Professors to study how adult leaders foster character development in Scouts

Jennifer Urban (left) and Miriam Linver are co-directors of the Research on Youth Thriving and Evaluation Institute at Montclair State University.

We know adult leaders play a vital role in developing character in Scouts and Venturers. But how does that character development happen? And is there a perfect mix of training and experience that results in the best character outcomes?

Over the next two years, a pair of researchers will study those questions and more.

Two professors from Montclair State University in New Jersey have been awarded a $5.7 million grant to study the ways adult leaders build character in Scouts. The study is funded by the Stephen D. Bechtel Jr. Foundation.

Jennifer Urban and Miriam Linver, professors of family science and human development, will answer questions like:

  • What combination of training and experience of Scoutmasters and other volunteers best builds character in Scouts?
  • How can adult leader training be enhanced to strengthen a Scout’s character development?
  • What are the pathways that build a young person’s character?
  • How does volunteering in Scouting develop an adult’s character?

How the study will work

Urban and Linver will work with a team of undergraduate, master’s and doctoral students to collect and analyze data about everything happening within BSA packs, troops and crews.

“We want to understand how youth development practitioners, or adults in general, foster youth character development in Scouts,” Urban says.

They’ll share their findings in reports and articles, and this newfound wisdom will cascade throughout Scouting.

It’ll start with the BSA organization, which can use the results to develop a plan for how to better serve Scout leaders. This plan, in turn, will benefit Scouters by helping them maximize the time they spend volunteering. And finally, the project findings will be shared with other youth-serving organizations so all can benefit from what’s uncovered.

“It’s easy to be cynical about the state of civil society, but we only need to look as far as our youth to see the full potential for a brighter future,” Urban says. “We aren’t only going to be able to understand more about character development in youth, but we’ll also be able to understand more about how adult character develops through volunteering with BSA.”

Phase I a success

The research into adult leaders is actually Phase II of the Montclair State study.

Phase I of the project, Urban says, “confirmed that BSA offers a distinctive character initiative that is deeply rooted in its culture — and that is ideal for exploring and documenting the relationship between adult practice and youth character development.”

I’ll share the results from Phase II once they’re released in a couple of years.