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Collaborative Research Initiatives

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Pathways to Competence (P2C)

Initiative Director: Pamela Cole

The goal of the Pathways to Competence (P2C) initiative is to advance knowledge of typical and atypical developmental processes related to competence and mental health in children and youth. The initiative’s research emphasizes the study of developmental processes across domains of functioning, at both biological and behavioral levels, and within specific family, cultural, and societal contexts. The faculty is keenly interested in multi-level and transactional influences on development, and in exploring developmental processes with intensive longitudinal assessments. Central research interests include the nature of self- and mutual regulation, such as how children influence their parents’ socialization efforts, how emotional functioning influences self-regulated eating, and how early sleep patterns influence child attention and emotion regulation. In addition, participants are interested in tracking links between motor, language, attention, executive, social cognitive, emotional and interpersonal functioning and how together these influence behavioral outcomes relevant to child mental health and competence (e.g., how language influences emotion regulation in early childhood, how crawling and walking influence socioemotional functioning.) A third area of research focus involves modeling family processes associated with the development of child and youth competence, particularly in the context of family stress and socioeconomic disadvantage, including how genetic risk influences child outcomes and how parenting moderates those effects, as well as how dyadic and triadic processes influence children’s and youths' individual development. Finally, many initiative faculty members are interested in children and youth who are at risk or are already developing significant psychological problems, including understanding problems such as child maltreatment, poverty, and psychological disorders.

For more information about this research initiative, please contact Pamela Cole.

Families at Risk (FAR)

Initiative Director: Douglas Teti

The Families at Risk (FAR) initiative is focused on understanding the nature of risk within and across families and the mechanisms that determine the course and influence of family risk and well-being. Interests of initiative participants vary widely and include relational processes pertaining to parents and children, marital dyads, sibling relationships, and overall family functioning.  As an example, parenting is complex and emotionally driven, making parents’ capacity to regulate their own emotions and behavior central to effective child-rearing. Many Families at Risk faculty whose focus is parenting are interested in understanding parenting “in the moment” by examining experienced parental emotions as parenting proceeds, so as to better understand the momentary processes that place parenting at risk, including risk for child abuse and neglect.  FAR members are also interested in a range of factors that represent challenges to effective parenting, marital, and family functioning, including  low parent intellectual functioning; a history of maltreatment as a child; living under conditions of poverty, family instability or other stressors; and parental mental health.  A central theme involves understanding bidirectional influences that emerge through dynamic patterns of interactions within families, how they contribute to the quality of marital and parent-child relationships, and how such processes affect children’s development.  The role of culture and the broader community and family context are also of interest.  Overall, a central goal of the initiative is to use basic research to inform the design of preventive and early interventions that promote positive family development, and to test their effectiveness.

For more information about this research initiative, please contact Douglas Teti.

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School Readiness

Initiative Director: Karen Bierman

School Readiness involves the child’s preparedness to succeed in school, including effective engagement and progress in the social-emotional and academic domains of schooling. Participants in this initiative are interested in understanding the diverse skills that contribute to children’s academic success and failure, including factors associated with cognitive development, attentional control, social competence, and motivated, goal-oriented learning.  The overarching goal of the initiative is to reduce gaps in school readiness and associated impairments in later school adjustment and educational attainment, particularly those associated with poverty, child or family risk factors, and neuro-developmental disability.  In addition to basic research addressing the developmental processes associated with school readiness, participants in this initiative are involved in the collaborative design, implementation, and evaluation of school-based and family-focused interventions.  These include classroom curricula, teacher professional development programs, family outreach and parent training programs, and social competence interventions (e.g., friendship groups) designed to foster the school adjustment of children who start school with learning delays, attention deficits, or behavior problems. Recognizing that families, schools, and communities play critical roles in supporting child school readiness and success, members of this initiative are committed to research-outreach integration, working collaboratively with communities and schools in program development, design, evaluation, and sustained implementation.

For more information about this research initiative, please contact Karen Bierman.

Open Data and Developmental Science (ODDS)

Initiative Director: Rick Gilmore

Child development research has long been interdisciplinary, involving multiple measures across levels and time points. Increasingly, researchers are generating larger and more complex data sets and are using data shared by others to answer core questions about child development. The Open Data and Developmental Science (ODDS) initiative seeks to support the efforts of Penn State child development researchers as they embrace more open, transparent, and reproducible research practices, including data, materials, and analysis code sharing. The initiative builds on Penn State's status as the largest node in the research network, the Gene-Environment Research Initiative, and the research programs of individual faculty and consortia. Activities include workshops, tutorials, and invited speakers.

For more information on challenges to SRCD's Open Developmental Science Vision, please click here. To view slides from our recent ODDS meeting on envisioning a more productive future for child development research, click here.

For more information about this research initiative, please contact .

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Gene-Environment Research Initiative (GERI)

Initiative Co-Directors: Jenae Neiderhiser, Bo Cleveland

The Gene-Environment Research Initiative (GERI) is an interdisciplinary initiative sponsored by the Child Study Center (CSC).

The GERI is conceptualized as an intellectual community for research across the university that is interested in understanding gene-environment interplay and in advancing research to achieve that goal. The GERI is home to the Pennsylvania Twin Registry which is a resource for investigators interested in research on gene-environment interplay that can be facilitated through the use of a population-based twin registry. We are currently in the recruitment phase of creating the registry with a dual focus on recruiting high-school aged twins and children born from 2007 to date.

The GERI is designed to help support research across disciplines focused on common objectives – understanding how genes and environments work together. We currently have active engagement of multiple departments within 3 colleges and hope to engage even more departments in the future. We will help to support early career investigators, researchers new to this area and will provide a mechanism for forming an intellectual community around this issue.

For more information about this research initiative, please contact Jenae Neiderhiser or Bo Cleveland.

PACT logo, hands in a circle around textParents And Children Together (PACT)

Director: Dawn P. Witherspoon

PACT’s mission is to promote the health and well-being of children, youth, and families from diverse backgrounds in Harrisburg and surrounding areas by engaging in culturally-sensitive and community engaged research. Community-engaged research is grounded in bidirectional communication and effective, cooperative partnerships between multiple stakeholders including Penn State researchers, community organizations and institutions, and community members. Penn State researchers and community stakeholders both have a voice in creating, crafting, refining, and implementing important and relevant research with translational value. Our vision is to support research that enhances the lives of children, youth, and families of diverse backgrounds.

Our goals include:

  • Conducting culturally sensitive research and increasing the representativeness of our research through community participation and feedback in the research process
  • Engaging the Harrisburg community in order to increase the participation of diverse populations in research to benefit both science and the community
  • Providing infrastructure, support, advice, and space for researchers to be able to conduct research in Harrisburg
  • Guiding researchers so they can benefit from and build on the trust that PACT has gained in the community in order to advance science.
  • Assisting community members and organizations (CMOs) by offering PACT investigators' expertise to further CMOs' visions and goals.

PACT’s Executive Committee includes: Dawn P. Witherspoon, Director; Laura Bray, Associate Director; Eugenia Moten, Assistant Director; PACT’s Community Engagement Coordinator and Liaison, Carmen Henry-Harris; and PACT's Latino Outreach Coordinator, Sandy Rosario. PACT is funded through contributions from Penn State's Psychology Department, Social Science Research Institute (SSRI), Child Study Center (CSC), Human Development and Family Studies, College of Health and Human Development, and participating research projects.

For more information about this research initiative, visit the PACT website.