Tag Archives: Psychology

University Scholars Exploration Series – The Psychology of Superheroes

Each semester, the University Scholars enroll in small-group, discussion-based seminars. In Spring 2016, recently graduated Scholar Amy Arndt ’16 taught the seminar “Psychology of Superheroes,” using the medium of comic books as an introduction to psychology. One of her students, landscape architecture major Phillip Hammond ’17, reflects on the class’s debates and fun.

By Phillip Hammond ’17

University Scholar Phillip Hammond '17
University Scholar Phillip Hammond ’17

After a studio dinner of popcorn or the stereotypical microwave mac n’ cheese, I would have to inform my remaining studio-mates left working on projects that I will be leaving briefly to attend my Monday night class for Honors. As they lament for me, saying “Phillip, what awful class must meet after 6 P.M. on a Monday?!” I just chuckle to myself, because this was not any old Honors class. THIS was Psychology of Superheroes!

Psych of Supes, as I like to abbreviate it for my own amusement and efficiency, was a University Scholar class in which I expected to learn – hmm, I don’t know – possibly something nerdy and fun but, more importantly, distinct and engaging!! Whether psychoanalyzing the stress-induced trauma that a vigilante faces from their nightly “hobby” or receiving education on the factors and behaviors of common social disorders with identification through well-known comic book heroes, I would most certainly have to relate this class to a similar phenomenon that occurs with the recent Marvel franchise: entering in with the knowledge that it is going to be excellent, but leaving with an even greater sense of reward and intense need for another one!

As we may know, the University Scholars tend to represent a population with little to no displays of violence. However, had there been the option, I believe that gladiatorial combat would not have been out of the question for a seat in Amy Arndt’s seminar. Luckily, just barely achieving priority for the class, I was honored, elated, and ready to start the semester, expecting that we would likely be reading comics and going through each and every popular superhero, like Batman, Wonder Woman, Spiderman, or Superman, to pick their brains for intriguing psychological characteristics. While Amy made certain to perfectly incorporate all the aforementioned fun, she managed to add even more, all the while revealing to us the functions within the human brain responsible for both sociological and psychological behaviors.

Along the way, we were brought on a journey through several different studies on the human psyche, which explained in a tangible manner the importance of identity in a reality shaped by our own perception, finding or relating to realistic experiences in fiction, representation through our heroes, and how good and evil cannot be simply trained into or isolated within an individual’s mind. The theories and scientific studies sparked several intense discussions on societal issues, such as the application of justice for criminals with psychological disorders or the complications of gender, ethnic, and sexual representation in media for token appeal versus proper relatability for the audience. Needless to say, we had a plethora of superheroes and supervillains to use as examples for these discussions and all our hypothetical situations.

All in all, after creating my own superhero, identifying myself as a superhero, learning which superheroes my fellow University Scholars view me as, taking the time to enjoy a few comic books more, and critically reviewing the most recent Superman movie as an official part of the seminar, I would most certainly say that my Monday nights were excellently spent in Psych of Supes. Now, I can’t wait for the next superhero University Scholar seminar, hint hint!

 Freshmen are recruited each spring to join the University Scholars program. To learn more, please see: http://honors.tamu.edu/Honors/University-Scholars.

Three Exceptional Undergraduates Nominated for Truman Scholarship

By Macy Moore –

Three exceptional Texas A&M students have been nominated for the Harry S. Truman Scholarship, a foundation recognizing college juniors who aspire to work in public service. The scholarship provides up to $30,000 for graduate study, leadership training, and fellowship with other students. Each year, 55 to 65 applicants are chosen from a pool of approximately 600 nominated students. This year, the nominees from Texas A&M are psychology and Spanish major Joshua Fuller, civil engineering major George Gillette, and a third student who has asked to remain unidentified for the time being.*

2016 Truman Nominee Josh Fuller '17
2016 Truman Nominee Josh Fuller ’17

For Joshua Fuller ’17, the coordination of research and response efforts to large public health concerns is paramount to his career goals. Fuller believes molding research and public policy together is the way he is best equipped to serve the public. During his time at Texas A&M, he has conducted research about Alzheimer’s disease in the lab of psychology Professor Steve Balsis. Through the use of large datasets that track Alzheimer’s disease biomarkers, such as brain volume and cerebral spinal fluid, he has worked with Dr. Balsis on creating empirical models of Alzheimer’s disease pathogenesis that can be used by researchers and clinicians in the fight against the disease. Fuller also studied abroad in Quito, Ecuador where he volunteered at the Fundación TASE Alzheimer’s Center for five weeks in the summer of 2015, gaining valuable clinical experience working with dementia patients. As part of his commitment to TASE, Fuller developed and led an English class as a cognitive therapy for five patients who had some bilingual proficiency, synthesizing research about bilingualism being a protective factor against Alzheimer’s disease. Fuller intends to pursue a joint doctorate in clinical psychology and a Master of Public Health. Through his involvement as a leader in several student organizations at Texas A&M, such as the Honors Student Council and the Student Affairs Fee Advisory Board, as well as his acceptance into the Texas A&M Public Policy Internship Program (PPIP), Fuller has learned that the greatest impact he can have in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease and other public health concerns is not just in the laboratory. Rather, through the amalgamation of research and policy, Fuller plans to serve as an ambassador between the research community and lawmakers in the hope that we can globally coordinate the present and future study and response to diseases that threaten our way of life.

2016 Truman Nominee George Gillette '17
2016 Truman Nominee George Gillette ’17

George Gillette ’17 is a civil engineering student with a focus in transportation and data science. He began working in research at Texas Transportation Institute (TTI) in his freshman year under Melisa Finley to evaluate the impact of impaired driving. Since then, he has worked on a variety of projects with TTI, including determination of how distraction impacts start-up time, entropy of eye-tracking glances to evaluate driver attentiveness, and estimation of tire debris volume through image processing. His work at TTI has resulted in publications to Transportation Research Board and has earned him ATLAS Undergraduate Student of the Year Award and Trinity Undergraduate Student of the Year Award. Outside of his research, Gillette serves as the president of Engineers Serving the Community, a student organization that applies engineering skills to real-world projects to benefit the community. Additionally, he is the co-founder and under-secretary-general of Texas A&M Model United Nations. Gillette aspires to be the first secretary of transportation with a technical background in order to better move the industry forward.

Two hundred students will be selected as finalists after their applications are reviewed by the Truman Finalist Selection Committee. The finalists will then be interviewed by a series of Regional Review Panels before the 2016 Truman Scholars are announced. In the past 10 years, nine Aggies have advanced to the finalist round.

For more information, please contact Adelia Humme in LAUNCH: National Fellowships, at 845-1957 or natlfellows@tamu.edu.

Update 3-28-16: Our third nominee contacted us and asked to be unidentified for the time being. This post has been edited accordingly.

Honors Course Contract – Abnormal Psychology

Honors Course Contracts provide students who are pursuing an Honors graduation distinction the opportunity to earn Honors credit for courses that are not already being offered as Honors. The Honors Course Contract experience varies depending on the discipline, course material, and instructor. No matter what the expectation, though, students can expect an Honors Course Contract to ask for higher-level thinking and reflection.

 In the following post, senior psychology major and Undergraduate Research Scholar Julia McDonald ’17, describes her experience with an Honors Course Contract in PSYC 306 – Abnormal Psychology. McDonald is pursuing the Honors in Psychology departmental Honors distinction.

By Julia McDonald

I have always been interested in the enigma that is the human mind. The complexities of the human experience and the pervasive nature of psychopathology is what first prompted my interest in the study of psychology. However it wasn’t until college when I really began to immerse myself in the study of psychology. I am currently in the process of applying for PhD programs in clinical psychology and I aspire to have a career in academia at a university with a strong research mandate. The experiences I have gained through the psychology honors program have been instrumental in my ability to pursue graduate studies by encouraging me to not only be a consumer of knowledge but to also create new knowledge by researching within my field.

This fall I enrolled in Dr. LeUnes’s abnormal psychology (PSYC 306) honors course. As stated in the A&M catalog the course focuses on “behavior pathology; functional and organic psychoses, psychoneurosis, character disorders, psychophysiological disorders, alcohol and drug addiction and mental retardation; therapeutic and diagnostic methods.” However the greatest lessons Dr. LeUnes teaches in his class cannot be found in the textbook, they are from his own lifetime of experiences in the field of psychology. Dr. LeUnes believes in supplementing what is in the book with real world experience. For this reason for over 40 years now, Dr. LeUnes takes his PSYC 306 class on two fieldtrips: the Brenham State Supported Living Center and the Giddings State School. These fieldtrips allow the student to understand first hand what intellectual disability looks like as well as juvenile delinquency. No other abnormal psychology class at A&M offers this unique experience other than Dr. LeUnes’s class.

Julia McDonald '17 (left) with Dr. LeUnes (center) on a field trip to Brenham Supported Living Center.
Julia McDonald ’17 (left) with Dr. LeUnes (center) on a field trip to Brenham Supported Living Center.

By far the greatest thing about taking honors with Dr. LeUnes is that he is extremely flexible and will go out of his way to work with students who are interested in doing research or pursue a career in psychology. Dr. LeUnes offered to let me take the regular (non-honors) PSYC 306 section and get honors credit by completing an independent research project under his advisement. So not only did I get honors credit but also I got a chance to gain experience with research. Under Dr. LeUnes’s advisement I conducted a literature review on how the classic Little Albert experiment is reported in modern of abnormal psychology textbooks. My review examined how the Little Albert experiment is often misreported and therefore authors, teachers, and promoters of psychology should not be so quick to market this landmark study as an example of scientific validity and historical saliency until all of the inaccuracies in reporting have been addressed. My study is currently under consideration for publication in an academic journal and I will be presenting at several psychological conferences this semester.

My desire to pursue a doctoral degree in psychology is what has inspired me to take abnormal psychology at the honors level and to pursue research whenever I can. However, Dr. LeUnes’s class is not only calibrated to those wishing to seek a career in clinical psychology, but rather to anyone who is interested by the human experience. I would without reservation recommend Dr. LeUnes’s class to anyone! He definitely makes the class interesting to say the least! With all of Dr. LeUnes’s accumulated experience, there is never a concept he teaches without being accompanied by a story of personal experience. Dr. LeUnes loves to teach, he loves to inspire and he loves to help determined students reach their dreams. After taking abnormal psychology honors with him I can without a doubt say that I have learned more than I ever thought I would, been inspired by his kindness and lifetime of accomplishments, and gained research experience that has made me a competitive applicant for graduate school in clinical psychology. Dr. LeUnes is likely the best teacher and mentor that I’ve ever had! So if you have the opportunity to take honors PSYC 306, do it!

To learn more about contracting a course for Honors credit, please visit http://honors.tamu.edu/Honors/Earning-Honors-Credit.

Honors Student Council: Building Community

Honors Student Council (HSC) is charged with hosting events that unite the community of honors students at Texas A&M University. HSC also advocates for honors students’ concerns to the Honors and Undergraduate Research Advisory Committee (HURAC), the committee that shapes honors education at Texas A&M. Each semester, Honors Student Council hosts dozens of events for honors students, including socials, academic events, and special-topic panels. Recently, HSC has also found service opportunities to unite honors students. In the post below, junior Spanish and psychology double-major, and 2015-16 Honors Student Council President Joshua Fuller details the work that HSC has done over the past year.

By: Joshua Fuller ’17

In the past year, Honors Student Council has hosted dozens of events for the honors population at A&M, uniting the community through shared experiences. While the events traditionally focus in 3 key areas — socials, academic events, and special-topic panels — HSC has recently added service as another way to unite honors students. Below is a list of some example events we have put on over the past year:

Socials: HSC sees socials as a relaxed way to bring honors students together to participate in a relaxing and fun experience. HSC has hosted a “cool down” for finals event before finals May and a “warm up” for finals event in December. At the “cool down,” students watched a demonstration from the physics department where a student mad ice cream using liquid nitrogen, and then they ate the ice cream he created (as well as some pre-Blue-Bell famine ice cream). At the “warm up,” students made s’mores and drank hot cocoa while warming up around the fire in Tweener — the area between the Lechner and McFadden honors dorms. HSC also hosted 2 tailgates during football season that united honors students and their families over good old fashioned barbeque and sweet tea. Due to us being in an election year, HSC has additionally hosted “Presidential Bingo,” a fun night where we watched the debate and played bingo based off of what candidates said. In the coming semester, we hope to host a “Drunk Goggles MarioKart” event that warns about the dangers of drunk driving in a fun setting, more presidential bingo, and a bowling social at the Grand Station arcade.

Honors Student Council would not let a few clouds nor rain dampen their Aggie Spirit before the Auburn football game outside of Kyle Field in Spence Park during one of the HSC Tailgates. (November 7th, 2015)
Honors Student Council would not let a few clouds nor rain dampen their Aggie Spirit before the Auburn football game outside of Kyle Field in Spence Park during one of the HSC Tailgates. (November 7th, 2015)

Academics: HSC prides itself on uniting honors students through interdisciplinary learning opportunities. One of the most common HSC events is our “Donuts and Discussion” series. At a “Donuts and Discussion,” a distinguished undergraduate researcher, such as an Undergraduate Research Ambassador, comes and talks to students about their research while students enjoy Shipley’s donuts and juice. Topics have ranged from research about enhancing radiology techniques, to the removal of an invasive species of fish in Belize, to archeological digs in the Middle East. Speakers also tell students how to get involved with research at A&M. We will have more “Donuts and Discussions” in the spring. Additionally, we plan on hosting a practice poster session for the individuals who plan to present at Student Research Week in late March, as well as anyone interested in learning about research.

Honors Students attend a watch party for the GOP Presidential Debate held in the lobby of Henderson Hall (September 16th, 2015)
Honors Students attend a watch party for the GOP Presidential Debate held in the lobby of Henderson Hall (September 16, 2015)

Special Topics Panels: In the fall of 2014, HSC hosted a panel entitled “Women in STEM: Overcoming Sexual Discrimination Barriers to Excel in Traditionally Male-Dominated Fields.” At the panel, 6 distinguished STEM professors spoke about their experiences being a woman in STEM, a traditionally male-dominated field, and how overcoming sexual barriers was (and is) difficult for them. The faculty inspired the audience by their resilience and reminded us that we all need to do our part to end sexual discrimination.

Dr. Datta (far left) addresses a question to the Women in STEM Panel, (left to right) Dr. Welch, Dr. Geller, Dr. Amato, and Dr. Pietrantonio.
Dr. Datta (far left) addresses a question to the Women in STEM Panel, (left to right) Dr. Welch, Dr. Geller, Dr. Amato, and Dr. Pietrantonio.
Students listen to Dr. Nancy Amato, Panelist: Dr. Deborah Bell-Pedersen, Dr. Suma Datta, Dr. Sue Geller, Dr. Patricia Pietrantonio, and Dr. Jennifer Welch take part in the Women in Stem panel. (October 29, 2014)
Students listen to Dr. Nancy Amato, Dr. Deborah Bell-Pedersen, Dr. Suma Datta, Dr. Sue Geller, Dr. Patricia Pietrantonio, and Dr. Jennifer Welch take part in the Women in Stem panel. (October 29, 2014)

Following in the footsteps of “Women in STEM,” HSC hosted another panel event in the fall of 2015 about the culture of mental health among honors students. Entitled “”Breaking the Silence: Mental Health Stigma in the Honors Community,” the panel was moderated by Dr. Maggie Gartner, the director of the Texas A&M Student Counseling Services, and featured 5 honors students and an one former honors student who live with mental health issues like anxiety disorders, depression, and suicidal thoughts. The panel’s diverse background of experiences and accomplishments, ranging from receiving prestigious national fellowships to participating in specialized internships, demonstrated that you can be successful while battling a mental illness or mental distress. This challenged the misconception that mental health struggles and success are dichotomous. The panel ignited an important discussion about how we treat mental health in the honors community, as well as provided important resources like the counseling center to students. HSC will likely host another large panel in the spring, potentially initiating a series relating to mental and physical health.

2)Honor Student Council provided a student panel to discuss and bring awareness to Mental Health issues on college campuses, looking primarily at high achieving-high ability student mental health on the Texas A&M University campus. (October 30th, 2015)
Honors Student Council provided a student panel to discuss and bring awareness to Mental Health issues on college campuses, looking primarily at high achieving-high ability student mental health on the Texas A&M University campus. (October 30, 2015)

Service: Beginning in the fall of 2015, HSC has started to arrange service opportunities for honors students in the Bryan/College Station community. VP of Activities, Alyssa Salisbury, has been working with local schools to arrange tutoring opportunities for honors students that will hopefully begin this spring. VP of Academics and Special Events, Mita Coker, arranged several opportunities to volunteer with the Bryan animal shelter. We will be continuing our work with the animal shelter in the spring, including hopefully having a puppy-petting station on campus and an adoption center during parents weekend in April.

In addition to the events listed above, HSC is also responsible for advocating for honors students concerns to HURAC. Thanks to your feedback, within the past year there was a change from an honors “credits” system to an honors “points” system. Essentially, this gives more flexibility in reaching the required 30 “hours/credits” needed to get the University Honors distinction. This flexibility allows for some points to be earned from honors extracurricular activities, such as being an executive in Honors Student Council, as well as points from high-impact experiences, like study abroad and internships.

If you have any questions, ideas for events, or want to learn more about Honors Student Council, you may email us at tamuhonorsstudentcouncil@gmail.com.

Honors Student Council is able to provide enriching events and serve as advocates for Honors Students’ interests because of the generous support from the Association of Former Students. We are very grateful for their ongoing support!

It Takes a Village: Undergraduate Service Scholar Savannah Sublousky

What kind of capstone do you do as a Psychology major thinking of becoming an Occupational Therapist?   Savannah Sublousky ’15, a University Honors student and first generation Aggie from San Antonio, elected to try one of our new capstone options: the Undergraduate Service Scholars (USS) Program. The emphasis of the USS Program on community service and self-knowledge resonated with Sublousky’s personal values of love and giving, her Psychology major, and afforded her the opportunity to work closely with children to see if pediatric occupational therapy was a path she was interested in pursuing. Sublousky’s project involved developing projects with a group of preteens at the Boys and Girls club to encourage them to serve those who most need help, and hopefully to instill in them the desire to apply their knowledge in the future as leaders who give back to their community. What Sublousky created was a village of community effort that enriched the lives of many more than she expected.

Savannah Sublousky '15, with members of the Boys and Girls Club.
Savannah Sublousky ’15, with members of the Boys and Girls Club.

One way the preteens at the Boys and Girls club are learning about themselves as future leaders is by finding ways to give back to the community now. Sublousky’s conversations with the preteens as she taught them about what being homeless meant made the preteens realize that although they themselves have no one at home in the afternoons to care for them, there are people who have no place to call “home” at all, and that they could help by making “sock stuffers” of things the homeless need. As Sublousky looked for a way to obtain supplies for the preteens to create sock stuffers of personal hygiene items like ChapStick, soap, and shampoo, she realized that members of her church, Connecting Point Christian Church, might be willing to donate those items. And indeed, her church group came through with everything she and the preteens needed to make the sock stuffers.  Sublousky was then able to take the sock stuffers down to the Twin City Mission to support their efforts to help their clients. This reinforcing circle of community service from church to Boys and Girls Club to Twin City Mission, facilitated by Sublousky as a USS, has provided multiple groups with the opportunity to work together to make a difference.

And what has Sublousky herself learned from this experience thus far? Confidence in her ability to design and pull together a project that required coordination of multiple agencies, to communicate effectively with preteens, and to understand better where preteens are in their concerns and world view. She now understands better what it would be like to have an occupational therapy practice focused on children and preteens, and has found a way to channel her desire to help others and the values of her church to develop a whole cadre of community-minded people. Sublousky also says that working with the preteens has made her take a step back personally to appreciate the simple things she has and the joy of the moment as they do, rather than constantly stressing about every little thing.

What is Sublousky planning on having her preteens do next? She’s already finished the second project, where she and the preteens created Valentine’s Day cards for patients at one of our local hospitals to teach the preteens about the value of “unconventional” love that is not aimed at family or friends. Her next goal is to have the preteens make bracelets, not to keep for themselves, but to give to those they are glad to have in their lives in appreciation.

Savannah Sublousky and her students showing off the cards they have made.
Savannah Sublousky and her students showing off the cards they have made.

To learn more about the Undergraduate Service Scholars program, including contact and application information, please visit http://tx.ag/capstones

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Transferring passion from the lab to the classroom

Her enthusiasm draws students in and gets them hooked on the fascinating world of Psychology.  Students rave about how engaging and easy she is to talk to.  She takes her research knowledge and turns it into an interesting journey in the classroom.  The Honors Programs Advisory Committee has named Dr. Jyotsna Vaid the recipient of this year’s Honors Teacher-Scholar Award for advancing the frontiers of knowledge in Psychology and bringing unparalleled excitement and innovation to her classroom.

Vaid is a Professor of Psychology, an affiliated member of the Institute of Neuroscience, and Acting Director of Women’s and Gender Studies at Texas A&M University. Vaid’s current research examines how language experience affects broader cognitive and neurocognitive functioning, joke comprehension across cultures, and the impact of reading from left-to-right versus right-to-left on attentional biases. Her research has found that early onset of bilingualism is associated with more bilateral involvement of the two cerebral hemispheres in language processing as well as greater metalinguistic awareness. Vaid found these results were not as prominent in those with a late onset of bilingualism or in single language users. Her current work explores whether early experience in informal translation contributes to enhanced cognitive and linguistic flexibility. 

Vaid also captivates students in the classroom with her courses in the Bilingual Mind, Psychology of Language, Research Methods in Psychology, and Language and Gender studies.  Additionally, Vaid supervises four graduate students in her Language and Cognition lab.

Dr. Vaid will receive a $4,000 grant as part of the Teacher-Scholar Award. These funds may be used for any purpose that enhances the Teacher-Scholar’s research or teaching.  Dr. Vaid plans to use this money to present her research at the upcoming International Symposium on Bilingualism. This meeting, which is held every two years in a different part of the world, will take place in Singapore in 2013.

The Honors Programs Advisory Committee selected Dr. Vaid based on her contribution and commitment to honors education and her embodiment of the Teacher-Scholar ideal – a combination of teaching and scholarship excellence and the prospect that the Teacher-Scholar award would enhance the recipient’s teaching and research activities.

Contact: Chrystina Rago, chrysrago@honors.tamu.edu

Deceiving doctors for more than just a day home from school

Many adolescents across the nation imitate symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) to obtain medications that will help them focus on their studies.  Jessica Diaz de Tuesta decided to investigate how it is possible for so many students to fake ADHD, and whether existing tests can be used to detect such deception.  With the help of her faculty mentor in Psychology, Dr. Leslie Morey, Diaz de Tuesta designed and implemented an undergraduate research project culminating in a University Undergraduate Research Fellows thesis titled, The Personality Assessment Inventory-Adolescent: Detection of ADHD Feigning Facilitated by Coaching and Non-Coaching Instructions.  For her hard work and the outstanding quality of her research Diaz de Tuesta has been awarded the 2012 Outstanding Thesis Award for Research Fellows. 

The Research Fellows program allows Honors students who are interested in undergraduate research to create their own research project. With the guidance of a faculty mentor these students write an undergraduate thesis over the course of two semesters. The theses are then submitted to the Texas A&M University Thesis office where they are made electronically available via the Texas A&M University Libraries digital repository.

Diaz de Tuesta first became interested in a career in Psychology when she was in sixth grade.  She saw her school counselor as a guiding and accepting person and knew she wanted to follow a similar path with her life.  As an undergraduate at Texas A&M Diaz de Tuesta confirmed her passion for Psychology through her course work and research with Dr. Morey. 

In her research Diaz de Tuesta examined three different scales frequently used to measure distortion in a student’s response to questions assessing ADHD.  Her research involved two sets of students aiming to fake ADHD, one set under coached conditions and the other without, while taking the Personality Assessment Inventory- Adolescent, a test commonly used to diagnose ADHD. The results of her study showed that all three of the scales she tested, Negative Impression scale, Malingering Index, and Rogers discriminant function, were able to distinguish between actual and artificial responses on the test.

Morey, her faculty mentor, believes that the significance of a research based education is invaluable and sets Texas A&M apart from other universities.  “I think it provides an opportunity for our undergraduates to learn about and participate in studies—right now—while other students may read about these studies in textbooks some years from now,” he said of the Undergraduate Research Program.  Diaz de Tuesta will be graduating in May and will start her Master of Arts in Counseling at The University of Texas at San Antonio in the fall, with hopes to apply to get her Doctorate in School Psychology at Texas A&M University. Her future career goals include establishing a private practice specializing in helping abused and troubled children and adolescents.

Contact: Chrystina Rago, chrysrago@honors.tamu.edu