Dead Presidents’ Debate! October 5th

Saul Bellow once said, “Take our politicians: they’re a bunch of yo-yos. The presidency is now a cross between a popularity contest and a high school debate, with an encyclopedia of clichés the first prize.” Nobody understands this better then BYU’s History Department, which is why they are putting on a Dead Presidents’ Debate!

Yes, you heard right. On October 5th at 2pm in the WILK’s Varsity Theater, Presidents Lincoln, Jackson, Roosevelt, and Eisenhower will duke it out over who should win: Hillary or Trump. Rumour has it Jackson’s even bringing his sword.


The dead presidents are being portrayed by faculty from the history department: Grant Madsen as Eisenhower, Matt Mason as Jackson, Rich Kimball as Roosevelt, and Karen Auman as Lincoln. The event will also feature a mediator–possibly John Lehrer (played by Edward Stratford).  Dr. Stratford said this about the debate: “We wanted to create this format to help students understand that the past is the primary dimension that informs our perception of the present.” This will be made evident by the correlations drawn between history’s presidents and the current candidates.

All students, even members of the community, are invited, so that, as Dr. Stratford puts it, we can all have an opportunity to “gain some perspective on the current presidential race in a fun and informative atmosphere.”

Watch out, he adds, for the forthcoming Dead Emperor’s Debate as well.

Which presidential candidate do you think should win?


Overweight Adolescents More Prone to Sleep Disorders and Poorer Performance, Study Says

Snoring. It’s everyone’s pet peeve, yet about a third of the population does it, and hardly anyone understands the science behind it. In technical terms, snoring is caused by the vibration of respiratory structures due to obstructed air movement during breathing. Snoring is one of many manifestations of sleep-disordered breathing (SDB), a medical condition that affects millions of people each year.

Scientists have long been interested in the connection between obesity and SDB, and the connection between SDB and executive functioning, or the ability to get things done. In a study recently released in the Journal of Pediatric Neuropsychology, two faculty members in BYU’s Department of Psychology, studied the connection in obese adolescents and found that they were much more likely to snore and thus have impaired executive function skills.

Shawn Gale  All Rights Reserved

Doctors Shawn Gale and Chad Jensen state that even though obesity is itself one of the most common medical conditions people suffer from, it is unique in its potential to lead to other even more serious illnesses. It has often been associated with sleep apnea and other SDBs, particularly in the young. Also, SDB in children has been associated with behavioral difficulties and impairment in cognitive and academic function.

Gale, Jensen, and BYU graduate student Jonathan Mietchen sampled 37 adolescents enrolled in a weight loss program. Findings from their study suggest that these adolescents, whose obesity made them at risk for SDB, were rated by a caregivers as having “significantly poorer executive functioning compared to adolescents at minimal risk for SDB.”

Chad Jensen    All Rights Reserved

Given the fact that the adolescents sampled in this study were enrolled in a weight-loss program, Gale and Jensen suggest that the existence of sleep problems be taken into account by caretakers and clinicians when determining the effectiveness of such programs. It may also be useful for parents and caregivers of obese adolescents to note that there is thus hope for the improvement of not only physical health but mental health and cognitive functioning–life functioning–when that adolescent loses weight.


New Faculty: Dr. Ryan Gabriel, Traversing the Geography of Race

gabriel-ryanGrowing up in Utah and California as a mixed-race individual, Dr. Ryan Gabriel was exposed to the subject of race frequently during his childhood. “The majority of my friends in Utah were white,” he said, “but I had non-white friends in California where my father lived. The juxtaposition of cultural environments set race at a sharp relief in my early consciousness.” As such, he was interested in racial dynamics from an early age. However, it wasn’t until college that he was exposed to them from a sociological perspective. “I was gripped,” he said. “Since then, all of my work, in one way or another, has traversed the geography of race and its enduring power to influence our lives.” And the Department of Sociology at Brigham Young University is the most recent to benefit from his expertise as he joins its faculty.

Gabriel, a recent graduate of the University of Washington, completed his PhD dissertation on the residential stratification of mixed-race couples.  His decision to come to the Y was about the school and its research. “I came to BYU to be a part of a great department,” he said. “We have faculty in sociology who are doing excellent work on important subjects. That was a strong attraction [for] me deciding to accept an appointment in the department.”

And while he’s only taught here a short time, Dr. Gabriel has already been heavily influenced by the students in his classes. “I have noticed [their] sincerity,” he said. “Many of them are truly interested in engaging in challenging questions and do so with alacrity. I find them inspiring.”

Currently, Dr. Gabriel is working on a few projects. Continuing the work of his dissertation, he is investigating residential mobility patterns in mixed-race couples. He is also working to understand how the most recent economic crisis changed the racial composition of neighborhoods. And, he is investigating the lynchings that occurred in the South between 1882 and 1930, and attempting to explain how they still have influence on contemporary white-on-black homicide in those same areas.

But as important as work is to Dr. Gabriel, family always comes first. “I have a beautiful wife, Erin,” he said. “She has taught me what it means to give and love. In his spare time, Dr. Gabriel enjoys watching and reading about basketball, cooking, baking, eating new and interesting foods, and spending quality time with his family.

And to any students wondering if sociology is right for them? Dr. Gabriel has one simple piece of advice: “Please, come, take my classes.”



How Can Young People Change the World? Ask Expert Rebecca de Schweinitz in FHSS Twitter Party

It may be argued that, in some ways, the racial climate of American society has shifted enough that it’s easy, especially for millennials, to forget about the atrocities of the Civil Rights movement of only a few decades ago. BYU associate professor of history Rebecca de Schweinitz, in her 2009 book If We Could Change the World, explores the relationship between youth and the civil rights movement, answering questions about how young people contributed to the movement and how conceptions about them helped to shape the black freedom struggle. These answers are especially relevant to the youth of today, as they can inform their reaction as a group and individually to ongoing racial struggles in our society. Anyone interested in discussing these subjects is invited to participate in a real-time Twitter Q & A with Professor de Schweinitz, coming up in October.

deschweinitz_ifOf her book, the Arkansas Review said: “few studies of the civil rights movement present the movement in such a dynamic…manner.” Of the Q & A, Jamie Moesser, Outreach Coordinator for BYU’s College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences said: “this will be a great opportunity to interact with Professor de Schweinitz, ask her questions about youth and the Civil Rights movement, and understand more about the important role youth have played and can play in influencing societal change. Plus,” she adds, “it’s easy, and there’s a good chance that you could win a $50 Visa gift card.” Here are the details:

Book Club Details

What: Twitter chat about the book. Click here to learn how it works. No big deal.

When: Tuesday, October 4th from 12-1 p.m. MST (2 p.m. EST, 1 p.m. CT, 11 p.m. PT)

Where: On With the party hashtag #AskAnFHSSExpert.

Hashtag: #AskAnFHSSExpert

Topic: youth and social movements, particularly the civil rights movement

Moderators: @JamieMoesser, @byufhss

RSVP: Please RSVP in the comments section of this post at any time before the party to follow and be followed by like-minded individuals who’ll be participating in the party with you! The first three people who RSVP will be receive a free copy of Professor De Schweinitz’s book (if they don’t already have one).

In-Chat Giveaway

During the chat, a random participant will be chosen to win a $50 VISA gift card.

Alumni Spotlight: Randall Lewis and Big Data

randall_3cropped_headshot_blur-941x1024If you’ve ever googled or binge-watched  something, or read news online, then you’ve more than likely used Google, Netflix, or Yahoo. Other than being some of the most frequently-used apps and sites in the “interverse,” they have another thing in common: Randall Lewis. The BYU graduate has worked at each of these tech companies. Currently employed at Netflix, he statistically analyzes data he has gathered from sales both offline and online, searches, clicks, page views, and survey outcomes. big-data-1667212__180In his own words: “As an applied econometrician, I use causal statistics to extract valuable insights from large data sets. In today’s digital economy, this requires inventing new types of measurement systems and cleverly adapting econometric algorithms to efficiently perform advanced analyses at scale (i.e., causal machine learning).”

With a job description like that, it is no surprise that Lewis has a doctorate in Economics, with a focus on econometrics and industrial organization, from MIT. It’s also no surprise that he has won several related award, which include:

  • BYU Hinckley Presidential Scholar and Valedictorian, with a double major in mathematics and economics
  • MIT Presidential Fellow
  • Yahoo! Superstar Runner­Up, Nominee

While attending BYU, he was an economics programmer/researcher for a year and a half. This was followed by a similar post at MIT and a pre-doctoral job at Yahoo as a research assistant. After two years, Lewis was promoted to Economic Research Scientist at Yahoo upon completing his PhD. write-593333__180After four years at Yahoo, he moved to Google to work as an Economics Research Scientist. Three and a half years later, Lewis was hired by Netflix for a similar role.

Randall Lewis is one of a growing number of economists who are breaking the mold of the job type economists are usually hired to do, which is to research exchange rates and recessions. Today, according to the New York Times: “businesses are studying the data trails of consumer behavior to help digital companies make smart decisions that strengthen their online marketplaces in areas like advertising, movies, music, travel and lodging.” Lewis is part of this new wave of corporate economic research that is revolutionizing the way tech companies market their products.

If you are an alumni of BYU’s School of Family Life, or any of the nine other departments in the College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences, we’d like to hear your story! Please share with us your accomplishments, your stories of service and inspiration. Share them at


Christina Hibbert, Alum and Author

christi-pic-331x500Christina Grampp Hibbert always knew she wanted to be a mother—but she didn’t always plan on being a psychologist, speaker, and award-winning author. In fact, the BYU alumna (’95) changed her undergraduate major a couple of times before finally concluding that her calling was in the field of psychology.

“My first major in college at Brigham Young University was fashion design,” Hibbert recalled, “but after the first day of my first sewing class, I realized I can’t draw and I don’t love sewing!” This led her to tentatively land on Communications as a major, but tragedy struck at the beginning of her sophomore year when her youngest sister passed away. That, combined with the influence of a professor, prompted Hibbert to change majors one more time. She graduated three years later with a bachelor’s in psychology.

Now a clinical psychologist, public speaker, and radio show host, Hibbert recently launched her third book, “8 Keys to Mental Health Through Exercise,” a selection Publisher’s Weekly called “an enlightening and empowering instrument.” This book is meant for those struggling with mental illness or anyone hoping to gain the many mental and physical health benefits of frequent exercise. Her other publications are “Who Am I Without You? 52 Ways to Rebuild Self-Esteem After a Breakup” and her debut book, a best-selling and award-winning memoir entitled “This is How We Grow.”


“I honestly love what I do—all of it,” Hibbert said. “Connecting, learning, teaching, inspiring, helping, healing, offering hope, and loving greatly. It’s just a pleasant bonus that I somehow receive all of this back ten-fold in return. It’s my main motivation to overcome my challenges, to ‘choose to grow’ and become my best self, and to let my light shine and flourish!”

More important to Hibbert than any of her professional endeavors, though, is her family. She has been married to her husband, OJ, for over twenty years. Together, they have six children between the ages of eight and nineteen. This keeps her so busy that she’s come to call herself a “work-at-home mom”—writing, producing videos, and even seeing online clients from her home office while her kids are in school.

Hibbert’s road hasn’t always been easy. In 2007, as she was preparing to give birth to her fourth child, her sister and brother-in-law tragically passed away. Hibbert and her husband then adopted their two nephews.

“I’ve had my share of trials, especially when it comes to death, loss, and grief,” she said. “But I’ve learned that it’s exactly these hard times that have forced me to grow the most. They’ve led to who I am today, and to the opportunities I’ve been given to now help others through their trials and triumphs.”

The Power of Prayer


The Study

BYU professors Loren Marks and Dave Dollahite are passionate about researching the connections between families and faith. As we mentioned in an article in our most recent Connections issue, that passion has grown into a decade-spanning, religion-spanning project. Amongst the Jews, Muslims, and Christians included in their research, prayer was universally acknowledged as a

  • catalyst for change,
  • a facilitator of humility and positivity, as well as of communication and understanding among couples
  • a unifier of couples and an aid in resolving conflict.”



The Meaning

 The families interviewed were, in fact, very open in discussing prayer, says Dr. Marks. “We did not ask any direct questions about prayer, yet prayer was directly mentioned by our participants in substantive ways nearly 300 times and by a majority of the participants.”

The Impact

Eleven studies conducted over the last ten years combine to show the following, as expressed here:

  • the ability to unite during challenges, more than avoiding challenges, defines strong marriage,
  • marriage [partners] benefit not merely from sharing the same faith, but from sharing similar levels of involvement and commitment, or have a ‘shared vision’ of faith and family life,
  • youth spiritual development is more successful when based on certain anchors of religious commitment,
  • it is not necessarily what families believe, but what they do that matters most.

They provide a variety of tips gleaned from their research here.

Dr. Loren says that he will be studying specific religious activities, such as the Jewish Shabbat, the Mormon Family Home Evening, and the Muslim Ramadan, next. He will also be analyzing the ways in which people emotionally struggle with religion and what religious parents believe are the paramount traits they need to possess and exemplify in regards to their adolescent offspring.

How has prayer influenced your life?


New Professor Shares Expertise on Marriage and Finances

      George Horace Lorimer once said, “It’s good to have money and the things that money can buy, but it’s good, too, to check up once in a while and make sure that you haven’t lost the things that money can’t buy.” No one knows this better than Dr. Jeff Dew, who specializes in researching how finances affects couples, and working to show them the tools they can use to bolster their relationships. Of his research, Dr. Dew says he wants people to understand the correlation between relationships and money so that they can “think about the different results they might get.”


His desire to do so sprang out of his own desire to understand how changes in his financial circumstances when he was in school would affect his marriage. In an interview for the  Journal of Financial Therapy, he says:   “I left a job in the mental health field to attend graduate school. The job had a reasonable salary and incredible benefits. As I was walking home from my graduate office one evening, I wondered how the financial change would influence my marriage. I have been researching this issue ever since.”

dew_jeffHowever, his research interests did not always lie in finances; at first, he was interested in the parent-child dynamic. He credits his original research to time spent employed at a youth treatment center. At the center, they offered parent education classes. Dr. Dew observed that the adolescents whose parents attended the class were rarely re-admitted to the center. Conversely, those whose parents skipped the meetings often returned to the center.

His work has been featured in numerous publications: The Huffington Post, DadsDivorce, and The New York Times to name only a few. Previously, he was a professor at Utah State University. He now brings his expertise to BYU, in our School of Family Life. Dr. Dew says he loves to teach because he gets to be around “bright and accomplished” students who are “eager to learn,” and because he gets to discuss family studies in the context of the gospel.