Our History

Our History


In 1997, the Arizona Board of Regents sanctioned the establishment of the Institute for Children, Youth, and Families (ICYF) under the visionary leadership of founding director, Dr. Mari Wilhelm, who guided the institute until 2007. The institute's primary objective was to harness both campus and community expertise across the state to spearhead research and outreach initiatives addressing critical issues affecting children, youth, and families. 


Under Dr. Mari Wilhelm's guidance, the Institute embarked on impactful initiatives, including: 

  • Leadership in national conferences on Adolescent Health and Sexuality (1999) and Women's Health (2006). 

  • Launching the Early Child Development and Learning initiative in collaboration with the College of Education. 

  • Establishing the Fathers, Parenting, and Families program and the prestigious Norton Endowed Chair in Fathers, Parenting, and Families. 

  • Initiating the Evaluation Research and Development (ERAD) program specializing in community-based evaluative research. 

  • Founding the service-learning program, now integrated into the Norton School is the Human Development and Family Science undergraduate major. 

  • Forming collaborations with the Center for Excellence in Women's Health. 



In the summer of 2007, Professor Stephen T. Russell assumed the role of Institute Director, leading a Strategic Planning Committee that shaped the current vision, mission, and goals. 



Generous donor support enabled ICYF to relocate to its present home on the second floor of McClelland Park in 2008. 



In March 2009, the Institute underwent a transformative renaming, becoming the Frances McClelland Institute for Children, Youth, and Families, housed within the John and Doris Norton School of Human Ecology. The renaming paid tribute to Frances McClelland, a distinguished UA graduate and devoted businesswoman who dedicated her life to improving the well-being of children and families in Arizona. 



From August 2015 to January 2019, Professor Andrea J. Romero served as the Institute Director, contributing significantly to its growth. In 2019, Dr. Romero was appointed Vice Provost of Faculty Affairs at the University of Arizona. 


2019 - Present 

Dr. Melissa Barnett, Fitch Nesbitt Associate Professor, assumed the role of Institute Director in January 2019. The Frances McClelland Institute is proud to carry the legacy of Frances McClelland, persistently working towards enhancing the collective well-being of society through excellence in research, with a focus on improving the lives of children, youth, and families in Arizona and beyond.