Kristin Buss headshot in maroon blouse, long brown hair.
Published on: Jul 6, 2020

Kristin Buss, head of the Department of Psychology in the Penn State College of the Liberal Arts, has been named the Tracy Winfree and Ted H. McCourtney Professor in Children, Work, and Families.

A professor of psychology and human development and family studies as well as an affiliate faculty member in Penn State’s Child Study Center and a co-funded faculty member in the Social Science Research Institute, Buss joined the Penn State faculty in 2006. She earned her doctorate in developmental psychology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and completed a postdoc in affective neuroscience there in 2001. She is a prolific scholar, authoring more than 85 articles and chapters and two books. She is a frequent presenter at national and international conferences and has secured more than a dozen external grants.

“I came to Penn State because it is one of the best places in the world to be a developmental scientist,” said Buss, who, among her other accomplishments, was instrumental in establishing Parents and Children Together (PACT), a university-community partnership and research initiative that works to promote the health and well-being of children, youth and families from diverse backgrounds in the greater Harrisburg area. “I knew that Penn State would be a great place to develop collaborations. PACT is a good example of a collaboration that I wouldn’t have been able to do anywhere else.”

Buss said she was interested in child development from a young age but found her calling through a developmental psychology class while in college.

“I thought maybe I would be a teacher or a clinician of some kind,” she said. “But I was really interested in being a scientist as well, so when I first set foot in a developmental psychology lab, I realized I could bridge my two interests.”

The McCourtney Professorship in Children, Work and Families is one of many endowed faculty positions funded by longstanding philanthropists Tracy and Ted McCourtney. Tracy graduated from Penn State with a degree in English and assisted foster children and families in New York City as a social worker. Ted earned an engineering degree from Notre Dame before serving in the U.S. Navy and earning a master of business administration degree from Harvard University. The McCourtneys were named Penn State's Philanthropists of the Year in 2013.

“It’s hard to put into words just how special this is,” said Buss of her being named a McCourtney professor. “As an academic, you work so hard to get tenure and then again to become a full professor. It’s really meaningful to have your work honored and acknowledged this way and to know that the McCourtneys chose to support research that makes children’s lives better.”

Buss plans to use the stipend she receives from the professorship to support undergraduate and graduate research assistants and to provide stipends to research subjects on a future project.

“This professorship affords me a degree of freedom I didn’t have before,” said Buss.

“Dr. Buss is an extraordinary scholar and leader,” said Clarence Lang, Susan Welch Dean of the College of the Liberal Arts. “Through her work, she has raised the visibility of the college and Penn State, and most importantly, she has made meaningful contributions to community-engaged, participatory research in the field of child development. She is well-deserving of this honor, and I look forward to witnessing what her future accomplishments will be. I am also deeply grateful to Tracy and Ted McCourtney for their overwhelming generosity.”

"Dr. Buss is an extremely accomplished developmental psychologist," added Karen Bierman, Evan Pugh University Professor and director of the Child Study Center. "She is an innovative designer of and vocal advocate for engaged scholarship and its importance for addressing disparities in child mental health and developmental well-being. It is an impressive record of accomplishments and impact, and she is very deserving of this professorship."

The McCourtneys established the Children, Work and Families Professorship in 1999. It was held by one other faculty member, Duane Alwin, professor of sociology and demography, from 2002 – 2020.