Dr. Dave Riley Honored by Board on Human Sciences

Picture of Soeyon with Dave Riley, Board on Human winner

Pictured L-R: Laurie Boyce, State Program Director and Assistant Dean, Cooperative Extension; Dr. Dave Riley, UW-Madison Provost Sarah Mangelsdorf, Dean Soyeon Shim

Professor Dave Riley was honored at the annual meeting of the Board on Human Sciences (BoHS) for his exceptional creativity and scholarship in the development, application, and evaluation of outreach, extension, and public service programs.

The BoHS Outstanding Engagement Award recognizes an individual “campus based” or “state level faculty member”, this year’s recipient is Dr. David Riley, professor in Human Development and Family Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and UW-Extension. In the announcement, the BoHS noted Dr. Riley has made exceptional contributions to the fields of early childhood and parenting, particularly by producing a measurable, positive impact on issues of concern to Wisconsin citizens, by working with them in their own communities to use the tools of research to address these issues, and for doing this with extraordinarily large numbers of citizens and communities across our state (as well as within other states and nations).  Dr. Riley’s exemplary contributions are noted in the following way: (1) Demonstrated impacts across a large population, particularly in the area of child care supply, parenting competence and child care quality, and (2) A novel approach that has created a bridge between the state and the University, disseminating not just our research-based knowledge, but the research process itself to over 100 localities across the state.  The demonstrated impacts across large populations include:

Child Care Supply: For a 3 year period in the 1990’s Professor Riley’s work led to one business start every two weeks, a better record of economic development than any other part of the state government for those years and a highly unusual impact for a professor of child development.  The Societal issue he was addressing was the “latchkey” child phenomenon.  Riley’s approach was to engage the county Extension offices and local organizations in doing local research on the topic, followed by a community development process.  Of the 85 local projects researched, the most surprising impact was the creation of 92 after-school child care programs, creating 406 new jobs and over 47,000 families receiving education on teaching their children to be sage when home alone.  Professor Moncrieff Cochran of Cornell University is quoted as saying, “In seven years Wisconsin has gone from providing virtually no organized after school programs for its school-aged children to providing a model for the nation…”  Extending this project to other states, Riley conducted regional trainings to help other states learn to replicate this project: for example, the project was completed in 50 communities by Dr. Georgia Stevens, an Extension Specialist in Oklahoma.  He also helped 4-H programs in 13 states conduct research and issue statewide reports on the impacts of their after-school programs upon children’s development and school performance.

Parenting Competence: Just as impressive has been Prof. Riley’s work to help parents do a better job of raising their children, and in particular to prevent child maltreatment.  Riley’s “Parenting the First Year” project used a very old method, monthly age-paced newsletters for parents, but updated it to become the first publication of UW-Extension available on the internet, the first publication available in Spanish, and the first available for licensing to other organizations (in 15 states and 2 countries).   As with the project described above, Riley’s main method of reaching the state has been by working with 80 separate distribution networks throughout the state, which have included 70 (out of 72) county Extension offices, 77 maternity hospitals, 22 city or county health departments, and 214 service clubs.  This project reached as many as half of all families giving birth in Wisconsin each year since 1990, so that today approximately 10% of Wisconsin citizens have been raised by a parent who received this learn-at-home publication.  Counting both the children and adults (averaging two readers per issue) directly affected by the project, this outreach project has directly touched over one-quarter of Wisconsin citizens.  We know of no other faculty member who has ever been able to make such a claim.  More importantly, these efforts have led to demonstrated impacts.  Both his experimental trial and a randomized controlled trial conducted by another research team reported significant improvements in parental beliefs and stress levels, and improvements in self-reported parenting practices, in studies published in top journals.  Parents who receive his monthly learn-at-home publication, compared to control parents who do not, have beliefs significantly less like those of child abusing parents, report spanking their babies significantly fewer times in the previous week, and experience significantly lower levels of stress in response to the daily hassles of raising a baby.  For this work, Riley was recognized with the annual awards of Wisconsin’s two top organizations addressing child abuse prevention.

Child Care Quality: After advising state government on its child care policies for many years, Prof. Riley led the technical assistance and evaluation components of a large scale demonstration project for the state beginning in 1999.  Conducting a statewide treatment-and-comparison group experiment, with direct observation of classrooms from the Menominee Tribal Child Care program to Multicultural Child Care in Milwaukee, Riley’s team was able to show that state government had the ability to quickly and significantly raise the quality of child care provided to Wisconsin’s low income working families, in ways that should raise the school and life outcomes of the children from those families.  This project also led to his publication of 3 textbooks for the training of early childhood professionals, one of which was selected for distribution to 30,000 members of the National Association for the Education of Young Children. His team also proposed the development of a second new policy of Wisconsin state government, the YoungStar program that rates Wisconsin child care programs on a 5-star system.  Riley and his colleagues began promoting this kind of consumer-based system of quality improvement for Wisconsin child care in the 1990’s.  In 2005 they published a paper demonstrating its feasibility for Wisconsin, using existing institutional data of state government.  They also delivered a series of presentations to state government leaders on the options for such a program.  YoungStar was eventually passed into law and launched in 2011, and the state’s data suggest that better-informed consumers are already driving the state’s child care programs to improve their quality.

Riley has always described his approach as the application of an older tradition –the agricultural seed test– to the realm of social and behavior sciences, generating knowledge that is specific to the local ecology (whether the natural or social ecology). He has produced 179 reports of local research, partnering with over 370 non-profit organizations, businesses, and public agencies.  In each of these organizations, spanning every county in Wisconsin, citizens have gained a sense that their state university in Madison cares about them and their local issues. Professor Riley is an exemplar of our land grant mission.  Prof. Martha Minow from Harvard Law School, stated, “Dr. Riley is an outstanding scholar and, in the best sense of the word, public servant.”


BoHS: Board on Human Sciences, Inc. – Representing the Human Dimension in the Sciences

The Outstanding Engagement Award is one of four awards presented annually by the Board on Human Sciences.  Information on the Ellen Swallow Richards Public Service Award, Lifetime Achievement Award, and Undergraduate Research Mentor Award can be found at www.TheBoHS.org.

The Board on Human Sciences, Inc. is an association of administrators of higher education units responsible for research/discovery, extension/outreach, and teaching/learning programs in the Human Sciences at universities across the country. Their members are committed to a national agenda that unifies disciplines within and beyond the Human Sciences to enrich people’s lives.

For more information on the Board on Human Sciences, member institutions, the BoHS Awards and the Award recipients go to www.TheBoHS.org.


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