The University of Michigan Center for Human Growth and Development will be closing on June 30, according to an email sent out by Dr. Rebecca Cunningham, vice president for research at the University, to the CHGD community on June 8. 

“This decision was not easy, but with many competing research priorities, as well as economic uncertainty, it is necessary,” Cunningham wrote. 

CHGD has a 56-year history at the University. In an email to The Daily, CHGD Director Dr. Julie Lumeng noted the successes over the span of the center’s history. 

“Research at the Center for Human Growth and Development has led to major advancements in iron deficiency anemia, autism, children’s cognitive and language development, children’s growth, and children’s wellbeing internationally,” Lumeng said. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has created numerous financial ramifications for higher education institutions, especially universities who contain a large population of students living on-campus, as housing and dining refunds were an unexpected loss. University President Mark Schlissel commented on this in a letter reported by the Detroit News. 

In the announcement, Cunningham said the decision to close the center was made based on several factors. 

“The center was up for a regular funding renewal this summer which is the normal process for our centers,” Cunningham said. “With a number of competing priorities across the U-M research enterprise and other economic uncertainties related to the novel coronavirus, we made the difficult decision to sunset CHGD.”

The closure will have no impact on the status of current projects or scholarship activity as faculty members, researchers and graduate students with ties to the center have primary appointments in schools and colleges within the University.

“Existing projects will not be affected by the closure of CHGD because they all operate within U-M schools and colleges,” Lumeng said. “CHGD played a vital role in our research enterprise because the center provided additional support and helped catalyze synergies across disciplines.” 

Dr. Katherine Rosenblum, a professor of psychiatry in the Medical School, also leads the Zero to Thrive Initiative, a program for students and researchers interested in the field of human development to continue pursuing their interests. It includes faculty from nine different schools and departments on campus.

“Focus of Z2T overlaps with CHGD and includes research, service, policy and training with a focus on populations from pregnancy through early childhood, with an emphasis on promoting health and well-being of families facing adversity,” Rosenblum said. “We train many students across disciplines at all levels in research and applied work, and have strong emphasis on community engagement and partnership.”

Lumeng emphasized research focused in the area of human growth and development has the opportunity to promote well-being for a lifetime with long-lasting impacts. 

“Researchers in this space are especially attentive to how phenomena may differ based on a child's developmental stage,” Lumeng said. “We are interested in how people change over time, and what affects that change.”

Elizabeth Ludwig-Borycz, a Ph.D. student in the School of Public Health’s Nutritional Science Department, has been working on the Adolescent Interventions to Manage Self-Regulation of Type 1 Diabetes project for the past year. She plans to continue working on this project in the future, but she noted there will be some losses with CHGD’s closure in terms of their resources for research trainees and students.

“I heard about the loss of opportunities for trainees and students around the following things that CHGD have provided: learning about U-M/external interdisciplinary research on children and youth, connecting with researchers who do this work across campus and getting specialized training on developmental science and methods,” Ludwig-Borycz said.  

Cunningham noted research and scholarship activity has begun to ramp up in accordance with state regulations and guidance from public health experts. 

“The university is currently in its second wave of research re-engagement, and more than 3,000 researchers from the Ann Arbor campus have safely resumed on-campus activity,” Cunningham said. “The process for ramping up research activity across U-M is going to be a gradual one, but our hope is that a majority of our faculty, staff and students can safely resume their research and scholarship in the coming months.”

Daily Staff Reporter Celene Philip can be reached at celenep@umich.edu

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