“Black Marriages Matter”: School of Family Life Professors Study Qualities of Successful Black Marriages

Past research on Black families has focused on topics like the causes of single-family households or the impacts of divorce, rather than the skills and support needed to thrive. Antonius Skipper, assistant professor at Georgia State University, is working to include more in academia that focuses on attaining and nurturing successful Black families, as well as providing a more positive outlook on the Black family in general.

In collaboration with Loren Marks and David Dollahite, both professors in our School of Family Life, Skipper published the study “Black Marriages Matter: Wisdom and Advice From Happily Married Black Couples.” The study was published in the journal Family Relations

Marks shares the following about his experience with the research, “We hope that our efforts and the remarkable families we interviewed will influence research and broader culture by providing something beautiful to consider: long-term, loving marriages. There is so much division and contention and animosity in the world today. What a refreshing contrast to take a deep look at unity, harmony, and love in lasting marriages — and how these relational qualities are developed, nourished, and maintained.”

The gap between the number of Black Americans who want to marry (80% according to research cited in the study) and those who do get married (29% as reported by the U.S. Census) shows how important it is to switch the focus from deficit-based research to “strength-focused discussions.” Much of the previous academic rhetoric has made a successful Black marriage look unattainable.

In-depth interviews were held with 35 couples from several different states and the findings have powerful implications for couples of all backgrounds. However, they are especially important for the Black community, which fights against the long-perpetuated idea of the broken Black family along with other systemic barriers. The study outlines the following three principles and skills:

Cultivating Open Communication 

The interviewees shared that the ability to have conversations about potentially uncomfortable topics is crucial to a successful relationship. In order to avoid things from becoming barriers, it’s important to take care of them when they’re just a small issue. Like a snowball rolling down a hill and picking up mass and speed, a tiny conflict that isn’t resolved can turn into a much bigger problem later. One interviewee shared, “Whatever problem[s] arise in the young couple’s life, they should nip it in the bud. Don’t hold it in because [you] don’t want to hurt their feelings or they don’t want to hurt your feelings. … We must bring it out, sit down, and talk.” Many respondents shared that open and frequent communication and the sharing of feelings can contribute to conflict resolution, personal growth, or simply be a means of expressing love and appreciation. 

Flexible Roles and Responsibilities 

Whether because of personal preferences or a change in employment or lifestyle, interviewees shared that a willingness to “play any role on [the marriage’s] team” was vital. Using a biblical reference, one woman shared, “You need to be the Eve for your Adam. Every Eve has her Adam, and you need to be the Eve your Adam needs. I’m the Eve my Adam needs right now. If he needed another Eve to support him where he’s at, then I’d be that Eve.” This flexibility allowed couples to conquer many difficult situations, especially ones that come disproportionately to Black families. 

Money and Marriage 

Interviewees wanted people to recognize that “the crux of almost every issue” is finances. If you can manage your money from the beginning and facilitate conversations about it (there’s that open communication popping up again), then a load of stress will be taken off your marriage. When it came to money, many participants shared how important it was to play to the other’s strengths. “I feel that [each spouse is] supposed to stay with [their] strong things. … I think that’s why we’ve stayed together so long. … The things that she do well, I don’t even tread on that part. The things that I do well, she just lets me do that part of it … Let me tell you right now, no two people can handle the money … if you have two people [and] both [are] paying certain bills and stuff like that, it never works out. … You have to get one person that [will] handle the money” (quote). Existing research suggests that African Americans experience a disproportionate amount of financial strain, which makes the principles shared in the study especially powerful. 

The study contributes to a larger trend that is trying to flip the script on Black families. Rather than seeing them through the lens of shortcomings, many of which have been created and perpetuated by barriers that lie beyond their control, we can view the relationships Black families have as another example of enduring and happy marriages. This research can help Black couples and singles have more power over things within their control to obtain marital stability.

Inside Washington Seminar

The most important experiences of your college career may not be in a traditional classroom. Internships provide the opportunity for you to make valuable connections as you apply what you are learning on campus to real-world situations. BYU’s Washington Seminar program is an excellent way about 40 students experience internships each semester.

>>The deadline to apply for Winter 2022 semester is September 24, 2021. Visit 945 KMBL or http://washingtonseminar.byu.edu. BYU has a database of 1,500 internships in the Washington area.

Through the program, well-qualified students have an applied learning experience in Washington, D.C. BYU houses interns on its own property, the Barlow Center, which is conveniently situated in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood. Engaging in a quality internship, briefings on current issues, tours, excursions, and weekly guest speakers supplements students’ academic training and better prepares them for a variety of careers.

“Washington Seminar is one of the crown jewels of BYU,” 2020-21 program director Dr. Jay Goodliffe said. “BYU has invested heavily in resources in D.C. because they realize the opportunities our students have there will then help them influence the world.”

The Washington Seminar program accepts students from all colleges and majors. We talked to four outstanding students from the College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences about what it’s like to participate in the program and how living in Washington has enhanced their vision of future possibilities.

Olivia DeMordaunt

Q: Where were you an intern?

A: National Defense University. It functions like a military academy for people who want to get a master’s degree in national security. I work in the International Student Management Office (ISMO). The “students” are mid-career military professionals. One-fourth of the cohort are generals from around the world—there are 130 generals from 65 countries. They are chosen by their respective countries to come.

These are men and women who have commanded whole armies and navies. I try to honor and respect them in asking about their lives and their careers.

Olivia DeMordaunt, Senior Studying Political Science

Q: It must have been interesting to be with seasoned generals from all over the world. Tell me about it.

A: These are men and women who have commanded whole armies and navies. It’s a weird experience for them to come to the United States and be under somebody’s responsibility again. We are a support office to help them adjust to the United States, find housing, schools for their kids, etc. while they are here for a year, so they can focus on their experience and not have to worry about the difficult things that come with adjusting to a new place. I try my best to honor and respect them in asking them about their lives and their careers and why they chose what they do.

Q: What was a favorite experience you’ve had on your internship?

A: Eight students in joint armed war services came up to D.C. for five days and do a tour. They were going to Arlington National Cemetery and I got to go with them as an escort. During the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, I was talking to a man from England and he had been a member of the Queen’s Guard. He had served with Prince William and Prince Harry in Afghanistan and had done tours with them. He has all this intense training that he has to do to guard the queen, and he has to learn to talk without moving his lips. It was so fascinating to learn about that part of the culture in the United Kingdom and to be walking around with this incredible man, learning about his life and his culture and why he decided to do what he did.

Austin Brady

Q: Where were you an intern?

A: I’m with a group called International Business-Government Counsellors (IBC). They are an international consulting and lobbying firm. The big mission is to provide research and information to their clients. They serve a lot of big companies that you would recognize.

An example of what they do is give information on sanctions. Say company X has business in China. There might be some laws coming down about trade with China. What are those laws, how will it affect the company, what should they do to be prepared? An IBC counselor would tell them.

Q: What is your day-to-day?

A: I did a mix of attending various hearings, like congressional hearings, and taking notes for the counsellors, and other small events—attending panels and doing write-ups on those. Occasionally I’d do other projects, like digging into a specific tariff bill or digging into congressional members and seeing if they’ve said anything scandalous that might get the company into some trouble if they donate to them. I do a weekly update about China and trade news, and human rights news.

Q: It sounds like you are probably in the know about a lot of things dealing with international relations that the average person isn’t.

A: It’s more niche China stuff, or I was keeping track of the civil war in Ethiopia. If people want to know about certain products from China being detained, then cool, but it’s not a thing you pull out at parties.

I’m even more curious. I want to keep learning more and see what else is out there.

Austin Brady, Senior Studying Political Science

Q: How has this internship impacted you as a person so far?

A: It’s been really interesting going to the various meetings between policymakers and their various clients. We always hear about the interplay between businesses and government–interplay is maybe a soft word—and it’s interesting seeing how some of this unfolds in real time. It’s a different perspective. It’s looking top-down.

Personally, it’s been really interesting learning about all these weird specific niche things. Like tracking China trade closely. No one cares about customs and border protection seizing goods. Or how prevalent forced labor is within China and maybe the rest of our supply chain. I’m even more curious. I want to keep learning more and see what else is out there.

Q: What advice do you have for students considering an internship through the Washington Seminar program?

A: Do it. If you’re thinking about it, just apply. It’s a really neat experience. The internship you’ll end up doing in itself will be an experience, and the weekly briefings are really interesting. It’s often experienced professionals in their field talking about what they do or what they know in a pretty direct way. It’s neat to have a Q&A with a senator, for example, and get to ask them about issues off the books, because they’re a little more free. You get an insight into how some of these people think.

Kesley Powell

Q: Where did you intern?

A: TargetPoint Consulting. They are a public opinion and market research firm. They work on political campaigns. We run a lot of surveys to find out how the public feels about a piece of legislation or a candidate, and try to help our clients win whatever their issue is. We also do a lot of market research, working for corporations or companies or nonprofits. We are really just focused on gauging public perception on issues our clients care about.

Say someone wanted to pass a bill in 2022. They would come to us now to figure out what public opinion is, and we’d do what’s called message testing. They’ll give us their top four messages they use to help people change their minds, and in our survey we can figure out which message is the most influential. We are involved in every stage of the campaigning process.

Q: What do you like best about your job?

A: I’ve always really liked politics, and as a political science major I discovered data and became really passionate about data. In my internship I get to see how we can use data in the real world. We get results, we actually act upon them, and can have an influence on the country or in a certain state. I like the real-world application.

Q: When did you decide to do the Washington Seminar?

A: When I was in high school I was trying to decide where to go to school for my bachelor’s degree. I was really attracted to a lot of east coast schools because I wanted to live in D.C, but I had also always wanted to go to BYU. As I was trying to decide what school to go to, I found out about the Washington Seminar program and I thought ‘Perfect, I’m going to go to BYU and do this program, and that will be my little taste of the East Coast.’ So I’ve known for four years that I was going to do this program.

I’ve become a lot more certain of what I want to do and who I want to be because of this experience.

Kesley Powell, Senior Studying Political Science

Q: What do you like about living in D.C.?

A: I really love history and this is where it happened. I also love the city feel. The east coast is cobblestone walks along the ocean and that is my vibe.

My husband and I walk to the Lincoln Memorial every Sunday night once it cools down. Everyone knows what the Lincoln Memorial is from movies. It’s cool to actually be there. It’s so fun to sit on the steps and look out at the Mall, and see all the people touring.

I have loved being outside of Utah and being in D.C. and seeing the diversity of people and diversity of opinion. I love the ward that we’re in. It’s so welcoming.

Q: How will your last year of school be different now that you’ve done this internship? What will you take away from the experience?

A: I’ve become a lot more certain of what I want to do and who I want to be because of this experience. I’ve recognized what I can contribute to politics, and that I want to be a positive part of politics. I have gotten to interact with a lot of really kind and wonderful people here and it’s helped me want to be one of those people, so I can help create a more positive view of government.

I’ve always known I would go to grad school so I wasn’t sure if I wanted to take a gap year between my undergrad and other degrees (to work in consulting or on a campaign). This internship has made me more comfortable with that idea and strengthened my desire to be in both worlds at the same time. It has been very reassuring to know I’m on the right path.

Q: What would you tell students considering the Washington Seminar?

A: A lot of people want to come to D.C. but don’t know how, and the Washington Seminar program gives you a really good structure of helping you apply for internships and helping you know which internships are out there. Once you’re here, you have not only a place to live but also support throughout your entire internship. You’re surrounded by people who have the same interests as you, and they’re all trying to figure out the whole D.C. thing at the same time. We were mentored by Dr. Goodliffe, and he’s a really great resource in helping you navigate your internship. Living in the Barlow Center is amazing and super inexpensive.

It’s totally a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Erin Oliver

Erin Oliver poses at a women’s suffrage exhibit at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia during the 2021 Washington Seminar (Erin Oliver)

Q: Where did you intern?

A: I interned at a nonprofit called Atlas Corps. They do international development and have a fellowship program where they bring fellows to the United states and host them in different organizations here. They do a leadership program with them and prepare them to go back to their countries and fix social issues that are happening there.

Q: What are your responsibilities?

I get to work with the CEO and the communications team and I do a lot of writing reports, I do a lot of research, I work with the database and input donations from fundraising campaigns, and I do a lot of external outreach — a lot of communications stuff where I’m drafting messages or newsletters or reports that then gets sent to our list of contacts.

Q: What is your favorite part of your internship?

A: I get to go to a lot of events which is pretty fun. I got to attend this gala a week ago and the keynote speaker was Malala Yousafzai. She spoke and I got to be in a breakout room with her. It was really fun.

Q: Were you nervous when you started your internship?

A: I was a little nervous at the beginning of my internship. New environment. I definitely wanted to make a good impression on my team. But everyone is super nice and very welcoming, so that went away pretty fast.

Q: What do you love about living in D.C.?

A: There’s always things to do. Museums, and monuments. Truly if you want to go do something, just walk outside. The city’s just beautiful: architecture, monuments, nature/greenery…it’s just a pristine city.

Q: How did you know you wanted to do this program?

A: I had always heard about the Washington Seminar program because I’m a poli sci student. I knew I wanted to save it until the very end because I wanted to end up in D.C. I decided to try and plan an internship around my last semester in college; that way I could come out here and hopefully stay out here. I got a one-way ticket. Bold moves. Really, I just went for it and it’s paid off. I got a job so I’m staying out here.

Q: How did you get a job?

A: Networking is huge here. You do a lot of talking to people and I found some job postings and I applied to them and luckily one of my friends knew someone who was working at the organization I got a job at. I talked with him before I got interviewed.

Q: What is your new job?

A: I will be working at the American Foreign Service Association as a membership specialist.

Q: What did you learn from this experience of finding a job in D.C.?

A: It’s important to be confident in yourself. A lot of people our age tend to doubt their abilities. We’re an anxious group I think. Be confident in what you’ve learned. I know the political science program at BYU really prepared me well for everything I’ve done out here.

It’s important to be confident in yourself. A lot of people our age tend to doubt their abilities. Be confident in what you’ve learned.

Erin Oliver, Senior Studying Political Science

For more information on the Washington Seminar, visit https://washingtonseminar.byu.edu/.

Let’s Talk: Suicide Prevention and Loss

We all have a part to play in understanding and preventing suicide. Whether or not suicide has impacted your life, each of us can ease one another’s burdens and send an undeniable message that everyone is valued and worthy of love. It’s worth improving our awareness of how to support both those who may be considering suicide and the family members or loved ones of those who have died by suicide. 

To strengthen prevention efforts, we can look at mental health problems as seriously as we consider physical issues. Michael Staley, a psychological autopsy examiner and suicide prevention coordinator for the State of Utah believes that mental health screenings should be just as common as getting our blood pressure checked. And similar to the way CPR training is widespread and required for many jobs to respond to life-or-death situations, so too should suicide prevention training be just as common. Such training would provide valuable skills in many settings, including at work and in schools.

Help prevent suicide by talking about it

Among college students, suicide is the second leading cause of death. It impacts our lives, but it can still be difficult to talk about. However, both Staley and Quintin Hunt, assistant professor of marriage and family therapy at BYU, share that the most important thing we can do to prevent suicide and help people heal from suicide loss is to talk about it. If we feel that something is wrong, we should ask the person we’re worried about if they are considering suicide. 

“If you know somebody who’s going through a hard time or had someone tell you something that sounds suicidal, you can be the difference between life and death for that person. If you leave with a pit in your stomach that tells you ‘Maybe I should do something more’ or ‘Maybe I should ask that one question,’ do it,” says Staley. 

You may be worried about saying the wrong thing, but often doing nothing is worse. Staley recommends practicing asking the difficult question of “Are you considering suicide?” with those around us. If we’ve prepared ourselves, we’ll be empowered if the time ever comes to ask the question in a real-life scenario.

If someone shares that they are considering suicide, let them know that you offer a safe space by reassuring them that they are loved and that you will listen without judgment. Staley explains, “A lot of people feel that they’re going to be abandoned or be stigmatized if they share suicidal thoughts. If you share things like ‘I still care about you, I love you, and I want you to live’ that’s going to create a safe space and help them to recognize their value.” You should then refer them to a suicide hotline, mental health professional, or the emergency room. Follow through and assist them in getting the help they need. 

For every 1 person that dies from suicide, there are 25 people who have made a suicide attempt. If someone shares that they have attempted suicide, reassure them that you are glad they’re here and ask them if they’re still considering taking their life. Let them share their experience with you and get them help if they need it.

Process grief from suicide by talking to other loss survivors 

Hunt shared that an understudied field of research is how suicide loss affects family members and friends. This is important because those who are exposed to suicide are at greater risk of suicide themselves. Hunt shared the following from past research, “One-hundred percent of suicide loss survivors have said that the most useful thing for them in healing has been talking to other suicide loss survivors.” Whether we’ve been impacted by suicide or not, a powerful thing we can do is simply ask suicide loss survivors about the experience in a sensitive and caring way. 

We can all equip ourselves with the emotional and mental capability to talk about suicide. Our care for others will show through our words should we be faced with that situation, but just as importantly, our actions will demonstrate whether we are a safe space for someone to share their struggles. Hunt says, “Regardless of your depth of belief, sexual orientation or gender identity, your political affiliation or marital status, we’re all just people trying to help others recognize their value right here and right now.” 

Learn more about suicide prevention training at https://www.qprinstitute.com.

If you have been personally affected by suicide loss, Hunt, Erin Holmes, professor of family life at BYU, and Rebecca Sanford, associate teaching professor at Thompson Rivers University School of Social Work and Human Services, are studying suicide bereavement. Follow their social media for more information: 

Family eats dinner

6:15 is the Dinner Time Sweet Spot

Summer relaxation ended with Labor Day and the back-to-school season is signaling a return to routine. In parallel, family dinners signal an important transition in our day. Recently published research demonstrates how the placement of our dinner can help us to improve our family life and get more out of our day. 

“The act of dinner actually helps us shift into different activities than we were focused on before dinner. It signals a transition from the day-time schedule of work, school, and activities to evening leisure and togetherness,” says Jocelyn Wikle, assistant professor of family life at BYU, who published the research in Review of Economics of the Household along with Joseph Price, professor of economics at BYU, and Luke Rodgers, assistant professor of economics at Florida State University. 

The research is the first to study whether the timing of family dinners has an impact. Using data from over 41,000 families in the American Time Use Survey (2003-2019), the team determined that the optimal time to eat dinner is 6:15 p.m. Parents who served dinner by 6:15 spent 27% more time reading to their children in the evening, 18% more time playing with their children, 11% more quality time with their children, and 14% more overall time with their children. This effect occurred across all family types.

By having dinner earlier in the evening, you can ensure more time for enjoyable and important evening activities. And if you have a family, that time is important because it “institutes more serious family time and more quality time together. It’s a time when parents aren’t being spread thin and can give more attention to their children,” says Wikle.

“What an earlier dinner is doing for families in the evenings is giving parents time with children both at the table and also after the meal,” says Wikle. This is important because when we invest time in children, we’re investing in their learning and social capacities. To sum up decades of research, positive quality interactions between parents and children are good. Family dinners, in particular, are associated with fewer behavioral problems (Musick & Meier, 2012; Sen, 2010), and increased academic achievement (Eisenberg et al., 2004), for example.

“Parents are a child’s best teacher and parents are really supporting their kids in so many ways. This is just one more way parents can give time and attention to their children,” says Wikle. 

Dinner also can be a struggle. There are going to be times that your children are eating fast food at 8 p.m. on a Wednesday. However, Wikle encourages parents simply to do their best. “Just an awareness of how the time after dinner can impact your family is powerful,” she says.

Wikle’s tips to have dinner ready by 6:15 include prepping food beforehand, doubling-up on food prep, involving your children — dinner prep itself is an opportunity for quality time, and keeping it simple. Her family’s go-to meal is waffles: “It’s a family favorite that can be whipped up quickly.” 

We’d love to hear about your best tips to get dinner done on Instagram @byufhss.

A Fall Welcome Message to Students

From Dean Laura Padilla-Walker

Dear Students,

Welcome to Fall semester! We have a new leadership team in the College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences and we are eager to meet you and get your perspective as we work toward shared goals. Please look for emails and social media posts announcing ways for you to get to know the many opportunities that await you in our college.

I acknowledge that it has been a challenging year for many of you and I applaud your efforts to remain engaged despite the varied and unique trials of the past year. Please let us know how we can help empower you to reach your goals. We’re on the 9th floor of KMBL and our doors are open to you.

I am grateful for the opportunity the college and our faculty have to be part of your BYU experience. I’m reminded of a talk President Gordon B. Hinckley gave in 1997 — before most of you were born but still relevant today. He pointed out that one of the elements of a singular BYU education is the faculty who teach you. He said:

“You have a unique and dedicated faculty to teach you. They bring to this great responsibility the learning of all the ages…in a vast variety of fields of knowledge. When all is said and done, it is not this elaborate campus that really counts. It is the faculty who teach you, who lead you, who encourage you, who help you find your way as you go forward with your studies” (The BYU Experience, 1997).

As someone who works closely with the faculty in our college, I am confident that you are being taught by many of the best in their fields. I support these highly trained individuals as they teach their disciplines and prepare curriculum that promotes deep critical thinking so you can thoughtfully engage in essential conversations. These foundational skills will prepare you not only for this life and the diverse world in which we live, but also to become lifelong learners.

This rigorous coursework is aligned with the BYU mission statement that says your time here should be a “period of intensive learning in a stimulating setting where a commitment to excellence is expected and the full realization of human potential is pursued.”

Intensive learning is not always comfortable, but with “an environment enlightened by living prophets and sustained by those moral virtues which characterize the life and teachings of the Son of God” (BYU Mission Statement) we can and should safely and critically engage with the universe of ideas that are part of a broad university education.

BYU is unique not because we shelter students from learning aspects of a broad education, but because we explore topics with the light and truth of the gospel as our guide — especially when secular and spiritual knowledge don’t seem to be aligned. This exploration of ideas should always be done by engaging in respectful dialogue “by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned” (D&C 121: 41). Interacting in this way should be something we uniquely excel in at BYU.   

It is my hope that all interactions within our college community will “reflect devout love of God and a loving, genuine concern for the welfare of our neighbor” (BYU Mission Statement). President Hinckley reminds us that “The true gospel of Jesus Christ never led to bigotry. It never led to self-righteousness. It never led to arrogance. The true gospel of Jesus Christ leads to [sisterhood and] brotherhood, to friendship, to appreciation of others, to respect and kindness and love.” (The BYU Experience, 1997)

We encourage all of you to reach out to those around you and help us build a Zion community within our college. If you are struggling, please ask for help. If you are doing well, please look around you and notice fellow students who need your support. Please “succor the weak, lift up the hands which hang down, strengthen the feeble knees (D&C 81: 5).”

You are wonderful individuals with strong spirits and excellent minds. The social science training you receive from our qualified faculty will help make you leaders as you engage in and solve our world’s most significant problems. As a college, we are blessed to be a part of your journey.

Dean Padilla-Walker

College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences

New Faculty Members Join the College

This fall, we welcome fresh faces to the College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences. Be sure to say hello to our new faculty members and spend a minute to get to know more about them and the expertise they bring. We’re glad they’re here!

Melissa Alcaraz, Assistant Professor of Sociology

Melissa Alcaraz specializes in the intersection between migration and family formation, with a focus on Mexico. She earned her PhD in sociology from The Ohio State University in 2021.

Ruth Kerry, Associate Professor of Geography 

Ruth Kerry grew up in the United Kingdom and did all her studies there, including a PhD in precision agriculture from the University of Reading in 2004. She specializes in soil spatial analysis and land evaluation, and precision agriculture. She was previously an affiliate assistant professor at Auburn University. 

David Simpson, Visiting Teaching Professor of Geography

David Simpson has a passion for making communities better. He has a doctorate degree from the University of California, Berkeley in city and regional planning and has filled many professional roles over his career, much of which was spent with the University of Louisville. Prior to moving to Utah and accepting this position with BYU, he was the chair of the University of Louisville Sustainability Council. 

Ryan Hill, Assistant Professor of Economics 

Ryan Hill earned his PhD in Economics from MIT in 2020 and specializes in labor economics, public finance, economics of innovation, and development of scientific knowledge. He previously worked as a postdoctoral researcher for the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. Fun fact about Ryan: he stood at the highest and lowest points of the continental U.S. on the same day — he climbed Mt. Whitney, slept on the summit, hiked down, and then visited Death Valley on the way home.

Richard Patterson, Assistant Professor of Economics 

Richard Patterson was an assistant professor in the U.S. Military Academy at West Point before coming to BYU. He specializes in applied microeconomics, behavioral economics, economics of education, and labor economics and has a PhD in policy analysis and management from Cornell University. In his free time he enjoys mountain biking, rock climbing, and skiing. 

Ashley Fraser, Assistant Professor of Family Life 

Ashley Fraser earned a PhD in family and human development from Arizona State University in 2021. Her research interests include childhood and adolescent development; empathy and prosocial behavior; hope, racism and equity, and media. 

Andrea Kinghorn Busby, Assistant Professor of Family Life

Andrea Kinghorn Busby specializes in developmental psychology and public policy; reducing inequality for young children, with emphasis on fathers and neighborhoods; and inequality in children’s home, school, and neighborhood contexts. Her research interests include the impact of violence on children, how children and families experience poverty in suburban communities, and how parents socialize their children about economic inequality. She earned her PhD in human development and social policy from Northwestern University in 2021.

Ashley LeBaron-Black, Assistant Professor of Family Life

Ashley LeBaron-Black specializes in family finance with a focus on family financial socialization and couple finance. She earned her PhD in family studies and human development from the University of Arizona in 2021. In her free time she enjoys studying art history, particularly French Gothic, Italian Renaissance, and French Impressionism. 

Daniel Frost, Director of the Integrative Writing Program and Assistant Teaching Professor, School of Family Life

Daniel Frost earned his PhD in politics from Princeton University, and his writing interests include marriage, family, sexual morality, personal identity, and moral reasoning, among others. He previously taught political science at Clemson University and BYU.

Liz McGuire, Assistant Professor of Political Science 

Liz McGuire earned her PhD in political science from Yale University in 2021. She uses experimental and quantitative methodologies to study gender politics, changes in gender norms, and comparative gender norms. She is also interested in international development and is currently focusing on East Africa. 

David Romney, Assistant Professor of Political Science 

David Romney has a PhD in government from Harvard University, and was a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard’s Weatherhead Center for International Affairs before coming to BYU. He specializes in comparative politics and methods, psychology of intergroup relations, role of social media, misinformation, and conspiracy theories in the Middle East. In his free time he enjoys watching cooking shows and trying out new recipes with his wife. 

Gentry Jenkins, Visiting Assistant Professor of Political Science

Gentry Jenkins earned his doctorate degree from the University of Chicago, where he was a teaching fellow in the Committee on International Relations. His research interests include the connections between revolution, state-building, civil war, and international conflict.

Sandra Sephton, Professor of Psychology 

Sandra Sephton specializes in developmental, cognitive, and health psychology; biobehavioral oncology; and mindfulness interventions. She earned her PhD in behavioral neuroscience from BYU in 1995 and previously was a professor at the University of Louisville and senior scientist at James Graham Brown Cancer Center. She is the happy owner of three horses.

Kara Duraccio, Assistant Professor of Psychology 

Kara Duraccio earned her PhD in clinical psychology from BYU in 2019. She previously worked held a General Pediatrics Research Fellowship at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. Her areas of specialty include pediatric psychology with a focus on adolescent sleep and eating behaviors. 

Dawn-Marie Wood, Assistant Teaching Professor of Psychology

Dawn-Marie Wood earned her master’s degree in psychology and behavioral neuroscience at BYU in 1994, and was previously a visiting assistant teaching professor at BYU. She loves to fly fish and is an “honorary member” of the BYU Fly Fishing Club.

Award-Winning Faculty and Staff

Congratulations to all the faculty and staff in the College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences who were recognized with awards from the university and the college. We have an amazing team of people dedicated to delivering the best university education to our students, whether through research, teaching, or providing administrative support. We’re so happy to recognize a few in this way—be sure to stop and offer your congratulations!

AWARDS FROM THE UNIVERSITY
Jan Christensen, School of Family Life
President’s Appreciation Award

Jan Christensen serves her department and the university with distinction. She has mastered the administrative procedures and policies of the university, and her department relies on her to navigate all administrative matters. Christensen is a full team player without an ego who works with faculty and staff in a professional and friendly manner, setting a pleasing tone for the department.

Brenden Rensink, History
Karl G. Maeser Professional Faculty Excellence Award

Brenden W. Rensink is the associate director of the Charles Redd Center for Western Studies. He designs a rich annual program of public lectures and research seminars for the center and manages the center’s research awards, fellowships, and grants. His popular Writing Westward podcast and his student-curated digital history project, Intermountain Histories, make history broadly accessible.

Craig Hart, School of Family Life
Abraham O. Smoot Citizenship Award

Since coming to BYU in 1992, Craig H. Hart has lifted the research and teaching of human development at the university. He has had many noteworthy accomplishments as a scholar, including coediting The Handbook of Childhood and Social Development. Hart has prioritized administrative service for more than 20 years and currently serves as director of the Faculty Center.

Jenny Brooks, Psychology
Adjunct Faculty Excellence Award

Jenny B. Brooks is a talented teacher who goes above and beyond expectations for students and her department. She is dedicated to the aims of a BYU education and uses her class assignments to emphasize these aims. Her students report that her classes build their testimonies and help them become better disciples of Jesus Christ.

Rebekka Matheson, Psychology
Early Career Teaching Award

Rebekka Matheson has established a reputation as a phenomenal and soughtout teacher. She teaches upper-level courses that combine difficult scientific principles, such as physiologic mechanisms and biophysics with behavior. Matheson works hard to create innovative and effective learning opportunities for her students, successfully blending teaching and mentoring.

Wendy Birmingham, Psychology
Early Career Scholarship Award

Wendy C. Birmingham’s research program is at the intersection of health psychology and social psychology. She has published extensively in the fields of health psychology and behavioral medicine, establishing herself as an expert on how relationships impact both physical and mental health. Birmingham has published more than 50 research articles and academic book chapters.

Brock Kirwan, Psychology
Alcuin Fellowship Award

Created in 1986, the Alcuin Fellowship is named after Alcuin of York (c. 730–802), master of the seven liberal arts and leading figure of the Carolingian Renaissance, who brought about far-reaching educational renewal. Alcuin Fellows are expected to teach one of the four Unexpected Connections (GS) courses required of Honors students in partnership with another faculty member.

AWARDS FROM THE COLLEGE OF FAMILY, HOME, AND SOCIAL SCIENCES
Julianne Holt-Lundstadt, Psychology 
Martin B. Hickman Scholar

An internationally-recognized scientist in the field of Social and Health Psychology, Dr. Holt-Lunstad has impacted the lives of thousands of others through her ground-breaking research on the long-term health effects of social connections and the negative consequences of loneliness and social isolation. Her pioneering research has been widely recognized not only for its scientific rigor, but also for its timely social relevance and practical applicability. Her research has been disseminated through prestigious scholarly outlets and her students are forging successful careers at major institutions throughout the nation. In these accomplishments, she has garnered international recognition and deep respect for Brigham Young University. 

Ryan Davis, Political Science 
Martin B. Hickman Excellence in Teaching

Dr. Ryan Davis centers his pedagogy on teaching students how to apply philosophical thinking to the world around them. One student summed up the effect of his tutelage by saying that they now “think of my own arguments, and the arguments of others, in a more constructive way—as premises leading to a conclusion. I appreciate now that we all agree on many different premises, even if some are different and we therefore have different conclusions.” He is best known for his deep love of the greater sage-grouse and Taylor Swift lyrics, resulting in students observing that he is “inadvertently hilarious” and “really defies the idea of a stoic philosophy professor.” 

Brandon Plewe, Geography 
Martin B. Hickman Innovation in Teaching

Dr. Brandon Plewe has been teaching cartography and GIS in the Geography department since 1997. His research focuses on using historical GIS and cartography to better understand the past, particularly in the context of the history of Utah and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He is also interested in the underlying ontology of geographic information, or how people understand and represent the world. He is a “geo-collector,” having built GIS datasets of 550 hillside letters, 350 old LDS church buildings, and 7,000 historical LDS wards and branches. He has also driven on almost every highway in Utah. 

Karen Carter, History
Martin B. Hickman Achievement in Teaching  

Dr. Karen Carter believes that teaching is the most meaningful work she will accomplish at BYU. She is highly effective in class organization and in seamlessly blending course materials and evaluation tools for the best learning outcomes. She is a superior lecturer who holds the attention of students, but she is also an advocate of peer learning. Her commitment to student learning is exceptional. Even in large online sections of World Civilizations she personally graded each assignment to provide individualized feedback and writing instruction. Her classes are truly habitats of learning where students flourish in many ways. 

Jill Knapp, Geography
Martin B. Hickman Excellence in Teaching by Adjunct Faculty

Jill Knapp received BS (1986) and MS (1989) degrees in geography at BYU. Since 1994, she has been teaching regional and human geography classes. She worked with Freshman Academy and Peer Mentoring programs for many years, and particularly enjoys the opportunity to teach and mentor freshman students. Jill and her husband, Stan Knapp (Sociology), have directed BYU study programs in many European locations for the past 15 years. She loves the opportunity to provide experiences both in and outside the classroom to help change the way students view the incredibly diverse world in which they live. Jill estimates that she has taught over 5,000 students since she began teaching at BYU. Jill’s greatest reward is running into former students who tell her that they took her class and that they still think about the things they learned. 

Ryan Gabriel, Sociology 
Martin B. Hickman Diversity and Inclusion Award

Dr. Ryan Gabriel, assistant professor of sociology, is a committed advocate of diversity and inclusion. Professor Gabriel balances a productive research agenda and teaching high-demand classes while contributing to efforts to improve belonging at BYU. Professor Gabriel plays key roles in the college’s Civil Rights Seminar and on the university’s Committee on Race, Equity & Belonging. He is engaged in quieter ways, mentoring students and colleagues one-on-one. To know Professor Gabriel is to know his warmth and perceptiveness. His April 2021 devotional address (“Healing Racism Through Jesus Christ”) exemplifies this approach. Our university is in a better place because of him. 

Michael Cope, Sociology
Mary Lou Fulton Early Career Scholar Award  

Dr. Michael Cope, associate professor and co-director of the BYU Community Studies Lab, continues the long tradition of highly regarded BYU sociologists studying rural communities. From detailing the effects of the BP oil spill, to understanding demographic, economic, and social challenges facing rural western communities, Professor Cope’s work seeks to improve the well-being of vulnerable communities. He is an exceptional mentor who invests countless hours in his students, with whom he frequently publishes. Professor Cope is a tireless scholar, teacher, and colleague that endeavors to help anyone lucky enough to work with him. 

Stewart Anderson, History 
Mary Lou Fulton Early Career Scholar Award

Dr. Stewart Anderson is a strong supporter of BYU’s European Studies program and an outstanding teacher who has won awards from the History department and the European Studies Student Association. His strength in the classroom is rooted in his respect for students and their abilities, and this comes through in his close mentoring of them in their research projects. Dr Anderson’s recent monograph, A Dramatic Reinvention: German Television and Moral Renewal after National Socialism, 1956-1970, draws upon studio documents and the content of television films to assess the objectives of writers and directors and the responses of viewers. 

Jeffrey Denning, Economics  
FHSS Early Career Scholar Award

Dr. Jeff Denning is an outstanding teacher who is conscientious, clear, and has high expectations for student learning. He makes a point of reaching out personally to those who struggle. Dr. Denning studies how to reduce barriers to college enrollment. He has articles published or in press at prestigious journals including the American Economic Journal: Applied EconomicsAmerican Economic Journal: Economic Policy, and the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. In recognition of his outstanding research contributions, Dr. Denning was appointed a Faculty Research Fellow at the National Bureau of Economic Research and a Research Affiliate at the Institute of Labor Economics (IZA). 

Sherinah Saasa, School of Social Work 
Marjorie Pay Hinckley Pre-CFS Early Career Scholar Award

Dr. Sherinah Saasa is an assistant professor in the School of Social Work at Brigham Young University. She received her PhD at the University of Georgia School of Social Work. Her research interests include African immigrant adjustment in the United States, and international child welfare with a focus on the intersections of poverty, education inequality, gender-based discrimination and HIV/AIDS on the outcomes of orphans and vulnerable children in Sub-Saharan Africa. Dr. Saasa, who grew up in Lusaka, Zambia, says she went into social work because of “a deepening sense of social responsibility obtained through direct practice [that] fueled [her] desire to expand [her] influence in social work to a macro level.” She is passionate about social justice and building a community that promotes equality, especially for women and people of color. She is also one of the nicest persons you will ever meet. We are fortunate to have her here at BYU.  

Rebecca de Schweinitz, History 
Marjorie Pay Hinckley Associate Professor Award

Dr. Rebecca de Schweinitz is an exceptional mentor. Students in her classes and seminars regularly win department awards, publish papers, and present at professional conferences. Students describe her as committed, organized, supportive, and phenomenal. Professor de Schweinitz’s books and articles focus on topics such as the political engagement and activism of youth, slavery, civil rights, and Latter-day Saint youth. Dr. de Schweinitz works tirelessly to improve the university and community, including service on the Faculty Advisory Council, the executive committee for Global Women’s Studies, the FHSS Civil Rights Seminar Committee, Black History Month organizing committees, and the Dialogue Foundation.  

Alex Jensen, School of Family Life
Marjorie Pay Hinckley Associate Professor Award

Dr. Alex Jensen has excelled at BYU in all the activities in which he has engaged. Dr. Jensen has become a nationally recognized scholar for understanding the direct and indirect ways siblings influence human development from adolescence through adulthood. Students in his human development classes rate him highly as a teacher; he is one of the most popular and innovative teachers in the School of Family Life. Dr. Jensen has also strongly contributed to the School’s curriculum as one of two creators of its new undergraduate applied statistics course.    

Rick Miller, School of Family Life
Martin B. Hickman Citizenship Award

Dr. Rick Miller is a leader committed to the success of the departments in the college of Family, Home, and Social Sciences. Dr. Miller has demonstrated that commitment by serving both as director of the School of Family Life and as chair of the Sociology Department. In addition to these administrative accomplishments, Dr. Miller is a marriage and family therapist and studies those aspects of therapy that make it most effective, with a specific focus on therapist effects. Additionally, Dr. Miller is one of the founding PIs of the innovative Marriage and Family Therapy research project, the Practice Research Network (PRN). The PRN is a large clinical research project designed to bridge the practice-research gap by enrolling dozens of clinics worldwide in a collective effort to gather and analyze real clinical data to improve clinical practice. 

Jeff Hill, School of Family Life
Virginia F. Cutler Scholar

Dr. E. Jeffrey Hill is a Professor of Family Life at BYU. His research examines the interface of work, finances, and family life.  Dr. Hill obtained a doctorate in Family and Human Development at Utah State University and Master of Organizational Behavior from the BYU Marriott School of Management. He has authored or co-authored seven books and more than 100 scholarly articles and book chapters. Jeff and his wife Tammy are blending a family of 12 children and 35 grandchildren. They also team-teach marriage enhancement at BYU. 

Eric Eide, Economics
Clayne B. Pope Professor in Economics

Since his arrival in 1993, Eric Eide has exemplified what it means to be a professor at BYU.  He is a popular teacher who is caring with a wonderful sense of humor.  He is also quite rigorous with high expectations for his students.  Dr. Eide is an accomplished scholar with dozens of publications, primarily in the economics of education.  As a researcher and teacher, Dr. Eide has mentored many students who have gone on to success in both industry and academia.  Dr. Eide is a model citizen who served as department chair and as a coeditor for the Economics of Education Review.  Significantly, Dr. Eide is a wonderful friend to faculty and students alike. 

Ken Millard, Computing Services
Dean’s Platinum Service Award 

Ken has done tremendous work during the pandemic creating virtual events and experiences in place of in-person ones, including moving our college’s mentored research conference online and creating a graduation website for the college. Ken also worked with AVP Larry Howell’s office to create a custom website that allowed BYU to host the Utah Conference on Undergraduate Research. As a result of Ken’s teamwork, BYU was able to pull off their rotation hosting the UCUR conference during a pandemic, and hundreds of undergraduate students from all over Utah were able to have a conference experience. 

Arlene Colman, Anthropology
Staff/Administrative Excellence in Service Award

Arlene Colman has worked for many years for the New World Archaeological Foundation as the technical editor of our paper series, generating some of the highest quality print publications in the discipline of archaeology. She is especially adept at finding novel ways to graphically represent complex excavation maps and illustrations. When it seems Arlene has reached the pinnacle of her skills, the next new publication exceeds all the former ones as she incorporates her unique archaeological and design-oriented perspective. In concert with authors, the director, the press, employees in Mexico, and artists, Arlene effortlessly pulls together all content and does so as an incredible leader and team player. 

Jessica McDowell, Economics
Outstanding Rookie Award

Jessica McDowell is a wonderful department administrator who is unfailingly prepared, capable, and fun-loving. Shortly after Jessica started, the Economics department was informed that it would be moving within a few months. Jessica had primary managerial responsibility for this major undertaking. The pandemic complicated the actual move, and the stress of the situation was further heightened by her having to manage multiple rounds of scheduling for Fall 2020 as the university sorted through options for dealing with the pandemic. It was a very busy and stressful time. Jessica handled it all marvelously and is most definitely worthy of the FHSS “Rookie” award for outstanding performance. 

Service Awards for Administrative & Staff Employees
  • Karen Christensen, FHSS Internship Office (20 years)
  • Carina Alleman, FHSS Dean’s Office (15 years)
  • Paul Stavast, Museum of Peoples & Cultures (15 years)
  • Laurie Weisler, Geography (15 years)
  • Nathan Bench, Computing Services (10 years)
  • Jan Christensen, School of Family Life (5 years)
  • Starlyn Hjorth, School of Family Life (10 years)
  • Sarah Rogers, Gerontology (5 years)
  • Aaron Barnes, Computing Services (5 years)
  • Laurel Bishop, School of Family Life (5 years)
  • J. Matthew Clarke, Political Science (5 years)

6 Simple Ways to Grow Professionally This Summer

Whether you’re busy at an internship or looking to score one in the future, these six tips from Danny Damron, assistant dean of experiential learning and professional development, will help you get a head start on preparing for the workforce in whatever profession you choose.

Meet Danny

Danny Damron on a seven-day mountain biking trip from Durango, Colorado to Moab, Utah in 2019. (Danny Damron)

Damron has always thrived learning from experience, whether that was building a Huckleberry Finn raft as an 8-year-old, getting his teenage “sea legs” on a lobster boat off the coast of Maine, being tear-gassed while watching a mass protest in South Korea, completing an internship in Puerto Rico teaching English as a second language, or partnering with his wife in raising three children while they were both getting doctorate degrees. He has spent the past 20 years helping students get the most out of their internships and teaching assistant positions.

Damron believes internships provide unique opportunities for learning and growth and hopes students will make the effort to seek out and apply for internship experiences. To help students better for and get more out of their internships, he offers these six tips.

1. Prioritize with a time-management matrix

Working in a full-time internship requires you to fill 40 hours with meaningful work each week. It can be easy to get caught up in less important tasks or allow some things to take more time than they should. To make the most of your time in a professional setting, you can use the Time Management Matrix developed by Stephen Covey, bestselling author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

The matrix consists of four cells: Urgent/Important, Urgent/Not Important, Not Urgent/Important, and Not Important/Urgent, and organizing your daily activities in each box may prove to be a revealing exercise.

For example, you may find that activities like answering email or checking social media, which so often carry the illusion of urgency, are eating away at your time, while items are actually more important to you in the long run, like preparing for graduate school or applying for internships online, are slipping through the cracks. The matrix may be a great first step in restructuring your schedule to reflect your true priorities.

Time management matrix popularized by Stephen Covey in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

2. Craft and refine a purpose statement, and test it out in professionally relevant settings

A purpose statement is a tool to create professional connections on resumes, in job interviews, while networking at events, on social media platforms, and many other avenues. It’s a short, 3-5 sentence opener that describes you and your professional interests in a way that invites a potential employer or colleague to give you a second look and say, “Tell me more.”

A solid purpose statement has three parts: professional intention, reflection, and connection.

Professional intention is what you’re passionate about and what you ultimately want to do with your career. For example, a sociology student might say, “I find it rewarding to understand and create solutions to common problems that face society.”

The professional intention piece of your statement doesn’t need to be niche, because what you want to do professionally can apply to different areas of work. For example, a student wanting to solve societal problems could become a social worker, but also a lawyer, legislator, nonprofit leader, therapist, or psychologist.

Reflection means articulating how your experiences or your understanding of a professional challenge have brought you to the place you are now. The same sociology student might say, “My sociology training at BYU has given me XYZ opportunities to learn and use the tools to help me solve problems.”

Connection is the “clickbait” part of your purpose statement. By finding a challenge you have in common with your potential employer/colleague, you can have a further conversation that will lead to professional connection. The sociology student might say, “I’m eager to apply what I’ve learned to help families come out of poverty,” or “I want to use my training to help low-income students.”

You can also approach the connection part of your purpose statement using an unanswered question you’re pursuing the answer to, a question you may have in common with another professional. For example, the sociology student may have the question, “How do we help people of ethnic minorities afford housing?” or “How do we improve racial relations between students in academia?” Effectively introducing a question that’s important to you will allow you to join forces with someone who is trying to solve a similar problem, or at least get some helpful direction on your career path.

3. Ask for advice, not feedback

Photography by Gabriel Mayberry /BYU © BYU PHOTO 2017

When asking colleagues, employers, or future employers how you can improve, it’s more effective to ask for advice than feedback. Recent studies published in the Harvard Business Review found that when professionals were asked to give feedback on an employee or applicant’s performance, their comments were vague and generally focused on praise. When asked to give advice, the same professionals gave more specific, actionable items for improvement.

That’s because, when people are asked to give feedback, they focus on evaluating a past performance, rather than on looking forward to future improvements, according to the authors of the study. When asked to give advice, people will focus on the future development of the person being examined, rather than on past mistakes the person can no longer change.

Make it a point to ask current or potential employers for advice, and then implement their suggestions.

4. Talk to people who are successful in your field about how they got there

David Hart’s Class in the Marriott School of Business, 2017 © (Nate Edwards, BYU PHOTO)

You can learn a lot from successful people indirectly. When networking or at another professional event, it may be less effective to ask a professional in your field for direct advice, and more effective to ask them about their own personal journey. People are often comfortable talking about themselves, and you may pick up some of your best advice for finding jobs, interviewing, acquiring skills, and more through the personal stories of those who are currently doing what you’d like to do yourself someday.

5. Role play

It’s awkward, but effective. Prepare for interviews, first meetings with supervisors, public speaking assignments, and other potentially terrifying professional situations by practicing them beforehand. It’s best to practice answering and asking questions with someone you don’t know, or even someone who will make the experience more difficult (like an obnoxious uncle). You can set up a mock interview with a mentor through BYU Career Services here. Simulating the interview environment will allow you to access how you perform under pressure and help you target areas for improvement.

6. Read a professional development book or series of articles

Choose a specific strength you want to develop — like leadership, public speaking, conflict resolution — and read up on it! Need to know where to start? The Collegiate Employment Research Institute at Michigan State University surveys employers about skills they wish college graduates had and they publish annual reports with college recruiting trends. Traits employers said will be important for students in the wake of a global pandemic include persistence, adaptability, the ability to balance work and protect personal time, and a positive attitude.

Books we’d recommend are:

Practice Perfect: 42 Rules for Getting Better at Getting Better

What the Best College Students Do

The Little Book of Talent: 52 Tips for Improving Your Skills

Just Listen

Get Started

Put these professional development tips into action with an internship! Check out what internships are available in the College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences here.

Love Like Your Life Depends on it

One day after she delivered her TedxBYU talk on the importance of social relationships, Julianne Holt-Lunstad, professor of psychology and neuroscience at BYU, found out her father was hospitalized with a terminal condition. She dropped her professional work to spend every day with him before he died two and a half weeks later.

Then her mother passed away.

“I lost both of my parents within two and a half weeks. But I had that incredible time with them before they passed that I’ll treasure forever,” Holt-Lunstad says, becoming emotional. “Really, the most important things in our life are our relationships.”

Holt-Lunstad’s extensive research focuses on the long-term health effects of social connection. Her professional portfolio includes providing expert testimony in a U.S. Congressional hearing, advising the U.S. Surgeon General in the Emotional Well-Being in America Initiative, and serving as a scientific advisor for the Australian Coalition to End Loneliness.

Andy Proctor, a member of the TedxBYU curation committee, said Holt-Lunstad was chosen as a speaker because of her significant contribution to health and psychological sciences as well as the relevance of her message. “Her idea that social connection is one of the most important things we can do for our health is novel and the committee believed deeply it was an idea worth spreading,” Proctor says.

In her talk, Holt-Lunstad says that a lack of social connection poses a health risk similar to smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day.

“It’s time to prioritize our relationships like our life depends on it — because it does,” she says.

Holt-Lunstad began her research by looking at the effects of stress on health. She found that when experiencing the same levels of stress, blood pressure spikes were lower among people with supportive relationships, but more exaggerated in people with few supportive relationships. Expanding their research, she and her colleagues analyzed data from over 300,000 people worldwide and found that those with social connections increased their chance of living longer by 50%. On the other hand, the likelihood of death is increased 26% by being lonely, 29% by social isolation, and 32% by living alone.

Holt-Lunstad points to several ways we can improve our social connections.

1. Make time for relationships

Although making time for relationships can be challenging, there is no substitute for the benefits everyone gains from positive social relationships. They are as important to health as diet and exercise.

2. Discover your preferences

And just like diet and exercise, individual preferences for social interaction varies. People should find the type of social interaction that works best for them, whether that looks like informal gatherings or planned social activities, and whether it’s in large groups or more intimate settings.

3. Make the first move

Loneliness can be a vulnerable, stigmatizing feeling. And those feelings can make it difficult to make the first move when trying to build social relationships. But Holt-Lunstad says that feeling is normal and can be overcome. “One really empowering way to break the ice is to look for others who might need help or who might need a friend.”

4. Serve others

One of the best ways we can help ourselves is by helping others. Holt-Lunstad shared, “There is significant research that shows that providing support to others or doing small acts of kindness for others actually significantly reduces our own loneliness and increases a sense of social bonding between you and the other person. That’s something any one of us can do.”

Holt-Lunstad is currently working with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Administration for Community Living (ACL) to create a national clearinghouse for interventions to address loneliness and social isolation. She is also working with the Gravity Project to make recommendations for national standards for representing social isolation in electronic health records, and serving as the scientific chair of the Foundation for Social Connection and the Coalition to End Social Isolation and Loneliness.

Learn more about Julianne Holt-Lunstad’s research.

Niwako Yamawaki Joins College Administration as Associate Dean

July 1 marks a new beginning for several faculty members in the Dean’s Office for the College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences. While Laura Padilla-Walker, professor of family life, assumes her role as dean of the college after four years as associate dean, Niwako Yamawaki, professor of psychology, joins the office as associate dean for faculty development. 

“I had the privilege of working closely with Dr. Yamawaki on the college Diversity, Collaboration, and Inclusion committee and I appreciate her thoughtfulness, responsiveness, and organization,” says Padilla-Walker. “She has a passion for helping students and faculty to succeed and I am delighted she agreed to join our college team.”

Padilla-Walker believes Yamawaki is well qualified to serve as the associate dean over faculty development because of her dedication to the mission of the college and university, her strong research and teaching record, and her fierce dedication to mentored student research. 

Yamawaki was most recently an associate chair in the Department of Psychology and received the college Diversity, Collaboration, and Inclusion award in 2020 and the Martin B. Hickman Achievement in Teaching Award in 2019. She conducts cross-cultural research to investigate cultural factors — such as stigma, discrimination, and collectivism — that influence attitudes toward mental health services and violence against women. Along with that, she is interested in the role of psychological resilience in Eastern and Western populations and is affiliated with both the American Psychological Association and the Japanese Association for Mental Health.

Specific responsibilities Yamawaki will have as associate dean of faculty development include overseeing faculty research awards and grants, faculty leaves, reviews for the college’s institutes and centers, and the use of space in the college. She will head the Marjorie Pay Hinckley Endowed Chair committee, the Mary Lou Fulton Mentored Student Research Conference, and lead the college Diversity, Collaboration, and Inclusion committees for race and first-generation students.

Padilla-Walker is enthusiastic about the team of associate and assistant deans she’ll be working with. “I am confident that together we will be able to continue the positive trajectory of our college. We are here to support our wonderful faculty and students and hope you will feel free to seek us out to help in whatever ways we can. We look forward to working with all of you.” 

Mikaela Dufur, professor of sociology and associate dean, has new responsibilities too as she shifts from overseeing faculty development to now focusing on faculty evaluation.

“Dr. Dufur is well qualified for this position after serving as the college rank and status chair for several years, and I look forward to continuing to benefit from her wisdom, careful attention to detail, and her strong desire to support faculty and students,” says Padilla-Walker.

Dufur’s specific responsibilities now cover college rank and status, stewardship Interviews, and faculty profiles, university awards, and the university faculty development meeting. She will lead the Diversity, Collaboration, and Inclusion committees for gender and health/disabilities and continues to manage computing services, technology, and capital equipment. 

Sam Otterstrom, professor of geography, will continue in his role as associate dean for curriculum and teaching where he oversees academic advisement, assessment, education preparation, American Heritage, the bachelor of general studies, graduate studies, writing instruction, international study, online and independent studies, the BYU-Salt Lake Center, and scholarships. He also leads the Student Career Development Council and the University and College Curriculum Council, and remediates student complaints. 

“Dr. Otterstrom has been such an important asset to the team for years and we will greatly benefit from his continued expertise,” says Padilla-Walker. “He is a team player and I appreciate his patience, his perspective, and his desire to support our students through our many college efforts surrounding curriculum and experiential learning.” 

Find our contact info at the Dean’s Office Directory.