NCFR Olson Grant Announces 2022 Recipients

2022 Olson Grant recipients

SAINT PAUL, MINNESOTA — The National Council on Family Relations (NCFR) and David H. Olson, Ph.D., are proud to recognize (from left) Bethany Willis, Ph.D., CFLE; Katie Hrapczynski, Ph.D., LMFT; and Cheryl Fortner, Ph.D., as the 2022 recipients of the NCFR Olson Grant: Bridging Research, Theory, and Practice. Now in its third year, this $10,000 annual grant is available to NCFR members working to creatively contribute to the discipline of Family Science by effectively uniting research, theory, and practice in their work.

Dr. Willis and her colleagues will present findings of the intervention at the 2023 NCFR Annual Conference, to be held Nov. 8-11, 2023, in Orlando, Florida.

David H. Olson, Ph.D., the namesake of the grant, is renowned for his many contributions to Family Science as a scholar, teacher, therapist, and professional. He is an NCFR Fellow, NCFR past president, professor emeritus at the University of Minnesota, and creator of the highly respected Circumplex Model of Couples and Families, which enables researchers and practitioners to examine a couple's relationship through the couple’s flexibility, cohesion, and communication skills. Dr. Olson also established the PREPARE/ENRICH program, used around the world for premarital education and marriage counseling.

The proposed study, “A Multimethod Approach to Understanding Transitions to Adoptive Parenthood” will test the theoretical model published by Dr. Willis, that utilizes the lens of symbolic interactionism to capture the consideration and decision to adopt, the transition to adoptive parenthood, and post-adoption family adjustment over time. In doing so, the researchers hope to better understand the experiences of adults who are considering adoption as a path to parenthood, in addition to the many factors that shape their decisions regarding adoption as a means to grow their family. The goal of the project is to help academic and professional communities assess these unique and often hidden family experiences.

The selection committee praised the recipients for their unique and trail-blazing proposal, noting that it “is a relatively under-researched area and could use more dissemination to practice.” The committee went on to note that they believe the project will ultimately be successful “in journal submissions, conference presentations, and future citations.”

Learn more about the grant, eligibility criteria, and application process and requirements at


About the Recipients

Bethany Willis, Ph.D., CFLE, is an associate professor in the Department of Family Studies and Community Development at Towson University where she has worked since earning her doctorate in human development and family studies from the University of Delaware in 2013. Her work focuses broadly on non-normative family transitions including kinship and foster care, domestic and international adoption, immigration, and collaborative planning for human services, and is grounded in her use of the Trust-Based Relational Intervention of which she has been a practitioner since 2015. She was trained with the Family Adaptability and Cohesion Evaluation Scales (FACES) measure during graduate school and has used it most recently to better understand experiences of foreign-born college students’ perceptions of family and campus community. She has published multiple peer-reviewed articles in journals including Journal of Family Theory & Review, Journal of LGBT Family Studies, Journal of Contemporary Family Studies, Family Science Review, and Vulnerable Children and Youth Studies, as well as book chapters related to adoption generally, and trauma-informed systems perspectives for foster- and adoption-related human services. At NCFR, she is an active in many member groups including the Advancing Family Science, Feminism and Family Science, International, and Research and Theory Sections, and the Adoption and Qualitative Family Research Network Focus Groups. She also serves on the Theory Construction and Research Methodology Workshop Advisory Panel, as well as NCFR’s Academic Program Review Committee. She was an invited guest issue advisor for NCFR Report’s Family Focus in the 2019 winter theme, Nonnormative Transitions.

Katie Hrapczynski, Ph.D., LMFT, is an associate professor in the Department of Family Studies and Community Development at Towson University. She received her doctorate in Family Science and her master’s degree in marriage and family therapy at the University of Maryland, College Park. Dr. Hrapczynski specializes in interventions aimed at fostering individual, family, and community resilience. Her research examines the unique experiences of adoptive families and family processes that prompt adoptee and family well-being. Her scholarly activities primarily center on transracial adoption, but also focus on the transition to adoptive parenthood. She has published several peer-reviewed articles in journals such as Family Relations, Journal of Family Theory & Review, Adoption Quarterly, and Journal of Marital and Family Therapy. In addition, she has written three book chapters and presented her work at several national, international, and regional professional conferences. Dr. Hrapczynski is an active member of NCFR and its Adoption and Foster Care Focus Group. As a licensed couple and family therapist and certified PREPARE/ENRICH facilitator, she views her clinical experiences as crucially linked to her scholarly endeavors.

Cheryl Fortner, Ph.D., is professor of psychology at Winthrop University where she teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in human development and research methods and received the university’s highest teaching award. She also serves as director and P.I. of Winthrop’s Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program. Her field-specific scholarship and professional stewardship focus on adoption and foster care and child-parent attachment relationships. In addition to several peer-reviewed publications and 37 national and international conference presentations, her expert testimony was twice cited by the Supreme Court of South Carolina. She is an active NCFR member and serves as co-chair of the Adoption and Foster Care Focus Group. Dr. Fortner's grant experience includes several stints as project evaluator and authoring 11 successful federal proposals totaling $8.4 million to support students from underrepresented backgrounds and under-resourced families (U.S. Dept. of Education and NSF) and to build state peer support recovery community infrastructure (SAMHSA). She earned her doctorate in child development and family studies from Purdue University. Drs. Doug Sprenkle and Volker Thomas (co-authors with Dr. Olson) and Drs. Fred Piercy and Bob Lewis were on faculty at that time and were incorporating the Circumplex model in their work and the graduate curriculum. Dr. Fortner's training on the Circumplex model, Clinical Rating Scale (CRS), and Family Adaptability and Cohesion Evaluation Scales (FACES) began in her marriage and family therapy and family studies courses at Purdue and has informed her understanding of and work to support family systems for almost three decades.