example, students can serve one or more semesters as a mentor. They can then serve as a Mentor Coach; in this position, students provide support and supervision to a Mentor Family. They can then serve as a Lead Mentor Coach, which allows them to co-supervise an evening of the class with a graduate student, and/or a research assistant, which allows them to participate on one of the many research projects we run each semester.
C: You described mutual benefits for youth and students of the program. Can you tell readers about your research investigations into the outcomes of Campus Connections for mentees and mentors?
SH: Our pilot studies to evaluate the impact of Campus Connections on key developmental outcomes in youth suggested positive impacts on problem behavior, including substance use, delinquency, and truancy, and on emotional wellbeing. We also found youth-perceived improvements in school, relationships, self-esteem, future orientation, and behavior. In terms of impacts on college students, our pilot research showed improvements in civic attitudes, community service self-efficacy, self-esteem, interpersonal and problem solving skills, political awareness, and civic action. Additionally, research conducted by our Institutional Research office found that participation in Campus Connections is associated with higher persistence rates, higher graduation rates, faster degree completion and higher cumulative GPAs. For instance, students who participated in just one semester had a 127% higher chance of graduating and 63% lower odds of dropping out in a given year, compared to those who didn’t participate.
Another specific finding is that students who take Campus Connections in their first year have a first year GPA that is .6 grade points higher than students that did not participate in their first year. This research also found that Campus Connections participation is associated with higher levels of reflective and integrative learning. For instance, compared to non-participants, students who participate are more likely to report including diverse perspectives in course discussions; trying to better understand someone else’s views by imagining how an issue looks like from his or her perspective; to connect their learning to societal problems or issues; to have discussions with people of a race, ethnicity, or economic background different from their own; and to report being an informed and active citizen.
C: You mentioned your team’s work to optimize the program. Can you tell us more about this work?
SH: Because ours is a site-based program, we expect that outcomes will be related both to the quality of mentoring relationships, as proposed by Rhodes’ model, but also to the quality of the youth’s interactions with the setting. As such, we have incorporating best practices for mentoring, and we have also been attentive to developing a setting that is conducive for positive youth development. Specifically, we have worked to incorporate the eight features of positive developmental settings outlined by the National Research Council and Institute of Medicine, which include providing youth with a setting that provides a sense of physical and emotional safety, supportive relationships, appropriate structure, opportunities to belong and build skills, exposure to positive social norms, support for efficacy and mattering, and setting integration.
In designing Campus Connections, we worked to design a larger community context characterized by these setting features. For example, Campus Connections intentionally engages youth in a community of other mentors and mentees so they can gain a sense of belonging and mattering, develop social skills and confidence, and realize personal skills. The curriculum is semi-structured so youth can experience predictability while also gaining self-efficacy through having the power to make decisions about how they navigate the structure, such as the type of prosocial activity they participate in or the focus of academic support they receive. Despite these considerations, we remained concerned that, because the program served about 28 pairs per evening, that youth may not be able to fully interact with or benefit from these features of the setting from the larger community alone. We hypothesized that by further embedding the mentoring pair within Mentor Families, or small groups of 4 pairs, we could both ensure and deepen the youth’s experience of the setting, while also providing support to mentors in their efforts to develop high-quality relationships with mentees.
Indeed, a qualitative study led by Dr. Lindsey Weiler revealed that Mentor Families provided a place (a) for mentors to receive support and supervision, (b) for mentors and mentees to belong, and (c) for mentees to grow and learn. We were interested in empirically testing our hypothesis, so we gained funding from the William T. Grant Foundation to conduct a randomized controlled trial to determine if organizing mentor-mentee matches in Mentor Families could positively affect setting quality, mentoring relationships, and youth outcomes. We are in the final stages of this 3-year project and hope to have the results published soon.