Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Amy Anderson

Dr. Amy Anderson is an Assistant Professor in the Educational Psychology department. We sat down with her recently to learn more about her research. Check it out! 

Q: What is your main research focus? 
A: I study the role of mentoring relationships and critical consciousness in human development, with a primary focus on adolescence. I am largely interested in understanding how young people can promote change within communities (e.g., schools, youth programs), and how adults and practices within those settings can support those change efforts to promote health for all. 

Regarding mentoring, most research has focused on how youth are influenced by an adult figure. I am interested in the adult side of the relational equation, not only because cultivating mentor abilities is an important lever for improving the role of mentoring on youth outcomes, but also because adults may learn from youth in ways that benefit to their health and development. 

As such, my research program currently focuses on the adults within mentoring relationships and the services to support them to work effectively and equitably with diverse youth. My current projects address two questions: (1) what role does training have in adults’ abilities to work with youth in a culturally validating manner, and (2) how is adults’ development (e.g., cultural humility, mental health) changed by the experience of mentoring youth? I am a research board member with the National Mentoring Resource Center and much of my research involves Big Brothers Big Sisters agencies. 

Q: What do you have a background in? 
A: I started my career as a middle school teacher. I was really grappling with how adolescents are shaped by the impact of adults and policy makers. That lead me to community psychology, which is my doctoral discipline. One aspect of community psychology is that it focuses on how individuals and communities are interconnected. So, how do people influence their environments, but how do environments influence the individual? It's also focused on prevention of issues before they occur and taking action to change the environment. Then, I did my post-doctoral fellowship in adolescent health. I’m bringing together those three areas to answer questions about mentoring relationships and social change. I think I’ve found a really good home here at UNT for this work!  

Q: What is the most profound thing you’ve learned in your research? 
A: The various ways adults are impacted by young people. There’s anecdotal evidence among the community partners that I work with who interact with mentors that they sense mentors leave feeling better and have learned from their mentee. There is also qualitative research that has demonstrated this and growing quantitative evidence, but more is needed. That is something that has really struck my interest and I'm following that thread to see where this path leads.  

Q: What are you most proud of in your research? 
A: Across the different research projects I have, I'm proud of how close it is to practice. I strive to have my research be relevant to what is going on in mentoring organizations. I try to have close conversations with organizations. I want to be open to hearing from them about what they need, what would be useful to them, and ideas about how to make the research process better. I think there is a lot of mutual exchange that can go on. I've also learned a lot from the practitioners that I've worked with. For example, the most recent paper that I've published focuses on Cultural Humility Training for Mentors. This was co-authored with the mentoring partners I worked with from my dissertation study at Big Brothers, Big Sisters Twin Cities. We all have a shared interest in making youth mentoring more equitable and I’m grateful to have published it with them.  

Q: What do you like about UNT? 
A: I’m excited about UNT’s goals related to its R1 status and expanding research activity. Its commitment to serving the diverse region of North Texas, as well as its recent designation as an HSI, are also aligned with my values. I look forward to contributing to these commitments. Overall, everyone has been so welcoming and open to answering questions. I'm excited to be here!  

Q: What do you like to do in your spare time? 
A: I’ve recently entered homeownership. I'm learning how to do yard work which has been fun. Since I've never really done that before. I also like to go for walks and spend time with my family. I have five nieces and nephews and I love to call and visit them. A hobby I'm growing into is refurbishing furniture.