Program to Train Interdisciplinary Educational Scientists Gets Under Way
by Joe Savrock (August 2009)
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Faculty from the Colleges of Education, Health and Human Development, and Liberal Arts are collaborating in a new interdisciplinary training program aimed at preparing the next generation of educational scientists.
Penn State’s Training Interdisciplinary Educational Scientists (TIES) program has been implemented to provide leadership for future educational scientists working with students who are at-risk for school adjustment problems and poor educational outcomes. The goal is to enhance the literacy and social/emotional learning opportunities of at-risk students.
Thomas W. Farmer, associate professor of special education in the College of Education, and Karen L. Bierman, distinguished professor of psychology in the College of Liberal Arts, are co-directors of the TIES program.
Three associate directors are providing administrative support, two from the College of Education: James DiPerna, associate professor of school psychology, will support the TIES seminar series; and Robert Stevens, associate professor of educational psychology, is arranging the program’s summer institutes. In addition, Edward Smith, senior research associate in the College of Health and Human Development, supports TIES methodology training.
“The goal of TIES is to prepare individuals who can work collaboratively and across disciplines to address key issues in education that reflect the complex contributions of behavioral, biological, cognitive, emotional, environmental, and sociocultural factors,” explained Farmer. “This includes ensuring that each participating fellow develops expertise in research design, measurement, and analytic approaches that corresponds with her or his own individualized program of study.”
Twenty fellows will be recruited into the TIES program. They will undergo core research training that emphasizes cluster randomized trials—experimental studies to evaluate interventions by taking into consideration the impact of multiple levels of influence including the community, school, and classroom on students’ school adjustment and achievement. The training will also emphasize management of the research process, grant writing, and applied research experiences. The fellows will participate in coursework, seminars, summer institutes, and research apprenticeships.
During the latter years of training, the fellows will actively engage in their own research and then develop a programmatic line of inquiry to launch them into their professional careers. Their scholarship is intended to expose them to cutting-edge work in literacy and social/emotional learning that will underscore the developmental interplay between these two critical domains of school adjustment.
The TIES program enlists more than 30 faculty from ten departments across the three participating colleges. The roster includes 17 members with expertise in literacy and social/emotional interventions as well as 14 members specializing in advanced research methods and statistics. This includes the design and analysis of cluster randomized trials.
TIES faculty are directing more than 40 federally funded research projects in literacy and social/emotional adjustment that are ongoing or that have recently completed the data collection phase and are available for analyses and dissemination. “These studies will be used as a primary component of fellows’ research apprenticeships and will provide opportunities for field-based research experiences as well as hands-on exposure to data analyses and the preparation of research papers for presentation at national conferences and publication in research journals,” explained Farmer.
The multiyear project is funded by the Institute of Education Sciences, which this year awarded predoctoral interdisciplinary research training to five universities: Penn State, Stanford University, Michigan State University, University of California–Berkeley, and the University of Washington.
Six Penn State research centers are supporting TIES activities: the Children, Youth, and Families Consortium; the Center for Human Development and Family Research in Diverse Contexts; the Child Study Center; the Methodology Center; the Prevention Research Center; and the Center for Educational and Developmental Sciences.
Farmer praised DiPerna and Stevens for their upfront coordination on the project. “They deserve the credit for initiating this effort and conceptualizing the general TIES framework,” he said. “If Jim and Bob had not done the initial work, we would have never gotten this off the ground.”