Psychologist Jean Rhodes
Jean Rhodes is a leading expert on youth mentoring research, and the depth, breadth, and rigor of her academic accomplishments have made important contributions to policies affecting children and youth. Rhodes began studying youth mentoring before it was in the limelight, gaining a deep, theoretically informed and practically applicable understanding of the nuances of relationships and programs.
Rhodes, professor of psychology, has published her findings in outlets ranging from scholarly journals to OpEds in the The New York Times and The Boston Globe. Her trade book, Stand by Me: The Risks and Rewards of Mentoring Today’s Youth (Harvard University Press), served to galvanize an emerging field. She has helped establish the study of non-parent adult relationships as a serious academic subdiscipline, and she has fundamentally shaped public policy and practice in the field.
“Early in my career at the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana, I became interested in the protective role of natural mentors in the lives of urban youth,” Rhodes says. “Community mental health professionals had long recognized the benefits of such helping relationships, yet many questions remained regarding their influence and applicability to youth interventions.”
In response, Rhodes launched longitudinal research on natural mentoring relationships with urban adolescents, deepening our understanding of the changing nature of relationships and their positive influence on an array of outcomes.
Despite the promise of natural mentors, Rhodes was struck by the sheer number of urban adolescents who did not have extensive networks of support and could not readily find older adults to serve in that capacity. To help address the needs of children and adolescents who lacked adult supervision and guidance, she led the way in advocating for increasing the number and effectiveness of volunteer mentoring programs.
“I thought if these relationships could be enhanced through clinical and developmental research, their full potential could be harnessed." she says. To gain a deeper knowledge of mentoring, I began examining how, and under what circumstances, such relationships were most effective.”
This work led to her collaboration with the social policy organization Public/Private Ventures and her analysis of data from large, national evaluations.
Through her work, Rhodes has sought to uncover the basic processes involved in mentoring relationships. Drawing on the attachment and social developmental theories, she has tested a conceptual model of the underlying processes that govern change. Her theoretical papers on the topic are considered foundational, and one was selected for inclusion in Annual Progress in Child Psychiatry and Child Development (Rhodes, Grossman & Resch, 2003).