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Youth Purpose Project: Phases One and Two

+ Youth Purpose Project: Phase Two (2005-2009 )

Building on the first phase of the Youth Purpose Project, the Center’s current work aims to establish youth purpose as an important focus of scientific study and educational practice. This research is generously supported by the John Templeton Foundation and the Thrive Foundation for Youth.

Over the project's four years (October 2005 - September 2009), the Center will conduct two waves of data collection and analysis, encourage innovative research among other researchers by providing small grants for dissertation and early career studies, and examine and support the fostering of purpose in schools.

The research consists of longitudinal and comparative studies. The longitudinal study follows, for an additional four years, 60 youngsters first interviewed in phase one at ages 12 to 23. Thus, the Center will have six years of longitudinal data during a formative period of adolescence and early adulthood—a unique and valuable data set of the kind that is rare in the social sciences.

The comparative study examines at each stage of data collection the concept of youth purpose in relation to other variables, such as social support, thriving, challenges, and effects of the youths’ actions. These analyses focus on how purpose contributes to young people's lives and what affects various forms of meaning and purpose have on their development. Center researchers have surveyed approximately 1,200 adolescents and interviewed approximately 280 adolescents from diverse socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds in rural, urban, and suburban settings in California, New Jersey, and Tennessee. In 2008-2009, researchers will revisit these students for a second wave to examine changes in these phenomena.

At the culmination of the project, the Center will sponsor a series of capstone events to share insights with the scientific and educational communities as well as the public.

+ Youth Purpose Project: Phase One (2002-2005 )
The first phase of the Youth Purpose Project was funded by the John Templeton Foundation and was conducted from October 2002 to September 2005. It investigated what types of commitments young people hold and how those commitments develop. The Center's interest in purpose is fueled by the conviction that it can play a powerfully generative role in development and can guard against adverse outcomes. Yet, purpose has been seldom studied as a force in its own right.

Center researchers conducted a nationwide survey of approximately 440 youth between 12 and 22 years of age from different socioeconomic statuses, religions, ethnicities, regions of the country, and city types. Based on the results, 48 youths were interviewed regarding purpose, and 10 interviewees were selected as exemplars for in-depth case studies.

This research produced three noteworthy documents to further scholarship on purpose:

  1. A comprehensive literature review on the concept of purpose and how it has been measured in the past. Click here for a pdf version of the paper, which was published in Applied Developmental Science in 2003.

  2. A consensus of proceedings of a 2003 conference entitled, "Exploring the Nature and Development of Purpose in Youth.” Fourteen youth researchers and specialists came to Stanford University to share insights for building a research agenda on youth purpose. Click here for the consensus document, which was produced in booklet form with the assistance of Pamela Thompson at the John Templeton Foundation and disseminated to more than 1,200 individuals at colleges, schools, school boards, government agencies and non-profit organizations across the United States.

  3. A forthcoming book by William Damon.
+ The Youth Purpose Advisory Panel
Astin, Alexander

University of California Los Angeles
Graduate School of Education & Information Studies

Benninga, Jacques

California State University Fresno
Kremen School of Education & Human Development

Bronk, Kendall Cotton

Ball State University
Department of Educational Psychology

Emmons, Robert A.

University of California Davis
Department of Psychology

Haidt, Jonathan

University of Virginia
Department of Psychology

King, Pamela Ebstyne

Fuller Theological Seminary
School of Psychology

Lerner, Richard M.

Tufts University
Applied Developmental Science Institute

McFarland, Dan

Stanford University
School of Education

Narvaez, Darcia

University of Notre Dame
Department of Psychology

Reyna, Valerie

Cornell University
Department of Human Development

Spencer, Margaret Beale

University of Chicago
Department of Comparative Human Development

Wagener, Linda

Fuller Theological Seminary
Department of Clinical Psychology