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Addiction prevention scholar takes over as department chair

Closeup of Michael Cleveland
Michael Cleveland

Michael Cleveland spends his days evaluating addiction and substance abuse prevention and working to understand why people relapse into addiction.

But starting Jan. 1, 2020, Cleveland will take on more responsibilities as chair of Washington State University’s Department of Human Development (HD).

“It’s going to be a challenge, but I’m looking forward to growing and developing my leadership skills,” said Cleveland, an associate professor who came to WSU in 2016 after working at Penn State University for 10 years. “And I’m also excited to help others, serving as a mentor and leader in a department that is very supportive, collaborative, and productive.”

Filling big shoes

Cleveland replaces Laura Hill, who has led HD for five and half years and recently joined the WSU Provost’s office as the Vice Provost for Faculty Development and Affairs.

“Michael’s research has had a big impact in developing important prevention programs,” said André-Denis Wright, dean of WSU’s College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences. “And he’s been very active in developing his leadership skills by taking advantage of resources like WSU’s Provosts’ Leadership Academy. Laura has been a fantastic leader for HD, and Michael is ideal to take over this very successful and vital department.”

HD is a multidisciplinary department that studies how children, youth, adults, and families develop, change, and face challenges throughout their lifespan. They have faculty on WSU’s Pullman and Vancouver campuses, as well as representatives in Extension.

“We’re a very cooperative group of people, one unit across two campuses,” Cleveland said. “Laura deserves a lot of credit for helping increase that cooperation and camaraderie. My main goal will be keeping that sense of togetherness, while also bolstering existing relationships with other units like WSU’s Elson Floyd College of Medicine.”

From pharmacy to fighting substance abuse

Cleveland, who grew up in a town of 1,000 residents in Iowa, has a broad educational background, with a bachelor’s degree in pharmacy, master’s degrees in counseling and sociology, and a Ph.D. in human development. His professional goals changed while doing his pharmacy clinical rotation at a mental health facility for children and youth.

“I found myself spending more time talking about other aspects of their lives beyond prescriptions, like what led them to where they were,” Cleveland said. “It steered my interests to finding ways to prevent addiction and substance abuse from happening in the first place.”

His current research is primarily focused on understanding the factors that lead to relapse among individuals with alcohol use disorder, working with colleagues in HD, Medicine, and the Voiland College of Engineering.

“We have volunteers wearing a wristband that looks at physiological measures of stress, like heart rate, and we are planning to determine how well those data correspond to self-reported situations of high stress and alcohol cravings,” Cleveland said.

That project just started and the data collection will continue for about a year, when they’ll start looking at all the data, he said.

And while doing that, he’ll also be leading a department he thoroughly appreciates.

“I’m stepping into a great supportive environment that’s already got lot of positive features to make the job easier,” Cleveland said. “A healthy department is the best-case scenario for a new chair.”

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