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Health, Behavior and Society

February 18, 2021

Bloomberg School of Public Health Researchers Awarded Grant to Study Youth E-Mentoring and COVID-19 Pandemic

A JHSPH team has been awarded a $150,000 grant to assess how youth mentoring programs have responded to the pandemic. 

Researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health received a 1-year grant to study how the COVID-19 pandemic has shaped youth mentoring programs. The grant will support research around how traditional, in-person youth mentoring programs have transitioned to e-mentoring during the pandemic.

The $500,000 grant was presented to MENTOR, a Boston-based organization dedicated to expanding and advocating for youth mentoring around the country. iCouldBe, an organization facilitating virtual mentoring opportunities for high school students from low-income communities, and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health were chosen as subgrantees. The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health team has received $150,000 to lead the research component of the initiative.

Michelle Kaufman, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Health, Behavior and Society, is the primary investigator for the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health’s funds. She is an expert in technology-driven interventions to reduce health disparities among vulnerable populations, including significant work around adolescent health and mentoring.

Other members of the research team include Gayane Yenokyan, PhD, an associate scientist with the Department of Biostatics and executive director of the Biostatistics Center, and Kate Wright, MPH ‘17, a research associate with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Yenokyan is providing statistical analysis support, while Wright is serving as the project’s research coordinator.

Their new project began in January 2021. Together, Kaufman’s team is working to pinpoint critical support systems to assist mentoring programs in their transition to e-mentoring, producing a report on how e-mentoring has affected youth development and a tool for mentoring programs to use to assess their own readiness to adopt e-mentoring.

Even before the pandemic, mentoring’s positive influence on the lives of young people – from school attendance to college enrollment – was well-established. With the COVID-19 pandemic impacting the social, physical, and mental health of youth and adolescents, however, understanding ways to sustain connectedness through mentoring programs has grown even more critical.

“There is so much potential for e-mentoring to transform youth development for the better and to increase healthy youth outcomes,” said Kaufman. “This project will catapult the mentoring field forward by allowing us to explore what works and what barriers exist in mentoring youth in digital spaces.”

The project will provide Kaufman’s team with a unique opportunity to explore e-mentoring on a larger scale, as they collect data directly from the real-world experiences of mentoring programs. The team will host online focus groups with mentoring programs that have adopted e-mentoring over the past year, and they will conduct an online survey of programs that are thinking about adopting e-mentoring modalities. The study also aims to identify best practices that mentoring organizations can leverage as they introduce technology into their programs – principles applicable during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as in times ahead.

“During the pandemic, virtual connection has become necessary,” says Wright. “But even beyond these times of separation, broadening the reach of mentoring programs through e-mentoring can have a powerful impact on individuals and communities."