Message from the Director

What is Prevention Science?

Welcome to the Edna Bennett Pierce Prevention Research Center! I am happy to unveil this new website and introduce you to the important work we do at the Center.

Dr. Diana Fishbein

People who are not familiar with our field often ask me, "What is Prevention Science?" Prevention science studies social and biological conditions that contribute to human behavior and uses this knowledge to design practices that prevent mental, emotional, behavioral and physical problems. These problems typically result from adverse or stressful experiences, such as poverty, exposure to violence, child maltreatment, family dysfunction and lack of social supports. According to a study by the Brookings Institute, interventions grounded in prevention science can close the opportunity gap by 70% between more and less advantaged youth. 

The importance of prevention in the field of healthcare is the cornerstone of our activities in the Center. If you haven’t read Joseph Malins poem, “The Ambulance Down in the Valley,” I suggest that you do so. It emphasizes the value of prevention and early intervention.

One line in the poem...“better guide well the young than reclaim them when old” perfectly describes the main focus of the Center. With many of our interventions targeting children, adolescents and young adults, you might say we are erecting fences at the top of 21st Century cliffs—child abuse, juvenile crime, poverty, adversity, just to name a few—to prevent harm and eliminate the need for treatment later in life.

Everyone here is actively engaged in this very impactful, life-changing work that will ensure better outcomes for all children and families. Through our prevention research efforts, we are developing programs and disseminating knowledge that can “equalize the playing field” for disadvantaged or vulnerable individuals. Our interventions prevent behavioral, mental and physical health problems before they occur and help build skills that improve chances for children to be successful in school and later as adults.

Like many of my colleagues, I am passionate about the research we do here at the center. My professional interests and motivations began with my childhood experiences. I grew up in a disadvantaged neighborhood just outside of Washington, DC with a high rate of crime, alcoholism, domestic violence and child abuse.

I was fortunate to have a healthy home life, but I had friends whose mothers were prostitutes, who were left outside on a cold night for minor misbehaviors, who were beaten and exposed to alcoholism, violence and other atrocities.

Despite living in a less than healthy household, many of my peers did not develop serious problems, such as drug abuse, alcoholism or violence. This made me wonder what the individual differences are that make some people resilient to maladaptive behavior and others unable to cope. Consequently, that’s when I decided to dedicate my life to identifying the conditions, both individual and environmental, that lead to different outcomes.

This past year, we have been working hard to build our infrastructures—social innovation, prevention investment and implementation and scale-up— and our operational services—communications, pre/post award and administration—to better support our researchers and staff and ensure the science of prevention prospers.

Currently, our Center community is home to more than 80 cross-discipline project investigators, affiliates and research staff working on grants in excess of $16 million a year. Center researchers are national experts with a diverse set of skills needed to advance the science, and mentor the next generation of prevention researchers.

We are proud of our many signature projects in place—already helping prevent behavioral problems for youth here in Pennsylvania and across the nation. Be sure to check out our project pages. And, we continue to seek out new funding to expand our prevention research and programs so that many more people can reap the benefits of prevention.

Through our guest speaker series, we provide the opportunity for students and faculty to meet some of the leading prevention scientists and learn about their cutting-edge work.

Equally as important, we are taking the knowledge that we have amassed within the Center outside of academia to the larger world so that more families, communities and policymakers can recognize the value of prevention science. This transfer of knowledge to those with the power to alter human lives is where the promise lies.

We hope you enjoy this new website, and welcome your feedback.

Diana [Denni] Fishbein, Ph.D.