Research and Development


Research and development is the newest component of the Center for Fostering Success at Western Michigan University. It was added in the spirit of supporting knowledge discovery, development and dissemination about young people who experience foster care and solutions related to education and career success. The research and development component promotes applied research, and the sharing of published research with professionals working “in the fields” of foster care and education. Launched in January 2014, it has two main objectives:

  • To conduct applied research about programs and practices that effectively support youth aging out of foster care to thrive in education and career.
  • To share research findings pertinent to foster care and higher education with professionals and others supporting young people who have experienced foster care.


Research projects underway in the Center for Fostering Success include the following:

Using iRest Yoga Nidra to Promote Self-inquiry and Well-being: This case study research project explores how iRest yoga nidra as a mindfulness practice promotes self-inquiry among college students who grapple with residue from childhood abuse and neglect that led to their foster care placement. The experience of iRest as a practice, along with its effect on well-being as measured by facets of mindfulness, perceived stress and sleep quality.

Project Investigator: Yvonne Unrau, Ph.D. WMU School of Social Work

Mindfulness Interventions Project: This project is focused on gathering and developing mindfulness intervention and biofeedback intervention tools that promote guided self-inquiry so that students from foster care may learn their strengths and stressors as they journey through college. With the help of an MSW intern and Seita Scholar participants, this project will offer individual and group services that enhance coaching, and supplement professional counseling or therapy services. We will seek feedback from student participants and document “best practices” for engaging students in self-inquiry practices.

Project Investigators: Yvonne Unrau, Ph.D. WMU School of Social Work, Lori Gray, Ph.D., WMU School of Interdisciplinary Health Programs, Tim Liggins, MSW Intern and Seita Scholars Campus Coach

Where are They Now? Seita Scholars after leaving College: This survey research project will gather information and feedback on the post-college adult outcomes of former WMU students with foster care experience. Using a web-based survey we will gather information about various quality-of-life measures including employment, income, housing, health and social supports. The purpose of this project is to collect feedback from former Seita Scholars about employment, housing, debt, social supports and health since they have finished their studies at WMU, whether they graduated, transferred or dropped/stopped out of college.  By understanding the challenges and opportunities former students face upon leaving the program, this study will assist the Seita Scholars Program at WMU in offering services that are most beneficial to the students in this program and will help provide stakeholders in this field with data about the impact of a college degree for students with a background in foster care.  

Project Investigators: Yvonne Unrau, Ph.D. WMU School of Social Work, Ann Dawson, MSW, Center for Fostering Success

Social Network Project: This research project focuses on investigating the relationships Seita Scholars form that can impact their college success. The first part of the study collects structured information on the individuals that Seita Scholars turn to for different types of support (e.g., emotional support, advice and guidance). We will examine how different factors, such as Scholars’ attachment style, are related to the social connections they form in college. The second part of the study collects qualitative information on the role that others play in the Scholars’ perceptions of resilience and the strategies they use to handle stressful situations. Together, the study provides an in-depth look at the connections foster youth make with resourceful individuals as well as potential barriers to forming those connections. A small study to pretest the survey questions will take place in summer 2018, and a larger study is anticipated to begin the following year.

Project Investigators: Nathanael Okpych, Ph.D. University of Connecticut School of Social Work, Lori Gray, Ph.D., WMU School of Interdisciplinary Health Programs