Diana [Denni] Fishbein, Ph.D.
Directing the Edna Bennett Pierce Prevention Research Center—an internationally renowned center of excellence—for two years was one of the most rewarding experiences of my career. It was a true honor to support the outstanding faculty, staff and affiliates who form the backbone of the PRC; they can be credited for its many successes.
The PRC is actively engaged in impactful, life-changing work that will ensure better outcomes for children, families and communities that are the recipients of its efforts. Through collaborative prevention research efforts, the focus is on developing programs and disseminating knowledge that can “equalize the playing field” for disadvantaged or vulnerable populations. Evidence-based practices and interventions have potential to prevent behavioral, mental and physical health problems before they occur and help build skills that improve chances for children to be successful in school and later as adults.
My goals for the center were to sustain and grow the work of its investigators, expand into a new generation of prevention research, transfer scientific knowledge to practices and policies to support children’s healthy development and family functioning, and integrate translational neuroscience into prevention research.
Just like my PRC colleagues, I am passionate about reducing risks and inequalities and strengthening protective factors to ensure that all children and families can thrive. My program of research is based on the premise that prevention science has potential to exert a positive, sustainable impact on the phenomenon we study. In particular, I’m interested in ways that psychological, cognitive and neurobiological compensatory mechanisms can be reinforced given the appropriate environmental supports. With a more comprehensive understanding of how psychosocial experiences impact brain development and function, we will be able to more effectively design interventions and even daily practices that will enable children and youth to meet developmental milestones and achieve academic, social and behavioral success. And as an extension of that thinking, it is critical for public health policies to accommodate this knowledge and focus on reducing exposure to conditions that undermine multiple dimensions of child development.
As such, during my tenure as PRC Director, I sought to increase capacity in our ability to translate prevention science findings to real world impacts. In doing so, we worked to build supportive research infrastructures, including social innovation, prevention economics, and implementation and scale-up. We also established systems to scaffold the organization through bolstering communications, dissemination and outreach, pre/post award, and administrative services. My goal was to find ways to enable “end-users”, including community stakeholders, residents and decision-makers, to use research evidence and support the implementation of practices and policies that improve lives.
Equally as important, we applied the knowledge amassed within the Center outside of academia to the larger world so that more families, communities and policymakers can recognize the value of prevention science. This transfer of knowledge to those in pivotal decision-making positions is where the promise of prevention lies. And there is no better place for these advances to take effect than the PRC, which provides a supportive, nurturing environment to a stellar team of scientists and practitioners.
Diana [Denni] Fishbein, Ph.D.
Ed Smith, Ph.D.
In 1995, when Ed arrived at Penn State, the field of prevention science was slowly emerging. This “new” field combined public health, psychology, the social sciences, statistics, and research methods. Prevention science slowly emerged as the foundation for the PRC. In 1996, Ed was a member of the search committee that recommended that Mark Greenberg become the first Director of the Center. Ed eventually was named as the Associate Director and was part of the growth of the Center since the beginning.
When Mark was contemplating a sabbatical and simultaneously stepping down as Director, Ed assured him that he could hold down the fort for a short time until a replacement was found. That interim role extended to a year, then a second one, and then a third. With a strong foundation, the PRC continued to flourish and grow under Ed’s leadership.
An important aspect of the Center’s focus has been on the implementation, evaluation, and promotion of evidence-based practices to foster healthy lives. Ed’s focus has been to assure that these practices are evaluated in real-life circumstances, involving practitioners and others with whom such programs will eventually reside.
While he has been an investigator on a number of prevention trials in the U.S., his most important work has been in South Africa. Since 2001, Ed has worked with his wife, Linda Caldwell (Distinguished Professor of RPTM), and a number of colleagues in South Africa. Focused on HealthWise, a school-based program, this research was the first randomized trial to show a positive effect on substance use and sexual risk on high-risk adolescents in Africa. This long-term partnership evolved from pilot work to an effectiveness trial, to a trial focused on maximizing implementation quality at a low cost. So far, over 20,000 adolescents have participated in this research.
Ed started his career in the early 1970’s as a sociologist, teaching courses on social problems and the impact of racial and economic disparities. In 1980 he shifted his career to Public Health, focusing on preventing those social problems with a particular emphasis on adolescents.
Prior to coming to the Prevention Research Center, Ed worked with Penn State colleagues while a faculty member at The Johns Hopkins University, The University of Waterloo, and the University of Georgia on research trials aimed at preventing teenage pregnancy, substance use, and other problem behaviors which were supported by funding from the National Institutes of Health and other sources.