Sociological Family Study Offers More Openings for Undergraduate Research

By Catherine Szilagyi, Student Intern of CHASS College Computing

Professor Scott Coltrane
Two years ago, Professor of Sociology Scott Coltrane and Distinguished Professor of Psychology Ross Parke teamed up with three researchers from Arizona State University to perform a four-year comprehensive study on how fathers and stepfathers influence the mental health and behavior of their adolescent children. Not only will the study be conducted across time, but across cultures as well. It will analyze the functions of both Mexican American families and European families to see if cultural differences influence the outcome of the study.

Data was taken from 400 families in the Riverside, California and Phoenix, Arizona areas; researchers questioned the participants about the ways that their families function and also about the perspective of each family member on the role of the father. This data was studied in order to determine how these ideals influence the well-being or success of the adolescent. In addition to garnering a great deal of interest, this study has also presented research opportunities for many undergraduate students at UC Riverside.

Professor Ross Parke

The undergraduates performing research for this project were required to apply early each school year, and, following a rigorous application process, were given quarterly University credits for the undertaking. Since training for the researchers is so comprehensive, the study requires a commitment of at least two quarters.

The extensive role of the undergraduate researchers has concerned everything from collecting data and transcribing family interviews, to translating non-English language interviews, babysitting small children in the families, coding data (observational research), and researching background information.

As part of the University of California educational system recognized worldwide for its concern with research, UC Riverside has provided countless numbers of research opportunities for its students, both graduate and undergraduate. According to Professor Coltrane, studies like these “provide. . . insightful information for the students on the realities of the research field, and benefits sociology, psychology and education majors alike. . . It’s very helpful for those that want to enter the research field later on.”

The study being conducted by Professor Coltrane and Professor Parke is a significant analysis of families in our society, going much farther than most previous studies of its kind and receiving grants totaling $3.5 million from the National Institute of Mental Health.

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