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November 2008 Issue

Devon Berry, PhD, assistant professor in the College of Nursing, was awarded a $350,000 grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to study whether religion affects the behavior of young adults.
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Nursing to Study Spirituality, Risky Behavior in College

By Angela Koenig
Published November 2008

Devon Berry, PhD, an assistant professor in the College of Nursing, has received a $350,000 grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) to study whether religiosity has an effect on risky behavior in young adults as they transition from high school to college.

“It’s an incredible opportunity to both launch my research career and develop key leadership skills,” says Berry.

Berry was one of 15 junior faculty members awarded first-round grants as part of the RWJF Nurse Faculty Scholars program.

The program will provide $28 million to promote academic careers in nursing over the next five years.

The Nurse Faculty Scholars program is working to strengthen the link between institutional reputation and faculty success by providing research funds and career development opportunities for junior faculty.

“We are very excited about the opportunity given to Devon Berry by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and extremely proud of his achievement,” says Andrea Lindell, PhD, dean of the College of Nursing. “One of the essential outcomes of the Nurse Faculty Scholars program, which is the institutional reputation and faculty success, I believe will be further evidenced as a result of this award for Devon’s research and key leadership opportunities. We are pleased to have received this prestigious national award from RWJF.”

This program is not just a major boost to the careers of these junior nursing scholars, it is an enhancement to nursing science, the health care system and our nation as a whole,” says program director Jacquelyn Campbell, PhD.

Berry’s research study, “Religiosity, Risk and Emerging Adulthood,” will follow high school seniors who are Christian, Jewish, Muslim or non-adherent through their freshman year of college.

They will be interviewed regarding behaviors such as drinking, drugs and sexual activity to determine to what extent spirituality provided a protective mechanism against engaging in risky behaviors.

The RWJF award also includes a leadership element that provides Berry with mentorship at both the local and national level.

His mentors at UC are Donna Gates, EdD, a professor in the College of Nursing, and Rhys Williams, PhD, a professor in the department of sociology.

“One of the interesting things about this grant is that they want research done but they also are investing in junior scholars who will be future leaders in their field,” says Williams, who also conducts research on religion in society and is the former editor of the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion.

What makes Berry’s research undertaking stand out, Williams says, is the inclusion of other faiths in the sampling aside from Christianity.

The study, both Williams and Berry say, does not compare one religion to the other, but examines how religion as a whole plays into decision making.

“The idea that religion is related to risk behaviors or health out comes is not new,” says Williams, “but the focus has historically been on Christianity.”

“This is what you dream about when you are a young researcher, to have the necessary time and resources to conduct your research,” Berry says. “RWJF has provided both, as well as an opportunity to develop a strong foundation for future leadership in academia.”

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