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Oct 17, 2003

$500k Grant to Calvin

A Calvin College psychology professor has earned a grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to study alcohol abuse in rural adolescents.

Dr. Laura De Haan will receive $577,400 over four years from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, an office of Health and Human Services.

That money will fund a study of young people in four states - North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming and Wisconsin.

De Haan has studied adolescent abuse of alcohol before, but this latest grant will allow her to teach halftime and do research with the other half of her hours. She also will bring two Calvin students per year on board to assist her in her work, providing a valuable, hands-on experience for psychology majors that she says will stead them well in graduate school. She will work on the project with Calvin economics professor Kurt Schaefer, who will examine corollaries between alcohol abuse by adolescents and economic conditions in the towns in which they live.

De Haan hopes the work over the next four years will provide insights not only into why young people drink, and often binge drink, but also why some don't - and what parents, educators and others can do to ensure that adolescents avoid alcohol. She also hopes that her work will provide more insight into the world of rural adolescents, a group she feels often is forgotten in societal discussions about vulnerable youth.

All four states she and Schaefer will study have high rates of alcohol abuse in adolescents. In fact, North Dakota, where De Haan taught prior to coming to Calvin, leads the nation with a binge drinking rate of 17.2 percent in 1999 among 12 to 17 year olds (with binge drinking defined as five or more drinks at one time on at least one day in the past 30 days). South Dakota, at 16.5%, is close behind, while Wyoming and Wisconsin were at 16.5% and 14.7% in 1999. Michigan, by contrast, was at 10.7% in 1999, right around the national average.

Former Calvin professor Vernon Ehlers says the study will be a benefit to lawmakers down the road.

"Alcohol is the most commonly used drug among our nation's youth. It not only affects their social behavior, but also impacts their academic performance," said Ehlers, R-Grand Rapids. "As a policymaker, I am hopeful that the results of this study will
provide legislative insights for combating alcohol use among youth."

De Haan, who has a Ph.D. from Purdue in child development and family science, began her work on adolescents and alcohol during an eight-year career as a professor at North Dakota State University. In fact, she began writing the grant application that led to this recent award while still at North Dakota State, a process she has continued during her three years at Calvin.

When she came to Calvin in the fall of 2000 she was heartened to learn that research was not only allowed at Calvin, but encouraged.

"I had colleagues (at North Dakota State)," she says, "who didn't think I'd be able to do high-level research at a Christian college like Calvin. When I started looking closer at Calvin I was thrilled to see that I could both teach and research. This grant is, in some ways, a validation of Calvin's approach to education. And it's gratifying for me. I think research is critical in all fields and it's especially important in psychology. This work over the next four years will make me a better researcher and a better teacher. It's very exciting."

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Contact Phil de Haan
616-526-6475 (v)
616-526-7069 (f)