research partnership


The Ben’s Bells Project’s Partnership with the University of Arizona:
Building the Science of Kindness Together

The Ben’s Bells Project’s partnership with the Community Research, Evaluation & Development (CRED) team at the University of Arizona began when CRED, intrigued by the momentum of Ben's Bells programming, became interested in studying the mechanisms of kindness programming and of kindness itself. We saw visible changes in our community—“be kind” bumper stickers and murals appearing around town—and we began to ask questions about what we were beginning to see in Tucson. How does kindness programming work? How can the kindness of a person, a school, or a business be measured? What effects does kindness have on our health and happiness, our relationships, and our community? The body of scientific research demonstrating the physical and mental health benefits of practicing intentional kindness, gratitude, and self-compassion is rapidly growing. Through our partnership, we see an opportunity to connect this evidence with community-based and school-based efforts to discover the impacts of intentional kindness.

Our program of kindness education research is guided by researchers but driven by educators, school-based professionals, and youth. We have had the opportunity to hear from numerous educators and students about how the Kind Campus program is being used in schools across the country. Seed funding from the University of Arizona Foundation and the University of Arizona Office of the Senior Vice President for Research has allowed the UA team to begin to develop measures of kindness and to gather data that can help improve kindness education programming. More than 250 students, educators, and school administrators have contributed valuable input into building this foundation from which we can further the science of kindness. In collaboration with a local school district, we have collected pilot data from students and staff on their perceptions of kindness; analysis of these data are ongoing. We have also worked to understand the concept of "kind discipline," asking partners to envision how the principles of kindness could transform the disciplinary processes in school.

Our long-range goal is to work together to develop Ben’s Bells programming into empirically-based, nationally-recognized interventions, improving well-being in our schools and communities and providing opportunities for translational research. We are also committed to building the evaluation capacity of Ben's Bells and Kind Campus schools. We envision a partnership that extends beyond the offices of the Ben’s Bells Project and the campus of the University of Arizona. Building the science of kindness isn’t something that can be accomplished by researchers alone in a lab: it is a process that we believe requires the wisdom and effort of an entire community. For more information about our current work, please explore the links below. If you would like to learn more about or get involved in our research and evaluation efforts, please visit the papers below or contact Madeleine deBlois. 

Winkler, J. L., Walsh, M. E., deBlois, M., Maré, J., & Carvajal, S. C. (2017). Kind discipline: Developing a conceptual model of a promising school discipline approach. Evaluation and Program Planning, 62, 15-24.

Kaplan, D. M., deBlois, M., Dominguez, V., & Walsh, M. E. (2016). Studying the teaching of kindness: A conceptual model for evaluating kindness education programs in schools. Evaluation and Program Planning, 58(C), 160-170.

Pettman, A. (2016). The Influence of the Ben’s Bells Kind Campus Program on School Climate in a School District in Tucson, Arizona [undergraduate thesis].

Meet the Evaluation Team:

Michele Walsh, PhD
Associate Professor and Associate Extention Specialist in Evaluation; CRED Team Lead

Michele Walsh is a program evaluator and health services researcher with considerable experience in the design and implementation of community-based studies of social and health-related issues. She has a particular interest in identifying and measuring social and cultural factors that impact health and well-being. Dr. Walsh and the CRED team work together with community partners to examine a wide range of topics that affect children and families across Arizona.

Dr. Walsh received her Ph.D. in Program Evaluation and Research Methodology, and in Developmental Psychology, from the Department of Psychology at the University of Arizona. She was also a Marshall Scholar at Oxford University, England. Dr. Walsh has served as the Director of the Health Services Research Center at the Southern Arizona VA Health Care System and as Visiting Professor at the University of Mannheim, Germany, where she taught courses in program evaluation and applied social measurement.

Madeleine deBlois, MEd, ScD
Research Scientist

Madeleine deBlois has been with CRED as a Research Scientist since 2014.  She received her Sc.D. in Social Epidemiology form the Harvard School of Public Health, a master's degree in Elementary Education from Saint Joseph’s University, and a B.A. in Environmental Studies from Wellesley College. Her background is in social epidemiology, racial and socioeconomic disparities, social ecologies, and the effects of school, neighborhoods, and families on the health and well-being of young people.

Madeleine currently manages CRED’s partnership with Ben’s Bells and is overseeing the evaluation of their Kind Campus program. Through a collaboration with local elementary and middle schools, CRED is working to understand more about the role this popular program has in shaping school climate and student and staff well-being as well as facilitators and barriers to implementation.  

Violeta Dominguez, MA
Research Scientist

Violeta Domínguez is a Research Scientist at the University of Arizona’s John & Doris Norton School of Family and Consumer Sciences, affiliated with the Frances McClelland Institute for Children, Youth & Families. Ms. Dominguez has significant experience conducting qualitative research on public health and other social issues, particularly among underserved populations. Ms. Dominguez received her Licenciatura degree (equivalent to a BA) in History from the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Mexico City, Mexico; and her Master’s degree in Latin American Studies from the University of Texas at Austin. 


Additional UA/CRED collaborators have included Deanna Kaplan and Jenny Winkler as well as undergraduate research assistants Ayana Blackey, Maggie Van Dop, and Andre Pettman.