In Class at Falk College: CFS 201—Introduction to Family Development with Dr. Matthew Mulvaney

Within the initial 30 minutes of his Fall semester’s first class, associate professor of child and family studies, Dr. Matthew Mulvaney, put his students to work. Equipped with Turning Point Personal Response Device clickers for this class, students responded to a series of yes or no questions posed by Professor Mulvaney, each with follow-up discussion. The group explored topics such as what constitutes a family, and how did students envision their future choices balancing family needs with career opportunities? This format that pairs technology and student feedback with class discussions and group activities will be a constant throughout the semester. In one of his survey questions during the inaugural class, 70 percent of the students indicated they (or their partner) would stay at home with their young children. This response was the foundation for a series of additional survey questions during the class with related dialogue.

CFS 201—Introduction to Family Development examines the diversity of family arrangements across cultures. A core course for Child and Family Studies (CFS) majors, it is open to any other majors interested in studying the family. The course offers a theoretical and functional approach to marital and family life with a developmental perspective. The course heavily uses social science research to help to understand phenomena related to family processes and organization. During the semester, students formulate research questions and approaches to studying marriages.

One of the most important skills Mulvaney would like his students to take from this class is to use available research to inform their own life choices about family life in the future. During one project, students will develop a literature-based plan regarding their future work and family roles, supporting their approach with academic references. Additionally, students will work in small groups to develop an empirical project that examines how marriage patterns vary across different contexts. Throughout the semester, classes will focus on topics that include marriages and families over time and gender’s influence in intimate relationships to living single, the process of uncoupling, and marriages and families in later life, among many others.

“The goal of the class is for students to think about what families are and how family arrangements and processes affect the individuals within them as well as understanding broader implications of these family processes for societies,” says Mulvaney. “From this basic understanding of family structure and processes, I hope students will think more complexly about how they will structure the family context professionally and in their own lives.”