Foundations of success: Psychology student receives award for excellence

“Nothing in life worth having comes easy.”

This was the philosophy Kara Duraccio had growing up on a small farm in Idaho. Though neither of her parents had finished college, they supported and loved their children by teaching them the importance of earning what they wanted in life.

Today, Duraccio is a new mother and the recipient of the Deseret Book Award for Excellence. This prestigious award is only given to one BYU graduate student every five years. Deseret Book requires that the recipient “incorporate into their lives… traits of excellence that will allow them to make a worthy contribution to the communities in which they live.”

Respected as both a teacher and student of clinical psychology at BYU, Duraccio is driven by a passion for childhood development and adolescent behavior. Her compassionate desire to help others is seen in her excellence in leadership and academia.

Throughout her life, her foundation has been the principle of compassion and care. “As cliché as it sounds,” says Duraccio, “I have always known that I wanted to go into a profession that emphasized helping others.”

Duraccio began higher education with the intention of studying nursing, but quickly ended up dropping the major. She remained undeclared until she took Introduction to Psychology, saying, “I knew psychology was the field for me when I ended up reading the entire textbook only a few weeks into the class.”

With her newfound passion, she became involved in research labs and saw the impact this research could have in application. “While I loved psychological research, I felt that a career path that was solely focused on research lacked the depth that could be obtained by entering into clinical psychology,” she says.

Believing in the power of action, Duraccio began working with Dr. Chad Jensen in his pediatric obesity lab. “I love the career that I have chosen,” she says, “because not only do I get to research childhood behaviors, but I then get to put the things that I learn from my research directly into my practice!”

According to Duraccio, the principles of psychology expand beyond the academic discipline: “I feel that it is so useful to teach future and current parents about normal child development, where development can go wrong, and, most importantly, what to do if it does go wrong.”

Recently, Duraccio has been able to see this reflected in her own life as a new mother with both the perspective of a clinical psychologist and a parent. “It is so easy to become consumed with all of the things that we need to do as parents,” she says. “Limit screen time, make sure your child is eating enough fruits and vegetables…foster self-esteem and self-efficacy…and the list goes on and on.”

However, motherhood has taught her what can’t be learned in a research lab. “I truly believe that successful parenting boils down to one simple practice,” she says, “love your child…and everything else should fall into place.”

100 years later: Find out who in your family was a World War I veteran

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Moroni Seth McConkie

Joshua Seth Hunt grew up knowing he carried the namesake of his great granduncle, Moroni Seth McConkie, who was killed in a French train accident while serving in World War I.

“My middle name to me not only serves as a reminder about my great granduncle’s service to preserve peace, it also serves as a reminder to me of all those that came before me and their hard work and service,” said Hunt, a BYU computer science major.

Hunt is part of a BYU team who — in time for the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day — just released Vet Finder, a Web application that will tell people who in their family tree are veterans of World War I. For the project, computer science professor Mark Clement, economics professor Joseph Price and four other computer science students spent the past five months creating a machine-learning feature to scan more than 32 million 1930 census records (for nearly 137 million people).

The census had been previously indexed, but much of the data had been left out, including individuals’ veteran status and the war they were veterans of. So the team created handwriting-recognition programs (a challenge, with such a range of handwriting styles) that would ultimately link veteran status to a person’s name and other already indexed info (birth date, birth place, death date, death place and relationship).

“This does something to give more visibility to the sacrifice of veterans,” said Clement, who has three people in his family line who served in World War I. “One of the purposes of our lab is to get people interested in family history, so this is another thing that hopefully helps them to learn more about their ancestors.”

Students on the team — Hunt, Maxwell Clemens, Jesse Williams, Iain Lee and Adam Warnick — were supported by mentoring funds from the College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences.

“It’s so easy to generically think and study about the past,” said Hunt. “But this project helps us understand how we connect to it. The fact you can figure out that you have an ancestor who gave service like this helps you more deeply understand the importance and significance of their service and the war as a whole.”

Because the team to this point has focused on census records, people who were killed in the war aren’t yet linked with this application, but within the next few months, team members will have those records included as well.

This project offers a glimpse into one specific element of an individual’s family history, Clemens said, but handwriting recognition will increasingly help computers more quickly and efficiently provide significantly more family history data.

-Andrea Christensen, University Communications

Debate of the Dead: History Department to highlight World War I soldiers

People debate history all the time, but the best arguments come from historical figures themselves. On Monday, November 12 at 4 p.m. the History Department is holding the fourth Debate of the Dead at the Varsity Theater.

Past debates have included dead queens, religious reformers, and presidents (not to mention an incident in which Freddie Mercury was rejected from the event by Empress Dowager Cixi).

This year, to honor the 100th anniversary of the Armistice of 11 November 1918—the armistice that ended fighting on land, sea and air in World War I between the Allies and their opponents—history professors are taking on the personas of soldiers in the trenches.

“History still lives with us,” says History professor and debate moderator Ed Stratford. “The idea is to increase historical consciousness on campus.”

The soldiers will answer questions posed by the moderator and reflect on their memories in the trenches, as well as share their opinions on how we think of war today. This debate is a unique opportunity for students to learn more about the past as well as gain food for thought about today.

Knowing ourselves in the context of God’s plan means knowing who came before us. “I firmly believe that the restored gospel implicitly demands attention to the history of the human family,” says Stratford. “We understand the nature of the Atonement better by coming to understand the breadth of its beneficiaries… This event is just another opportunity to do just that.”

For additional information about the Debate of the Dead, call the History Department at 801-422-4636.

2018 Cutler Lecture recap: Addressing the universal need for love and security

BYU Marriage and Family Therapy professor Jonathan Sandberg’s thought-provoking Cutler Lecture can be encapsulated in a simple scene from Winnie the Pooh:

Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind. 
“Pooh!” he whispered.
“Yes, Piglet?”
“Nothing,” said Piglet, taking Pooh’s paw. “I just wanted to be sure of you.”

The need to feel connected and loved is a universal need.

Safe and secure relationships form when individuals in the relationship are responsive to and accessible by the other individual. The isolation created by taking away this accessibility and responsiveness is traumatizing.

In a disconnected world, it is vital that we form and foster relationships where we truly see people and their needs and truly love them. Feeling loved and recognized gives us a secure base from which we can launch and explore other aspects of life.

Be vulnerable and seek out deep, meaningful and loving connections and relationships. Repair conflict in your relationships. Be hopeful in developing secure attachments and relationships with others–even if you have not experienced those relationships in the past. And find ways to be emotionally accessible, responsive and engaged with others on a daily basis.

People are in need of love and security and we are the ones who can help them.

For the full 2018 Cutler Lecture, watch the video below.