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.”

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.”