Dawn Witherspoon

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Dawn Witherspoon

Dawn Witherspoon

McCourtney Family Early Career Professor of Psychology, Associate Professor of Psychology (Developmental), and Director of Parents and Children Together (PACT)

Right now, in the current phase of my career, the most impactful advice I have received is that “It’s OK to say no; No is a sentence!”

PACT (Parents and Children Together) is a community-University initiative to improve the lives of diverse children and families, particularly in the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, region. Through PACT, teaching, research, and service are combined by focusing on opportunities for PACT investigators and staff to offer training in community-engaged research best practices, as well as provide opportunities for community members to be involved in the research process. At the core, PACT conducts research in a manner that is inclusive of the community, and PACT investigators receive feedback from their community advisory board (CAB). Last, but equally important, PACT is committed to outreach through participation in community events and working alongside community partners to help them realize their visions; they recently launched the Dean Lang PACT Community Grant which provided small grants to community partners to further their missions of improving the lives of diverse children, youth, and families. PACT remains committed to utilizing their expertise through investigator givebacks to help community partners meet the needs of their constituencies; and committed to disseminating research in meaningful ways to the community, including their research participants.

“I think one important finding from my current research is that the places where families and youth reside and go to get their daily needs met communicate a real message about what it means to be a person of color in that environment. It also has important implications for parenting behaviors and youth emotional and academic outcomes. Sometimes these messages are positive and affirming and other times these messages are negative and stress-inducing. Despite this, these families thrive, survive, hope, resist, contribute, and succeed.”

“Right now, my lab and I are relaunching our PARADE project to understand the daily experiences of African American families in the greater Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, region and how these experiences are shaped by place as well as how these experiences impact family functioning and youth’s developmental outcomes. For this project, I partner with PACT and two community partners, the KING Community Center, and Holistic Hands Community Development Corporation. My partners are great; they make the work I do possible. I am also working closely with my graduate and undergraduate students providing them opportunities to be involved in community-engaged research.”

Read more about Dawn Witherspoon

Student Impact in the Classroom

“It is common for me to share my research and its findings with my students in the classroom. In my undergraduate courses, we focus on context and culture and its impact on families and youth. I routinely infuse research findings in our discussions, assign research articles focused on the topics (which include my work but also the work of my colleagues), and give the students the opportunity to synthesize research in meaningful ways and disseminate it to different audiences through our dissemination project exercise. The students enjoy learning of the numerous ways to communicate and share research findings to multiple audiences beyond the academy so that it can be used "on the ground." Also, I am always accepting undergraduate students into my lab to work with us to tackle these important research questions focused on race, place, and development. I also do this with graduate students. When I teach my special topic graduate course in developmental psychology, I have a wonderful opportunity to discuss and learn from my students as we share our research ideas, expose each other to different theoretical and conceptual perspectives, and debate lingering questions in the field. It is gratifying when students taking my class are exposed to new or different perspectives and incorporate that in their research.” –Dawn Witherspoon

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