On May 2, four graduate students in Penn State’s College of Health and Human Development embarked on a summer-long research exchange program to the University of Jena in Germany. The program, which began in 1995, involves periodic faculty and student exchanges, with the ultimate aim of promoting collaborative research.
“Students will get some high-end cultural experience, excellent instruction and exposure to research domains that they wouldn’t have seen here,” said Neil Sharkey, associate dean for research and graduate education in the College of Health and Human Development. “Likewise, we will be offering the same in the fall semester, when students from Germany will be studying here.”
The exchange operates between the College of Health and Human Development and Jena University’s Center for Applied Developmental Sciences (a renowned child psychology research enterprise). Although Penn State students participating are usually human development and family studies (HDFS) majors, the program is open to other majors. This year, Nengliang Yao, a graduate student in health policy and administration (HPA), will be joining HDFS graduate students Rebecca Madill, Bora Lee and Yao Zheng for the trip.
“A major focus of the HDFS graduate program,” said Madill, “is that we study development in context. Germany is a context that I haven’t studied yet, so exposure to this can only broaden my understanding.”
Because the students seek out their own research projects, they have the opportunity to pursue topics that will hone their expertise.
“It’s interesting to see how people in other countries think, behave, and live,” said Lee. Lee will be studying two topics: why people become entrepreneurs, and life-span career development. “It’s rare that you see empirical studies on entrepreneurs, so this is a great opportunity.”
Yao will be researching child mental health, Zheng will be researching adolescent aggression and Madill will be studying immigrant families and how children transition from the home to preschool/kindergarten.
Jena University provides students housing on campus, and in the fall, Penn State will reciprocate by providing housing for the group of German students.
“The measure of viability of an exchange program is that it should produce exchanges—not just physical exchanges, but research exchanges, too,” noted Fred Vondracek, professor of human development and family studies and one of the founders of the program.
In the past, this exchange program has incorporated faculty exchanges and several collaborations on peer-reviewed journal articles.