MEDFORD/SOMERVILLE, Mass. (January 13, 2016)–Researchers at Tufts University are collaborating with the United States Military Academy on a first-of-its-kind, five-year longitudinal study of how West Point develops character and leadership in its cadets, a project that could help predict which practices produce successful officers and influence character and leadership education in schools, businesses, and other organizations.
"Although West Point is rightfully regarded as a leader in character and leadership development, no one has comprehensively studied why its programs are effective, which aspects of the program have the most impact, and whether certain qualities of character can be linked to performance," said Richard M. Lerner, Ph.D., the Bergstrom Chair in Applied Developmental Science at the Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Development at Tufts University's School of Arts and Sciences. "Working with West Point, we're breaking new ground in an area of vital interest to our nation and society."
Project leader Kristina Schmid Callina, Ph.D., research assistant professor in the Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Study in Human Development, said the findings could have an impact on how organizations, including other military academies, develop leaders.
"If we can identify the specific programs and policies that are most effective in building character, we not only will be able to enhance West Point's system but also use it as a model for organizations with similar goals, such as youth organizations, sports leagues, schools, and professional organizations, as well as other higher education institutions," she added.
The research is being conducted in collaboration with the Behavioral Sciences and Leadership Department and the Simon Center for the Professional Military Ethic at the U.S. Military Academy. The project is made possible by a nearly $2 million grant from the Templeton Religion Trust and by in-kind support from West Point.
Named Project Arete after the Greek term for excellence, the research will follow cadets each year from their entry into the academy through graduation and to post-graduate assignments as military officers. At the project's launch, cadets from each of the four class years will be surveyed. In each ensuing year, new first-year cadets will be added to the pool of participants. Researchers will survey and interview the cadets, including after certain formative experiences, such as military training exercises.
The project also will include surveys and interviews of West Point faculty and alumni.
The results will be integrated with administrative data about each cadet's military, academic and physical performance, enabling researchers to link character and leadership development to performance outcomes. The results also will enable researchers to determine which cadets benefit the most from certain experiences.
"Collaborating with Dr. Lerner and his research team is what the military calls a 'force multiplier,'" said project co-leader Michael Matthews, Ph.D., professor of engineering psychology at the U.S. Military Academy. "Combining the Tufts scientific expertise with the West Point team's understanding of the institution's mission, we can gain a much better understanding of the dynamics of character assessment and development than either could achieve alone. West Point and the nation will benefit from this collaboration."
About Tufts University
Tufts University, located on three Massachusetts campuses in Boston, Medford/Somerville, and Grafton, and in Talloires, France, is recognized among the premier research universities in the United States. Tufts enjoys a global reputation for academic excellence and for the preparation of students as leaders in a wide range of professions. A growing number of innovative teaching and research initiatives span all campuses, and collaboration among the faculty and students in the undergraduate, graduate and professional programs across the university is widely encouraged.