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Adrienne Duke-Marks

Adrienne Duke-Marks, an associate professor and Extension specialist in the College of Human Sciences, is the 2023 recipient of the Award for Excellence in Faculty Outreach. (Photo by Courtney Edwards)

What makes two similar-aged children from similar backgrounds sometimes take widely divergent paths in life? Can programs make a difference in the lives of all youth, regardless of background?

Adrienne Duke-Marks — recipient of the 2023 Award for Excellence in Faculty Outreach and associate professor and Extension specialist in the College of Human Sciences — is on a mission to address risky behavior that starts in adolescence by ensuring programming positively impacts youth, their families, schools and social environments. She tackles it from a unique angle.

“Researchers tend to study problems, but I study the solutions,” Duke-Marks said. “I want to know what can be shifted to positively impact the lives of youth and change their knowledge, behavior and attitudes.”

Royrickers Cook and Adrienne Duke-Marks

Royrickers Cook, left, Auburn University's associate provost and VP of University Outreach, presented Adrienne Duke-Marks with the 2023 Award for Excellence in Faculty Outreach at this year's Faculty Awards ceremony on Nov. 9.

Context clues in human sciences

Duke-Marks pivoted into human sciences following an undergraduate degree in English and a master’s degree in Pan-African studies. During her master’s, she worked as a program coordinator for a youth development program and an observation piqued her interest.

“I worked with children from the same school and same after-school programs and noticed the differences across their families — how they disciplined, what they accepted, what they did,” she said. “It made me curious to pursue a graduate degree, where I could study adolescents in the contexts of their development — family, community, extracurricular activities, school. That’s how I got to human development and family sciences.” 

Within her studies, she learned about positive youth development (PYD). The theoretical framework suggests that when youth are in contexts that highlight, capitalize, build and cultivate their strengths, then they are in a condition to thrive and turn away from risk behaviors. 

“In an environment, where they are engaging with prosocial activities and adults that care about them, kids are less tempted to engage in risk behaviors,” Duke-Marks said.

PYD is grounded in the “5Cs” that promote well-being in young adults: confidence, competence, caring, character and connection. Adolescents (ages 9 to 19) thrive when the 5Cs are reinforced in multiple contexts. For example, they might receive those at home and through a sports team, debate team or from friend groups and mentors. 

“Youth programming is designed to create spaces that foster and reinforce those conditions of youth well-being,” Duke-Marks said. “The programming that I create uses this theoretical framework to help build connection, care, empathy and other character traits that ultimately give adolescents the confidence to say no when confronted with the opportunity to engage in risky behavior.”

Tackling bullying

Specifically, Duke-Marks adapted the award-winning “Be SAFE” anti-bullying program and brought it to Alabama. Her adaptation included publications and resources for community audiences and the five-part series Advancing Bullying Awareness administered through the Alabama Cooperative Extension System. 

“I developed resources for parents so they could support their children whether their kid is the bully or if their kid is the victim of bullying,” she said. “We also adapted the program to questions the Extension programming staff received in the communities.”

At the helm of Be SAFE for five years, Duke-Marks facilitated and trained agents, staff and school-based personnel to promote bullying education programs affecting more than 8,000 youth since 2018. She consistently found that youth significantly increased their knowledge of how to help someone bullied.

“To end bullying, someone in the social context of where it’s happening has to stop it,” she said. “Our program helped kids become defenders and allies.”

Adrienne Duke-Marks

Adrienne Duke-Marks was honored for her commitment to addressing risky behavior in adolescents through her research and outreach initiatives. (Photo by Courtney Edwards)

Escape vapes

In addition, Duke-Marks has worked to develop a suite of anti-vaping programs with  Alabama Extension called “Escape Vapes.” The focus is debunking the perception that vaping is less harmful than traditional cigarettes. 

“Vaping is a technology, it’s not just a substance,” Duke-Marks said. “Things change rapidly with these types of devices: the way in which people can vape nicotine and THC, the availability of it. And so the research is really slow to catch up just because it’s rapidly changing.”

Duke-Marks has adapted the program to address the links between vaping and mental health and the serious lung problems now known to be caused by vaping THC.

“It’s been a constant adaptation the last five years that we’ve been working on Escape Vapes,” she said. “I’m leading, monitoring and evaluating the program because we constantly want to improve it.” 

To date, Escape Vapes has helped more than 7,000 youth and adult participants across Alabama. Duke-Marks has helped youth and their families address this critical issue through systematic outreach efforts that resulted in school and community programs, educational publications, blog posts, public forums and news.

Since the program’s implementation, 46% of youth have had a greater understanding that one pod or disposable vape pen has as much nicotine as one pack of cigarettes. The program reported that participants experienced a 30% increase in confidence levels in avoiding nicotine products. 

A more robust vaping parent program is on the horizon. Duke-Marks is committed to helping parents understand why adolescents are vaping.

“Parents and schools see it as a disciplinary problem, but vaping is an addiction problem,” she said. “Kids who continue to vape are usually struggling with addiction. The goal for this new program is to bring awareness to mental health issues that often coincide with vaping for teenagers, what to look out for, what to notice.”

What’s next

As Duke-Marks continues her research and grant writing to help fund and improve her anti-bullying and anti-vaping programming, she looks to her students and Auburn community to help combat other critical issues facing Alabama youth.

“As you are living your life and experiencing the world, pause and look around you. There are problems and solutions everywhere,” she said. “Decide where you want to make your impact in the world.”

Adrienne Duke-Marks and other faculty recipients were formally honored at the 17th annual Faculty Awards ceremony on Nov. 9. The Award for Excellence in Faculty Outreach, presented by the Office of the Provost at the annual Faculty Awards Ceremony, honors the engagement of exemplary faculty members and demonstrates the tremendous impact Outreach has on our community, state, nation and beyond.

2023 Faculty Awards: Adrienne Duke-Marks