Gifts inspired by teaching, research of caring and compassion

Inspired by concepts of caring and compassion, Penn State alumna Edna Bennett Pierce and Mark Greenberg, holder of the Edna Peterson Bennett Endowed Chair in Prevention Research, have provided a number of gifts to the College of Health and Human Development to reinforce furthering empathy and building robust relationships as they relate to the healthy development of individuals.

“Life well-lived has to be shared and done with love and compassion,” Pierce said of her motivation.

Over the past decade, research on understanding and nurturing health and well-being has continued to advance. Researchers in the college believe the social and emotional development of children cultivated in the early years are a predictor of success. Specifically, awareness, compassion, and empathy are core dimensions of human nature that contribute to personal development and health.

Infusing caring and compassion in curriculums

To continue to infuse the concept of care and compassion throughout curricula in the college, Pierce has created the Endowed Professorship of Caring and Compassion.

“Educators spend energy teaching facts,” said Pierce. “Care and compassion is much more nebulous than that. It’s hard to put a finger on it. It’s one of the most important issues in the world and yet in very few places is it being taught or stressed. I just see this professorship as a very far-reaching way to do it.”

The appointment will be designated as the Bennett Pierce Professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies.

Of the ideal candidate, Greenberg said, “We are particularly interested in a faculty colleague who has broad experience in the field of prevention science and may have further background in public health, education, psychology, neuroscience, or a related field. Qualifications include experience in both basic research and intervention studies that promote caring and compassion.”

Supporting a new generation of scholars

Pierce has also recently endowed the Bennett Pierce Fellowship, which will support graduate students studying human health and development issues related to care and compassion.

“This fellowship is helping students go outside themselves and see themselves in the larger world picture,” Pierce said.

Research supports this motivation. “There is a stream of knowledge that links the ability to be caring and compassionate with neurobiological processes that are directly influenced by the social environment,” said Diana H. Fishbein, C. Eugene Bennett Chair in Prevention Research, Edna Bennett Pierce Prevention Research Center.

“The Bennett Pierce Fellowship builds on emerging evidence that care and compassion are the core components of all effective interventions,” Fishbein said. “Together, this evidence and existing research suggests that we can instill these abilities in children, families, and communities to improve outcomes on a population level.”

“This fellowship will, in that regard, significantly build on this program of research, and by funding graduate students conducting research in care and compassion, potentially lead to new approaches to address social and individual ills,” Fishbein said.

Creating a forum reinforcing compassion

Greenberg also studies the childhood qualities of kindness and compassion, and how and when they develop. Greenberg, along with his wife, Christa Turksma, a researcher and teacher of mindfulness skills, are committing funds to establish the Lectureship on Compassion, which will provide a yearly forum for outstanding researchers in the areas of awareness, compassion, and empathy to share their findings and perspective.

“When and how does a child learn to be kind and compassionate, and what can communities, schools, teachers, and parents do to nurture these essential qualities?” Greenberg said.

Greenberg and Turksma believe these public forums enhance the knowledge of investigators and students, raise the visibility of this research, and promote scholarly interest in an area that is proven to contribute to personal well-being and strong, life-enhancing relationships.

“While numerous centers on mind-body health for adults have developed at major universities, there has been little focus on children and youth or the cultivation of these attributes in the early and malleable stages of development,” said Greenberg. “Christa and I want to build on Edna’s amazing legacy of support for this work and provide a venue for expanding its impact even further.”

The first lecture, scheduled for April 7, 2016, will feature Richard J. Davidson, the William James and Vilas Research Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry, director of the Waisman Laboratory for Brain Imaging and Behavior, and founder of the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds at the Waisman Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The talk will be entitled, "Well-being is a Skill: Perspective from Contemplative Neuroscience."

For more information on the Edna Bennett Pierce Prevention Research Center visit prevention.psu.edu.

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Last Updated December 17, 2015