Recollections from 75 years of Human Development

We invite you to view some recollections submitted by former members of the Human Development family. If you would like to submit your own recollections please do so here!

Eleanor Haspel-Portner, Ph.D. 1971

My gratitude for the time I spent at the University of Chicago as a graduate
student in Human Development, and the deep transformational education I
received there, continues even now, fifty years later. When I entered the
program I found myself immersed in material of such a broad scope that my
mind and heart opened in a way education had never activated in me before.

Studying with Robert LeVine, David Wiley, William Henry, Bernice Neugarten,
June Tapp, Robert Hess, Lawrence Kohlberg, among others, was a rare gift of
learning creative thinking as well as sound research and intellectual ways of
thinking. I was given such a firm foundation in interdisciplinary research
and theory that I recognize it foundational to my very being as well as to my
work and thinking.

Moreover, I was given total support for my educational needs and creativity
and was encouraged to pursue my dissertation and expand its scope with
incredible support from my dissertation committee – Bob LeVine, Dave Wiley,
and Bill Henry. They mentored me and helped me each step of the way. The kind
of support financially and emotionally that I received was essential to my
success, as I did my dissertation while I was teaching college at Roosevelt
University and had two babies. Bob encouraged me to expand my study, and Dave
walked me through very complex statistics. I learned to love computers and
punched my own IBM cards (with my children on my lap) often picking up
computer output at 10 pm. I loved every minute of my experience.

During my time in Human Development, my clarity on my life path became clear
and I moved away from academia and pursued postdoctoral training as a
clinical psychologist so I could use my skills helping people directly from a
multidimensional and interdisciplinary perspective. Through the years of
private clinical practice, I have continued to study, write, and learn. The
foundation I received in Human Development continues to inform my work
affirming its seeds in current times. To say that the pioneers in Human
Development with whom I studied remain great inspirations and mentors pales
in light of creative brilliance they shined for us all, at that time.

Without Bob LeVine and David Wiley’s support, I would not be where I am in
my life today. I am ever grateful and their influence is always present in my
thoughts and work to this day.

Diana Slaughter Kotzin, AB 1962, AM 1964, Ph.D. 1968

My thoughts about my late Human Development Professor Robert D. Hess, and others, can be found in This Document.

Nancy Segal, Ph.D. 1982

When I passed my prelims I left for a year to study in Israel. When I returned there was some hint that something with those exams had changed, but I did not know what--I was filled with anxiety. Then I learned that the change had been to award honors.  Oh, what a great day that was!

Carol Cronin Weisfeld, Ph.D. 1980

I have been teaching now, for 37 years, at the university level. In my work with graduate and undergraduate students, I am still struck, frequently, by how deeply my teaching moments are imbued with lessons I learned from my mentors at HD. For example, in my own work with students, I emphasize the need to examine human behavior on multiple levels (thank you, Martha McClintock). I stress the need to read Piaget carefully and appreciate his understanding of the infant's experience (thank you, Ken Kay). I stress the need to observe nonhuman primate behavior (thank you, Stuart and Jeanne Altmann). I  urge my students to reach out to observe other cultural groups (thank you, Rick Shweder and, especially, Dan Freedman).

Jason Bruck, Ph.D. 2013

I remember an eternally helpful and patient advisor, Professor Jill Mateo. I remember 5 crazy summers wrestling squirrels in the Eastern Sierra, and I remember a department willing to let me embrace a very loose definition of "human" development. Here's to the next 75 years!

Judith Torney-Purta, M.A. 1962 and Ph.D. 1965

Choosing to Study at Chicago in the 1960s:  After a BA in Psychology from Stanford (1959) and a year in a clinical psychology doctoral program, I wanted a more interdisciplinary program.  I entered The Committee on Human Development in Fall of 1960. 

My Research Focus at Chicago: In 1961 I was offered a position as a research assistant studying children’s “political socialization.”  It involved a professor and a doctoral assistant from political science as well as a professor of human development and myself. I had to develop skill in interviewing children, writing survey items that they could understand, and designing statistical analysis. This was an early “mixed method” study.  Our interdisciplinary team collected survey data from 12,000 US elementary school children, but the two professors couldn’t agree about the analysis and two books were written.  Interpreting the data from a psychological point of view required presentation of results in a new way in The Development of Political Attitudes in Children (co-authored with Robert Hess, 1967).  We chose graphic visual data presentation to emphasize development from grades 2 through 8 within different groups (e.g. by gender). The graphs were made with tape pasted on typewritten forms and then photographed.  I wrote my dissertation about "structural aspects of children’s political attitude-concept systems.” I had to manage 12,000 IBM cards using a card sorter before sending them with my programmer to the computer center; he carried them in his bicycle basket!  

Memorable Faculty Members:   I learned about Piagetian theory from Helen Koch, who stood ramrod straight and lectured without notes for 50 minutes.  I learned how sociology differed from social psychology from Joan Moore.  Don Fiske from Psychology was an excellent mentor, always able to identify exactly the problem I was having with a statistical method or an argument.  My most memorable classmate was Mike Csikszentmihalyi. We had offices next to each other (mine full of IBM cards and his with paintings made by subjects in his dissertation).

Outside of Academe:  A recent book called Social Categories in Everyday Experience notes that experiences in early adulthood form “identity stories” which are formative in future personal and professional choices. Many of my ideas about context and social behavior originated when I was living in Pilsen on the near West side. It was rapidly becoming Hispanic in the early 1960s, when I lived there while commuting to Hyde Park.   Here I learned about real life concerns like welfare checks that didn’t last for a month, sweatshop employment, and domestic violence.  In the mid-1960s I organized a children’s choir that traveled around the city to give concerts (among the first of its kind).  I also gave folk concerts with my guitar. I sang Finnish songs learned as an exchange student and a variety of other folk-social-protest songs. I made $50 in one night at a Hyde Park coffeehouse, a lot of money in 1962. At one HD party I and some classmates wrote a song whose first verse was as follows:  “Welcome to Human Development, the in-group calls it HD; we study the aged and the ageless; eventually that’s what we’ll be.”

Career as a Whole: I am still in the same research field after more than 50 years, have won two awards from APA and was elected as a member of the National Academy of Education in 2014.   Over my 47 years as a faculty member I mentored forty students to the PH.D. (at IIT, in the Psychology Department at the University of Illinois at Chicago and at the University of Maryland’s Department of Human Development -- from which I retired in 2014).