Jean Rhodes, the Frank L. Boyden Professor of Psychology and Director of the Center for Evidence-Based Mentoring, has been named the 2023 winner of the prestigious Eleanor Maccoby Book Award from the American Psychological Association’s Developmental Psychology Division for her new book, Older and Wiser: New Ideas for Youth Mentoring in the 21st Century. The Maccoby Award honors a book in the field of psychology that has had or promises to have a profound effect on developmental psychology, including promoting “high standards for the application of scientific knowledge on human development to public policy issues.”
“Jean Rhodes is a world renowned scholar working at the cutting edge of her field. I congratulate her on this very prestigious prize,” said UMass Boston Chancellor Marcelo Suárez-Orozco. “Jean has defined the domain of basic and translational research in regards to the mentoring of disadvantaged youth. The scholarly corpus in Older and Wiser has significant implications for educational equity and better serving all our students.”
Older and Wiser draws on more than thirty years of empirical research to survey the state of youth mentoring and concludes that there’s insufficient evidence that even the most well-known mentoring programs are effective. Despite the sobering findings, Rhodes also shows that new, evidence-based approaches can in fact create meaningful change in young people’s lives.
"The most common mentoring programs are failing to live up to their expectations, and part of the reason is that there’s not a lot of structure,” Rhodes said. “Today’s young people face so many challenges, and mentors can help. Building a relationship through shared activities is fine, but we need to leverage that relationship.”
There are many reasons why kids end up in mentoring programs, such as anxiety, having trouble at home, or wanting to learn English as a second language, and mentors should be able to have the tools and skills to help their mentees as well as building their relationship, Rhodes said.
“One of the things I wrote about in the book was that a lot of times parents who refer their children to mentor programs are doing so because of mental health problems, and those programs really weren’t equipped to help,” Rhodes said. “Every child that comes in has a different constellation of presenting problems, challenges, and strengths, and in some ways, each needs a bespoke mentoring program.”
Stemming from the research for her book, Rhodes founded a nonprofit, MentorHub which scales evidence-based solutions with supportive accountability and enables mentors to provide personalized mentor programs for each mentee. MentorHub allows mentors and mentees to set goals and uses data to track and refine their path to success. “If you train a mentor in the art of supportive accountability, that person can be a really good coach for a young person who is now using evidence-based tools that we curate through the app.” Rhodes said
Rhodes has been the director of the Center for Evidence-Based Mentoring at UMass Boston for the past decade, working with programs such as Big Brothers and Big Sisters and My Brother’s Keeper, to develop and research strategies that help bridge gaps in mental health and other services. Doctoral and undergraduate students who are interested in mentorship can work at the Center to take part in the research with these programs. “The amount of data we’re collecting through our many partnerships is giving us a lot of insight,” Rhodes said.
Rhodes recently received a grant from the National Institute of Health (NIH) to build on the research at the Center, starting with clinical trials that will test the combination of supportive accountability and technology -delivered interventions.
As a trained community-clinical psychologist that is committed to helping marginalized groups achieve their goals, Rhodes said she hopes her work leads to finding new ways to deliver mental health care more efficiently.
“I think we can do that by putting effective technology-delivered interventions in the hands of well-trained mentors,” she said. “You’d think when you’re studying a topic for 30 years that it can get stale, but this new frontier of supportive accountability and using technology platforms has kind of reinvigorated my career and put me on new paths.”