Professor and associate dean for research and graduate studies
College of Human Sciences
Jennifer Kerpelman studied psychology at Old Dominion University in her native Norfolk, Va., earning a bachelor's degree in 1983 and a master's degree in 1990. She then found her way to Auburn University to earn her Ph.D. in human development and family studies. When Kerpelman joined the Auburn faculty in 1999, she was an associate professor and extension specialist in the College of Human Sciences. She is currently a professor and associate dean for research and graduate studies in the college. Because of her passion for research, Kerpelman has been active in the planning of Research Week for the last two years. This year, she served as chair of the Steering Committee. Research Week 2014 is being held this week at The Hotel at Auburn University and Dixon Conference Center.
1. What brought you to Auburn?
I first came to Auburn in 1990 for my doctorate degree. After graduating in 1994, I took a faculty position in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro. I got married in 1998, but had to live apart from my husband since he was working at Auburn. We both got to know that stretch of Interstate 85 between Greensboro and Auburn very well. When the opportunity arose for me to take a faculty position with HDFS at Auburn in 1999, I jumped at the chance to move back. It was a double win – a great place to work and finally getting to actually "live with" my husband.
Kerpelman's husband, Joe Pittman, is head of the Department of Human Development and Family Studies in the College of Human Sciences at Auburn.
2. What got you to focus your career on adolescents, young adults and families?
Prior to entering my academic career, I worked in several psychiatric hospitals with children and their families. What struck me was how much the family relationships mattered for the well-being of the child and the importance of understanding not only child development, but also the family context in which the child was being raised. I remember one child who was always bullying other children. Initially, it was hard to understand why, but then at a family activity night I watched his father bullying him in the exact same ways this child bullied other children. It all started to make sense for me and launched my career in studying and working with youth and their families.
3. You've been involved with Research Week at Auburn for the past two years. As a researcher yourself and an associate dean for research for the College of Human Sciences, why do you think it's important for an institution like Auburn to have such an event?
In 2013, I assisted with the creative scholarship exhibition of fine and applied art. This year, I am serving as chair of the steering committee which is comprised of a fantastic group of people who are ensuring that all the important details are being addressed. For researchers and creative scholars, it is not just important to conduct our research and creative scholarship, it is also important for others to know about it. Publishing in refereed journals and presenting and exhibiting our work at professional meetings are some ways we bring visibility to our work, but Research Week offers a different dimension of visibility – it helps us to connect across units in the place where we work every day. And it helps us as a collective to recognize the research and creative scholarship being conducted by our faculty and their students. We have opportunities to make our work visible to both internal and external audiences. Overall, Research Week helps to reflect and refine a culture that supports and celebrates the diversity of research and creative scholarship occurring at Auburn.
4. You were recently named a fellow by the National Council on Family Relations. What does this honor mean to you?
I am deeply honored to be named a fellow of the National Council on Family Relations as this recognizes the many years I have been engaged in research on families and in creating and delivering programming for families. I joined NCFR when I was a graduate student and have presented practically every year at the national conference, published in NCFR journals and served in NCFR leadership roles over the years. To have my commitment to family research and to supporting the development of the next generation of family scholars recognized in this way is a highlight in my career.
5. What is your favorite Auburn memory?
I have many wonderful Auburn memories, but some of the best are those experienced while traveling with students during the fall of 2003 with the College of Human Sciences' Joseph S. Bruno Auburn Abroad in Italy program. During that special semester, I watched the students experience a lot of 'aha' moments, and I experienced a few 'aha' moments myself. 'Aha' moments such as when you learn how things operate in a different culture and then the 'aha' moments when you learn about your own limitations and have the opportunity to grow. I'm glad Auburn has programs like these to help us truly get connected with the world. And while we are getting connected, it is comforting to hear, like I did while in the Rome airport, a passing traveler say, "War Eagle!"