CRF Announces 7 Faculty to Join Family Research Scholars Program

CRF Announces 7 Faculty to Join Family Research Scholars Program

The Center for Research on Families (CRF) at the University of Massachusetts is pleased to announce the 2014-2015 Family Research Scholars.  Seven faculty members were selected to participate in the 12th cohort of the Family Research Scholars Program on the basis of their promising work in family-related research.

The new Scholars include:Top (Sylvia Brandt, Tatishe Nteta, Katherine Reeves) Bottom (David Arnold, Lisa Sanders, Gerald Downes, Marsha Kline Pruett)


The Family Research Scholars Program provides selected faculty with the time, technical expertise, peer mentorship, and national expert consultation to prepare a large grant proposal for their research support.  The goal of the program is to bring together a diverse, multi-disciplinary group of faculty to foster innovation and collaboration across research areas related to the family. The selected faculty for the 2014-2015 Family Research Scholars Program represents an array of disciplines and research interests across three Colleges (SBS, CNS & Public Health) and five departments and the Smith College School for Social Work.  

David Arnold (Professor of Psychology) addresses how children from low socioeconomic status (SES) families are dramatically underrepresented in the Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) disciplines. Arnold will be developing a grant proposal for a project entitled “Understanding and Promoting Emergent Math Development in low-SES Children.” Arnold’s proposed project will examine differences in early math experiences as a function of SES to shed light on the SES math-achievement gap. In addition, he will develop and test a parent-based program designed to foster early math interest and skills. The project will provide the strongest information to date about causal factors in the achievement gap, and could eventually provide an important tool to help support STEM participation among underrepresented groups.

Sylvia Brandt (Associate Professor of Resource Economics and Public Policy) studies how asthma impacts a child’s quality of life. In her proposed project, “New Methods to Assess the Burden of Childhood Asthma in Massachusetts,” Brandt and a group of leading epidemiologists and policymakers in Massachusetts will develop a risk assessment of the burden of asthma onset due to pollution exposure. 

Gerald Downes (Associate Professor of Biology) identifies cellular and molecular mechanisms that coordinate left-right muscle contractions essential for locomotion. His other work looks at how brain and spinal cord networks work together to orchestrate swimming behavior. Downes will be developing a proposal titled, “Using Zebrafish to Better Understand and Treat Epilepsies.” For this project, Downes is particularly interested in how the zebrafish hindbrain integrates sensory input and activates spinal cord networks to enable fish to swim away from perceived threats.  The goal of Downes’ research is to understand epileptic seizures in an animal model to develop new drugs and therapies for treatment in humans.

Marsha Kline Pruett, (Professor at Smith College School for Social Work) examines family dynamics and development with a specialization in the promotion of healthy child and family development during life transitions, particularly those transitions related to adverse events or circumstances. Her clinical research incorporates preventive interventions, consultation, program design and evaluation. As a CRF Scholar, Pruett will be developing a grant proposal for a project entitled “Supporting Father Involvement Dissemination: Two Tests of New Applications.” This project aims to reduce child abuse and neglect and enhance family well-being through an intervention that encourages father involvement and couple co-parenting (among married and unmarried parents) in low-income families from various cultural backgrounds, available on a broader basis to the agencies and organizations in Massachusetts who are working to improve the lives of families. Desired outcomes including reduced risk of depression, increased couple or co-parenting satisfaction, reduced stresses related to parenting and work-family, reduced stress as assessed by cortisol levels and family economic stability.

Tatishe Nteta (Assistant Professor of Political Science) focuses his research on the contradictory theories that having a daughter leads men to adopt more liberal viewpoints and support more progressive political parties and candidates. One set of scholars has found that daughters lead fathers to support more conservative positions and to identify with the Republican Party. Others have found that men with daughters exhibit more liberal attitudes on a range of issues and to exhibit support for the Democratic Party. Nteta will be developing a grant proposal titled, “The Political Effects of Children: Public Opinion, Political Behavior, and the Transformative Impact of Fatherhood.” Using a multi-method approach, this project seeks to provide a more definitive analysis of the impact that fathering a daughter has on the political attitudes and behaviors of men in the United States.

Katherine Reeves (Assistant Professor of Epidemiology) examines weight loss as a means of cancer prevention. Empirical evidence that weight loss can reduce cancer risk is lacking, in part because it is difficult to identify cohorts of adults who can lose weight and maintain the weight loss. Reeves suggests that the emergence of Bariatric surgery provides options for achieving and maintaining weight loss among morbidly obese adults. Therefore, studying this population provides an opportunity for a natural experiment to evaluate if weight loss can reduce cancer risk. Reeves will be preparing a grant application to the National Cancer Institute to evaluate if bariatric surgery can reduce cancer risk using data obtained through the Cancer Research Network (CRN). Reeves’ intended benefit of this research is to promote the health of American families, many of which are touched by obesity, cancer, or both.

Lisa Sanders (Associate Professor of Psychology) investigates auditory selective attention, speech perception, and the ways in which selective attention supports the complex task of comprehending spoken language. Sanders will be developing a grant proposal for a project entitled “Improving Preschooler’s Ability to Predict and Comprehend Speech.” Her project will use behavioral and electrophysiological assessments of 3- to 5-year-old children’s abilities to study a language’s sound patterns to make predictions about upcoming speech sounds, and to efficiently allocate attention to the least predictable segments in continuous speech. Sanders is interested in how each of these cognitive skills contributes to successful understanding of speech under ideal quiet conditions and in more complex noisy environments. Identifying the obstacles facing 3- to 5-year-old children in understanding spoken language will inform the creation of interventions that target the neural systems involved in language comprehension and improve learning environments for this population. Improved language skill in young children is expected to support success of individual children and their families.

Over the Scholar year faculty participate in an interdisciplinary seminar that includes concrete instruction on the details of successful proposal submission and the resources of the university, individualized methodology consultation, and information about relevant funding agencies. This process culminates in the submission of a research proposal to a major funding agency. For Scholars, the program offers extra time (through a course release), support and expertise. One current Scholar applauds the program for giving him “the time, space, structure, and guidance to understand and get started in the world of large grants in a way that would not have been possible otherwise as an assistant professor.” Since the program first began in 2003, 62 Family Research Scholars have submitted over 153 proposals.

CRF’s mission is to increase research on family issues, to build a multidisciplinary community of researchers who are studying issues of relevance to families, to connect national and internationally prominent family researchers with UMass faculty and students, to provide advanced data analytic methods training and consultation, and to disseminate family research findings to scholars, families, practitioners, and policymakers. Research at CRF encompasses disciplines as diverse as the life sciences, social sciences, public health and nursing, education, and natural resources.  

CRF is a research center of the UMass Amherst College of Natural Sciences and the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, and has affiliated faculty from departments across campus.  For more information on the Family Research Scholars Program or the Center for Research on Families, please contact Associate Director Wendy Varner at wendy@sbs.umass.edu or (413) 545-3593.