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Leading marriage experts, state government officials, and highly respected researchers from across the nation comprise our Research Advisors. The purpose of this group is to provide professional expertise to guide research efforts and to apply findings to the development of future programs and services. The annual meeting brings together some of the most exceptional thinkers in the fields of marriage education, family structure and dynamics, low-income families, and public policy. Members are professionally and personally enriched by their time together through discussions about innovative ideas and projects, policy, and research. The group was created in 2001 and has consisted of the same core members throughout the years.

Bill Coffin, MA

National Association for Relationship and Marriage Education (NARME)

Bill Coffin is a Senior Fellow at the Institute for Family Studies. From 2002–2010, Coffin was the Special Assistant for Marriage Education at the Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. For most of the previous three decades, Coffin worked for the Navy, initially on active duty and then as a civilian in the Navy’s Family Support Program Headquarters in Washington, D.C. In addition, Coffin has served as the Marriage Preparation Coordinator for the Archdiocese of Washington and as a consultant to the U.S. Bishops Committee on Marriage and Family Life. He co-authored a book chapter on Preventive Interventions for Couples and has a daily online newsletter. Coffin is a graduate of Fairfield University in Connecticut and has two master’s degrees — one in Human Relations and the other in Counseling.

Carolyn Cowan, Ph.D.

University of California, Berkeley

Carolyn Cowan is Professor of Psychology, Emerita at the University of California, Berkley, where she is co-director of three longitudinal preventative intervention projects: Becoming a Family, Schoolchildren and their Families, and Supporting Father Involvement. She consults widely on the development and evaluation of interventions for parents. Cowan was a founding member of the Council on Contemporary Families, and in 1999, received the Distinguished Contribution to Family Systems Research award from the American Family Therapy Academy. Her research interests include research and clinical work with couples making the transition to parenthood and children making the transition to elementary and high school. She focuses her research on couple relationships during adult life transitions, marital distress, parenting issues and supporting fathers’ involvement.

Philip Cowan, Ph.D.

University of California, Berkeley

Philip A. Cowan is Professor of Psychology, Emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley, where he served as Director of the Clinical Psychology Program and the Institute of Human Development. In addition to authoring numerous scientific articles, he is the author of “Piaget with Feeling” (Holt, Rinehart, & Winston, 1978), co-author of “When partners become parents: The big life change for couples” (Erlbaum, 2000), and co-editor of four books and monographs, including “Family Transitions” (Erlbaum, 1990) and “The family context of parenting in the child’s adaptation to school” (Erlbaum, 2005). Cowan was a founding member of the Council on Contemporary Families, and in 1999, received the Distinguished Contribution to Family Systems Research award from the American Family Therapy Academy.

Ronald B. Cox, Jr., Ph.D., CFLE

Oklahoma State University

Ronald Cox is the Interim Director at the Center for Family Risk and Resilience at Oklahoma State University and an Assistant Professor/Family Science State Specialist at Oklahoma State University. His research focuses on high risk adolescent behavior, couple relationships, and Latino families. Cox’s areas of study include Family and Child Ecology, Marriage and Family Therapy, and Psychology. Cox’s work has been published in numerous peer-reviewed publications including the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, BMC Pediatrics, the Journal of Relationship and Couple Therapy, the Journal of Feminist Family Therapy and Contemporary Family Therapy. He has delivered dozens of presentations for local, national and international audiences. Cox has also investigated and co-investigated a number of significant grants.

Kathryn Edin, Ph.D.

Harvard University

Kathryn Edin is Distinguished Bloomberg Professor in the Department of Sociology, Zanvyl Krieger School of Arts and Sciences and Department of Population, Family, and Reproductive Health, Bloomberg School of Public Health, Johns-Hopkins University. She is a founding member of the MacArthur Foundation-funded Network on Housing and Families with Young Children and a past member of the MacArthur Network on the Family and the Economy. She was also a Professor of Public Policy and Management at the Harvard Kennedy School. Edin’s research interests include urban poverty and family life, social welfare, housing policy, child support, non-marital childbearing, and the economic lives of the poor. She was Co-Principal Investigator for “Couple Dynamics and Father Involvement,” a qualitative study of 75 low-income married and unmarried couples with young children in Chicago, Milwaukee, and New York City—an offshoot of the Fragile Families study. She authored “Promises I Can Keep: Why Poor Women Put Motherhood Before Marriage (with Maria Kefalas) and “Unmarried Couples with Children” (with Paula England). Forthcoming work includes two new books: “Fragile Fatherhood: What Being a Daddy Means in the Lives of Low Income Men” (with Timothy Nelson) and “Marginal Men: Work, Policy, and Family Life among Poor Noncustodial Fathers” (with Timothy Nelson and Laura Lein).

Sarah Halpern-Meekin, Ph.D.

University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee

Sarah Halpern-Meekin, an assistant professor of Sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, earned her doctorate in sociology and social policy at Harvard University. Her dissertation research examined the relationship views and skills of high school students, specifically focusing on the ability of high school-based relationship and marriage education courses to affect those attitudes and abilities. Her additional areas of research focus on family structure, adolescence, and government assistance programs, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit. She received the Best Graduate Student Paper Award in the Family Section of the American Sociological Association. She earned her undergraduate degree at Brandeis University.

Steven Harris, Ph.D.

University of Minnesota

Steven Harris is a Professor as well as the Couple and Family Therapy Program Director at the University of Minnesota, College of Education and Human Development. Harris teaches doctoral level courses in Marriage and Family Therapy (MFT) and Family Social Science, supervises MFT interns’ clinical work, mentors graduate students in their research activities, and directs the academic and clinical affairs of the MFT program. He has previously taught at Texas Tech University as well as chaired the Research Advisory Group for the Texas Healthy Marriage Initiative. Harris received his MA and Ph.D. from Syracuse University.

Ron Haskins, Ph.D.

Brookings Institution

Ron Haskins is a Senior Fellow of Economic Studies and Co-Director of the Welfare Reform and Beyond Initiative at the Brookings Institution. He is also a Senior Consultant at the Annie E. Casey Foundation in Baltimore, MD. From February 2002, Haskins was the Senior Advisor to the President for Welfare Policy at the White House. Prior to joining Brookings and Casey, he spent 14 years on the staff of the House Ways and Means Human Resources Subcommittee, first as welfare counsel to the Republican staff, then as the subcommittee’s staff director. In addition, Haskins has authored many books and articles on the subject of welfare and welfare reform. Previously he served as a Research Professor at the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Center at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

Alan J. Hawkins, Ph.D.

Brigham Young University

Alan J. Hawkins is the Camilla E. Kimball Professor of Home and Family Life at Brigham University in Provo, Utah. He earned a Ph.D. in Human Development and Family Studies at Pennsylvania State University. Hawkins’ scholarship and outreach focuses on educational and policy interventions to help couples form and sustain healthy marriages and relationships. He is widely cited for his work that examines the overall effectiveness of marriage and relationship education. In 2002–2003, he was a visiting scholar with the Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families (U.S. Department of Health & Human Services), working on the Federal Healthy Marriage Initiative. He was the Research Director of the National Healthy Marriage Resource Center from 2004–2006. He also serves as a member of the Utah Marriage Commission.

Howard Hendrick, Former Director

Oklahoma Department of Human Services

Howard H. Hendrick was the director of the Oklahoma Department of Human Services from July 1, 1998 to February 2012. With offices in all 77 counties, Hendrick led a staff of 7,500 employees and administered a $1.6 billion budget. Hundreds of thousands of Oklahomans were touched daily by more than 40 state and federal human services programs administered under his leadership. Director Hendrick has previously served as Cabinet Secretary for Human Services for former Democratic Governor Brad Henry as well Cabinet Secretary for Health and Human Services for former Republican Governor Frank Keating. Before being named director, Hendrick served 12 years as a member of the Oklahoma State Senate, representing parts of northwest Oklahoma City, Bethany, Yukon and Warr Acres. During his tenure, he amassed a career roll-call voting record in excess of 99 percent.

Pamela Jordan, Ph.D., RN

University of Washington

Pamela Jordan is an Associate Professor of Family and Child Nursing at the University of Washington and developer of the Becoming Parents Program. Her research focuses on the transition to parenthood and supporting individuals and couples as they become parents. She has developed a middle range theory of the experience of expectant and new fatherhood, and her work with fathers continues to inform the care of men as they become parents. The Becoming Parents Program, for couples becoming parents for the first time, teaches knowledge and survival skills for taking care of their couple relationship, taking care of themselves, relating to their baby, and dealing with the many ways becoming parents impacts their lives.

Howard Markman, Ph.D.

University of Denver

Howard Markman is a professor of Psychology and Co-Director of the Center for Marital and Family Studies at the University of Denver in Colorado. He is internationally known for his work on the prediction and prevention of divorce and the effects of destructive conflict, healthy marriages and relationship distress on mental health and well-being. He has published numerous scholarly articles, books and chapters on his work, including the book, “Fighting for Your Marriage: Positive Steps for Preventing Divorce and Preserving a Lasting Love.” As a Co-Founder of the research-based PREP approach he has appeared nationally on many network programs. Markman and his colleagues are evaluating adaptations of the PREP program in Norway and the U.S. Army and are engaged in a study examining the circumstances in which cohabitation is a risk factor for future relationship problems.

Theodora Ooms, MSW

Marriage and Family Policy Expert

Theodora Ooms has served as a consultant to numerous programs in areas of understanding family policy and strategic outreach to policymakers. From 1999-2007 she was a senior policy analyst at the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), where she worked on couples and marriage policy, with a special focus on low-income families, and twice testified before the U.S. Congress. Between 1981 and 1999 she was the executive director of the Family Impact Seminar (FIS), a nonpartisan policy research institute based in Washington, DC. Prior to 1976, Ooms worked as a clinical social worker, family therapist, and program administrator in New Haven and Philadelphia. Ooms has conducted studies on teenage pregnancy and parenthood, unwed fathers, family involvement in schools, and couples and marriage. In 1998 Ooms launched a new program of activities designed to identify strategies to strengthen marriage and held a national roundtable meeting on this topic. Since 1999, as an independent consultant, Ooms has provided technical assistance to community and state marriage initiatives in Greater Grand Rapids, Baltimore, Louisiana, and Oklahoma.

Mary Myrick, APR

Public Strategies

Mary Myrick is the President of Public Strategies, an Oklahoma-based firm, and Project Manager for Project Relate Oklahoma (PRO). Project Relate is widely recognized as the country’s first statewide, comprehensive program model for changing a state’s relationship culture and creating/providing services to reflect a broad-based commitment to family PRO recruited a highly-distinguished Research Advisory Group consisting of state and national experts on marriage, divorce, and low-income families; developed and implemented the first comprehensive statewide survey to assess marriage/divorce values and demographics; is implementing a multi-sector and statewide service strategy, collaborating with multiple state agencies and private providers, and utilizing the research-based PREP as its core curriculum. Myrick speaks nationally about the successful Project Relate model and has provided technical assistance to numerous states and communities committed to implementing their own marriage initiatives.

Galena K. Rhoades, Ph.D.

University of Denver

Galena Rhoades is a Senior Researcher for the Center for Marital and Family Studies in the Psychology Department at the University of Denver. Her research on romantic relationship development and functioning, and the related implications for children and adults, includes studies of cohabitation, mechanisms of change in couple interventions, infidelity, spouses’ perceptions of one another, relationship processes and psychopathology, as well as adolescent adjustment. A practicing psychologist, she collaborates with PREP, Inc., in the development of relationship education curricula (e.g., Within My Reach and Within Our Reach), teaching graduate courses and supervising doctoral students on their therapy cases in the Psychology Department.

Scott Stanley, Ph.D.

University of Denver

Scott Stanley is arguably the nation’s leading research expert in areas of commitment, communication, conflict, confidence, risk factors of divorce, couple development, and the prevention of marital distress. He is a research professor and co-director of the Center for Marital and Family Studies at the University of Denver, and has published widely in terms of journal articles and book chapters, including numerous studies and publications on the subject of cohabitation. Stanley has authored or co-authored various books including “Fighting for Your Marriage,” “The Power of Commitment,” and “The Heart of Commitment.” He is co-author of widely used and highly researched curriculum products for both couples and individuals, including PREP®, Within My Reach, Within Our Reach and On My Shoulders. Stanley is a marriage expert for, a consumer website providing relevant resources to providers of marriage and relationship education services. He is also a Senior Program Advisor to Project Relate.

Brad Wilcox, Ph.D.

University of Virginia

Brad Bradford Wilcox is Director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Virginia, Visiting Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, and a Senior Fellow at the Institute for Family Studies. Prior to coming to the University of Virginia, he held research fellowships at Princeton University, Yale University, and the Brookings Institution.

The coeditor of Gender and Parenthood: Biological and Social Scientific Perspectives (Columbia, 2013, with Kathleen Kovner Kline), Wilcox’s research has focused on marriage, fatherhood, and cohabitation, especially on how family structure, civil society, and culture influence the quality and stability of family life in the United States and around the globe. Now, Wilcox is exploring the contribution that families make to the economic welfare of individuals and societies. He is also the coauthor of Whither the Child?: Causes and Consequences of Low Fertility (Paradigm, 2013, with Eric Kaufmann). Wilcox has published articles on marriage, cohabitation, parenting, and fatherhood in The American Sociological Review, Social Forces, The Journal of Marriage and Family, and The Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion. Wilcox is now finishing a book with Nicholas Wolfinger titled, Soul Mates: Religion, Sex, Children, & Marriage among African Americans and Latinos (Oxford 2015).

His research has been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic, Slate, National Review Online, NPR, NBC’s The Today Show, and many other media outlets.

Notes About the Group:

In addition to the core members of the group, other experts participate due to our affiliation with two federal evaluation studies, Building Strong Families (BSF) and Supporting Healthy Marriage (SHM). We have added to the group representatives of the firms tasked with providing the evaluation, including Robin Dion, MA, and Alan Hershey, MPA, of Mathematica Policy Research, who have provided insights from the BSF study, while Ginger Knox, Ph.D., and Barb Goldman, Ph.D. of MDRC have represented SHM. Further, each year additional experts and scholars are invited to participate based on research trends and identified areas of programmatic improvement.

A special tribute is owed to Norval Glenn and Steve Nock for their significant contributions to the field and lasting imprints on the groundbreaking work in Oklahoma. Though each has passed away, he will be remembered as an irreplaceable member of the Research Advisory Group. We are thankful to have shared in their knowledge and life for many years.

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The production of this website was supported by Grant 90ZB0016 from the Administration for Children and Families (ACF). Its contents are solely the responsibility of Public Strategies and do not necessarily represent the official views of ACF.