Lilly Foundation Research Projects

Study #1: A Study of Leadership and Character Development in the College


The purpose of this study is to understand whether a comprehensive program for leadership and character development, including multiple courses which integrate leadership and character into their curriculum and additional co-curricular activities, has a positive impact on the leadership and character development of students at Wake Forest University. Since most research on character development has focused on children and adolescents, this study contributes to the limited scholarly study of character development among young adults in the college context. The interventions focus on developing 12 target virtues of character (purpose, justice, honesty, empathy, kindness, gratitude, humility, temperance, courage, perseverance, hope, practical wisdom) and employs seven, research-based strategies for character development (habituation through practice, reflection on personal experience, engagement with virtuous exemplars, dialogue that increases virtue literacy, awareness of situational variables, moral reminders, and friendships of support and accountability).

Study #2: A Study of Character and Professional Identity in Law Students


The purpose of this study is to understand whether course-based and co-curricular interventions focused explicitly on character can have a positive impact on the character, leadership, and professional identities of law students. Interventions include courses and programming that draw on research-based methods to promote and strengthen character virtues in law students.

Study #3: Impact of Environmental Justice Role Models


Scholars concerned with the global climate crisis pay particular attention to the role hope plays in promoting responsible, constructive action (Kleres & Wettergren, 2017, Williston, 2012, Pikhala, 2017). Without hope, humans tend to respond to the climate crisis with either denial or despair and are more likely to abdicate responsibility for addressing the climate crisis. This study investigates the effectiveness of environmental justice role models in developing hope among students who wish to address the climate crisis.

Study #4: Fostering the Pluralistic Orientation of College Students


Americans are deeply polarized. The institutions, commitments, and practices that have long helped us find common ground are under stress. At the same time, America is becoming more diverse, making it even more important that college students learn to recognize and understand differences. Principled pluralism affirms the importance of respecting different beliefs and viewpoints, rooted in a commitment to both individual dignity and shared community (Smidt, 2007; Johnson, 2012). It affirms the value of robust engagement across differences and encourages sharing one’s values and viewpoints while engaging generously, even if critically, with people who hold different commitments and perspectives.

Little research has examined how principled pluralism can be explicitly fostered among college students. This study examines the effectiveness of an undergraduate, summer fellowship program in promoting pluralistic attitudes and orientations among college students.

Study #5: Understanding Faculty Integration of Character Education


Advocates of character education in higher education (Brooks et al., 2019; Lamb et al., 2019) highlight the importance of preserving and strengthening character shaped in previous levels of education. While there is a growing body of research examining course-based character interventions in universities (Khoeler et al, 2020; LaSalle, 2015; Seligman, 2011), further research is needed to better understand faculty attitudes towards character education and the impact of targeted faculty development initiatives that promote course-based character education. This study aims to fill this gap in the research by examining faculty attitudes towards character education integration and how these attitudes change after involvement in a professional development workshop designed to support course-based character education across diverse disciplines.

John Templeton Foundation (JTF) Exemplar Research:

Study #1: Manipulating Narrative Points of View: A Potential Key Mechanism for Exemplar Interventions


In Manipulating Narrative Points of View: A Potential Key Mechanism for Exemplar Interventions, Meindl and his team pay close attention to the contexts that enable the success of exemplar interventions, particularly in middle schools and high schools. Building on their past work in moral psychology, character education, and psychological interventions, they will develop a set of school-based interventions based on insights derived from innovations on “wise” interventions that consistently shape middle and high school students’ character virtues. Additionally, they will tailor these interventions in a classroom-friendly manner that motivates middle- and high-school teachers to utilize their interventions in the classroom.

Study #2: The Role of Emotions in Exemplar Interventions for Academic Character Building


In Exemplar Narratives as Teaching Tools for Academic Character Building, Engelen’s team will focus on identifying key mechanisms that can influence the success of exemplar interventions in the university context. Specifically, they will run a longitudinal study examining the efficacy of different exemplar interventions with a focus on the role of self-transcendent and other-praising emotions in promoting character growth. Emotions have been hypothesized to promote character virtues by reinforcing key values. Additionally, emotions such as admiration, elevation, inspiration, compassion, gratitude, and awe may plan a particularly important role in promoting character virtues. In addition to examining the role of these emotions, Engelen and his team will employ a contextualized approach that examines which specific exemplar narratives are effective for which types of students.

Study #3: Educating Character through Exemplars: Designing Research-Based Interventions for Colleges and Universities


In Educating Character through Exemplars: Designing Research-Based Interventions for Colleges and Universities, Lamb and his interdisciplinary collaborators will draw on theoretical and empirical research to design a series of creative exemplar-based interventions to build character virtues among students at Wake Forest University. They aim to answer three key questions about promoting character in an institutional context: Which types of exemplar interventions are most effective for shaping the character of “emerging adults” in a university context? Which functions of exemplars are most relevant for students in this developmental stage? And how can exemplar interventions be integrated organically into both curricular and co-curricular offerings? By designing and assessing multiple types of exemplar interventions, their team will develop resources to enable other colleges and universities to adapt exemplar interventions for their own contexts.

Study #4: Using Exemplars to Facilitate Growth Following Adversity: Developing the SecondStory 2.0 Intervention


The question of how exemplar interventions promote specific character virtues is a core goal of Jayawickreme’s study, Using Exemplars to Facilitate Growth Following Adversity: Developing the SecondStory 2.0 Intervention. Jayawickreme and his interdisciplinary team will examine whether narratives of moral exemplars who have experienced and overcome adversity can facilitate the promotion of specific character virtues. Recent philosophical work has highlighted how moral exemplars who have experienced adversity may lead to increased admiration for the exemplar, enable more effective emulation, and affirm important truths about the human condition. Jayawickreme’s team will develop an interdisciplinary account of how such exemplars can be successfully employed to develop character growth in the wake of adversity and test a modified intervention designed to promote such growth in a randomized controlled trial.

Study #5: The Role of Spiritual and Literary Exemplar Narratives in Cultivating Character


In The Role of Spiritual and Literary Exemplar Narratives in Cultivating Character, Gulliford and her team will employ textual analysis to analyze different genres of exemplar narratives from diverse disciplinary perspectives. Their analysis will provide important information about how exemplar narratives appeal to individuals, as well as how they promote emulation and admiration. In doing so, Gulliford and her team will identify some of the psychological, pedagogical, and spiritual mechanisms that imbue moral exemplar narratives with their motivational and inspirational impact. By providing researchers and practitioners with important insights about the active ingredients of different types of exemplar narratives, they will facilitate the development of new interventions and narratives.