GOOD RELATIONS: David Schramm with wife, Jamie, and daughters (left to right) Mallory, age 5; Chandler, 7; Aubrey, 3; and Hayden, 10 months.
David Schramm grew up, loving parents ensured each of their six children had more than just the food, clothing and shelter they needed to survive. His parents also made sure their kids got the time and attention they needed to thrive.
Schramm's dad, a math and science teacher in a Payson, Utah, middle school, and his mom, a homemaker, believed domestic "togetherness" was key. "We had a lot of family time," recalls Schramm, now a 31-year-old assistant professor of human development and family studies at MU. "That meant getting away from the TV, the chaos, the hustle-bustle. We didn't have a lot of money -- schoolteachers, they don't make much— but, boy, we sure did a lot of fun things together as a family."
Schramm has used this enviable childhood as a reference point for his current research, projects aimed at helping families that are struggling to achieve a similar home life. His most recent work, supported by a $1.2 million federal grant, centers on developing education programs to foster healthy relationships and marriages.
Schramm is a lean, lithe former athlete, one whose quick laugh and easy-going manner in some ways belie the intensity he brings to his work. He dates his passion for promoting healthy families back to an eye-opening Mormon mission stint he served as a teen.
Young people on Mormon missions often find themselves in difficult Third World postings. When Schramm learned he'd been assigned to Jacksonville, Fla., he couldn't believe his luck. "Nice! A two-year retreat," he thought. But sun, sand and surf were soon eclipsed by a different reality.
"It was a real wake-up call," Schramm says. "There were a lot of families that were struggling. There was a lot of poverty, a lot of single-parent families who were working hard but having a really tough time making it. There, I think, I cultivated compassion. I thought, ‘Wow, this is what I want to do for the rest of my life. I want to see what I can do to strengthen families.'"
Every unhappy family may be unhappy in its own way, but Schramm noticed most of the discontent in Jacksonville centered on broken homes. Why, he wondered, did so many marriages, and the stable households these marriages might have produced, go so terribly awry?
After his service ended, Schramm, then 21, returned to Brigham Young University where he had been enrolled prior to leaving Utah. There he began an ambitious, some might say audacious, undergraduate research project to determine the "total cost" of divorce in his home state.
"Little did I know how much time it would take, and how difficult it is to quantify something as big as divorce," Schramm says, shaking his head. But he persevered, and three years later -- as a master's degree candidate at nearby Utah State University -- he presented results. Turns out divorce costs a lot.
"The 9,735 divorces in Utah during 2001 cost the state and federal government nearly $300 million in direct and indirect costs. Extrapolation from these estimates reveals that divorce and its direct and indirect economic consequences cost the United States $33.3 billion annually," Schramm's study reported.
The study created a sensation. Soon Schramm, by now with a healthy family of his own to maintain, was fielding calls from media across the nation, testifying at legislative hearings and sharing his findings at conferences. These demands didn't stop him from plunging forward on a second ambitious study, however, this one involving close to 1,000 Utah newlyweds.
This second study, Schramm says, involved asking recently wedded couples to evaluate their "transition into marriage." He hoped couples' responses would yield, among other data, information on potential problem areas, predictors of marital satisfaction, and whether couples had found relationship education useful. The results seemed to confirm what Schramm's parents knew instinctively: couples that spent more time together got along better. It also seemed to indicate that education programs did indeed promote healthy relationships.
Schramm expanded on his Utah State research in the PhD program at Auburn University, a program he joined chiefly to work with noted marriage and relationship education expert Francesca Adler-Baeder. For the next three years, the two scholars developed relationship resources designed to head off potential problems for couples starting out on long-term relationships. It's a line of research Schramm has continued at MU where, for just over a year, he has served as both assistant professor and extension specialist.
Extension work is particularly gratifying, Schramm says, since it involves applying lessons he's learned as a researcher. The Healthy Relationship and Marriage Education Training Project he's initiating with his federal grant is a case in point. It will allow Schramm, colleagues from MU, and state social workers to develop workshops, one-on-one trainings and Internet-based healthy relationship programs. The grant will also provide training for 1,750 child welfare workers and students.
For Schramm, all this means he's moving closer to making good on that ambition his younger self developed on Jacksonville's mean streets. And he couldn't be happier about it. "I get to be a part of the latest and greatest trends in research, then translate those discoveries into work that can make a difference in the lives of families. I just love my job."