J. Lawrence Aber
"If we can invest more and better in children and families, children are going to do better, and so is our society."
Lawrence Aber's main research interests spring from his early life experiences and lie in policies that affect children and families. "For a lot of psychologists, research can have autobiographical roots," Aber says, describing a childhood "on the wrong side of the tracks with a family that was loving but challenged."
At college, Aber developed a fascination with "the mysteries of how human beings become who they are - the mystery of human development and the science of development." As he began to read philosophy, become involved in politics, and study psychology, he felt it would be compelling to combine and apply those interests to address significant social problems. He pursued a Ph.D. in clinical and developmental psychology, which he received from Yale University in 1982. "Even though I'm a developmental psychologist primarily, I feel that my interests in philosophy and politics have been with me one way or another for thirty years."
Several research projects currently occupy Aber's time. The first is funded by the National Institute for Child Health and Development and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and seeks to accomplish two things: to study how changes in family income and material hardship influence parenting and children's development, and to examine how state policy affects those changes. "Public policies - after families themselves - are the single most important source of resources for children," says Aber, former head of the National Center for Children in Poverty. "If we can invest more and better in children and families, children are going to do better, and so is our society."
Another project looks at the efficacy of a school-based violence prevention and literacy development program in NYC's elementary schools. This project is funded by the U.S. Department of Education and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Students are drawn to participate in Aber's research and the new Institute for Human Development and Contextual Change, which he has helped launch. "I now have 40 former students from Columbia and Barnard College who are active professors and researchers of major research organizations. Being able to help mentor and develop the next generation of people who want to bridge the gap between developmental science and positive policies for children and families is so important to me. And," he says, "the Applied Psychology department has a group of young developmentists on the faculty who are truly outstanding. They make the best colleagues I could possibly imagine."