New center will integrate human development research

Cornell’s new Center for Integrative Developmental Science, which launched this fall in the College of Human Ecology (CHE), will strengthen Cornell as a leader in human development research across the lifespan.

The interdisciplinary center will bring together diverse expertise around the cognitive, social, emotional, cultural and biological systems that characterize development from infancy to old age. It will integrate basic, translational and clinical research and facilitate radical collaborations to create innovations that promote health and well-being within diverse families, communities and populations.

“With this center, Cornell’s long-standing expertise in developmental science will be strengthened and broadened,” said Rachel Dunifon, the Rebecca Q. and James C. Morgan Dean of the College of Human Ecology, with dual appointments in the Department of Psychology and the Cornell Jeb E. Brooks School of Public Policy. “The center will bring together faculty whose work examines the multilayered factors that influence development across the life course and catalyze this research to address our most pressing social issues.”

The center includes 52 faculty associates from three schools and four colleges across the university, representing various disciplines within psychology, sociology, political and information science, industrial and labor relations, and neuroscience. A Scientific Advisory Board is made up of 12 members from institutions including Stanford University, the University of Michigan, Northwestern University and University College London. Anthony Ong, professor of psychology (CHE) and professor of gerontology in medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine, will lead the center as its director.

“By fostering research, training and funding opportunities, our mission is to establish Cornell as an intellectual hub for research and institutional collaboration, whose mission is to link the science of human development to practice and policy,” Ong said.

Laura Niemi, assistant professor of psychology in the College of Arts and Sciences who also teaches within the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, said she chose to affiliate with the center for several reasons, but cited Ong’s research and leadership in particular.

“He’s a leader in research on how experiences of prejudice and discrimination, even small, subtle ones, negatively affect people’s health and well-being,” she said. “Ong’s research is reflective of the developmental approach at the College of Human Ecology. It’s brave, rigorous, and influential. Many areas at Cornell have those inspiring qualities. It’s exciting that this new center recognizes that and has the vision to see how to link them through developmental science.” 

Stephen Ceci, the Helen L. Carr Professor of Developmental Psychology, said the center would serve as a conceptual glue to connect everyone working in the area of developmental science.

“Scholars with developmental interests are scattered across the campus, so the new center will help spawn integration through cross-campus affiliations, outside visitors, brown bags, seed funding, external grant support and collaborations,” he said. “With time, it could enhance Cornell’s visibility as a major center of developmental science.”

This past summer, the Department of Psychology became a super-department, bringing together CHE’s Department of Human Development and the College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Psychology, creating even more opportunities for collaboration.  

“One of the greatest needs in the social and behavioral sciences are environments that bring people together,” said Karl Pillemer, the Hazel E. Reed Professor in the Department of Human Development and professor of gerontology in medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine. “We often talk about cross-disciplinary research and research in real-world settings, but we do so abstractly.

“This center will provide a concrete location where people with diverse but overlapping interests can come together. It seems like an ideal vehicle for connecting people interested in human development at all levels of the research process and could be an engine for new research models, methods and concrete projects.”

Qi Wang, a former chair of the Department of Human Development and professor of psychology, played a critical role in conceptualizing the center – which, she said, sustains Cornell’s reputation and leadership in a field that it helped establish nearly a century ago.

“With the increasing complexity of our society and human lives more generally, the field of human development continues to thrive,” she said. “It is interdisciplinary and problem-focused, where researchers examine questions of real-world relevance and conduct work that both advances theory and improves life. Cornell faculty in this field have made monumental contributions to the understanding of human development in diverse contexts and populations and their research has profoundly influenced policies and practices. In many ways, their work defines the field.”

Ong added, “Our grand challenge is to capitalize on the vast potential of interdisciplinary scholarship across Cornell to catalyze new vistas of developmental research whose ultimate aim is ‘to do the greatest good.’”

Robin Roger is senior associate director of communications for the College of Human Ecology.

Read this story in The Cornell Chronicle.

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