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.”

The Effects of Secular and Sacred Education: a Study

4543531008_f594221c3c_oOne of the distinguishing factors of a BYU education is the integration of spirituality into the secular subjects.  While the combination of a formal education with religion is sometimes viewed as controversial and ineffective in the public education arena, a recent BYU study suggests that, at least in a private university setting, it can have a synergistic effect.

Matt Hiatt, a graduate student in the applied social psychology program, has been studying how incorporating spirituality into teaching affects the learning process.

For his dissertation study, two professors from different departments were trained on how to implement spirituality when teaching in their discipline.  Then, following the  professors’ application of these skills in a classroom setting, their students were asked to measure their experience with the teaching method.

Reflecting on the study’s findings, Hiatt explains, “We found that students perceived their professors as being higher in teaching quality and general teaching skills when they implemented these aspects of spiritual than when they did not…Even implementing it rather minimally paid big dividends for [the professors] as they received considerably higher ratings from the students.”

Many students who experience this type of teaching find it very effective and claim it to be one of the main selling points for attending Brigham Young University. These findings are congruent with BYU’s Mission Statement, which states:

“The mission of Brigham Young University is to assist individuals in their quest for perfection and eternal life.  That assistance should provide a period of intensive learning in a stimulating setting where a commitment to excellence is expected and the full realization of human potential is pursued…Any education is inadequate which does not emphasize that [Jesus Christ] is the only name given under heaven whereby mankind can be saved.”

Knowing how integrating spirituality and secular knowledge in the classroom can help professors teach students more effectively.  Hiatt says, “I hope to take this learning and research with me to the future and implement it to help students wherever I go as a teacher.”

 

Pictures courtesy of Flickr.