Feature

The Society for Research in Child Development (SRCD) celebrates its 75th anniversary next year, and with that milestone comes a new executive director, developmental psychologist Lonnie R. Sherrod, PhD. He starts Jan. 1.

A psychology professor at Fordham University, Sherrod's background includes stints as assistant dean of graduate faculty at New York's New School for Social Research, and executive vice president of the William T. Grant Foundation, a grant-making organization focused on studying the effects of various settings--schools, neighborhoods and families, for example--on youth.

Sherrod's work with SRCD began 20 years ago. He's a former member of the organization's committees on child development, public policy and public information, and he edits the society's Social Policy Report. He also chairs APA's Committee for Children, Youth and Families, where he's rallying to enhance funding for programs that teach children how to become active citizens in their communities through the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind.

What are your thoughts on taking over as SRCD's executive director?

I'm really excited about it. Along with APA, SRCD is one of the most important organizations in the field. We have to base what we do for children and families on what we know, and the main way to acquire that information is through research. That's what an organization like SRCD needs to attend to--both building the research and making sure that it's communicated to people who can use it. SRCD is in great shape financially and administratively, so as the new director, I'll work closely with the governing council on interesting program work.

What are the big areas where research is still needed in child development?

My research area, political development, is one. I think participating as a citizen is as important as working or raising a family, yet all of our developmental research is organized around cognitive development into schooling, into work, or on the development of social relationships into family formation. If democracy is going to survive, we have to understand how to promote participation in the democracy.

There are other areas, too. SRCD just finished developing a strategic plan, focused on three main areas of research--international work, multidisciplinary work and attention to diversity.

The first area, internationalization, involves focusing on topics with an international dimension, such as children in developing countries, who are often in much worse situations than poor children in the United States, and the research expertise we have could be brought there to deal with the situations of those children and families.

The second area of the plan is multidisciplinary. Increasingly, child development research has involved collaboration between developmental psychologists, sociologists, anthropologists, economists and others. There are a number of topics at the intersection of fields--cognitive science and neuroscience, for example--that require further field development. SRCD could explore these intersections in a special issue of a journal, or a special session at the biannual meeting.

The final topic is diversity. SRCD has done a good job in attending to diversity in its membership, and an analysis of its journals across the past decade shows that not only have samples in research become more diverse, but topics attended to have included issues of diversity, and we want to continue to grow that. The methodology of attending to development in diverse children still needs attention, so we want to use things like conferences and workshops to promote that.

What's the funding environment for children's research?

For all research, funding has declined. Funders are specifying the areas they want research in, essentially guiding investigators. The National Institute of Mental Health, for example, used to fund a lot of basic research on social behavioral development, but lately has been much more focused on understanding the biological bases of mental illnesses. The other major funder--the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development--has not increased its funding to compensate for that loss. There are opportunities for funding through organizations that developmental researchers typically don't think about, such as the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. We need to be creative about where we look for funding.

Will you miss anything about academic life?

I will maintain my appointment as a psychology professor at Fordham University, but I will not do as much teaching and I will miss that. But, I will still be mentoring a few graduate students and I'll be spending about 20 percent of my time doing my own research. So I am not leaving academia, just changing roles a bit.

What sort of research are you conducting?

I'm interested in political development in young people. I study things like what adolescents consider the rights and responsibilities of citizenship and what they think are the most important political issues. I now have data sets of young adults from 18 to 30 years of age, so I will be able to test some of our findings with high school students on the young adult population, who actually can participate as citizens.