By Elizabeth Howell
Photos by Luther Caverly
Carleton’s Pickering Centre for Research in Human Development is a shining example of how using an older endowment can benefit the students and faculty of today.
In the 1970s, former city council member C.E. Pickering allocated money that was then used for an annual public lecture focusing on development psychology. He made the contribution in honor of his daughter June Pimm (nee Pickering), who was not only a graduate of the program, but Carleton’s first PhD graduate in arts.
In 2010, the funds were put to use in establishing a new centre focusing on better understanding the development of children and youth. Meanwhile, the lecture continues with 2013’s headliner being Ian Manion of the Ontario Centre of Excellence for Child and Youth Mental Health.
“The lecture went dormant for a number of years, which ultimately was good for us. The funds stayed there and accrued interest,” said Robert Coplan, today’s director of the Pickering Centre.
“The purpose of the centre is to support collaboration among development researchers, and fostering a rich environment for our students. Its creation allowed us to put all of the various activities under one roof.”
The young centre has come a long way in a few years. There are nine faculty members and over 40 graduate students taking part in the research. It’s become the go-to centre for developmental psychologists in the country.
It’s become the go-to centre for developmental psychologists in the country
One thing that makes the Pickering Centre stand apart is its robust connections with the community, Coplan said.
The Child Language and Literacy Research Lab, helmed by Monique Sénéchal, examines how home learning of language helps students in school. Her work with local school boards and others is helping to track language acquisition in French, which is less well-studied than English, the other language her group is looking at.
Another example is Stefania Maggi’s Child and Adolescent Research Lab, which examines cognitive development and mental health among youth and children. Since the goal is to track development over time, the lab has several long-term research projects watching children as they progress through school.
“We’ve tried to position ourselves as a place of expertise for local community organizations to come and consult with us,” Coplan said.
“As director, I’m sitting on a number of different organization committees trying to partner with a lot of school-board based research. Also, our students work, intern, volunteer and fill in positions with different local school boards.”
For the researchers, this allows them access to local populations, while school boards and other organizations can receive the most up-to-date research to assist with education.
One thing that makes the Pickering Centre stand apart is its robust connections with the community
“They know if they need additional information, or if they need someone to do background research for them, they can come to us. We’re able to provide them with the expertise, or connect them with the person power they need.”
Also coming right up is the Carleton-hosted Development 2014: A Canadian Conference on Developmental Psychology, which will encompass two days of presenting peer-reviewed research. This follows on from a highly successful conference at Carleton in 2010, and aims to be a forum for knowledge exchange as well as researcher collaborations.
“It used to be offered out of the University of Waterloo as the Waterloo Conference, and went on into the early 90s. I happened to be a graduate student at the University of Waterloo at the time. Now we’re going to host it every two to four years, depending on the energy we have to organize it,” Coplan said. “We’re expecting 400 to 500 people to attend the conference.”
Another primary goal of the Pickering Centre is to encourage collaboration among faculty researchers. For example, supported by a Research Excellence Fund award, Coplan, Maggi, and Sénéchal are leading a multi-institutional, large-scale grant proposal to look at the impact of full-day kindergarten on children. In Ontario, all schools are now mandated to have kindergarten for a full day, instead of the previous model of half-days. The program is being introduced gradually, and is now in the fourth year of a planned five-year deployment.
It is believed that the move is of benefit to students from high-risk households who may not receive the educational resources they need to progress. That said, provincial officials have not yet done a full evaluation of the policy shift, providing ripe ground for Carleton researchers to step in.
“What we’re hoping to do is a larger-scale evaluation of the impact, with longer term positive impacts of the benefits of this type of free early-quality education,” Coplan said.
Coplan, Maggi, and Sénéchal are leading a multi-institutional, large-scale grant proposal to look at the impact of full-day kindergarten on children.
Pickering Centre for Human Development Faculty Members:
Director – Robert Coplan
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