FHSS Student Spotlight: George Garcia III

Ecomonics valedictorian eager to do the most good 

George Garcia, valedictorian for the Economics Department, is a first-generation college student who came to BYU without any real understanding of what he was getting himself in to — he says he didn’t even know what “major” meant. He started in a track for international relations, moved to seminary teaching, then switched to political science, and ended with a double major in economics and math. For George, math gives him the tools to more fully understand economics, where his true passion lies.  

George’s passion for learning was ignited by Darrin Hawkins in POLI 200. Professor Hawkins showed George that the point of college wasn’t just to take in existing knowledge but to create and discover knowledge. That’s when he realized that he could generate knowledge himself, instead of just consuming it. Since then, George has helped in a number of research projects involving both political science and economics. 

George’s passion for economics stems from his belief in a higher moral obligation to do the “most good” with the blessings he has received. Looking around at the blessings that students at BYU enjoy, George sees an obligation to take our privileges and use them to bless the lives of those less fortunate. He says economics provides “a beautiful framework to take resources and do the ‘most good’ with it.” The field gives a base of knowledge on which to build a life of service. 

Looking back on his time at BYU, George remembers fondly the time he spent working on his Honor’s Thesis, which explored the effect of air pollution on people’s expressed sentiment on Twitter. He was able to work for professor Arden Pope as a research assistant for this project. Together they wrote a paper that they hope to publish in the near future. The process of taking an idea and creating something useful with it excites George.  

George will be working as a pre-doctoral research fellow at Stanford Law School studying disability and labor policy. He hopes to go on to get a Ph.D. in economics and spend his life trying to learn how to do the “most good,” whether that path leads further in academia or takes him somewhere else.  

For all the students that will follow in George’s footsteps, he asks that they remember that “no matter the field, it won’t be whole.” There are still discoveries to be made, experiments to be conducted, questions to be asked. He urges students to find ways to look at the world differently and ask seek opportunities to contribute to the wealth of collective knowledge.  

George believes in BYU’s motto: “Enter to learn; go forth to serve.” Beyond just our ability to help, we have a moral duty to lift the burdens of others with the many blessings we have received. An education is more than generating new knowledge, it is building a life that is capable of doing the “most good.”  

Senior Spotlight: Beth O’Brien

Graduate in Social Work promotes systems of support for new mothers

Beth O’Brien April 6, 2021 Photography by Rebeca Fuentes/BYU © BYU PHOTO 2021

As a mother of six, Beth O’Brien has a particular passion for new motherhood and believes there is a substantial lack of postpartum care for women in the United States. From her own experience, Beth understands the value of good postpartum care as well as the challenge of being without sufficient support.  

Beth had originally planned on pursuing a route in marriage and family therapy until she met Dean Barley from the Comprehensive Clinic, who directed her to social work; the program was a perfect fit.  

From the beginning, Beth threw herself into her studies and tried to soak in all of the information she could. She wants students who follow her to know, “Don’t worry about what has passed or even what is next, but be as present as you can in your program. Know that you are qualified to be here and at the end of it, you will be qualified to practice where you choose.” 

For Beth, the next step is just up the road from her home, at the Crossroads to Wellness clinic. There, she will be practicing trauma-informed therapy with an attachment focus, as well as teaching workshops for new mothers and fathers. Her work will put her in contact with children, adolescents, and adults in individual and family settings. The flexibility of her new role will allow her to engage in clinical practice part-time while still successfully supporting her family. 

Beth looks back fondly on her time as a graduate student and the systems of support she benefited from saying, “The professors and the hands-on access to mentorship from such phenomenal people was one of a kind and exceeded any expectation I had.” BYU’s emphasis on experiential learning allowed Beth to work alongside exceptional students and instructors in developing her skills, which is especially helpful for practice-oriented fields like social work. 

Beth also enjoyed her time as an intern at New Roads Behavioral Health and the Green House Center for Growth and Learning. Both have helped her “feel prepared to enter this field and hit the ground running.” She was grateful for support during her internships from the Marjorie Pay Hinckley endowment and also credits the generous financial support she received from BYU’s single parent scholarship.

Beth says, “I have loved everything about my graduate experience.” We are honored to now call Beth one of our many talented alumni and look forward to seeing how she uses her education to bless the lives of many in the community — including her own and her family’s. 

Senior Spotlight: Breeze Parker

Studying Tongan culture helps anthropology grad identify family glue

Anthropology Senior – Breeze Parker

As part of her senior thesis project, Breeze studied three huge kinship groups totaling 100 individuals (some online and some in-person) last summer. All of the families practiced honoring the fahu, which in Tongan culture is your father’s oldest sister. The fahu is an important kinship role and considered the matriarch of the family. Fahus historically dictated many things in the family including who her kinship could marry.  

Breeze noticed how the practice of fahus is dying out. During her research, she discovered the  importance of fahus in present day Tongan families. “Fahus are the glue for the intergenerational idea of family,” says Breeze. She analyzed how Tongan families include all extended family where as an American family is mostly comprised of the nuclear family.  

Breeze chose to study anthropology because she loves diverse groups of people. After graduating in April, Breeze will attend BYU Law School to become an immigration lawyer. She feels her studies have prepared her for her future career in many ways and says “Anthropology is all about getting to know people on their terms. It’s nice because as a lawyer, I will have an anthropologic perspective and desire to understand what my clients are going through.” 

Breeze grew up in Hawaii and felt it was difficult to find her place when she first came to BYU in Provo. She reflects, “I found out what it was like to be a minority on campus and sometimes it was hard to relate to people.”  

Breeze was able to find her place participating in the BYU Polynesian Club. She also felt a sense of acceptance when she started the anthropology program. “My peers and professors made me feel like I was at home.” 

Senior Spotlight: Brayton Bate

Anthropology grad uncovers moral divide Arab-Americans see between themselves and other Americans 

Anthropology Senior – Brayton Bate

Graduating senior Brayton Bate sat in the living rooms of many Arab-American families in Utah, studying how they viewed Americans and American culture. In dinner conversations he learned that the way Arabs distinguish between themselves and Americans is moral in nature. He reports, “It’s about ethics. It’s not about skin color or even religion.”  

Brayton observed how Arab-Americans in Utah understand the ethnic divide between themselves and Americans to be a moral divide. As Brayton discussed the differences between the two cultures with one Arab woman, she said that from her perspective Americans value their career and productive schedules more than relationships. She felt Arabs, on the other hand, prioritize community over autonomy.  

One thing that surprised Brayton during his research was the affinity that Arab-Americans had for members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He says that the families he talked to respected and loved members of the church in Utah because of how closely related their conduct is to Islam. Brayton shares, “They do not feel that way about other churches and they’re very clear about it.”  

Brayton choose to study anthropology because he wanted to perform his own ethnographic research, “I thought it was a unique opportunity to be able to spend time on the ground in the trenches of people — recording, taking pictures and videos. It’s very similar to work you would do on a graduate level.”  

Brayton loved his time in the anthropology program and how he was able to learn to interact with people in a candid way in order to collect data. Brayton shares the importance of removing personal bias, “You can’t impose your personal beliefs on data, but rather, you collect and publish data based on what the data is saying instead of what you want to say.”  

Reflecting upon his senior research project, Brayton said he gained humility. “Spending time with people and performing research doesn’t necessarily make you an expert.” 

Brayton’s father is a Palestinian immigrant who came to the United States. After Brayton graduates, he plans to apply for foreign policy internships in the Middle East and eventually live and work there. 

Senior Spotlight: Samantha Snow

Anthropology grad studies impact of Zoom turning Provo apartments into college classrooms

Anthropology Senior – Samantha Snow

While Zoom has worked well in lessening the spread of COVID-19 on college campuses, it has had detrimental effects on students’ ability to engage with their classes and connect with classmates and professors.  

For Samantha’s senior thesis project in the anthropology program, she studied the experiences of BYU students in the summer of 2020, during the largest influx of remote learning that has ever occurred. The students she observed were participating in all their classes via Zoom. Samantha noticed how the pandemic didn’t just ruin things by adding distractions with learning from home, but students were having to control two parts of their lives at once: being a student and whatever they tried to do simultaneously.  

Samantha argues that Zoom shouldn’t be viewed as an equal replacement to in-person courses but as a secondary method of instruction. She explains, “You can’t mute yourself in an in-person interaction, so classroom exchanges are much more genuine. It’s easier to tell the mood of a classroom than a Zoom room, for reasons such as feedback, technological delays, and overall, the simple lack of togetherness-feeling over Zoom.” 

Despite feelings of disconnection, Zoom offers advantages like allowing students to take classes from literally anywhere in the world. It also helps with accessibility issues. Zoom’s closed captioning feature can be added to a recorded meeting and help those who would otherwise need an interpreter.  

After looking at the advantages and disadvantages of Zoom, Samantha notes that many of the successes and failures are at the control of both the student and the professor. 

Tips For Students  

Samantha’s research shows that students need to feel present in their live-streamed classes, even if they’re not physically with their classmates and professor. She saw how difficult it can be to balance two frames of life at once. To combat this, Samantha suggests that students become aware of these contrasting frames and be willing to change, “If students are taking classes at home, there’s nothing they can do about the maintenance workers showing up, but they can try to place themselves in a location that removes them from the most distractions possible.”  

Tips For Professors 

Samantha encourages professors to understand the features of Zoom and use them for the student’s benefit. “The professor, or anyone facilitating a Zoom call, has the chance to make the meeting as engaging as they’d like, but this also requires premeditated effort and training on their behalf,” she says. Professors can also request feedback from students to learn how they can improve and increase engagement. 

Samantha plans to continue pursuing her interest in education and attend Boston College this fall for a master’s program in international higher education. Samantha’s dream is to work in an administrative position at a college or university.  

Samantha is grateful for the anthropology program and how it prepared her for graduate studies. “Anthropology is really broad and some people see that as a downside but it’s really a benefit because you can apply its main focus of understanding people to anything.” 

Senior Spotlight: Jordan Etherington

Family life grad organizes first Springville food pantry for civic engagement capstone

Jordan Etherington cuts ribbon for the grand opening of Springville’s first food pantry

On Saturday, April 10, the Springville community cut the ribbon and opened the door to its first food pantry sponsored by the Kiwanis Club. 

Jordan Etherington, a senior graduating in family life with an emphasis in human development, organized the Springville Food Pantry as part of his civic engagement leadership capstone project. Jordan coordinated efforts between several organizations to make this dream a reality. Jordan worked as a representative of Mountainland Head Start, which provided space for the food pantry at the former Grant School located at 400 East and 100 South in Springville.  

Jordan says Mountainland Head Start plans to turn the school into a community center with the food pantry being its first program. The Kiwanis Club of Springville will operate the pantry as a satellite of the Community Action Services and Food Bank in Provo. Community Action will be providing foodstuffs and other support. The mission of the Springville Food Pantry is to distribute donated food directly to low-income families in the area.  

“I hope this local resource will help individuals and families get through difficult times by providing food and reassurance about where their next meal is coming from,” says Jordan of his efforts.

Jordan chose to participate in the civic engagement leadership minor at BYU because he wanted to be involved in the community. “At first I was a little nervous that the minor was going to be all about political involvement but the program taught me the importance of making connections with community leaders and organizations,” he says. 

Jordan encourages all students to consider participating in the minor as a good way to serve the community and make an impact for good.  

Jordan highlighted the ample opportunities available for BYU students who want to make a difference. “If there is a cause you want to be involved in, just reach out to the organization and see what opportunities they have. They won’t turn you away.” 

Jordan’s plans after graduation are to attend the University of Southern Mississippi in the fall and pursue a Ph.D. in school psychology with an end goal of becoming a therapist for autistic individuals. 

To volunteer at the Springville Kiwanis Club Food Pantry, contact them at springvillekiwanisclub@gmail.com or to find other volunteer opportunities in your area visit https://www.justserve.org/.

Find out more about the Office of Civic Engagement at https://civicengagement.byu.edu/.

Women of FHSS: Your Education Is Not Your Backup Plan — It’s Your Life!

Photo by Madeline Mortensen/BYU Brigham Young University/BYU Photo

Madeleine Wallis, a senior studying economics, came to BYU thinking that her education was her backup plan in case she didn’t have the opportunity to be a stay-at-home mom. However, along the way she realized that “my education isn’t my backup plan, it is my life!”

“Once I realized this is my life and I am just as deserving of a quality education and a successful career as any man, my eyes were opened,” says Wallis. “I want every woman at BYU to know that she not only belongs here but is valued. We need your perspectives and bright minds. This is not your backup plan — this is your life, and you deserve every bit of it.”

Like Wallis, women often face particular gendered obstacles as they navigate the academic landscape, consider opportunities, and make important education and career decisions. Female students at BYU face additional challenges because of perceived religious and cultural ideas, and many report feeling underprepared when life after graduation is different than imagined.

“Utah’s female college and university students are more likely to end up in the ‘some college, no degree’ category of educational statistics, and to self-select into lower-paying fields,” according to a Salt Lake Tribune article on female college students in Utah.

Lindsey Blau, academic and professional development manager in Liberal Arts Advisement and Careers at BYU, and professors Scott Sanders (Sociology) and Sarah Reed (History), are launching the Women of FHSS initiative to foster an environment where all women in family, home, and social science majors thrive and are encouraged to identify and pursue educational and career opportunities.

“Women face the challenge of understanding during college and even after graduation how their education and their life roles work together,” says Blau. “Our goal is to help our female students understand how they can integrate their education into their lives in ways that uniquely distinguish them for a wide range of possibilities.”

A website of resources now available

The Women of FHSS website went live on Feb. 25 and is designed to help students learn from the experiences of other women and use those stories to broaden their perspective.

“Many of our female students have amazing ideas of where their life will go but data shows that many of these ideas of are not realized by the time they graduate,” says Blau. “We want to help our students develop a deeper understanding of future possibilities and explore multiple applications of a BYU education.”

On the site, students can read or watch interviews of educated women in many different life circumstances — single or married with a career, pursuing graduate studies, as a non-traditional (returning) student, at home with children, and more. Students will also find guidance on resources available both on BYU campus and in the state, as well as data trends about women in Utah.

For example, 51% of Latter-day Saint women over the age of 18 are single and 48% are employed and working outside the home. “Yet, we see women continue to struggle as they pursue opportunities that are not directly related to marriage and family because of perceived religious and cultural stigmas,” says Blau.

Join us for a launch event

Students can register for the Women of FHSS kick-off event scheduled for Thursday, March 25 at 11 a.m. MST.

The kick-off will include four college alumna who will share the decisions they have made while juggling life, career, family and fulfillment. Learn how they view their education and its importance as a foundation in their life.

Blau hopes the program will help women remember their worth, explore multiple opportunities after graduation, and develop the skills and confidence for whatever life has in store for them. Blau wants women to develop the attitude of designing their lives and not letting life happen without intentional reflection, intervention and inspiration.

“Learn where your strengths are and how you can integrate your interests and passions to fit your life,” says Blau.

In the future, the Women of FHSS subcommittee plans to expand this initiative to include how men can become allies to the women in their lives. Blau says the only way this organization will achieve its mission is if men and women work together.

Learn more about Women of FHSS and register for the kick-off event.