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Mission & History

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The mission of the Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research is to expand, strengthen, and speed the connections between cutting-edge research and the design, evaluation, and implementation of policies and practices that enhance human development, health, and well-being.

The creation of the Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research (BCTR) in 2011 consolidated and expanded programs and resources previously housed in the Family Life Development Center (FLDC) and the Bronfenbrenner Life Course Center (BLCC). As the missions of the BLCC and FLDC were highly complementary, their union addressed previously existing gaps, creating an ideal foundation for the BCTR. The merger of these two centers into the BCTR has established an excellent environment for translational research.

Family Life Development Center

Created by an act of the New York State Legislature in 1974, the Family Life Development Center was mandated to develop programs of public service, research, and teaching for the benefit of New York State families and children in stress. As a multidisciplinary unit of the College of Human Ecology, the FLDC evolved over the next 35 years to conduct research, evaluation, training, and technical assistance serving New York State, the nation, and international communities. The FLDC annually managed more than $4 million in programs funded through competitive grants and contracts from New York State, federal government agencies, foundations, and other sources.

The FLDC’s work reflected the ecological perspective developed by Urie Bronfenbrenner; its focus was on children, youth, and families, along with the communities and institutions they inhabit. Projects addressed child abuse and neglect, family violence, and positive youth development. FLDC staff sought to support community and institutional change, often collaborating with front-line workers and agencies that serve families and youth.

John Doris, professor of human development, was the FLDC’s founding director, serving from the center’s establishment in 1974 until his appointment as professor emeritus in 1993. He continued to work on center programs until his death in 2008. Major programs inaugurated under Doris’s leadership that continue today and have worldwide impact include: the Residential Child Care Project to prevent abuse and increase the quality of care in residential settings; the National Data Archive on Child Abuse and Neglect, which ensures that researchers have access to federally-funded research data; the Internet-based Child Abuse Prevention Network, a worldwide resource to apply information technology to child abuse prevention; and the Military Projects, which work to prevent child maltreatment and domestic violence in families connected to the armed forces and help family members prepare for the stress of deployment.

Bronfenbrenner Life Course Center

The Bronfenbrenner Life Course Center was founded in 1992 in the College of Human Ecology. In 1993, the BLCC’s charter was approved as a university-wide center. The BLCC was formed in response to: (1) the need for new knowledge in the light of major demographic and social changes; and (2) the need and opportunity for Cornell to marshal its faculty capabilities in the social and behavioral sciences, consistent with Cornell’s responsibilities as a land-grant university. Research promoted by the BLCC used a life course approach, focusing on the study of stability and change over time and across generations.

The aims of the BLCC were entirely consistent with those of the BCTR. Throughout its history, the BLCC promoted multidisciplinary, collaborative, problem-oriented research. Center researchers studied policies and programs that sought to enhance the effectiveness of families and individuals and promote life-long competency and productive maturity. The BLCC also worked intensively on the dissemination of findings from life course research to policy makers in the public and private sectors, and encouraged ongoing dialogue among scholars, policy makers, citizens, and advocacy groups. Further, the BLCC provided students opportunities to apply a life-course approach to research and policy analysis.

Founding director Phyllis Moen, formerly the Ferris Family Professor of Life Course Studies, served as the BLCC’s director from 1992-2002. Under her leadership the center was home to institutes and projects that made significant contributions to families, and especially to older adults. The Cornell Gerontological Research Institute was funded to use translational research to improve the lives of older people, while the Pathways to Life Quality Project followed a retirement community cohort, illuminating how people make housing choices in their senior years. Work/life balance was also a focus of BLCC research: the Cornell Employment and Family Careers Institute explored changes in families and work and disseminated its findings through training and outreach. In these years, the BLCC also served the Cornell community by providing research opportunities for undergraduates and supporting Cornell scholars in developing competitive proposals for major funding.

 Milestones

Since the 2011 merger that created the BCTR, another milestone was reached through a formal partnership with Cornell University Cooperative Extension and the location of its youth component, 4-H Youth Development, within the BCTR. 4-H is the largest out-of-school youth development program in the United States with nearly 7 million youth participants annually. At the state level, 4-H is affiliated with the Cooperative Extension program of each State Land Grant University. By locating the State 4-H Office in the BCTR, Cornell University Cooperative Extension is demonstrating its commitment to grounding 4-H in contemporary societal challenges and embracing the opportunity to apply the emerging discipline of translational research to a large, diverse, and vibrant community-based program that can be found in all corners of New York State.