The Center for Developmental Science was established by the Governing Board of the University of North Carolina in 1994 and was originally funded by an National Institute on Mental Health initiative to support new behavioral research centers. The foundation of the CDS, however, predates the center and was first embodied in the Carolina Consortium on Human Development, established in 1987 by faculty and researchers from three neighboring universities to promote the interdisciplinary study of developmental theory and longitudinal methods. The aim was to transcend the limitations of institutional and disciplinary divisions in order to facilitate scholarship and collaboration among faculty and young scientists. In the first six years of its existence, the Consortium focused on issues of developmental theory and research, providing proseminars, workshops and lectures, and postdoctoral training.
The CDS was founded by Dr. Robert Bennett Cairns, who served as its director from its inception until his death in 1999. Bob Cairns’ life was devoted to the study of behavioral development. A Los Angeles native, Bob received his Ph.D. in psychology from Stanford University in 1960. After graduate school, he taught for a few years at the University of Pennsylvania and for a more extensive period of time at Indiana University. Bob joined the faculty of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1973. He was internationally recognized for his work on social development across the lifespan, for his longitudinal analyses of alternative developmental pathways, and for his pioneering efforts to build an interdisciplinary developmental science. Bob’s landmark contributions to the field were based on a unique synthesis that involved the integration of ideas from biology, sociology, anthropology, and psychiatry into a mix that began with developmental psychology. The power of this synthesis fueled Bob’s research programs for decades, but also had a profound impact on the thinking of his students and colleagues. Indeed, because of his contagious enthusiasm for a rigorous developmental synthesis, Bob was able to bring together researchers from many disciplines — people who had a common interest in issues of development, but who nonetheless had never really talked to each other. The result of this integrative effort was the birth of a new intellectual endeavor, a truly developmental science, one that is grounded in interdisciplinary basic research but also has major implications for problems of society. (For a tribute to Bob’s contributions, please click here.)
Martha Cox, PhD, was the Director of the Center for Developmental Science (CDS) from 2001 to 2011. Over the past 25 years, Dr. Cox has become known for her theoretical contributions to the study of family systems and her empirical expertise in longitudinal and observational studies of families and children. After earning her PhD at the University of Virginia she held several faculty and research positions prior in Chapel Hill, NC at the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute in 1993 as a Senior Research Scientist. She has served as a Principal Investigator on four major longitudinal studies, including NICHD Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development, the NIMH funded Transition to Parenthood Study, the NSF funded Durham Child Health and Development Study, and the NICHD and NIDA funded Family Life Project. In addition, Dr. Cox was the Principal Investigator and Director of the Family Research Consortium from 1993 to 1998. This interdisciplinary group of 12 senior scientists was committed to increasing the quality of family research with focuses on socioeconomic and ethnic diversity in family structure, process, and context. In 2001, Dr. Cox was named the Director of the Center for Developmental Science and focused much of her tenure as Director on strategically building the interdisciplinary collaborations that are the hallmark of developmental science as pioneered by those such as Dr. Robert Cairns. In addition, Dr. Cox recognized the importance of training the next generation of developmental scientists and as such provided extensive support for graduate, post-graduate training, and junior faculty training and career development. Her individual efforts and passionate support of both the science and the scientists at the Center for Developmental Science helped position the CDS as one of the leading institutions for interdisciplinary research on human development. Dr. Cox is currently a Professor of Psychology at UNC-Chapel Hill and continues to be an active member of the CDS community at large.