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Helping Children Beat Anxiety Wins a Top Award

United Methodist Church Scholar/Teacher of the Year goes to SED scholar

Amie Grills has devoted her career to researching and teaching about ways to help children control their anxieties.

Amie Grills has devoted her career to researching and teaching about ways to help children control their anxieties. Photo by Cydney Scott

Some years ago, Amie Grills was driving with her then-two-year-old daughter when a mosquito bit the child. To the toddler, it might as well have been the shark from Jaws. “Within minutes, she became phobic of bugs,” Grills says.

Her clinical psychologist’s expertise kicking in, Grills pulled into a parking lot, grabbed whatever ants and harmless insects were nearby, and trickled them on her daughter’s hand to prove their innocuousness. Today, her daughter has no bug fears, she says.

Her concern for children extends beyond family; the School of Education associate professor of counseling psychology has devoted her academic career to helping kids with anxieties through her teaching and research. Those efforts have won her this year’s United Methodist Church Scholar/Teacher of the Year Award, to be presented at a ceremony today at 3 p.m. at the Agganis Arena Francis D. Burke Club Room.

Given annually at universities with a Methodist heritage, the award recognizes the recipient’s research, teaching, and “contributions to the learning arts,” which may include new curriculum development, mentoring new faculty or graduate students, diverse range of course teaching, or other achievements. A committee from the provost’s office selects the winner, who receives $2,000.

Any parent who has watched helplessly as her child struggles with schoolwork difficulties and the resulting anxiety will appreciate Grills’ research into how to help. Working with a University of Texas collaborator, she is studying how to curb anxiety in elementary school children with reading troubles.

“One of the challenges children who are struggling to learn often face,” she says, “is that academics, and school in general, can become anxiety-producing.” Preliminary results of her research suggest a promising intervention program that teaches both reading skills and stress reduction techniques, she says. She and her coresearcher will pilot the program over the next several years with Massachusetts and Texas students in a randomized trial.

Grills’ drive to help students in need spans the age spectrum. She also codeveloped an online intervention program for college students who have been sexually assaulted. The program allows survivors to address their trauma in private, with online guidance from a therapist, removing one impediment that keeps some from seeking in-person counseling.

Beyond dedication to students’ success, her teaching approach involves “integrating contemporary research and practice into readings, didactics, and discussions and a large, applied component, e.g., live demonstrations, practice sessions, mini-experiments, and media representations,” Grills says.

“I firmly believe that teaching and research are interconnected, and I am truly grateful to have been recognized for excellence in both areas.”

Since joining BU’s faculty five years ago, Grills “has worked tirelessly to turn the teaching of counseling psychology into something very real and relevant for her students,” the award citation reads. It cites a student who called Grills “so enthusiastic, knowledgeable, and ‘real,’ I can tell she’s dedicated to teaching and improving the master’s program.” Another student wrote, “Her passion was contagious throughout the semester.”

Colleagues were equally impressed in their letters nominating her for the award, with one enthusing that she “takes her role as a mentor seriously. She uses meetings with students to provide…insightful and challenging feedback, ensuring that they are well-prepared to conduct high-quality research on their own.”

Grills earned a PhD and a master’s degree in clinical psychology from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University and a bachelor’s degree from Smith.

Rich Barlow

Rich Barlow can be reached at barlowr@bu.edu.

One Comment on Helping Children Beat Anxiety Wins a Top Award

  • Stephanie H. on 04.28.2017 at 2:16 pm

    Congratulations to Professor Grills!

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