Buffett Institute award supports Husker's research into mindfulness

Buffett Institute award supports Husker's research into mindfulness

Tuyen Huynh (second from left), a graduate student in Child, Youth and Family Studies, is using a Buffett Institute fellowship to power her research into mindfulness. Pictured with Huynh is (from left) Holly Hatten-Bowers, assistant professor and early ch
Buffett Institute | Courtesy photo
Tuyen Huynh (second from left), a graduate student in child, youth and family studies, is using a Buffett Institute fellowship to power her research into mindfulness. Pictured with Huynh is (from left) Holly Hatten-Bowers, assistant professor and early childhood extension specialist; Samuel Meisels, founding executive director of the Buffett Early Childhood Institute; and Julia Torquati, professor of child, youth and family studies.

Support from the Buffett Early Childhood Institute is helping Husker Tuyen Huynh channel her research passion into help for parents of young children.

In her first year as a graduate student, Huynh traveled to Jalagon, India, as part of a cohort tasked with building a partnership with an Indian school and the University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s College of Education and Human Sciences.

For six weeks she observed teacher-student interactions, studied curriculum, and learned about the Indian school system. She witnessed the integration of mindfulness in students’ daily routine. Teachers used mindfulness techniques — yoga in the mornings, breathing exercises, and setting intentions throughout the day — to orient, focus and prepare children to learn.

“I remember being inspired,” Huynh said. “I left India knowing I wanted to learn ways to measure mindfulness and get it to the population I’m interested in helping.”

Mindfulness is moment-to-moment non-judgmental awareness of one's experience. According to the American Psychological Association, mindfulness offers proven benefits such as reducing stress and anxiety while increasing focus and memory.

As a mindfulness practitioner for more than a decade, Huynh has merged her own interest in cultivating mindfulness with her academic interest in child development. She believes that the right tools can help parents create more nurturing environments for their children, which leads to improved outcomes for children’s health and development.

Now, she is using a fellowship from the Buffett Early Childhood Institute Graduate Scholars program to better understand parental well-being.

The Buffett Institute is a four-campus, multidisciplinary research, practice, policy, and outreach center devoted to improving the development and learning of children from birth through age 8. The institute works collaboratively with university partners, communities, agencies, schools and families to implement evidence-based, high-quality systems and practices designed to help children.

One such example is the graduate scholars program, which awards one-year fellowships worth up to $25,000 to a maximum of four doctoral students each year. The program is designed to foster the growth of diverse, exceptional graduate students in all fields conducting research about young children and their families, with particular attention to children placed at risk as a consequence of poverty and social and environmental circumstances. The Buffett Institute is now accepting applications for 2019-20.

Huynh, a doctoral candidate, is one of three 2018-19 recipients of the fellowship. The others are Shreya Roy from the University of Nebraska Medical Center and Andrew Riquier from the University of Nebraska at Omaha. “The 2018-19 class of scholars are doing a terrific job of infusing the academic world with groundbreaking research, and we are eager to learn more from them,” said Kate Gallagher, director of research and evaluation at the Buffett Institute.

Huynh said the Buffett funding has helped her pursue what is her dream project — an investigation into whether using mindful self-compassion techniques lowers parental stress. To that end, she is conducting comparative research to examine the effectiveness of the Circle of Security parenting intervention program and how it compares with the same program layered with a mindfulness component.

The Circle of Security is used across the country to help parents build a strong relationship with their children. Empirical evidence of its effectiveness has been understudied to date.

Huynh will track data before, during, and after participants receive the Circle of Security parenting intervention. Then she will compare results to see which intervention group had better outcomes — those who received additional mindfulness instruction versus those who did not.

Huynh’s research will produce important data based on observations, interviews and surveys.

“At its core, (Circle of Security) is a well-designed program,” said Julia Torquati, professor of child, youth and family studies, and Huynh’s faculty mentor. “ Security evidence of its effectiveness will be valuable.

“And, (Huynh) will have high-quality data that can answer the questions she’s asking and beyond.”

Huynh anticipates her biggest challenge will be assumptions that the mindfulness movement is a religion. She intends to get this message across by consistently delivering the neurological and physiological perspective.

“Tuyen has the disposition of a scholar,” Torquati said. “Her inclination is to turn over every stone. She’s rigorous and thoughtful in her methodology. She holds great promise.”

Once she completes her doctoral work, Huynh intends to remain in academia to continue researching and teaching.

The deadline to apply for the Buffett Institute’s 2019-2020 Graduate Scholars is March 29. Learn more about the program.