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Family studies professor specializes in assessment, measurement

by Sherry Fisher- April 13, 2009


Ronald Sabatelli describes his interests as eclectic.

“I’ve conducted research on many different aspects of human development and the family,” says Sabatelli, professor and head of the Department of Human Development and Family Studies in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

“It’s a fascinating field.”

Much of his work over the last 28 years has been in assessment and measurement, an area where he has been a mentor to dozens of doctoral students. He has developed measures to assess the quality of marital relationships that are used by therapists and in basic research around the world, as well as measures to assess the construct of family functioning. Sabatelli has also researched intimate relationships, divorce trends, parent-child dynamics, and adolescent individuation.

As senior research associate at UConn’s Center for Applied Research in Human Development, his recent work has focused on the evaluation of youth programs in the state’s urban communities.

The Center, a joint venture between the Department of Human Development and Family Studies and the Cooperative Extension System, seeks to provide assistance to state and community-based agencies in the development, delivery, and evaluation of human service programs.

“We want to help them improve their programs and ensure that they promote youth development,” Sabatelli says. He develops survey questionnaires for youngsters that help providers understand whether their programs are effective.

Sabatelli uses his strong background in social science and measurement in his work.

“I’m very committed to applied scholarship,” he says. “I think the development of program assessment devices – the research tools themselves – is an important contribution to making a difference in adolescents’ lives.”

His work has also been significant in meeting funders’ demands for accountability.

Ronald Sabatelli, head of the Department of Human Development and Family Studies.
Ronald Sabatelli, head of the Department of Human Development and Family Studies. Photo by Frank Dahlmeyer

Sabatelli was recently honored for his professional accomplishments by being named a Fellow of the National Council on Family Relations. Fellows are nominated by their peers and selected for their outstanding contributions to the field of family studies.

Sabatelli’s widely used book, Family Interaction: A Multigenerational Developmental Perspective, co-authored with UConn family studies professor Stephen Anderson, is now in its fourth edition.

He has served on the editorial boards of Journal of Marriage and the Family, Family Science Review, the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, and the Journal of Family Issues. And the National Council on Family Relations has recently appointed him editor of the journal Family Relations: Interdisciplinary Journal of Applied Family Studies.

Sabatelli earned his undergraduate degree in psychology and graduate degrees in human development and family studies from UConn.

“I was interested in studying people and believed that they would have to be studied in the context of their families,” he says.

“You’re embedded in a family culture. It has its own customs – which often don’t promote the welfare of the individuals. Our job is to understand those customs and figure out how they promote or fail to promote the health and well being of everyone within the system.”

He adds, “Being an educator is a great way of making a difference. It’s about influencing students who are going to be therapists and those who may go on to do research. Also, teaching in the human social sciences is a great way of helping people understand themselves.”

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