Human Development and Family Studies

Human Development and Family Studies

The Human Development and Family Studies program at Penn State was among the first of its kind in the nation, and continues to be one of the most respected.

Our department is committed to excellence in research, teaching, and service regarding lifespan human development in the context of the family, community, and society.

Five Reasons to Major in HDFS 

  • HDFS is interdisciplinary. We believe that human development can best be understood by looking at the whole person, rather than from the narrow perspective of a single discipline. Our interdisciplinary approach makes use of an outstanding faculty who help students integrate knowledge about development from many perspectives—psychological, sociological, economic, cultural, as well as biological. (Learn more about the faculty and their interests here).
  • HDFS examines development "in context." Rather than just focusing on laboratory studies of development, our faculty teach students about how people develop and change in the settings where these processes occur—families, schools, communities, and the workplace. We look at the interaction of person and context; that is, how these settings influence development, how individuals affect the contexts they live in, how contexts vary by race, ethnicity, socioeconomic class, and urban versus rural setting, and how interventions in these settings can facilitate growth and reduce problems in development.
  • HDFS focuses on the whole life span—from birth to old age. We believe that our students need to know about people at different ages, and not just one age group. Students who are interested primarily in studying children and adolescents benefit from learning about parenthood and the social, psychological, and economic factors that affect how parents care for their children. Students interested in gerontology also learn about how younger people view and interact with older individuals and about the possibilities for creative intergenerational programs.
  • HDFS students gain hands-on experience. HDFS students have many opportunities to integrate classroom learning with hands-on experience, such as service learning and other classroom assignments. Most students complete a full-time internship in which they gain valuable experience in the type of job that they want to obtain after completing their degree. Students interested in research can work with faculty on a range of exciting research projects.
  • HDFS teaches students the most up-to-date information. Students learn the most current information for understanding development, as well as the diversity among individuals and families from different communities and cultures. They also learn critical thinking skills for evaluating new information and for moving from theory to application. Students have the opportunity to work with faculty on their ongoing research and learn skills to conduct research.

What HDFS Students Will Learn
As an HDFS student you will learn about concepts and research that will help you understand human development across the life span. You will learn how people and families develop—biologically, psychologically, and socially. You will study individuals and families in your own and other cultures, and learn how the family, the workplace, schools, the community, and the larger culture affect and are affected by the individual. Along with a solid background on the development of individuals and families, you will study problems such as child and spouse abuse, drug addiction, and divorce.

You will learn skills for helping individuals, families, or groups through prevention or intervention techniques. In addition to examining specific problems, you will learn how human service agencies and professionals deal with these problems. You will study moral, ethical, and legal issues you will face as professionals and learn to evaluate alternative approaches to promoting optimal development. Also, you are encouraged to develop the leadership and managerial skills necessary for success in administration and evaluation of human service programs.

You have the opportunity to learn:

  • critical thinking skills
  • communication skills
  • helping skills
  • group process skills
  • program planning skills
  • intervention skills
  • evaluation skills
  • research skills

Typical employment settings for graduates of this program include preschools, daycare centers, hospital programs for children, youth, and families, institutional and community mental health programs for individuals and families, programs for abused or neglected children and adolescents, women's resource centers, human resources programs, employee assistance programs, nursing homes, area agencies on aging and other community settings for older adults, and public welfare and family service agencies.

Typical postgraduate pursuits of students completing this degree include graduate study in human development, family studies, psychology, or sociology, or advanced professional training in psychology, law, behavioral health, counseling, or social work.

For more program information, you may send e-mail directly to Dr. DJ Stakic,, or call him at 610-892-1285.