Cultural Diversity and Understanding are Central to Human Scientists’ Research

Human scientists address cultural and societal issues worldwide. Auburn University’s College of Human Sciences, or CHS, has research programs focused on a variety of quality of life areas such as interpersonal relationships, health and well-being, sustainability, and consumer decisions and behavior.

Also included in those disciplines is the study of how societies worldwide relate regarding cultural experiences. Underway CHS research programs are exploring the aspects of philanthropy and how it shapes and evolves in societies; another analyzes the experiences of immigrant cultures and how integration outside their native culture groups affects their lives. Both research endeavors are contributing to a broader understanding of these key issues in cultural diversity.

Drs. Peter Weber and Cory Cobb

Drs. Peter Weber and Cory Cobb conduct their research separately, but their individual work combines to create a broader picture of civil society around the world and immigrant experiences in a culturally diverse United States.

Weber and Philanthropy

Central to Weber’s research is how philanthropic and associational action can shape and influence societal transformations.

“I am particularly interested in the ways private actors exercise and influence in public life through associations and philanthropic vehicles in times of political, cultural and economic crises,” Weber said.

An assistant professor in Philanthropy and Non-Profit Studies in the Dept. of Consumer and Design Sciences, Weber studies voluntary associations, philanthropic foundations and educational institutions. His research has focused on analyzing philanthropy in North America and in Europe in varying time periods.

“I am following three primary trajectories in my research,” Weber said. “First, I have analyzed in a historical and contemporary perspective how voluntary associations have navigated major societal changes and provided members with avenues to influence societal transformation.

“A second research trajectory focuses on the ways major philanthropic foundations attempt to influence societal change, both nationally and internationally.

“A third research trajectory addresses the question of influencing societal changes by analyzing the impact of educational programs in nonprofit and philanthropic studies.”

Weber has looked at efforts to build democratic practices of governance in interwar Germany against the background of the Nazi rise to power. He also is involved in a recently funded study of civil society in Liberia, which uses a field experiment and multi-level modeling to investigate the impact of civil society on various forms of political participation in Liberia.

“International aid and donor funding typically support civil society organizations in the assumption that a stronger civil society leads to democracy,” Weber says. “Empirical evidence, however, does not fully support this assumption, as my work on civil society in interwar Germany also shows. The project thus has strong practical relevance as it helps funders and international aid organizations to understand under what conditions civil society impacts political participation.”

Weber’s study of foundations looks at how philanthropic agencies evolve and influence change. Weber currently is analyzing how philanthropic strategies change during times of declining government funding.

“My work on philanthropic innovations looks at program-related investments, that is, investments rather than grants that foundations make in enterprises and nonprofits furthering foundations’ programmatic goals,” Weber said. “It shows that new approaches mixing philanthropic and investment practices struggled to spread because they challenged established norms that equated philanthropy to grantmaking.”

Weber’s third focus examines philanthropic initiatives supporting nonprofit management education. In the 1980s and 1990s, the environment within which nonprofit organizations operated changed significantly, requiring new nonprofit management and leadership competencies, Weber explains. Scholars have analyzed these changes in detail, pointing to federal policy changes and resulting financial pressures, competition with for-profit agencies, and changes in the value system resulting both from well-publicized nonprofit scandals and increasing reliance on business approaches.

“My work is on the coordinated response to these challenges orchestrated by organized philanthropy and institutions of higher education,” Weber said. “Findings show that while philanthropic foundations’ funding strategies advanced the institutionalization of nonprofit management education, it also raised concerns over philanthropic impact as grantees struggled with ensuring the sustainability of programs once funding ended.”

Cobb and Latino Populations in the U.S.

“I am a prevention scientist,” Cobb says.

Prevention science focuses on the development of evidence-based strategies that reduce risk factors and enhance protective factors to improve the health and wellbeing of individuals, families and communities. According to the National Prevention Science Coalition, a central tenet of prevention science is the promotion of health equity and reduction of disparities by studying how social, economic and racial inequalities and discrimination influence healthy wellbeing and development.

“I am currently working on both etiological and intervention-focused work among Latino populations in the United States, including immigrants,” Cobb said.

Etiological studies by definition serve to explain something by giving a cause or reason for it. In this field, Cobb, an assistant professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Science, is working to identify causes of youth depression and alcohol use among Hispanic immigrant adolescents in unique immigrant contexts. His other work with Latino-focused research involves populations in California, Texas and Florida.

Cobb’s research has helped to identify Latino immigrant youth who are at high risk for depression and future alcohol use in contexts where Latino populations are underrepresented.

For depression, Cobb has found that identifying as female and family cultural stress were predictive of depression, whereas identifying as male and parental engagement of effective parenting practices were protective.

For alcohol use, his results indicate that holding a strong Latino cultural orientation and parental monitoring are protective, whereas youth depression is predictive regarding future intentions to use alcohol.

Cobb also studies how immigration-related stress among immigrant parents may affect their adolescent children.

“Specifically, most adolescent youth exhibit a normative downward trajectory of problematic behaviors across adolescence,” Cobb said. “However, immigration-related stress among their parents disrupted this downward trajectory, thus contributing to the maintenance, and perhaps in some cases, increases, in problematic behaviors during adolescence.”

Cobb currently is working on additional projects to understand immigrant experiences in the U.S.

“I am completing a multi-site qualitative study among undocumented immigrants,” Cobb said. “Undocumented immigrants are those who do not have legal permission to be in the United States for work, school or asylum.”

This study involves Latino immigrants across communities in Florida, Texas and Arkansas.

“The focus of this work is to identify common themes of what it means to be undocumented,” Cobb said. “The work is in progress, but emerging themes suggest that there are several issues associated with being undocumented including pre-migration problems, challenges that occur during migration and post-migration stressors.”