“The world can be a scary place for children, and it’s okay to feel scared. What makes the difference is how they learn to respond,” says Alex Thibeault, a clinical psychology student working on his doctoral degree.

Whether the issue is safety or familial instability, learning difficulties or social pressures, children today must confront a very complex set of challenges. These challenges require special skills and traits children need for success – resilience in particular. Resiliency, according to Alex, involves the ability to healthily and successfully adapt to a constantly changing and sometimes difficult environment.

Alex and classmates Anjali Gowda and Ariana Hoet are working to improve resiliency in children through a program they call LinkedUp.

“The process of overcoming adversity is complex, but if everyone addresses that process from a different angle, we may begin to see the type of change that we talk so much about. LinkedUp is our angle,” Alex adds.

Alex, Anjali and Ariana competed against 70 other teams to win the 2012 Emerging Issues Prize for Innovation, which awarded $5,000 to initiate their project.

Their focus is to have a positive effect on graduation rates. Their approach is mentorship. But the program’s impact could go well beyond simple graduation numbers. “If children have mentors they can rely on, they will learn how to be resilient. They will develop into self-sufficient adults who are ultimately successful and happy,” Alex says.

LinkedUp uses what Alex calls “tiered and cascading effects.” Tiered because it allows for all levels of participants to receive guidance – UNCG psychology undergraduates work with Smith High School students on how to mentor their younger counterparts at Wiley Elementary. Cascading because the youngest mentees, currently in fifth grade, will have the opportunity to become mentors when they reach high school.

LinkedUp enhances UNCG’s relationship with Guilford County Schools and local organizations such as the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greensboro. Participants meet every Friday afternoon.

It’s a program with a long engagement. Support is available to underachieving (but high potential) fifth grade girls all the way through high school. “Effecting change involves persistence and patience,” Alex says, “These qualities are evident in our undergraduate advisors and mentors.”

Ultimately, LinkedUp seeks to permanently transform lives by developing mentors’ skills and abilities, and encouraging mentees to perform to their capacity, says Anjali. “We are applying what we’re learning in our advanced training to our community. This allows us to make an impact early on. There is nothing more exciting than viewing the effect of your impact first-hand.”

Their impact goes back to that critical skill – resilience.

“We got into this field partly because we believe that all children and all people are capable of resiliency. As LinkedUp directors, advisors, and mentors, we believe in the betterment of humankind and we recognize the strength in people. We are doing this because we believe change is possible over time.”

Photography by Chris English, University Relations