About the CERES Institute 

The Ceres Institute for Children and Youth

We conduct applied research and evaluations in order to drive positive educational and life outcomes for children and youth.

Working with key partners in communities, we use rigorous, systematic, and innovative methodologies to develop knowledge that policymakers and practitioners can use immediately to support their young people.

We also generate knowledge that is grounded in the experiences of our partner communities and can be used to inform work in other communities as they strive to improve the lives of their young people.

Importantly, we place children and youth at the center of our inquiries, seeking to help policymakers, practitioners, and researchers better understand who young people are, what young people need to thrive, and how to structure the practices, programs, and policies that actually get young people what they need.

Our Core Beliefs
  • Children and youth are at the center of our work. We build all of our work around the simple question: What is in the best interests of the children and youth we seek to support?
  • All children and youth are full of assets but may interact with people, institutions, policies, and structures that create barriers to them realizing their full potential. We view children and youth as the sum of their intrinsic potential and recognize adverse life conditions in our work.
  • We are dedicated to supporting communities and partners as they tackle issues of inequity and bias based on race, culture, language, gender, sexuality, and specialized learning needs.
  • Research is meant to be shared and used. If our research is to have any value, it must be useful to community partners and get into the hands of people with the power to make structural or policy level changes.
Our Vision & Mission

Our Vision

All children and youth will grow up with the support they need to become thriving adults.

Our Mission

Be the crossroads of inquiry, analysis, and action for research and evaluation on how to create the conditions necessary for all children and youth to grow into thriving adults, in authentic partnership with community members.

Our Work

Applied Research: Our original research seeks to answer specific questions posed to us by practitioners, policymakers, or others actively working to improve education and life conditions for children and youth in particular communities.  Our original research typically falls into or cuts across the following themes:

  • Positive youth development
  • Teaching, learning, and school climate
  • Social, emotional, and academic development
  • Race and culture

Program Evaluation: We evaluate programs that are designed to improve youth conditions to see if, and how, they are achieving their goals. We work with communities to build their capacity to use data to continuously improve their programs and supports.

From Research to Action: A core function of the Institute is a communications and outreach function to promote the work of the Institute and those with whom it works, with the goal of informing, influencing, and inspiring action. Work will be shared with policymakers, education leaders, journalists, influencers, and the wider academic community. We conduct research, but our end goal is to leverage that research to transform outcomes for youth.

Center for Promise: The Center for Promise, a partnership between Boston University Wheelock College of Education & Human Development and America’s Promise Alliance, is a project of CERES Institute for Children & Youth. Its mission is to develop a deep understanding of the conditions necessary for young people in the United States to succeed in school and life.

Research in Action

Community-Engaged Research & Evaluation Science

Community-engaged research and evaluation is premised on the fundamental idea that communities (individuals, organizations, agencies) have legitimate and intimate understandings of their assets, needs, values, and activities.

Our Approach

The CERES Institute believes that by working in authentic partnership with communities, co-constructing questions and methods, and interpreting data together, we can create the practical knowledge and tools that can solve locally relevant problems.

This perspective is inherent in who we are as community-engaged researchers and evaluators. Our set of beliefs frame our engagements—guiding us in what is central to our work (young people at the center) and the methods of understanding and designing what is needed to be done—to optimize the life trajectories of young people.

Why evaluate? Learning to improve.

Conducting an evaluation can provide the information that decision-makers (practitioners, policymakers, funders) need to sustain or strengthen their efforts to support and work with children and youth.

The point of an evaluation is not just about whether a program worked at one time, with one group of young people, in one location—no matter how much a funder or policymaker wants that information.

Time, people, and places change, and so inevitably will the impact of a program. Instead, an evaluation effort should develop the capacity of an organization to make more informed decisions over time to continually improve.

The knowledge gained from an evaluation can also provide insights to other decision-makers on the strategies that have the best chance of showing impacts.

In contrast, evaluations (and applied research) have traditionally been focused on “does it work” purposes:

    1. to test whether a particular program is currently working in a particular place(s) and with a particular population(s);
    2. to examine ways to strengthen an existing program in an existing context with an existing population; and
    3. to understand whether a particular program with a particular population at a particular time can be translated to a different place with a different population at a different time (i.e., replicating or scaling programs).

Using a continuous improvement framework, the CERES Institute is not pursuing these “does it work” purposes with our partners. Instead, we are pursuing questions about “how, when, and why” to improve young people’s lives.

This is a paradigmatic shift, moving from a focus on “does participating in x program lead to y impact,” to a focus on understanding the progress on achieving a given outcome and the process for how that progress is being made.

We believe this latter focus is the best way forward for children, youth, and families; placing the emphasis on striving to optimize outcomes for young people and their families, not solely to prove the efficacy of a particular program at a particular time.

By taking this continuous improvement tact, we can increase the probability that all young people can achieve their potential.

Our Team

Dr. Jonathan Zaff

Dr. Jonathan F. Zaff


Dr. Shannon Varga

Alicia Doyle Lynch

Senior Quantitative Methodologist

Stephanie Malie Krauss

Stephanie Malia Krauss

Senior Fellow

Dr. Jonathan Zaff

Yawei Huang

Doctoral Research Assistant


Dr. Jonathan Zaff

Soe Young Lee

Doctoral Research Assistant


LC Headshot

Leal Carter

Graduate Research Assistant


Isabel Mullens

Caroline Meiners-Nesbitt

Graduate Research Assistant


Sofia Butler

Undergraduate Research Assistant


Faculty Fellows

Stephanie Curenton, Associate Professor; Director of the Center on the Ecology of Early Development (CEED); Program Director for Child & Youth Policy Certificate
Leslie Dietiker, Associate Professor, Mathematics Education
Jennifer Greif Green, Associate Professor, Special Education
Amie Grills, Research Professor, Counseling Psychology and Associate Dean for Faculty Affairs
Melissa Holt, Associate Professor; Department Chair for Counseling Psychology & Applied Human Development

Nathan Jones, Associate Professor, Special Education & Education Policy
Yasuko Kanno, Associate Professor, Program Director for Language Education
Linda Sprague Martinez, Associate Professor; Chair, Macro Practice
V. Scott Solberg, Professor, Counseling Psychology and Applied Human Development
Marcus Winters, Associate Professor; Chair for Educational Leadership & Policy Studies; Faculty Director, WEPC
Renée Spencer, Associate Dean for Research and Professor, BU School of Social Work