Cornell Population Program spans domestic and international issues.
Subject: Demographic surveys (Analysis)
Demographic surveys (Social aspects)
Social science research (Management)
Interdisciplinary research
Author: Hall, Sheri
Pub Date: 11/01/2008
Publication: Name: Human Ecology Publisher: Cornell University, Human Ecology Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Health; Science and technology; Social sciences Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2008 Cornell University, Human Ecology ISSN: 1530-7069
Issue: Date: Nov, 2008 Source Volume: 36 Source Issue: 2
Topic: Event Code: 290 Public affairs; 200 Management dynamics Computer Subject: Company business management
Geographic: Geographic Scope: United States Geographic Code: 1USA United States
Accession Number: 231021640
Full Text: What role do grandparents play in the lives of children in the United States today? How do advertisements for food products impact consumption and ultimately obesity in our society? Do poverty levels affect reproductive health among people living in Africa? How do older persons who move reestablish their social relationships, and how does this affect their health and well-being?


Faculty affiliated with the Cornell Population Program (CPP)--a universitywide multidisciplinary program with strong support from the College of Human Ecology (34 of the GPP affiliates are from the college) and spanning 16 Cornell departments--are studying these topics and dozens more.

The center acts as a hub for research connected to population trends, bringing together faculty to share ideas and providing access to resources including data sets, training in using statistical methodologies, and help with preparing and submitting grant proposals. It's an example of the college's efforts to promote multidisciplinary and intercollege initiatives.

"The idea is to break down barriers and encourage people from different academic backgrounds and areas of expertise to work together," said Alan Mathios, Rebecca Q. and James C. Morgan Dean of the College of Human Ecology. "I believe these collaborations are where the major breakthroughs happen."


The program received a major boost this year with a $1.15 million grant from the U.S. National Institutes of Health's Demographic and Behavioral Science Branch.

"It's a concrete step toward elevating Cornell's profile within the national demographic community," said H. Elizabeth Peters, director of the CPP and a professor of policy analysis and management. "And it's a validation of our excellent faculty, graduate students, and research."

The additional funding--awarded annually to a new program that shows promise of becoming a leading population research center--will also help bridge the worlds of theoretical and applied scholarship, said David Harris, Cornell's deputy provost and vice provost for social sciences.

"It's very exciting to have the opportunity to build on our demographic program and lend a new dimension to dozens of programs across campus," said Harris, who is on the CPP's executive board.

More than birth, death, and migration rates

The CPP was established in 2007 to encourage cross-disciplinary innovation, boost research funding, and improve interdisciplinary training. The center is housed at Cornell's Bronfenbrenner Life Course Center (BLCC) and has 71 faculty members and research associates from across campus.

In addition to the NTH grant, the CPP is funded by a seed grant from the Office of the Vice Provost for the Social Sciences, which includes support from the colleges of human ecology, agriculture and life sciences, arts and sciences, and the ILR School And the BLCC and CPP provide matching grants, cost sharing, and other financial and administrative services to support the research of CPP affiliates.

"We're bringing social science researchers from across the university to an intellectual home to spark collaborations that wouldn't otherwise happen," said Dan Lichter, director of the BLCC, director of the CPP's development core, a sociology professor, and the Ferris Family Professor of Policy Analysis and Management.

That means delving deeper than just the birth, death, and migration rates that are traditionally associated with the field of demographics, Peters explained.

"We start with measuring the basic descriptors of our population, but now it's more about understanding the impact of these trends on people's lives," she said. "So if you're looking at the aging of the population, what does that mean in terms of housing and the health care system and the workforce?"

In fact, many of the CPP's affiliates probably don't consider themselves demographers at all, said David Brown, professor of development sociology and associate director of the CPP.

"Quite a number of our affiliates don't identify themselves as demographers, they identify themselves as social scientists with an interest in how population trends affect and are affected by social and economic change," he said.

The program focuses on three broad areas: families and children, health behaviors and disparities, and poverty and inequality. For each of these areas, it spans both domestic and international issues.

"We have groups of researchers working in the developed country context, and different groups of researchers working in developing countries, often on overlapping issues," Peters said. "The population program brings them together and helps them benefit from the knowledge each has to offer."

Opening new doors for researchers

In addition to providing a social network, the CPP offers a wide variety of services that will ultimately improve the quality of social science research at Cornell and help the university secure additional funding.

"We're expecting that Cornell will submit a larger number of grant proposals focused on human population dynamics," Brown said. "By conducting more research and better research, Cornell is much more likely to have an impact on public policy discussions."

The CPP services are organized into four areas or "cores"--the administrative core, the computing core, the statistics core, and the development core.

The administrative core, led by Peters and Brown, organizes seminars and training sessions for CPP affiliates and helps researchers prepare grant proposals and manage grants.

The computing core is directed by William Block, director of the Cornell Institute for Social and Economic Research (CISER). It provides large-scale computational services, helps researchers manage statistical databases, and offers access to unique sets of demographic data including restricted-access census data only available at nine institutes across the nation.

"It's quite an advantage to have access to these large data sets while you're sitting right here in Ithaca," Block said. "The CPP is giving Cornell a focus on population data that we didn't have before, and that's going to open up new doors for dozens of researchers."

The statistical core is headed by Robert Strawderman, professor of statistics. This core aids in development and application of statistical methodologies appropriate for addressing the increasingly complex demographic questions being explored by population researchers, offers statistical workshops and consultation, and will help facilitate productive collaborations between CPP affiliates and statistics faculty.

And the development core, led by the BLCC's Lichter, provides seed grants and offers workshops to promote new grant proposals and helps young scholars develop the skills and knowledge they need to become the leading researchers of the future.

In addition, the program is in the process of developing a campuswide graduate minor in demography.

"We'll be training a whole new generation of population researchers," Peters said. "In the short term, they'll be able to assist faculty with research, which will open the door to new funding opportunities. And in the long term, they'll go out into the world with a greater understanding of how these population changes impact people's lives."

For more information:

William Block

David Brown

David Harris

Daniel Lichter

H. Elizabeth Peters

Robert Strawderman
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