University of Mississippi

In and Out of Africa

Drs. Anton, Jane Goodall, Julie Johnson-Pynn (also a UM graduate) and Laura Johnson

Drs. Anton, Jane Goodall, Julie Johnson-Pynn (also a UM graduate) and Laura Johnson

Laura Johnson, associate professor of psychology, has been in and out of countries in East Africa since her junior year as an undergraduate at the University of Mississippi, when she spent a life changing year in Kenya.

Most recently,  Johnson returned from her second Fulbright research award. In December 2012, she, her husband and their two children took off for 11 months in Tanzania and Uganda. There, Johnson continued her research collaboration with the Jane Goodall Institute and other youth serving organizations, such as the Amani Center for Street Children, Ugandan Youth Rehabilitation Center, and the Mweka Village at the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro.  Johnson surveyed over 1,600 adolescents and conducted focus groups to assess youth strengths and assets among school and vulnerable youth.

Johnson’s children accompanied her in the field, often drawing considerable attention. Here they are during data collection with the Batwa ethnic group in Southwest Uganda.

Johnson’s children accompanied her in the field, often drawing considerable attention. Here they are during data collection with the Batwa ethnic group in Southwest Uganda.

“It was great to meet up with Dr. Jane again in Uganda this year, I first pitched the idea of studying youth in her Roots&Shoots back in 2000 when I was still in grad school,” Johnson said. “My sister Julie and I have been working with R&S since then, it is like a global family.”

New Frontiers with Photo-voice

“New cultures and contexts demand new methods in psychology,” said Johnson. “During the 11 months of research, I faced so many challenges. Keeping youth engaged, working with women not used to sharing their opinions, along with language barriers and cultural differences. With over a decade of research in East Africa, I have conducted a lot of bad focus groups, where basically participants tell you what they think you want to hear.

Photovoice, developed by Carolyn Wang, was by far the most exciting and effective research tool I discovered. In Photovoice, participants become co-researchers and they take photographic data on different themes. The process was action-oriented, fun, built confidence, and also helped to de-position me as interviewer.”

Maasai Moran (Warriors) learn to use the digital camera for photovoice research.

Maasai Moran (Warriors) learn to use the digital camera for photovoice research.

According to Johnson, the method was successful across different cultures and ages. She has presented her data and on this method to the National Academy of Sciences and the Society for Cross-Cultural Research.

Bringing the Fulbright Full-Circle: UM Student Involvement  

Doctoral student Chris Drescher, honor’s student Katherine Westfall, and 5 other UM students helped kick off the research during a study abroad course that Johnson teaches, Psychology 475, Environmental Psychology. These UM students partnered with Tanzanian research partners for cultural games, service, research training and pilot data collection with adolescents.

“It was great to involve UM students in the initial research and now, as we speak in the write up. I am excited to involve students again now on the results side of things and bring this research full-circle, so to speak,” said Johnson.

She encourages students to sign up for the study abroad course in Tanzania and Zanzibar in June 2014.


Maasai participants share and discuss their photos.

Maasai participants share and discuss their photos.

Photovoice Image taken by former street children to show the importance of security, of having a safe place to live and security

Photovoice Image taken by former street children to show the importance of security, of having a safe place to live and security.

Photovoice image taken by former street children to show the importance of traditional cultural activities like drumming and dancing.

Photovoice image taken by former street children to show the importance of traditional cultural activities like drumming and dancing.

VIDEO: Bethany Aiena, doctoral student

Years from now when I look back at Ole Miss and what it means to me … anything I’ve learned as a clinician, anything I’ve learned as a researcher, I’ve learned from Ole Miss.—Bethany Aiena

Bethany Aiena

Bethany Aiena

Mental Health Impact of Gulf Oil Spill
The University of Mississippi Clinical Disaster Research Center plays a vital role in studying and addressing mental health issues related to natural disasters.

The negative and long-lasting effects following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill are being used to research ways to offer support for others who experience the effects of environmental disasters. After the oil spill, University of Mississippi faculty and students initiated research to understand the mental health impacts along the coast. The team was surprised to find large differences in the way many people cope with disasters and published some of that research nationally. The research is part of work being conducted by the Clinical Disaster Research Center at UM and plays a vital role with respect to disaster preparedness, response and recovery efforts, focusing on mental health.

Bethany Aiena explains how her involvement in research as a student helped her achieve success in her field.

Psychology scholar Kristen Hymel

Kristen Hymel

Kristen Hymel

Kristen Hymel got goose bumps the first time she stepped on the University of Mississippi campus as an undergraduate. Her family has a strong connection to the University; she is a descendent of Dr. Andrew Armstrong Kincannon for whom Kincannon Hall was named and of Senator J.Z. George for whom George Hall was named. With the mentoring of Dr. Kenneth Suftka and the support from her mother, she continued her education at UM and will be receiving a Ph.D. in Psychology.

Research: Hymel helped to develop a model for anxiety using chicks. She has not only studied the biological and physical effects of the disorder but also worked with the Thad Cochran Center to develop new drug therapies.

Achievements: Hymel was involved with the Graduate Student Council for four years. She worked to better graduate student life on campus. She was the national director for outreach for the National Organization for Graduate Professional Students. Throughout her graduate career she has been a teaching assistant and taught undergraduate students. She has also presented her research at the National Meeting of the Society for Neuroscience.

Future Plans:  Hymel will be a post-doctoral fellow at Torrey Pines Institute of Molecular Studies in Port St.Lucie, Florida. She hopes to later work for a university so she can pursue a career teaching and continue researching.

What Does Earning A Ph.D. Mean: “It is the largest accomplishment I’ve ever had or succeeded with; five years of brutal pain, but worth every minute of it.”

University of Mississippi Graduate School Spotlight

Professor and author Ken Sufka offers students tips to excel


Ken Sufka, professor of psychology

Motivated to help at-risk college students succeed in attaining their educational goals, more than 100 faculty and staff from Mississippi’s higher education institutions gathered Aug. 14 at the University of Mississippi for a day of inspiration and empowerment.

The At-Risk Summit: Student Success and Persistence was held at UM’s Jackson Avenue Center. Hosted by the university’s Center for Student Success and First-Year Experience, the event prominently featured UM faculty and staff in leadership roles, advising other institutions on how best to support and instruct at-risk students. Included were motivational speakers, a panel discussion and break-out sessions focused on financial aid, connecting with at-risk students by understanding their challenges and perspectives.

“I am glad you are taking time to focus on this critically important issue,” said Hank Bounds, Mississippi commissioner of higher education via a letter read in his absence. “For our students, you help them obtain a college degree, which will enable them to lead a different kind of life from that of someone holding only a high school diploma. You help save them time and money along the way. You help first-generation college students and those who enter college unprepared.”

Ken Sufka, UM professor of psychology and author of The A Game: Nine Steps to Better Grades, delivered the first of the summit’s two keynote addresses. Sufka spoke about how at-risk students can overcome the odds to excel at the college and university level.

“Basically, there are four rules for student success,” he said. “Go to class, sit in the sweet spot (front and center), come to class prepared and when lost, ask questions.”

Even high-achieving students often fail for lack of classroom engagement, poor study habits and testing issues, Sufka said.
“A tenth of a grade-point average point can be the determining factor of whether a student stays in college or not. We cannot emphasize enough that a lower grade carries a lot of weight.”

Sufka’s presentation underscored the necessity of correct study habits for maximum academic achievement.
“When it comes to testing, many students erroneously think that pulling an all-nighter is better than prolonged, spaced-out study,” Sukfa said. “The reality is pulling an all-nighter is like studying for an F. Why would anyone do that?”

The renowned scholar suggested faculty and support staff push students toward concept maps (diagrams that organize relationships between persons, things and ideas) and away from merely reviewing notes, flash cards and study groups – practices that may have worked for them in high school but will not be as effective at the university level.

“You can look at something a thousand times and still not know it,” Sukfa said. “To learn and be able to apply complex concepts by thinking critically, students must know how to process information, not merely review or repeat it.”


New Clinical-Disaster Research Center


Dr. Schulenberg (third from left on the back row) and students.

Courtesy of the Oxford Eagle

The University of Mississippi’s Clinical-Disaster Research Center in the Department of Psychology is not just about educating students, it’s making a big impact on the community with a small budget.

The new center has a budget of $29,663, which was approved in October 2012 by the state College Board. These few dollars will help the center build on the work already done by researchers in the state to assist those who have survived a disaster.

“Disaster mental health is a relatively new field of psychological science and practice as it relates to disaster preparedness, impact and recovery,” said Dr. Stefan Schulenberg, director of the center.

Schulenberg has 16 years of training and experience working within the disaster mental health field. He moved to Mississippi in 2002, and when Hurricane Katrina hit three years later, Schulenberg was part of a multidisciplinary group that collected data on the coast on how people were handling the trauma. Schulenberg’s team was again part of mental health efforts on the coast after the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster of 2010.

BP gave $12 million to the Mississippi Department of Mental Health in response to the oil spill. The state developed a grant program, distributing the funds to 19 mental health facilities providing therapy, training and outreach to Mississippi coastal residents affected by the technological disaster.

Schulenberg consulted with the state Department of Mental Health, leading a team of graduate students and faculty to collect data to determine the amount of services being provided, how many people received services, and how people were responding to the disaster.

Still working
While the 2-year contract expired in June, the team continues to analyze the data and disseminate the findings so that the effects of the Gulf Oil Spill on the mental health of Mississippi coastal residents may be better understood.

The importance of their work during the spill brought to light the need to incorporate more of the team’s work into the classroom.

“Throughout the Gulf Oil Spill research it seemed apparent that the next logical step was to establish an identity, an integrated purpose bringing together research, teaching and service efforts” Schulenberg said. “With the center, we hope to continue our work raising awareness of an important area that many people don’t often think about.”

This spring, Schulenberg will teach an undergraduate course, Disasters and Mental Health, that emphasizes this need. He plans to develop a graduate seminar of the same course in the future and to continue to build the center with a focus on training and education.

“The graduate students in our clinical training program are getting that training already but this means having something more formal in place,” Schulenberg said.

While physical threat is often the first emergency responders’ concern, the effects of trauma on mental health often go unrecognized or untreated, Schulenberg said.

“People have a tremendous resilience to overcome adversity,” Schulenberg said. “However, individual response to a disaster can vary widely. Some people may experience problems that are short term, while others may experience problems that are longer lasting. Still others may experience what is called post-traumatic growth, learning how to respond to their experiences in adaptive ways.”

Several factors
With respect to the effects of a disaster, Schulenberg said that individual and community response to an event can be affected by many factors, such as previous history with disasters, socioeconomic status, and the nature and intensity of the disaster. Some problems that people may experience include anger, irritability, stress and anxiety, depression, disruptive eating and sleeping patterns, as well as problems with drug and alcohol use. Schulenberg also noted that, for those people who are experiencing such difficulties, there is help available, on campus and in the community.

The center will continue research and training in disaster preparedness, response, and recovery. Schulenberg also is a member of the Mississippi Disaster Response Network, and is Red Cross certified. He teaches courses for the American Red Cross program and also works with the organization for student activities and volunteer experiences.

Carrie Smith’s Research Suggests the “First Time” Really Matters

In an exclusive article for the UK’s MailOnline, University of Mississippi instructional assistant professor in the Department of Psychology Carrie V. Smith said the circumstances of how someone loses their virginity “appears to have implications for their well-being years later.” 

Smith, joined Matthew Shaffer of the University of Tennessee in surveying 331 young men and women about how they lost their virginity. It seems the “first time” really does color your sex life for years to come, according to a study “Gone But Not Forgotten,” compiled by two researchers. 

The study is one of the first to look at whether the first sexual experience has lasting consequences.

Read more.

Psychology Professor’s Fulbright Studies in Tanzania

Laura Johnson in Bwindi  Forest, Uganda.

When Laura Johnson returned from her first trip to Africa—a yearlong study in Kenya as a University of Mississippi junior in 1989—the director of study abroad gave her a brochure for the Fulbright Scholar grant and told her she’d need it one day.

That director was right. In January, Johnson, a UM associate professor of psychology, will travel to East Africa as a 2012-2013 Fulbright Scholar to conduct research on youth developmental assets and civic participation among vulnerable youth in Tanzania and Uganda.

“In psychology, about 95 percent of all published research focuses on less than 5 percent of the world’s population,” said Johnson, who has served in the United States Peace Corps and traveled to Uganda as a Fulbright Fellow in 2000 to conduct doctorate research on integrated care for depression.

“I’ve always been interested in marginalized groups that are not on the radar of people in academia, or psychology in particular. Youth living in Africa tend to get ignored, yet there’s so much we can learn. I’m really interested in resilience and strength and how people are able to draw from community, culture and themselves to not just survive but to thrive and contribute to the betterment of society.”

Over nine months, Johnson is to collaborate with national partners to survey 1,200 African youths ages 14 to 17 in five different regions within Tanzania and Uganda. She will also interview older members of the communities to gain cultural knowledge about the best ways to promote civic engagement.

Participants in the youth study will focus on vulnerable youth, such as former child soldiers, adolescents with HIV and street children, including homeless and orphaned youth, Johnson said. The study will help shed light on ways in which culture and context produce unique developmental strengths, and explore the pathways to civic participation.

“A major challenge of the 21st century is how to best mobilize youths’ sense of purpose to work toward peaceful and sustainable societies,” Johnson said. “Contextual challenges in East Africa, such as poverty, disease, environmental degradation and civic conflict, threaten adolescent development and well-being. At the same time, strengths and assets such as cultural values, ethnic identity and community or school supports may contribute to youths thriving, their sense of purpose and their participation in communities.

“In the study, my colleagues and I will explore how internal developmental assets, such as self-efficacy and ecologically based assets, such as supportive parents and safe schools, are related to youth participation and purpose.”

Since her first trip as an undergraduate, Johnson has conducted research in the area multiple times, including through a National Geographic Conservation Trust and several UM internal grants. She also served three years on the American Psychology Association’s Committee on International Relations in Psychology, where she worked to advance psychology as a globally relevant discipline.

“Dr. Johnson has become a widely recognized authority on multiculturalism and diversity,” said Michael Allen, chair of the UM psychology department. “She has carefully nurtured relationships with counterparts in academia in a number of African countries, and this has allowed for important collaborative research. Further experiences abroad will only increase her awareness of relevant issues in understanding not only how our cultures are different but the many ways that they are so similar.”

Johnson, who joined the faculty in 2003, also teaches multicultural psychology and an environmental psychology study abroad course that focuses on culture, ecology and youth development in Tanzania. She is an instructor for the Croft Institute for International Studies, where she conducts workshops to prepare students for the cultural and psychological aspects of international study and research.

“This major award for Dr. Johnson is richly deserved,” said Glenn Hopkins, dean of the College of Liberal Arts. “She is an outstanding professor.”

Johnson will travel to Africa with her husband and two children. Her husband and son have visited the continent before and everyone is looking forward to returning, she said.

“It will give me fresh experiences to draw from in my teaching and mentoring,” Johnson said. “It will also give me a new database. I’m really trying to promote my students pursuing international research through Fulbright and other opportunities. There’s a huge movement in psychology to internationalize the curriculum. Hopefully I can get some of my students to come over there.”

Johnson is among approximately 1,100 U.S. faculty and professionals who will travel abroad through the Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program in 2012-2013. The program, established in 1946, is the flagship international exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government and has given about 300,000 students, scholars, teachers, artists and sciences the opportunity to conduct research and exchange ideas in more than 155 countries worldwide.


Daily Mississippian, June 5, 2012

UM psychology professor Laura Johnson is about to embark on a nine-month adventure, thanks to the grant she received as a 2012-13 Fulbright Scholar. In January, Johnson and her family will travel to East Africa to study how environmental change affects local inhabitants.

Johnson will be based out of Moshi, Tanzania, which is located at the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro, but will be doing work in Uganda as well. Johnson said she plans to study how the mountain’s melting peak is affecting local residents.

“Girls are having to walk twice as far and spend twice as much time to collect something simple like water,” she said. “I’m interested in youth’s ability to solve these problems in their environment.”

Johnson said she has been working toward this trip for a long time and had to get tenure before she could apply for the grant. She also had to get letters of invitation, so her ties in Tanzania and Uganda proved vital.

In 1989, Johnson travelled to Kenya on a Fulbright grant during her junior year at UM, studying traditional healing techniques for depression. During that trip, she met many colleagues and has nurtured these relationships through study abroad programs.

During her nine-month stay, Johnson hopes to establish a connection between her colleagues in Africa and those in America.

“I want to create a pipeline between American psychology and academics and the psychologist academics in Tanzania and Uganda,” she said. “They’re doing excellent work and nobody knows about it because it’s not published in American journals.”

Johnson said she is pleased to have her family travelling with her. She plans for her son and daughter to attend the Moshi International School, where they will take courses such as Swahili and French and study with other international students. Her husband will do the driving and handle the logistics of the trip.

Although she is traveling to Africa for scholastic purposes, Johnson also has some recreational plans. During the trip, the family will take a safari through the Serengeti Desert, around Lake Victoria and end in Uganda.

Johnson will travel to northern Uganda without her family because the area is prone to violence.

“Whereas before I was primarily located around Kampala and Uganda and the capitals, this time I’m really traveling,” she said. “That’s one of the big pieces of the grant, that I’m sampling from several different regions within each country.”

In addition to studying how environmental degradation affects the area’s inhabitants, Johnson will work with former child soldiers, focusing on the women who are now mothers. In doing so, she hopes to learn how vulnerable children gauge self-worth and develop purpose.

Psychology Alumnus Makes Major Gift


Charles and Sarah Moore (left) with Chancellor Dan Jones

A $1.8 million donation from a 1947 UM graduate with a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology will help with faculty recruitment.

For the first seven years of his life, Charles Moore lived in a home with no electricity on a dirt road near Blytheville, Ark. As he matured, he made three goals for his life: to marry a nice young woman, to see the turn of the century, and to do well financially.

The 1947 University of Mississippi graduate realized all three, and he and wife Sarah have committed $1.8 million to his alma mater for general faculty support.

“Growing up on that dirt road during the Depression years of the ’30s has made me realize that I have lived an abbreviated version of the American dream,” said Moore, a retired farmer, state legislator and civic leader. “Education is the key to life, the key to success. I’ve been rather successful, and I wanted to put some of my resources to good use. Naturally, I thought of Ole Miss, a place I love.”

The Charles R. Moore Faculty Support Endowment was created with a planned gift, which will provide funds in perpetuity for the recruitment and retention of outstanding faculty members.

The gift becomes a part of UM’s Barnard Initiative, which has a goal of adding $100 million in endowed funds for faculty support. The initiative comes in response to the stiff competition that exists among leading universities for gifted faculty members and to the decrease in higher education support at the state level

UM Chancellor Dan Jones expressed appreciation for the Moores’ gift, which will provide funds for salary supplements, research and creative activity support, and other support deemed appropriate by the provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs.

“Charles and Sarah Moore’s extremely generous gift reflects their great love for the University of Mississippi and their concern for young people,” Jones said. “Their investment in our faculty will directly impact students by assuring they are taught and mentored by outstanding scholars.

“The Moores have made an investment that will have a far-reaching impact – one that will help ensure quality teaching, research and service will be available for generations of Ole Miss students. They have made a significant investment in the future, and we deeply appreciate their vision and also their trust in our stewardship.”

Charles Moore, the only living child of Mississippi natives Walter Ross Moore and Elizabeth Earle Evans Moore, skipped grades during his early school years due to high grades in math. He was only 16 years old when his parents sent him to the University of Mississippi in 1941.

“I enjoyed my years at Ole Miss,” Moore said. “Like any freshman, I liked the freedom of being on my own for the first time in my life.”

World War II interrupted his college years, and when he was drafted into military service, he entered the U.S. Air Force as a cadet in 1943. Medical reasons sent him to Gulfport Field and later to Keesler Field, both in Mississippi. He was on assignment to go to the South Pacific when Japan surrendered, and he was later discharged as a corporal in 1946.

Moore returned to the University of Mississippi, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology in August 1947. He made his home back in Blytheville, where he served as a personnel counselor for a utility company. He became active in community affairs and served in leadership roles of civic organizations. He was named “Outstanding Young Man of Blytheville” in 1952.

When his father passed away that same year, Moore left the utility company to take over his family’s farming operations, which included growing cotton, soybeans and later rice.

In 1954, he married Sarah Langston Sartain, a University of Arkansas graduate. Moore was elected president of the Mississippi County Farm Bureau in 1963. Six years later, the Moores received the distinction of Farm Family of the Year.

Besides his success with farming, Moore earned an appreciation for the challenges of appropriating state funding for education as he served 18 years in the Arkansas House of Representatives during a number of administrations, including that of former President Bill Clinton. He provided leadership as co-chairman of the Arkansas Retirement Systems Committee and was later elected to the Mississippi County Quorum Court. He retired from farming in 1988, although he continues to lease his land to other farmers.

Sarah and Charles Moore have two grown children: Ross Moore, a graduate of Arkansas State University, and wife Susan have one son, Zachary, a UA student. The Moores’ daughter, Laura, a UA graduate and Phi Beta Kappa member, also lives in Blytheville. In addition, Sarah Moore’s father, Roscoe C. Langston, was also a Mississippian, growing up in Calhoun City.

“It has been an absolute joy to work with Charles and Sarah Moore,” said Sandra Guest, vice president of the UM Foundation. “They were immediately receptive to our priority of making certain having exceptional professors to teach our students continues as a hallmark of Ole Miss. They are generous individuals who want to extend great opportunities to others.”

The couple’s planned gift gives them membership in the 1848 Society, named for the year the university opened to its first students. The society recognizes generous donors who thoughtfully provide for the university through planned and deferred gifts. For more information, interested individuals can call the UM Foundation at 800-340-9542 or 662-915-5944, or visit