College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences Valedictorians Announced

The College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences has many outstanding students graduating this April. We are grateful for the hard work and scholarship of each graduating senior and the example of excellence set by the valedictorians in the college. Meet each department’s 2022 valedictorian!

Political Science: Kesley Townsend

Kesley Townsend

Kesley Brooke Townsend, a political science major with a political strategy emphasis and minors in history and sociology, is the oldest child of John and Cindy Powell. She was raised in Richland, Washington, and developed a passion for U.S. political history at a young age. During her time at BYU, she conducted original research as a research fellow with the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy and worked as a research assistant for Professors Goodliffe, Preece, Pope, and Argyle. Kesley interned at TargetPoint Consulting while participating in the Washington Seminar program and worked as a political strategy advisor on a U.S. senate campaign. She was president of the BYU Women in Politics organization and a writer for the Political Review. Kesley will begin a research fellowship at TargetPoint Consulting this summer and looks forward to pursuing a Ph.D. in political science in 2023. She is incredibly grateful for the mentorship provided by BYU faculty and the continued support of her family and friends. 

Geography: Kellie Haddon

Kellie Haddon

Kellie Haddon is a geography major with an emphasis in global studies and minors in international development and sociology. While at BYU, Kellie had the opportunity to work as a research assistant for Brandon Plewe on the Mormon Places project during her freshman year and worked as a teaching assistant for Chad Emmett’s Political Geography class for the past two semesters. She is excited to end her time at BYU on the Multicultural Europe study abroad with Jill Knapp during spring term. This year Kellie was also heavily involved in the club Students for International Development as one of its presidents. She will begin graduate school in the fall in American University’s MA International Development program in Washington, D.C. Kellie served as a missionary in Cebu, Philippines and enjoys painting, hiking, and exploring new places. She has lived in six states but mainly grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, Illinois. Kellie is grateful for her incredible family, friends, professors, and mentors for their continual support throughout her time at BYU.

Psychology: Reilly O’Coyle Reid

Reilly O’Coyle Reid

Reilly O’Coyle Reid, a psychology major with a minor in business, is from Henderson, Nevada. The oldest of four girls, Reilly is grateful for her loving parents and the special relationship she has with her sisters. During her time at BYU, Reilly came to appreciate the vast educational opportunities available at this university, and is always searching for the chance to research and teach. She began her undergraduate education as a business major and enjoyed learning about finance, economics, and accounting. Reilly later discovered that studying psychology would fulfill her passion of helping individuals, families, and couples heal. Her research emphasis is in clinical psychology and mental health services. She is inspired by studying psychology and is thrilled to continue her education in BYU’s Marriage and Family Therapy master’s program in August. Reilly is grateful for her professors, classmates, friends and family who have supported her as she completed her bachelor’s degree.

History: Pamela Peterson

Pamela Peterson

Pamela Peterson attended BYU as a non-traditional student for the last 13 years while raising a family of six children — her greatest accomplishment. As a developing family historian, she finds the detective work of family history fulfilling and invigorating. Pam plans to pursue a career in family history with an emphasis in British research while she prepares for her Accredited Genealogist credential exams. She has loved her years at BYU and the wonderful professors she’s been privileged to learn from and associate with. Her professors and fellow students opened her eyes to new ideas, perspectives, and perceptions of peoples, cultures, and the world we live in. Her previously limited paradigm has been broadened and enhanced by her experiences and education at BYU. She is grateful for divine help and extends a sincere thank you to the BYU faculty who give their lives to teach others.

Family Life: Megan (Van Alfen) Brown

Megan Van Alfen Brown

Megan (Van Alfen) Brown is a Family Studies major passionate about helping, educating, and healing individuals and families. She is a Wheatley Scholar and received multiple awards for her educational achievements. She worked as a teaching assistant and a research assistant with professors in the School of Family Life at BYU for several years. She is passionate about researching gender, body image, mental health, and sexuality and hopes to center her career in those fields. She will be attending graduate school in the fall at Brigham Young University for a master’s degree in Marriage, Family, and Human Development. She has plans to pursue a PhD to become a professor to educate students and families about complex topics that deserve increased attention. In her free time, she loves spending time with her husband, being outdoors, catching up with friends and building her floral design business.

Anthropology: Leeann Whiffen

Leeann Whiffen

Leeann Whiffen, an anthropology major, was born and raised on a cattle ranch in rural Idaho. She spent much of her youth helping her dad tend to the cows, swath hay, and irrigate fields. She is grateful for those experiences that have helped shape who she is today. Leeann and her husband Sean have been married for 25 years, and they have three sons. She has the special opportunity to be graduating from BYU with her son, Clay. Her husband and sons have always supported her educational goals. On one especially challenging day, she noticed a note in her chemistry notebook that said, “Good luck, Mom!” Leeann completed research under the supervision of Dr. Greg Thompson, and they co-authored an article examining physician-patient interactions that was published in the health care journal Qualitative Health Research. Leeann is deeply appreciative for her professors who have given her invaluable tools that she will carry forward. Leeann completed pre-medical coursework and plans to attend medical school.

Sociology: Hannah Dixon

Hannah Dixon

​​Hannah Dixon grew up in American Fork, Utah. She served a full-time mission in Poland, then returned to BYU, where she majored in sociology with a minor in English. Hannah is graduating with University Honors. During her time here, she relished research opportunities. She participated in a Ballard Center Social Impact Project, a research assistantship in the Sociology department, worked with the BYU Antiracism Project, completed class projects, and more. Other highlights of her BYU experience include involvement in the Honors program, volunteer and mentorship opportunities with first-year students, long hours in the library, and hiking to the Y more than 100 times. Hannah is grateful for the mentors, family, colleagues, and friends who have made her time here fulfilling and she credits their examples of grit, optimism, and encouragement for getting her to this point. She looks forward to continuing her studies at BYU this fall as a student in the sociology master’s program.

Economics: Alexander Johnson

Alexander Johnson

Alex Johnson is a senior graduating in economics and mathematics, with minors in Spanish and Portuguese. During his time at BYU, Alex realized that he possesses a love for learning and solving problems. Alex initially became interested in economics through Dr. Kearl’s Econ 110 class, learning to use a mathematical and logical framework to better understand the world. Through his experience in economics, Alex developed a passion for statistics and mathematical modeling, using and analyzing data to learn about the world in an economics framework. Seeing the strength of mathematics in such an applied context, Alex decided to supplement this growing passion for applied modeling by deciding to also study mathematics as one of his majors. This preparation allowed Alex to continue his education into the future with plans to study Applied Mathematics in a master’s program. Alex would like to express his sincere gratitude for all his professors, family, friends, and classmates, all of whom have been integral in his learning so far.

You Can Have Anxiety and Be a Social Scientist- Three Professors Share How

As the school year nears its end, we’re all feeling it — the nervousness before finals, the stress and pressure to do well, the fear of what comes next. These anxious feelings aren’t exclusive to students; nearly 20% of American adults have an anxiety disorder and many others experience issues with anxiety each year, even if they don’t have an anxiety disorder.

This month’s “Picture a Social Scientist” activity focused on those who have mental health challenges, particularly anxiety. The “Picture an Anxious Social Scientist” event on March 31 began with a presentation on biofeedback from BYU’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS). Biofeedback helps us respond to our body’s stress signals before they become too intense and to take action to relieve stress throughout the day before it impacts our ability to complete our tasks or handle our emotions.

CAPS Biofeedback presentation

The biofeedback presentation was followed by a panel of professors with different types of anxiety. Alyssa Banford Witting in the School of Family Life, Sam Hardy in the Psychology Department, and Scott Sanders in the Sociology Department put themselves in an anxiety-inducing situation to help students see how someone with anxiety can be successful as a social scientist. They addressed questions such as, “What was your experience being diagnosed?” and “What do you recommend for students who may have these feelings but have not been diagnosed?” as well as “How has anxiety been a superpower in your career?”

The professors shared some of the tools they use to manage their anxiety. Sanders suggested, “Develop self-love now, develop self-care now… Do it now because it’s so much harder when you’re in those troughs.” Deep breathing is another helpful tool that was taught during the biofeedback presentation. Hardy’s tools include antidepressant medication, therapy, and support groups. His self-care includes Diet Dr. Pepper and hobbies like cooking, playing with dogs, and jamming out on drums in the basement. He also is mindful of nutrition and exercise, reads self-help books, and makes spiritual practices a priority.

Banford Witting encouraged students not to go it alone if they are feeling anxious. “Seek help, there’s no reason to suffer.” When looking for help, remember that your professors are there for you and you are not alone in your struggle. “It’s common enough that it’s okay. You’ll have some friends in the mental illness business… Everybody has anxiety to some degree,” added Hardy.

Sanders said to manage anxiety step by step, day by day, or even moment by moment. Describing his process to overcome anxious feelings he said, “What can you do in that moment? Maybe it’s a breath, a class period, a day. What does it look like and what can I do to get through that moment?”

PICTURE AN ANXIOUS SOCIAL SCIENTIST: Natalie Herbst Durtschi interviews panelists Alyssa Banford Witting, Sam Hardy, and Scott Sanders.

Whatever your experiences with anxiety may be, create boundaries for yourself, find your toolkit, and keep navigating the challenges that come your way. There will be many who can relate and help, as well as those who understand and support.

The College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences monthly “Picture a Social Scientist” events will return in the fall. With the goal of fostering belonging, each event will feature inspiring social science professionals to whom students can relate. Future events will explore themes such as neurodiversity, being a woman, managing a dual-career family, and other groups that are underrepresented in the social sciences. Students can expect to gain new perspectives and develop insights on how to press forward with their own ambitions.

Learn more about “Picture a Social Scientist” here.

Learn more or schedule an appointment with BYU CAPS.