The Positive Effects of Attending a HOBY Seminar

HOBY Utah’s very own Leadership Seminar Chair, Andy Harris, recently had the opportunity to go to Baltimore, MD to present some research he has done on the effects of attending a HOBY state seminar to The Society for Research on Adolescence. The poster that he presented received a second place award for best poster among all the student submissions. Way to go Andy!


“In my studies, my professors often emphasize the importance of epistemology. To put it simply, epistemology is the study of knowledge and where it comes from. The knowledge that we all have comes from different sources. For some of us, we turn to authority (religious, secular, popular) to receive truth. Tradition might be the source of some of the truth that you hold to (This is how it has always been done, therefore it must be true). We might consider something truth because of personal experience (I’ve lived it therefore it is true). In the fields of human development and family studies, these epistemologies (authority, tradition, personal experience) appear in everyone’s beliefs about various topics. In my classes, my professors try to help us seek for an empirical epistemology. Through this lens, we try to rely on scientific inquiry to provide us with truth.

Like thousands of HOBY alumni, I knew that HOBY state seminars are a life changing experience, but I wanted to know if I could demonstrate this using scientific inquiry. Working with my mentor, Troy Beckert, I examined the HOBY curriculum and decided on some areas that we would expect to see changes in as a result of attending a HOBY state seminar. These areas were cognitive autonomy (i.e. How well does a person think for themselves), social responsibility (i.e. How much a person feels that they are a contributing member of society and feel that they have the ability to make a difference), and moral identity (i.e. How much a person feels that being a ‘good person’ is important to who they are).

Using the ambassadors from HOBY Utah, I passed out a survey before the seminar and then passed out the same survey at the end of the seminar. I also asked the same ambassadors to fill out the same survey one year later. What we found was pretty cool. In all areas except one (a subscale of cognitive autonomy) we saw statistically significant[i] increases from before the seminar to after. Looking at those who filled out the survey one year later, we saw that these ambassadors did not score as high as they did immediately after the seminar but still scored higher than before the seminar. What this demonstrates is what thousands of HOBY alumni already knew through personal experience. Attending a HOBY seminar really can make a difference in the lives of those who attend.

This is just a small study that demonstrates empirically what attending a HOBY seminar can do in the life of a teenager. There is still so much research that I would like to do to better understand how HOBY changes the lives of those who attend. We can study numerous other areas of growth like self-esteem, identity development, civic engagement, volunteerism, and purpose. We can extend the scope of these studies to see what effects a HOBY seminar plays further in the future by looking at these students in college and beyond. We might also be able to study the impact that HOBY alumni have on their communities through service and civic engagement. I am excited to see what things we can learn about leadership education and positive youth development from an OUTSTANDING organization like HOBY.”

**Andy Harris is currently working on a Ph.D. in Human Development at Utah State University. He is a HOBY Utah Alumnus from 2006 and currently serves as the HOBY Utah Leadership Seminar Chair.


[i] This is just a fancy way of saying we don’t think that our findings were due to chance error