Professor of Psychology Cynthia Edwards presented “Mix Your Own Palette: The Power of Friendships to Color Your Future,” as Meredith College’s 2017-18 Faculty Distinguished Lecture, on October 10 in Jones Auditorium.
The 56th edition of the distinguished lecture series focused on Edwards’ career-long research into the ways in which friendship, mentorship, and family strengthen and enable women to find opportunities within significant life changes.
“By the end of this evening, I want you to know how the choices you make, and the relationships you choose, can help you be your strongest self,” she said.
Edwards began her lecture by acknowledging the friends, mentors, students, and family members who supported her in her own significant life transitions. She emphasized her gratitude for the student researchers “who have energized [her] lab over the past 30 years,” and the student participants from the classes of 2006 and 2017, who have been the primary source of data in her research program, the Meredith Emerging Adulthood Longitudinal Study (MEALS). MEALS is aimed at understanding the role of family and peer support in mediating stressors associated with adolescent and early adult life transitions.
To explain the different concentrations of the MEALS studies, Edwards used videos of current and former Meredith students, Lara Pantlin, ’14, Colleen McKeel, ’17, Alyson Mann, ’17, Dani Estes, ’18, and Amanda Oakes-Foalima, ’18.
“The way that we designed MEALS was to allow smaller projects to branch off and to have many waves so that equally large projects could branch off,” Pantlin said. “That way people who wanted to try research could get [a chance].”
To demonstrate the findings of her research, Edwards discussed the materials a young artist, or emerging adult, would need in order to paint a colorful future: a chosen family for a canvas, a mentor as a guiding paintbrush, and a colorful palette of friendship.
Citing the latest research, Edwards highlighted the positive effects the three relationships have on stress, resilience, and career satisfaction. “It is these supportive relationships that help you put challenges into context as opportunities for growth, rather than defeat,” she said.
Although her research was primarily focused on women undertaking emerging adulthood, Edwards stressed that her findings were applicable and significant for anyone at any life stage.
Edwards provided her audience with practical and research-based advice for developing supporting relationships. “Find a class, club, or activity that draws people who care about the things you care about, put yourself there on a repeated basis, and walk in the door with confidence,” she said.
Edwards ended her lecture with a call to action. “Provide support for one another,” she said. “To be really and truly the strongest version of yourself, you also have to be the chosen family, mentor-friends, and journey friends to others.”
About Cynthia Edwards
Cynthia Edwards has been a member of the Meredith College faculty since 1991 and serves as the head of the Department of Psychology and Social Work. She teaches developmental and social psychology, supervises psychology internships, and leads developmental and social research at Meredith. Edwards is also leading the development and launch of Meredith’s new graduate program in Industrial/Organizational (I/O) psychology.
Edwards has dedicated her research to studying young women as they navigate through significant life changes. She earned her Ph.D. in developmental psychology and her M.A. in psychology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She obtained her B.A. in psychology from Wake Forest University.
About the Faculty Distinguished Lecture
The Faculty Distinguished Lecture was designed to represent a significant achievement of research by a faculty member. The first lecture was presented in 1964 by Professor of English Norma Rose. Selected faculty members receive the honor for a long record of distinguished intellectual achievements or for a recent substantial scholarly achievement.
By Donna Bahena, ’18