Meet Notre Dame’s Shaw Center in Fort Wayne: Where rising research talent works to help families

Five members of the Fort Wayne Shaw Center team, from left to right, Chase Fortier, Lily Harig, Katie Bergman, Megan Hanes, and Stacey Malinowski.

When Chase Fortier graduated from the Chinese University of Hong Kong in May 2019 with his bachelor’s degree in sociology, he knew he wanted to earn his Ph.D. in social psychology as soon as possible.

What he didn’t know was how he was going to make it happen.

To qualify for most Ph.D. programs, he needed to have at least two years of experience at a research lab. But almost all of the labs he found only took volunteers.

“I can’t support myself on 'volunteer' pay,” Fortier says, jokingly.

So he moved home to the U.S. live with his parents in Colorado for the summer, and while he was there, he found his answer in Fort Wayne.

Today, at age 23, Fortier works full-time alongside a team of other ambitious 20-somethings at a Notre Dame research center based in the Summit City—one that is finding ways to strengthen family relationships and grow top talent in the city at the same time.

Hidden away in a small office park behind the Kroger at Illinois and Scott roads, the William J. Shaw Center for Children and Families opened in 2017 as the result of a grant from the National Institute of Health to conduct two studies here. One study focuses on the relationships between parents and infants, and another focuses on the caregivers and siblings living with children who have intellectual or developmental disabilities (IDDs).

The Shaw Center in Fort Wayne is located at 408 S. Scott Rd.

An extension of the Shaw Center in South Bend, the Fort Wayne Center was added to connect researchers to a larger, more diverse pool of talent and families across northeast Indiana, explains Katie Bergman, Director of the Fort Wayne site.

After earning her masters and Ph.D. at Notre Dame in Developmental Psychology and teaching at the university for a few years, Bergman moved her young family to Fort Wayne about four years ago to open the Shaw Center here.

Today, she manages a team of three staff and about 12 undergraduate and graduate student interns—all of whom are paid for their work and many of whom are transplants to the Fort Wayne region.

“We didn’t know what we were getting into when we first moved to Fort Wayne,” Bergman says. “But it’s been a pleasant surprise.”

Katie Bergman, Ph.D., is Director of Notre Dame's William J. Shaw Center for Children and Families in Fort Wayne.

Originally from Grand Rapids, Mich., she says her family and team are adjusting well to the new city and are inspired by its growth.

“Fort Wayne reminds me of Grand Rapids 10 or 15 years ago,” Bergman says. “We’ve seen so many restaurants and breweries pop up in the last four years, along with all of the development on the Riverfront and Columbia Street. That’s something that happened in Grand Rapids when I was still there, so it’s been fun to see it happening here now.”

Riverfront Fort Wayne's Promenade Park opened to the public on August 9, 2019.

About once a week, Bergman goes to the South Bend campus to coordinate with Notre Dame's team there. The rest of the time, she and her team are conducting the school’s innovative translational research programs here.

Translational research is a powerful tool, she says, because it also allows researchers to see the direct impact of their findings in a process that takes them from investigation to implementation, studying results, refining, and researching again. Study assessors meet with families at the Shaw Center.

“As opposed to having a separation between basic research and applied research, translational research brings the two together to complement and inform one another,” Bergman explains. “I like the full circle of it; You get to implement programs that become research because you’re learning from your program, adapting it, and repeating the cycle.”

Since the Shaw Center opened in Fort Wayne, it has closed enrollment on its first study about infants, and it’s moving into the fieldwork phase of its second study, known as the SPARC Project (Supporting Parent-Adolescent Relationships and Communication).

The SPARC Project is a 4-week course designed by Bergman and her colleagues at Notre Dame to support the caregivers and siblings of children with IDDs with tools they can use to promote healthy conflict and effective communication in their families.

Bergman’s research at Notre Dame has been heavily focused on family and adolescent relationships from an emotional security theory perspective, she says. This theory explains that children have a set level of security they feel in their families, and how conflict is handled within the family unit can upset that level of security.

As part of the SPARC Project, families receive free information about different types of conflict and how it impacts marital, parent-child, and sibling relationships, as well as tips to resolve conflicts and have more productive conversations.

During the course, researchers at the Shaw Center also code caregivers’ and siblings’ responses to questions to determine what types of programs could best serve their needs in the future, Bergman explains.

The ultimate goal is creating data-driven, cost-effective programs for families that can be replicated and widely distributed.

A child-friendly room where studies are conducted at the Shaw Center.

By participating in the study, families can earn up to $370 and get free childcare during course sessions—not to mention get free education on how to better support their loved ones, Bergman says.

More than anything, the Shaw Center’s work is about strengthening Indiana families and finding more innovative ways to meet their needs, which ultimately benefits entire communities.
 

“The family is such a core, important part of any person’s development, and what happens early on in people’s lives can shape the rest of their lives,” Bergman says. “Our goal is to prevent problems before they happen. The earlier we can do that, the earlier we’re establishing better patterns, and the better the outcome is.”

Bergman is leading two research studies at the Shaw Center.
 

For Bergman, the research is personal, too. She grew up in a family where her mother was the legal guardian for her uncle, who had been deprived of oxygen at birth and was mentally handicapped. Throughout college, she continued to work with people who have developmental disabilities.

While the definition of what is considered an IDD can be broad, ranging from ADHD to autism and Down syndrome, for the purpose of the SPARC Project, Bergman’s team is focusing on conditions that have clear genetic markers and associated IQ levels to determine who qualifies.

Even so, having a broad category of IDDs to work with isn’t necessarily a bad thing, she explains. Actually, for families who have children with less common IDDs, the SPARC Project may be one of the few resources that can help them feel included in a community of support because many other programs are disability-specific, Bergman says.

The SPARC Project is currently open for enrollment.
 

Another differentiating factor of the SPARC Project is that it focuses on the family members who support loved ones with IDDs rather than the individuals who have IDDs themselves.
 

This allows it to fill a gap in Fort Wayne’s wide-ranging services for people with disabilities and create models that can be implemented by multiple organizations.
 

“Fort Wayne has a really well-established system of care and a lot of great resources for people with disabilities,” Bergman says. “What we’re doing compliments that rather than competing with it.”

Artwork made by children at the Shaw Center decorates the walls.

While the Fort Wayne Shaw Center is funded through the completion of its current studies, Bergman would like to keep the Center open beyond these projects to extend its work in the regional community. But it’s all dependent on financial support, she says.
 

To remain open, the Center will need to secure additional national grants or (ideally) raise buy-in from the Fort Wayne community in the form of endowments and partnerships. If they are able to find funding, the next step will be taking their programs from the Center to what’s called an effectiveness trial, which implements them in the broader community setting.


This could entail training workers at local organizations in Shaw Center programs to use with the families they serve and then following up to see what’s working, Bergman explains.
 

“We want to be a source of education in the community, giving people an extra tool in their toolbelts to serve families,” she says.

Staff member Lily Harig helps children and families feel comfortable at the Shaw Center.

If the Fort Wayne Shaw Center does stay open, it could also provide more paid research positions to staff and interns in the Fort Wayne area, expanding the city’s educational opportunities for rising talent.
 

The Shaw Center is always accepting applications for interns from undergraduate and graduate students, Bergman says. And as more people earn bachelor’s degrees, unique research opportunities can help students set themselves apart in the job market.
 

Megan Hanes is a 24-year-old intern at the Shaw Center in her first year of Huntington University’s doctoral program in occupational therapy. She moved to Fort Wayne from Cincinnati, Ohio, where she previously worked as a mental health specialist for children with developmental disabilities at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital.

Although Hanes has only been interning at the Shaw Center for a few months, she’s excited about the opportunity to expand her studies with a paid research position that focuses on her area of interest: supporting families and children.

“I was looking for a way to connect what I was previously doing in Cincinnati with a job opportunity here that was flexible with my grad school schedule, which is pretty crazy,” Hanes says. “This job has been really helpful to me.”

Learn more

For more information about the Shaw Center’s programs and ongoing work in Fort Wayne, visit its website or email Dr. Katie Bergman at [email protected].

Getting to know the Shaw Center staff & interns
Getting to know the Shaw Center staff & interns

 

At the William J. Shaw Center for Children and Families in Fort Wayne, Bergman manages a team of three staff and about 12 undergraduate and graduate student interns. All of them are in their 20s and many are transplants to northeast Indiana.

Here’s a look at what four of them are up to, and how they’re adjusting to life in Fort Wayne so far.

IFW: Let’s start off by getting everyone’s names, ages, positions at the Shaw Center, and where you’re from.

SM: I’m Stacey Malinowski, and I’m 25. I’m an intern from Trine University in the second year of their doctoral program for physical therapy. I started interning here in May 2018, and I’m originally from Detroit, Michigan.

MH: I’m Megan Hanes, and I’m 24. I’m an intern in my first year at Huntington University’s doctoral program in occupational therapy. I started interning here in September 2019. I’m also from Detroit, Michigan, but I’ve been living in Cincinnati for the last six years.

LH: I’m Lily Harig, and I’m 25. I’ve been a fulltime research assistant here since October 2019. I’m from Chicago, and I moved here for the job.

CF: I’m Chase Fortier, and I’m 23. Like Lily, I’m a fulltime research assistant here since October 2019. I’ve lived all over, but I was born and raised in Florida, and I moved here for the job.

IFW: None of you are from northeast Indiana, and yet, you all ended up here, working for the Shaw Center. How has the adjustment to life in Fort Wayne been going so far?

SM: It’s been a pretty easy adjustment as far as learning the lay of the land and where everything’s at. People are nice here, too, so that’s always helpful.

MH: Cincinnati was kind of too big for me, so I was looking forward to having the city feel, but also the smaller city feel. There’s still shops and restaurants downtown, but you don’t have to deal with the big city traffic or the commutes, so that’s been really nice so far. I love that I live on the east side of the city, and it only takes me 20 minutes to get here, to the west side. That’s a joke in most other cities, to get from one side of the city to the other in 20 minutes, so I love that.

LH: I love that, too. Anything I could want is literally a 10-minute drive from my apartment. I also like the more rural environment. I enjoy being here, and genuinely, everyone is very friendly and helpful here. When I tell people, “I just moved here,” they’re very welcoming.

CF: I’m the only one here who is not from the Midwest, so that’s the main thing for me. People are just so nice here. I was in Colorado all summer, and I didn’t make a single friend. You have to have a group in Colorado. Everyone’s got their college group or their hiking group. But here, you can just sit at a café and talk to the person sitting next to you. I had seen that happen in movies before, but never in real life, and I absolutely love that. It’s a good city to live in for your first real job when you’re still young and not rich.

IFW: What made you want to work at the Shaw Center, in particular?

SM: I actually found out about it through school. I’m going to school for physical therapy, and I have some prior work experiences with kids, so I was interested in learning about building rapport between the parents and children and working with children, in general. Even though this position is not specifically physical therapy related, I’m still learning a lot that I’ll be able to apply later.

Working with children in different age groups in both of the studies we’re doing is really interesting to me, too.

MH: I found out about the opportunity through a Facebook group at Huntington. I was initially attracted to the SPARC study, since SPARC focuses on children with intellectual or developmental disabilities, and that’s what I used to do when I worked at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. I was a mental health specialist for children with developmental disabilities for two years, so I was looking for a way to connect what I was previously doing with a job opportunity here that was flexible with my grad school schedule, which is pretty crazy.

I’d previously been a server and waitress, but restaurants don’t care about your school schedule, so it’s been great to be able to work here and earn experience at the same time.

I love kids, too, and seeing the interaction between parents and kids is something I didn’t get to see before in Cincinnati (because I only worked with the children). It’s cool to see how parents interact with their children here, and to see the child’s progression as they age.

LH: The way I got here was really lucky, I feel. I did my undergraduate at Notre Dame in psychology. Then I tried other careers for a few years and ended up circled back to psychology. So I was looking for fulltime jobs on Indeed, and I found this.

When I heard there was a study working with families and children who have intellectual and developmental disabilities, I was excited, too, because my younger sister has cerebral palsy. I think it’s really cool that Notre Dame is trying to develop this program to help families who are in the same situation as I am.

CF: For me, it was a really lucky draw. I had been wanting to go into psychology research for a long time, but I just wasn’t qualified enough for it right out of undergrad, mostly lacking in research experience. A professor told me I should probably get at least two years of experience in research to be qualified for a Ph.D. program, but pretty much every research lab just takes volunteers, and I can’t support myself on volunteer pay.

I found this position on Indeed, and I thought I had some relevant experience because I did my undergrad in sociology, and I had a lot of experience recording interactions and writing about them.

I want to get into social psychology, and there is a lot of studying social communication and methods we use here that could be very well used for social psychology research later.

This job is also a two-and-a-half-year position, which is the perfect amount of time for getting research experience and still being in the student mindset to earn my Ph.D.

IFW: Has there been anything surprising that you’ve found in your research so far?

SM: It’s been really cool to see how appreciative some of the parents and families have been about what we’re doing. They’re not just participating in these studies because they get some sort of monetary prize. They are genuinely interested in what we’re doing, and after they’ve completed the project, they want to see results. They’ve been telling their friends and networking to help our project reach more of the Fort Wayne community, too. It’s exciting that people from the community are getting involved in this, and they are seeing the progress themselves at their own homes as their child develops.

MH: What I’ve learned is that it doesn’t matter what your assigned role is in a study, you end up getting a lot of experience whatever you’re doing. I’m new, so I end up hanging out with the infants and siblings sometimes during the studies, but it’s crazy how much you can learn just hanging out with kids for a period of 10 minutes. You realize how important your role can be even when you’re not the accessor for a particular study. It makes me realize how important it is to have teamwork in research.

SM: I’m going to have a pediatric specialty rotation next fall working with kids who have neuro disabilities, so that will be a whole new way of working with children and getting to experience different roles through this study gives me a basis for caring for them, as well.

IFW: What is the ultimate goal that you are all working toward?

SM: Right now, it’s just figuring out the exact setting of physical therapy that I’ll be working with once I graduate. I became interested in this position because I had worked with kids in the past, and this is a children’s study, so it’s been helpful to experience the different environments of working with kids.

I’ve also seen infant physical therapy, which is different than working with children who are older, and the study I’ve been working on closely here starts working with infants as young as 6 months old, so it’s been great to get that experience.

MH: I just started at the Shaw Center in August, so I haven’t even done fieldwork yet, but we start fieldwork in February, so I’m very excited to do that. I’ve always had a passion for working with kids. My first job was at Chuckie Cheese and working at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital was a wonderful experience, too, so I foresee myself doing pediatric inpatient work. My cousin has autism, and he’s benefitted a lot from time spent in aquatic therapy, so that’s another area I’m interested in, too.

LH: I want to keep doing research and maybe become a project director. In the future, I’d like to research some of my other fields of interest, which are abnormal psych and trauma. I’m also a comic book artist, so I’m pursuing that career, as well, and finding balance so I can do both.

CF: I’m hoping to get a Ph.D. in social psychology. I want to study an evolutionary approach to sexual relationships, which also encompasses romantic relationships. The goal is to be a professor of that. Otherwise, I’ve been starting to work with equine therapy lately, which means I’m providing therapy for horses that are then used for therapy. That’s fun, and if there’s a way I can incorporate that into my work or volunteer time, that would be great.