BYU Professor Talks About the Importance of Marriage Education

Six years ago, four in ten Americans surveyed by the Pew Research Center said that marriage is becoming obsolete. Of the many challenges facing that institution, those that come from within–different communication or parenting styles, for example–can often be the most difficult.  Married couples, when they reach the point where they begin to consider divorce, have a variety of resources available to them if they want to, as do couples who are not yet married but who want to prepare. Marriage education being one of them. But many are not be aware of this resource, or its effectiveness. A recent BYU study, published in the Journal of Couple and Relationship Therapy, found that through advertisements, couples were more likely to attend the relationship/marriage education classes.

Dr. Alan Hawkins, from the School of Family Life, noted a 20-percent rise in the participation rate of a Utah-based healthy marriages initiative, especially among minorities. divorce-separation-marriage-breakup-split-39483-medium“Scholars and therapists know a lot about how to form and sustain healthy relationships,” he says, “but we need to get that knowledge out of academia’s ivory towers and clinician’s wood-paneled offices to the public, especially to less educated young people who are at much greater risk for churning, unhealthy romantic relationships.”

What is marriage education? Professor Hawkins’ description of it, from his book The Forever Initiative: A Feasible Public Policy Agenda to Help Couples Form and Sustain Healthy Marriages and Relationships, is the government …trying to build a better fence at the top of the cliff rather than funding more ambulances at the bottom of the cliff.” It is classes focused on helping couples learn to better communicate, solve problems, and have healthy relationships.

While there are various government-funded programs to help with unemployment, family planning, and the like, there is almost nothing related to marriage education. Only two states–Oklahoma and Utah–have government-funded, marriage education programs.  pexels-photo-70737-medium“Forever is still the dream of virtually all Americans regardless of their social and economic circumstances,” says Dr. Hawkins. “But getting and staying on the road to forever is probably more challenging than it has ever been.”

That being said, Dr. Hawkins is optimistic about the future. Currently, the government of Utah is considering legislation that would aim to make it easier for couples to get relationship education. His book

  • outlines an integrated set of feasible and affordable educational initiatives across the early life course, beginning in youth, continuing in early adulthood, during cohabitation, engagement, and through the early years of marriage, as well as for couples at the crossroads of divorce.
  • reviews the early, encouraging evidence that these kinds of educational initiatives can help to strengthen relationships and increase family stability.
  • argues that this public policy agenda of educational initiatives can make more young people today better drivers of their romantic relationships, more competent at avoiding destructive detours, and more capable of achieving their marital aspirations and destinations.

He says that “successful navigation of that road provides tremendous personal benefits for children and adults and strengthens the communities they live in.”

For more information on relationship education classes, visit  and 

Do You Think Relationship Education is Important?

“Huānyíng” to our new faculty member, Dr. Jon Felt

felt-jonDr. Jon Felt is living the dream as a new professor in the College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences. He says: “I get to spend my time reading, thinking, and writing about my favorite topics, and then I have a captive audience in the classroom with whom to discuss them.  And then they pay me for it!  This is what I would do for fun if I had to make a living by some other means.”

Dr. Felt teaches in the history department.  He specializes in ancient and medieval China. Dr. Felt is also an expert in Central Eurasia. After graduating high school, Dr. Felt read Keys of the Kingdom, by A.J. Cronin.  The novel tells of early Catholic missionaries in China who befriended local leaders through serving the Chinese people.  This book inspired him to study Chinese history and culture.

He could be your teacher of Traditional China or World Civilizations to the 1500’s.  In the winter semester, Dr. Felt will teach The Mongols in World History, as well as two sections of World Civilizations. He graduated from the Y with a degree in History, then went on to obtain his master’s degree in Chinese Literature at the University of Colorado at Boulder. His formal education concluded at Stanford University with a PhD in Chinese History.

Though he is fascinated with history, Dr. Felt would stay in our time period if he was given the chance to time travel: “There has never been a safer and more prosperous period in all of human history than today.  I am very happy with my global food, transportation networks, internet, free public education, health care systems, and safe streets.  Nothing in the past even comes close to being as appealing!”

Dr. Felt is a Utah native, who can be found hiking the Rockies in his spare time. He loves being with his family—his wife, Cambria, and their three children.

Welcome Dr. Felt!

Photo from New York Times

Study Shows Friends are Greater Than Phones for Weight Loss

There is no question that smart phones make things easier.  Daily tasks are more convenient because of these portable personal assistants.  But, there is fear that smart phones will eliminate the need to interact in person with others, and research already shows that smartphone usage can turn into an addiction which indeed harms interpersonal relationships. A recent study at BYU showed that usage of the device—for teens who are trying to lose weight, in particular—is in fact not sufficient. It is not a substitute for the support and accountability elements that real-life relationships provide.

Dr. Chad Jensen, FHSS psychology professor and director of BYU’s Pediatric Health Behavior Research Group, has been researching how to help teens lose weight for years.  His latest study reveals the importance of person-to-person support. “We know that teens are on their phones,” he says, “which gives us a way to intervene in the moment. We wanted to determine whether we could effectively use texting and a commercially-available smartphone app to help adolescents with weight loss.”  He provided an app called Daily Burn to help teenage recipients track their weight loss by recording exercise and food intake.

Photo by Jaren Wilkey of BYU

Weight Gain=App-Friends

Over twenty percent of teenagers are obese, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  The participants in Dr. Jensen’s study were all between the ages of thirteen and eighteen and had a body mass index that placed them in the eight-fifth percentile for height and weight, meaning that they were heavier than eighty-five percent of teenagers overall. For the first 12 weeks of the study, participants met face-to-face with a clinician and other peer participants to discuss their progress and motivations.  Three times a day, the clinicians texted encouraging messages to the teens. For the second 12 weeks, the teens no longer met in groups. They only received texts from the clinician.  Surprisingly, only 16.8 percent of teens recorded their progress in the app, a fifty-percent drop from earlier weeks. The teens also regained the weight they had just lost.  Although participants were able to lose weight during the in-person treatment, they were unable to maintain weight loss during the electronic-only intervention period.

Weight Loss=App+Friends

Losing weight can be a challenge because it requires persistence and time, which can wear us down.  That is why social support is crucial to helping teens loose weight. “The Daily Burn app doesn’t include all the things we know are successful for weight control,” he reported, “like social support and the accountability that comes with that support. That support existed when the teens were meeting with other teens and sharing their experiences.”

This study is one of the first to examine smartphone outcomes in the context of weight-control interventions for adolescents, and perhaps part of the arsenal of information parents and teens can use in their quests to live healthier lifestyles.

Are you sharing your goals with your friends? In person or on-line?


Alumni Spotlight: Christopher Wilms, Founder of Pop ‘n Sweets

Who can start a business, take it from the ground up, and turn it into one of the best sweet shops in the entire state of Utah? The candy man, in the person of Christopher Wilms, can! A recent attendee of Brigham Young University’s Economics department, Wilms and his wife went on to found Pop ‘N Sweets, a candy and soda parlor whose purpose is to “make the world a better place one candy bar at a time.”

Of his experience at school, he says: “BYU was great for networking and making friendships that I hope to never lose.” He also praised the low cost of such a high-quality education. However, Wilms felt restricted by the academic environment. One day, while driving with his wife, they came up with the idea of opening a sweets shop–and they actually decided to try it out. That’s how Pop’nSweets came to be, in September of 2013.

Pop’nSweets sells exactly what it says: pop and sweets. With five locations already open throughout Utah, business is booming and the sky appears to be the limit. “So far, it’s been crazy fun,” Wilms said. “It’s something that is easy to duplicate, so opening more stores hasn’t been hard. It’s fun because of how different it is and how awesome it is to see people reflect on the stuff they can find there.”

“My favorite aspect [of the business] is watching people enjoy the experience of all the different products we offer,” he continued, referencing the 300+ different flavors of soda that can be found in his stores. “Honestly, this is a concept that can go anywhere–even internationally, especially because we import products from other countries. I think the most important thing for the future of Pop’nSweets is . . . setting up the store in the most customer friendly way possible.”

In 2015, he was honored by the Utah Student 25, a non-profit corporation that honors the top student-founded companies in the state. One of the other awardees, Ryan Caldwell, founder and CEO of MX, compared the Utah community of entrepreneurs to a forest of redwood trees:

“Utah finds itself in this very unique situation where it’s in this magical stage of a startup ecosystem. If you look at Utah about a decade ago, you had two massive redwoods – WordPerfect and Novell. These powerhouses, these great redwoods started to shed branches. And those branches being shed were people who had developed very big skills – they learn business lessons and how to run big companies. And that resource, that wealth of nutrients, falls to the ground as the branches shed and it creates this dense cover that allows other trees to grow.”

When he’s not busy making the world taste good, Wilms is spending time with his family. He has a wife and two children, a two-year-old daughter and a two-month-old son.



New FHSS Faculty: Dr. Chad Nelson

Dr. Chad Nelson, a new Political Science faculty member, is an expert on international affairs, particularly political revolutions and the interaction between domestic instability and international politics. “I suppose what got me hooked was a curiosity about different people and places,” he said. This curiosity prompted him to travel, which, as he puts it, “led me to read more and more about the history of different places, and somehow, I got particularly interested in war and revolution.”

Dr. Nelson enjoyed his four years studying philosophy here at BYU as an undergraduate, and he eventually received his PhD from the University of California at Los Angeles. “I’m thrilled to be back among a great set of colleagues,” he said, “and I love the view from my window. We are lucky to live in such a beautiful area!”

Much of Dr. Nelson’s work is focused on the international effects of revolutions. For instance, leaders of nations often see a revolution elsewhere and fear that it could spread to their own state—this can have a major impact on a nation’s foreign policy. Dr. Nelson also studies the question of how states respond to the rise of potential rivals.

Of his teaching, he says: “It is a pleasure to teach such smart and dedicated students. They don’t seem to complain about their grades as much as the students at UCLA!” When he’s not teaching, he is an outdoorsman who enjoys running. His wife currently works as a physicians’ assistant in an emergency room in Long Beach, California, and they have four children—three boys and a girl.

Welcome Dr. Nelson!

You Think You Have Old Shoes? You Should See New Old Shoe Exhibit

On October 17th 2016, BYU’s Museum of Peoples and Cultures will open its shoe exhibition titled Steps in Style. The exhibition will display a collection of shoes from around the globe and shoes from various time periods. Additionally, the exhibition will include an interactive portion for young visitors. The museum is free general admission.

Steps in Style

“Shoes are something all cultures have in common. Having this point of connection helps us relate to each other,” says Jaquelyn Johnson, the doctorate student spearheaded the curation, design, and installation of this exhibition. Similarly, our choice of shoe style reflects our personalities and circumstances. The shoes in the exhibit reflect the personalities and needs of people across the world.

The highlights of the collection are bone skates, moccasins from various Native American nations, wooden clogs, intricately beaded slippers, and Caribou boots. A pair of Samoan sandals made of tapa cloth, woven coconut leaves, and coconut seeds. Of the mocassions, Johnson points out that they “show how much time and effort went into creating such a unique shoe. Today, we go to the store without putting nearly any time or thought into the purchase.”

Families, scout groups, students, and people of all ages are welcome to explore this unique exhibition, says Lacy Schmoekel, promotions manager at the museum.

Sarah Curry, FHSS Student Extra-ordinaire

It has been said that “the quality of a university is measured more by the kind of student it turns out than the kind it takes in.” If this is true, then BYU is a very fine university, based at least on political science major Sarah Curry . fhsspictureThe senior has traveled both the world and the U.S. and is involved in many things on-campus.

Recently, we had the opportunity to talk with her about her school experience:

Getting to Know Sarah Curry

Q: What’s your major? Why did you choose it? Was there a particular experience that lead you to it?

A: I am studying political science with an emphasis in political strategy, and minoring in global studies and nonprofit management. I grew up in the Washington DC area, which exposed me to politics at a young age. When I came to BYU, I knew I wanted to learn how to serve my community. Political science has taught me valuable quantitative and writing skills, as well as a practical understanding of institutions that I will need to serve effectively. Additionally, the faculty and students in political science are fascinating! Their perspectives and experiences are far-reaching. Everyone is supportive and wants to pull you into their network. I really have found my tribe.

Q: What are you involved in (i.e. extracurricular activities)?

A: I am the special events director for BYU Political Affairs Society. I am the co-founder and president of BYUPAS Women in Politics. I am also a member of both Nonprofit Management Student Association and Students for International Development. I am a Undergraduate Fellow at the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy. I was a TA for POLI 201 for three semesters and have been a RA since January. This semester, I am involved with the KBYU-Utah Colleges Exit Poll, and encourage everyone reading this to volunteer for it as well.

Q: Any tips for getting involved?

A: Be bold! Go to activities hosted by clubs and student associations. Every major has at least one. Talk to people in class. Turn group projects into a way to make friends. Meet and work with your professors and TAs. I have been connected to opportunities that I would not have found otherwise through classmates and faculty. Show commitment to learning as much as you can while you’re at BYU. Our college can be improved by your ideas and insights — you just have to share them!

Q: What do you like to do outside of school?

A: Tap dance, SCUBA dive, cook international food, go to book club and Bombay House with my ladies, watch Parks and Rec and The Office with my husband. I also love to road trip and explore new places.

Q: Random fact or story about yourself?

A: My order at Sodalicious is a 24oz. I Love Lucy extra dirty.