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Faculty Spotlight

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PROFESSOR PUTS HER HEART INTO RESEARCH, TEACHING

willerErin Willer studies the ways in which people communicate, particularly during times of stress. Her research has focused on social aggression among girls and women, and more recently on women’s reproductive challenges. After five years of teaching at DU, Willer considers this past year to be the most rewarding of her academic career.

“One goal I have in the classroom is to teach students to be more empathic and compassionate relational partners and citizens. One avenue toward reaching this goal has been to engage them in service learning,” said the assistant professor in the department of communication studies.

Earlier this year, undergraduate students in her Visual Narratives of Women’s Health course worked with Colorado Pregnancy and Newborn Loss Services (CPNL), a local non-profit organization that provides support to families suffering the loss of a baby through miscarriage, stillbirth or neonatal death. The students created videos with the purpose of persuading people to contribute to a crowdfunding campaign to raise money for scrapbooking supplies for CPNL families to create memory books in honor of their lost babies. The organization has raised $3,000 with the help of the student videos.

“Service-learning projects such as this allows students to develop research skills and work with community partners to address a relational challenge,” said Willer. “However, perhaps more importantly, they allow students to bear witness to suffering, empathize with it and be moved to communicate more compassionately in their everyday lives.”

In addition to raising money for scrapbooking supplies through the service learning project, Willer and her graduate students are working in partnership with CPNL to provide scrapbooking workshops to bereaved parents through the Scraps of the Heart Project, Willer’s own labor of love.

In February 2013, Willer gave birth to twins Matilda and Milo, but Milo died when he was just three hours old. Willer also experienced two miscarriages previously. Although she had never scrapbooked before her first miscarriage, she had a strong desire to capture her memories. The scrapbook not only became what she and her husband Mark had instead of their baby, it became a way to help others understand their grief and the significance of their baby’s life.

“As you can see from the Scraps of the Heart Project, my research and teaching are very personal to me,” said Willer, who has received a DU Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning Public Good Fund grant to fund the program and help provide scrapbooking materials for the workshops.

“Although I would give anything to get to raise my son Milo, my research and teaching allow me to do meaningful work in his name,” she said. “My scholarship allows me to help and work with people like my family who face one of life’s ultimate tragedies. I get to mentor students to use not only their personal challenges, but also their research and teaching to do good in, for and with their communities. I simply can’t imagine my work being any more exciting than this.”

Willer has a PhD in Communication Studies from the University of Nebraska. She has received national and regional awards for her work, and has been published in journals including, Communication Monographs,  Communication Studies, Journal of Family Communication and Journal of Social and Personal Relationships.Willer recently published an article looking at the role that health-care providers’ compassion plays in contributing to infertility patients’ treatment, relational and psychological stressors.

Archived faculty stories (pdf format)

Diane Waldman — November 2014
Film Studies Professor and Pioneer Recreates Passion
Greg Ungar — October 2014
Theatre Professor Directs Two Plays at World’s Largest Arts Festival
Richard Lamm — September 2014

Former Governor Brings Policy to Life in the Classroom
Jared Del Rosso — August 2014

Professor Studies Torture and Politics
William Philpott — July 2014

Historian Examines Environmental Changes to Colorado High Country
Sarah Morelli June — 2014

Professor Studies and Teaches Music of Cultures from Around the World
Conor McGarrigle — May 2014
Professor Takes Art to the Streets
Elysia Davis — April 2014

Professor Studies Prenatal Environment Effects on Long-term Development
Li Li Peters — March 2014
Chinese Language Classes Help Prepare Students for Careers in Global Economy
Lisa Conant — February 2014

Political Science Professor Examines Human Rights Claims in EU Courts
Elizabeth Escobedo — January 2014

Professor's Work Puts Spotlight on Latino/a History
Gregory Robbins — December 2013
Professor Offers Religious Studies Classes With Unique Twist

Our archives go back to May 2010. If you'd like to see a story that's not listed here, please contact us.