Grad Student Smallen: Well Connected

Grad Student Dave Smallen

Dave Smallen, Doctoral Candidate
Human Development & Family Studies

In 2006, at the age of 21, singer/songwriter Dave Smallen was signed to Capitol Records and touring the U.S. with his band, Street to Nowhere. To the casual observer, he was living the dream, but like so much in pop culture, it was partly just an act. “I found myself and a great many of the folks I got to know in that world struggling emotionally and relationally underneath a façade of seemingly exciting and happy lives,” he says.

Diving deeper into that realization, Dave continued his music (adding graphic design to the mix) but turned more and more to psychology and sociology. He earned his bachelors in human development and family studies and hit on what would become the central theme of his work: compassionate, authentic connection with others is vital to our well-being, from infancy through old age.

Studies & Research

Dave’s work revolves on the axis of psychoeducation — deepening our understanding of how our minds and emotions work. “In the same way that an understanding of nutrition and basic human anatomy helps to maintain or improve physical health, learning the ‘how and why’ of our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors allows us to make informed choices so we can better maintain or improve mental health,” he explains.

This fall, Dave will teach Human Development: Adolescence through Old-Age, a class he’s TA’d three times. He’ll also begin using and evaluating a tool (an “intervention” in the professional parlance) to help college students learn how to build more meaningful relationships. The multimedia experience he developed (funded by a SoHE STAR award) unfolds the story of two people connecting through mutual sharing and vulnerability, using prose and illustration to offer insight into how our hearts and minds connect.

Why SoHE?

SoHE Standouts "What qualities at SoHE have really made a difference for you?" Interdisciplinary community "Having the opportunity to draw from colleagues and faculty in the Civil Society & Community Research department is a great boon for my work, as is being in a community of scholars that includes and appreciates artists and designers." Supported creativity "I've been encouraged to explore a path with my research that's a bit outside the box. Faculty here pushed me to bridge my past experience with my present pursuits to do something a bit different."
Two lessons from his days as a traveling performer still inform Dave’s values and goals. First, despite the infinite diversity of personal circumstance, we’re all fundamentally connected. And second, those connections flourish when we’re being real. “It was the songs in which I was vulnerable about my own experience, especially in regards to personal struggles, that had the most genuine impact on people,” he recalls.

They’re lessons he hopes to communicate with the interventions he now develops, and SoHE’s humanist environment offers an ideal base for that work: “This is a unique community that allows room to be both an academic and a well-rounded human being. My colleagues are intelligent, close knit and supportive. We have impressive faculty who make themselves generously available, and the culture is as down-to-earth as it is rigorous.”

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