By Avery Amensen
Ask a human sciences student what a dream research project looks like, and you may hear the words “leading-edge,” “multi-generational,” “insightful,” and “comprehensive.” Enter the Family Transitions Project, an Iowa State-based research initiative that has focused on the evolution of families since 1989.
The project began as a study of rural families coping with the 1980s farm crisis, a severe recession that impacted the entire U.S. agriculture economy. The study focused on more than 500 adolescents, along with their siblings and parents. Since then, the project has kept up with the original subjects, wherever they’ve ended up, and their romantic partners and children, with researchers collecting information on their social, work, financial, and romantic lives, as well as genetic data. A grant from the National Institute on Aging is currently funding work focused on the original parents in the study.
Olivia Diggs, a second-year graduate student at Iowa State, works with Tricia Neppl, director of the Family Transitions Project, to help collect the data. “I chose to pursue human development and family studies because I am interested in the relationships between parenting behaviors and child outcomes,” Diggs said.
Studies like this are not only unique in structure, but they offer valuable insights. Researchers can assess how the participants’ relationships as couples have evolved and changed over time, helping them decipher why they make the decisions that they do. One of the biggest findings is called the “Family Stress Model,” referring to how economic pressures can impact the quality of romantic relationships, parenting skills, and child developmental outcomes.
Diggs is able to spend 20 hours per week on the groundbreaking project as a recipient of the Ruth and Vincent Mahoney Student Opportunity Fund. Richard Mahoney (L)(PhD ’11) and his wife, Lois Hartman, established the scholarship specifically to provide students with opportunities to pursue internships and research.
Learning opportunities beyond the classroom are a quintessential aspect of the Iowa State experience – yet without scholarships, many students would not be able to participate in them. That’s why student support is a key priority for the Forever True, For Iowa State campaign. Since the start of the campaign, donors have created more than 600 new undergraduate and graduate scholarships. Gifts to the ISU General Scholarship Fund – or to scholarship funds in each college – also make a well-rounded Iowa State experience possible for thousands of students each year.
Having a hands-on research role in such a unique and long-running study is precisely the type of opportunity that could also launch a career for Diggs. After completing graduate school and receiving both her master’s and doctoral degrees, she hopes to become a college professor at a top-tier research institution – where she could one day mentor students like herself.
“Being a Cyclone is about embracing all of the opportunities this school offers,” Diggs said. “It’s about disseminating the knowledge and skills learned here on campus to take the world by storm.”
This article was originally published in VISIONS magazine. To receive the full issue delivered to your mailbox four times per year, become a member of the ISU Alumni Association.