Prentice Institute taking shape with McDaniel appointment
Numbers can be cold, hard and impersonal. Put them in the hands of Dr. Susan McDaniel however and they can be used to influence policy decisions that effect change at the most personal of levels.
The newly appointed director of the Prentice Institute for Global Population and Economy is an internationally renowned sociology researcher and demographics expert, combining her love for mathematics with a penchant to study people and society’s big-picture issues. It was a research focus that was initially unintentional but has proven to be a life’s work.
“Demography allows you to see how individual actions don’t add up to what you think they’ll add up to,” McDaniel explains.
“The collective outcome of individual actions is very different than what the individuals intend and it’s that kind of mystery that entices me. To me it’s phenomenal because some of it is counter-intuitive and I’m still fascinated by that.”
McDaniel returns to Alberta (the place she mostly refers to as home) from Utah where she was a senior scholar at the Institute of Public and International Affairs and Professor of Family and Consumer Studies at the University of Utah. Previously, she’d spent 15 years at the University of Alberta as a full professor of sociology and another three years at the University of Windsor.
Her return is a testament to the U of L, its vision and the opportunity afforded her as the first director of the Prentice Institute.
“There were no push factors for me leaving Utah, it was all pull,” McDaniel says. “I’m hoping to really build this institute as a centre that people will say, ‘The Prentice Institute is a leader on . . .’. That would really be great.”
The mandate of the Prentice Institute is to promote the research of big-picture issues relating to global population change and demographics, among other topics. McDaniel is enthused by the opportunity to be in on the ground floor of constructing the Institute and its reputation.
“My goal is building something that’s not just flash and dash but something solid that will last for a long time, and when people think about population issues and economy, they think about the University of Lethbridge,” she says.
Getting to this point has been a long and non-traditional route for McDaniel.
Entering post-secondary study as a math major, a bad experience in her first course turned her eye elsewhere and she found demography.
“It was a question of using mathematics to study people and I thought, wow, I’ve found my calling,” she says.
Through demography she slowly made her way into studying the societal impacts of her demographic research. Ironically, she is now world renowned as a research sociologist, has written an introductory sociology textbook and taught the course at a post-secondary level but because she entered the field through the back door, never actually took introductory sociology.
McDaniel’s extensive research, publishing and teaching record reflect her varied interests and research on demographic aging, generational relations, family change and the social impacts of technology.
The arrival of the Prentice Institute comes at a perfect time for the U of L as it continues to emerge as a leading comprehensive university. McDaniel revels in building graduate programming, has a long record of collaborating with the best doctoral and post-doctoral researchers and trumpets the concept of community outreach, from local to international levels.
“The idea is to build interdisciplinary research that will have public and policy interest, but also to have outreach to the community. I want to see public issues of importance addressed here, and in a profound way,” McDaniel says.
“What interests me is the notion that this is global. This is a new concept at the U of L and an area of strength that we’re planning on building.”
GET THE FACTS
• The Prentice Institute for Global Population and Economy was established in late 2006, when John Prentice, a Calmar, Alta., based agri-business entrepreneur, with his wife, Connie, donated $8.25 million to the U of L – the largest private philanthropic gift the U of L has received in its 40-year history.
• A lover of bird watching, walking and jogging, McDaniel is apt to be spotted enjoying the outdoors with her one-year-old Maltese puppy Victoria
• Her research on gender and aging issues led to her involvement in the Dove soap self-esteem campaign
• McDaniel is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada
• In addition to her role as director of the Prentice Institute, McDaniel will also teach an undergraduate course at the University