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Campbell Professor: Doing the Best for Youth
Campbell Professor: Doing the Best for Youth

Research tells us that positive relationships with caring adults, outside the immediate family, makes a significant difference in helping kids shape a positive future--this kind of nurturing relationship can literally save a young person's life.

Mentoring strategies abound, but social workers lack evidence to determine which strategies work best. Dr. Thomas Keller at Portland State's School of Social Work intends to figure that out.

Keller, a nationally recognized scholar with an infectious smile, modest manner and ambitious plans, joined the School's faculty in September 2006 as the inaugural Duncan and Cindy Campbell Professor for Children, Youth and Families with an emphasis on mentoring. The professorship's endowment was created with lead gifts from two couples--Duncan and Cindy Campbell, and Barre '89 MSW '92 and Robert Stoll--and other community support totaling over $1.4 million.

The Campbell Professor wants PSU to play a leading role in the emerging field of mentoring--knitting together the latest research on best practices, teaching future social workers, and connecting community organizations with new ideas and each other.

"Children need adults in their lives for guidance," says Keller. "We live in an age segregated society, with working parents, elders living apart from the younger generation. So we have to think about who's providing our children with the opportunity to learn about the world and how to live in it.

Mentoring should be very tailored, very individualized. There are many aspects of being a mentor--emotional support, teaching, advocacy, role model. It's a unique role--less authority than a parent, not simply a friend. You need it to be fun to keep the child engaged, but you also have to assess systematically what the child needs, what will help guide them, how to enlist the partnership of others."

Does youth mentoring work?

"Yes! As the field develops and we refine best practices, we're seeing increasingly good results." Keller believes it's his job as the Campbell Professor to help identify those best practices and share them throughout the profession.

"We need to connect the best research and ideas with the people who work with kids. That's what I'm here to do."

Read about Dr. Keller's Summer Institute on Youth Mentoring and other programs of the School of Social Work.