New Study Highlight Role for Mentors in Supporting College-Aged Youth’s Engagement in Apps

Weiner et al. (2024). Engagement, Acceptability, and Effectiveness of a Digital Behavior Change Platform for Depression and Obesity Risk

Adolescence and early adulthood are critical periods for the onset of mental health disorders like depression as well as the development of health behaviors that impact obesity risk (Paus et al., 2008; Patton et al., 2016). Depression and obesity frequently co-occur and are linked to increased risk for chronic diseases like cardiovascular disease (Atlantis & Baker, 2008). Behavioral activation (BA) is an evidence-based treatment that can improve depression, anxiety, and health behaviors like physical activity that reduce obesity risk (Mazzucchelli et al., 2009; Chekroud & Trugerman, 2019).

Digital delivery of BA interventions could expand access, but evidence on their effectiveness, engagement, and acceptability is limited (Huguet et al., 2016; Torous et al., 2021). Human coaching may enhance engagement and outcomes compared to self-guided digital interventions (Linardon et al., 2019; Werntz et al., 2023). This study evaluated the feasibility, acceptability, and preliminary effectiveness of two versions of the Vira digital BA product – a self-guided version (Vira Self-care) and a coached version (Vira + Coaching).

Study Design
This was a fully virtual, randomized two-arm pilot trial comparing Vira Self-care and Vira + Coaching in young adults with elevated depressive symptoms and obesity risk over 12 weeks. 73 participants aged 18-25 years from across the U.S. were recruited and randomly assigned to conditions. Eligibility criteria included elevated depressive symptoms (PHQ-8 ≥ 10), overweight (BMI ≥ 25) or parental history of overweight/obesity, English fluency, and smartphone access.

Participants completed web-based baseline and 12-week follow-up assessments. The Vira app passively collected behavioral data (activity, sleep, mobility, language patterns) and prompted one daily mood rating. After 10 days, Vira provided personalized insights linking behavior patterns to mood.

In Vira + Coaching, participants also received text-based support from a trained coach following BA principles (e.g. goal-setting, planning pleasant activities). Coaches monitored participant data and provided weekly text sessions and automated reminders/nudges.

Feasibility: Daily active usage (% completing daily ratings) and retention
Acceptability: Technology Acceptance Model ratings, follow-up feedback
Effectiveness: PHQ-8 (depression), GAD-7 (anxiety), PSS-10 (stress), PROMIS sleep and emotional support scales


Participant Characteristics: 35 self-care and 38 coached participants enrolled. 92% downloaded Vira. 75% completed follow-up. Groups were balanced on demographics except coached participants were slightly younger.

Feasibility and Engagement: Coached participants had higher median days of active use (63 vs 45.5 days) but the difference was not significant. Retention declined over time in both arms but remained more stable for coaching.

Both groups reported high engagement with Vira features like viewing insights, activity data, and mood graphs, with no significant differences.

Acceptability: Groups did not differ in perceived ease of use or usefulness. Most participants in both arms reported Vira increased their motivation for behavior change, with more coached participants reporting increased confidence (83% vs 54%, p=0.04).

Effectiveness: Coached participants had significantly greater reductions in depressive symptoms (d=0.45, p=0.01) and anxiety (d=0.50, p=0.007) than self-care.

Both groups reported reduced stress (coaching d=-1.05; self-care d=-0.78) and coached participants had reduced sleep-related impairment (d=-0.51). Self-care participants increased emotional support (d=0.48).


This pilot trial found that the Vira digital BA platform showed strong engagement, acceptability, and preliminary evidence of improving mental health outcomes, especially when coupled with coaching. Coaching was associated with more sustained engagement and greater reductions in depression and anxiety compared to self-care.

The findings align with prior research showing coaching enhances engagement and outcomes for digital mental health interventions (Linardon et al., 2019; Werntz et al., 2023). Coaching may provide accountability, personalization, and support for sustained behavior change.

However, the self-care version also showed promise, with high engagement and acceptability plus improvements in stress. Enhancing the self-care experience (e.g. self-scheduling reminders) could boost its effectiveness (Mohr et al., 2019).

Overall, Vira represents a promising digital approach to delivering BA for addressing co-occurring mental health and obesity risk in young adults. Providing human coaching alongside the digital platform may maximize its potential for sustained engagement and clinical effectiveness

Mentor-Mentee Matching and Student Outcomes

Conference: Annual Conference on The First-Year Experience

Presentation Type: Presentation

Authors: Ramya Ramadurai, Megyn Jasman, Yangyang Deng, Alexandra Werntz, & Jean E. Rhodes,

About: Findings were presented on mentoring and student outcomes when mentors and mentees were matched based on different characteristics. Matching based on underrepresented minority status, first-generation status, and international student status predicted higher student GPA, however results varied across other demographic variables. Matching may be a valuable practice generally for promoting GPA.


FYE Conference slides


Wheatley Hall Fourth Floor 100 Morrissey Blvd. Boston, MA 02125-3393

We recommend taking the Red Line to JFK/UMass Station. From 6:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., a free shuttle bus takes you to and from the Campus Center. The trip normally takes 10 minutes.

Taxi/Uber/Lyft: Usually GPS would route you to UMass Boston’s Integrated Science Building drop off/pick up location. Once arrived, you can ask for directions to Wheatley building or get on a catwalk (glass corridor) on 2nd floor and follow W letter directions to Wheatley building. If possible, you can instruct the driver to take you to the main entrance (facing Dorchester Bay) of the UMass Boston Campus Center.

Driving: There are several parking lots around the campus. We recommend the West Garage, University Dr W. After parking, walk across University Dr W, enter Quinn Building, go up the stairs to the plaza level, walk across the plaza to the Wheatley Building. Take the elevator to the Third Floor. Turn left, and walk down the hallway until you reach a white-walled corridor with a glass door entrance to the Venture Development Center.

From the Campus Center, take the elevator from the Upper Level to Second Floor. Turn right, and walk the length of the building, then enter the catwalk. Walk straight ahead to Wheatley Hall. Take the elevator to the Fourth Floor. Turn left, and walk down the hallway until you reach the very end with a student lounge and the entrance to the Center for Evidence-Based Mentoring. The office number (4-148D) is on the top right of the door.

Sanya Soni Presents on Technology-Enhanced Peer Mentoring

Conceptual Models for Adulthood Preparation Subjects within Personal Responsibility Education Program (PREP).

Clary, E., Zaveri, H., Moore, K., Scott, M., Jones, C., Eddins, K., Adamek, K., Around Him, D., Arkin, M., & Griffith, I. (2021). Conceptual Models for Adulthood Preparation Subjects within Personal Responsibility Education Program (PREP). OPRE Report # 2021-21. Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Retrieved from:

Developing the CASJE ECE Project’s Parent Survey

Arkin, M., & Halle, T. (2020). Developing the CASJE ECE Project’s Parent Survey: The Cognitive Interview Process. Washington, DC: Consortium for Applied Studies in Jewish Education. Retrieved from:

Report on Key Informant Interviews conducted as part of CASJE’s study of the associations between Jewish ECE and Jewish engagement.

Schwartz, H., & Arkin, M. (2020). Report on Key Informant Interviews conducted as part of CASJE’s study of the associations between Jewish ECE and Jewish engagement. Washington, DC: Consortium for Applied Studies in Jewish Education. Retrieved from:

Religion and spirituality: Benefits for Latino adolescents exposed to community violence

Jocson, R. M., Alers-Rojas, F., Ceballo, R., & Arkin, M. (2018). Religion and spirituality: Benefits for Latino adolescents exposed to community violence. Youth & Society, 52(3), 349-376.

National Household Education Surveys Program (NHES) 2019 Early Childhood Cognitive Interviews

Darling, K., Ramos, M., Faccio, B., Arkin, M., Cox, A., & Guzman, L. (2018). National Household Education Surveys Program (NHES) 2019 Early Childhood Cognitive Interviews. OMB# 1850-0803 v.198. Retrieved from:

Learned Helplessness and Parental Support as Predictors of Depression among Asian American Undergraduates

Soni, S. & Morrison, D. (2020). Learned helplessness and parental support as predictors of depression among Asian American undergraduates. 2020 NCUR Proceedings. [PDF]

Digital mental health services: Moving from promise to results

Teachman, B. A., Silverman, A. L., & Werntz, A. (2022). Digital mental health services: Moving from promise to results. Cognitive and Behavioral Practice, 29, 97-104.

Lessons Learned: Providing Supportive Accountability in an Online Anxiety Intervention

Werntz, A., Silverman, A. L., Behan, H., Patel, S. K., Beltzer, M., Boukhechba, M. O., Barnes, L., & Teachman, B. A.. (2022). Lessons learned: Providing supportive accountability in an online anxiety intervention. Behavior Therapy53(3), 492–507.

UMass Boston Social Justice Case Study Competition

MBK Boston

MBK Boston

My Brother’s Keeper Boston

My Brother’s Keeper was founded by former President Barack Obama in 2014 to address opportunity gaps faced by boys and young men of color with the goal to ensure that all can reach their full potential regardless of birth circumstance. My Brother’s Keeper Boston (MBK Boston) was started by former Mayor Martin J. Walsh with the commitment of former President Obama to support the young men and women of Boston with the goal of providing tools and resources necessary for success. Gregory Blaize, the executive director of MBK Boston, is the lead representative on behalf of MBK Boston and the current pilot program.

Boston Public Schools

Boston Public Schools

We partnered with Boston Public Schools so that MBK Boston fellows can serve as mentors and role models for BIPOC elementary, middle, and high school students in the local community. MBK Boston fellows serve as successful examples of individuals who are achieving higher education and serving their community.  We are thrilled to be working with students at the Paul A Dever Elementary School. 



UMass Boston


Omega Psi Phi Alumni


BBBS Eastern MA

BBBS Eastern MA

New MBK Matches!

Please see the email from CoCo ( for the final list for ALL the AWESOME MBK matches, as well as next steps!!

Required next steps  ONLY FOR MBK FELLOWS (Must be completed by 11/5/2021):

  1. Confirm Schedule: All MBK fellows please confirm your availability presented on schedule                                                   All MBK fellows with a TBD on the schedule column are “returning BIGS” and need to submit the weekday they would like to attend the school at the time slot provided above
  2. Complete BPS CORI (takes 5 mins to complete): ALL MBK fellows will need to complete the BPS eCori form using this link:                                                                                                                                                                                    BPS CORI instructions:                                                                                                                                                                        For NON-Employee Field please choose OTHER and fill in: Big brother Big Sister mentor for the My Brothers Keepers program                                                                                                                                                                                              For Volunteer Location field please pick the option: Partner- Big brother Big Sister                                                         
  3.  Provide Proof of vaccination: All MBK fellows will also need to submit proof of vaccination prior to first outing at the school (Please email your vaccination cards: after you have submitted your BPS CORI)
  4. Attend Match meetingAll NEW MBK fellow matches are required to attend match introductions with their Dever littles on Friday 11/5 @ 1pm (During the MBK meeting)                                                                                                 Zoom link for meeting:

All MBK Fellows should reply to the email by Friday 11/5 to confirm your schedule and provide a picture of your vaccination card after completing the BPS CORI! Be sure you are only emailing me (! Any questions please feel free to email/text or call me at (857)313-9149.


All Matches (Brothers and Fellows) Please be sure to keep an eye out for any and all emails with program information/updates from Jordan Cherry ( as well as your BBBS Match support Advocate Shauntelle (