Five U.Va. Faculty Members Funded for Research Promoting Effective Youth Development

September 15, 2011 — The University of Virginia's Youth-Nex Center, based at the Curry School of Education, has awarded seed funding of nearly $200,000 to five U.Va. faculty members whose proposed studies include reducing risky behaviors on 21st-birthday celebrations, exploring the impact of heart surgery on driving safety and assessing reproductive health among sexual minority youth.

Youth-Nex, now in its third year at U.Va., funds preliminary studies by faculty that will lead to external funding for research promoting effective youth development. Criteria for funding include multidisciplinary research on factors that could enhance youth development such as productive citizenship, supportive relationships, risk avoidance and healthy lifestyles; or prevention of health-related, psychological and social risk among youth. 

"We have once again received a strong and diverse set of applications on important topics in effective youth development," center director Patrick Tolan said. "We anticipate that seeding the planned work will lead to important research to improve the lives of young people and their communities."

The five faculty members and their studies that will receive funding this year are:

• Ellen J. Bass, associate professor of systems and information engineering, "Academic and Student Affairs Partnership for Substance Abuse Prevention: Reducing Risky Behaviors Associated With 21st Birthdays."

This research project builds on the experience of Student Health's Gordie Center for Substance Abuse Prevention in developing and evaluating celebratory drinking interventions. The project goal is to increase protective behaviors and reduce alcohol consumption, estimated blood alcohol concentrations and negative consequences associated with 21st birthday celebrations.

• Daniel J. Cox, professor of psychiatric medicine and internal medicine, "Impact of Cardiac Surgery on Executive Function."

Researchers will investigate the impact of cardiac surgery on cognitive motor function that impairs driving safety, medical self-management, social functioning and quality of life, and the extent to which such impacts can be reversed with specific and specialized rehabilitation using virtual reality driving simulation.

• Amanda Kibler, assistant professor of curriculum and instruction and special education, "Languages Across Borders, or LAB: Building Positive Cross-Linguistic and Cross-Cultural Networks in High Schools."

Adolescent English-language learners face several challenges in high school settings. In classrooms, these students must complete "double the work" of their English-speaking peers, learning challenging subject matter while they are still acquiring the language through which this content is taught. Researchers will study the effects of an intervention to improve linguistic/academic and psychosocial outcomes for both the learners and native English-speaking students.

• Charlotte J. Patterson, professor of psychology, "Reproductive Health Among Sexual Minority Youth."

Many of the problems experienced by sexual minority youth – such as family and peer-group problems, victimization and bullying – have been well-documented, but other potential problem areas are less known. Research will focus on gaining more understanding of the reproductive health of this vulnerable population. The work will provide documentation of disparities as a function of sexual orientation in sexual behavior and reproductive health among adolescents in the United States.

• Joanna Lee Williams, assistant professor of education, "A Study of Positive Youth Development Among High School Students."
 
This study will examine whether participation in an intergroup dialogue program during the school year enhances strengths conceptualized in the "positive youth development" paradigm and diversity-related values, and promotes ethnic identity exploration among high school students. Intergroup dialogue is a process that brings together individuals from two or more social identity groups – for instance, groups based on race, religion or gender – that have either had a history of conflicting relationships or have not had substantive opportunities to communicate.

This pilot study will compare Charlottesville High School students who participate in the Youth Roundtables program with non-participants in order to examine how the program may contribute to positive youth development. Among other issues, researchers will explore whether there is increased competence, confidence, connection, character and caring/compassion when compared to non-participants.

— By Ellen Daniels

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