First-Gen Students Find Success with These Three Tips

Haylie June is a first-generation student, which means she will be the first in her family to obtain a bachelor’s degree. A sociology senior from Racine, Wisconsin, June feels she’s had amazing experiences at BYU. Still, she’s recognized the disadvantages and unique struggles that first-generation students face as they navigate college life without guidance from parents or grandparents.

Hundreds of students like June arrive at BYU every year blazing a new trail and setting an example for the next generation, for siblings, and even for parents.

Here are some simple tips for first-generation students looking to find their place at BYU.

1. Join the First-Generation Club

According to The Pell Institute, first-generation students are four times more likely to leave higher education after the first year than their peers. To combat this risk factor, BYU first-gen students have created the First-Generation Student Organization, a BYUSA club dedicated to providing sustained support to first-gen students at BYU. Supervised by Ben Gibbs, assistant professor of sociology, the club hosts weekly events designed to help first-gen students learn to network and find mentors.

June discovered the First Generation club early last semester, and believes the greatest value in the club is sharing knowledge with people in a similar situation and relating to other students. She says, “Being part of this club and meeting students that have similar, but also different experiences than me, has really helped me develop new skills and look outside of myself. It gives me an opportunity to serve and get to know people that I wouldn’t have gotten to know otherwise.”

2. Seek Out Mentors

The club emphasizes the importance of seeking mentors. June’s college experience completely changed when she shifted her perspective, realizing that “there’s people here to help me and [who] want to help [me] succeed, and they’re offering me skills and mentorship that are making these experiences more meaningful.”

June found the mentoring she was seeking in the College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences as she pursues a degree in sociology. “At first, sociology felt like the fastest way to get a degree and apply for law school,” says June. “But I got a job as a TA for a research class and started doing research with that professor, and now I want to be a professor myself.”

June’s mentor, Michael R. Cope, associate professor of sociology, is a first-gen student himself. “Seeing him as a first-generation student in an academic setting, as someone who I would consider very successful, that has been a great example to me that you can do it — that there are people like you in these academic settings,” says June. She’s even had the opportunity to co-author a peer-reviewed journal article with Cope.  

3. Don’t Be Afraid to Talk to Professors

While every student experiences the fear that they’re irritating professors by reaching out, it can be hard for first-gen students to ask for help since they’ve been so independent in getting to college. This can be intimidating, but June says, “All my experiences with mentors in this college… have made me feel very valued and important, and I’ve never felt like a burden when I’m asking questions or needing guidance.”

Professors and teaching assistants are put in place to help students. First-generation students shouldn’t hesitate to take advantage of office hours and email communication.

Haylie enjoys a BYU football game with her husband and son. (Haylie June)

June plans to continue sociology research, focusing on first-gen students and motherhood during college. Her experiences navigating college as a first-generation student have helped her build empathy and other attributes that serve her in her family and academic roles.

“If there’s anything I’ve learned, don’t hesitate to invite students — whether they’re first-gen or not — to share the knowledge you have,” say’s June. “Don’t be afraid to reach out to your friends or your classmates to offer help and support when you can.”

To learn more about the First-Generation Student Organization, visit their website.

Use Positive Psychology To Change Your Brain in Healthy Ways

Have you ever felt stuck in a personal rut? Maybe not a full-blown crisis, but you’ve definitely been better? Psychologist Adam Grant terms this feeling “languishing,” and a large portion of the population finds themselves trapped in this mental-health twilight zone.

Jared Warren, associate professor of clinical and developmental psychology, has a solution. 

Warren studies positive psychology, or the applied science of well-being. His research objective is to connect people with evidence-based resources for living their best life possible.

“Positive psychology is about being a whole person,” Warren says. “A misconception about positive psychology is that it’s just a ‘focus on the positive, look on the bright side’ kind of naive approach to life, and that’s not at all what it is. It’s recognizing that there’s value in every experience, including the challenging ones.”

Warren’s research, among the research of others in the field, links principles of positivity like gratitude, mindfulness, self-compassion, and savoring to overall well-being. By learning these skills, anyone can take steps to flourish mentally. But, research also shows that simply understanding positive principles will not lead to personal progress.

Warren developed the course for and teaches Psych 349, “Introduction to Positive Psychology.” The curriculum gives students the opportunity to develop an attribute of well-being by practicing that attribute for three weeks. Known as “The 21-Day Personal Growth Experiment,” this assignment moves students from knowing about well-being to living what they know.

Dr. Warren also has a practice as a clinical psychologist at BYU’s Comprehensive Clinic. He says that his research has helped patients at the clinic “because some positive psychology practices are already baked into some of our best clinical approaches.” 

The John Taylor Building houses the Comprehensive Clinic (Claire Moore)

Many tried and true psychological treatments line up naturally with positive psychology principles, such as having subjects actively plan pleasant activities, consider their personal core values, and set goals to become who they’ve always wanted to be.

But positive psychology isn’t just for those struggling with clinical disorders. Wherever people find themselves on the spectrum of well-being, positive psychology can help anyone live a rich, vibrant, and meaningful life. The skills developed by practicing positive psychology build the capacity to handle unexpected stressors and challenges that will inevitably come into our lives.

So, how can you break out of the languishing rut? 

“To change the brain in healthy ways we have to practice,” says Warren. “My wish for the whole world is that everyone could spend 20 minutes a day practicing some of these skills for improving their well-being.”

To work through some positive psychology modules and improve your own well-being, visit the My Best Self 101 website developed by Warren.

Other mental health resources for students include BYU CAPS, the SafeUT App and webinars from the Hope Squad.

The BYU Comprehensive Clinic offers counseling services for individuals, couples, and families in the Utah County area. Services are provided by graduate student interns in Clinical Psychology, Marriage and Family Therapy, and Social Work. These graduate student therapists are supervised by experienced, licensed professionals, and faculty members. Call (801)422-7759 to schedule an intake.

Durham Lecture Recap: Gail Miller on Courage and Giving

Gail Miller, owner of the Larry H. Miller Group, visited the BYU campus on February 10 to deliver the annual G. Homer Durham lecture. Her talk, titled, “The Impact of Community Service and Philanthropy,” gave insights into her journey as a businesswoman and philanthropist.

Gail and her late husband Larry Miller began their foray into business when Larry purchased his first automobile dealership in 1979. Mrs. Miller described how the company continued to grow saying, “One thing after another we were guided through the business world, adding a piece here and a piece there, until we were very engaged in the automobile business.”

In 1986, the Millers purchased the Utah Jazz, which changed their lives forever. As their company grew and the team gained more notoriety, the Millers found themselves living in the public eye and bringing more attention to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and their values than they could have ever expected. 

When Larry passed away in 2009, Gail became the face of the company and took an active role in managing the business. Describing the decision to run the business, Mrs. Miller says, “We had a reputation for being ethical, for being honest, for being fair, for treating our people right and providing good jobs. I knew that I could not let that die, so I gathered my courage and decided to step into a role that I was neither prepared for nor wanted.”

Mrs. Miller felt nervous about the enormous responsibility she faced. She said, “The courage came from knowing that my Heavenly Father expected me to use my talents and my ability as a woman to make a difference.”

While she acted in courage, the transition to leadership in the company wasn’t easy for Mrs. Miller. Working with lifelong businesspeople presented challenges and social discomfort. “I was not respected. I hate to say that, but I was a newbie!” exclaimed Mrs. Miller. “I had to learn to speak up to show that I knew what I was talking about.”

As she gained experience, Mrs. Miller did not forget the values that she and Larry committed to when they started their business, primarily the values of community service and philanthropy. She reflected on the economic crisis in 2008 and 2009 when Larry fell ill. “I told my son, ‘I know that we need to do everything that we can to keep the business alive, but we cannot stop giving.’ We couldn’t give at the level that we did before, but we did not stop giving.”

Mrs. Miller closed with her philosophy on philanthropy by saying, “We have opportunities beyond our capacities when we accept the role of sharing what we have with others. There is so much need all around us but there is so much opportunity to enrich lives and make a difference in this world.”

The BYU Political Science Department sponsors the G. Homer Durham lecture every year, inviting notable speakers to discuss social, political and historical topics. G. Homer Durham served as an educator, General Authority in the Church and as Church Historian during his exemplary life.

What the Beijing 2022 Games Taught Us About US–China Relations

There’s nothing quite so unifying as the Olympics. We watched the world’s greatest athletes compete and experienced the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. But the conversation surrounding this Winter Olympics was a bit more complicated.

Concerns about China’s human rights violations, athletes’ free speech, and the politics of the International Olympic Committee were swirling around like the snow that didn’t fall in Beijing. Eric Hyer, associate professor of political science at BYU who studies China, has a unique perspective on the situation.

Hyer is the coordinator for Asian Studies at BYU. His knowledge and interest in China foreign policy began as a youth living in Japan and Taiwan and continues through his scholarly work, including his latest book “The Pragmatic Dragon: China’s Grand Strategy and Boundary Settlements,” published in 2015.

“The Olympics have always been a political event — that’s just something that comes with the territory — and the Chinese are experts in making a spectacle of national pride,” says Hyer. When China hosted the 2008 Beijing Olympics, they sent the message that China was taking off as a global superpower, a real international leader.

The message was very different this year. With the predominant global economy, China no longer has to prove their power and seemed to be saying, “We are here and you can’t ignore us.” 

“The Chinese have demonstrated now that they’re not going to back down or try to please the United States. They’re going to go their own direction,” says Hyer of China’s global assertiveness in the last decade.

This shift in messaging is especially apparent in the way that Chinese officials are communicating about the human rights violations currently happening in Xinjiang Province. The United States has accused China of committing cultural genocide among the Uyghur population, citing incarceration in re-education camps, restrictions on religious practices, forced sterilization, torture, and forced labor. Chinese officials continue to deny accusations, and refer to U.S. pressures as “political posturing.”

These pressures seemed to be coming to a head at this year’s Olympics, with U.S. officials declaring a diplomatic boycott, followed by Canada, the United Kingdom, Japan, Denmark, Belgium, and India, among other countries. Hyer believes this boycott may not have the intended effect.

“The Chinese seem to be using this as an example of the United States’ diminishing world power. They’ve responded by saying that the United States tried to organize this big boycott and it just didn’t gain much momentum or influence with very many countries, and they see this as an opportunity to show that the U.S. is not as powerful as it used to be.”

As far as the situation in Xinjiang goes, Hyer has watched things unfold for years. During his research on China’s border disputes in 2006, he published a scholarly article titled, “China’s Policy Toward Uighur Nationalism,” that analyzed the relationship between the Chinese government and the Uyghur population in Xinjiang. 

Hyer expressed the dramatic change in Xinjiang since that article was written. As worldwide concerns about Muslim extremists have grown, China has targeted the Uyghur Muslims as a potential threat to national security measures. Hyer says, “The Chinese are dead set on forcing Uyghurs to essentially forget their language, forget their customs, forget their religion, and embrace being Chinese. It’s a project of total assimilation. And in that sense, it’s cultural genocide.”

Unfortunately, Hyer doesn’t foresee China having a change of heart anytime soon. “The United States and some European allies continue to push human rights, but China just doesn’t respond anymore,” Hyer says. “It’s unfortunate but we’re losing traction when it comes to human rights.”

“It’s a dilemma. On one hand, we are really unhappy with the human rights situation in China, and at this particular moment the human rights situation in Xinjiang. On the other hand we would really like to see the Olympic events go forward without any problems so the athletes can have good competition and demonstrate their years of training.” 

While the Olympic games have come to a close, concern about China’s human rights violations should not.

If learning about topics like this interests you, the Political Science department offers major tracks in Global Development and International Strategy and Diplomacy, and the Kennedy Center offers a major in International Relations.

YOU Can Be a Social Scientist

What do you want to be when you grow up? It’s a hard question to answer, made even harder if you can’t picture someone like you in the role you dream of. 

The College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences is hosting monthly “Picture a Social Scientist” events to promote belonging. Each event will feature inspiring social science professionals students can relate to. 

“Our student body doesn’t always look like our faculty, and that creates a disconnect between role models and the groups we want to reach,” explained Mikaela Dufur, associate dean and professor of sociology. “We have such talented students and we just want to make sure that they know they belong in these spaces.” 

The “Picture a Social Scientist” campaign is designed to fulfill two goals: to provide role models in social science for students from underrepresented groups and to help people who aren’t in those groups broaden their picture of what a social scientist is. 

“We want underrepresented students to consider potential pathways they can follow to see themselves in social science. And we want to help change people’s perspective so when they picture a psychologist or a geographer or a sociologist, maybe they’ll picture someone who looks different from them and broaden their own minds,” said Dufur.

The first activity will be a panel this week titled, “Picture a Black Social Scientist,” featuring Sherinah Saasa, assistant professor of social work, Ryan Gabriel, assistant professor of sociology, and Zyon Smiley, a psychology department alumnus who is currently studying for an MPA. The panel will be held on Thursday, Feb. 17, at 3 p.m. in room B192 of the Joseph F. Smith Building (also known as the Education in Zion Auditorium).

Future events will explore themes such as depression and anxiety, neurodiversity, and being a woman or a parent or managing a dual-career family in the social sciences. Students can expect to be enriched by new perspectives and gain insights on their own social science ambitions from each month’s guests.

Celebrate Valentine’s Day With a Free Relationship Checkup

In addition to your regular Valentine’s Day traditions this year, take advantage of the Comprehensive Clinic’s free relationship checkup.

By taking inventory of your relationship, you and your partner can create a deeper connection and build a stronger bond. In a relationship checkup, married, engaged, or dating couples have the opportunity to discover strengths in their relationship as well as new ways to improve. 

Checkups are conducted by graduate interns in BYU’s marriage and family therapy program and consist of three to five 50-minute sessions. In the checkup, couples participate in structured discussion, interviews, and questionnaires. By working together to build a healthier relationship, you’ll be saying “I love you!” in a brand new way.

Call 801-422-7759 to schedule your checkup or visit comprehensiveclinic.byu.edu.

Poor Mental Health in Adolescence Precursor of Rapid Aging

Dr. Terrie E. Moffitt to deliver upcoming Hinckley Lecture

The 18th annual lecture of the Marjorie Pay Hinckley Endowed Chair in Social Work and the Social Sciences is titled, “Surprises About Mental Health Revealed by Following 1,000 People for Decades.” Terrie E. Moffitt, professor of Social Development at King’s College in London and the Nannerl O. Keohane University Professor of Psychology at Duke University will present her research on Thursday, Feb. 3 at 7:30 p.m. in the Hinckley Center Assembly Hall.

Moffitt serves is associate director for the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study in New Zealand, a longitudinal study that has followed a birth cohort of 1,000 participants for nearly 50 years. This study has an unheard of retention rate with 94% of the remaining living subjects still participating.

The latest research from this longitudinal study explores the link between mental health in young people and faster biological aging, the likelihood that the majority of people will struggle with mental health at some point in their life and the value of holistic psychological treatment.

By tracking the life histories of study participants, Moffitt discovered that those who were diagnosed with mental disorders as adolescents also aged quickly. According to biomarkers of physical health, these people aged twice as fast as normal while those with good mental health in their youth showed very little aging.

Moffitt also recognized that over 800 of the 1,000 study participants met the diagnostic criteria for a mental health problem at least once in their now 50 years of life. “If you follow people long enough, almost everybody will have some brush with mental health issues. There’s no room for stigma,” says Moffit.

Many study participants also suffered from a variety of mental health issues throughout their lives. Moffit recommends that mental healthcare providers shift their focus from working through a single diagnosis at a time to doing more to encourage healthy lifestyle skills. This approach can potentially prevent the snowball of other mental health issues in the future and help people enjoy healthier, longer lives overall. “Don’t just treat the one thing that’s wrong today but give them skills they can use to stay healthy the rest of their lives,” says Moffitt.

The lecture is free and open to public. Per university event guidelines, attendees should wear a mask and must provide proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test. More information is available at https://hinckleychair.byu.edu/2022-hinckley-lecture.

The lecture will be recorded and available for online viewing at a later date.

Unauthorized Love: The Inequitable Application of Immigration Law on Mixed-Citizenship Families

Dr. Jane Lilly Lopez’ Thought-Provoking Research, Lecture, and Book

“There is no constitutional right to live in the United States with one’s spouse,” ruled the Supreme Court in Kerry v. Din (2015). Family reunification law in the United States leaves many mixed-citizenship couples baffled and disappointed as they strive to build a life together in the United States. Jane Lilly Lopez, assistant professor of sociology at BYU, addressed her research on the subject in a Global Women’s Studies Colloquium lecture on Jan. 13 titled, “Unauthorized Love: Mixed-Citizenship Couples Negotiating Intimacy, Immigration, and the State.”

Lopez described how she became interested in the topic of mixed-citizenship marriage saying, “In 2009, two of my dear friends and I all fell in love with non-citizens. As our different love stories advanced and progressed it seemed like we were all walking down this path of love and family togetherness. But our partners’ legal statuses were already pushing our lives in different directions.” With this experience in mind, Lopez studied 56 mixed-citizenship American couples and their stories.

Many U.S. citizens have successfully sponsored their noncitizen spouse on the path to citizenship, but just as many live in fear of their spouse’s deportation and the inability to live with their family in their own country. The United States currently looks at citizenship and immigration status in terms of individuals, not families, which can create a rift in the most important social construct that our society is built on. Lopez argued that this framework is incompatible with the family.

Lopez compared the process of applying for family reunification to a game of poker, where your success depends largely on strategy, expertise, and timing, as well as the cards you are dealt. Depending on a couples’ income, insurance status, length of relationship, or parenthood status, the state may or may not grant the noncitizen partner citizenship, and a couples’ ability to succeed may change based on the phase of life in which they apply for family reunification. The unpredictable nature of the system leaves many couples in a disadvantaged situation.

Dr. Lopez addressing students at the Kennedy Center. (Kathleen Reyes)

Application for family reunification also shines a light on the disparities already so prominent in our country. The system favors wealth and whiteness, adding to the injustices that minorities face. Gender also plays a key role. The 1907 Expatriation Act decreed that female American citizens who married noncitizens immediately lost their citizenship. On the other hand, if male American citizen married a noncitizen female, they were immediately granted citizenship. While that policy has since been repealed, sponsorsing a spouse for citizenship remains far easier for American men than women.  

Dr. Lopez addresses recommendations for immigration law reform and action in her book, also titled “Unauthorized Love: Mixed-Citizenship Couples Negotiating Intimacy, Immigration, and the State,” published in November 2021 by Stanford University Press. When asked at the lecture how students can participate in a solution to the plight of many mixed-citizenship couples, Lopez encouraged students to remember that only citizens have the power in this country to influence the laws that affect immigration. Only citizens can run for office, write laws, vote on laws, and vote for candidates who affect immigration. Lopez urged students to understand the issues and exercise the power that most BYU students hold as United States citizens. She concluded saying, “Creating a connection to the issue is the most important first step to leading to real change.”

If this topic interests you, sociology is a great major for studying social problems and solutions.

Let the College Internship and Civic Engagement Fair Help You Break Out of the Classroom

Participating in internships during your undergraduate years provides valuable real-world experience outside of the classroom — the kind of experiential learning that sets students apart as they prepare for careers and continued education. 

To help students find a great internship, the College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences is hosting an Internship and Civic Engagement fair on Thursday, Jan. 20 from 9 a.m.–2:30 p.m. in the Wilkinson Center Garden Court. You can register here.

The fair will feature over 40 organizations, ranging from Make-A-Wish and United Way to Enterprise and Podium, and let’s not forget the free popcorn bar. The event is open for all BYU students, but is especially useful for psychology, sociology, and family life majors, as well as civic engagement, gerontology, and nonprofit management minors. 

See a full list of participating organizations here.

“Students generally do a good job of working through their major requirements and checking the boxes to get to graduation, but often they are not aware of the huge benefit they would get by getting as much experience outside of the classroom as they can during their undergrad program,” says Karen Christensen, director of the Family and Social Service Internship Office.  

Ideally, students should browse the fair and plan three or four experiences they would like to have outside of the classroom during their undergraduate years. 

“Not only does this type of experience help build their resumes and give them the opportunity to gain new skills, but it also helps any student in a broad major figure out the best career path for them,” says Christensen. 

Whether you’re a freshman trying to narrow down where you want your studies to lead or a junior looking for an internship with meaningful experience and mentorship, the fair will provide opportunities for all. While mostly focused on internships and volunteer positions, there will also be opportunities for students near graduation to communicate with organizations about career options. 

Be sure to mark your calendar for the Internship and Civic Engagement Fair!

Register online for the event.

Find out more about internships in the college.

Starting January 20, 2022, BYU will require proof of full vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test to enter all large gatherings. For more information visit byu.edu/coronavirus/events-activities

Student researchers shine at Sociology and Political Science Poster Conferences

Students had the chance to show off their mentored research projects and win prizes in poster conferences held by the departments of political science and sociology during Fall Semester 2021.

The political science poster conference is held annually, with up to 100 participants each year, depending on the year.

“This is a great opportunity for students to present and receive feedback on the work they have done with faculty over the fall semester,” Jay Goodliffe, professor and chair of the political science department, says. “Creating and making the presentation is experiential learning for students, and the conference is an exhibition of the experiential learning in the department.”

The sociology poster conference was the first of its kind. Lance Erickson, associate professor of sociology remarked that the conference gave fall semester students an important chance to showcase their research, when in past years only winter semester students had that opportunity through the Mary Lou Fulton Mentored Student Research Conference held each year in April.

The poster conferences also provide opportunities for fellow students to ask their peers about the research process and get inspiration for future projects of their own.

The conferences were held Dec. 9 in the Wilkinson Student Center.

Sociology Poster Conference 2021 Awards

1st Place Winner:

Amber Ashby, “The Key to Maintaining Cognitive Functioning: The Relationship Between Word Recall, Subjective Well Being, and Education” with Lance Erickson as faculty mentor

2nd Place Winner:

Jaimi Mueller, “Community Experience and Bears Ears National Monument” with Michael Cope as faculty mentor

3rd Place Winner:

Jordan Coburn, Hannah Dixon, Morgan Duffy, Brianna Moodie, and Taylor Topham, “Classrooms and COVID: Experiences with Pandemic-Related Online Learning among BYU Students, 2020 vs. 2021” with Carol Ward as faculty mentor

Political Science Poster Conference 2021 Awards

1st Place Overall Winner:

Ashlan Gruwell, “Evangelical Protestants: Friend or Foe?” Awarded $300

2nd Place Overall Winner:

Madison Sinclair Johnson, “Tried and Prejudice: Using Hate Crime Sentencings to Disprove the Rise of Right-Wing Terrorism in the United States” Awarded $250

3rd Place Overall Winner:

David Clove and Abigail Ryan, “Be Thou Sexist? Hostile & Benevolent Sexism Among Latter-day Saints” Awarded $200

Ashlan Gruwell presents her research at the 2021 poster conference for political science (Aaron Barnes )


Subfield Winners

Awarded $150 each

Best comparative paper: Elliana Pastrano, “How do Emigration Rates Affect the Democracy Score of the Home Country?”
Best IR paper: Peyton Lykins, “Tanks and Missiles: The Only Counterterrorism Strategy?”
Best American paper: Kelsey Eyre, Jordan Gygi, and Kesley Townsend, “To Guide Us in These Latter-days: When partisans disagree with the Church’s guidance”
Best Race and Ethnicity Paper: Suzy Yi, “Intersectional Constituents: How Minority Elected Officials Respond to Minority Constituents”
Note: There were no theory posters.

Honorable Mentions: 

  • Grant Baldwin & Chris Vazquez, “Ideologues in the Political Pipeline: Measuring the Ambition of Local Elected Officials” 
  • Kesley Townsend, “Are Supreme Court Decisions Congruent with Public Opinion on Campaign Finance” 
  • Jeremy Pratt, Clara Cullen, and Hannah Forsyth, “Polarization Through a Generational Lens” 
  • Elle Diether, Megan Cann, and McKell McIntyre, “Does Clothing Make the Candidate? Identifying the Impact of Traditional Immigrant Clothing on Elections” 
  • Abby Woodfield, Morgan Rushforth, Meg Price, and Sam Ames,“The Failure Effect: Gender and Benevolence in Sports” 

Read about the Mary Lou Fulton Mentored Student Research Conference.