Oct. 18, 2001
Vol. 21 No. 3

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    Human Development now offered as concentration

    By Carrie Golus
    News Office

    Beginning this fall, undergraduates will have a new concentration to consider pursuing: Human Development. The concentration is such a recent arrival––the decision was officially made in May––that it is not listed in the already published 2001-02 undergraduate catalog.

    The undergraduate concentration in Human Development is not really new, though, but a reinstatement of a program that existed in the 1950s and 1960s. In fact, Bertram Cohler, the William Rainey Harper Professor in the Social Sciences Collegiate Division and co-chair of the undergraduate concentration program in Human Development, earned an A.B. in that discipline. “I am one of the few living, breathing Human Development concentrators,” he told a group of undergraduates who had gathered at an open house to learn more about course offerings and career opportunities.

    Originally called the Committee on Child Development, the Committee on Human Development changed its name when it expanded its mission in 1940. The interdisciplinary program draws on psychology, anthropology, sociology and biology to understand how individuals function at various stages of the life cycle.

    “What was unique about the Human Development program originally is that it focused on adult development. The old psychoanalytic idea was that all your development was done by the age of 5,” said Tanya Luhrmann, Professor in the Committee on Human Development and co-chair of the undergraduate concentration program in Human Development. “Now the central idea is ‘the person in context.’ Across the range of all the faculty in Human Development, there’s a shared idea that context shapes the person in specific ways.”

    The committee’s 15 faculty members represent a broad range of interrelated disciplines and research areas. Cohler’s research interests include family and intergenerational relations, how people overcome adversity and stigma, and the way culture and history shape people’s understanding of their own biography. Luhrmann, trained as an anthropologist, studies both religious experience and psychiatric illness, focusing on “how what is imagined becomes real for people,” she said. The committee’s newest faculty member, Joseph Gone, Assistant Professor, is a clinical psychologist who studies the cross-cultural relevance of mental health interventions, especially in American Indian communities.

    The Human Development program allows concentrators to specialize in one of four areas: biosocial, developmental, psychocultural or mental-health perspectives. Students also take a methods course, such as statistics or field research, and a two-quarter introductory sequence.

    During this quarter, the introductory class is being taught by Sydney Hans, Associate Professor in Psychiatry. “In the class, we talk about the development of people throughout the entire cycle of life,” she explained. “As we move through each stage, we talk about the important themes and theories. One of the stages that seems to be of particular interest to the students is early adulthood, where we discuss issues such as picking a life partner, beginning adult work, starting a family.”

    Graduates from the program can pursue a number of different careers, Luhrmann said, from psychology or anthropology to social work, medicine, even politics.

    “I think it would be a great pre-med major,” Hans said. “Many of our faculty study mental health, often with an emphasis on the links between culture and mental health. Many of our faculty also study issues related to physical health, including topics such as how loneliness might be related to heart disease or how social support impacts child birth outcomes or cancer survival. We do have a biological perspective, so that would relate to any pre-med courses in biology. It really focuses in on people, which I think doctors really need to do––to have a strong sense of what people are like at different stages in their lives.”

    For third-year Frances Lim, that argument was decisive. “I’m going to be a doctor. That’s my calling,” she said. “After working in a hospital over the summer, I realized that there’s a lot more to being a doctor than just treating a patient––I don’t want to treat a patient, I want to treat a person. And Human Development is excellent for that because we talk about so many issues that cross-link biology, psychology, sociology. It’s just incredible.”