“Black Marriages Matter”: School of Family Life Professors Study Qualities of Successful Black Marriages

Past research on Black families has focused on topics like the causes of single-family households or the impacts of divorce, rather than the skills and support needed to thrive. Antonius Skipper, assistant professor at Georgia State University, is working to include more in academia that focuses on attaining and nurturing successful Black families, as well as providing a more positive outlook on the Black family in general.

In collaboration with Loren Marks and David Dollahite, both professors in our School of Family Life, Skipper published the study “Black Marriages Matter: Wisdom and Advice From Happily Married Black Couples.” The study was published in the journal Family Relations

Marks shares the following about his experience with the research, “We hope that our efforts and the remarkable families we interviewed will influence research and broader culture by providing something beautiful to consider: long-term, loving marriages. There is so much division and contention and animosity in the world today. What a refreshing contrast to take a deep look at unity, harmony, and love in lasting marriages — and how these relational qualities are developed, nourished, and maintained.”

The gap between the number of Black Americans who want to marry (80% according to research cited in the study) and those who do get married (29% as reported by the U.S. Census) shows how important it is to switch the focus from deficit-based research to “strength-focused discussions.” Much of the previous academic rhetoric has made a successful Black marriage look unattainable.

In-depth interviews were held with 35 couples from several different states and the findings have powerful implications for couples of all backgrounds. However, they are especially important for the Black community, which fights against the long-perpetuated idea of the broken Black family along with other systemic barriers. The study outlines the following three principles and skills:

Cultivating Open Communication 

The interviewees shared that the ability to have conversations about potentially uncomfortable topics is crucial to a successful relationship. In order to avoid things from becoming barriers, it’s important to take care of them when they’re just a small issue. Like a snowball rolling down a hill and picking up mass and speed, a tiny conflict that isn’t resolved can turn into a much bigger problem later. One interviewee shared, “Whatever problem[s] arise in the young couple’s life, they should nip it in the bud. Don’t hold it in because [you] don’t want to hurt their feelings or they don’t want to hurt your feelings. … We must bring it out, sit down, and talk.” Many respondents shared that open and frequent communication and the sharing of feelings can contribute to conflict resolution, personal growth, or simply be a means of expressing love and appreciation. 

Flexible Roles and Responsibilities 

Whether because of personal preferences or a change in employment or lifestyle, interviewees shared that a willingness to “play any role on [the marriage’s] team” was vital. Using a biblical reference, one woman shared, “You need to be the Eve for your Adam. Every Eve has her Adam, and you need to be the Eve your Adam needs. I’m the Eve my Adam needs right now. If he needed another Eve to support him where he’s at, then I’d be that Eve.” This flexibility allowed couples to conquer many difficult situations, especially ones that come disproportionately to Black families. 

Money and Marriage 

Interviewees wanted people to recognize that “the crux of almost every issue” is finances. If you can manage your money from the beginning and facilitate conversations about it (there’s that open communication popping up again), then a load of stress will be taken off your marriage. When it came to money, many participants shared how important it was to play to the other’s strengths. “I feel that [each spouse is] supposed to stay with [their] strong things. … I think that’s why we’ve stayed together so long. … The things that she do well, I don’t even tread on that part. The things that I do well, she just lets me do that part of it … Let me tell you right now, no two people can handle the money … if you have two people [and] both [are] paying certain bills and stuff like that, it never works out. … You have to get one person that [will] handle the money” (quote). Existing research suggests that African Americans experience a disproportionate amount of financial strain, which makes the principles shared in the study especially powerful. 

The study contributes to a larger trend that is trying to flip the script on Black families. Rather than seeing them through the lens of shortcomings, many of which have been created and perpetuated by barriers that lie beyond their control, we can view the relationships Black families have as another example of enduring and happy marriages. This research can help Black couples and singles have more power over things within their control to obtain marital stability.

Let’s Talk: Suicide Prevention and Loss

We all have a part to play in understanding and preventing suicide. Whether or not suicide has impacted your life, each of us can ease one another’s burdens and send an undeniable message that everyone is valued and worthy of love. It’s worth improving our awareness of how to support both those who may be considering suicide and the family members or loved ones of those who have died by suicide. 

To strengthen prevention efforts, we can look at mental health problems as seriously as we consider physical issues. Michael Staley, a psychological autopsy examiner and suicide prevention research coordinator for the State of Utah believes that mental health screenings should be just as common as getting our blood pressure checked. And similar to the way CPR training is widespread and required for many jobs to respond to life-or-death situations, so too should suicide prevention training be just as common. Such training would provide valuable skills in many settings, including at work and in schools.

Help prevent suicide by talking about it

Among college students, suicide is the second leading cause of death. It impacts our lives, but it can still be difficult to talk about. However, both Staley and Quintin Hunt, assistant professor of marriage and family therapy at BYU, share that the most important thing we can do to prevent suicide and help people heal from suicide loss is to talk about it. If we feel that something is wrong, we should ask the person we’re worried about if they are considering suicide. 

“If you know somebody who’s going through a hard time or had someone tell you something that sounds suicidal, you can be the difference between life and death for that person. If you leave with a pit in your stomach that tells you ‘Maybe I should do something more’ or ‘Maybe I should ask that one question,’ do it,” says Staley. 

You may be worried about saying the wrong thing, but often doing nothing is worse. Staley recommends practicing asking the difficult question of “Are you considering suicide?” with those around us. If we’ve prepared ourselves, we’ll be empowered if the time ever comes to ask the question in a real-life scenario.

If someone shares that they are considering suicide, let them know that you offer a safe space by reassuring them that they are loved and that you will listen without judgment. Staley explains, “A lot of people feel that they’re going to be abandoned or be stigmatized if they share suicidal thoughts. If you share things like ‘I still care about you, I love you, and I want you to live’ that’s going to create a safe space and help them to recognize their value.” You should then refer them to a suicide hotline, mental health professional, or the emergency room. Follow through and assist them in getting the help they need. 

For every 1 person that dies from suicide, there are 25 people who have made a suicide attempt. If someone shares that they have attempted suicide, reassure them that you are glad they’re here and ask them if they’re still considering taking their life. Let them share their experience with you and get them help if they need it.

Process grief from suicide by talking to other loss survivors 

Hunt shared that an understudied field of research is how suicide loss affects family members and friends. This is important because those who are exposed to suicide are at greater risk of suicide themselves. Hunt shared the following from past research, “One-hundred percent of suicide loss survivors have said that the most useful thing for them in healing has been talking to other suicide loss survivors.” Whether we’ve been impacted by suicide or not, a powerful thing we can do is simply ask suicide loss survivors about the experience in a sensitive and caring way. 

We can all equip ourselves with the emotional and mental capability to talk about suicide. Our care for others will show through our words should we be faced with that situation, but just as importantly, our actions will demonstrate whether we are a safe space for someone to share their struggles. Hunt says, “Regardless of your depth of belief, sexual orientation or gender identity, your political affiliation or marital status, we’re all just people trying to help others recognize their value right here and right now.” 

Learn more about suicide prevention training at https://www.qprinstitute.com.

If you have been personally affected by suicide loss, Hunt, Erin Holmes, professor of family life at BYU, and Rebecca Sanford, associate teaching professor at Thompson Rivers University School of Social Work and Human Services, are studying suicide bereavement. Follow their social media for more information: 

Family eats dinner

6:15 is the Dinner Time Sweet Spot

Summer relaxation ended with Labor Day and the back-to-school season is signaling a return to routine. In parallel, family dinners signal an important transition in our day. Recently published research demonstrates how the placement of our dinner can help us to improve our family life and get more out of our day. 

“The act of dinner actually helps us shift into different activities than we were focused on before dinner. It signals a transition from the day-time schedule of work, school, and activities to evening leisure and togetherness,” says Jocelyn Wikle, assistant professor of family life at BYU, who published the research in Review of Economics of the Household along with Joseph Price, professor of economics at BYU, and Luke Rodgers, assistant professor of economics at Florida State University. 

The research is the first to study whether the timing of family dinners has an impact. Using data from over 41,000 families in the American Time Use Survey (2003-2019), the team determined that the optimal time to eat dinner is 6:15 p.m. Parents who served dinner by 6:15 spent 27% more time reading to their children in the evening, 18% more time playing with their children, 11% more quality time with their children, and 14% more overall time with their children. This effect occurred across all family types.

By having dinner earlier in the evening, you can ensure more time for enjoyable and important evening activities. And if you have a family, that time is important because it “institutes more serious family time and more quality time together. It’s a time when parents aren’t being spread thin and can give more attention to their children,” says Wikle.

“What an earlier dinner is doing for families in the evenings is giving parents time with children both at the table and also after the meal,” says Wikle. This is important because when we invest time in children, we’re investing in their learning and social capacities. To sum up decades of research, positive quality interactions between parents and children are good. Family dinners, in particular, are associated with fewer behavioral problems (Musick & Meier, 2012; Sen, 2010), and increased academic achievement (Eisenberg et al., 2004), for example.

“Parents are a child’s best teacher and parents are really supporting their kids in so many ways. This is just one more way parents can give time and attention to their children,” says Wikle. 

Dinner also can be a struggle. There are going to be times that your children are eating fast food at 8 p.m. on a Wednesday. However, Wikle encourages parents simply to do their best. “Just an awareness of how the time after dinner can impact your family is powerful,” she says.

Wikle’s tips to have dinner ready by 6:15 include prepping food beforehand, doubling-up on food prep, involving your children — dinner prep itself is an opportunity for quality time, and keeping it simple. Her family’s go-to meal is waffles: “It’s a family favorite that can be whipped up quickly.” 

We’d love to hear about your best tips to get dinner done on Instagram @byufhss.

New Faculty Members Join the College

This fall, we welcome fresh faces to the College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences. Be sure to say hello to our new faculty members and spend a minute to get to know more about them and the expertise they bring. We’re glad they’re here!

Melissa Alcaraz, Assistant Professor of Sociology

Melissa Alcaraz specializes in the intersection between migration and family formation, with a focus on Mexico. She earned her PhD in sociology from The Ohio State University in 2021.

Ruth Kerry, Associate Professor of Geography 

Ruth Kerry grew up in the United Kingdom and did all her studies there, including a PhD in precision agriculture from the University of Reading in 2004. She specializes in soil spatial analysis and land evaluation, and precision agriculture. She was previously an affiliate assistant professor at Auburn University. 

David Simpson, Visiting Teaching Professor of Geography

David Simpson has a passion for making communities better. He has a doctorate degree from the University of California, Berkeley in city and regional planning and has filled many professional roles over his career, much of which was spent with the University of Louisville. Prior to moving to Utah and accepting this position with BYU, he was the chair of the University of Louisville Sustainability Council. 

Ryan Hill, Assistant Professor of Economics 

Ryan Hill earned his PhD in Economics from MIT in 2020 and specializes in labor economics, public finance, economics of innovation, and development of scientific knowledge. He previously worked as a postdoctoral researcher for the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. Fun fact about Ryan: he stood at the highest and lowest points of the continental U.S. on the same day — he climbed Mt. Whitney, slept on the summit, hiked down, and then visited Death Valley on the way home.

Richard Patterson, Assistant Professor of Economics 

Richard Patterson was an assistant professor in the U.S. Military Academy at West Point before coming to BYU. He specializes in applied microeconomics, behavioral economics, economics of education, and labor economics and has a PhD in policy analysis and management from Cornell University. In his free time he enjoys mountain biking, rock climbing, and skiing. 

Ashley Fraser, Assistant Professor of Family Life 

Ashley Fraser earned a PhD in family and human development from Arizona State University in 2021. Her research interests include childhood and adolescent development; empathy and prosocial behavior; hope, racism and equity, and media. 

Andrea Kinghorn Busby, Assistant Professor of Family Life

Andrea Kinghorn Busby specializes in developmental psychology and public policy; reducing inequality for young children, with emphasis on fathers and neighborhoods; and inequality in children’s home, school, and neighborhood contexts. Her research interests include the impact of violence on children, how children and families experience poverty in suburban communities, and how parents socialize their children about economic inequality. She earned her PhD in human development and social policy from Northwestern University in 2021.

Ashley LeBaron-Black, Assistant Professor of Family Life

Ashley LeBaron-Black specializes in family finance with a focus on family financial socialization and couple finance. She earned her PhD in family studies and human development from the University of Arizona in 2021. In her free time she enjoys studying art history, particularly French Gothic, Italian Renaissance, and French Impressionism. 

Daniel Frost, Director of the Integrative Writing Program and Assistant Teaching Professor, School of Family Life

Daniel Frost earned his PhD in politics from Princeton University, and his writing interests include marriage, family, sexual morality, personal identity, and moral reasoning, among others. He previously taught political science at Clemson University and BYU.

Liz McGuire, Assistant Professor of Political Science 

Liz McGuire earned her PhD in political science from Yale University in 2021. She uses experimental and quantitative methodologies to study gender politics, changes in gender norms, and comparative gender norms. She is also interested in international development and is currently focusing on East Africa. 

David Romney, Assistant Professor of Political Science 

David Romney has a PhD in government from Harvard University, and was a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard’s Weatherhead Center for International Affairs before coming to BYU. He specializes in comparative politics and methods, psychology of intergroup relations, role of social media, misinformation, and conspiracy theories in the Middle East. In his free time he enjoys watching cooking shows and trying out new recipes with his wife. 

Gentry Jenkins, Visiting Assistant Professor of Political Science

Gentry Jenkins earned his doctorate degree from the University of Chicago, where he was a teaching fellow in the Committee on International Relations. His research interests include the connections between revolution, state-building, civil war, and international conflict.

Sandra Sephton, Professor of Psychology 

Sandra Sephton specializes in developmental, cognitive, and health psychology; biobehavioral oncology; and mindfulness interventions. She earned her PhD in behavioral neuroscience from BYU in 1995 and previously was a professor at the University of Louisville and senior scientist at James Graham Brown Cancer Center. She is the happy owner of three horses.

Kara Duraccio, Assistant Professor of Psychology 

Kara Duraccio earned her PhD in clinical psychology from BYU in 2019. She previously worked held a General Pediatrics Research Fellowship at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. Her areas of specialty include pediatric psychology with a focus on adolescent sleep and eating behaviors. 

Dawn-Marie Wood, Assistant Teaching Professor of Psychology

Dawn-Marie Wood earned her master’s degree in psychology and behavioral neuroscience at BYU in 1994, and was previously a visiting assistant teaching professor at BYU. She loves to fly fish and is an “honorary member” of the BYU Fly Fishing Club.

Love Like Your Life Depends on it

One day after she delivered her TedxBYU talk on the importance of social relationships, Julianne Holt-Lunstad, professor of psychology and neuroscience at BYU, found out her father was hospitalized with a terminal condition. She dropped her professional work to spend every day with him before he died two and a half weeks later.

Then her mother passed away.

“I lost both of my parents within two and a half weeks. But I had that incredible time with them before they passed that I’ll treasure forever,” Holt-Lunstad says, becoming emotional. “Really, the most important things in our life are our relationships.”

Holt-Lunstad’s extensive research focuses on the long-term health effects of social connection. Her professional portfolio includes providing expert testimony in a U.S. Congressional hearing, advising the U.S. Surgeon General in the Emotional Well-Being in America Initiative, and serving as a scientific advisor for the Australian Coalition to End Loneliness.

Andy Proctor, a member of the TedxBYU curation committee, said Holt-Lunstad was chosen as a speaker because of her significant contribution to health and psychological sciences as well as the relevance of her message. “Her idea that social connection is one of the most important things we can do for our health is novel and the committee believed deeply it was an idea worth spreading,” Proctor says.

In her talk, Holt-Lunstad says that a lack of social connection poses a health risk similar to smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day.

“It’s time to prioritize our relationships like our life depends on it — because it does,” she says.

Holt-Lunstad began her research by looking at the effects of stress on health. She found that when experiencing the same levels of stress, blood pressure spikes were lower among people with supportive relationships, but more exaggerated in people with few supportive relationships. Expanding their research, she and her colleagues analyzed data from over 300,000 people worldwide and found that those with social connections increased their chance of living longer by 50%. On the other hand, the likelihood of death is increased 26% by being lonely, 29% by social isolation, and 32% by living alone.

Holt-Lunstad points to several ways we can improve our social connections.

1. Make time for relationships

Although making time for relationships can be challenging, there is no substitute for the benefits everyone gains from positive social relationships. They are as important to health as diet and exercise.

2. Discover your preferences

And just like diet and exercise, individual preferences for social interaction varies. People should find the type of social interaction that works best for them, whether that looks like informal gatherings or planned social activities, and whether it’s in large groups or more intimate settings.

3. Make the first move

Loneliness can be a vulnerable, stigmatizing feeling. And those feelings can make it difficult to make the first move when trying to build social relationships. But Holt-Lunstad says that feeling is normal and can be overcome. “One really empowering way to break the ice is to look for others who might need help or who might need a friend.”

4. Serve others

One of the best ways we can help ourselves is by helping others. Holt-Lunstad shared, “There is significant research that shows that providing support to others or doing small acts of kindness for others actually significantly reduces our own loneliness and increases a sense of social bonding between you and the other person. That’s something any one of us can do.”

Holt-Lunstad is currently working with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Administration for Community Living (ACL) to create a national clearinghouse for interventions to address loneliness and social isolation. She is also working with the Gravity Project to make recommendations for national standards for representing social isolation in electronic health records, and serving as the scientific chair of the Foundation for Social Connection and the Coalition to End Social Isolation and Loneliness.

Learn more about Julianne Holt-Lunstad’s research.

Niwako Yamawaki Joins College Administration as Associate Dean

July 1 marks a new beginning for several faculty members in the Dean’s Office for the College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences. While Laura Padilla-Walker, professor of family life, assumes her role as dean of the college after four years as associate dean, Niwako Yamawaki, professor of psychology, joins the office as associate dean for faculty development. 

“I had the privilege of working closely with Dr. Yamawaki on the college Diversity, Collaboration, and Inclusion committee and I appreciate her thoughtfulness, responsiveness, and organization,” says Padilla-Walker. “She has a passion for helping students and faculty to succeed and I am delighted she agreed to join our college team.”

Padilla-Walker believes Yamawaki is well qualified to serve as the associate dean over faculty development because of her dedication to the mission of the college and university, her strong research and teaching record, and her fierce dedication to mentored student research. 

Yamawaki was most recently an associate chair in the Department of Psychology and received the college Diversity, Collaboration, and Inclusion award in 2020 and the Martin B. Hickman Achievement in Teaching Award in 2019. She conducts cross-cultural research to investigate cultural factors — such as stigma, discrimination, and collectivism — that influence attitudes toward mental health services and violence against women. Along with that, she is interested in the role of psychological resilience in Eastern and Western populations and is affiliated with both the American Psychological Association and the Japanese Association for Mental Health.

Specific responsibilities Yamawaki will have as associate dean of faculty development include overseeing faculty research awards and grants, faculty leaves, reviews for the college’s institutes and centers, and the use of space in the college. She will head the Marjorie Pay Hinckley Endowed Chair committee, the Mary Lou Fulton Mentored Student Research Conference, and lead the college Diversity, Collaboration, and Inclusion committees for race and first-generation students.

Padilla-Walker is enthusiastic about the team of associate and assistant deans she’ll be working with. “I am confident that together we will be able to continue the positive trajectory of our college. We are here to support our wonderful faculty and students and hope you will feel free to seek us out to help in whatever ways we can. We look forward to working with all of you.” 

Mikaela Dufur, professor of sociology and associate dean, has new responsibilities too as she shifts from overseeing faculty development to now focusing on faculty evaluation.

“Dr. Dufur is well qualified for this position after serving as the college rank and status chair for several years, and I look forward to continuing to benefit from her wisdom, careful attention to detail, and her strong desire to support faculty and students,” says Padilla-Walker.

Dufur’s specific responsibilities now cover college rank and status, stewardship Interviews, and faculty profiles, university awards, and the university faculty development meeting. She will lead the Diversity, Collaboration, and Inclusion committees for gender and health/disabilities and continues to manage computing services, technology, and capital equipment. 

Sam Otterstrom, professor of geography, will continue in his role as associate dean for curriculum and teaching where he oversees academic advisement, assessment, education preparation, American Heritage, the bachelor of general studies, graduate studies, writing instruction, international study, online and independent studies, the BYU-Salt Lake Center, and scholarships. He also leads the Student Career Development Council and the University and College Curriculum Council, and remediates student complaints. 

“Dr. Otterstrom has been such an important asset to the team for years and we will greatly benefit from his continued expertise,” says Padilla-Walker. “He is a team player and I appreciate his patience, his perspective, and his desire to support our students through our many college efforts surrounding curriculum and experiential learning.” 

Find our contact info at the Dean’s Office Directory.

Professors Honored with National and University Awards

Multiple professors in the College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences were recently recognized with awards and honors, both on a national scale and at the university level.

2021 Career Enhancement Fellowship

On May 5, the Institute for Citizens and Scholars announced their 2021 Career Enhancement Fellows. Among the 39 chosen recipients of this honor is David-James Gonzales, assistant professor in the Department of History.

Gonzales was named a 2021 Career Enhancement Fellow.

Gonzales is one of twenty-one six-month fellows from a highly competitive pool of applicants working on research projects, according to a press release. His project is a book about Mexican-American grassroots politics that challenged efforts to segregate and marginalize their Orange County communities in the first half of the twentieth century. 

The Career Enhancement Fellowship entails a six-month or one-year sabbatical stipend of up to $30,000, a research/travel/publication stipend of up to $1,500, mentoring and participation in a professional development retreat. For his sabbatical, Gonzales intends to spend three weeks in Southern California conducting research, then use the remainder of his six months writing the final chapters of his book.

Career Enhancement Fellows “represent unique perspectives within their disciplines and are committed to increasing diversity and inclusion on campus through service and research,” according to the press release.

“Primarily, I strive to create inclusive spaces in the classroom and across campus where students feel seen, accepted, and supported,” Gonzales said. “I do this by centering my teaching on diverse perspectives and experiences and promoting dialogue in the classroom. I believe the university classroom is such an important space for us to be able to learn from and about each other, as well as those we know little about.”

As part of a minority within academia, he said, “One of the major challenges faced by underrepresented faculty (and students) is the feeling or expectation that you somehow represent or speak for an entire community of people that ‘look like you.’”

Despite this pressure, however, Gonzales also said he feels support from fellow faculty on campus.

“My colleagues in the history department (and several others throughout the college) have been so welcoming and supportive from day one,” he said. “I feel like they have embraced the expertise and approach I bring to serving, teaching, and researching. I also cherish the close relationships I’ve built with so many students, especially BIPOC and LGBTQ+ students. Their support and appreciation for my work at BYU means everything to me.”

Gonzales serves as the faculty advisor for the BYUSA Hispanos Unidos club, a member of the Diversity, Collaboration, and Inclusion faculty advisory committee for the college, chair of the Civil Rights Seminar committee, and a member of the General Education Design Committee Task Force on Diversity.

2020 Inspired Learning Awards

Faculty in the college are also being recognized on the BYU campus. During the Fall 2020 semester, students were encouraged to nominate outstanding faculty and staff for Inspired Learning Awards. Nominees were pivotal to students’ career progress and development of lifelong-learning skills, according to the Experiential Learning and Internships website. Two professors in the college, Sarah Coyne, associate director for the School of Family Life, and Wendy Sheffield, field faculty in the School of Social Work, received Inspiring Learning Awards.

Sarah Coyne was awarded a Career Champion Award.

Coyne received a Career Champion Award. Recipients of this award were exceptionally influential in helping students reach a significant career path milestone. A student who nominated Coyne said she “inspired me to find issues that I am passionate about and begin contributing to knowledge about them even as an undergraduate.”

“Her research and career inspired me to see how I could make a positive impact in the lives of women and girls,” another student said.

Sheffield received an Experiential Learning Award, meaning she inspired students through co-curricular experiences that promoted good life habits or life-long learning.

Wendy Sheffield received an Experiential Learning Award.

 “Professor Sheffield led our cohort to experiential learning that was just right for each of us,” a student said.

Additional faculty in the college were also nominated for Inspiring Learning Awards. For the Experiential Learning Award, these included Alex Jensen, Curtis Child, Daniel Olsen Gantt, Jared Warren, Joseph Price, Larry Nelson, Leslie Hadfield, Lucy Williams, Mark Butler, Niwako Yamawaki, Stacey Shaw, Stewart Anderson, Tammy Hill, and Wade Jacoby. For the Career Champion Award, Darren Hawkins, Dawn Marie Wood, Joseph Price, Natalie Romeri-Lewis, and Tammy Hill received nominations.

2020 General Education Professorship

Larry Nelson was awarded the 2020 General Education Professorship.

Larry Nelson, a professor in the School of Family Life, was recently awarded the 2020 General Education Professorship for his work teaching SFL 210: Human Development.

“Nelson represents the best in faculty who teach for the General Education Program,” Christopher Oscarson, Undergraduate Education associate dean, said.

Annually, one professor, nominated by their colleagues, is chosen for this professorship that lasts for three years and includes a yearly stipend of $4,000 and an additional $4,000 annually for research.

BYU marriage and family therapy program honored nationally for research

The BYU marriage and family therapy program was recently named the No. 1 program of its kind for research productivity.

That means the faculty does more research than any other group of marriage and family therapy professors in the United States.

The ranking, published in the leading Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, names four BYU faculty members in the top ten most prolific researchers: Jonathan Sandberg (#2), Russell Crane (#4), Jeff Larson (#5) and Rick Miller (#6). Larson, Crane and Miller were also ranked in the top ten for most-cited research. Professor Shayne Anderson was also listed as the most prolific author for faculty who have been in the field for less than 15 years.

Jonathan Sandberg, Russell Crane, Jeff Larson, Rick Miller and Shayne Anderson
Jonathan Sandberg, Russell Crane, Jeff Larson, Rick Miller and Shayne Anderson.

“We are delighted but not surprised by this recognition of the quality of research by our faculty,” said Alan Hawkins, BYU School of Family Life director. “I think our trajectory for the next 20 years looks even brighter.”

The research from BYU’s program helps develop both the academic and practical approaches to marriage and family therapy. Students in the program work with faculty on research as they go through school, preparing them to recognize and implement evidence-based best practices in their careers.

“More important than the number of articles read or cited is the number of students who were influenced by the process of participating in research and learned how to think critically, theorize about change, analyze data and draw conclusions,” said Sandberg, who also serves as the marriage and family therapy program’s director.

The BYU marriage and family therapy program was founded in 1967 and became fully accredited by the American Association of Marriage and Family Counselors in 1972. The program seeks to be a healing influence in a world struggling to create safe and meaningful relationships by combining ground-breaking research with faith-centered family values.

The No. 1 ranking for the program is based on findings from a study that examined scholarly works published between  1999–2008 and 2008–2015 by faculty in accredited doctoral programs through the U.S.

New Psychology chair Dr. Burlingame: Seeing the department as a small-group setting

Psychology professor Dr. Gary Burlingame is known for a few things.

First, Burlingame enjoys going on three-mile mid-day runs around campus.

Second, he has taught at BYU and served in a variety of positions and roles since 1983; that’s 35 years of service!

And third, he is the newly appointed Department of Psychology chair.

Curious beginnings

Bulingame came from a family of engineers where psychology seemed “a little squishy for a father who was working on NASA contracts.” But when he took an undergraduate psychology course, he was hooked. “We’d read in our textbook (about small group therapy) and we’d split the class, and half of us would go behind a one-way mirror and the other half would form a small group,” recalls Burlingame. “I was able to watch the group dynamic principles that I’d just read about. Then, when I was participating in the group, I was affected by the group and I realized that as human beings, we’re affected by each other.”

Seeing the field evolve

Focusing on both small group settings and measurement, Burlingame has seen how both have evolved over the years. “When I was an undergraduate, we wouldn’t have even dreamed [the measurement methods we are currently using] were possible,” shared Burlingame. During the ’90s, Burlingame recalls utilizing the same chaos theory that was used in “Jurassic Park” in small group behavior to see if you could explain patterns of therapeutic interactions in a group. Several years later, Burlingame would work with Michael Lambert to build a system of measurement that is now used worldwide to make dashboards to monitor mental health.

These same dashboards and ideas were implemented across BYU campus when Burlingame worked in the Strategic Planning and Assessment Office with former BYU president Merrill Bateman to measure mental health among campus communities.

Another major evolution in the field that Burlingame has been a part of is the push to recognize international psychological movements. When Burlingame was first asked to write a chapter in The Handbook of Psychotherapy Behavior Change, a book that he had studied as a graduate student, he wanted to include literature and ideas from outside the United States. He included literature from Canada and from Europe, and from there, he has continued performing research and collaborating with researchers across the world, primarily Bernhard Strauss of Germany.

“It was my vision to have our chapter in the handbook be international. And now that’s what has happened to (almost the entire) handbook. They bring a different kind of therapy and a different perspective.”

Seeing the department as a small group

With his past experience, Burlingame has a good idea of how the university and a department runs.

So, what is he most excited about with this new position? “The fun part [about being a chair] is that I’m a group guy. I get to think of the department as a group that I can make more effective.”

Burlingame’s goal as department chair is to make the psychology department as functional as possible to make it as successful as possible. In order to do this, Burlingame says that you have to make every voice count and make sure that every voice is heard.

“Conflict represents information, that people feel like their voice isn’t being heard,” shares Burlingame. “[When someone raises conflict], it’s an attempt to be heard.”

Burlingame has seen this conflict and need for resolution in his field work in Israel as he worked with Jews and Palestinians and again in Bosnia with Muslims and Serbs.

“We’re social creatures so it doesn’t matter if we’re in Israel, or the ASB, or the Kimball Tower. We want to be noticed because we all think we have something to contribute, otherwise we wouldn’t be here,” comments Burlingame. “So [I want to] make sure that everyone has the chance to contribute and flourish. That’s what we really want to do because everyone wants to flourish.”

Opening Doors: Mikaela Dufer on receiving and sharing opportunities

During the Student Mentored Research Conference, students, faculty, and university staff listened to BYU sociology professor Mikaela Dufur speak on Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, embracing opportunities with gratitude, and opening doors and opportunities for others along the way. As we share an excerpt from Dufur’s speech, we invite you to think about the next semester, job, or phase of your life and how you can appreciate opportunities  and open a door for someone else in the process.


It is so exciting to see the products of your imagination and your science [at the Student Mentored Research Conference]. Mentored research at BYU has opened new doors for you by giving you skills, practice demonstrating them, and evidence of your abilities. You are ready to meet every new challenge and to try, fail, try, fail, and try again until you conquer them, just as you have every time a model refused to converge or an experiment fell apart.

As we celebrate your present accomplishments, I invite you to think about your future. Now that you and your mentors have created science, what’s the next step?

To outline your future, let’s return to the past. An enduring memory from September 11, 2001, is sitting on the ratty couch I’d dragged from graduate school, glued to the news. I remember one family of adult children showing a flyer to the camera while looking for their father. The flyer read, “Please come home—we have peanut butter cups for you.” I always wondered what happened to the peanut butter cup dad and hoped he made it home to his family. Part of my annual observance of September 11 is to have and to share peanut butter cups, but Googling “9/11 Peanut Butter Cup Man” never brought up useful results.

On September 11, 2017, I watched the news while brushing my teeth. By some small miracle, my morning routine aligned with a recitation of names of those lost. I turned to the TV just as family members finished reading names and paused to share memories of their own father. They closed by sharing that a recently born grandchild was named Reese after their father’s favorite candy. Peanut butter cup dad had not made it home after all.

IMG_9396This was painful—I’d convinced myself a happy, chocolate reunion had taken place—but now I was armed with a name. Peanut butter cup dad was Ronald Fazio, and Google could find him. Mr. Fazio had nearly made it to safety, but stopped to hold the door for his coworkers. In those awful moments, he chose to hold the door for others to make sure they would reach safety. Mr. Fazio’s family started the Hold the Door Foundation in his memory, devoted to helping people move through tragedy.

What does this have to do with your future? Someone held the door for you, through mentoring, guiding, and teaching you. Now that you’ve moved through the door and are sprinting into your exciting lives, don’t forget to hold the door for someone else. I especially urge you to look around for people who tend to be left behind, such as women in STEM fields, people of color, and disabled people, and not only hold the door for them, but shout to let them know you’re there. Marry the technical skills you learned through mentored research to a determination to hold the door by reaching out, teaching, and mourning with those who mourn.

For more information on the 2018 Student Mentored Research Conference, read our recent blog post.