Penn State York team presented work on needs for fathers at national conference

Two students, an alumae and their faculty mentor brought their research findings to the National Council on Family Relations Conference
Three students and a faculty member standing on a stairway

Lydia Jones, human development and family studies (HDFS) senior; Charissa Strode, recent HDFS graduate; Sonia Molloy, associate professor of HDFS; and Devin Taylor, HDFS senior (left to right) at the National Council on Family Relations (NCFR) conference in Orlando.


Credit: Amber Majeske

YORK, Pa. — Penn State York human development and family studies (HDFS) students Lydia Jones and Devin Taylor and alumnus Charissa Strode presented research at the National Council on Family Relations (NCFR) 2023 conference in Orlando, Florida, in November. Their faculty adviser, Sonia Molloy, associate professor of HDFS, accompanied them on the trip and presented research of her own, emphasizing the opportunities that can come with undergraduate research.

According to their website, the NCFR is “the premier professional association for understanding and strengthening families through interdisciplinary research, theory, and practice.” The theme of this year’s conference was “The Way We Are Now: Families and Communities at the Center of the Syndemic.”

In the context of HDFS, a syndemic describes a state in which communities are more susceptible to disease or illness due to socioeconomic factors. For example, the NCFR program chair, M. Elise Radina, described the COVID-19 pandemic alongside social injustices as the basis of today’s syndemic.

“The syndemic has brought with it many losses,” Radina said. “Not just loss of loved ones due to illness and violence but also the loss of normalcy, human interactions, relationships, identities, etc. As family scientists and practitioners, we have much work to do to understand how a syndemic impacts individuals, families and communities and develop various methods to help best navigate the syndemic and to promote health and well-being.”

Penn State York student research: Fathering in a syndemic

In preparation for the conference, fourth-year students Jones and Taylor worked together on their research topic of “Fathers’ Desires and Needs for Parenting Support When Experiencing a Syndemic.” The pair submitted their proposal to the NCFR board, who approved the topic for a poster presentation session.

“Our research looks at all the external stressors fathers experience and how those stressors affect their parenting,” Taylor said. “In our case, we sought to understand what the fathers wanted.”

According to Jones, their work revealed a need for more resources and interventions for fathers.

Taylor and Jones began working with Molloy in the fall semester of 2022. They began by coding transcriptions of interviews that Molloy had conducted. They eventually moved into thematic coding and preparing the abstract, proposal and, eventually, a manuscript they plan to submit for publication in a scientific journal. 

When Molloy approached the students about the conference, Taylor and Jones said the value of the opportunity was evident.

“I am hoping to start graduate school in the fall semester of 2024,” Taylor said. “After grad school, I want to get into policy at some point. This research is key for future policymakers for helping fathers. We knew working with Dr. Molloy would be an amazing opportunity, and we couldn’t have asked for a better research mentor.”

As for Jones, she said the experience helped her gain clarity on her goals.

“The NCFR conference provided me with opportunities and exposure to intelligent research discussions, motivating me to consider a future pursuit of a master’s degree,” Jones said. “I enjoyed the chance to learn and gather insights from like-minded researchers, whether it was through their interactions during our presentation or by listening to their discussions about their work.”

Continued opportunities for alumni

Strode, class of 2021, works as a teacher at the York Jewish Community Center and is in the process of applying to graduate programs.

According to Molloy, the rapport that develops between students and their faculty mentors during the research process often extends beyond graduation, as was the case for Strode, who presented alongside Molloy on the topic of “Hope in Rural Fathers of Appalachia.”

“I have been working on research with Dr. Sonia Molloy at Penn State York, and she informed me that she wanted to put the work in a symposium at the NCFR Conference,” Strode said. “It was so exciting to network and meet researchers whose work I read in journals during my time as an undergraduate student.”

Strode also noted how grateful she was to meet professors and advisers she would like to work with in graduate school.

Molloy commented that the students put countless hours and dedication into their research and presented with confidence and knowledge of their work.

For more information about the NCFR conference or student research, please contact Sonia Molloy at [email protected].