Professor Stacey Doan leads groundbreaking studies on resilience

Professor Stacey Doan in class.

Photo by Anibal Ortiz

For CMC Professor Stacey Doan, resilience is personal. Her family, who are Vietnam War refugees, faced unimaginable hardship fleeing a war-torn country. She grew up in a neighborhood where violence was rampant and drug use was common. But, throughout, her parents’ legacy taught her sacrifice and resilience. Today, Doan is one of the nation’s leading researchers on resilience – especially when it comes to youth.

As the Norwood and Frances Berger Professor of Psychology, Business and Society and the Director of the Berger Institute for Individual and Social Development at CMC, Doan recently received prestigious grants from the National Institute of Mental Health and The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Global to develop, implement, and evaluate resilience-based interventions for youth living in the context of adversity. 

“My parents never had the opportunity to finish high school, never mind pursue a college education. But my parents truly taught me what sacrifice and resilience mean,” Doan said. 

During the initial phase of her career, Doan's research primarily delved into comprehending the biological underpinnings of how stress and adversity contribute to health outcomes. However, her professional trajectory took a meaningful turn upon joining CMC.

"CMC's unwavering commitment to applied research, its resolute emphasis on tangible action and pragmatic solutions, as opposed to a mere pursuit of knowledge, compelled me to reorient my focus towards translational research. It became clear that my work should yield concrete, real-world impacts," she said.

Her capacity as the director of the Berger Institute, a research institute dedicated to enhancing individual capacity for positive development and nurturing resilient communities, combined with the invaluable support from grants provided by the Ho Foundation, has served as a substantial driving force in shaping the direction of her ongoing research endeavors.

After building successful interventions aimed at supporting student growth as responsible leaders, Doan applied for, and received, funding from the Ho Foundation to support the adaptation and implementation of an effective, scalable, mindfulness intervention among historically underrepresented adolescents in underserved communities.

Specifically, funding from the National Institutes of Health and the Ho Foundation is supporting the activities of Project PRISM: Promoting Resilience by Improving Students’ Mindfulness, and Project STRIVE: Students Rising Above, the latter is in collaboration with partners from UCLA, Stanford, and Fuller Theological Seminary. Support from these grants will be used to adapt the intervention to historically underrepresented youth, evaluate its effectiveness on both psychological and biological outcomes, and identify individual characteristics that may impact the effects of the intervention, allowing Doan to extrapolate who may benefit the most.

Under the guidance of Doan and her dedicated team at the Berger Institute, this innovative research has been put into practice, resulting in a groundbreaking resilience intervention program on the CMC campus. This initiative seamlessly blends the tenets of positive psychology and contemplative practices, incorporating character strengths, mindfulness, and experiential-based activities rooted in the science of civic education.

These projects have the potential to establish evidence for mindfulness training to prevent mental health and health problems among historically underrepresented youth, while simultaneously illuminating risks for mental health problems and health morbidities in other minority groups. The project will also demonstrate the feasibility of incorporating mindfulness interventions in public schools and impact the next generation of clinicians through training. 

“The grant will allow us to not only have a direct impact on local youth through our mindfulness intervention, but also offer an opportunity for CMC students to participate in collaborative, community-based action research,” Doan said. “Many of our students have already benefitted from the mindfulness-based programs at the College, which have helped them develop core skills that foster resilience and compassion. With the grant, we will be able to support these students in applying what they have learned…and make a difference in their local communities.” 

A central component of the mission of the Berger Institute is to advance understanding of practices and contexts that promote well-being. Moreover, the Institute is particularly interested in cultivating inclusive science and well-being practices to eliminate ethnic/racial, socioeconomic, and gender disparities in health and well-being. The unconditional support of the Berger Advisory Board has been foundational in launching these programs, supporting the involvement of CMC students in cutting-edge research, and providing resources for the training and skill-building that make these proposals successful. 

The ultimate goal is clear: the Berger Institute aims to cultivate CMC students into leaders who not only weather adversity with grace but also take a profound interest in their community’s welfare. Students are not mere bystanders; they are change agents who are wholeheartedly invested in driving positive transformation. In an era marked by an ever-growing web of complex challenges, they are uniquely equipped to tackle the multifaceted issues that lie ahead. CMC and the visionary work of Doan and the Berger Institute are truly setting the stage for a new generation of leaders who are poised to shape a brighter, more inclusive future. CMC is not only preparing students for thoughtful and productive lives and responsible leadership in business, government, and the professions, but as leaders who are invested in their individual and collective success and well-being and their desire to make a difference in the lives of others

"These grants are a game changer," Doan said, "affording us the opportunity to amplify CMC’s far-reaching influence into the adjacent communities, extend our support to those in need, and construct resilient bonds between our institution and the local communities."

Abigail Flores

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