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CRF “Charts the Future” at Annual Family Research Forum and Awards Dinner

Faculty, students, and friends of the Center for Research on Families (CRF) gathered Feb. 20 in the Amherst Room of the campus center at the University of Massachusetts to celebrate the center’s accomplishments and future directions.

Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy kicked off the evening saying that no matter the issue facing the Commonwealth or the nation, such as the lack of women in Science,Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields, “it all comes back to families.”

Steven Goodwin, dean of the College of Natural Sciences, commended the center for its commitment to conducting research for the benefit of families. Translational research is a buzz word these days, he said. In agriculture, it’s farm to table. In medicine, it’s bench to beside. In family research, it’s family to family. Robert Feldman, dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, underscored the importance of interdisciplinary research to address family issues.

Massachusetts Senate Majority Leader Stanley Rosenberg said policies, programs, and services supporting foster care are among the top five issues in the state senate. Rosenberg, a former foster child, urged CRF to share its groundbreaking research with the statehouse so that foster care in Massachusetts can become a model for the nation.                                                      

Irene Boeckmann, a Ph.D. candidate in the Sociology department, presented her research showing how employed mothers’ work hours are linked to those of fathers before and after the birth of their first child. Her work has identified three main patterns: dual breakwinners, opt outers, ad work-family jugglers. Boeckmann explains that while the media has often portrayed mothers as either working full-time or withdrawing from the labor force to raise children, many women struggle to achieve a balance between work and family responsibilities.

Social psychologist Nilanjana Dasgupta discussed her findings that young women who enter STEM education tracks in college are subtly encouraged to stay in science and technology by the presence of female professors and peers in their field. Dasgupta, a 2006-07 and 2012-13 Family Research Scholar, was recently awarded a $1.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation to study how middle school classroom dynamics influence girls’ participation in STEM fields.

CRF Director Maureen Perry-Jenkins discussed the future of the center, highlighting the unique ways translational research at CRF is transforming how researchers study families. To illustrate, Perry-Jenkins pointed to examples of faculty studying how genes mediate the effects of income on child outcomes, menopause is shaped by culture, and gene-environment interaction is involved in the development of ADHD. She described new, emerging research groups, including early child development, adolescence, and work-family issues. In regard to the highly successful Family Research Scholars Program, Perry-Jenkins said, “Faculty are sometimes vulnerable. They need support, food, and someone to listen to their ideas.” She said the working groups “go where faculty take them.” CRF is in the process of deepening its methodology consulting and creating training programs to help faculty use their research to inform public policy and instigate social change.

Dorothy “Dot” Gavin (‘43) took the podium to close the evening. “I’m in awe of all the things I’ve heard tonight,” she said. Dot and her husband Joseph provided a generous endowment in 1996 to establish the Center for the Family, which became the Center for Research on Families in 2003. “We threw out that money and it grew. You’re a bunch of fertile fields,” she said.

Dean Goodwin said the Gavins’ donation is the essence of philanthropy and a perfect example of “how a gift can transform an institution.”



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