Beale receives outstanding mentor award, students present research during conference

Beale receives outstanding mentor award, students present research during conference

Jan. 9, 2019

Dr. Karen Beale, associate professor of psychology at Maryville College, and three MC seniors recently traveled to Montreal, Canada, to attend the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality’s (SSSS) annual conference.

During the conference, which was held Nov. 8-11, Beale was recognized with the Lester A. Kirkendall Outstanding Mentor Award for providing exceptional mentorship to students. Named after the pioneer in sexuality education, the award is designed “to highlight individuals who, in the tradition of Dr. Kirkendall, are outstanding mentors.”

Beale, whose research focuses on promoting healthy relationships and sexuality, came to Maryville College in 2006, after earning a Ph.D. in developmental psychology from North Carolina State University. She is a Certified Sex Educator from the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors and Therapists (AASECT), and she is a member of the Advanced Sexuality Educators and Trainers (ASET) fellowship and the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality (SSSS). She teaches a variety of courses at Maryville College, including Intimate Relationships, Human Sexuality, Human Thought and Learning, Sexual Health Education, and First Year Seminar.

Beale’s three students – Caroline Ballinger ’18, Gabriella Chavarria ’19 and Cassidy Mahan ’19 – nominated her for the award and attended the awards presentation during the conference.

In her acceptance speech, Beale said those three Maryville College seniors are the reason she received the award.

“[Maryville College] is academically rigorous and one of the only places in the U.S. where every student completes a thesis and has comprehensive exams,” Beale said. “Most students plan to go directly into the workforce so I help them do a thesis that makes them attractive to employers. When I get a student who wants to go to graduate school, it gets fun. This year, God smiled on me – I got three: Caroline, Gabriella and Cassidy.”

“They are the three reasons,” the professor told SSSS attendees. “If you are looking for grad students next year, you need to grab these women; they are going to change the world. How could I not work hard for them?”

Praising her students and their accomplishments, Beale explained that her three students are interested in sex research and plan to attend graduate school, adding that they held fundraisers in order to attend the conference.

“Not only did they raise money for this trip, but they ran for office in Psi Chi [Maryville College’s chapter] to gain support for other students to go to conferences to present their own research,” Beale said. 

Student nominations

In her nomination letter for Beale, Ballinger wrote that Beale had once told her students about her desire to become a more effective mentor.

“I was surprised but impressed,” said Ballinger, a psychology (counseling) major from Strawberry Plains, Tenn. “On one hand, she does not seem to me to need any improvement and was already an excellent mentor. On the other hand, I really appreciate that she values the mentor-mentee relationship enough to want to learn how to strengthen it. She consistently displays this attitude of being a lifelong learner, always seeking more professional development. She also models a healthy work-life balance and shows interest in our lives outside of school. She goes above and beyond because she truly wants her students to succeed.”

Chavarria also submitted a nomination letter, citing Beale’s support for her students and her ability to instill confidence in her students. Beale has been Chavarria’s mentor for four years, and the two met when Chavarria took Beale’s human sexuality course during her freshman year.

“I knew from taking that course that Dr. Beale was a person that anyone could trust,” said Chavarria, a child development and learning major from Philadelphia, Tenn. “She made it her mission to make all of her students feel comfortable talking about sensitive and personal topics. Since then, I have had multiple courses with her in the psychology field, and she has made every one of them interesting and worthwhile. I don’t know a person on campus who knows Dr. Beale and doesn’t love her if for no other reason than her openness to students and unwavering support of whatever any of them set out to achieve.” 

A learning experience

At Beale’s urging, the students submitted their Senior Study research to the conference and were accepted. Chavarria and Mahan delivered poster presentations, and Ballinger gave an oral presentation.

The conference was Chavarria’s first academic conference, and she presented her research on adolescent dating abuse. She said the conference was a “once-in-a-lifetime experience that will benefit me for years to come.” In addition to making connections with other people who do similar work, she was able to meet professors from graduate schools she is considering.

“This conference exposed me to opinions, ideas, and research much different from my own that will shape the way I continue to interact with the individuals that I work with now and in my future career,” Chavarria said.

Ballinger gave a presentation on chronic pain coping and satisfaction in intimate relationships.

She said the conference was “energizing” and reaffirmed her decision to become a therapist.

“Attending those workshops and listening to people present their research findings, I just felt like I was in the right place,” Ballinger said. “The more established professionals there were welcoming and down to earth, and it was exciting to meet the other young professionals there who similarly are starting out their careers. I had the opportunity to learn from like-minded individuals and from those with differing perspectives, as well as to network with people with whom I would like to collaborate on future projects. I shook hands with people whose names I only had read in the media and in academic journals, some people who have been like rock stars in my mind, and they actually showed interest in hearing about my research; that was extraordinarily humbling and encouraging.”

Mahan, a psychology major from Knoxville, Tenn., presented the findings of her Senior Study, titled “Sexual Assault Shame: An Analysis of Victim Blaming and Religiosity.” She said that presenting her Senior Study helped boost her confidence in her ability to discuss her research topic and helped her connect with other professionals in the field who are interested in the same topic.

Attending the conference was “single-handedly one of the best forms of professional development that I have had in my undergraduate studies,” Mahan said, adding that she exchanged emails with other attendees to further discuss their research, and she met two professors that she is applying under for graduate school.

“This conference gave me the opportunity to learn the current research of the field in such a way that goes beyond merely reading in a scientific journal,” she said. “The latest research was presented in an environment that encouraged thoughtful reflection and that produced many conversations that stemmed from different research questions.” 

Positive feedback

Beale said her students “were just so impressed that famous researchers were talking to them,” and she heard positive feedback from conference attendees about her students’ presentations.

“I heard ‘You mean these are all undergraduates?’ and ‘There is some really good research coming out of Maryville,’” Beale said. “Someone asked, ‘Now where exactly is Maryville?’ This comment came because they were clearly impressed and couldn’t understand why they hadn’t heard about us.”

“One researcher/professor caught me in the hallway and said, ‘We want to meet your students to get them to come to our school,’” Beale said. “Since then, one of my students applied and has had an interview.”

Additionally, Beale said one student was invited to present at another conference, one was approached to do a short video blog about her research, and one was even offered a place to stay while apartment hunting if she decides to go to Rutgers University.

“It was a great experience, and I am so happy that the Faculty Development Committee and Dr. Dan Klingensmith (interim vice president and dean of the College) were willing to help find funding to support this effort through the Naylor Fund and Bolden Fund, named after two previous deans,” Beale added.


Maryville College is ideally situated in Maryville, Tenn., between the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Knoxville, the state's third largest city. Founded in 1819, it is the 12th oldest institution of higher learning in the South and maintains an affiliation with the Presbyterian Church (USA). Known for offering its students a rigorous and highly personal experience that includes an undergraduate research requirement, Maryville College is a nationally ranked institution of higher learning that successfully joins the liberal arts and professional preparation. Total enrollment for the Fall 2018 semester is 1,154.