Tag Archives: cooperative extension

Karl Pillemer and Anthony Burrow

On April 25-26, eighteen Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) educators and executive directors attended an advanced Research Navigator Workshop at Cornell. The workshop was planned and facilitated by Karl Pillemer and Jennifer Tiffany.

College of Human Ecology faculty – Jane Mendle, Valerie Reyna, Nancy Wells, Tony Burrow, Gary Evans, and Rebecca Seguin – met with the group to present their “intellectual autobiographies” as researchers, describe current and future research projects, and work with the CCE educators to plan potential partnerships. The BCTR's John Eckenrode (director) and Debbie Sellers (director of research and evaluation) introduced the group to the center’s mission and resources.

Read the full story

By Sam Wolken
Reprinted from Cornell Chronicle, September 26, 2012

Julie Avrutine '15, majoring in human development in the College of Human Ecology, leads New York City teens through curricula designed to improve their decision-making about sexual health and healthy eating and fitness. Avrutine worked under human development professor Valerie Reyna and Cornell University Cooperative Extension New York City educators on the project, "Interventions for Risk Reduction and Avoidance in Adolescents."
- Mark Vorreuter

This past summer, 21 Cornell students tackled such problems as invasive stink bugs, lack of sexual education in inner-city neighborhoods and weeds on school grounds, working with faculty members and gaining research experience while touching the lives of New Yorkers through the Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) Summer Internship Program.

On Sept. 24, faculty, staff and community members gathered in Statler Hall to celebrate the accomplishments of the interns, each of whom presented a three-panel poster summarizing his or her research and discussed the internship experience.

Alexandra Gensemer '13 joined Nancy Wells, associate professor of design and environmental analysis, to explore a ground-up approach to school nutrition called Healthy Gardens, Healthy Youth. In collaboration with three other universities, participants in the project planted more than 50 gardens in schools in Arkansas, Iowa, New York and Washington. The program provides nutritious food to elementary school students while educating them about health and gardening. Gensemer collected and analyzed data on the energy and well-being of the children and assisted with planting gardens.

Ariel Hart '13, left, a biology and society major in Human Ecology, leads a team of Cornell students at an in-home visit with a Tompkins County family for a project directed by Gary Evans, professor of human development and of design and environmental analysis, to assess how environmental factors influence child development. - Mark Vorreuter

Susan Weibman '13 spent her second consecutive summer studying the marmorated stink bug in New York with Peter Jentsch, senior extension associate. Weibman explained that the stink bug, an agricultural pest, first entered the United States in 1998 aboard a Chinese cargo ship and has spread rapidly since. Weibman measured populations of stink bugs near orchards in Ulster County. Her results showed a dramatic increase in the New York stink bug population over the past year. She also researched natural methods of curbing the stink bug population.

To research the exercise habits and cultural identity of immigrant children in rural areas, Roxana Orellana '13 spent her summer in Wayne County. She worked with children between the ages of 10 and 14 on a project led by senior lecturer Pilar Parra called Healthy Bodies and Healthy Minds: Cultivating Identity With Immigrant Children. Through the project, children were taught about exercise, nutrition and programs available to them for staying active. Orellana focused on fostering a sense of belonging and pride in the community among the children.

Alexandra Gensemer '13, majoring in design and environmental analysis, aided DEA associate professor Nancy Wells in "Healthy Gardens, Health Youth," a national project funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to study how school gardens might enhance educational outcomes and encourage children to eat more fruits and vegetables. - Mark Vorreuter

Many students concluded that the most rewarding aspect of the summer was connecting with the people whose lives their work affected. Julie Avrutine '13 taught a sexual health curriculum in New York City and remarked, "The best part was that I thought that I knew everything about the program, but in reality when you go into different neighborhoods and you see all different phases of adolescence and what they can teach you, it really is phenomenal."

For some of the interns, the experience didn't end with the beginning of the new school year. Orellana, as well as others, will rejoin her project working full time following graduation.

CCE has offered internships combining research and community involvement since 2007. CCE partners with faculty and staff from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, the College of Human Ecology and the ILR School to apply Cornell's resources to state and national needs.

Sam Wolken '14 is a student intern for the Cornell Chronicle.

By Rachel Sumner


This summer I taught the Thinking Like a Scientist class as part of the 4H Career Explorations program. The Thinking Like a Scientist curriculum was designed by my advisor Wendy Williams, professor of human development in the College of Human Ecology. It consists of a number of modules covering science topics that are of interest to teens. As the instructor of this summer’s 3-day session, I chose which topics we’d cover, presented the material to students, and led discussions with the 24 students in this year’s class.

 After teaching this class last year, someone told me that the way the class goes totally depends on the group of students in the class, and I was surprised to learn just how true this is: Last year's group enjoyed thinking about future experiments that could be done, this year's group preferred discussing relevant experiments that have already been done. One year's group liked breaking into smaller groups for discussions, while the other year's group would rather have a discussion all together. One group of students seemed to enjoy building on each other’s ideas, and the other group reveled in respectfully challenging each other’s ideas.

I think one of the best parts of the Thinking Like a Scientist class is its flexibility. Taking part in this class gives students the tools to think about topics that matter to them in a scientific way. Topics like bullying and teen suicide, which have been in the news frequently but are not part of the Thinking Like a Scientist curriculum, were clearly on students' minds. Having the flexibility to discuss these important topics and encourage students to approach them in a scientific way seemed to be beneficial for the students.

The students' favorite part of this year's Thinking Like a Scientist class was probably having lunch with graduate students from different science and engineering fields. They had the opportunity to ask questions about applying to college, deciding what to study, and what kinds of things you get to do as a psychologist, physicist, electrical engineer, or natural resource scientist. Taking part in this discussion reminded me how teens are often equally enthusiastic and nervous about the future, but it’s heartening to see them grapple with serious questions – about science, about their own lives, and about ways to improve the lives of others.

 Rachel Sumner is a graduate student in human development in the College of Human Ecology.

Ted Boscia
Reprinted from Cornell Chronicle, March 15, 2012


Professor Valerie Reyna said that teens take dangerous risks because they believe "it's worth the risk" for the perceived awards, speaking on March 13 to New York City media.

Teenagers take risks that might give most adults pause -- speeding through a red light, binge drinking or having unprotected sex.

Contrary to popular belief, such behaviors are often not impulsive and don't occur because teens think they're invulnerable. Instead, says Cornell human development professor Valerie Reyna, her research shows that adolescents are aware of the potential dangers of their actions, but make calculated choices to "play the odds" because they believe "it's worth the risk" for the perceived rewards.

Sharing the latest evidence on adolescent brain development, Reyna punctured this and other myths for reporters at an Inside Cornell media luncheon March 13 at Cornell's ILR Conference Center in New York City.

Reyna's studies have revealed that adolescents tend to reason and assess risk via "verbatim-based analysis" -- where the mind focuses on precise details and facts and runs a complex comparison of the costs and benefits of a decision. Adults, on the other hand, more often use "gist-based intuition" to immediately understand the bottom-line dangers inherent in an action. Teen drivers may be inclined to race to beat a train, knowing there's a high probability they'll make it; adults would automatically sense that's a bad idea, realizing that it could be deadly.

"The calculation that teens make may be technically correct, but it ignores the categorical possibility of disaster," said Reyna of the College of Human Ecology. "If people are weighing the odds in potentially catastrophic situations, they're already on the wrong track."

To help vulnerable youths make smarter choices about sexual activity, nutrition and fitness, Reyna and Cornell Cooperative Extension partners are applying her research in a new extension-funded risk reduction project. Working with 189 youth ages 14-19 in Broome County, Ithaca, Queens, Harlem, Brooklyn and the Bronx, extension educators are teaching a gist-enhanced version of the Reducing the Risk curriculum identified as effective by the Centers for Disease Control.

Reyna developed two interventions -- one to reduce risk of sexually transmitted diseases and teenage pregnancy and another to promote healthy eating and physical activity -- that teach teens how to apply gist thinking when temptation strikes. Through 14 one-hour lessons, students learn to quickly and automatically recognize hazardous situations and how to reflexively recall and apply their core values to sidestep such dangers.

"Even teens with strongly held values do not always retrieve those values when they need them," Reyna said. "They retrieve them later -- that's called regret. In risky situations, teens need to respond the way troops in battle do to gunfire: Don't reflect, just react and follow your values to get through."

"The students really responded to [the approach] and said how they had learned many of these things in health class but not in this way," said Eduardo Gonzalez Jr., a Cornell University Cooperative Extension-New York City (CUCE-NYC) educator who has taught the curriculum and who also attended the media session two other CUCE-NYC educators.

Initial findings support Gonzalez's impressions: Compared with control groups, students educated about gist principles were more likely to limit their sexual intentions and behaviors and number of partners, Reyna said.

Reyna also spoke about "The Adolescent Brain: Learning, Reasoning and Decision Making," a new book she edited that collects research from neuroscientists, educators and psychologists on how the teen mind develops.

The stakes, she said, are incredibly high when it comes to risky decision-making by teens. A wrong choice could lead to death or destroyed potential.

"But teens are not fated to negative outcomes from risky behaviors," she said. "We can give them strategies to avoid risk and turn around their life trajectories."

View the video of Reyna's Inside Cornell presentation

Ted Boscia is assistant director of communications for the College of Human Ecology.

By Jennifer Tiffany

Jennifer Tiffany


From improving access to healthy foods to reducing risk-taking by adolescents, College of Human Ecology students will work with faculty researchers throughout the summer to address pressing concerns in communities across New York thanks to the wide reach of Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE). Established in 2007 to support Cornell’s land-grant mission, the CCE Summer Internship Program enables students to discover and contribute to faculty research while also engaging in outreach and gaining a hands-on understanding of the university’s extension system.

This summer, 22 students will assist faculty members from all five academic departments in the College of Human Ecology, as well as researchers in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (see details on Human Ecology projects below). Among the topics in the College of Human Ecology: the promotion of healthy food and activity choices, dissemination of evidence-based risk reduction programs, developing an evidence base for new and adapted interventions, using distance learning to promote use of personal protective clothing, learning how the public views congestion pricing for traffic reduction, and early childhood factors underlying the income-related achievement gap. Multiple projects will focus on improving access to healthy foods, particularly for school lunch programs. The initiative has been embraced widely by Human Ecology faculty members, according to Dean Alan Mathios. “It is especially encouraging that faculty with and without out extension appointments are participating,” he said.

The students will engage with CCE associations and communities in nearly every part of the state -- from New York City to Western New York. The internships are an important way to build and strengthen connections between community-based CCE associations and campus-based faculty – ties that help support the translational research mission of the college’s Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research (BCTR). For the College of Human Ecology, the internships are closely aligned with the college’s tri-partite mission of teaching, research, and outreach.

Faculty report that the internships serve to initiate or continue a partnership with a Cornell Cooperative Extension association and the communities it serves, while at the same time engaging undergraduate students in ongoing research projects. For students, the internships provide an experience that helps define long-term goals and aspirations while also contributing to their undergraduate experience at Cornell. For some, it is a transformative experience that inspires them down a new and unexplored path.

We are grateful to have support for the CHE internships provided by the College of Human Ecology and the CCE Director’s Innovation Fund, as well as gifts from Cindy Noble and Elizabeth Poit Cernosia, who supports three internships for "students who focus their research on the health and well-being of children from infants to teenagers."

In the fall, students report on their experiences at an annual CCE Internship poster presentation and reception. It is exciting to learn about their findings and how their projects have deepened connections between Cornell, CCE, and the communities we serve. The public is welcome to attend this showcase, to be held from 5-7 p.m., Sept. 24. In addition, the BCTR will sponsor a roundtable discussion for student and faculty participants in the internship program at the beginning of the fall semester.


2012 Summer Internship Projects

Testing Educational Resources for Diverse Audiences
Faculty:  Charlotte Coffman (FSAD)
CCE Location:  Ontario County

Adopting Healthy Habits
Faculty:  Jamie Dollahite (DNS)
CCE Location:  Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence Counties

Parent Education in and around Tompkins County
Faculty:  Rachel Dunifon (PAM)
CCE Location:  Tompkins and adjacent counties

The PROSPER Partnership Model in New York State: An evidence-based delivery system for preventing risky behaviors in youth, promoting positive youth development, and strengthening families
Faculty:  John Eckenrode (HD)
CCE Location:  Schuyler or Livingston County

Early Origins of Income Achievement Gap
Faculty:  Gary Evans (DEA) and Marianella Casasola (HD)
CCE Location:  Cortland, Tompkins and Yates Counties

Public Acceptance of Congestion Pricing of Transportation
Faculty:  Rick Geddes (PAM)
Location:  Cornell’s Community and Regional Development Institute

Research for Continuous Improvement of 4-H
Faculty:  Stephen Hamilton (HD)
CCE Location:  Erie, Genesee, Wyoming, and Orleans Counties

Interventions for Risk Reduction and Avoidance in Adolescents
Faculty:  Valerie Reyna (HD)
CCE Location:  NYC and Broome County

Healthy Gardens, Healthy Youth
Faculty:  Nancy Wells (DEA)
CCE Location:  NYC, Suffolk, Wayne, Monroe, Schenectady, Rockland, and Delaware Counties

Developing Strategies for Fruit and Vegetable Distribution from Farms to Schools in Wayne County
Faculty:  Jennifer Wilkins (DNS)
CCE Location:  Wayne County

Jennifer Sarah Tiffany, PhD, is associate director for outreach and extension in the College of Human Ecology and director of outreach and community engagement in the Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research.

By Stephen Hamilton


Over the past two decades mentoring programs have become a centerpiece of youth development. One source of their attraction is that many adults think fondly of mentors they had and are pleased to be able to “pay it forward.” Another is that it sounds like an easy and inexpensive way to open new opportunities for disadvantaged children and youth. While the first is a sound rationale, the second, sadly, is not completely true.

Mentoring programs require substantial investments to work well. Mentoring stands out among youth development programs and practices for the number and depth of evaluations that have been conducted, enough to yield two formal “metaanalyses,” or statistical syntheses of multiple evaluations. (The most recent is by DuBois, Portillo, Rhodes, Silverthorn, & Valentine, 2011.) These have demonstrated consistent positive effects across a wide range of youth development outcomes. The effect sizes are modest, as is true for nearly all program evaluations, but the range of impact is impressive. DuBois and his colleagues (2011, Figure 2) found positive effects on the following broad categories of outcomes: attitudinal/motivational; social/relational; psychological/emotional; conduct problems; academic/school; and physical health.

Mentoring programs exist because the young people who most need mentors are least likely to have them. One of the ways in which parents pass advantages on to their children is by means of their “social capital,” the personal connections that help them achieve their goals. Children whose parents are better educated and better paid are naturally introduced to other adults whose knowledge and social positions make them helpful advisors and advocates. Children whose parents lack those advantages themselves also have fewer opportunities to get to know adults who can help them in these ways.

Consider a 13-year old girl who thinks she might like to become an engineer. A father who is a lawyer probably knows some engineers from his college class, his professional life, church, his fitness club, or the neighborhood. And he can easily ask an engineer acquaintance to talk with his daughter about the work and the kind of education it takes. A girl of the same age growing up in a neighborhood where many people are unemployed and none are professionals may have no idea what an engineer is or does and, if she has, no access to one or to anyone else who can mentor her about a career path. This is precisely the kind of inequality that mentoring programs are designed to overcome.

But it is important to realize that mentoring programs were invented to create and maintain relationships between young people and adults outside the family that in most cases occur naturally, without benefit of a program. When asked about adults outside the family who were important to them in their youth, few adults name a program mentor; they identify instead a teacher who took a special interest in them, a coach, a religious leader, a 4-H club leader. I have met several 4-H educators who have told me they chose their career because of their admiration for a 4-H agent they knew when they were young, which is testimony to mentoring. “Natural” or “informal” mentoring, meaning mentoring outside of a mentoring program, has not been well studied but two studies in particular have yielded hints about its potential. Erikson, McDonald, and Elder (2009) found that disadvantaged youth who had a mentor at school were nearly as likely to enroll in college as their advantaged classmates. McDonald and Lambert (2011) analyzed the data from the same source, the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health), and found that mentored youth also got better jobs after high school.

One limitation of mentoring programs is that simply calling someone a mentor does not make him/her one. An adult is only a young person’s mentor when the young person regards her or him as a mentor. One source of power in natural mentoring, I suspect, is that mentor and mentee choose one other. No matchmaker is involved. When mentoring programs work it is because the matchmaking worked (as it can in marriages). But failed matches reduce the impact of mentoring programs because their results (which can be negative) are averaged in with the effects of matches that worked.

While it is entirely appropriate that 4-H sponsor mentoring programs (as we do with support from the U. S. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention), most of the mentoring 4-Hers receive is not formally designated as such; it happens in the context of the regular 4-H program. Recognition of this natural phenomenon can also lead to its cultivation. Mary Agnes Hamilton and I (Hamilton & Hamilton, 2004) have made the case that developmentally beneficial mentoring relationships are likely to arise when youth and adults jointly engage in goal-directed activities. 4-H projects fit that bill. We have also observed that young people are attracted to adults who convey enthusiasm and are skilled, just the kinds of adults who are likely to participate in 4-H activities, whether as club leaders or short-term advisors for special activities.

What would we do differently if we took seriously the idea of 4-H as a context for natural mentoring? I don’t know. I have some ideas, but my motivation for writing this is to find out what educators think. Volunteers will have some good ideas too. Here are some thoughts in the form of assertions that require refinement and testing.

  • Consider whether what makes the biggest impact on youth development in 4-H may not be the content or the activity but the relationships.
  • Encourage 4-H leaders to be open to forming relationships that extend beyond group activities. Adults may intentionally limit the nature and depth of their involvement with youth because they do not want to overstep boundaries.
  • Give 4-H leaders training and support in how to build and maintain mentoring relationships. Mentoring is a natural relationship but some people are better at it than others and some of what the “naturals” do can be learned.
  • Give young people explicit guidance about what mentors are, why they are important, how to identify a prospective mentor, and how to ask an adult to be a mentor, or ask one adult to ask another on the youth’s behalf. Mentoring is a twoway relationship. Some young people are mentor magnets: adults are drawn to them. Other youth could learn to perform their part as mentees more actively.
  • Work with parents to make sure they are open to and supportive of mentoring relationships their children might form with other adults. Mentors are sometimes thought of as substitute parents, but the research is clear that mentoring has its influence through parents, not despite them (Rhodes, Grossman, & Resch, 2000).

Parent involvement is related to a critical concern about mentoring. The tragic events at Penn State are a reminder that predators can spot vulnerability in the very young people who most need mentoring and then exploit them. Background checks have become a distasteful but essential part of youth programs, and especially mentoring programs. To the extent that 4-H encourages the formation of close relationships between young people and adults outside their families, those adults, whether club leaders or in some other role, should undergo background checks. This procedure helps shield the organization and it offers some protection to young people, but considering that the vast majority of child sexual abusers are family members (30%) or people known to the family (60%) and that most offenses are never reported, background checks are hardly adequate. More important is making sure that young people have someone they can confide in when someone they trust makes them feel uncomfortable. Fortunately abuse is rare and abuse by someone a young person regards as a mentor is unlikely. Making the benefits of mentoring more widely available requires us to see how such a relationship fits into the set of relationships in a young person’s life and how those relationships can be mutually reinforcing.


DuBois, D.L., Portillo, N., Rhodes, J.E., Silverthorn, N., & Valentine, J.C. (2011). How effective are mentoring programs for youth? A systematic assessment of the evidence. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 12(2): 57-91.

Erickson L.D., McDonald S., & Elder Jr. G.H. (2009). Informal mentors and education: Complementary or compensatory resources? Sociology of Education, 82(4), 344-367.

Hamilton, S.F., & Hamilton, M.A. (2004). Contexts for mentoring: Adolescent-adult relationships in workplaces and communities. In R.M. Lerner & L. Steinberg (Eds.) Handbook of adolescent psychology. New York: Wiley.

McDonald, S., & Lambert, J. (2011). The long arm of mentoring: Informal adolescent mentoring and employment outcomes in young adulthood. Unpublished paper prepared for the U.S. Department of Labor.

Rhodes, J. E., Grossman, J. B., & Resch, N. L. (2000). Agents of change: Pathways through which mentoring relationships influence adolescents’ academic adjustment. Child Development, 71, 1662–1671.

By Karene Booker
Reprinted from the Cornell Chronicle, October 24, 2011

4-H participants

Students learning about careers in natural resources participate in mushroom identification at the 4-H Career Explorations program on campus this past summer.

To strengthen its ties to research, oversight of 4-H -- New York state's largest youth development program -- has moved to Cornell's new Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research from Cornell Cooperative Extension. The move will provide new opportunities for teaching and research and help to improve 4-H programs.

"Research is critical to the mission of preparing youth for adulthood," said Stephen Hamilton, professor of human development and associate director for youth development at the Bronfenbrenner Center. "In the translational research model, science informs program content, how it is delivered and how results are evaluated. In turn, practice informs research by identifying new questions that research could address.

"By bringing 4-H even closer to the university, our aim is to ensure that programming decisions are based on the best evidence of what young people need and what programs are most likely to meet those needs. Some of the evidence will be found in the research literature. Some will be generated by research conducted by Cornell faculty and staff working collaboratively with 4-H educators, volunteers, youth and other stakeholders."

4-H is rooted in science. The program originated at the land-grant universities at the turn of the 20th century to introduce such improved practices as hybrid seed corn, milk sanitation and safer home canning procedures. Researchers found young people were more open than adults to the new ideas and technologies and would share their successes with their parents and communities. These innovative programs for rural youth gave rise to the first 4-H clubs. Soon 4-H became a national youth development program run by the land-grant universities and the Cooperative Extension system.

In New York state in 2009-10, almost 17,000 volunteers and 113,000 youth from urban, suburban and rural communities participated in 4-H. State staff in the Bronfenbrenner Center guide programs and provide support for 4-H educators in each county's Cornell Cooperative Extension office. 4-H provides hands-on learning and mentoring through community clubs, camp settings, after-school and school-based projects that emphasize science, engineering and technology, citizenship and healthy lifestyles. Learning by doing is a fundamental 4-H ideal intended to encourage young people to experiment, innovate and think independently, and to help them develop leadership, citizenship and life skills.

"Our goal is to link the extensive array of county-level programs with the latest research on youth development," said Valerie Adams, New York 4-H youth development program leader. "In an era where such programs compete intensely for funding and for time -- both on the part of kids who participate and the adult volunteers and staff who run them -- we need to be able to show that these projects make a difference. With 4-H as a part of the Bronfenbrenner Center, we have a wonderful opportunity to provide the type of support our county educators need to do just that."

The Bronfenbrenner Center, based in the College of Human Ecology, formed in July 2011 when the Family Life Development Center and the Bronfenbrenner Life Course Center merged.

Karene Booker is an extension support specialist in the Department of Human Development.

Related Links:
Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research
College of Human Ecology
New York State 4-H

By Karene Booker

Anna Zhu practices teaching an experimental curriculum

Nine undergraduate students from the College of Human Ecology serving as extension interns spent their summer engaged in everything from teaching teens how to make better decisions to playing games with toddlers in order to answer key child development questions. Four of the internships were led by faculty in the department of human development.

The interns worked with faculty and community collaborators, particularly Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) associations, on creative projects that embody the college’s research, education and outreach missions and benefit communities throughout New York State. “CCE internships provide excellent opportunities for undergraduate students to learn first-hand about the ways research, education, and outreach complement each other,” said Jennifer Tiffany, associate director for extension and outreach in the College of Human Ecology.

Distenfeld poster

Shelby Distenfeld's presentation poster

Human development major Shelby Distenfeld ’13, traveled to Tioga and Seneca counties to recruit rural and low-income children for a study about how factors such as income and parenting influence children’s concept of choice. The project, under the direction of Tamar Kushnir, assistant professor of human development, “was very rewarding because I was able to play a role in many aspects of research from administrative duties and participant recruitment to collecting data,” Distenfeld said. “The opportunity to work with the mothers and children and see first-hand the differences in development among the children was eye opening.”

“An important lesson I learned is how research is actually conducted and how to successfully run a research project,” said Hemavattie Ramtahal ‘13. As a human development major, she dedicated her summer to investigating the relationship between poverty, emotion, and cognitive development in young children with Marianella Casasola, associate professor of human development. Ramtahal worked in Tompkins, Cortland, and Yates counties recruiting families for the study, conducted the experimental tasks or “baby games” with the children, trained other research assistants and analyzed data.

“My burning curiosity about risky decision making started in high school,” said Anna Zhu ’14.  She wondered why teens make bad choices that jeopardize their health, future, or lives, and how to help them. A Human Biology, Health & Society major, she tackled these questions as part of her internship with Valerie Reyna, professor of human development. Zhu taught the experimental risk reduction curriculum in CCE’s 4-H Career Exploration program, prepared data for analysis, and worked with local partners and extension staff in New York City and Broome counties to administer follow-up surveys. “From this experience,” she said “I’ve already gained valuable skills in teaching, statistical analysis, and social science research – tools I expect to use in my career in public health.”

Sarah Dephtereos ’13 spent her summer exploring how 4-H educators use research. A policy analysis and management major, she worked with Steve Hamilton, human development professor and associate director for youth development at the Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research, to review the literature on research utilization and draft a guide to youth development websites for 4-H educators. Her review identified common problems practitioners experience with accessing research. “I saw these issues reflected in the youth development websites I assessed,” Dephtereos said.”

Other extension internships in the college included teaching new immigrants ways to maintain a healthy diet, creating gardens at low-income schools, developing a high tech fabric class for girls, piloting nutrition and parenting education program, and researching child custody decisions in low-income families.

Information for faculty about applying for the 2012 CCE internship program will be available in December.

Karene Booker is an extension support specialist in the department of human development.

Related websites:
Jennifer Tiffany:
CCE Summer Internship Program


By John McKain
Reprinted from Cornell Chronicle, July 5, 2011

Valerie Adams will become New York's 4-H Youth Development Program leader and assistant director of Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) as of Aug. 29.

Adams will plan, deliver and evaluate 4-H, the youth component of CCE, supported by staff in 57 counties and New York City and thousands of volunteer leaders across the state. She will link extensive county-level programs with the research-based resources of Cornell's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and College of Human Ecology.

A former 4-H educator in Philadelphia, she also has worked with Junior Achievement, Children's Defense Fund Freedom School, 21st Century Community Learning Center, Center for Youth Development at the United Way of Southeastern Pennsylvania and as a lecturer in Namibia.

She currently serves as research coordinator for the Preventing Long-term Anger and Aggression in Youth Project at the University of Pennsylvania, where she integrates developmental theories into the design and application of culturally relevant interventions.

Adams said, "I am excited about serving as the NYS 4-H leader because it provides a wonderful opportunity to work with a dynamic group of people -- researchers, educators, volunteers and administrators who are passionate and vested in supporting and creating programs that result in positive youth development programming for 4-Hers across the state."

Adams received her B.S. from Philadelphia University, master's degree in urban education from Temple University and Ph.D. in interdisciplinary studies and human development from the University of Pennsylvania. She has done additional graduate study in South Africa.

Adams, said CCE Director Helene Dillard, "is clearly suited to advance the mission of Cornell Cooperative Extension and our 4-H youth development programs. Her history of moving innovative research into on-the-ground programs, and her first-hand experience working with kids in diverse settings, will make her a real asset to our programs, our educators and volunteers, and all the youth in New York who participate in 4-H."

With Adams' appointment, 4-H will relocate to the new Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research. Formed by the merger of the Family Life Development Center and the Bronfenbrenner Life Course Center, the new center in the College of Human Ecology will bridge the gap between research and practice. 4-H will be at the vanguard of using research on youth development and learning to guide practices and programs. Practitioners, youth and other stakeholders will also engage in evaluation and other forms of research.

"Valerie is an advocate for 4-H and is highly qualified to advance youth development programs across the state," said Steve Hamilton, associate director for youth development at the Bronfenbrenner Center. "With her background and expertise, Valerie adds tremendous depth to the programs, and we look forward to a future of continued improvement."

With more than 6 million youth members, 4-H is the largest out-of-school youth organization in the United States. 4-H has been enriching the lives of youth and their families since the beginning of the 20th century. CCE staff members lead 4-H programs in nearly every county and city in New York state.

John McKain is assistant dean for communications in the College of Human Ecology.

Related Links:
New York State 4-H
College of Human Ecology

By Rachel Sumner

“Maybe there are just too many of us trying to send messages with our minds at the same time,” suggested one student after our group’s third unsuccessful attempt to demonstrate the existence of Extrasensory perception (ESP). “That’s a great hypothesis,” I remarked, “How could we test that?”

This foray into the paranormal was part of a workshop on Thinking Like a Scientist, offered at the 4-H Career Explorations Conference. Thinking Like a Scientist, developed by Wendy M. Williams, professor in the department of human development, is an extension education program designed to help kids explore the science behind topics that interest them, such as ESP, lying, and self-esteem. Students are encouraged to develop hypotheses, seek out facts instead of opinions, consider previous research, and think about how science and scientific findings are related to real-world situations. So many science courses focus on content. The focus of this program is the process of scientific inquiry itself.

During one lesson about the science of smiling, students investigated this everyday behavior from a scientific perspective. With a level of creativity and curiosity that I’d come to expect from them after our two days in the classroom, they brainstormed potential support for a number of hypotheses about gender differences in smiling. Their suggestions ranged from “Girls have more to worry about and guys don’t really take things seriously,” to “Girls get to sleep in more and…they watch more soap operas, no offense.” Students were drawing on their own experience of the world and thinking about how or why their experience might be similar to or different from a broader pattern of experience that might be revealed by science and research.

Teaching the Thinking Like a Scientist course was a wonderful chance for me to share my enthusiasm for the rigors of research with these young students. Watching them struggle through defining a term or refining each other’s ideas for future research reminded me of my own introduction to science in college. “Thinking like a scientist” has since become the way I think about pretty much everything and has set me on the trajectory that led me here, one year into a PhD program in Human Development. My advisors, Wendy M. Williams, Stephen Ceci, and Steven Hamilton, continue to nourish and broaden my enthusiasm for exploring the world and solving problems by using research and scientific process.

Rachel Sumner is pursuing her PhD in Human Development in the College of Human Ecology at Cornell University. She is interested in conducting research on gender and racial achievement gaps in education and ways in which those disparities can be eliminated.