Psychology professor hosts parent conference


By: Brittany Bell
Creative Services Student Writer

Festival Conference Center

On September 22, the psychology department hosted a one-day educational and personal development conference on parenting for the Harrisonburg community. The conference featured 15 speakers and provided research-based parenting tips. The event was spearheaded by psychology professor Natalie Kerr, who came up with the idea and organized the event.

Kerr’s desire to spread the practical application of psychology to the area is what inspired the idea. Her goal was to give other people in the community who aren’t students a chance to learn important skills from psychology. “The field of psychology offers many evidence-based strategies for good parenting, but that information is scattered among books, websites, and a variety of other sources,” Kerr said. “I thought, ‘what if we brought together a bunch of experts who knew something about the topic of parenting?’” With the help of two colleagues, Jessica Conway from Sentara Healthcare and Holly Schiffrin from University of Mary Washington, they were able to recruit speakers through their professional connections.

Most of the speakers were psychologists with expertise in one or more topics that relate to parenting. One of the speakers specialized in breastfeeding, while Kerr herself spoke about the loneliness epidemic that recent research has shown affects people of all ages. The purpose of the conference was for people to take the psychology-based lessons and tips that the speakers presented, and apply them to real life situations. They wanted people to see how they can use science to improve parenting.

According to Kerr, the event was a success. An evaluation form given out to participants at the end revealed that a vast majority enjoyed the conference and would recommend it to a friend. Although the event was geared towards parents in the community, the turnout included several other groups including local teachers.

“I named it ‘The Parent Conference’ because originally I thought that the target audience would be parents, but then I realized that teachers would find it relevant to their work, and even people who work with youth in the community could benefit,” Kerr said.

Several of the parents that came expressed interest in having the conference become an annual event. This year Kerr was able to get a grant from the Association for Psychological Science to host it, but they will have to evaluate whether it’s feasible to continue. “If we did it again I would invite new speakers, have different topics, and go through the process all over again,” Kerr said.

Kerr’s main takeaway from the conference is that effective teaching also takes place outside the classroom. Rather than limiting psychology to the classroom, she branched out to the community to make an impact.

 “What we were doing was teaching, just in a different form,” Kerr said. “Most college professors tend to stay within the walls of their institutions but we went out into the community and we were teaching the public.”

Published: Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Last Updated: Monday, October 29, 2018

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