Military Service and Male Veterans’ Civic Engagement

Sven Wilson portrait Photography by Alyssa Lyman/BYU

How does military service affect male veterans’ civic participation?

BYU professor & chair of the Department of Political Science, Sven Wilson recently published a paper in the journal Armed Forces & Society showing that military service has historically predicted greater civic involvement later in life.

Wilson and coauthor William Ruger of the Charles Koch Institute published “Military Service, Combat Experience, and Civic Participation,” which examines the relationship between military service, combat experience, and civic engagement. The researchers stated the goal of their study: “We wanted to see whether veterans, especially those with combat experience, are more or less active in their communities.”

Wilson and Ruger looked at data from the National Survey of Families and Households from 1987–88 and found that veterans are more engaged civically than other men across all the major wars of the 20th century.

The researchers analyzed responses from 2,185 men aged 30–69 who were divided into three groups: nonveterans, noncombat veterans, and combat veterans. The respondents indicated their civic participation from a list of 15 kinds of organizations.

Using data from the national survey, the researchers found that the likelihood and intensity of group participation is higher among veterans than other men and that combat veterans have the highest level of participation. Wilson and Ruger found that combat veterans were just as likely to participate as noncombat veterans in service, youth and sports groups.

Christie Allen for BYU news reported that, “According to survey data, male veterans who served in World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War were significantly more likely than male nonveterans to join civic groups. They also on average joined 21% more groups and had a 19% higher rate of participation than nonveterans, even when researchers controlled for veterans’ increased educational opportunities, which are known to boost civic activity.”

Read the full article by Christie Allen on BYU news.

“Patterwitz” and a New Approach to American Heritage

The Fall 2020 Semester has been unlike any before at BYU, and students and faculty alike are feeling the strain of hours-long, sometimes mind-numbing online activity. For courses with high enrollment, classes have been held exclusively online in a variety of formats. Some faculty post prerecorded lectures, others host live Zoom meetings, and all are just trying to do the best that they can. So, it may come as a surprise that BYU’s infamous American Heritage course has found a way to have a little fun with online learning.   

Understanding that their teaching would be moved online, Professors Chris Karpowitz and Kelly Patterson began brainstorming a new style of class back in April. They knew that many of their students would be freshman, and that these students had likely either lost out on their senior year or had been reassigned or released early from missions. They wanted to make American Heritage a memorable part of these students’ day, while preserving the academic rigor of the course. They also knew that they couldn’t take on this project alone; they needed a team of help.   

Karpowitz and Patterson decided to consolidate the six sections of their class into one lecture session, held on Monday and Wednesday at 11AM, where they deliver an interactive online lecture for around 2,400 students. Bruce Burgon, database manager at FHSS who has been helping with the course, says “The two professors are team teaching, but they discuss with each other the principle. They can put each other on the spot and ask tough questions that would normally embarrass a student. They can build off of each other’s energy.”  

The class is designed to look and feel like a tv show. Ron Ralston and his production team from OIT have taken the American Heritage review room in the library and transformed it into a stunning learning studio. Every Monday and Wednesday the team  starts  work at 9:00 am to make sure that everything is ready for the broadcast. As part of the design, students  are able to  engage with the lectures through polls, chat, and a panel of students connected to the lecture via Zoom.   

Kristen Betts, administrator for American Heritage, says “Students have really loved the new style, especially the chemistry of the professors. The dialogue between the professors has been really great. It’s fun for students because it’s really engaging.” She and her team make sure that students have access to all the resources they need to succeed in the course. This interactive format means more students are tuning in and working with the material instead of just passively listening to the lecture. In addition, Teaching Assistants still provide scheduled labs on either Thursday or Friday and online review sessions for students who need extra time with the concepts taught in class.   

One student says, “The implementation of remote/online learning is something that is fairly new to me as a recently graduated high school senior. Until now,  I wasn’t really exposed to it, but I would say that the professors Patterson and Karpowitz  [and team]  have made the transition very seamless. As a class that emphasizes student participation, your ability to explore concepts and apply them into current events is something that really cultivates your capability to learn.”   

Another student, Josh Rueckert,  reflects, “This semester has definitely been a big change, I’m not used to taking classes online.” He goes on to say, “American Heritage has surprised me with the lectures, I feel like I have fun watching the professors engage with the students remotely.  Overall different doesn’t always mean bad, new experiences can surprise you.”  

The production team had a little fun and came up with the surprisingly catchy  title “Patterwitz” to refer to the two professors. Some students have taken the moniker and “are distributing t-shirts of it on the black market,” according to Burgon. While walking through the library, Dr. Karpowitz was surprised to meet a student who enthusiastically displayed her “Patterwitz” t-shirt to him.   

A meme page has  also  popped up on Instagram, with  captioned pictures based on that  day’s lecture  posted regularly.  The students running the Instagram account said, “It started after my first day of class when I was like ‘these guys are  kinda  funny’ and made a meme about them looking exactly the same.” They went on to say, “I like that I get a better understanding of American values and history. I feel like a more effective American citizen and that I can contribute to  democracy with the right educational background. It also is cool that we’re learning all of these things while an election is happening.”   

American Heritage is inspiring excitement where students once felt  mostly  dread  because of  its  reputation for  extensive readings and challenging  exams.   

While the professors enjoy the new format, they realize that none of this would have been possible without  Kristen Betts  (American Heritage)  and   Ron  Ralston  (OIT)  and his  production team.  These people, according to the faculty, deserve all the credit  for the  course’s  successful integration into the online format, saying “They  took  our  idea and transformed it into something exciting and engaging. They  have gone above and beyond to make American Heritage what it is this semester… we  think it is a significant example of the different ways  by  which  individuals  throughout the university demonstrate their  devotion to  the educational mission of the university.”  

ECON Research Highlight

Rationalizing self-defeating behaviors: theory and evidence

The economics community was abuzz recently in anticipation of the Nobel Peace Prize, which was awarded to Paul R. Milgrom and Robert B. Wilson for their work on auction theory. More is happening in the field, however, as BYU’s Dr. Olga Stoddard, Dr. Lars Lefgren, and Dr. John Stovall had their paper accepted into the Journal of Health Economics.

Their paper, “Rationalizing self-defeating behaviors: theory and evidence”, seeks to answer why individuals engage in self-harm; how these people, when trapped by multiple competing problems, experience the apathy of depression or inaction They hypothesized that individuals can only handle experiencing a certain amount of “latent stimuli”. They are excited with the news that this important research will now be published for others to study.  

            Check out the full article: https://economics.byu.edu/00000174-786e-da1b-affe-7f7f11d10000/rationalizing-self-defeating-behaviors 

Fighting Cancer with Family History

Ashlyn Taylor, a BYU student working for the Center of Family History and Genealogy, starts her day by clocking in and jumping on the computer to sift through email. For her, every day presents new tasks and challenges. She spends much of her time utilizing a breadth of genealogical skills that she has acquired, including reading census data and analyzing DNA, to track people’s genetic heritage. She also contacts study participants, edits report templates, and compiles data for research application. Once a week she joins a call with Dr. Brian Shirts and his team of researchers at the University of Washington to discuss their progress and goals. And, at the end of the week, she compiles a report based on her findings to send to this team. 

The goal of this research? End preventable hereditary disease like cancer. The method: Family history. 

This idea was born as Dr. Shirts and his lab were working with Heather Hampel, a genetic counselor and hereditary colorectal cancer researcher at The Ohio State University. As Shirts’ lab was conducting genetic testing for this study, they discovered the same MSH2 gene variant in two individuals that shared no obvious relationship. Wondering if there was some genetic component, one of Hampel’s staffers conducted genealogical research and discovered that these two were 3rd cousins. Through extended family history research, dozens of descendants from the same common ancestor were identified and received preventative screening and care for cancer. 

Seeing the efficacy of using genealogical factors to identify high risk patients, Shirts said he “did genetic analysis of other pairs of people who shared a variant and found that two people who have the same rare cancer risk variant have over 90% chance of being related.” He went on to explain that “by using family history to connect distant relatives, we could dramatically improve cancer prevention outreach.” 

Shirts reached out to Jill Crandell of BYU’s Center of Family History and Genealogy to see if she would be interested in conducting research in coordination with his lab. With 3 years of funding provided by the Brotman Bay Institute for Precision Medicine, Shirts’ and Crandell’s labs began in 2019 on a cooperative effort to use genealogical tools to trace strains of cancer.

When Dr. Shirts’ lab identifies individuals with a certain rare genetic variant, those people are connected to the BYU genealogical team. The team, working with the subjects and their families, uses genetic and traditional genealogical research to find a common ancestor between the subjects with the same variant, moving up the family tree to find a shared link. From there, they move back down the tree from that common ancestor to identify other living descendants, who are then contacted about their potential risk of cancer. 

Once two or more individuals are identified with a genetic variant for cancer, researchers track a common ancestor and then attempt to find and contact living descendants who may be at a similar risk.

According to Shirts, the hardest part is, “Finding people who know that they have a hereditary cancer risk mutation and realize that they can use that information to help a lot of close and distant relatives…most people who are at risk find out after they get cancer, which is too late.” It can be difficult to find more than one person with the same variant who is willing to work with the project. With only one, it is nearly impossible to track the variant through their ancestry. With two or more subjects, all the researchers have to do is determine where the line of their genealogy intersects.

The research is moving forward, though, as BYU student researchers become more adept with genealogical tools and more people are becoming aware of the project. Taylor boasts, “A recent highlight that we have found is an exponential increase in the number of participants we are working with.” As the number of participants in the study increases, Dr. Shirts and his team are better able to identify at-risk persons and get them preventative care, which is much better than reactive care. 

Ashlyn Taylor working in the lab.

            Shirts is constantly impressed with the quality of work done by Crandell’s team, saying “Every day I am surprised at how effectively the student researchers at the BYU Center for Family History and Genealogy team are able to identify relatives of the people that enroll in this project. It is fantastic to see what they can do with just a little information.” 

The more participants the study can find and connect with each other, the greater Shirts is able to identify and prevent traumatic cancer diagnoses by catching the risk early. 

            Shirts continues to focus on eradicating hereditary disease like cancer through genetic identification. In reflecting on his passion for the medical field, he says, “I keep a quote on my wall that says, ‘Nobody ever thanks you for saving them from the disease they didn’t know they were going to get.’ Even though it is hard, it is incredibly satisfying to be able to help someone prevent a disease like cancer.” 

To find out more, go to ConnectMyVariant.org