Annual Report 2021-2022 Social Science Research Institute
Welcome to the Social Science Research Institute
It has been an incredible honor over this past year to be the director of the Social Science Research Institute (SSRI). I want to thank everyone for their warm welcome. I have found at Penn State extraordinary faculty and committed staff that have created an incredible culture of interdisciplinary research. And though we are still living through an unprecedented time, SSRI remains committed to its mission to support and encourage research that addresses critical human and social challenges. Insights from the social and behavioral sciences have never been more salient. We are living through a time of unprecedented social, health, and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, rising concerns about social justice and equity, political polarization, social stratification, and overarching concerns about the impact of climate change on the health of our planet. The importance of social and behavioral science is more critical now than ever.
It has been an exciting year for SSRI filled with growth and change. We welcomed the formation of a new center, the Geroscience and Dementia Prevention Consortium, and announced the new Migration and Diversity Initiative. We also welcomed the addition of two new associate directors: Jennifer Glick, the Arnold S. and Bette G. Hoffman Professor of Sociology and Criminology / Demography and an SSRI cofunded faculty member; and Shedra Amy Snipes, associate professor of biobehavioral health, W.K. Kellogg Foundation Health Fellow, and also an SSRI cofunded faculty member. Additionally, we welcomed Assistant Director Jennifer Sinibaldi, assistant research professor. She comes to Penn State from the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NCSES) within the National Science Foundation and will be working closely with me and the rest of the SSRI executive team and staff to further our mission.
Further growth is evident as we continue to recruit and retain top scholars reflecting diverse interdisciplinary fields. We welcomed Jessica Ho, associate professor of sociology and demography, as our newest cofund. She comes to SSRI from the University of Southern California, and her research interests include demography, medical sociology, aging, and stratification. SSRI now has 57 cofunded faculty positioned within nine colleges along with over 500 associate faculty supported across nine campuses.
In addition to growth, the last year witnessed leadership transitions across our units. We were thrilled that Jenny Van Hook, Roy C. Buck Professor of Sociology and Demography, agreed to take over the directorship of the Population Research Institute (PRI) from Jennifer Glick. Congratulations go to Dr. Glick for her leadership and innovative development within PRI over the last five years. Looking ahead, Dr. Van Hook aims to strengthen PRI's research portfolio in the areas of population diversity and well-being across the life course.
Additionally, Miranda Kaye was appointed as the new director at the Survey Research Center. She succeeded Diana Crom, who retired from Penn State after many years of service. Before working at the SRC, Kaye was a research and evaluation scientist for the Clearinghouse for Military Family Readiness.
Looking ahead, SSRI will continue to support growth of interdisciplinary research by working with colleges to recruit outstanding faculty, ensuring robust research infrastructure, and continuing to invest in the interdisciplinary research of our talented faculty and staff. The SSRI Strategic Foci were revised to add a greater focus on inequality, the social and environmental determinants of health, and the land grant mission of Penn State by supporting strategies that will ensure impact at the individual and community levels.
Additionally, SSRI supports researchers through our various funding mechanisms such as seed grants, faculty fellowships, and special funding announcements. Soon we will be launching an affiliate program to develop a new collaborative research community. To find out more, subscribe to our weekly newsletter and follow us on social media. We hope to hear from you!
Deborah Ehrenthal, M.D., M.P.H.
Director of SSRI, Professor of Biobehavioral Health
SSRI enables and facilitates research that addresses critical human & social challenges at the local, national, and international levels.
To coalesce multidisciplinary researchers around emerging and innovative areas of study, and to provide consultation, financial support, infrastructure, and services to social and behavioral scientists across the Penn State community.
The serious and devastating impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on all aspects of life presented a unique opportunity for SSRI researchers to examine critical areas in the social and behavioral sciences that might otherwise not be studied. Working with researchers from across Penn State, SSRI, Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences, and the Clinical and Translational Science Institute supported the Data 4 Action initiative to contribute to investigating both etiology and develop preventive strategies.
- College students' sense of belonging related to mental health during pandemic
- Race matters in COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy, research finds
- How behaviors can inform COVID-19 health campaigns
- Losing spouse to COVID may be worse for mental health than other causes of death
- New study shows links between family dynamics and COVID-19 preventative measures
- Sharing source-backed information can help reduce COVID-19 misinformation online
Through the Consortium on Substance Use and Addiction, SSRI leverages Penn State’s research, education, and outreach capacities to advance efforts in substance use and addiction prevention, treatment, and program implementation.
- Education project to help improve data on drug overdose deaths
- Can wearable technology predict the negative consequences of drinking?
- Lack of naloxone led to increased overdose deaths in rural Pa., study finds
- Penn State receives a five-year, nearly $6 million grant to study factors promoting early childhood development
- Examining the opioid epidemic through the lens of crime data
- Ethnic pride may help protect Latino/a college students from problem drinking
A number of SSRI cofunded faculty and research units, including the Child Maltreatment Solutions Network, the Clearinghouse for Military Family Readiness, and the Social, Life, and Engineering Sciences Imaging Center study how biological, psychosocial, cultural, and environmental factors shape individual human development and behavior across the lifespan.
- Diagnosing head injuries key in child abuse cases
- Depression in fathers and children linked, regardless of genetic relatedness
- How do the effects of childhood abuse extend into middle age?
- Penn State receives a five-year, nearly $6 million grant to study factors promoting early childhood development
- Infants exposed to second-hand smoke may develop behavior problems later in life
- Child abuse investigations may not prevent poor sexual health outcomes in girls
The Population Research Institute, the Survey Research Center, the Federal Statistical Research Data Center and the Computational and Spatial Analysis Core, and the Quantitative Developmental Systems Methodology Core support a broad portfolio of research that examines how social, political, economic, demographic, environmental, and historical factors, as well as health communication and the health care system, affect the health and health behaviors of individuals and populations over the life course.
- New grant continues Arctic research addressing climate change and communities
- Study explores link between earthquakes, rainfall and food insecurity in Nepal
- Adverse childhood and combat experiences may drive veterans' suicidal thoughts
- Unemployment associated with worse mental and physical health later in life
- Study finds that experiences of daily stress decrease as people age
- Software and analytic tools developed by QuantDev such as OpenMx averaged 22,944 monthly downloads, while Dynamic Modeling in R averaged 1,108
Research teams across SSRI, including the Evidence to Impact Collaborative, the Clearinghouse for Military Family Readiness, and the Center for Educational Disparities Research examine the widening gaps in health, education, and resources across the population and work to develop of evidence-based practices and policies that promote equity and social justice.
- Venture Equity Project aims to remove barriers for entrepreneurs of color
- Report finds lack of teacher diversity in Pennsylvania
- Study finds white children more likely to be over-diagnosed for ADHD
- Positive parenting and parenting satisfaction among post-9/11 veteran fathers
- Skin cancer interventions affect sun-safety attitudes
- Grant to support instruction of trauma-informed practices in the classroom
During the 2022 academic year, SSRI co-funded 58 faculty members in 9 colleges and 19 departments. SSRI hired its first co-funded faculty member in 2002. In the first 10 years we averaged hiring 2 faculty members a year. In the last 9 years that number has double to an average of 4 per year. Starting in 2015 special calls for cofounded faculty were done in the areas of Neuroscience, Immigration, Maltreatment, and Innovative Methods. In 2017 cluster hires began for Substance Abuse, Reducing Disparities and Child Maltreatment.
These extraordinary scholars have had impressive grant activity. In the 2021-2022 year alone their activity as PI on grants funded exceeded $31.9 million. If you look at their engagement as Any Role in this same time frame that number is $75.6 million.
We estimate that our Co-Funded faculty have a combined 623 years of lifetime experience. Looking at their lifetime grant activity as a PI as a group they have been awarded over $367.2 million. Lifetime grant awards as Any Role for this group now exceeds $771.1 million.
Population Research Institute - One of the most successful “Pop Centers” in the US., PRI has been funded by an NIH Population Dynamics Research Center (P2C) grant since 1992. This vibrant, multidisciplinary center provides strategic resources to support innovative, high impact population research, and includes the Social Environments and Population Health (T32) training program. This year, PRI supported diverse research that included meeting the needs of Ukrainian refugees and related challenges to mass population migration; exploring how racial and ethnic disparities are related to COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy, and how the lack of rainfall was associated with the risk of food insecurity in Tanzania.
Child Maltreatment Solutions Network - The CMSN is dedicated to solving the complex problem of child maltreatment by helping to accelerate the translation of science to practice and policy change and increase awareness in mobilizing public investment in prevention and treatment. CSMN houses the Creating the Next Generation of Scholars in Child Maltreatment Science (T32) training program. Highlights for the CMSN include supporting the work of the SAFE-T Center, research about how child sexual abuse is not always prevented by child abuse investigations and examining how childhood abuse impacts aging.
Clearinghouse for Military Family Readiness - The Clearinghouse is an interdisciplinary team of research faculty and staff committed to providing outstanding support to programs and services for military families. Supported by $80+ million in federal funding over its 11 years of existence, the Clearinghouse develops strong, trusting, and collaborative relationships with partners and applies science in understanding needs and challenges and testing out solutions. This year’s highlights for the Clearinghouse include providing a searchable database of evidence-based programs and addressing military sexual trauma among veterans.
Center for Educational Disparities Research - CEDR is an extension of Penn State’s Educational Risk Initiative (ERI) and supports research focused on educational inequality and how it can be remedied. This year, CEDR received a $1.4 million grant from the Institute of Education Sciences to investigate factors in family, classroom, school, and neighborhood contexts that are associated bullying victimization; and supported research on flaws in federal monitoring of students of color with disabilities, and the likelihood of kindergarten aged children with behavior problems becoming the victims of bullying.
Consortium on Substance Use and Addiction - CSUA is a multidisciplinary network of researchers, educators, and practitioners that work together to address substance use and addiction prevention, treatment, and program implementation. This year, CSUA added five new co-funded faculty members, and supported projects related to tracking overdose deaths by working with the death certifier community and examining the relationship between the availability of naloxone in rural communities and opioid overdose deaths.
Geroscience and Dementia Prevention Consortium - GDPC aims to accelerate the scientific discoveries that will prevent or delay age-related neurodegeneration.
Computational and Spatial Analysis Core - CSA promotes and enhances social science and population research by developing and applying innovative spatial statistics and analysis and big data analytics methods as well as providing lifecycle scientific and technical services and scientific expertise in multi-scale complex data integration and analyses. This year, CSA supported critical research that focused on addressing climate impacts in Alaskan native communities and how backlash to racial justice movements like Black Lives Matter may boost the risk of high BMI or obesity.
Evidence-to-Impact Collaborative - EIC focuses on improving the data, methods, and processes related to research, the dissemination of evidence, and understanding impact of research evidence. This year, EIC’s equity research was highlighted alongside other partners at Nasdaq MarketSite in NYC, the commercial marketing presence of the Nasdaq Stock Market in Times Square, and the Research Translation Platform found evidence that supports science communication tactics to cut through the noise during times of political crisis.
Federal Statistical Research Data Center - The FSRDC supports research using confidential data from the U.S. Census Bureau, National Center for Health Statistics, and other federal agencies. Notably, the FRDC assisted several research projects that included using health and housing data; firm innovation surveys; and international trade data.
Quantitative Developmental Methodology Core - QuantDev is compromised of methodologists that consult and collaborate with a broad range of social scientists on research projects that span multiple timescales and levels of analysis. They aim to stimulate, coordinate, support, and disseminate research and teaching about the use of quantitative methods in social science. Notably, Zachary Fisher’s, assistant professor in human development and family studies, MIIVsem package was mentioned on the Quantitude podcast about two-stage least squares earlier this year.
Social, Life, and Engineering Sciences Imaging Center - Dedicated to fostering cutting edge research in the social, behavioral, biological, engineering, and materials sciences where imaging methodologies play a central role, SLEIC provides instrumentation, technological and substantive expertise educational opportunities, and support of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and electrophysiology (EEG, ERP) experiments. This year, SLEIC investigated the stability of neural sensitivity to phonological characteristics and semantic neighbors across lifespans.
Survey Research Center - SRC is a scientific center that provides high quality social science research services from study design through analysis. During the past year, SRC managed over 50 projects for researchers at University Park, Penn State Hershey, and Commonwealth campuses as well as researchers at other universities. Additionally, SRC supported an analysis of housing mobility and an examination of online gambling in Pennsylvania with the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs.