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University of Wisconsin-Madison

Human Sciences at Work

Small Talk:  Big Future. Closing the Word Gap with Early Intervention at Iowa State University

All babies are born with their own unique, innate potential. Whether or not that potential is unlocked is determined in large part during the first three years of life, when 80% of brain development occurs. Nothing compares to direct parent-child interaction in enhancing babies’ development. Parents who talk, read, and sing with their babies put them on the path to life-long success.

Unfortunately, research shows that babies living in poverty hear approximately three million fewer words by age three than those in higher income homes. That "word gap" has a profound effect on babies' development. It's predictive of:

·       children having smaller vocabularies and lower IQ scores at age three and older

·       lower levels of pre-literacy skills as preschoolers, creating an achievement gap that often persists or even increases over time

·       difficulties in academic and/or social-emotional adjustment in kindergarten, due to already being behind their more advantaged peers

·       the likelihood a child will be diagnosed with a disability or engage in juvenile delinquency

·       lower high school graduation rates and underemployment

One way to decrease the achievement gap is to provide programs to help parents better understand how important they are to their young children's development. Such programs have reported large, positive effects. However, these have traditionally been intensive programs that require one-to-one home visits by a professional. With more than six million children living in poverty in the U.S., it would be too expensive to do this for all families. It is clear that we must teach all parents to create enriching environments for their babies so all children will have the skills to be successful in school and life.  Small Talk was designed to do just that.

iowa state

A team including a Human Sciences Extension and Outreach university researcher, a public library, and a community non-profit agency worked together to test the effectiveness of a universal, community-based intervention to increase parents’ child-directed speech, back-and-forth interactions with their child, and knowledge of child development. Next, the team applied for and received funding for the project from a large foundation, and additional funds from smaller community grants.

Through Small Talk, parents of babies ages birth-30 months attend weekly parent education classes. The classes follow the LENA Start™ curriculum, created by the LENA Research Foundation, which is evidence-based, and incorporates technology and best-practices in adult learning. It employs direct instruction, written materials, videos, and small group discussion to teach parents the importance of talking, reading, and singing with their babies, and strategies, namely 14 “Talking Tips”, for improving the quality and quantity of those interactions. image three

Parents use a LENA Start™ high-tech "talk pedometer" to record interactions between themselves and their babies one day (approximately 16 hours) each week. The recordings are processed through computer software, and an hour by hour report is produced, which documents the number of words directed to the child by an adult, the number of back-and-forth interactions between the adult and child, and the amount of electronic sound, such as TV, in the background. The information contained in the report helps parents identify opportunities to apply their new skills, in hopes of seeing measurable improvements the following week.  image two

The goal of this study was to add to the limited research base on the effectiveness of a universal community-based prevention program to help parents enrich the quantity and quality of the language input they provide to their children. The data demonstrated that the families in the intervention grew in talk (both parents and child) and conversational turns significantly more than families who just attended the library regularly or specifically engaged in library programs for families. This study demonstrates that a Human Sciences Extension and Outreach parent education program like Small Talk, using the LENA Start® curriculum can assist parents from many backgrounds to consistently provide enriching language interactions to their children, thus creating habits that may benefit their children for many years to come.four

Dementia Care Research at Oklahoma State University

There are currently 46.8 million people with dementia worldwide and this number is expected to reach 131.5 million by 2050. In the US, 5.5 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease or some form of dementia and by 2050, this number is projected to grow to 13.8 million. In response to increasingly significant issues facing individuals with dementia and their caregivers, the Alliance on Aging in the College of Human Sciences at Oklahoma State University have collaborated with community members and industry partners to develop innovative initiatives with the help of Human Sciences students.

The Dementia Friendly City Center Student Design Workshop

dementia center

The Dementia Friendly City Center (DFCC) is envisioned to be a care center to encourage a focus on wellness over illness for individuals living with dementia. A student 3-day design workshop was held in the College of Human Sciences, with five student teams developing and presenting their designs focusing on the mission of the DFCC: an environment designed to promote a comfortable and productive model for everyday life. Students focused on creating conceptual work that incorporated four design tenants: sustainability, a therapeutic environment, universal design and supporting personal autonomy.

Convergence Community Workshop


The OSU student work led to grant funding for a follow-up community visioning workshop developed through the College of Human Sciences and sponsored by the ASID Foundation, bringing together stakeholders from around Oklahoma to discuss the opportunities for re-thinking dementia care in our state, nationally and internationally. Community members from memory care and medical fields, architects, landscape architects, state health employees, social workers, and family caregivers attended the all-day Convergence workshop, as well as OSU students, faculty and alumni. An additional 2-year grant funded by the non-profit Next50 Initiative will allow for further student design team work to create a fully developed site plans and images to share with other entities interested in the DFCC concept.

CATcare- Cognitive Assistive Technology for Dementia Home Care

Other recently funded grant work at the College of Human Sciences includes a partnership with the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering, College of Engineering, Architecture and Technology (CEAT) for a 3-year NIH R-15 grant. The objective of this project is to develop an innovative cognitive assistive technology, called CATcare, a wearable device designed to enable the individual with dementia more independence and situational awareness in the home setting. This technology will be designed to enhance quality of living with less reliance on the caregiver, instilling more confidence and autonomy. Several undergraduate and graduate research assistants will be involved over the 3-year period, and grant funding will support the development of a human factors lab in the Department of Design, Housing and Merchandising in the College of Human Sciences for the CATcare testing. This lab will include a mock-up home environment which will also serve to support other environmental design and assistive technology research focused on an aging population. Find more information on the Alliance on Aging at or contact Dr. Emily Roberts at 

Texas Wine Marketing Research Institute at the College of Human Sciences, Texas Tech University

TTU Wine Research Map

Since its inception in 1988, the mission of the Texas Wine Marketing Research Institute has been to provide timely and relevant research and education about wine and to foster the economic development and growth of the wine and grape industry in Texas.

  • More than 20 years of research conducted to help educate the Texas Wine Industry on best marketing practices.
  • Numerous industry reports which illustrate consumer and industry trends allowing the industry to implement best practices.
  • Economic Impact reports which provide information on the growth of the Texas Wine industry compared to national averages.

Texas Tech Wine Research Chart

In addition to its pursuit of industry research, the Institute is dedicated to the education of the next generation of wine industry professionals and consumers. As an integral part of the Department of Hospitality and Retail Management at Texas Tech University, the Institute works closely with the department in order to provide up-to-date educational experiences. Additionally, the Institute routinely partners with the University’s Plant and Soil Sciences department which hosts the enology and viticulture programs.

Educational Programs:

Texas Tech University offers wine-related courses and specializations through two departments. The Department of Plant and Soil Sciences offers a specialization in Viticulture and Enology with a wide range of viticulture and enology courses. As of fall 2018, there are 157 undergraduate and 114 graduate students enrolled in the Viticulture & Enology academic specialization.

The Department of Hospitality and Retail Management offers two wine business courses: wine marketing and wine tourism, and a “wine track”, providing a specialization in the wine business. There are 387 undergraduate students in the hospitality program, 20 Master’s, and 13 Ph.D. Many of these students are interested in the business of wine. Students enrolled in the wine courses and the wine track are most interested in employment within the wine industry and distribution.

By partnering with the WSET®, the Institute is able to ensure that the education offered is on the cutting edge of industry knowledge, giving students an advantage when entering the job market.

The Hill Country University Center

The Fredericksburg area, located in the heart of the Hill Country AVA of Texas, has the highest concentration of vineyards and wineries in Texas with 81 vineyards and 61 wineries. It has been recognized as the second-most popular wine tourism destination in the U.S. The industry expansion continues at a rapid pace, driving the overall growth of the Texas wine industry, which ranks fifth in wine production and has more than quadrupled in number of wineries in the past 10 years.

Texas Tech opened a regional campus located in the Fredericksburg area in 2002. The Hill Country University Center in Fredericksburg provides a technology-driven classroom setting, allowing TTU at Fredericksburg to offer face-to-face, online and hybrid classes toward completion of a variety of bachelor's and graduate degrees. Their state-of-the-art facilities, wine labs and teaching vineyard, students can also have hands-on learning experiences to prepare for a career in the wine-making industry.

As part of the educational offering at TTU-Fredericksburg, the Texas Cooperative Extension offers Viticulture and Enology Certificate program awarding continuing education units (noncredit), with the Teaching Winery being the key component of the certificate program. Since its recent launch, 38 students have completed various viticulture and enology courses. The certificate students are also the target audience for WSET® qualifications offered in Fredericksburg.

Healthy Homes Initiative at Mississippi State University Extension

msu health fair

Households across America have hidden hazards that can impact the health of all occupants. Home health hazards include asthma triggers such as mold, lead-based paint, radon, pests, injury dangers and poor indoor air quality. Mississippi State University Extension’s Healthy Homes Initiative (HHI) provides Mississippians the knowledge they need to keep their indoor environments safe and healthy. HHI, part of MSU Extension's Family and Consumer Sciences program, improves the quality of life for individuals, families, and communities in Mississippi by providing reliable information to promote home health and safety and improve individual environmental decision-making skills.

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What does the Healthy Homes Initiative offer?

Tailored to meet residential needs, the Healthy Home Solutions is a 12-topic curriculum, developed by and for Extension educators. The topics can be presented individually or as a series, and are adaptable to fit a range of timeframes. Topic titles are:

  1. Healthy Homes Overview
  2. Indoor Air Quality Overview
  3. Radon
  4. Asthma & Allergies
  5. Mold & Moisture Control
  6. Carbon Monoxide & Other Combustion Gases
  7. Lead
  8. Drinking Water
  9. Home Safety
  10. Hazardous Household Products
  11. Integrated Pest Management
  12. Home Energy

Who might benefit from the Healthy Homes training?

  • Families
  • Childcare providers
  • Environmental health practitioners
  • Public health nurses
  • Housing professionals
  • Community outreach workers
  • Tribal environmental health officials
  • Leaders of community-based organizations

The MSU Extension Center for Continuing Education provides more than 20 different asbestos, lead, and mold removal classes designed for contractors, home inspectors, painters, and others at

Want to bring a greater focus on health homes to your state?

MSU Extension’s Healthy Homes Initiative program leaders credit the resources available through the national Extension Healthy Homes Partnership for providing the foundation for their work. For more information about that effort, visit or reach out to David Buys at  

Growing Together Iowa at Iowa State University Extension and Outreach

Access to healthy food is a wicked problem. One in eight Iowans is food insecure and in some counties, the number is closer to one in five. People who visit food pantries want fresh fruits and vegetables, which make up a healthy diet. In 2015, state coordinators of the SNAP-Ed and Master Gardener programs launched the Growing Together Iowa project. The project aims to increase access to fresh fruits and vegetables, which are foundational to healthy eating, and often not available at food pantries. The target audience includes people in Iowa who visit food pantries, meal sites, and food banks.

The interdisciplinary team implements a strategic approach to increase access to healthy food in food pantries. Strategies include:

  • SNAP-Ed funded mini grants to Master Gardener-led teams across the state who commit to collaborate with food pantries and increase healthy food access through donation gardens or food rescue initiatives.
  • Training and resources for Master Gardeners and their community partners including food safety for donation gardens and tips for maximizing fruits and vegetable production.
  • Nutrition education resources offered to all participating food pantries.
  • Online resources on cleaning, storing and using fresh produce on Iowa State University Extension and Outreach’s website and app called Spend Smart. Eat Smart.

The Growing Together Iowa collaboration has been in place for over 3 years and the team has seen strong outcomes.

During the 2018 growing season:

  • Growing Together Iowa team members donated 90,000 pounds of produce to partner pantries and meal sites
  • Donations reached 95,721 Iowans through 101 food pantries.
  • Master Gardeners leveraged their mini grants to leverage $34,775 in matched funds or in-kind contributions from local sources.

This project has affected not only our target audience of people experiencing food insecurity; it has also changed our Master Gardener volunteers.

  • 339 Master Gardener volunteers participated in the project volunteering over 6,780 hours and building partnerships in the community with 438 people.

In 2018, the Growing Together team spoke with Master Gardeners and other volunteers from counties participating in the project. Seventy-five percent of volunteers noted a change in their perception of food insecurity since taking part in this project. Most often, volunteers expressed a newfound understanding of the scope of food insecurity within their own communities. Volunteers often noted their changing perceptions of food insecurity happened when they went to the donation site(s) to drop off the produce they grew or rescued.

Five states are currently replicating components of Growing Together Iowa. They include Nebraska, Wisconsin, Indiana, Illinois, and Michigan. The Iowa interdisciplinary team is proud to support our partner states through regular calls and two face-to-face meetings. Our national collaboration has focused on sharing success stories and tools, and creating shared evaluation metrics to measure change. In 2017 and 2018, the multi-state team prepared a project impact report including six metrics shared across all states.

The Growing Together Iowa team includes:

  • State SNAP-Ed Coordinator
  • State Master Gardener Coordinator
  • Representative from the ISU Local Foods Team
  • Faculty from Horticulture and Food Sciences and Human Nutrition
  • Graduate students

Youth Active and Media Savvy at Tennessee State University

The Youth Active and Media Savvy (YAMS) Summer Camp encourages healthier lifestyles by promoting cultural empowerment to teach weight management skills to African American youth at risk for adult obesity. This research incorporates cultural empowering techniques with media literacy education. Media literacy is an effective strategy because it teaches individuals to deconstruct media messages and identify the sponsor’s motives in representing the intended audience’s point of view. Exploring and integrating relevant attitudes, values, goals, and practices of the African American experience and African traditions will help build cultural empowerment. This 12-day, 3-week camp supports the USDA-NIFA strategic goal of preventing childhood obesity and the priority areas of human health and obesity as it relates to nutrition and youth and family development. YAMS Camp addresses the national need to reduce childhood obesity by developing and delivering a culturally empowering intervention that promotes healthy dietary habits, physical activity, and media literacy to historically disadvantaged youth.

At YAMS, all meals provided are healthy, nutritious, and meatless. Campers receive healthy cooking lessons that include food and kitchen safety information. Lessons and meals emphasize increasing consumption of fruit, vegetable, whole grains, and food sources of calcium and vitamin A. Nutrition lessons encourage limiting added sugar, fats and salt and controlling portion sizes. Daily meals include three to five servings of fruit and vegetables. Campers prepare their healthy lunches and wash their own dishes. YAMS campers also receive a healthy breakfast and two snacks each day. Youth create and present various forms of media and artistic expressions including posters, songs, raps, poems, and videos about advertising, healthy habits, YAMS, and positive self-esteem affirmations. Leadership and team building exercises and activities are conducted at the training course located on the Agricultural Research and Education Center (AREC). The cost of the program is on a sliding scale allowing disadvantaged youth to participate.

Camp facilitator – teach, supervise and monitor campers, ages 8-13, in: 1) media literacy, 2) nutrition education, 3) cooking lessons, 4) BroCode or Sister Circle, 5) Physical Activity, and 6) Re-Kinection. 

For more information, check out the YAMS website at:

Urban GEMS at The Ohio State University

Urban G.E.M.S. (Gardening Entrepreneurs Motivating Sustainability) is a positive youth development program that uses gardening to teach science, nutrition, health and wellness, culinary arts, and entrepreneurship. The desired long-term outcomes for Urban GEMS are to:

1.      Increase teen engagement in school/education through STEM and experiential learning program activities.

2.      Increase nutritional knowledge to improve healthy eating and decrease unhealthy eating habits among participants.

3.      Increase community involvement in changing patterns of food consumption.

4.      Produce young people who are on a pathway to success in work and/or higher education.

Urban GEMS was developed by Dr. Deanna Wilkinson and funded by the USDA/NIFA Children Youth and Families at Risk (CYFAR) program. Click here for more information about this very successful program at The Ohio State University .

Southern Niche at Southern University and A&M College

Southern Niche is a student–operated, retail store-laboratory dedicated to selling merchandise produced by small-scale entrepreneurs and hobbyists. The store-laboratory was started by a USDA/ NIFA Capacity Building Grant received by Dr. Doze Y Butler, Apparel Merchandising and Textiles (AMTX) Professor and Program Leader, in 2010.  The original objectives were three-fold:

·         To establish a university-housed, student-operated, retail store laboratory to provide experiential learning for students

·         To increase human capital by training students for leadership positions in retail merchandising and related fields

·         To enhance economic development by strengthening the University's linkages with small-scale entrepreneurs and other producers in the State of Louisiana

Since the store initially opened, the objectives have expanded to include vendors from outside of the State of Louisiana.

Senior-level students complete their internships in Southern Niche and receive university credit (3.0 credits). The boutique is located on the first floor of Pinkie Thrift Hall in Room 155.  It is open in Spring semesters.  Southern Niche also hosts pop-up shops during Fall semesters. The store sells various types of apparel, accessories and gift items. This semester, the biggest sellers were bath and body products, as well as candles. Other items offered for sale this semester included sorority and fraternity items, Afrocentric merchandise, jewelry, books, men’s ties, wall art, tees and hoodies, among others.

Every aspect of Southern Niche was arranged by the students. When Dr Butler first received the grant, students met to determine the name of boutique. They narrowed the names down to three; then, a committee comprised of faculty, staff and students voted.  The result was Southern Niche.

To ascertain what to sell in Southern Niche, students conduct a needs assessment or market scan. The results reveal where the voids are in merchandise desired by the University community. Whereas the boutique sells to a full range of customers, traditional college-age students are the target. Once the assessment has been completed, the students solicit vendors to sell their merchandise in Southern Niche. Because the AMTX students are so talented, they often sell their own creations in the boutique.

Plans for the future of Southern Niche include global sourcing and online sales.

Meetings & Events Events


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Westin Georgetown Hotel, 2350 M Street. NW, Washington, DC
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Embassy Suites by Hilton Kansas City Plaza, 220 West 43rd Street, Kansas City, MO 64111

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