Date of Award


Level of Access

Campus-Only Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




John Maddaus

Second Committee Member

Sandra L. Caron

Third Committee Member

Annette Nelligan


This investigation examines the effect of a peer mentoring service-learning program established by the University of Maine on empathy and moral reasoning. The methodology is qualitative in nature, using a semi-structured interview protocol and a conceptual framework based on the review of the literature. Mentoring, empathy and moral reasoning were the focus of the literature review, which revealed these two key components of social and emotional learning are associated with academic performance and pro-social behaviors in adolescence, and mentoring is a service learning modality associated with similar benefits.

Two rural high schools were recruited to participate in an innovative collaborative effort with the University of Maine. Volunteer mentors, screened by local guidance staff, were trained in peer mentoring theory, skills, and techniques in three all day workshops. Ongoing onsite guidance was provided by a University of Maine graduate school intern and on site counseling staff. Each mentor was assigned a mentee, whom they met with regularly throughout the school year. In the spring, twelve mentors, representing approximately half of the mentor population, was interviewed about their experiences and perceptions.

A conceptual framework was developed based on a detailed review of relevant literature. A semi-structured interview was based on this framework, which was then utilized to guide data collection in the interviews. The interview transcripts were coded and analyzed to detect the emergence of themes with high frequency and prevalence. Mentor profiles were also developed for each of the twelve mentors who participated.

The mentor profiles and findings from the interview thematic analysis were then compared and contrasted with the review of the literature, and the conceptual framework was refined into the final concept map. The findings support a strong conceptual connection between moral reasoning and empathy, mediated through the empathic connections of the mentors including family, friends, and mentees, as well as the various moral dilemmas that they encountered in their high school experience. The implications for conceptual developent through research with adolescents is reviewed, as well as opportunities for future research to increase the effectiveness of service learning programs that develop social and emotional capacities in youth.