Spreading Prevention Worldwide

Prevention Research Center helps establish Ph.D. program in Croatian university

While visiting Harrisburg for a conference in 2006, Dr. Josipa Basic approached Dr. Mark Greenberg and other Penn State faculty members to ask for their support. Basic, a professor of theories of prevention at the University of Zagreb in Croatia and head of the University of Zagreb’s Center for Prevention Research, was coordinating the creation of a new Ph.D. program in prevention science and disability studies at the university. She felt that the vision of Penn State’s Prevention Research Center for the Promotion of Human Development—of which Greenberg is the director—was similar to the vision she had in mind for a prevention science program at Zagreb. She believed that Penn State would be able to provide the support she needed.

So, after some discussion, Greenberg, holder of the Edna P. Bennett Chair in Prevention Research in Human Development and Family Studies, and several faculty members in the Prevention Research Center began modifying course curriculums to suit the needs of the University of Zagreb. After that, each faculty member spent several weeks teaching those courses in Croatia.

“We learn as much as we give in these contexts,” says Greenberg. “It helps us to understand the importance of considering cultural context in developing programs to improve quality of life and well-being.”

image of Zagreb main square

A unique aspect of the program at the University of Zagreb is that the majority of the inaugural class is made up of professionals and scientists who work in governmental and community agencies.

Dr. Edward Smith, research associate in the Prevention Research Center, traveled to Croatia in October 2008 to teach a course on evaluating prevention programs. Smith, who teaches a similar course at Penn State, said he was “impressed with the professionalism of the students.” In addition to planning on traveling back to Croatia in 2011 to teach the same course to the next class of students, Smith is serving on the Ph.D. dissertation committee for one of the Croatian students he taught.

So far, four Penn State faculty members—Greenberg; Smith; Dr. Douglas Coatsworth, associate professor of human development and family studies; and Dr. Celene Domitrovich, assistant director of the Prevention Research Center—have traveled to Croatia to teach or provide support, and they plan to teach those courses again in the future. Penn State is joined in this effort by a cohort of faculty members from universities across the world, including York University (Canada), Radboud University Nijmegen (the Netherlands), the University of Ljubljana (Slovenia), and various academic departments throughout the University of Zagreb.

Basic’s goal with developing the Ph.D. program was to “educate and prepare the first group of researchers in the field of prevention science to respond to the needs of children and youth at risk for developing problematic behaviors,” she says. Through this, she hopes to accurately assess the degree to which certain poor outcomes, such as dropping out of school, are negatively affecting the country. Currently, there is very little reporting on certain problematic areas.

image of Domitrovich visiting

Basic, left, and Domitrovich, right, in Zagreb, Croatia

“We were and we still are very proud and thankful for having a chance to cooperate with professor Mark Greenberg who is worldly recognized in the field of prevention science,” says Basic. “He and his colleagues were and still are very significant support of our doctoral program.”

Prevention scientists commonly analyze what works or doesn’t work in prevention programs—for instance, a program that tries to reduce high school drop-out rates—or create and test new interventions that promote healthy human development. The program at Zagreb was created in the same vein, and it brings together faculty from many disciplines to give a well-rounded education covering research methodology, education, human development, epidemiology, program development and evaluation, public policies, and public relations.

A unique aspect of the program at the University of Zagreb is that the majority of the inaugural class, which expects to graduate in 2011, is made up of professionals and scientists who work in governmental and community agencies: Croatia’s Ministry of Interior Affairs and Ministry of Justice, two county Croatian government offices (health and social welfare, public health and drug prevention), and the UNICEF Croatia office, for example. By creating a network of community members centered on the Ph.D. program, Basic was hoping to initiate short-term, positive change throughout the Ph.D. program.

image of Zagreb main square

The program will also bring awareness to some of the problems for which Croatian youth are at risk. “The ways in which these phenomena are seen by the public and the ways in which they are presented to the public do not do justice to all the ‘suffering’ that children and youth are faced with when growing up,” she says. Basic also hopes that the program will help disseminate and improve upon prevention science knowledge at the local, national, and international levels.

image of church in Zagreb

The Ph.D. program is the second collaboration between the University of Zagreb and Penn State’s Prevention Center; Basic and her colleagues previously collaborated with Greenberg to implement an intervention curriculum that Greenberg co-authored (PATHS: Preventing Alternative Thinking Strategies).

The Prevention Center also fosters numerous other international collaborations. In the past the center has worked with students and faculty from Pakistan, Korea, Brazil, Italy, Sweden, and the Netherlands, some of whom have been visiting scholars at Penn State.

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Editors: For additional information, please contact the College of Health and Human Development Office of College Relations at 814-865-3831 or healthhd@psu.edu.