College of H&HD focuses on solving societal problems

May 15, 2009

University Park, Pa. -- "The College of Health and Human Development is poised to tackle some of society's most important health issues," said Nan Crouter, Raymond E. and Erin Stuart Schultz Dean of the College of Health and Human Development. In a presentation to Penn State's Board of Trustees Friday (May 15), Crouter highlighted the college's current position and its future strategic plans.

"Through our research centers and academic units," noted Crouter, "our college is able to make a significant difference in the lives of all people by fighting some of the most pressing issues putting our society at risk today: an aging population; the rise in chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and asthma; health care disparities and high costs; and the globalization of diseases. Our approach primarily involves prevention programs and innovative policy changes, but our focus is on novel, effective solutions."

The College of Health and Human Development includes eight academic units, which span a variety of disciplines but are all centered on the improvement of quality of life: biobehavioral health, communication sciences and disorders, health policy and administration, human development and family studies, kinesiology, nutritional sciences, recreation, park and tourism management and hospitality management. The college also maintains a special relationship with Penn State's School of Nursing (a unit that was previously part of the college), with which they share administrative resources.

Seven research centers are housed within Health and Human Development, all of which employ an interdisciplinary approach, complementing the college's already-strong knowledge base with the expertise of faculty from other departments or colleges. The centers are: the Center for Childhood Obesity Research; the Center for Health Care and Policy Research; the Center for Family Research in Diverse Contexts; the General Clinical Research Center; the Gerontology Center; the Methodology Center; and the Prevention Research Center for the Promotion of Human Development.

"We want to empower a new generation of professional leaders and scholars," said Crouter. "By doing this, we are effectively promoting human health, development and quality of life in the context of families and communities."

The college will focus its efforts in the next few years on fostering collaborations among departments and colleges, improving global health and awareness, strengthening expertise on healthy aging and developing a more comprehensive understanding of child health and development.

Collaborative Efforts

"One of the main focuses of the college in the next few years is to address key health issues by building upon the strengths of the college's faculty members," said Crouter. "Collaboration among departments and colleges is central to this goal. The college also will focus on extending its reach through Penn State's World Campus and other programs."

Intercollege efforts to sustain a high degree of innovation in developing solutions include: working with the College of Medicine to create a master's degree in public health; collaborating with several colleges and institutes around neuroscience education and research; exploring common ground with the College of Engineering around health services engineering; and initiating a dialogue on global health with the School of International Affairs.

Global Opportunities

The college will increase global opportunities for students, enabling them to become key contributors in the world today. Several strategic efforts are in this vein. First, the Department of Biobehavioral Health is developing a Global Health minor for undergraduates, which will integrate course work with an internship in an international setting. Second, the School of Hospitality Management is fostering exchange programs with universities in China, the Netherlands and South Africa. Third, the college is establishing the Global Leadership Initiative, a college-wide program for sophomores and juniors interested in global issues and careers. Students involved in this program will receive: intensive preparation for education, research or service abroad; ongoing communication with a mentor with international experience; and shared reflection following the student's time overseas.

Aging Expertise

Expanding upon the college's aging expertise will take two forms. First, there will be new leadership for the Gerontology Center, a national leader in research and training on adulthood and aging. Second, the college will apply for National Institutes of Health federal stimulus funds to make a cluster hire of human neuroscience and physiology faculty interested in optimizing healthy aging via nutrition, physical activity and stress management.

Child Health and Development

Current child-focused initiatives include developing programs through the Prevention Research Center that prevent delinquency, depression, school failure and other childhood problems; fighting childhood obesity with projects in the Center for Childhood Obesity Research (examples include an innovative study that targets pregnant mothers, and another project that partners with Penn State's Center for Food Innovation). The college has recently co-hired, with the College of Medicine, a faculty member whose expertise is preventing tobacco use in children and youth. Moving forward, the college plans to make two hires in the area of immigrant children's health.

"The goals will not be easy to achieve, but they are within reach," said Crouter. "Our college is in a position to make a significant difference in the lives of people everywhere, by tackling some of the most critical health-related problems we face as humans today."

  • Nutrition research is an area in which Health and Human Development faculty influence healthy lifestyles.

    IMAGE: College of Health and Human Development

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated November 18, 2010