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Grant unites Project 2Gen, partners in fight against opioids


By Stephen D'Angelo for the Cornell Chronicle

Portraits of Rachel Dunifon, Laura Tach, and Anna Steinkraus.

Project leaders Rachel Dunifon, Laura Tach, and Anna Steinkraus. Dunifon and Tach are also co-directors of Cornell Project 2Gen in the BCTR.

The College of Human Ecology, in partnership with Cornell Cooperative Extension-Tompkins County (CCE-Tompkins), has been awarded the William T. Grant Foundation’s first Institutional Challenge Grant to respond to increasing rates of opioid abuse and child maltreatment in low income, rural communities in upstate New York.

The foundation supports research to improve the lives of young people. The award seeks to shift how research institutions value research and to encourage them to build sustained research-practice partnerships with public agencies or nonprofit organizations to reduce inequality in youth outcomes.

“Typically, universities reward faculty members for publishing articles in academic journals,” said Adam Gamoran, foundation president. “This grant challenges universities to reward faculty members whose research is directed to public service. The winning application will support research on one of our most vexing social problems, the opioid crisis, in a partnership that is poised to take action on the basis of the findings.”

The winning team, led by College of Human Ecology researchers Rachel Dunifon and Laura Tach and CCE-Tompkins program coordinator Anna Steinkraus, will attempt to understand the association between opioid use and child maltreatment rates; examine the role of family drug treatment courts in mitigating child maltreatment; and evaluate evidence-based interventions that may reduce the risk of opioid abuse for low-income youth and families. Findings from each study will be used to improve local practices and programs.

“We are honored to have been chosen, as the vision of the grant reflects the mission of our college and the land-grant mission of Cornell University,” Dunifon said. “The College of Human Ecology’s public engagement mission from the start has been about breaking down boundaries between academic research and its application to policy and practice.”

She continued, “This grant supports a true collaborative research-practice partnership that brings together faculty and community educators to address a pressing local issue: the opioid epidemic. We will not only generate cutting-edge research on this important topic, we will also provide faculty and our community partners with the time, funds and skills necessary to engage in this type of research collaboration. By doing this, we will pave the way for future research-practice partnerships to succeed.”

A committee of faculty and CCE-Tompkins staff will select faculty members to serve as fellows and receive mentoring from the partnership leads. Tach, an associate professor of policy analysis and management, is the first faculty fellow selected under the grant, and will bring her expertise in poverty and social policy to the project.

To support this work, housed in the Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research, Cornell has committed a postdoctoral fellow for the first half of the award, a faculty fellowship, and an undergraduate internship at CCE-Tompkins. The College of Human Ecology will also review current support for research-practice partnerships, initiate conversations about how such work is measured and valued, and build capacity at CCE-Tompkins to facilitate high-quality evaluation work.

“We are excited to partner with the College of Human Ecology on this project, focusing on the opioid epidemic that has affected communities all across New York state and the country,” said Steinkraus, a principal investigator on the grant.

The College of Human Ecology will receive $650,000 over three years, with the opportunity to apply for a two-year continuation grant.

Grant to unite Cornell, partners in fight against opioids - Cornell Chronicle

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High schoolers spawn fish, grow lettuce on NYC school rooftop

Tags: CCE,   CUCE-NYC,   education,   media mention,   school,  

By Jon Craig for the Cornell Chronicle

Philson Warner works with Teishawn W. Florostal Kevelier, a 2012 graduate of Food and Finance High School. Kevelier is now a 4H youth development associate and 4H research assistant. Jason Koski/University Photograpahy

Philson Warner works with Teishawn W. Florostal Kevelier, a 2012 graduate of Food and Finance High School. Kevelier is now a 4H youth development associate and 4H research assistant.
Jason Koski/University Photograpahy

Atop a roof overlooking Manhattan’s skyline at sundown Oct. 25, more than 300 public officials and proud parents of Food and Finance High School students toured a first-of-its-kind aquaponics greenhouse.

Philson A.A. Warner, founding director of the Cornell Cooperative Extension – New York City (CUCE-NYC) Hydroponics, Aquaculture, Aquaponics Learning Lab, offered lively, personal tours of the newly opened greenhouse. The structure is used to grow lettuce and fish through a natural process that conserves energy and the environment.

“The youngsters learn to do more with the sciences,” Warner said of his teenage students, whom he called “Cornell colleagues.”

Eight computers monitor “the weather situation above us,” to help control indoor temperatures, moisture and ideal humidity for growing vegetables, Warner said.

“This is what we call a green, green, green greenhouse,” he said, noting it produces “clean, safe, fresh foods. ... Nothing goes to waste.”

Even its solar panels are producing surplus energy that is fed into the grid.

Heads of lettuce that can take up to 10 weeks to grow outdoors are cultivated in just three weeks at the school on West 50th Street. About 8,000 pounds of tasty fish spawned monthly are another benefit of the scientific project.

As part of the greenhouse’s grand opening ceremony, dozens of high school students greeted guests and served crab cakes, vegan meatballs, fancy desserts and other hors d’oeuvres that they cooked in the school’s kitchens.

Jennifer Tiffany, Ph.D. ’04, executive director of CUCE-NYC, heaped praise on everyone who helped produce the hands-on learning environment and thanked the “brilliant students” who served as caterers and provided warm hospitality for the event.

“What an amazing, amazing community of young people,” Tiffany said during the ceremony.

Warner designed the 1,664-square-foot greenhouse, which is now part of the New York City Department of Education’s Park West Educational Campus. The project was financed through private donations, the New York City Council and the Manhattan Borough President’s Office.

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer said she was very proud to have been instrumental in approving and helping secure public and private funding for the project. “You are training people for the future,” she said.

“You could be in the Bronx and they are talking about the fish” produced at the Manhattan high school, Brewer gushed. “Without Cornell, this would not have been possible. This is a very exciting project.”

The Food Education Fund, a nonprofit foundation, also has been a key partner in developing and sustaining the learning labs. Nan Shipley, chair of the board of the Food Education Fund, proudly pointed out that the Food and Finance High School has a 91 percent graduation rate, with most of its students advancing to college or full employment in related fields.

About 400 students are enrolled at Food and Finance High School. The school’s curriculum includes paid internships at restaurants and other food service businesses. The opening of the greenhouse marked the latest expansion of ongoing learning lab programs in a long-standing partnership with Cornell University.

High schoolers spawn fish, grow lettuce on NYC school rooftop - Cornell Chronicle

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Celebrating the launch of Cornell Project 2Gen


By Stephen D'Angelo for the Cornell Chronicle

Lori Severens, Lindsay Chase-Landsdale, and Lisa Gennetian in panel discussion

Lori Severens, Lindsay Chase-Landsdale, and Lisa Gennetian in panel discussion

At an Oct. 23 symposium, Cornell researchers launched a new Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research initiative: Cornell Project 2Gen, a project that leverages cutting-edge approaches to support vulnerable families and disrupt the intergenerational cycle of poverty.

Project 2Gen, led by co-directors Laura Tach and Rachel Dunifon of the College of Human Ecology’s Department of Policy Analysis and Management, focuses on addressing the needs of at-risk children and their parents to capitalize on the strong connection between parents’ well-being and children’s healthy development.

“Project 2Gen takes a two-generational approach to addressing the needs of vulnerable families by supporting research and programs that consider both parents and children,” Dunifon said. “And so the two-gen approach acknowledges that parents’ well-being and children’s well-being are intertwined, and that we really can’t address one without the other.”

According to Dunifon, the project reflects the mission of the College of Human Ecology, which combines that of a land-grant institution and an Ivy League university. Through this focus, the project aims to build a vibrant research community and outreach network.

“Project 2Gen is going to be a hub of innovative work that brings together research, practitioners and policymakers, developing and carrying out work in this area, testing new approaches, evaluating their effectiveness, and implementing them locally and throughout the state,” Dunifon said.

The approach is gaining momentum because research documents a strong connection between parents’ economic, psychological and social well-being and children’s healthy development.

The project, which will leverage collaboration between the work of students and faculty members across Cornell, is developing partnerships with community, state and national organizations and government agencies to support parents and children simultaneously.

Within this approach, there are several methods researchers and practitioners can use. Some two-generational programs begin by focusing on children and then add a component to support parents, such as parent education or skills classes. Others may focus on parents, then add a component for children, such as child care or nutrition support. Still other approaches target systems that influence families, such as schools or workplaces.

Ithaca mayor Svante Myrick

Ithaca mayor Svante Myrick

The Oct. 23 symposium included a panel of experts focused on the topic Disrupting the Cycle of Poverty: Two-Generation Approaches from Research, Practice and Policy. Panelists were Lindsay Chase-Lansdale, the Frances Willard Professor of Human Development and Social Policy at Northwestern University; Lisa Gennetian, research professor at the Institute for Human Development and Social Change, New York University; Svante Myrick ’09, mayor of Ithaca; and Lori Severens, assistant director at Ascend at the Aspen Institute.

“I want to say thank you for the work you do,” said Myrick, who as a youth took part in the Head Start program, which promotes the school readiness of young children from low-income families through agencies in their local community. “My siblings and I all had an opportunity to start working at age 16, and we were all able to be successful because of the work that you’ve done, the research that you’ve done, to prove that this isn’t only the big-hearted thing to do, but the hard-headed thing to do.”

New initiative launched to support vulnerable families - Cornell Chronicle

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Iscol lecturer takes on Trump immigration policies


Rebecca Heller speaking

Rebecca Heller speaking

By Stephen D'Angelo for the Cornell Chronicle

Rebecca Heller, co-founder and director of the International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP), urges advocating for the rights of refugees against the waves of right-wing populist xenophobia sweeping through the U.S. and Europe. She was on campus Oct. 18 to deliver the College of Human Ecology’s Iscol Family Program for Leadership Development in Public Service Lecture.

Heller said her interest in the legal challenges facing refugees began on a trip to Jordan the summer after her first year in law school when met with six refugee families from Iraq. Each of the families independently identified their primary problem as a legal one, due to both the United Nation’s and U.S.’s complex bureaucratic asylum process.

In 2008, while still in law school, she founded IRAP with several peers with a mission to organize law students and lawyers to develop and enforce a set of legal and human rights for refugees and displaced persons.

“When [President] Trump was elected, we realized that the fundamental nature of our work was about to really significantly shift, where we were going to go from arguing that the refugee process should be improved and working with the government to find technical ways to make things more efficient, to defending the very existence of a refugee system or admissions at all,” Heller said.

After launching IRAP chapters at the University of California, Berkeley, and at Columbia, Stanford and New York University law schools, Heller began to think how best to mobilize and deploy her “army of a couple thousand lawyers” who wanted to fight for the rights of refugees.

The Monday after the president’s inauguration, a version of the travel ban was leaked to Heller. She fired off messages to her vast network of law students and pro bono lawyers, urging them to call their clients who had travel documents and say, “Get on a plane, right now. The doors to the U.S. are closing.”

Shortly after, Heller had the realization that whenever the travel ban order was signed, there would be thousands of people in the sky who had legal permission to enter the U.S. when they took off but would land as undocumented aliens – and no one knew what would happen to them.

“The travel ban was signed at 4:30 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 7. We had clients coming in that day, and we had lawyers waiting for them,” she said. After a client was detained upon landing, Heller worked with other organizations to file a civil action against the state agent who holds the defendant in custody.

“We stayed up all night and we drafted a nationwide class-action habeas petition … and we filed it at 5:30 in the morning because wanted to make sure it was on file with the court before any international flights could depart so that no one could be deported. We got a hearing for that night in Brooklyn at 7:30 p.m. … at 8:30 p.m. we won, and they released 2,100 people from airports all over the country.”

Rebecca Heller speaking with lecture attendees

Rebecca Heller speaking with lecture attendees

Heller and IRAP have taken legal action against all three travel bans. Their most recent filing, “International Refugee Assistance Project v. Trump,” was won by IRAP. The 91-page decision was issued in the early hours of Oct. 18.

Heller, who lost family in the Holocaust, thinks often about the ship The St. Louis, which carried Jewish refugees from Europe to the United States. The ship traveled from U.S. port to U.S. port but was not allowed to dock. It eventually had to return to Europe.

“They’ve actually traced the fate of a lot of people from The St. Louis, and most of them ended up dying in concentration camps. … and I think – what if every single port The St. Louis docked at, there were 5,000 Americans standing there chanting, ‘Let them in.’ Maybe history would have been a little bit different.”

Quoting Dr. Seuss, Heller told the audience in conclusion: “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better, it’s not.”

Iscol lecturer takes on Trump immigration policies - Cornell Chronicle

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Creativity at 4-H National Science Day event

Tags: 4-H,   children,   media mention,   NYC,   STEM,   youth development,  

Preparing an arm band monitor

Preparing an arm band monitor

By Jon Craig for the Cornell Chronicle

A Brooklyn elementary school was transformed into a high-tech laboratory during a Cornell-led science discovery day Oct. 4.

About 300 schoolchildren jammed all corners of Public School 21 as part of the 10th annual 4-H National Youth Science Day that reached an estimated 100,000 schoolchildren in 50 states. Last fall, Cornell led the national “drone discovery” theme.

This year’s interactive learning challenge, “Incredible Wearables,” was developed by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Youths engineered and built electronic armbands that measured their fitness while exercising. The PS 21 gymnasium was filled with “wired-up” students jumping rope, spinning hula hoops or running in place. Fellow youth scientists then monitored and measured heartbeats and number of steps or jumps taken.

In another room sponsored by faculty, staff and volunteers from Cornell University Cooperative Extension-New York City (CUCE-NYC) and National 4-H Council, the schoolchildren:

  • explored New York state’s parks using a giant geological map, led by Susan Hoskins, senior extension associate at Cornell’s Institute for Resource Information Sciences;
  • learned about hydroponics, or growing plants without soil, which wowed most youngsters, led by Philson A.A. Warner, extension associate and founding director of the CUCE-NYC Hydroponics, Aquaculture, Aquaponics Learning Lab;
  • learned about energy by pedaling a bicycle that produced electricity to power light bulbs and a fan;
  • created bird feeders from pine cones and planted fall bulbs to help pollinators; and
  • learned about sugar levels in juices, beverages and fatty foods.

The goal was to inspire youths to gain interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and pursue college and careers in those fields.

Trying out the Google virtual reality viewers

Trying out the Google virtual reality viewers

Another interactive exhibit, sponsored by Google, allowed students to wear virtual reality goggles that exposed them to moving undersea images, a dairy farm in Minnesota and other science-based scenes.

Lucinda Randolph-Benjamin, CUCE-NYC extension associate for family and 4-H youth development, said this year’s combination of high-tech fitness tests in one part of PS 21 as well as interactive exhibits in another part transformed the flagship Brooklyn school into a “crazy but incredible learning environment.”

“There’s a lot more to keep track of this year,” Randolph-Benjamin exclaimed as she herded gaggles of elementary pupils.

Last fall, “drone discovery” and the accompanying engineering design challenges were developed by staff and faculty members in Cornell Cooperative Extension and the College of Human Ecology. In addition to solving real-world problems, students were taught about safety and regulations, remote sensing and flight control – a project that continues to gain national traction.

Organized chaos spells creativity at Brooklyn school science event - Cornell Chronicle

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NY Times’ Nicholas Kristof talks inequality, empathy, children


Nicholas Kristof speaking

Nicholas Kristof speaking

By Stephen D'Angelo for the Cornell Chronicle

To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of Cornell developmental psychologist Urie Bronfenbrenner and his contributions to child well-being, the Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research welcomed Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times to deliver the Urie Bronfenbrenner Centennial Lecture Oct. 2.

“Nicolas Kristof’s work links so well with Urie’s in his passion for uncovering the truth, and for creating a better world for children and for all human beings. He’s a powerful public advocate for the poor and vulnerable and oppressed,” said Karl Pillemer, director of the Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research and the College of Human Ecology’s Hazel E. Reed Professor in the Department of Human Development, in his introductory remarks.

Kristof’s talk, to an almost 600-person crowd in Call Auditorium, drew on his work promoting gender equality around the world and on public health and poverty with a focus on children.

“I think one reason why we haven’t been effective at addressing inequality is that we often start too late, and the roots of inequality are often very early in life,” he said. “Inequality of opportunity is maybe the most fundamental inequality of all.”

He continued, “There actually is a certain amount of agreement in principle that we should do more to address that, in one poll, 97 percent of Americans agree that there should be greater equality for children at a starting point.”

From reporting on inequality in education for girls in China to sexual slavery in Cambodia, Kristof painted a picture of young people across the globe and in the United States who are being left behind. He said translational research will lead to better outcomes for these populations.

“There has been more and more scholarship looking at this issue, at the roots of inequality the impact of early childhood, even prenatal experiences on lifetime outcomes,” Kristof said. “I think that the traditional view is that children are endlessly resilient, and it’s clear that that is not the case.”

As one example, he said programs that coach underprivileged mothers on basic care can have long-lasting impacts on infants. Women taught the importance of avoiding alcohol and drugs, managing anger when frustrated with a child, and what to do if a husband or boyfriend is mentally or physically abusing their child have a massive impact on future graduation rates, teen pregnancy, and drug and alcohol use among their children.

Further, Kristof pointed to family planning and education programs as profoundly effective for young women and children, compared with programs focused on promoting marriage and a traditional faculty structure.

“As far as we can tell, American kids and European kids have sex at about the same rates, based on self-reporting surveys, and yet American girls get pregnant and have babies three times as often,” Kristof said. “This seems to be because American kids don’t have as good access to comprehensive sex education and access to reliable forms of birth control.”

Overall, he said, girls who have this education are not only empowered but more likely to stay in school, to go to college and to do well in their adult and family lives.

“Increasingly, we do have an evidence base and randomized control trials that give us a sense of what works and what creates opportunities,” Kristof said. “Something that always puzzles me is that we have what works at what cost, yet we don’t apply that knowledge.” He pointed to the “empathy gap” – which leads wealthier Americans to be less engaged in many social issues compared with those who are poorer – as a partial culprit.

“There is no doubt that poverty sometimes involves self-destructive behavior that compounds poverty,” he said. “But we have to talk about our collective responsibility to address these issues, and that’s where I believe we have a collective failing when we have so many impoverished kids in this country.”

Kristof concluded, “If we can bridge that empathy gap more often and bring in evidenced-based policies that create opportunity, then we can create a very different kind of America.”

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Nicholas Kristof to give Bronfenbrenner Centennial Lecture Oct. 2


Nicholas Kristof

Nicholas Kristof

By Sheri Hall for the BCTR

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nicholas Kristof, a writer for The New York Times known for his work exposing social injustice, will speak on campus Monday, Oct. 2, at 5 p.m. in Call Auditorium. The event is free and open to the public.

Kristof will deliver the Bronfenbrenner Centennial Lecture to honor the 100th anniversary of the birth of developmental psychologist Urie Bronfenbrenner, who taught at Cornell for more than 50 years and is considered by many to be the father of translational research.

Kristof’s lecture is titled “A Path Appears: Promoting the Welfare of Children.” The talk will draw on his work in promoting gender equality around the world and on public health and poverty with a focus on children. His reporting has documented the living conditions of people across the globe and advocated for human rights.

“Nicholas Kristof is the perfect person to help us celebrate the centennial of Urie Bronfenbrenner’s birth,” said Karl Pillemer, director of the Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research and the Hazel E. Reed Professor in the Department of Human Development. “Urie and Nicholas share an interest in protecting the rights of children and in the ways citizens and policymakers can act positively to change our society for the better.”

Bronfenbrenner’s work at Cornell included developing theory and research designs at the frontiers of developmental science, finding ways to apply those theories to use in policy and practice, and communicating his findings to the public and to decision-makers.

His research was among the first to demonstrate the environmental and social influences on child development and was critical in helping the U.S. government develop the Head Start program, which provides early childhood education, nutrition and parenting support to low-income families.

The Bronfenbrenner Center in the College of Human Ecology capitalizes on translational research as a means to more closely link the twin missions of research and outreach.

Kristof holds a bachelor’s degree in government from Harvard University and a law degree from Oxford University, England, which he attended as a Rhodes scholar.

Nicholas Kristof to give Bronfenbrenner Centennial Lecture Oct. 2 - Cornell Chronicle

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4-H event boosts youth confidence in future studies

Tags: 4-H,   media mention,   youth,   youth development,  

By Stephen D’Angelo for the Cornell Chronicle

news-2017careerex-inpost

Career Explorations participants synthesizing gold nanoparticles by using gold chloride and citric acid in hot water

More than 400 middle and high school students from 45 New York state counties and extension programs made their way to Cornell’s Ithaca campus June 27-29 to investigate the mysteries of the cosmos, perform physical exams on small and large animals, understand the intricacies of food science and learn to program robots.

These activities were only a few of the many workshops taught by Cornell faculty, staff and graduate students during the 4-H Career Explorations conference, an annual event that exposes youth to academic fields and career exploration by delivering a hands-on experience in a college setting.

“Our main purpose of career explorations is to give young people a chance to get a feel for careers that they’ve never even heard of, or maybe never even considered for themselves,” said Alexa Maille, conference coordinator and New York State 4-H science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) specialist with Cornell Cooperative Extension at the Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research, a research and outreach branch of the College of Human Ecology.

“This is the first college experience for a lot our participants and we receive a good amount of feedback from these youth, both during the conference and after, saying that they are now interested in pursuing future studies or a career in one of the subject areas that they were exposed to here first,” Maille added.

Dozens of scholarships were made available through the New York State 4-H Foundation and Cornell University.

The conference’s 30 programs focused on healthy living, STEM, civic engagement and leadership and were facilitated by the Colleges of Human Ecology, Agriculture and Life Sciences, Arts and Sciences, and Engineering and Information Science, as well as the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art and the Museum of the Earth. The event connected youth to academic fields including engineering, animal science, astronomy, environmental science, food science, nanotechnology and human development.

A program titled “A Tour of Human Development across the Lifespan,” organized by the Bronfenbrenner Center’s Program for Research on Youth Development and Engagement (PRYDE), introduced human development to students with interests in sociology, psychology, neuroscience, medicine, education, public health or social work.

“We really wanted to expose the youth to both the idea of lifespan human development, showing them that development continues at all ages, and to different research methods,” said Jennifer Agans, PRYDE assistant director for research on youth development and engagement. “For us, this was really an amazing opportunity to work directly with youth and teach them about social science, as well as to align to our mission in connecting 4-H programs with campus research.”

Students heard from professors about their research, visited the fMRI lab and saw how brain scans can provide insights into human behavior. They also participated in career-related activities including interviews and focus group to better understand research methods.

And students discussed academic directions and personal career pathways with graduate students, lab managers, program assistants and postdoctoral fellows, who shed light on the transition from high school to college to career.

Skyler Masse, 16, from Niagara County, participated in the human development program and is interested in a career in medicine and health.

“Working hand-in-hand with the professors and students allowed me to be able to see that it’s okay not to have a direct route to college; there are many options, and a lot more options, than you may think there are,” she said. “Interviewing graduate students and postdocs, and hearing directly from them, helped me realize that it’s okay to change what you’re doing, even in college. You don’t have to have a set major, and that they went through the same thing.”

Meghan Stang, 17, from Cattaraugas County, is considering physical therapy as a career. She said the experience has given her more confidence in her future academic and professional life.

“Just listening to all of the graduate students and undergraduate students who came and spoke to us, they were in a similar situation when they were my age, and now they are succeeding in life,” she said. “It makes me think that even though I don’t know exactly where I want to go or what I want to do around physical therapy, I’ll be okay. I will succeed.”

4-H event boosts youth confidence in future studies - Cornell Chronicle

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Bronfenbrenner talk highlights inequalities in children’s health


_R2T0680.jpgBy Stephen D'Angelo for the Cornell Chronicle

University of Pittsburgh professor Karen Matthews explored biological links to persistent social inequalities in childhood health during the 2017 Bronfenbrenner Lecture, held June 15 in Martha Van Rensselaer Hall.

Hosted by the Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research in the College of Human Ecology, Matthews guided nearly 50 audience members through the most recent research on the inequality in health between children in different socio-economic groups.

“I was given the task of trying to lay out some of the key biological pathways that might be important in understanding connections between the social environment and children’s health,” said Matthews, a Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry and professor of epidemiology, psychology, and clinical and translational science at Pittsburgh. “And this is really a daunting task because there are so many things that impinge on children’s development that are important in this context; one could spend an entire semester on this topic.”

The lecture highlighted the mission of the Bronfenbrenner Center and the work of the late Cornell scientist Urie Bronfenbrenner, whose ecological systems theory recognized the need to consider multiple levels of interacting influences on a child’s development, including family, community and the greater culture.

Matthews’ work addresses the psychosocial and biological connections between socio-demographic factors and poor health; the development of cardiovascular behavioral risk factors in childhood and adolescence; the influence of menopause on women’s health; and the role of stress-induced physiological responses and sleep in the etiology of heart disease and hypertension.

Matthews stressed that poverty and low socio-economic standing are about more than dollars and cents; they also involve a slew of environmental and psychological factors that can impact a child’s development. Family turmoil, exposure to community violence, early childhood separation, substandard housing and exposure to toxins, noise and crowding all can impact a child’s health, she said.

“As you can imagine, poverty in childhood is not simply low income relative to needs, but also exposure to disadvantaged environments more generally,” she said. “Research points to 65 percent of median-income children in the analysis had zero or one of these particular exposures, whereas the poor had three to four.”

Matthews also reviewed how day-to-day factors can impact several of a child’s physiological systems including the cardiovascular, immune, inflammatory and sympathetic nervous systems.

“A number of the theories of how low socio-economic status or poverty gets under the skin of children have to do with exposure to chronic stress,” Matthews said. “Emotional stressors impact the cerebral cortex, which in turn impacts the hypothalamus, which activates corticotropin-releasing hormone and eventually leads to the release of cortisol.”

Cortisol, a byproduct of chronic stress, increases the risk of numerous health problems including anxiety, depression, heart disease, weight gain and concentration impairment, she said.

“You can imagine that this environment would not be conducive to positive children’s health,” Matthews said.

Matthews concluded the lecture with ideas for, and a small discussion about, future research focusing both on additional physiological parameters as well as holistic data measurement and research design that narrows down models for easier analysis.

She also discussed interventions that are considered low-hanging fruit. These include policy changes to prevent exposure to toxins, such as lead exposure through water pipes, and public service commitments to inform families about the research to help them make changes at home.

Bronfenbrenner talk highlights inequalities in children's health - Cornell Chronicle

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Whitlock on self-injury and social media


Janis Whitlock

Janis Whitlock

By Sheri Hall for the BCTR

BCTR Researcher Janis Whitlock was featured earlier this year in a PBS news story about self-injury and social media.

Whitlock, director of the BCTR’s Cornell Research Program on Self-Injury and Recovery, studies the interaction between mental health and social media. She served as an expert in a PBS story about social media tools designed to reach out to people who post about self-harm on social media.

This year, the photo-sharing platform Instagram created a new tool to reach out to people who post about injuring themselves or eating disorders. Here is how it works: Instagram allows users to report posts that they feel suggest self-harm. If an Instagram staff member flags the post, the user receives a message that suggests they talk to a friend, contact a helpline, or read tips about coping. Facebook has a similar tool for people who post about harming themselves.

“One of the things that’s abundantly clear is that people will disclose in social media and internet-based venues things that a lot of other people don’t know — maybe nobody in their life knows,” Whitlock told PBS.

“I applaud [Instagram] for making an effort to really effectively interact, to identify and capture people at the moment of their crisis. For someone who self-injures, often times if they can just pause the urge for even just 15 minutes, then the urge to injure will pass.”

Can Instagram’s new tool really help users who self-harm? - PBS Newshour

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