JMU Community Profiles

JMU Partnership with Big Brothers Big Sisters Wins a Second National Research Grant 

In 2011, JMU faculty members Amanda Cleveland, Liliokanio Peaslee, and Gary Kirk were recipients of a $478,000 Best Practices in Mentoring research grant from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP). The grant funded a two-year study to develop enhanced mentor programming and conduct experimental evaluation research. The study investigated the impact of enhanced mentor training and peer advising on the quality of mentor-mentee relationships and mentee life outcomes in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program. The grant funded research opportunities for JMU graduate students and helped lead to an expansion of the number of JMU undergrads volunteering as mentors.

Campus-community partnerships at JMU can have impacts beyond the local area. In 2012, this research study was cited by OJJDP as a best practices site in program development and evaluation research. Programming developed by JMU researchers has gained nation-wide attention and is currently hosted by Big Brothers Big Sisters of America (BBBSA). BBBSA has also noted the team’s development of evaluation instruments for use with young children, a group currently understudied in national mentoring programs. Researchers expect that forthcoming findings will be used to inform and improve mentor training practices broadly.

Subsequently, in late September 2013, OJJDP announced a new research award to Dr. Peaslee and Dr. Cleveland for $299,000 in funding to expand the scope and timeframe of their original research project. The new project will fund a four-year research study aimed at identifying the factors that affect match quality beyond enhanced training and peer support. In addition, this new research project will employ a long-term, quasi-experimental research design tracking outcomes of mentees after their mentoring relationship ends. “We know that the benefits of mentoring often increase overtime,” says Dr. Peaslee, “This project affords us the opportunity to assess the possibility of more meaningful impacts of programs like BBBS on at-risk youth as they enter adulthood.”

Both projects are conducted in conjunction with an affiliate of Big Brothers Big Sisters of America in Harrisonburg-Rockingham County, Virginia (BBBSHR). Led by Executive Director Susan Totty, BBBSHR is an established one-on-one mentoring program serving over 600 children annually. BBBSHR has been nationally recognized for excellence in practice and service. “Community-based research requires intense coordination and widespread participation”, notes Dr. Cleveland. “Nearly 90% of the volunteers serving children in need in this community are students at JMU and surrounding colleges. Community engagement among students on our campus has been vital to the success of our research and BBBSHR’s goal to serve at-risk youth.”

Amanda Cleveland and Lili Peaslee are both Assistant Professors of Public Policy and Administration in the Political Science Department. Dr. Cleveland is in her fourth year at JMU; she specializes in program evaluation. Dr. Peaslee is in her sixth year; she specializes in youth development and policy studies. Both are currently involved in several other community-based research and evaluation projects that permit students in their courses to apply their knowledge to serve local needs. 

Dr. Peaselee (left) and Dr. Cleveland (right)