• By Dartington SRU
  • Posted on Friday 22nd July, 2011

Penn State “stellar scholar” wins award for social skills interventions

Celene Domitrovich, Assistant Director of the Prevention Research Center at Penn State University, has won the Joseph E. Zins Award in recognition of her unique contributions to research on social and emotional learning (SEL).The Zins Award, presented by the US-based nonprofit Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), is reserved for outstanding work by an early-career scientist who specializes in SEL.Indeed, promotion of social and emotional skills features heavily in Domitrovich’s work. She has designed and evaluated many interventions that seek to promote social and emotional skills in children. For example, she adapted the Promoting Alternative Thinking Strategies (PATHS) Curriculum© for pre-school children, which is currently undergoing independent experimental evaluation as part of a Head Start trial in the US. Domitrovich has also been involved in implementation research of PATHS in numerous elementary schools and has begun to study SEL interventions in middle schools as well. It is this breadth in application, coupled with the lessons instilled by her early mentors that earned her the Zins Award. Innovation by integrationPerhaps the defining feature of Domitrovich’s work is that the interventions she studies involve the integration of evidence-based approaches in a way that brings out the best of each. PATHS to PAX, a trial being conducted at John Hopkins University in Baltimore, is a good example of this approach. PATHS to PAX combines the PATHS Curriculum© which is focused on equipping children with social and emotional skills – with the Good Behavior Game, a behavioral intervention that provides the opportunity for children to apply these skills and to be rewarded for doing so. “The great strength of such integration,” says Domitrovich, “is that the effects of combining interventions may not just be additive but potentially synergistic.” Put another way, the effect of fusing two or more interventions may be greater than the sum of the parts. As she describes it, “One element of a particular intervention may provide a context in which the active ingredients of another may be more powerfully realized.” Domitrovich is a member of several teams involved in researching the effectiveness of integrated models of evidence-based interventions. In addition to PATHS to PAX, these include the REDI program which combines the Preschool PATHS Curriculum© with several language and literacy interventions for young children and the integration of the Lion’s Quest Skills for Adolescence Curriculum® with Developmental Designs® at the middle school level. “Integration,” argues Domitrovich, “not only applies to combining specific evidence-based interventions. The principles also apply to embedding interventions within the structures they are designed to be delivered within.” Social and emotional learning interventions must be integrated into existing curricular and lesson times. Parenting interventions must be embedded within early years provision or community structures.Career route and mentorsCelene Domitrovich’s career has been guided by eminent researchers. The first of these was Dante Cicchetti, who taught Domitrovich during her undergraduate years at the University of Rochester. “His seminar on developmental psychopathology was a real turning point for me,” she says. “He taught me the fundamental principals of risk and protective factors and the importance of considering developmental processes when studying children’s mental health.”Inspired by Cicchetti, and driven by a passion instilled by her family to help and support others, Domitrovich entered the doctoral program in child clinical psychology at Penn State University. While in graduate school she worked on the Fast Track project, an intervention designed to prevent antisocial behavior in young people, and was mentored by Karen Bierman, and several other well known psychologists including Mark Greenberg. It was via these encounters that Domitrovich made the move from treatment to prevention. “I’d always loved working directly with children to help them work through problems, but it felt like I was only chipping away at the tip of the iceberg,” says Domitrovich. “The scope and potential of public health prevention compelled me.” In 1998, Domitrovich joined Greenberg as Assistant Director of Penn State’s Prevention Research Center, working to design, implement and evaluate interventions, undertake applied research and create structures that support prevention and early intervention. “I have learned so much from Karen and Mark over the years,” says Domitrovich. “They both do such high quality research and collaborate well with others. Those are two of the most important things I try to do in my own work. Mark has taught me how much we have to learn from communities, parents and teachers. He also models the social and emotional skills he works so hard to instill in children and families. This is something I too try to emulate.” References:Domitrovich, C. E., Bradshaw, C. P., Greenberg, M. T., Embry, D., Poduska, J. M., & Ialongo, N. (2010). Integrated models of school-based prevention: The logic and theory. Psychology in the Schools, 47, 71-88.

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