When Mark Greenberg began his career in the late ‘1970s, the word “prevention” was not part of the lexicon within the field of psychology. Trained as a developmental and child-clinical psychologist, Mark treated children with anxiety, aggression, and mental health issues. He soon realized that treating one child at a time was not making the type of impact that he felt was truly needed. He wanted to find another way to change the public health problem of mental illness and improve the lives of many children before serious disorders manifest.
Mark’s early work with deaf children, who showed high rates of mental health problems, led him and his colleagues to develop the PATHS® Curriculum beginning in 1980. PATHS is now utilized in over 3,000 schools in 15 countries.
During his tenure at the University of Washington, Mark conducted traditional random controlled trials funded by the National Institutes of Health and foundations, which examined the effects of interventions on children. Although the results of these interventions consistently led to improvements in children’s behavior, cognition, and school success, it was unusual for the interventions to be sustained by local schools. The lack of sustainability was the impetus that prompted him to become interested in the broader issues of public policy regarding evidence-based programs, how funding streams work, and how leaders made policy decisions.
In 1998, Mark became the first holder of the Bennett Chair in Prevention Research in Penn State’s College of Health and Human Development. His goal in coming to Penn State was to create a research center focused on prevention of serious difficulties and the promotion of well-being in children and their caregivers. In addition, Mark found a synergistic partner in the benefactor of the Center and his endowed chair, Edna Bennett Pierce, who shared his vision and caring spirit to promote the well-being of children. The obvious alignment of their interests and ideals solidified Mark’s decision to come to Penn State to build a permanent organization dedicated to the science of prevention to reduce problems and improve outcomes for children.
Upon return to his native state of Pennsylvania, he discovered that Penn State was an unusual interdisciplinary, collaborative community where his research could benefit children and communities and, at the same time, closely partner with Pennsylvania government to support state officials on how to implement and sustain evidence-based prevention programs—something unheard of on a university campus at that time.
As the first Center director, Mark established the Bennett Lecture, held each fall, featuring a prominent prevention scientist. More recently, Edna Bennett Pierce expanded her gift to create a new endowment for a Professor in Care and Compassion. At the same time, Mark, and his wife Christa Turksma, endowed funds for a Lectureship on Compassion each spring, to showcase findings and perspectives of outstanding researchers and practitioners in the areas of awareness, compassion and empathy.
Edna and Mark’s mutual desire to promote care and compassion in society sets the tone for the standard of ethics and type of research conducted in the Center today. The Edna Bennett Pierce Prevention Research Center continues to thrive with the generous endowment from Edna. Through Mark’s early leadership, the Center has evolved into a robust prevention science community that provides support for translational research, develops effective interventions, partners with communities, mentors new prevention researchers and provides policy evidence to sustain programs that increase health equity and support more children and families to thrive.