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Award-winning professor helps families grow stronger|
By Deborah Benedetti
As Dr. James E. Van Horn sees it, Penn State has 67 extension offices and 24 campuses that deliver education and training programs to Pennsylvanians.|
Van Horn, professor of rural sociology, said he long ago recognized that the Penn State extension programs impact was not at University Park campus, but in the counties. To have an effective child and family human development program, the family living agents were the folks who had to be trained and empowered, he said. I teamed with them to create programs. If Ive been successful, its because of the family living agents.
In 1999, he was honored for his 30-year commitment to outreach with the Penn State Award for Faculty Outreach. A member of the College of Agricultural Sciences faculty, he divides his time between extension and resident education.
His outreach programs for children, youth and families have reached tens of thousands of Pennsylvanians and others around the world. Currently, his monthly satellite training workshops for child care providers reach not only 1,200 to 1,500 providers in Pennsylvania, but also as many asc 50,000 child care professionals throughout the nation.
In my philosophy of teaching, research and service, all three components are intimately linked, he said. Personally, its very satisfying to attempt to make a difference in peoples lives and to empower people to make good decisions.
Van Horn tells a story from his early Penn State days about how he invited a new assistant professor to team teach in-service training to Cooperative Extension family living agents. I like to think that introduction to extension for a young Ph.D. faculty member had an influence on his academic career.
In 1995, that faculty member returned to Penn State as President of the University. Dr. Graham Spanier is a nationally recognized advocate for outreach and champions the philosophy of an engaged university. Engaged universities actively collaborate with individuals, communities and business and industry to solve some of societys most challenging problems.
In the 1999 report Returning to Our Roots: The Engaged University, released by the Kellogg Commission on the Future of State and Land-Grant Universities, the President said:
Penn State, like all land-grant institutions, was created on a foundation of active partnerships between higher education and the agricultural community, government, industry and the public. ... Every aspect of the Universitys long-term strategic planning and budget reallocation is informed by the valuable input received from these constituencies. A recent statewide survey indicated that one in every four Pennsylvanians had participated in a Penn State program within the previous yeara testament to the level of interaction between the institution and its public.
This philosophy also guides Van Horns outreach activities.
Devoting resources to projects for children, youth and families is natural for Penn State, Van Horn said. The University conducts a tremendous amount of research into issues facing children and youth, and President Graham Spanier has set goals University-wide to use this research to benefit the Commonwealth. Just recently, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Extension Committee on Organization and Policy designated child care as a national initiative for all American land-grant universities. Penn State has an interest in educating parents and providers and promoting quality care. Since 1984, Penn States family living agents have been working to help communities meet the growing demands for child care among working families. This history has helped our programs produce widespread benefits today.
Van Horns outreach initiatives have focused on providing people with knowledge they can use to make their lives and the lives of their children and families better. One of his first programs, Toddler Topics, began in 1971 as a result of a meeting with Lancaster County family living agents. Today, Cooperative Extension offices continue to mail child care information to parents.
In 1972, he received a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to study what was then a relatively new technologyvideotapeto see if it had value as an educational tool. Van Horn bought a video camera and began making training videos for the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program, which teaches low-income groups how to select and prepare nutritious foods.
For the nations bicentennial, he developed Heritage Horizons 76, an educational package of materials celebrating Pennsylvania families. More than 2 million family members participated in the program. Materials included a slide presentation set to music composed by Bruce Trinkley, professor of music at Penn State, and recorded by the Allard Quartet, comprised of Penn State faculty members, and a program manual to guide discussions.
With a grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Welfare and the Governors Office, he designed a strategy for collecting citizen input for Pennsylvanias report on families for the 1980 White House Conference on Families. His Pennsylvania Forum on Families program engaged more than a million people in discussions at the local level.
One of his most important contributions is the MAPP national database for family life educators. He began working on the project in 1983 with funding from USDA.
He invited more than 200 colleagues at other land-grant universities to contribute materials to the database. The database greatly reduced the amount of time extension staff spent identifying and locating research studies for developing quality education programs. The database also provided information on resources available from other agencies and states.
With additional USDA grants, he was able to computerize the database in 1985 and put it on-line. During the 1988 drought in the Midwest and 1990 Persian Gulf War, the database was accessed around the world, Van Horn said.
In the 1980s, Van Horn began planning the Eastern Symposium on Building Family Strengths: Celebrate the Family. He envisioned the conference as an affordable way for family professionals, especially those working in rural areas, to gain knowledge about their profession. Participants also had opportunities to make presentations during the conferences, which were held annually for nine years beginning in 1985. The conference still runs today in many counties and several states.
At about the same time he was developing the symposium, he also was monitoring a new trend in workforce demographics.
In 1984, we were seeing an increased number of women entering the labor force, he said. This was creating a demand for child care. Working with extension agents, we determined this was an area we ought to move into.
Van Horn and colleagues started with a learn-at-home program that was distributed through county extension offices. Then in 1988, he and Dr. James G. Beierlein, professor of agricultural economics, surveyed employees, child care providers and parents in nine rural Pennsylvania counties about child care issues.
It was a breakthrough study, because few researchers had previously studied the child care issue in rural counties, Van Horn said.
Their research led to involvement with the Pennsylvania Department of Welfare and the Keystone University Research Corp. (KURC). The Department of Welfare now requires child care providers to receive six hours of training a year. With funding from KURC, Van Horn began developing videos and education kits to teach adults how to care for children. Many of the materials also have been translated into Spanish.
Our home-based learning program has been well-received, he said. This is largely due to Penn States reputation as an education provider. Penn State is seen as a friend for learning in the rural counties.
In all of his learning materials and workshops, Van Horn fosters an inviting and productive learning environment. During his more than 35 satellite training workshops, for example, he sits at a kitchen table with his guest experts. He wants to reinforce the message that Penn States programs are accessible.
A related project, Child Care Options for the 90s (handbook), is being used by small- and medium-sized U.S. businesses to assess their child care needs and take steps to help their employees. A large company with offices in England, Wales and Scotland also is using the handbook to implement child care programs, Van Horn said.
In addition to creating a wide variety of educational materials, he has authored numerous publications for Cooperative Extension; developed courses, workshops and seminars; made presentations at conferences; given invited talks to diverse audiences; and served as an unpaid consultant to many organizations. His other outreach activities include:
Van Horn earned a bachelor of arts degree in liberal arts from St. Charles College, Columbus, Ohio, in 1959; a master of science degree in sociology of the family and marriage and family counseling from the Catholic University of America in 1967; and a doctorate in the interdisciplinary program in family sociology, child development and adult-parent education from Ohio State University in 1975.
He joined the Penn State faculty in 1969, was promoted to associate professor of rural sociology in 1977 and professor in 1989. In 1988, he became a Certified Family Life Educator.
He is the recipient of many awards, including the 1995 Career Achievement Award from the National Association of Family Life Specialists and the 1997 National Service Award of the National Council on Family Relations, Certified Family Life Education Program.