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 Tuesday, January 22, 2008 IssueFaculty/Staff E-Newsletter


Institute Spotlight: Institute of Behavioral Science
By Corey H. Jones, junior, School of Journalism and Mass Communication

Encompassing a strong source of vitality, the institutes at CU-Boulder foster highly specialized environments while creating exclusive and exciting educational experiences for faculty and students. In this series, we survey these integral units that seek to support a wide range of research endeavors and address important, real-world concerns. Part four of this series features the Institute of Behavioral Science.

The Institute of Behavioral Science (IBS) engages faculty from all social and behavioral sciences at CU-Boulder to carry out interdisciplinary research on problems of societal importance, while also incorporating a strong international focus. Established in 1957 to consolidate the different research units within the social science departments, IBS is CU's second oldest institute. In the early 1960s, the institute reorganized itself into interdisciplinary research programs, each focused on a specific public domain.

"We are very committed to doing fundamental behavioral and social science research on the handful of critical problems that we feel we have the resources to advance knowledge about," said Dick Jessor, former IBS director and chair of the IBS building committee.

Currently, IBS is comprised of five research programs that collectively address major problems of social behavior and social life. Several research centers also exist within the programs. "The concern of the programs is to provide understanding about these problems and good evidence about what can be done to address them in the United States and across the globe," Director Jane Menken said.

The Problem Behavior Program seeks to understand behaviors that may put young people's lives and development at risk, ranging from delinquency and violence to illicit drug use. "The real issue is to understand what leads a young person to make such a deep commitment to some of these activities that it compromises their entire life course," Jessor said.

Recent endeavors include studies of adolescent problem behavior and the transition to adulthood in the United States; comparative study of adolescents growing up in China with those in the United States; and research on improving the life chances of out-of-school, adolescent girls in rural villages in Egypt. The program's Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence has developed "Blueprints" for evaluating prevention and intervention programs for youth violence and substance abuse.

The Environment and Society Program supports research on environmental sustainability and the use of natural resources. The program focuses on man's relationship to the environment, exploring resource depletion in South Africa, land use in Brazil, water resources in Colorado and subsistence agriculture in Tanzania and Ethiopia. The program's Natural Hazards Center works to advance knowledge about disaster preparedness and emergency response and recovery. The center had a key role as a national resource for relevant information following the Hurricane Katrina disaster.

The Population Program studies population changes and issues like aging, fertility, life expectancy and migration. "Rural-to-urban migration is a major issue around the world," Jessor said. The program emphasizes studies of racial and ethnic differences in health and mortality in the United States and the developing world. It also works with institutions in South Africa and Kenya to promote capacity-building and collaborative research. One continuing IBS study investigates the impact of HIV/AIDS on the health and survival of Africans and on their communities.

The Political and Economic Change Program explores the effects of economic, social, technological and political change, including corporate downsizing, democratization in developing societies and globalization. After the fall of the Soviet Union, IBS researchers investigated how people from the former Soviet Republics reorganized their lives and societies under circumstances of such radical change.

Members of the Health and Society Program examine the determinants and consequences of health and illness, with an emphasis on understanding social disparities in health. "What we have learned is that human behavior and social relations are fundamentally important factors in health," Jessor, who now directs the health program, said. For instance, both developing and developed populations continue to face increases in obesity due to changes in dietary behaviors, resulting in increases in cardiovascular disease and diabetes across the globe.

IBS offers two graduate training certificate programs and undergraduate assistant programs that draw students from a range of departments. These opportunities expose students to interdisciplinary learning and broaden their perspectives on societal problems.

Currently dispersed across nine buildings, IBS recently gained approval for construction of a new building that will enable the institute to consolidate all of its efforts. Occupancy is scheduled for June 2010. "The new building will be an enormous advance," Menken said. "Having everyone together in one building will allow for greater scholarly exchange among the programs and provide a dynamic environment for promoting research to advance human welfare."

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