Young Women Leaders Program


Since its founding in 1997, YWLP has grown to serve 7th and 8th grade girls in four Central Virginia middle schools by pairing them with UVA undergraduate mentors. More than a dozen “sister sites” have been founded using the YWLP model around the US and internationally. 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. Research on YWLP suggests that this combined group and one-on-one model may be particularly effective with adolescent girls for both promoting a variety of outcomes (Deutsch, Reitz-Krueger, Henneberger, Futch, & Lawrence, 2017) and supporting the development of the mentoring relationships (Griffith, Melton, & Deutsch, 2019). During the girls’ 7th grade school year each mentoring pair meets: 1) for at least twice a month for “outside time” 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 6-8 mentor/mentee pairs 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 challenging topic (Lawrence, Roberts, Sovik-Johnston, & Thorndike, 2009). All pairs attend YWLP structured activities once a semester on the college campus in addition to group field trips.

Research has been an integral component of YWLP since its establishment. Our research has included assessing the self-reported experiences of the middle school participants and the college women mentors through interviews, focus groups, and surveys as well as gathering school records and teacher reports of girls’ outcomes. We have also conducted observations of YWLP groups and used that to help understand what happens in combined group and one-on-one mentoring that may promote mentoring relationships and girls’ outcomes. We conducted one of the few longitudinal studies of mentoring, collecting surveys and interviews with girls and mentors five years after program participation. 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 (Henneberger, Deutsch, Lawrence, & Sovik-Johnson, 2013). 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., 2017).

Follow-up with girls who were part of this evaluation five years later (2012-2015) revealed that participation in YWLP was associated with an increase in peer self-esteem and a decrease in delinquency during girls’ senior years in high school.

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, Lawrence, Williams & Peugh, 2015). Marshall, Lawrence, & Peugh (2013) also found that how supported the college women mentors felt by their peers positively predicted their mentees’ self-reported improvement at the end of the program.

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, Wiggins, Henneberger, & Lawrence, 2013). 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, mentors' reported academic self-worth, parent relationship, and not being too autonomous were important pre-existing characteristics related to mentee satisfaction (Leyton-Armakan, Lawrence, Deutsch, Williams, & Henneberger, 2012). 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 than mentor pre-existing characteristics.

Using interview data from girls and their mentors, Varga & Deutsch (2016) found that dyads who were more satisfied with the relationships at the end of the program demonstrated greater congruity and detail in their descriptions of their relationships. Girls and mentors who rated their relational satisfaction lower at the end of the program, however, tended to be more inconsistent and divergent from each other in their descriptions of their relationships. Misattunement in the relationship, (i.e., a failure to be attuned to and aligned with the mentee’s needs) was the most powerful distinguishing characteristic between high and low satisfaction relationships.

Lester and colleagues (2018) used interview data from mentors and mentees collected as part of a longitudinal study of YWLP five years after program participation to examine how mentoring pairs reflect on mutuality, one of the processes identified in Rhodes' (2005) model of mentoring as a key component of supportive relationships. Results suggest that mutuality is understood by mentors and mentees as a combination of two dimensions: shared relational excitement and experiential empathy. Shared relational excitement is felt when there is a genuine desire by both the mentor and the mentee to invest in the relationship. Experiential empathy is the process through which mentors connect with, advise, and normalize the experiences of their mentees by sharing their own relevant experiences.

Griffith, Melton, & Deutsch (2019) used interviews with both girls and mentors to examine whether and how YWLP participants and mentors felt that the group component supported or inhibited the development of the one-on-one relationships. They found that: (1) regularly scheduled group meetings provided stability to dyads; (2) the integration of the group curriculum with the time set aside for one-on-one interactions fostered openness within dyads; (3) the group created a network that helped dyads be more attuned to their own relationships; and (4) peer group dynamics impacted dyads. From the data they develop a proposed process model of the way the group component influences the mentoring relationships across time, suggesting that group activities may be particularly supportive early in the program but may diminish in importance as the one-on-one relationships develop over time.

More Information

  • Future Research

    We are currently focused on conducting research on program and curriculum implementation to better understand how the curriculum supports and is used by mentors in YWLP. Current research is being developing in conjunction with program staff to best support continued program improvement.

  • 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., Wiggins, A., Henneberger, A. & Lawrence, E. (2013). Combining Mentoring with Structured Group Activities: A potential after-school context for fostering relationships between girls and mentors. Journal of Early Adolescence, 33, 5-16. doi:10.1177/0272431612458037

    Deutsch, N.L., Reitz-Krueger, C., Henneberger, A., Futch, V., & Lawrence, E.C. (2017). “It gave me ways to solve problems and ways to talk to people”: Outcomes from a Combined Group and One-on-One Mentoring Program for Early Adolescent Girls. Journal of Adolescent Research, 32(3), 291-322. Online first Doi: 10.1177/0743558416630813

    Griffith, A., Melton, T. & Deutsch, N.L. (2019). How Group Experiences Influence Mentor-Mentee Relational Development in a Combined Group and One-on-One Mentoring Program. Applied Developmental Science

    Henneberger, A. K., Deutsch, N. L., Lawrence, E. C., & Sovik-Johnston, A. (2012). The Young Women Leaders Program: A Mentoring Program Targeted Toward Adolescent Girls. School Mental Health, 1-12.

    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.

    Lester, A.M., Goodloe, C.L., Johnson, H.E., Deutsch, N.L. (2018). Understanding Mutuality: Unpacking relational processes in youth mentoring relationships. Journal of Community Psychology. Online first, 1-18. Doi: 10.1002/jcop22106.

    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., Lawrence, E. C., Williams, J. L., & Peugh, J. (2015). Mentoring as service-learning: The relationship between perceived peer support and outcomes for college women mentors. Studies in educational evaluation47, 38-46.

    Marshall, J.H., Lawrence, E.C., & Peugh, J. (2013). College women mentoring adolescent girls: The relationship between mentor peer support and mentee outcomes. Mentoring and Tutoring: Partnership in Learning, 21(4): 444-462.  DOI: 10.1080/13611267.2013.855860

    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.

    Varga, S. & Deutsch, N.L. (2016). Comparing both sides of the story: A comparative analysis of mentors and protégés relational perspectives. Journal of Primary Prevention, 37, 449-465.

  • Associated Faculty