Career transition for researcher focused on life changes

Life transitions are of huge interest to Matthew Bumpus, and now the Human Development professor will experience one of his own.

Portrait photo of Matthew Bumpus
Matthew Bumpus

Bumpus, who has been at WSU for 17 years, takes over as chair of WSU’s Department of Human Development on January 1.

“Taking on a leadership role will be a challenge,” Bumpus said. “But I have worked with excellent chairs over the past several years. I think I’m prepared and I know the faculty and staff in our department are fantastic.”

“Matt will be a great leader for the Human Development department,” said André-Denis Wright, dean of WSU’s College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences. “He knows his colleagues and cares deeply about their success. I’m excited to work with him in his new leadership role.”

Bumpus’ research focusses on how students transition to college and how families navigate that transition. But it was in a previous career as an elementary school teacher that he realized his interest in studying life changes.

“I taught fourth grade in Spokane for five years,” said the Portland-area native. “And I realized that the parts of the job I found most interesting were talking with students and their parents about the transition from elementary school to middle school.

“I had families say that their child loved elementary school but hated middle school. And vice versa. And I realized that there was research available for why that happened, and that the question of ‘Why?’ was answerable.”

So Bumpus switched gears and enrolled at Penn State University to earn a Ph.D., studying how families navigate transitions.

The techniques he’s worked on and refined have been effective in his personal life as well, as he has three kids, ages 25, 23, and 18. He’s seen the transitions he studies up-close.

“I have put some of the techniques I study into practice,” Bumpus said. “Our own kids are really good are reminding us that these principles aren’t always applicable to individual situations. But they’ve overall been very helpful and effective, as the results from our most recent study are showing.”

He said the principle that works best as children move into young adults going to college is called autonomy-supportive parenting. Simply put, that means providing a balance between supporting your student and giving them the opportunity to be their own person.

“It’s important to talk with your student to help them identify what they are passionate about and what core values they have,” Bumpus said. “It’s not pressuring your values on them. Then, help them develop ways that let them live their lives consistent with their values.”

There are parallels between his research and taking over as a department chair.

“I’m here to support and help the faculty, staff, and students thrive,” Bumpus said. “We have research and outreach that are helping a wide range of people, from understanding development during early childhood, to helping older adults. Our department is exemplary in demonstrating a commitment to WSU’s land grant mission.”

The Department of Human Development offers opportunities for students across WSU’s Pullman, Vancouver, and Global campuses. The Prevention Science graduate program, the Center for Transformational Learning and Leadership, and the WSU Children’s Center are all housed within the department.