[MUSIC PLAYING] JOHN ECKENRODE: This is a great turnout. Thank you for coming. My name, for those of you I didn't get to meet yet, my name's John Eckenrode. I'm the director of the Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research. I'm welcoming you today to our annual open house and reception, which, in past years, was just a reception, but this year we decided to do something a little bit different. So thanks to everyone for coming and helping participate in this event.
Are any of the Bronfenbrenners here? I didn't look in the back. Did anybody come? Don't see them. I was hoping Lisa could come, but I don't see her here yet.
So this year, we decided to add a little bit of content to our usual reception. So we're really looking forward to that. I wanted to thank everyone who had some hand in today's event, especially Patty Thayer who did all the logistical arrangements. Thank you, Patty.
I also want to thank our panelists, who will be introduced to you shortly. But I wanted to thank them for taking time out of their busy schedule to help us reflect on Urie's life and legacy here at Cornell.
We thought the timing was right to do this kind of event, this kind of panel, because, one, as a country, we're celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Head Start Program. And there's a little poster in the back for those of you who want to learn a little bit more about Urie's connection to the Head Start Program.
But Urie was a very prominent figure at that time, including congressional testimony and so forth. So he's considered one of the co-founders of the Head Start Program. So that's one reason we wanted to, this year, pay some special attention to his legacy.
We also are starting the university's sesquicentennial celebration, which the college, obviously, and the Center and all the units on campus will be very involved in. I see Alan is here. Alan Matthews is very involved with the college's preparations for the sesquicentennial.
Well, as you'll hear, Urie was a seminal figure at Cornell as not only a researcher, but as a teacher. And we actually have, I think, today here some of Urie's former students. Is any former Urie student here? If you want to stand up? People that actually took classes from Urie or worked with him?
And then I think, thirdly, a little sadly, actually, we note, as some of us old-timers note from time to time, that the current cohorts of students, and even faculty and staff that come into the university, and even into the college, or even into human development, don't know much about Urie Bronfenbrenner, or maybe you never even heard of Urie Bronfenbrenner, which we think is a sad sort of commentary.
So part of what we want to do with this is to help rectify that knowledge gap a little bit by introducing Urie and get them curious about Urie and his work, especially for our younger students and our new students and new faculty and staff.
So I hope you enjoy the panel today and please stay afterwards. We'll have a nice reception. If your schedule permits, stay and visit with friends and make some new friends. And we hope you can do that. Now, in a minute, I'm going to turn the podium over or turn the mic over to Steve Hamilton, Professor Steve Hamilton, who many of you know, who will introduce and moderate this conversation.
Many of you know Steve. But let me just take this opportunity to briefly recognize Steve for his years of service at Cornell and to the Center and for the major impact he has had on the field of youth development. I do this here because this is Steve's last year as an active Cornell faculty member.
He will be retiring from Cornell at the end of the academic year, not to rest on his laurels or sit back and not do anything, but actually he has a very exciting road ahead of him. He will be moving to San Diego with Mary Agnes, and he will be taking over as president of a brand-new graduate school of education called the High Tech High Grad School of Education.
So this is an exciting new venture for Steve, and we're very happy for him. This is a great opportunity for him professionally and personally since they just happen to be in the same city as their son Peter and three granddaughters, not that there will be any pull of that in anything having to do with the decision-making.
We don't have time today to really do justice to Steve's many contributions, but I think we'll find an opportunity through us later in the year to do that. But I wanted to use this gathering to begin that process of thanking Steve and wishing him and Mary Agnes well for their transition to this exciting new stage of their lives. So thank you, Steve, for everything you've done for us.
I'll turn it over to Steve.
STEPHEN HAMILTON: Thank you very much, John. One of the reasons we named the Center for Translational Research after Urie Bronfenbrenner was because he exemplified the process of translating research to non-researchers and specifically into policy. Once when he was testifying before a Senate committee, one of the senators asked him, Professor Bronfenbrenner, in all of your many studies, what have you learned it takes to make a well-functioning human being, and settled back to listen to a lecture.
And Urie said, "Somebody's got to be crazy about the kid," and stopped. And that kind of typifies his ability to encapsulate. And think about it for a while. I mean, he got it. He said somebody. He didn't specify who it had to be. He got a lot of what we know about what's critical about human development and expressed it in a way that people could understand and remember.
At his first retirement, he had two, there was a panel of people and someone referred to his natural ability to communicate with policymakers. And Urie, again typical of him, jumped up-- he didn't just listen to people-- jumped up and said, no, no, no, it wasn't natural. I worked at it.
Julie Richmond, Julius Richmond, who had been Assistant Secretary of Health, later Surgeon General and one of the co-founders of Head Start, he said, Julie Richmond coached me in how to do that. I worked hard in figuring out how to communicate with policymakers. And it was an important reminder, and Gary may actually talk about this in his teaching.
Urie was a musician as well as a scholar. He was a dual major when he was an undergraduate at Cornell in music and psychology. And it was a reminder that those things that seem easiest are those that are most practiced.
And those were the two things that I thought I would share with you as an introduction to this distinguished panel, whom I am not going to introduce to you. Please go on the website if you'd like to know more about them because I could spend the next hour telling you about their accomplishments. I'm going to have them go in order of seniority at Cornell, which means the amount of time that they had to spend with Urie, and start with Steve Ceci.
STEPHEN CECI: Thanks, Steve. And thanks for inviting me. I came to Cornell in 1980, and Urie had just published his book, The Ecology of Human Development. And he and I began what turned out to be a multi-decade collaboration, but it was more than a collaboration. I mean, I loved Urie. Urie was like a father to me. And like my own father, he drove me crazy. I wish we had a lot of time because I could share some stories that, in retrospect, are funny. But at the time, they really, really drove me crazy.
And I'll tell you just one of those at the end. But for now, let me just say, soon after I arrived at Cornell-- I had come here, at the time, Steve, I don't know if you remember, but I was a fairly traditional, experimental, developmental psychologist. I worked in a laboratory. I did experiments studying kids' memory and how it unfolded. And I shared with Urie some findings at the time, and I just brought two with me to show you. I'll give you some sense of how he enlarged my vision of human development.
The slide that's on the screen is a problem-solving experiment, where kids come into the lab, and there's a monitor and there's a geometric shape in the middle of the screen. And it's either a square, circle, or a triangle. And these squares, circles, triangles are either large or small. They're either dark-colored or light-colored.
And I'd written algorithms that drove these events. So if you hit the space bar-- say there was a large, dark triangle in the middle, it would move somewhere on the screen. And the next trial, maybe there was a small, white circle. And if you hit the space bar, it moves somewhere on the screen.
So a really simple algorithm might say something like, if it's a circle, it goes upwards. If it's a triangle, it goes downwards. If it's a rectangle, it stays in the center plane. If it's dark-colored, it goes a long distance. If it's light-colored, a short distance. If it's large, it goes to the right. If it's small, it goes to the left. And you can have a simple additive algorithm that just combines those, and it would dictate where on the screen the thing would go.
And so we asked the children, or I asked the children, to place a cursor with a joystick on the screen where they thought the event would go and then hit the space bar and see how close they came. And if you look at that magenta bar on the bottom, even after 750 trials kids weren't very good in terms of screen pixels from where they thought the event would end up and where it really ended up. So hundreds of trials later, they're just marginally better than chance.
And I shared this with Urie and he said, well, it's so disembedded from their lives. I mean, what do you make of that? And I said, well, it seems like they have a deficit in multi-causal reasoning at this age. And he says, well, I'm not prepared to go there yet. He said, why don't you add some context to the task. And I said, well, you know, like what? And he said, well, let's make it into a video game.
And so that's what we did, and it became a we. And the yellow bar shows you what happens when you do the same thing, but now instead of geometric shapes it's a bird, a bee, and a butterfly. It's large or small, dark or light. And instead of a cursor, it's a net, a butterfly net, and you place it on the screen where you think the bird, bee, or butterfly is going to terminate. And if you catch it, you get points, and there's sound effects and so on.
And you can see after 200 and some trials, kids have got it. You see that inflection point, and they go right up to very high levels. And this is actually a really complex algorithm that I have on there. For the simple additive ones, kids were close to 100% accurate. And even on a curvilinear function like this, they still are really quite impressive. And that was Urie's insight. His insight was always cognition unfolded in a context. And it was really very difficult to separate the cognition out of the context, at least at this young age.
And then the other one-- I don't really have to show it to you. But there's another experiment of a similar ilk, where I was sharing with Urie that when you ask kids to do something that's timed, like, in 30 seconds remove the cable from a motorcycle battery that's charging, and watch what kids do for the 30 seconds. Or you give them a 30-minute task and you say, remove the cables in 30 minutes, and you watch what they do.
Well, it was kind of interesting in terms of how often they looked at the clock. And I was making a big deal of this to Urie one day at lunch and he said, well, you know, I'm not sure I'd be prepared to go there. Why don't you build some context into it? So we ended up building all kinds of contexts.
He said, you know, motorcycles are sort of male gender stereotype. Why don't you have baking cupcakes for a female sex-type task. And why don't you do it in people's kitchens instead of the laboratory, and why don't you do-- and he started adding layer on layer. And Bob, I don't know if you remember the cupcake, because you were actually the--
ROBERT STERNBERG: Of course.
STEPHEN CECI: --editor of Child Development when we submitted it. And he wrote it. I had written it as a standard scientific experiment. I don't know if you remember this because it was 1985, so we're talking about 28 years ago, 29 years ago. But as the editor, you sent us the reviews. And all the reviewer said-- it was blind, so they didn't know it was the great Urie Bronfenbrenner-- and they said, these guys have to be tamed. They're wild.
Because Urie threw out all the scientific writing. All the statistics, he threw it out. And he said, this is gobbledygook. And I said, no, Urie, you got to put that in there for the journals. He said, no, it just gets in the way of the reader. So I said, OK.
So I took it all out. And then you sent us the reviews, and the reviewer said, you know, this is kind of neat stuff, but these guys are crazy. You got to put that stuff back in. And I put it back in. He took it out again. And we had this battle back and forth. Anyway, it did eventually get in.
And it was interesting because kids monitored the clock. And they calibrated, importantly, their psychological clock to a real clock differently depending on things like the sex-type nature of the tasks, things like where you asked them to do it-- in a garage, in a kitchen, in a laboratory, and so on. And it became a really quite interesting study because it said that a lot of the stuff that I and people like I have been doing were really quite limited depictions of kids.
And so do I have time for one anecdote?
STEPHEN HAMILTON: Maybe.
STEPHEN CECI: No?
STEPHEN HAMILTON: Short.
STEPHEN CECI: This is something-- as I get older, I didn't want to die being the only person that knows this. But I was at Urie's house one day, and Lisa was in Boston to see Beth. I think she was having a baby. And he was baching it, and we were talking. And he was really quite concerned and he said, I want to tell you something before I die. And he told me an incredible story.
Essentially, the College of Human Ecology was named by the CIA. This is true. Because when Urie came back from Russia doing his Two Worlds of Childhood research, Russia and the US, this foundation that used to support him with-- his plane would arrive on the tarmac, and this car would come out on the tarmac to meet him. And how they got on the tarmac, I don't know. But obviously they had some pull. And they would say, Professor, what did you find out in Russia this time, or in the Soviet Union? And he would tell them.
And anyway, one day, Corson, the president of Cornell, called Urie and said, I really need to talk to you. And Urie said, I'll come over. And he said, no, no, I'm coming to your office. And he came to Urie's office and he said, you know, if any of my faculty are taking money from the CIA, I want to know about it.
And Urie said, yeah, well, I don't have money from the CIA. And he said, well, who do you think this Foundation for Human Ecology is? And Urie said, that's the CIA? Because they'd been funding all of this work he had been doing in the former Soviet Union. And it turns out it was the CIA.
And the reason I say they named our college is because when the college reorganized a half a century ago, one of the people on the committee, John Harding, told me that they were trying to come up with a catchy name for the college. And someone said, well, it used to be called the College of Home Economics, CHE. And it'd be nice if we could come up with something that had those same CHE initials because we have all this stationery and all these--
--seriously, all these tea cups and dishes that had CHE. And someone said, what's the name of that foundation that funds Urie? Well, they ran in the dean's office and they pulled the file, and he said, it's called the Foundation for Human Ecology. And they said, that's a great name. Call it the College of Human Ecology. So Urie told me this story at his house one afternoon, and he was really quite troubled by it. And I said, I think it's great. Anyway, thank you.
STEPHEN HAMILTON: Can you top this, Elaine?
ELAINE WETHINGTON: No one can top that. So the American Psychological Association has a series of books that's dedicated to the memory of Urie Bronfenbrenner. And the series is designed to showcase, really, the ways in which his research has inspired others in their contributions to developmental psychology and social and behavioral science in general.
And I'm the editor of one of those books, which has the very long title of Research for the Public Good-- Applying the Methods of Translational Research to Improve Human Health and Well-Being. And I'm reading because I can never remember the title myself. It's way too long.
But when we started with this idea of, let's do a book about translational research and dedicate it to Urie, I mean, our basic idea was, look, he was a translational researcher. He was doing research translation-- this is now a big buzzword, research translation-- before that term was ever invented.
And in 1996, I was part of a group, along with the ever-patient Steve, Phyllis Moen, Peter McClellan. It was a book called The State of Americans, and this project was very dear to Urie's heart. He based it on the idea that the findings of social science had such import for promoting the future of the United States that we were beholden as social scientists to try to figure out how to communicate with policymakers.
So the book is a series of figures. We met for months coming up with these figures. And then on the side of the figures was a list of bullet points explaining the figures. It seems like we met for years, trying to boil down the bullet points to where Urie was satisfied with the brevity and the succinctness of the message.
He said that when a policymaker or someone opens this book, OK, that first bullet has to hit them. It has to make them understand a particularly important finding and also know how to apply it in practice. This is the policy that would be followed by that.
Now, of course, this was a very ambitious book, and I think we still owe the publisher for the advance. OK.
So that sort of tells you what I'm going to say next. A few steps were left out in translation in this book. But you know, it was the 1990s. And we were still trying to work our way toward, and still are actually at this point, trying to work our way toward communicating with policymakers with the findings that we think are the most important and using those findings to press toward a policy solution, or at least a policy approach.
So I mean, Urie was way ahead of his time. He wrote that "Behavioral scientists need policymakers more than policymakers need behavioral scientists." That's probably another explanation for why we still owe on that book to the publisher.
His work-- he hammered on context. He argued with us strenuously for hours about how we were documenting things. Apropos to one of Steve's stories, I was in charge of a chapter about crime. And I'm a sociologist, not a psychologist, and you should have seen the footnotes I had in my first version. OK?
I would say, Urie, I'm a sociologist. If I don't explain what this refers to in great detail, I'm going to get 100 letters from my colleagues that I'm interpreting this data wrong. And he said, oh, no, don't bother about them. And he kept taking it out, and I kept putting it back in, and he kept taking it out, and putting it back in. And when I got the book, it had been taken out again. And within a week, after the review in The New York Times, I got 100 letters from my colleagues.
But anyway, that may tell you something else, too, about the distance between social science and the attempt to communicate clearly. It's very interesting.
So I've actually spent a lot of time since then sort of trying to think how we could have done all this better. And my approach now is really to sort of try to, in my head at least, adapt Urie's ecological model, with some jiggering of it to understand what the process of translational research is.
But it really goes back, as Urie said, to be able to communicate clearly what people want and what people think, what the real situation is. There's nothing that beats interviewing people. There's nothing that beats the great anecdote, particularly with a policymaker. But to get to that great anecdote, to understand what that great anecdote is, you have to understand the systems that people are interacting with.
For example, a question of importance to the center that I co-direct, that's the Cornell Roybal Center, is to understand older people and how they perceive and manage their pain. And it's really not just a matter of how a woman thinks her pain affects her and how severe she thinks it is, but you also have to understand how she interacts with others. You have to understand her beliefs, what she thinks about is going to cure her pain.
If she thinks that she makes her arthritis worse by exercising, no matter what her doctor says she's never going to start exercising. OK? She probably needs to be persuaded by someone more persuasive or to be in a situation which causes her to discover herself that it hurt yesterday, but today it doesn't. Maybe this is connected. Exercise is going to help me.
So I still think what Urie did is relevant today, that a model that he developed in relationship to the development of individuals probably can be applied more to research in general. And I'll leave it there.
GARY EVANS: Do you need me on the mic? Patty, do I have to be on the mic, or can I move around?
PATTY THAYER: [INAUDIBLE].
[? STEPHEN HAMILTON: You can take it ?] off [INAUDIBLE].
[? ELAINE WETHINGTON: Yeah. ?]
GARY EVANS: My name is Gary Evans. I'm going to talk about Urie as a teacher, maybe. There we go. So if you have access to one of these handouts, on one side is a quote from Urie about teaching.
Like several other people in this room, I had the privilege to be a student of Urie's. I took a class with Urie actually while I was a faculty member. And then as part of an activity that he and I did for a year, I actually taught a class with Urie, and then he invited me to teach it again. So I taught twice with Urie, and I was a student in one of his classes.
So I thought what I might do-- and those of you who had Urie will know why I wanted to stand up instead of sit. But one of the reasons that I thought it would be interesting, instead of talking about Urie, I thought I'd try to actually show you a little Urie. So the quote on the front is a quote. Urie actually did some writing-- I don't believe he published any of it-- but he did some writing about teaching. If any of you are interested in that, I'd be happy to share it with you.
But I thought I would actually try to demonstrate. So if you turn to the other side of the handout, you see a graph at the top. And then proposition 1 actually got misprinted, but that's OK. The paragraph under the graph is a proposition from Urie's ecological-- bioecological theory of human development. So take a look at that paragraph, which is the proposition 1, in other words, the paragraph that's underneath, immediately underneath the graph. Just take a look at that for a second.
So what I'd like you to do is, looking at the graph, to tell me what evidence is there in that graph that supports proposition 1 and what might be missing from that graph that's part of proposition 1. No takers? This is the way that Urie taught. So Urie would, as you could tell from the quote on the front, prepare meticulously. He actually wrote out notes of what he was going to say, examples, graphs, materials that he was going to use to engage students.
The class that I took from him and that I taught with him he had taught at least 20 times. He still rewrote the notes, redrafted the plan for each class. And what he would then do, as part of that class, was try to engage students into problem solving.
Because we don't have enough time to do proposition 2, I'll give you a little homework. OK? So I told you what the question was for proposition 1. Your homework for proposition 2 is to tell me, is there evidence for the contextualizing of proximal processes? In other words, basically do these other things, like characteristics of the person, the setting time, do they make a difference in how the proximal process plays out? That's sort of a colloquial way to say what Urie's saying here more eloquently.
And then if so, does it matter whether it's a personal characteristic or a contextual characteristic? And if you really would like to get an A in the seminar, tell me whether it matters if it's a good process or a bad process. Thank you very much.
ROBERT STERNBERG: Good afternoon. And I appreciate the opportunity to be here, although I feel like I don't really fit in with the panel because I knew Urie so little. I met him a few times when I visited Cornell and at conventions. And the thing that struck me then was just that someone that eminent could be that nice.
The other thing that strikes me even today is one of the things I've said to my wife and many of my students is that I think it's important to have kids. And the reason is that for many of us academics, we think that our legacy is going to be our work. And I believed that when I went into the field. I was very excited about the work I was going to do that was going to change the world.
And then I discovered in my 30 years as a professor, yeah, but as soon as people announce they were going to retire, no one cited them anymore, and people stopped calling them and visiting their office. In other words, they became obsolete extremely quickly.
And if you look at the textbook I'm using in teaching HD 1150 and you look at the really big names, it kind of almost proves my point. Most of them are not even there anymore. They've become small names. I mean, my name's losing letters as I go.
But even the ones who have lasted, unlike the 99% of us who will retire and then get forgotten, what happens to them is that they're cited mostly to show you what not to do. So we talk about Freud and-- well, that's what the Victorians thought. And we talk about Erickson and we say, well, it's always nice to do at least one study that shows your theory is right. And we talk about Skinner, and isn't it hard to believe that people once believed that stuff, and he raised his daughter in a Skinner box.
And what occurred to me is that the one exception that I can find, at least in this big 1150 course and this huge textbook, is Urie Bronfenbrenner is the one theorist who people don't go around saying that, oh, now what he did is wrong. So he's unique, as far as I can tell in the whole course, in being the one person whose views are still accepted.
That's the good news. The not-as-good news is that if there's one theorist whose ideas, I think, haven't made it into our practice, it's him. And so I wanted to talk a little bit about that. My field is mostly intelligence. And so one of the things that's bothered me over the years is that we don't really much take context into account when we talk about intelligence. We know that different environments and different environmental contexts lead to differing kinds of intelligence.
So for example, in our studies we found that kids in rural Kenya may do poorly on IQ tests, but they'll know the names of 90 or 100 or more natural medicines that can be used to combat parasitic illnesses. Well, that's really useful knowledge to them for their adaptation. And if you measured their adaptation, they'd do really well on an IQ test relevant to their contexts, and our kids couldn't answer any of the questions. So is it surprising that they don't do so well on the tests that we impose on them?
And it's not just in other countries. We've done studies with Eskimo kids in Alaska and found that these are kids who can go 50 to 100 miles in the winter on a dog sled from one village to another in the frozen tundra and get there alive. Whereas their teachers, if they try to do that, would die because they couldn't find any landmarks. But the teachers don't think the kids are very smart.
And what we've found in our research is that these kids have tremendous smarts in terms of adaptation to hunting and ice fishing and growing plants in icy weather, stuff their teachers won't know. But the society in general doesn't think they're very smart. Well, they say, well, that only happens-- it happens in Kenya, and it happens in Eskimo kids. It doesn't happen here. But it happens everywhere.
And the way it's manifested at Cornell and in our competitors is in our use of tests like the SAT and the ACT and the GRE and the GMAT. So these tests are essentially proxi-- they're IQ tests. They're proxies for IQ tests. They don't call them that, but that's what they are. And the kinds of skills they measure are exactly the kinds of abstract, analytical skills at the bottom of Steve's graph.
And one of the concerns I've had is that if you look at kids who grow up in challenging environments, either inner cities or very highly rural environments, and you ask, what did their parents believe it means to be smart, and what we found in our studies is they don't mean the same thing as many of us might mean.
In those environments, you have to develop practical, contextual skills to survive. If you can't get to the school alive, that's the ultimate definition of non-adaptation. So they have to learn how to get to school alive, what to do when you're confronted by drug dealers, how do you deal with a household that is very chaotic in some places.
So they're growing up in different environments. And the concern I had is that the kinds of tests we use very much favor kids who grow up in middle to upper-middle-class environments, where the parents have the luxury of instilling in their kids abstract, analytical skills.
So the question we asked is, suppose that colleges, like Cornell, or any place else, Yale, or Oklahoma State, instead of just using the SAT, use tests that measure practical, contextual skills, like the top graph there, or actually did what Urie Bronfenbrenner said. I hated that he beat me to it, that "The greatest gift one can give to the young is to enable them to deal critically and creatively with new answers, and the new questions, that the future brings." In other words, the real future, not just some abstract future.
So he was talking about critical skills, analytical skills, creative and practical skills. So what if we actually took that seriously, and we measured them in our college, and graduate school, and business school, and law school admissions tests? And what if when we taught, we actually helped kids capitalize on their strengths rather than always favoring the kids in the red graph? Because these are sources of individual differences.
And what we found, in both our research and in my practice as a dean and as a provost, is that if you put on college admissions tests tests of creative and practical skills, in addition to the critical skills that Urie mentions here, you can double prediction of academic performance.
You can substantially increase prediction of extracurricular performance. SATs and ACTs don't predict extracurricular performance. You can reduce ethnic group and socioeconomic group differences by more than half. And you can actually make applicants think that you care about them as a whole person rather than just as a number.
So in terms of admitting kids, we need to take Urie's ideas seriously and say, well, let's start looking at the whole person in terms of what Urie talked about, their critical, creative, and practical skills. And in terms of teaching them, what we found is that most teachers teach to memory and occasionally the analytical thinking, but that doesn't help kids who are more creative and practical thinkers.
And so those kids, even if you admit them by these new techniques, if you then just teach them in standard ways, they won't do well, and people will say, I told you so. And what we found is that if you teach them part of the time in a more standard memory and analytical way, but you also allow them to display their creative and practical skills, you increase their performance in courses.
And we actually showed this with the Eskimo kids, that when you have them use fish racks to learn geometric concepts instead of just abstract concepts, they learn more. So my goal has been to apply Urie's ideas in practice, and I hope that we all do the same.
STEPHEN HAMILTON: We're going to take a few minutes to talk among ourselves in your presence and then open it up to the audience. And I want to begin that by picking up on Bob's comment about influence and continuing influence, commenting first that we wanted Bob here not because of his long acquaintance with Urie, but because of the fact that his arrival here represents a continuation of Urie's concern about the ecology of human development.
[INAUDIBLE] made the point as we were walking up to the building this afternoon, that one of the ways that scholars can influence public policy is by teaching the public policymakers of the future and then demonstrated how Urie did that. And I gave an example of that.
When Janet Reno was on campus a few years ago as a visiting professor-- Janet Reno, former Attorney General of the United States-- she said, "People have often asked me through my career how it is that I am as concerned and knowledgeable as I am about children and families, being a chemistry major at Cornell and a lawyer. And I always told them it's because I took Human Development and Family Studies 115 with Professor Urie Bronfenbrenner." Any other responses or questions [INAUDIBLE]?
STEPHEN CECI: Yeah, actually. I think all of us have these kind of anecdata. But I was in Urie's office once, and Gerri Jones, his assistant, came, knocked on the door. And we had a couple students in there who were working with us on something. And she said, "Vice President Mondale's on the phone." And he said, "Would you ask Fritz to call me back later? I'm with my students." It's true. Urie prioritized students over everything. There was never anyone who was more impressive, or more interesting, or engaged Urie more than students. One day, I was walking out of MBR, and I saw him in the stairwell. He was walking up, and he had this big plaque or trophy or something. And I hadn't seen him in a few days, and I said, what's that? And he said, oh, some guy in Boston gave me this. And I said, what did they give it to you for? And he said, my work. And I said, who was it?
And he said, I don't know, but I had the most marvelous conversation with the ambassador from France. He was also getting an award or something. And do you know in France-- and he went into all this business about child care in France and so on. And as he's telling me all about this, I look on the plaque and it says, To Urie Bronfenbrenner, The Recipient of the First Bill Cosby Award. And I said, the guy who gave you this, was he African American? He said, yeah.
Was his name Bill Cosby? He said, I think that was it.
I think that was Urie. I mean, he really was--
[INAUDIBLE], to say the least, he was orthogonal to popular culture.
GARY EVANS: How old was that Volvo?
STEPHEN CECI: Old.
STEPHEN HAMILTON: OK. I would like to turn to the audience, and I promised Cindy Green the first opportunity. Cindy.
CINDY GREEN: Well, thank you. Thank you for letting me to--
STEPHEN HAMILTON: Would you like to stand and speak loudly, please?
CINDY GREEN: OK. Well, should I stand over there? I don't know.
Well, thank you. Thank you so much. I really appreciate being able to be here for this, for me, most very special, special event. I was an undergraduate. Most of the students that worked with Urie were graduate students. I was most fortunate in the mid and late 70s to have one of the most amazing things I thought happen to me ever in my life.
I was working for another wonderful professor when this professor came in and said, I've heard some great things about you from some graduate students. And one of them is pregnant and she's going to take a leave, and we need someone to take over. Would you be willing to come work for me? Urie Bronfenbrenner? Would I be-- yes, oh my god.
And just to show you how the world has changed. That was a Tuesday. The rule in my home where I grew up was that we were allowed to call home on Sunday for three minutes at 9:00 AM. The biggest thing that ever happened to me in my life happened on Tuesday, and I couldn't tell my parents until Sunday.
But may I say that Urie did everything for me and for many, many, many students. And the project that we worked on was called Family Matters, and Urie really, really meant that. He believed it in every aspect of his life, beginning with his own family, which was the most important aspect of his life, his wife Lisa, who I thought would be here, his children.
And may I explain to you why I believe he went to get that award in Boston? Because Urie was invited to be a speaker. Probably he could have done three speeches a day, 365 days a year. He turned many, many of them down. He did many of them. He always took every speech in Boston because he had children there, and he would get to see them. Anything he could do in Boston, he did.
But he lived this idea of family matters not just with his own family, but with all of us students. We were his family. He took us in. When he said, "Somebody's got to be crazy about that kid," what he, I believe, meant, and I think what he believed in, both personally and his research, was that the most critical factor that accounts for happiness and success in life is feeling strongly self-confident and having strong feelings of self-worth. And he did everything he could to make each of us have that on a daily basis.
And it meant so, so much to me. He really launched my career. I will share with you that because of what Urie did, I decided to go into public policy. He was very angry with me. He thought I was going to just follow him in his footsteps, and he was really mad. And in fact, when I told him I thought I wanted to go this place, this university in Boston, it's called something like Harvard, he was not happy. And Jerry Ziegler was the dean then, and he was not happy.
And the next time, unbeknownst to me, Urie went to Boston to see his children and give a speech, he actually went on a tour of the Kennedy School so that he could come back and substantively discuss this with me. This is the kind of guy he was. OK?
Anyway, he launched my life, my career. He always made me feel like I could do anything, and that meant the world to me. And I've always loved all his work. I cherish the book that you mentioned that he wrote. He inscribed one of them to me. I look at it every day.
And I hope everyone here has that kind of experience, either with another faculty member, or if you're a student, or you've had something, and you can think back on who really mattered to you. Family Matters was really it for many of us. So thank you, thank you.
STEPHEN HAMILTON: The floor is open. Carl.
AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE]. I feel like Oprah or something.
AUDIENCE: Pass that back.
AUDIENCE: Thanks. And I promise I do have a question. But I can't resist saying that when I arrived and got to know Urie, he was effusively friendly to me and asked me a lot about my work. I realized after three months he thought I was my brother, who's an eminent, also a psychologist. But we got over that.
The question I have is, I know that everybody on the panel is very much involved in one way or another with the relationship between research and real-life situations. And I know, Steve, when you talked about like Urie's work and, Bob, that it was much more controversial, that there was much more of a sense that people should be simply pursuing basic research careers. And now we've moved into this idea of translational research.
I wonder what you think of how Urie would feel about the current situation. Like in terms of Bob's comments, I wonder if one reason why he's so there is the world's caught up with his original views, that now there is a much stronger sense that people do have to translate and do research in real-world settings.
So I'm curious. It strikes me he would be happy about some aspects of the current situation, and curious of what you think about that, how he would relate to this translational research world and similar issues.
GARY EVANS: [INAUDIBLE].
STEPHEN CECI: One of the conversations that were ongoing between Urie and me-- thank you. One of the ongoing conversations we had was-- and I think you're exactly right, Carl. Urie wasn't unequivocally happy with development in context. He felt that he, in a way, had become a victim of his own success, that we produce people who went on to know and learn more and more about context and less and less about scientific development.
And so we had this conversation dozens of times, where he would say, I really feel like there's something missing, that people are becoming experts in context, and they've forgotten about development. And he was, first and foremost, a scholar and a scientist, and as those of you in the room who knew him, really astute thinker.
And he was constantly probing for causal mechanisms and tying things to theory and using theory to generate hypotheses that you could falsify. And he was a scientist's scientist. And he felt that while context was extremely important-- and at first people really opposed him when he said that. And they said, well, you need to slavishly expunge the context from the experimenter. Otherwise, you don't really know what's producing the effect.
And Urie said, no, no. The effect is embedded in the context, and you really need to include it. But then he started saying, but people are now becoming context experts. And they really need to keep in mind that there's development that's happening, and they need to learn about that.
STEPHEN HAMILTON: I think the way that Urie's point about social scientists needing social policy is true and makes him so relevant today is that it made his work both scientifically sound and grounded. And this is an excellent example of that.
I mean, the decontextualized experiment was inaccurate. It was invalid. And by tying it to context, it was a better experiment. It wasn't just more relevant. It wasn't just that it was something that a school teacher could recognize. It was a more sound, scientific investigation of the phenomenon of interest.
ELAINE WETHINGTON: And I think there's been sort of a back and forth between context and development and a science that's more informed by the complexity of the setting. I mean, I really think, after having recently completed a review of dissemination and implementation research in medical science, that people who run randomized controlled trials, which are the gold standard for testing a medical treatment, could learn a lot from Uri's Bronfenbrenner's approach.
I mean, it's not just a matter of isolating one thing, but to use science and to use great scientific methods, strong scientific methods, to actually take context and the ecology into account as well. A lot could be learned from that. And happily, it's sort of coming back into medical research as we speak.
GARY EVANS: I had a very interesting conversation-- I suspect Steve might have had one similar to this-- about the genome and the Genome Project with Urie. And one of the things Urie was quite concerned about was that there was no environome project.
And what he meant by that is we operationalize, and we explore in incredible detail and spend lots of money to sort of unpack the biological. But we don't have a comparable understanding or commitment to understanding what are the relevant dimensions and characteristics of settings, as well as the sort of stochastic properties of those settings.
One of the things that Urie got more and more interested in over time was time and the whole notion that as these proximal processes, these exchanges of energy between people, objects, and symbols around them in their micro-settings, that time was a really poorly understood phenomenon, at least in the social sciences and even within developmental psychology, which, of course, is rather ironic.
So he was getting very interested in this whole role of time and the temporal aspects of how that could alter and change both the unfolding of time as these processes occurred, when in the person's lives they occurred, how long they occurred, how regularly they occurred, or how unpredictable they were.
ROBERT STERNBERG: Could I make a comment? I think it's important that we apply this idea to our allies. And one of the great things about Human Ecology at Cornell is that you get a group of people like this who really appreciate context not only in laboratories, but in professional careers. So that we have extension appointments here. Extension is appreciated. Outreach is appreciated. But honestly, if you look at academia in this country, that's the exception rather than the rule.
I've spent some time in administration. In the large majority of departments in most places, it's sort of like what they really care about is they publish articles that not that many people understand, are very un-widely read, that are very technical, but that are in journals that are so-called prestigious.
So we have to think about the norms of academia as well. And I think Human Ecology really is a leader in that. But it's not typical of academia to promote context as much as we all believe it should be promoted.
STEPHEN HAMILTON: Any more questions or comments?
AUDIENCE: Can I say one other thing I forgot to say--
STEPHEN HAMILTON: Sure.
AUDIENCE: --which was that when I was saying that Urie really embodied [INAUDIBLE]. What he did with his students was he made us part of his family. Literally on a weekly basis, we were invited to dinner in his home. We went to every park and had afternoon events, on the weekends. We were all a big family.
And that made such a difference for so many of us in our experiences as Cornell students or undergraduates and graduate students. I don't know if any of do it, but I hope you think about making families out of your students because it really lends such an [INAUDIBLE].
STEPHEN HAMILTON: [INAUDIBLE].
DARRYL SCOTT: I won't keep you long. I couldn't take something. My name is Darryl Scott, and I'm the Director of Admissions and Student and Career Development in the College of Human Ecology and celebrated my 25th year last week in the College. And quiet.
And look, why this is important to me-- I just sat here and looked at this. I will also be celebrating my 54th year of life in December. And I was a Head Start kid. And I must have been around the first as I look at this, and I remember going. I don't remember my first year of kindergarten, but I remember my first year at Head Start because it was my birthday, being so late in the year. It's the end of December.
And they said, you couldn't enroll, Mom, rush him down to school. And they said, he's too young. You can't enroll him yet. She said, well, he's not coming back home with me.
[INAUDIBLE] and heard about Head Start. And she invested an extraordinary amount of time and effort and energy in my education and my brothers' as well. And Head Start, she heard about it. She knew about it. And I remember her running away very quickly as they enrolled me and left me there.
And the experience through that, most of it [INAUDIBLE] and those things. But I remember the play, and I remember the conversation of people who were there to-- well, it just felt like care or attentiveness. But I remember how it transitioned me into a kindergarten and first grade and what I held. And I was apparently problematic in school because I didn't work very quickly.
As you talked, I remembered some of the exercises we did at Head Start. Well, they didn't seem like that. We were playing. But I was the only child that stayed in that school from Head Start. I don't remember it all. But [INAUDIBLE]. And as anybody who knows me, I talk a lot. And so I was a troubled kid, and so they sent me to private school. I did all the stuff, what have you.
And I wound up here in 1989. I remember Brenda Bricker, who's here, who hired me, and I met Patty, and moved me around the College in the interview process and said, oh, Urie Bronfenbrenner was here. And I hadn't held the name. I know I heard it. But as I met Phil [? Scogglins ?] and a whole host of people, I was introduced to Urie.
But didn't meet him until-- actually, what came to be the year before his death, and there was a party in the College. It might have been one of his retirement parties. And he wasn't holding much memory. And I had to find him, and I introduced myself. And I said, I'm Darryl Scott, and I work here in the College. And I was in Head Start. And he was sort of blunt, but he grabbed my face and he said, you're one of my babies.
And I [INAUDIBLE] with my beard.
It was one of the most moving things that ever happened to me in the College. And when you talk about the work in Admissions, all of my work has been informed by the experiences that I had as a child of color, as a person, through his parenting, made room to invest in themselves and all that she did from the beginning that I was-- when [INAUDIBLE] work came out, it informed everything about non-profit work.
I found the College. Actually, the College found me. I was someplace else at Cornell looking for work, and I got this letter from Brenda that said, you should spend another day in [INAUDIBLE]. And the moment I found it, I realized that I'd been looking for it all along. [INAUDIBLE] was what I was trained to do, to see people broadly and deeply, and that the work [INAUDIBLE] work in the way of how we built the college. And it holds to this moment.
So in my mind, everything that has happened has been because of Urie Bronfenbrenner and the way that-- not just in my work, my career, the way that I hold my students and that we do the work, but what the College means today. So I'm thrilled to be here and will be here more. And I hope that we'll continue to hold the work of Urie and allow it to inform everything that we do. So thanks.
JOHN ECKENRODE: Well, that was great. Well, thanks again to our esteemed panel. And I hope this gives people a little flavor, who didn't know Urie very well, of why we wanted to carry forward his legacy and his name in the Center and what we at least aspire to as a Center and as a college. And I hope we can meet all of you and that you'll get involved with what we have to do.
We have a great event next week. Actually, the annual Bronfenbrenner Lecture is next week. Rich Lerner from Tufts University will be here. I hope any of you who can make it, please come. It really promises to be a great event. So I hope to see you there. But for now, please join us for the reception in the back.
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Professors Stephen Ceci, Gary Evans, Robert Sternberg and Elaine Wethington from the College of Human Ecology reflect on Urie Bronfenbrenner's impact on the field of human development, on public policy, and on their own work, Sept. 18, 2014. Welcoming remarks by John Eckenrode, director of the Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research (BCTR); moderated by Stephen Hamilton, associate director of BCTR.
One of the world's leading developmental psychology scholars, Bronfenbrenner's ecological systems theory redefined the social sciences by proposing that human development is influenced by a framework that encompasses not only psychology, but also includes cultural, social, economic and political structures.
His research legacy was to encourage developmental psychologists to consider the importance of the individual's environment when studying behavior.