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Inside the mind of researcher Marc Braverman


College of Public Health and Human SciencesMarc Braverman serves as professor of Human Development and Family Sciences and Extension specialist with Extension Family and Community Health (FCH). He held positions as adjunct professor and 4-H Youth Development Specialist in the Department of Human and Community Development at the University of California, Davis. He earned a master’s degree and PhD in Educational Psychology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

What made you decide to get into this field of study?

“Psychology was always a subject that greatly interested me. My graduate work in educational psychology focused on processes of human learning, especially involving children, in and out of school settings. At the time, I was fascinated by how children grow to master different symbol systems for learning and communicating, particularly those involving pictorial representational media such as film. That was the topic of my doctoral dissertation and I would have loved to continue my career along those lines, but the work world had other plans for me.

My first job out of graduate school was at an educational research firm that provided technical assistance to school districts in the western United States on the evaluation of their federally funded Title I programs. That was the first time I really focused on program evaluation, as well as the first time I lived in Oregon. It was pretty formative, in a number of ways. After a couple of years there, I moved to UC Davis for an Extension faculty position in the 4-H Youth Development Program. My priorities at Davis were on evaluation methods and youth health behaviors, especially tobacco prevention and control. Those have remained my emphases, even after coming to OSU in 2005.”

What does your current research entail?

CPHHS Professor Marc Braverman.

CPHHS Professor Marc Braverman.

“This past year, I have been finishing up the analysis and reporting of the recent survey of OSU’s students, faculty and staff regarding our campus’ 100 percent smoke-free campus policy, which has been in effect since Fall 2012. I am also working with a longtime colleague from Norway to analyze an international data set on youth and smoking involving several cohorts going back more than 20 years. Through this work, we hope to improve understanding of the interplay between evolving tobacco policies and young people’s tobacco use, as well as other aspects of their lives.

In the realm of evaluation practice, I’m in the analysis phase of a study of organizational performance indicators at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which I have been working on with Darlene Russ-Eft from OSU’s College of Education. Also, as the evaluation specialist for the Extension Family and Community Health program within our college, I usually have multiple evaluation projects at any one time. For example, I lead the evaluation team for Extension’s SNAP-Ed program, through which we deliver nutrition education to Oregon’s SNAP (previously known as food stamps) audiences. I’m also the evaluator on a five-year grant to our 4-H Youth Development Program funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Children, Youth and Families at Risk (CYFAR) initiative.”

What would you say is the most fascinating aspect of your work in evaluation?

“I’m continually fascinated by the theory and practice of evaluation because it brings together competing themes and requires markedly distinct competencies. First, evaluation relies heavily on different kinds of research and measurement methodology, which have always been huge interests of mine. But to an equal degree, evaluation depends significantly on people factors. It requires communicating, negotiating, navigating the politics of program funding and balancing diverse agendas. In some cases, the stakes can be quite high, such as in the evaluation of major funding initiatives, controversial interventions or new medical treatments. Therefore, evaluation needs to be conducted with the highest ethical standards of fairness and a commitment to accuracy.”

“Evaluation needs to be conducted with the highest ethical standards of fairness and a commitment to accuracy.”

How will this make a difference?

“Good evaluation practice is all about practical utility. We are collecting and analyzing this information in order to understand programs and policies, to improve them and to make judgments and decisions about them. The process of making useful recommendations after analyzing a complex set of data is much more challenging than people may think. In terms of making a difference in the real world, you can’t get more practical than that.”

Why is research important in the field of Human Development and Family Sciences?

“The diverse kinds of research conducted in human development and family sciences illuminate some of the most fundamental questions regarding how we understand ourselves as individuals, families and societies. That research often has immediate and profound implications for how we structure society, and it can be put to use to improve policies and programs.”

What’s next for you? Do you have any future research projects lined up?

“I’m part of a team of CPHHS faculty that is in the early phases of evaluating a non-opiate pain treatment program at a pain clinic in northwest Oregon. That project is funded by a partnership between our college and Care Oregon, a nonprofit that works with several of Oregon’s coordinated care organizations. The 4-H CYFAR project is entering its second year, and we are expanding the scope and strategies of the project’s evaluation activities. I also hope to have the opportunity to do some extensive writing this next year on the topic of validity in evaluation. We’ll see!”

“Try to learn research methodology really, really well, whether quantitative or qualitative – preferably both. Those skills will give you a tremendous boost in all sorts of professional settings that you can’t begin to predict.”

What is the best advice you’ve ever received, and who gave it?

“My vignette reflects learning by modeling rather than verbally delivered advice. I was lucky to have a great boss when I worked in Portland in my educational evaluation position. When I told him, with some trepidation, that I had accepted the Extension faculty position at UC Davis, he was genuinely happy for me, despite the burden and organizational hassle that is always created by job turnover. I realized that he put higher priority on the fulfillment and career development of his colleagues than on the immediate needs of the organization. In my supervisory positions since, I have tried to put people first, and I believe it has always paid off for all involved in the form of strong professional networks and more satisfying careers. And, perhaps paradoxically, it’s usually good for the organization as well.”

What advice would you give to current students and recent alums?

“Be flexible and alert to possibilities. Enjoy the ride. Seek out colleagues whom you can connect with and nurture those friendships throughout your career. Try to learn research methodology really, really well, whether quantitative or qualitative – preferably both. Those skills will give you a tremendous boost in all sorts of professional settings that you can’t begin to predict. Hone your writing skills. And learn how to take criticism, because you’ll get lots of it — if you’re lucky.”

What are your favorite activities outside of work?

“Traveling and spending time with my wife, Jana Kay. For exercise, I try to run or jog — or sometimes slog — most days of the week. I finished my second Corvallis half-marathon back in April. I had a friend visiting from Oklahoma and we mostly walked the course, though I like to think it was at breakneck speed. Also, earlier this summer, I had the pleasure of driving cross-country with my old college roommate, in a car that was just a little too small for me (see photo).

My other favorite activity outside of work is playing chess. I’ve played tournament chess for most of my life. I’m probably not at my peak playing strength anymore (p < .10), but on the positive side, I did finish tied for second at the 2015 Oregon Senior Open in Portland in August – with ‘senior’ defined rather liberally as anyone age 50 or better. So I can still push a pawn or two.”

Marc and Miata