Lichter heads Cornell population center--a 'hub for social sciences'.For nearly every pressing social and political issue--immigration, poverty, education reform, public health, and environmental protection, for instance--Dan Lichter sees a common thread: demography.
"Population change sets the broader policy context for almost every problem that's on our radar screen, nationally and internationally," said Lichter, Ferris Family Professor in the Department of Policy Analysis and Management. "Demographic research helps to explain what is driving such issues and also helps to project where we are headed in the future."
As the new director of the Cornell Population Center (CPC), Lichter and other CPC leaders are uniting faculty members and graduate students from a wide swath of disciplines to apply demography in three main areas: families and children, health behaviors and disparities, and poverty and inequality. Founded in 2007 as the Cornell Population Program, the CPC now includes 96 faculty members and research associates from 17 departments and 10 centers and programs across campus. Lichter described it as an "intellectual community and hub for major social science projects."
"There is so much talent in demography and social sciences across Cornell, but it is at times fragmented," he said. "We want the CPC to be the broker that supports this research and connects faculty members across disciplines."
In that vein, CPC functions as a one-stop shop for population researchers, providing assistance with grant proposals and management, training in the latest statistical methods, support for data analysis and enhanced computing services, and multiple grant programs to help fund promising projects and scholars.
"Research projects can be thought of as a sequence of activities," said CPC associate director Parfait Eloundou-Enyegue, associate professor of development sociology in Cornell's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. "The CPC infrastructure helps boost the productivity and quality of population research by lowering the barriers to productivity that researchers often encounter at each of these steps."
The center recently awarded its first Frank H. T. Rhodes Postdoctoral Fellowship to Bongoh Kye in the Department of Policy Analysis and Management. The fellowships, funded by a $5 million gift from the Atlantic Philanthropies and named for Cornell's president from 1977 to 1995, are meant to further scholarship and research in such areas as poverty alleviation, public health, human rights, and supporting the elderly and disadvantaged children. Kye's research examines how differences in demographic behaviors such as marriage and childbearing contribute to the perpetuation of social inequality.
To grow its "intellectual community," the CPC's seminar series invites leading social scientists at Cornell and other institutions who are applying demography in novel ways. Examples of topics so far this year: census data and labor markets, links between medical marijuana laws and traffic fatalities, and educational outcomes of single-sex schools in South Korea.
Scott Sanders, a graduate student in development sociology, noted that the seminar series in particular helped him gain new insights.
"Not only do we hear research from some of the top scholars in the country, but CPC also organizes time for graduate students to meet and talk with the speakers," he added. "I was able to talk with one of the top experts on Asian demography, who helped me formulate my dissertation research questions and provided professional contacts that played an essential role in my data collection."
Each fall, CPC also hosts an encore conference, where faculty members and graduate students present papers and posters they have shared at conferences in the past year.
Lichter, current president of the Population Association of America, believes the center is primed to grow into a National Institutes of Health (NIH) population center, of which there are 18 in the country. Cornell is one of six sites to receive a five-year, $1.15 million N114 "baby grant" to build the research infrastructure needed for a full-fledged national center. This fall, CPC leaders will submit a grant proposal for full NIH funding.
Among the many factors that stand out at the CPC, Lichter said, is the cross-disciplinary nature of its research.
"The single-investigator approach to research only goes so far," he said. "Most major discoveries and breakthroughs occur at the boundaries between disciplines, and we are building those bridges among many faculty members."
For more information on the Cornell Population Center: www.cpc.cornell.edu