Young Women Leaders Program


Established in 1997, YWLP has served over 1200 girls in Central Virginia with trained college women mentors, and there are an additional 10 “sister sites” nationally and internationally using the YWLP model. The theoretical basis of YWLP is self-determination theory (SDT), which posits that critical for positive youth development is feeling competent, connected to close others, and autonomous as a decision maker (Connell & Wellborn, 1991; Ryan & Deci, 2000). YWLP is a research-based mentoring program that incorporates all of the recently recommended thirteen “best practices” in mentoring (Rhodes & DuBois, 2006).


Since research suggests that individual mentoring may be optimal for developing a one-on-one relationship between the mentoring pair while a group format may be better for promoting positive peer interactions (Herrera, Vang, & Gale, 2002), YWLP incorporates both. During the girls’ 7th grade school year each mentoring pair meets: 1) for at least four hours a month one-on-one doing mutually agreed upon activities (e.g., studying together, going to a cultural event) and 2) for two hours a week after school in a group of eight mentees, their eight mentors, and a facilitator. The group sessions are divided into time for pair connection and homework time, introduction of an YWLP skill (e.g., Gossip Guard), work on a service project (e.g., food drive), and group discussion of a problematic topic (Lawrence, Roberts, Sovik-Johnston, & Thorndike, 2009). All pairs attend YWLP structured activities once a semester on the college campus and most groups have sleepovers or play days.

Research has been an integral component of YWLP since its establishment. To date, our research is based on the self-reported experiences of the middle school participants and the college women mentors through interviews, focus groups, as well as quantitative measures. We supplement this information with middle school participants’ school records and teacher reports. Overall, our research has shown that YWLP has multiple benefits for the mentees as well as the mentors, and it has also begun to reveal mentoring mechanisms that promote positive change.

Middle School Girls

In 2007, YWLP began a three-year evaluation using a randomized assignment experimental design that included 333 seventh grade girls in the program and control conditions. Three quarters or more of the program girls reported that YWLP helped them improve the way they listen to people with views different from their own, talk with their friends, support their friends, deal with their problems, talk with other kids at school, interact with people who are different from them, and think about their future (Levy, Deutsch, Henneberger, & Lawrence, 2010). In addition, two thirds or more of girls reported that YWLP helped them improve the way they think about themselves, get involved in school as a leader, make decisions about their behavior at school, and deal with sticky situations. From 2007-2010, the average match retention rate was 83% for the full academic year. Within this group, more than half of the 7th grade girls were matched for a second academic year (59%), and 22% were matched for 24 months or longer.

While most girls (program and control) reported declines in grade-point average, these declines were attenuated for program participants in 2009-2010; this cohort also had stable school bonding, which decreased for their peers over the school year (Williams, Henneberger, Lawrence & Deutsch, 2012). Interviews with mentees reveal that girls reported changes in a number of areas as a result of participating in YWLP. These included social and relational skills (e.g., respecting others, trust), self-regulation (e.g., controlling their behavior and speech, improving their attitude), and self-awareness and understanding (e.g., taking on new social roles, becoming less shy) (Deutsch et al., 2012).

College Women

By integrating academic material, service, and reflection for its mentors, YWLP embodies a service-learning model that is associated with positive outcomes for its participants. Compared to their peers, YWLP mentors reported stronger outcomes in ethnocultural empathy, competence, social acceptance, and autonomy after a year of mentoring. Mentors’ degree of perceived peer support moderated this relationship, where mentors who felt more supported had stronger outcomes compared to those who experienced less support from their YWLP peers (Marshall, Peugh, Lawrence, & Lee Williams, 2012).

In another study, we used a mixed-methods approach to investigate how YWLP supports mentor commitment, prejudice reduction, and increased understanding and acceptance of diversity among the undergraduates serving as mentors (Lee, Germain, Lawrence, & Marshall, 2010). Results suggest that this model not only supports the longevity of mentor-mentee relationships, which is a critical aspect of effective mentoring, but also improves the mentors’ ability to interact with others across boundaries of difference. Over the four years of the study the average completion rate for the college women mentors in YWLP was 91%. In terms of cultural competence, YWLP mentors made greater gains in their tolerance of people from different backgrounds compared to non-YWLP college women. Through interviews, over half of the mentors commented on the importance of structural diversity and learning in YWLP (Lee, et al., 2010).

Mentoring Relationships

Results from another mixed-methods study using survey and observational data reveal that YWLP mentors and their seventh grade mentees report moderate-to-high satisfaction with the group experience, with no mean differences between groups (Deutsch, Henneberger, & Lawrence, 2012). Yet there were significant differences between groups in the group members’ (mentees) satisfaction with their one-on-one mentoring relationships. Although all groups demonstrated high levels of some positive social processes related to connectedness (e.g., fun), groups in which mentees’ reported higher levels of satisfaction with their one-on-one relationships engaged in more higher level positive social processes (e.g., caretaking). Groups in which mentee’s reported lower satisfaction with their one-on-one relationships demonstrated more negative social processes (e.g., disengagement).

We have also found that certain mentor factors are associated with mentee outcomes. Using data from 142 mentor-mentee pairs from 2005-06 through 2008-09, mentor’s reported academic self-worth, parent relationship, and not being too autonomous were important pre-existing characteristics related to mentee satisfaction (Leyton-Armakan, Lawrence, Deutsch, & Henneberger, in press). While these findings have implications for mentee selection among the college student population, they only accounted for a small amount of the variance in mentee satisfaction, suggesting that ongoing mentor training and support may be a more critical predictor of mentee outcome that mentor pre-existing characteristics.

More Information

  • Future Research

    We plan to continue assessing the ways in which YWLP supports positive change in adolescent mentees and college women mentors. Research projects that are under way include:

    • A two-year evaluation of the effectiveness of YWLP in preventing delinquency and related outcomes in girls who are at-risk for delinquency based on individual and/or ecological characteristics.
    • An evaluation of the YWLP global connections curriculum and its effect on middle school girls and college women’s sense of global competence and civic engagement
    • An examination of the various sources of mentor support in YWLP and the relationship between mentor support and mentee outcomes
    • An examination of early adolescent girls’ perception of relational aggression among their peers at school and factors that might mediate its negative effect on them,
    • An evaluation of the effectiveness of YWLP in Cameroon on enhancing girls’ school attendance and retention into high school
    • The feasibility of establishing a YWLP “sister site” in Panama
  • References

    Connell, J. P., & Wellborn, J. G. (1991). Competence, autonomy, and relatedness: A motivational analysis of self-system processes. In M. R. Gunnar & L. A. Sroufe (Eds.), Self processes and development (Vol. 23, pp. 43 – 77). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

    Deutsch, N.L., Henneberger, A., & Lawrence, E.C. (2012) Combining Mentoring with

    Structured Group Activities: A Potential After-School Context for Fostering Relationships between Girls and Mentors. Manuscript submitted for publication. University of Virginia, VA.

    Deutsch, N.L., Williams, J.L., Henneberger A., Reitz-Krueger, C., Futch, V., & Lawrence, E.C. (2012, March). Young women leaders: Outcomes of a group and one-to-one mentoring intervention for girls. Paper presented at the 14th Biennial meeting for the Society for Research on Adolescence, Vancouver, BC.

    Herrera, C.L., Vang, Z., & Gale, L.Y. (2002, February). Group mentoring: A study of mentoring groups in three programs. Philadelphia: Public/Private Ventures.

    Lawrence, E., Roberts, K., Sovik-Johnston, A., & Thorndike, A. (2009). Young Women Leaders Program Mentor Handbook (6th Edition). Charlottesville, VA: The Rector and Board of Visitors, University of Virginia. 

    Lee, J. M., Germain, L. J., Marshall, J., & Lawrence, E. (2010). “It opened my mind, my eyes. It was good.”: How college students navigate boundaries of difference in a volunteer mentoring program. Educational Horizons, 89(1), 33-46.

    Levy, M., Deutsch, N., Henneberger, A. & Lawrence, E. (2011). The Young Women Leaders Program Final Report. U.S. Department of Education Grant Q184B070479.

    Leyton, J., Lawrence, E., Deutsch, N.L. & Henneberger, A. (in press) The relationship between initial characteristics of college women mentors and mentee satisfaction and functioning. Journal of Community Psychology.

    Marshall, J.H., Peugh, J., Lawrence, E.C., Williams, J.L., (2012). Mentoring as service-learning:

    The relationship between perceived peer support and outcomes for college women mentors. Manuscript submitted for publication. University of Virginia, VA.

    Rhodes, J.E.,&DuBois, D.L. (2006). Understanding and facilitating the youth mentoring movement. Social Policy Report, 20(3), 3–20.

    Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. American Psychologist, 55, 68 – 78.

    Williams J.L., Henneberger, A., Lawrence, E.C., & Deutsch, N.L. (2012). The Young Women

    Leaders Program: Examining the Impact of a Mentoring Program for Middle School Girls on Academic and Psychosocial Outcomes. Manuscript submitted for publication. University of Virginia, VA.

  • Associated Faculty