Photo of Jonathan Zaff

Jonathan F. Zaff

Research Professor
Director, CERES Institute for Children & Youth

Dr. Jonathan F. Zaff is a research professor in applied human development at BU Wheelock College of Education & Human Development. He is also director of the CERES Institute for Children & Youth, which conducts, supports, and promotes community-engaged, applied research and evaluations on the positive development for today’s children and youth.

Using a positive youth development framework, Dr. Zaff’s research has included studies of youth-focused comprehensive community initiatives, civic engagement, and the social and emotional competencies of young people who have left high school without graduating. His projects have focused on the role that multiple relationships in a young person’s life (a “web of support”) and the multiple institutions within which they learn and grow can encourage their academic, vocational, and civic engagement and success, particularly those young people who are off track in school and life.

Previously, Dr. Zaff was the founding executive director of the Center for Promise and on the executive team for America’s Promise Alliance. The results of his work have appeared in more than 90 peer-reviewed journals and books, and practitioner- and policy-focused reports. He has also presented at numerous local, national, and international conferences and conducted trainings with practitioners and policy advocates.

Pronouns: he/him

PhD, Lifespan Development Psychology, University of Georgia

BA, Psychology, Connecticut College

Zaff, J.F., Varga, S.M., Lynch, A.D., Huang*, Y., Cole, M.L., Toraif, N.* (2021). Analysis of the Massachusetts Department of Youth Services YES Initiative. Boston, MA: CERES Institute.

Zaff, J.F., Margolius, M.*, Varga, S.M., Lynch, A.D., Tang, C.*, & Donlan, A.E. (2021). English Learners and high school graduation: A pattern-centered approach to understand within-group variations, Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk (JESPAR), 26, 1-19.

Pan, J., Zaff, J. F., & Porche, M. (2020). Social Support, Childhood Adversities, and Academic Outcomes: A Latent Class Analysis. Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk, 251-291.

Flanagan S.K.*, Zaff J.F., Varga S.M., Margolius M.* (2020) Webs of Supportive Relationships: A Positive Youth Development approach to career and workforce development with risk-immersed youth. In Yuen M., Beamish W., Solberg V. (eds) Careers for Students with Special Educational Needs. Advancing Inclusive and Special Education in the Asia-Pacific. Singapore: Springer.

McDermott, E., Donlan, A., Zaff, J.F. (2019). Why do youth drop out? Turning points and long-term experiences. The Journal of Educational Research, 112, 270-282.

Varga, S.M., & Zaff, J.F. (2018). Webs of Support: An integrative framework of relationships, social networks, and social support for positive youth development. Adolescent Research Review. 3, 1-11.

Zaff, J.F., & Malone, T. (2017). Moving beyond academics: The role of adult capacity in keeping youth in school. Youth & Society.

Pan, J.*, Zaff, J.F., & Donlan, A.E. (2017). Social support and academic engagement among re-connected youth: Adverse life experiences as a moderator. Journal of Research on Adolescence. 27, 890-906.

Zaff, J.F., Aasland, K.*, McDermott, E.*, Carvalho, A.*, Joseph, P.*, & Pufall Jones, E. (2016). Exploring positive youth development among young people who leave school without graduating high school: A focus on social and emotional competencies. Qualitative Psychology, 3, 26-45.

Zaff, J.F., Pufall Jones, E. Donlan, A., & Anderson, S.E. Eds. (2016). Comprehensive Community Initiatives and Positive Youth Development. New York, NY: Psychology Press.

Zaff, J.F. (December, 2020). Who’s on your team? Webs of Support as a design framework for youth development programs. Invited presentation at the Christensen Institute, Boston, MA.

Zaff, J.F. (November, 2019). Accentuate the positive: Recognizing and promoting the potential of all children and youth. Invited presentation at the Judge Baker Children’s Center. Boston, MA.

Zaff, J.F. (October, 2019). It takes more than a superhero: Promoting youth thriving for Webs of Support. Invited presentation at the Wellesley Centers for Women. Wellesley, MA.

Gerstein, A., Pufall Jones, E., & Zaff, J.F. (April, 2019). Research-Practice Partnerships within comprehensive community initiatives: How-to (and how not-to-do). Workshop conducted at the biennial meeting of the Society for Research in Child Development, Baltimore, MD.

Zaff, J.F., Zhang, W., Zhen, S., & Pan, J. (April, 2018). Civic intentions and civic constraints among youth transitioning to adulthood in non-democratic countries. Paper presented at the biennial meeting of the Society for Research on Adolescence, Baltimore, MD.

Zaff, J.F. (November, 2017). Positive youth development, relationships, and putting disconnected youth on career pathways. Invited presentation at Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, China.

Zaff, J.F., Pufall Jones, E., Margolius, M., Flanagan, S., & Varga, S.M. (November, 2017). A positive youth development approach to reconnecting youth to work and life. Paper presented at the conference of the World Education Research Association, Hong Kong, China.

Zaff, J.F. (October, 2016). How adult capacity in neighborhoods can put youth on a positive academic path. Invited presentation at the 2016 Alternative Accountability Forum. San Diego, CA.

Zaff, J. F., Pufall Jones, E., Deutsch, N., Futch Ehrlich, V. A. & Syversten, A. (April 2016). In Search for Authentic Experience; Methodologies for studying and building youth’s relationships with adults. Roundtable discussion conducted at the biennial meeting of the Society for Research on Adolescence, Baltimore, MD.