The Science of Families and Human Development

The Class of 2023 poses for a photo on the Great Lawn on Aug. 24, 2019. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)
The Class of 2023 poses for a photo on the Great Lawn in front of the Family Studies Building, home to the Department of Human Development and Family Sciences. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

UConn students can now declare a major or minor in human development and family sciences (HDFS) in the Department of the same name.

Formerly human development and family studies, the Department’s new name more accurately represents the rigorous research involved in the curriculum, according to Eva Lefkowitz, professor and head of human development and family sciences.

“When people hear ‘family studies,’ they think that we’re all working one-on-one with families as clinicians,” she says. “Some of our faculty do this, but more broadly, we study the healthy development and wellbeing of individuals and families over the lifespan, processes within families, and societal and cultural contexts that impact individuals and families.”

The name change also helps better reflect the Department’s increasing focus on applied research and translational sciences—or science that has applications in the real world—according to Lefkowitz.

“We have people using advanced statistical analyses and collecting longitudinal data or doing really intensive qualitative research to understand family processes,” she says. “These studies are not just about understanding families or individuals in context, but how the science informs intervention, prevention, and policy.”

Lefkowitz says that the new name will help undergraduate students in particular, who can complete the HDFS major and minor on four out of the University’s five campuses.

“Students have a vision of what science is, and it tends to be labs and people in white coats,” says Kari Adamsons, associate professor of human development and family sciences and associate head of undergraduate studies. “We want to expand the diversity of what science looks like to them.”

Lisa Famularo, a career consultant for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences in the Center for Career Development, says that the name brings attention to the quantitative elements of the major.

“While students in HDFS have always been required to take math and science courses, the name of the major didn’t necessarily reflect that,” she says. “Because of this, students in the major had to specifically outline their quantitative know-how to employers in order to show that they could be successful in jobs that rely on those skills.”

Many recent UConn HDFS graduates go into a variety of professional fields and work with populations across the lifespan, from infants to the elderly, according to Adamsons. Many also carry on to graduate programs in social work, education, counseling, law, and medicine.

“We’re seeing a shift, particularly in the medical field, about the importance of studying families and the social science of those relationships,” says Adamsons.

Other departments around the country have made similar name changes in the past few years, including at The Ohio State University, University of Texas, University of Delaware, and University of Kentucky, according to Lefkowitz.

The name change matches this national trend and adds to what Lefkowitz perceives as the Department’s many competitive advantages.

“One of the strengths of our program is that, even though we’re located in rural Connecticut, we have a lot of faculty who study diversity and culture—both people who study diversity in the U.S., such as the wellbeing of children of immigrant parents or interracial families, as well as people who study children and families in cultures around the world,” she says.