Baylor Virtue Development Project Announces Sub-Awards for Scholars, Practitioners

November 1, 2019

Projects from around the country test virtue interventions, use technology to improve character strengths, such as love, gratitude, hope, patience, generosity, joy, wisdom and forgiveness

Media Contact: Lori Fogleman, Baylor University Media and Public Relations, 254-710-6275
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WACO, Texas (Nov. 1, 2019) – Baylor University’s “Character Strength Interventions in Adolescents” project – funded by a $2.6 million grant from The John Templeton Foundation – has announced its first sub-awards for projects led by scholars and practitioners that will develop and test scientifically rigorous virtue interventions for adolescents in diverse youth-serving settings.

The virtue development project – led by principal investigator Sarah Schnitker, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology and neuroscience at Baylor University, and co-principal investigator Benjamin Houltberg, Ph.D., director of research at the University of Southern California Performance Science Institute – galvanizes widespread scientific development of virtue interventions for adolescents across a diversity of contexts, such as athletic teams, religious organizations, youth community centers and online, that attend to spirituality and transcendent purpose.

“We are so grateful to The John Templeton Foundation for funding this work on using science to better cultivate character strengths in young people,” Schnitker said. “By better helping adolescents develop into adults who are patient, generous, grateful and wise, we are creating the kind of citizens who can build a sustainable and flourishing society for the future. This work closely aligns with the goals of Baylor University’s Illuminate strategic plan in that it uses research to shed light on addressing real-world challenges.”

The award stipulates that $1.27 million of the grant be designated for multiple sub-award opportunities within two categories:

  • “Engaging Scholars and Practitioners to Promote Virtue Development” for projects focused on interventions targeted to develop one or more virtues, including love, gratitude, hope, patience, generosity, joy, wisdom and forgiveness.
  • “Improving Character Strengths of Adolescents through Technology Innovation” for technological or new media product development based on applied positive developmental science. Example products include smartphone apps, video games and content for new media regularly frequented by adolescents, such as YouTube, Snapchat and Instagram.

In addition to the sub-awards, recipients will attend two grantee conferences related to character development in youth: a project-launch conference Nov. 3-6 in Temecula, California, and a capstone conference in September 2021.

“We are delighted to be funding such a diversity of projects that all aim toward the same goal: helping adolescents build their character strengths,” Schnitker said. “Not only are we investing in amazing projects, but we also are incentivizing collaborations between psychological scientists, youth practitioners and technology designers. We anticipate that these interdisciplinary teams will continue to work together even after the grant ends.”

The funded projects are:

Grants for Engaging Scholars and Practitioners to Promote Virtue Development

Development of Virtue-Promotive Interventions for Adolescents through Participatory Action Research – Partnership with University of South Alabama
PI: Dr. Krista Mehari

This project aims to develop and evaluate a multilevel intervention program for adolescents in afterschool, drop-in programs in urban, under-resourced areas to promote the virtues of wisdom, hope, peace and forgiveness. Taking a participatory action research approach, the project integrates the lived experience of community members, needs and capacities of community-based settings and best-practice science in order to develop programs that will be relevant to and effective in the community and sustainable for community-based settings. The sites to be studied are after-school programs operated by United Methodist Inner City Mission and Boys and Girls Clubs of South Alabama. This project will result in a nuanced understanding of the development of wisdom, hope, peace and forgiveness among predominantly African American youth living in a low income, high-violence community. Successful completion of this project also will result in a feasible, sustainable, ecologically valid multisystemic intervention to promote those virtues that can be implemented in other communities.

Developing Gratitude, Generosity and Hope in Opportunity Youth – Partnership with Lutheran Social Services of Minnesota
PI: Dr. Peter Samuelson

This project will implement an intervention that cultivates gratitude, generosity and hope for opportunity youth, a term referring to youth with great potential who are engaged in social service programs, through these youths’ recognition of their gifts and sharing those with others. Through a process of building a narrative identity of their own giftedness, the youth may use this new narrative for their own benefit and for the benefit of their communities and the world. This study will advance the knowledge of the development of the character virtues of gratitude, generosity and hope in youth through a deep engagement with an understudied population of rural and urban opportunity youth to understand how these character virtues operate in their lives and, in turn, co-design with them an effective intervention that can be used broadly.

CHIMP’s Philanthropy Education Programming: A Technology-Based Solution to Promote Generosity among Youth – Partnership with Harvard University and Charitable Impact Foundation (CHIMP)
PI: Dr. Ashley Whillans

A potential solution to nurture youths’ generosity is to integrate discussions around giving into daily actions and provide youth with engaging charitable giving experiences. Correlational evidence suggests that discussions about charitable giving early in life are linked to greater charitable giving in adulthood. Building on this correlational research, this project will test the causal benefits of Philanthropy Education Programs (PEP) on prosocial development, generating theoretical insights about whether and how PEPs could be a valuable tool for developing prosocial virtues and improving well-being among youth. This research also could have practical implications for policymakers and non-academic audiences interested in implementing similar programs which, when scaled, may establish critical opportunities for youth to learn about and develop long-term prosocial habits.

Together We Transcend: Building Adolescents’ Self-Transcendent Purpose and Virtues through an Intergenerational Storytelling Intervention – Partnership with University of Southern California and Sages & Seekers
PI: Dr. Mary Helen Immordino-Yang

This project will employ intergenerational storytelling as a psychological intervention to help youth cultivate virtues, build purpose and regulate themselves as they struggle to develop an inspired vision for their adult self. Intergenerational storytelling is a potentially scalable and sustainable intervention for communities, with the added advantage that it supports the participating elders, a group occupied with developmentally transitioning to new social roles who benefit from giving back to youth and from life review through storytelling. This intervention engages community-based organizations and leverages the power of conversations and relationships. It is straightforward but powerful, with potentially widespread social benefits.

DeMISTifying Muslim Youth: A Multi-Method Investigation of Character Values in the Context of the Muslim InterScholastic Tournament – Partnership with Columbia University Specific Aims and Project Significance
PI: Dr. Valerie Purdie-Greenaway

This project will be the first to construct a situation-based scale of virtue development for Muslim American adolescents by using a multi-method longitudinal design to advance an understanding of the psychological, social and religious trajectories of Muslim adolescents that predict virtue development. In addition, the social network feature of the research offers needed information on the intrapersonal mechanisms of virtue development and how it spreads to and from others, something that has eluded past research partly due to methodological limitations. Researchers will assess the link between Islamic values and virtue development, offering a rich and novel context in which to explore virtue adaptation.

Grants for Improving Character Strengths of Adolescents through Technology Innovation

Activating Character through Art – Partnership with Mayerson Academy, Contemporary Arts Center and Cloverleaf
PI: Dr. Jillian Darwish

The Activating Character through Art (ACTA) app will develop the use of the character strengths of love, gratitude, hope and forgiveness in adolescents by engaging them in a personal and shared technology-based experience. They will confront contemporary art through the lens of character strengths, building knowledge and the capacity to set goals for developing and acting with character. The app will make it possible for adolescents to consider provocative research about love, gratitude, hope and forgiveness, hear compelling stories of these strengths in action, map responses of the group for collective review, support opportunities to break into homogeneous and heterogeneous small group discussions based on responses, and create artifacts for printing and extending learning after leaving the museum.

Challenge to the Hall: Building Adolescent Character Virtues through Gaming Partnership with University of Southern California
PIs: Dr. Alan Arkatov and Dr. Lizabeth Fogel

This project’s multi-layered digital platform supports the development of the character virtues gratitude, hope, wisdom, community and generosity. The platform – Challenge of the Hall (CotH) – ties the history and collections of the Pro Football Hall of Fame into an ecosystem of scaffolded play experiences that unite players across generations. CotH advocates for providing adolescents with contexts and opportunities that are focused on their strengths, as opposed to their shortcomings. Through game play designed to engage adolescents and their families in reflection on their histories and networks of support, CotH creates a context in which young people can acknowledge the help of others, imagine alternative futures, seek out the wisdom of elders and give back to their community.

Tech and Character Hub – Partnership with University of California, Los Angeles
PI: Dr. Yalda Uhls

UCLA’s Center for Scholars and Storytellers has developed a hub on its website that shares more information for teaching adolescents about love, gratitude, hope, patience, generosity, joy, wisdom and forgiveness, as well as best practices for content creators and digital developers to use technology to build character strengths in adolescents.


Baylor University is a private Christian University and a nationally ranked research institution. The University provides a vibrant campus community for more than 17,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating University in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 90 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 12 nationally recognized academic divisions.