Thomas Akiva

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Thomas Akiva

Thomas Akiva

University of Pittsburgh
5938 Wesley W. Posvar Hall
230 South Bouquet Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15260
Phone: 412-648-7320


My research focuses on understanding and improving out-of-school time (OST) programs for children and youth. Our lab's applied approach utilizes both quantitative and qualitative methods. From a theoretical standpoint we are interested in development in context and how the opportunities and supports in a young person’s social ecology shape their learning and development--with a particular focus on organized activities.

Our research projects reflect two overlapping strands, defined by two broad research questions. First, What key features matter for developmentally rich settings? In this strand we study both general features and the specific feature of youth-adult partnerships in settings for adolescents. Second, How can we help staff be successful in effecting developmentally rich settings? We address this strand through studies of professional development and of citywide approaches to child and youth program opportunities and quality. Embedded in our applied research approach are themes of equity, motivation, and the changing digital landscape.

Active projects include:

  • Ongoing examination of the Simple Interactions professional development approach. Go to
  • A three-year evaluation of the Heinz Endoments youth organizing initiative in Pittsburgh.
  • Investigation into citywide approaches to youth development and learning such as the Digital Corps, in which adults with technology expertise were hired and trained to deliver technology-based content in existing middle-school-age youth programs.

Previous projects include

  • A mixed methods investigation of adolescent motivation to attend urban, neighborhood-based youth programs
  • A qualitative study of program adult views of youth-adult partnership strategies; with a focus on how youth progress through programs
  • Quantiative investigations of a relatively large nested sample of youth programs: one about program quality and one about the impact of involving youth in decision-making

School Affiliations

Recent Grants

  • Evaluation of the Pittsburgh Youth Organizing for School Change Program

    2014 - 2017
  • Youth voice and leadership in the Pittsburgh Hive

    Jan 1, 2013 - Jan 1, 2014
  • Planning for an evaluation of the Pittsburgh Youth Organizing Program

  • The Digital Corps: Bringing in the community for digital learning in youth programs

  • National Afterschool Matters Pittsburgh Youth Worker Practitioner Fellowship

    2013 - 2014
  • Really Simple Improvement (RSI): A process for increasing staff-youth developmental interactions in out-of-school time

    2013 - 2014
  • More

Recent Publications

  • Akiva, T., Cortina, K. S., Eccles, J. S., & Smith, C. (2013). Youth belonging and cognitive engagement in organized activities: A large-scale field study. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 34, 208-218.
  • Smith, C., Akiva, T., Sugar, S. A., Lo, Y. J., Frank, K. A., Devaney, T., Cortina, K., & Peck, S. P. (2012). Continuous quality improvement in afterschool settings: Impact findings from the Youth Program Quality Intervention study. Washington, DC: The Forum for Youth Investment.
  • Benn, R., Akiva, T., Arel, S., & Roeser, R. W. (2012). Mindfulness training effects for parents and educators of children with special needs. Developmental Psychology, 48, 1476-1487.
  • Smith, C. Peck, S. C., Denault, A., Blazevski, J., & Akiva, T. (2010). Quality at the point of service: Profiles of practice in after-school settings. American Journal of Community Psychology, 45, 358-369.
  • Smith, C., & Akiva, T. (2008). Quality accountability: Improving fidelity of broad developmentally focused interventions. In H. Yoshikawa & B. Shinn (Eds.), Toward positive youth development: Transforming schools and community programs. (pp. 192-212). New York: Oxford University Press.