Youth-Nex Researchers Awarded Mentoring Grant from WTG Foundation


By Leslie M. Booren

A William T. Grant Foundation award will support the development of Lora Henderson, an early-career researcher, and Jessika Bottiani, a researcher who is seeking to strengthen her skillset in providing equity- and culture-sensitive mentorship.

Many universities, including the University of Virginia, strive for an inclusive and diverse faculty workforce. An essential step towards this goal is support for equity-sensitive and culture-sensitive mentorship for scholars of color early in their career. The William T. Grant (WTG) Foundation has awarded a two-year mentoring grant of $110,000 to two Youth-Nex researchers to address this need.

“It is important to have strong mentors attuned to the career development challenges disproportionately faced by their colleagues of color,” said Jessika Bottiani, assistant professor and principal investigator on the grant.

The grant will support Lora Henderson as she conducts independent research and participates in professional development. Henderson, an early career researcher, will receive mentorship from Bottiani, whose will be working to build her own skillset in providing equity literate and culturally sensitive mentorship. The mentoring partnership will receive guidance from Youth-Nex Director Nancy Deutsch.

Bottiani’s work has addressed issues of K-12 school-based bias, disparities, and cultural sensitivity. With this grant, she hopes to enhance her ability to recognize and respond to racial and gender-based microaggressions in academia, and contribute to broader institutional equity for faculty of color.

“During meetings with Lora, we acknowledge and delve into our shared experiences and differences as individuals and scholars—Lora, a Black scholar, and me, a white scholar—in the field of school mental health.” said Bottiani.

Henderson’s interest and expertise centers around culturally-responsive practices. Her work focuses on reducing inequality in mental health outcomes for marginalized youth and increasing schools’ capacity to implement evidence-based interventions to achieve more equitable outcomes.

“As a licensed clinical psychologist who spent a significant amount of time providing clinical services and accruing hours towards licensure over the past few years, this award provides me with mentorship, professional development opportunities, and protected time to pivot my career towards school-based mental health research.” Henderson said.

With this grant, Henderson will build on and extend her work with the National Center for Rural School Mental Health by partnering with schools serving Native American students in South Dakota to create a culturally adapted professional development and coaching intervention designed for indigenous populations.

“Interventions are often created and normed with Black, White, and Latinx students in mind,” explains Henderson. “However, Native students also have significant and unique academic and social-emotional needs. Adapting the Double Check teacher coaching and professional development model for teachers of Native students, will provide teachers with culturally responsive teaching strategies and mental health literacy.”

The WTG Foundation 2019 mentoring grants supported three research grantees and four WTG Scholars in total. Other awardees were from the University of Central Florida, Northeastern University, and three other universities within the United States.

Youth-Nex was founded in 2009 to expand and apply the science of positive youth development to address fundamental challenges facing societies around the world. Through science and community partnerships, Youth-Nex enhances the strengths of children and adolescents and prevents developmental risk. Our vision is that our nation’s youth - a rich, often untapped resource - may flourish.