Dr. Bekker and Geography Team’s Findings Create Richer History of the Transcontinental Railroad

Photo by Paul Jarvis on Unsplash

Last year marked the 150th anniversary of the driving of the Golden Spike that linked the east and west branches of the Transcontinental Railroad together in Promontory, Utah. In honor of the event, the Utah State History and Antiquities Office (USHAO) asked Professor Matt Bekker of the BYU geography department to sample some of the railroad’s trestles and ties. By identifying the species of trees used to build the bridges and identify their cutting dates the USHAO hopes to bring to life a more detailed history of the Transcontinental Railroad.

In order to determine the species and dates of the trees, Bekker and his team took samples from six trestles and eight crossties along 87 miles of the railroad, located west of the Golden Spike. They also included samples of materials from former railroad towns that have transformed into ghost towns, including a remnant of an ornamental tree planted in Terrace, Utah, and three posts from a bunkhouse situated in Matlin, Utah. Taking these samples, Bekker and his team analyzed their wood and cell characteristics in order to identify the species of trees they each belong to.

So what is the historic significance of the tree species used in these settings? Bekker reported that “the most interesting finding so far was that some of the samples were from redwood trees,” and because these trees are only located in California in the U.S., it means that the workers must have been conveying the redwood “by rail and using it to extend the line as they went.”  All the trestles were made of either redwood or Douglas-fir, which Bekker notes, “[are] still used in construction today.” They also found that the decorative tree from Terrace was a popular tree, which was an “unusual choice for the west desert” because it requires a lot of water, but “water was known to have been piped in for miles.”

Another discovery that enhances the story of the Transcontinental Railroad is that ties and bunkhouses were made from a variety of species. This means that these materials were selected with less care and preference. Bekker explains that whatever material was readily available was most likely used. Ties did not last long anyway, but Bekker believes that “the hodgepodge of samples from the bunkhouse also suggests that the housing conditions for the laborers, many of them Chinese, were less than ideal.”

These findings create a richer history of the Transcontinental Railroad for generations to come. Bekker also notes that this study is preliminary, and that further work will be done to compare wood used in the east versus wood used in the west of the Golden Spike. To learn more, read the abstract.

Sociologist John Hoffmann Shares Common Myths of Adolescent Drug Use

Dr. John Hoffmann, BYU professor of sociology, gave the 27th annual Martin B. Hickman Outstanding Scholarship Lecture, “Myths of [Adolescent] Drug Use,” on Thursday, March 12, 2020.

Hoffmann defined myths as “simplifications and beliefs which help people and cultures make sense of the world.” He described the negative effects of these myths/symbolic stories about drug use saying, “If we don’t think about them carefully or understand where they come from they can lead to bad policy and bad programs.” After 30 years of research on substance use and abuse Hoffmann discussed some common myths we believe about adolescent drug use.

“Substance users and problem users are different from us”

The first myth Hoffmann addressed was the idea that substance users and problem users are “different from us.” He described the practice of “othering” which places people into different groups based on perceived physical differences. “We tend to still think drug users or drug addicts are certain kinds of people” said Hoffmann. He cited a study that followed young people for 13 years into adulthood. The study found that African American males were twice as likely as Caucasian males to be arrested for drug possession regardless of their actual drug use. Hoffmann emphasized the fact that “We cannot judge people based on appearance” and that “drug users are not different from us.”

“Substance use disorder (SUD) is a voluntary disease”

Many people believe that drug addiction is a voluntary disease, a choice and reflects a lack of willpower. Although this can be true in some cases Hoffmann pointed out the effects of social environments on drug use. He provided a few examples of influential circumstances that encourage drug use which include family and friend behaviors, stressful experiences, heredity and genetics. “There is a strong correlation between setting or environment and the likelihood of drug use” said Hoffmann. He explained how stressful life experiences can increase the chances of people developing problems with substance abuse. Hoffmann cited an experiment where rats were given access to drug-laced water. Researchers found that when rats were isolated they relied heavily on the drugs, but when the cages offered additional contraptions like tunnels and wheels the rats avoided the drugs altogether. This experiment provided evidence that positive environments and activities actually discouraged drug use. In relation to humans Hoffmann said, “Individuals in poor, stressful and disadvantaged environments will often look for something to dull the pain in their lives.”

“Legal drugs are safer”

Another common myth today is that legal drugs are safer than illegal drugs. Hoffmann compared the effects of alcohol and heroin. He described how while the withdrawal effects of alcohol can be lethal, heroin withdrawals can be “agonizing but people rarely die.” He pointed out how heroin is one of the “most prohibited drug substances” while you can go into most grocery stores and buy alcohol off the shelf.

“Drug use leads to instant addictions”

Many people believe that drug users will become addicted after using one time. Research indicates that developing a substance use disorder usually takes much longer and can depend on a person’s genetic susceptibility. Some people try drugs for the first time and have a bad reaction and never want to try it again while others have a pleasurable reaction. Hoffmann explained that “Reactions vary person to person.”

“There is little we can do to reduce substance use”

Hoffmann combated the idea that there’s little we can do as parents, concerned citizens and as a society to reduce substance use or the harms associated with it. He explained that even though there’s no “magic bullet” that’s going to stop every kid from using drugs, there are things we can do to decrease the likelihood of our kids using. He provided several ways including developing a good relationship with teens, talking to them, spending quality time with them, getting to know their friends, and helping them engage in positive activities. Hoffmann also explained that the greatest risk to adolescents is “unstructured social time.” Teens who spend more than three hours without structure in their social activities raise their risk of using alcohol and marijuana by 60%.

Hoffmann concluded his lecture by encouraging us as a society to understand the influence of environments on drug use. He also encouraged us to not demonize people who use drugs but find ways to help, which starts with being informed. He also believes there is a lot of positive influence we can have on our children when we set positive examples and create strong relationships.

For more info on adolescent drug use visit the following links:

Adolescent Health

Drug Myths

Fulton Mentored Research Conference Will Take Place Online Only

As events are being canceled across campus, many have been wondering if the 16th Annual Mary Lou Fulton Mentored Research Conference will still be taking place in April. 

Although we will not be able to enjoy the regular interactions of a poster conference and luncheon due to the limitations on large group gatherings, the Fulton Poster Conference will carry on, albeit in an electronic context. 

The Fulton website still available and will remain open to receive your poster submissions until the extended submission deadline of Tuesday, March 31st at noon. 

Your poster submissions will not be printed, but we will still have department faculty judges review all poster submissions, and they will select winners at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. 

Once the list of winning posters is finalized, we will post the list on the conference website. For those who are on the list of winners, our college controller will connect with you to work out how you will receive your cash awards.

Thank you for all of your good work! We love to see the results of the research that you are engaged in with faculty!

If you have any questions about the submission process, deadline, or new judging process, please contact fhss@byu.edu.

Dr. Holt-Lunstad Discusses Combating Loneliness During COVID-19 on Facebook Live

Julianne Holt-Lunstad Photography by Nate Edwards/BYU © BYU PHOTO

Want to learn how to best handle social isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic? BYU psychology professor Dr. Julianne Holt-Lunstad and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg held a Q&A on Facebook Live on April 9th. Holt-Lunstad is a world-renowned expert on social connection and isolation, and her work has been recognized in major media outlets, including The New Yorker and The Atlantic. Sandberg and Holt-Lunstad addressed critical issues pertaining to the pandemic and loneliness, including who is at risk for social isolation, how to stay socially connected while physically apart, and how to best reach out to others at this time.

Who’s at Risk? And the Effects of Social Isolation

Holt-Lunstad explained that while anyone in any demographic is at risk of being lonely, there are some risk factors that could increase one’s chances of experiencing social isolation, including if an individual has poor quality relationships, is a member of a stigmatized group, lives alone, or has other adverse physical or mental health conditions. Holt-Lunstad added that the effects of loneliness include a negative impact on one’s physical and cognitive health. In fact, Holt-Lunstad said that “loneliness is a biological drive like hunger or thirst,” so the distress that one feels one when is lonely is normal. “It’s your body saying that you need to re-connect,” explains Holt-Lunstad, “we are social beings and we need others for survival.” While the effects of social isolation are adverse, Holt-Lunstad says that social connection increases one’s odd for survival by 50%.

How to Stay Connected During COVID-19

If social connection is so critical for our health, what can we do to stay connected to each other during the COVID-19 pandemic? Holt-Lunstad stressed the importance of following the health mandate to social distance (if possible in one’s situation), while finding creative ways to stay connected:

  • Make sure that the time you do have together with your loved ones is quality time
  • When possible, have face to face conversations that are safe (for example, talking to your neighbor in the driveway when he is on his porch)
  • Text, call, and have video chats with family and friends
  • Be flexible when technology has its glitches

Sandberg offered additional ideas to stay socially connected and how to best reach out to others at this time:

  • When you are feeling lonely, reach out to someone else who is probably feeling lonelier
  • Let people know that you are here for them if they want to talk
  • Be honest about how you are feeling (recognize that you are glad to be safe but admit that social distancing is challenging)

Holt-Lunstad agreed that it is crucial to “reach out to others” and to recognize that feeling lonely is normal. For teens, being socially isolated can be especially challenging. Holt-Lunstad said “being open with your kids about how they are feeling can be really important” and “encourage[ing] ways where they can still connect to their friends and grandparents” can be helpful as well. Also, for those who are reluctant to admit they are lonely, Holt-Lunstad says that is it vital to recognize that social connection is a continuum and we are all somewhere on the spectrum, in need of social interaction.

Gratitude and Other Tips to Combat Loneliness  

In addition to staying socially connected to others, Holt-Lunstad and Sandberg shared how we can best deal with the situation of being isolated from one another. Holt-Lunstad suggested the following ideas:

  • How you focus your mindset matters. Instead of thinking, “I’m trapped at home,” say to yourself, “I’m doing this to protect the ones I love.”
  • Practice mindfulness-based meditation.
  • Participate in creative expression (engage in music, cooking, writing, etc).
  • Show gratitude- it increases social bonding and decreases feelings of loneliness.

Sandberg also emphasized the importance of gratitude, sharing that at their dinner table, her family now shares a “silver lining” moment along with their day’s highs and lows. Sandberg speculated that all of these challenges from COVID-19 may result in us being more grateful, saying, “maybe this is all giving us more appreciation for social connection. Think about the last time you went to a restaurant or hugged a friend, how grateful were you?” Holt-Lunstad agrees that the pandemic could cause us to be more grateful. She shared: “I’m an optimist. I nearly lost my husband to cancer…birthdays are a privilege. I hope what comes from this otherwise awful situation is a greater appreciation for our relationships and for the simple things in life and that we can learn and grow and become stronger from this.”   To watch the entire Q&A, click here.

Kolaches on the Kimball

Hruska’s peach kolache

What’s better than a free kolache? Taking a selfie with one on top of the KMBLL tower!

Every student who donates to the Choose 2 Give Scholarship, will get a free kolache and a trip to the top of the KMBLL tower. Students will get the rare opportunity to ascend to the highest point on campus, bypassing the tower’s normally restricted access.

The campaign will run on Tuesday, March 10th and Wednesday, March 11th from 12pm to 2pm outside the KMBLL tower. Students are encouraged to take selfies on the KMBLL and share them on social media encouraging all to donate.

Choose 2 Give (C2G) is a student-run and –funded scholarship campaign that helps student in need receive a BYU education. 100% of the money raised is used to benefit BYU Provo students.

Contributions of any amount are accepted and this year the goal is to reach 200 donations!

Learn more at: https://studentalumni.byu.edu/events/choose-2-give

Dr. Hoffmann to Uncover the Myths of Adolescent Drug Use at the Annual Hickman Lecture

Dr. John Hoffmann, BYU professor of sociology, will give the 27th annual Hickman Lecture, “Myths of (Adolescent) Drug Use,” on Thursday, March 12, 2020 at 11:00 AM in 250 KMBL.

Hoffmann will be presenting research that he has conducted over the course of thirty years.

Hoffmann explained that in today’s world, there are many common misconceptions about drug use and through research we can identify which of these beliefs are accurate. He defined the word “myth” not as fake or false, but rather as an “oversimplification of things.”

Hoffmann says that one of his goals for this lecture is “dispelling some of these myths so we can better understand people involved in drug use and find better ways to help them.”

Some of the common misconceptions he will uncover include:

  • Heroin, Cocaine and Methamphetamine are “so good don’t even try them once”
  • Drug dependency may be a disease, but it’s an involuntary disease
  • The war on drugs is winnable- we can fight battles by punishing people, so they won’t use drugs
  • There is little we can do as parents and concerned citizens or as a society to reduce substance use

Hoffmann hopes that students and faculty alike will understand that, “there are things we can do as families, communities and as a society to reduce drug use and the associated harms.”

The lecture is in honor of Martin Berkeley Hickman, a BYU political science professor who served as the dean of the College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences from 1970-1986. He founded the Women’s Research Institute, the David M. Kennedy Center for International Studies, and the Family Studies Center, and is recognized as the father of BYU’s American Heritage program.  Hickman was renowned for his loyalty and dedication to his family, the Church, the college, and BYU.

The Martin B. Hickman Scholar Award is given annually to recognize a notable college faculty who follows Hickman’s example of service and dedication.

Celebrate Women’s History Month and Focus on Mental Health in March

Happy March and Women’s History Month. Below are a few initiatives we would like to highlight this month: 

Women’s History Month — The Library of Congress, National Archives and Records Administration, National Endowment for the Humanities, National Gallery of Art, National Park Service, Smithsonian Institution and United States Holocaust Memorial Museum join in commemorating and encouraging the study, observance and celebration of the vital role of women in American history.  

BYU’s Mental Health Matters Initiative — We aim to inspire, inform, and involve students as we change the stigmas about mental health on BYU’s Campus. The vision of this campaign is to bring awareness to the current state of mental health on BYU’s campus and equip students with resources needed to be active advocates in improving their own mental health and supporting those around them. 

March 1 – 31 Women’s History Month

“Each time a woman stands up for herself, without knowing it possibly, without claiming it, she stands up for all women.” — Maya Angelou

“A woman with a voice is, by definition, a strong woman.” — Melinda Gates

Many of the following events have been canceled due to COVID-19 restrictions. Please confirm before attending.

March 16 – 28 BYU Mental Health Matters Campaign 

3/16 Kick-Off Campaign 11:00 AM – 1:00 PM Brigham Square

3/17 “I AM NOT ALONE” 8:00 AM – 2:00 PM Brigham Square

3/18 PEN Talks: Forum Topic – MENTAL HEALTH Join an open dialogue among BYU students with diverse perspectives. Light meal provided. 6:30 – 8:00 PM  WSC Varsity Theater

3/19 Trauma Specialists’ Panel 7:00 – 8:00 PM  WSC 3225

3/23 Destress At The Wall 5:30 – 7:00 PM  The Wall, WSC 

3/24 Meet & Greet with CAPS 12:30 – 1:30 PM  WSC 3211

Keynote Speaker: Cougar Hall 7:00 – 9:00 PM  WSC 3211

“What mental health needs is more sunlight, more candor, and more unashamed conversation.” — Glenn Close

March 3 BRAVO! “We Shall Overcome” — Inspired by the words and actions of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “We Shall Overcome” showcases music that moved and motivated generations of civil rights activists and defenders, interwoven with recordings of Dr. King’s electrifying speeches.

7:30 PM  de Jong Concert Hall (Tickets Required: eventtickets.byu.edu/)

March 6 Latter-day Saint Women and Scripture: A Maxwell Institute Student Symposium — An event that gathers Maxwell Institute student research assistants together to share insights from research focused on women and scripture.

9:30 AM – 2:30 PM  Education In Zion Theater – JFSB

March 7 “Phenomenal Woman”: An International Women’s Day Celebration — featuring cultural dance, music, and poetry. 

5:30 PM  Kiwanis Park Pavilion

March 10, 17, 24, 31 Women’s History Month Brown Bag Talk: “National Connections in Utah’s Suffrage Story” — Better Days 2020 historians Katherine Kitterman, Tiffany Greene, and Rebekah Clark will present on Utah suffragists’ connections with the national movement, from 1870 to 1920 and beyond.

12:00 – 1:00 PM  Utah State Archives Conference Room (346 South Rio Grande Street, Salt Lake City, UT 84101) 

March 17 Career Success Series: Positive Psychology & Resilience — Career Director, Linda Evans, gives a presentation on coping with failure and challenges through positive psychology and gospel principles. Come and learn about these topics and more! 

4:00 PM – 5:00 PM  JFSB B192

March 24 Forum: Dambisa Moyo, International Economist — Dambisa Moyo, International Economist, will deliver the forum address. She is a Zambian economist and author who analyzes the macro economy and global affairs. She currently serves on the boards of Barclays Bank, the financial services group, Seagate Technology, Chevron Corporation, the global miner Barrick Gold, and the 3M Company. She is powerful thinker and influence around the world as a female leader. Come hear her speak to us! 

11:05 AM MT  Marriott Center

March 27 & 28 BYU Cedartree Memorial Competition Pow Wow — The Annual BYU Cedartree Memorial Competition Pow Wow is a two-day event that features competition Native-American dancing and drumming, and Native American jewelry, art, and food vendors. Come learn more about this beautiful culture and community! 

10:00 AM – 2:00 PM on both days  Wilkinson Center Ballroom