Women’s History Month: Susan Kontos, founding director of Purdue’s Center for Families

Kontos headshot

Susan Kontos

Written: by Angie Klink

Susan Kontos joined the Purdue University faculty in 1985 in what is now the Department of Human Development and Family Science. Kontos was an international authority as a top-notch researcher who investigated young children’s development through the lens of their early education and care.

Kontos was the founding director of Purdue’s Center for Families, established in 1994. As director, her goal for the center was threefold:

  • Familiarize Indiana state legislators with the center’s work though regular updates on the needs of Hoosier families and the impact state and federal policies have on them.
  • Stimulate new and creative thinking about maximizing the well-being of all Hoosier families and disseminate that thinking to academic colleagues and practitioners.
  • Improve the training of professionals who work with families and children.

Today, her vision for the Center for Families continues to be realized.

The first project funded at the center was “It’s My Child, Too,” a parenting curriculum under the direction of Kontos and Douglas Powell aimed at young, noncustodial fathers. Five years later, the curriculum had been used in schools, community centers and detention centers in more than 20 states. The program attracted the attention of judges and prosecutors. Some court systems sent young fathers to the program because they were delinquent in paying child support. 

Through the Hoosier Family Policy Summit, the center published the Hoosier Family Policy Source Book in 1994, the first in a series of resource materials summarizing Indiana demographic data and population projections through 2030. It provided population statistics that focused on families and the economy.

The Center for Families fulfilled Purdue’s land-grant mission through research, teaching and outreach, and it continues to be a concrete reminder that families, in all their diverse forms, are the foundation of society.

Kontos was known for her ready smile, cheerful laugh and deep commitment to young children and their families. She passed away in 2003 at age 53, as the Center for Families prepared to celebrate its 10th year. The anniversary theme was, “Sustaining Families, Supporting Children, Securing the Future.” Those words as well as the center’s Kontos Fellowship, which is awarded to faculty for research on optimizing the development of children and youth, also describe Kontos’ career and legacy.