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Real-World Applications

Professor Cindy Edwards and students holding a MEALs session

Abby Hope, ’19, thought she had it all figured out when she entered Meredith College. She’d major in history. She’d pursue a teaching license. She’d become a history teacher.

That career path, however, went in an unexpected direction after signing up during her second semester for a class in Meredith’s Psychology and Social Work Department.

At first, the clinical experience offered through the Introductory Autism Practicum simply seemed as though it would be enlightening for a future teacher. During the course, Hope worked directly with a preschool child with autism through the Meredith Autism Program. In reality, the course changed everything.

Soon after, Hope, now a junior, added a psychology major to her college work. Even before graduation, she expects to be eligible for job opportunities when she completes the national exam to become a registered behavior technician. Meredith psychology majors boast a 100 percent pass rate on the exam.

“Undergraduate students getting to work in a clinical setting is something you don’t get anywhere else,” Hope said. “It’s so incredible that Meredith has allowed me to participate in that. … I am so thankful because I have really found what I love to do.”

A psychology major? 

Psychology has long been a strong major at Meredith. Today, it’s among the most popular. In the past five years, the total number of psychology majors has grown by nearly 50 percent – from 89 in fall 2012 to 131 in fall 2017.

Yet, as a major area of study, psychology still suffers from the dated perception among some that there are few job prospects that result from earning an undergraduate degree. Meredith’s program – and the students who graduate from it – prove otherwise.

Many psychology majors have no plans to one day hang up a shingle as a psychologist or therapist. But with coursework, internships, and independent research offered through the department, students are preparing themselves for growing and lucrative careers in professions where a thorough knowledge of psychology is essential.

“A lot of students come to us because they are initially interested in that clinical side, but that is really only one aspect of what psychology does,” said Cynthia Edwards, professor of psychology and head of Meredith’s Department of Psychology and Social Work.

Regardless of their career plans, Edwards said psychology majors come away with high-level skills that include critical thinking, problem solving, oral and written communication, and organization – skills that will prove useful in whatever they do.

“I spend a lot of time telling students that you may be doing something that you don’t even know exists right now, that may not even exist right now, but you are developing the skills to do it,” Edwards said.

Real-world applications

These days, the first floor of Ledford Hall is bustling with students who are meeting with professors and collaborating with others on projects and research. There, students find opportunities to work one-on-one with professors and also apply the lessons they learn in the classroom to real life.

“A major focus for us and what we have been strengthening in the last few years is that real-world application,” Edwards said. “The ability to organize and evaluate information from a variety of sources, to appreciate diversity and individual differences and to really understand how to take a research-based approach to problem solving and apply that in the real world.”

In the 2015-16 school year, the department scrapped its two-decades-old psychology exit exam and replaced it with the Applied Culminating Experience (ACE). Students now can choose from a menu of options that include taking part in an advanced internship; conducting their own independent research; or completing coursework in the Meredith Autism Program.

They can still take the exit exam to fulfill the ACE requirement, but the numbers show that they are more eager to work outside the walls of the classroom.

In fall 2017, 19 students were conducting independent research. Another 15 were participating in internships. More than 40 were involved in the autism program. By comparison, when Edwards arrived at Meredith in 1991, internships were rare and only a couple of students were involved in independent research.

Supporting the next generation of women

For those seeking an internship, Meredith’s deep and well-established connections with area employers lead to a range of internship opportunities. Students who complete the advanced internship to satisfy the ACE also attend a seminar and complete a final project about their experience.

Pediatric Possibilities, a private pediatric occupational therapy practice in Raleigh, often has an intern from Meredith. The clinic mostly serves children with sensory processing challenges. Interns are able to observe sessions and sometimes play a supporting role as an occupational therapist works with a child.

Occupational therapy (OT) is becoming an increasingly popular field for Meredith psychology majors. With a median pay of $82,000 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the field is expected to grow by more than 20 percent in the next decade to serve a population that’s aging and more often diagnosed with special needs.

But Dawn Rohlik, owner, clinic director, and therapist, said her goal isn’t only to prepare students interested in the field. It’s also to demonstrate a workplace where young women are respected and supported.

“It’s really important to support the next generation of women in the OT field and just in the world in general,” Rohlik said. “Meredith sends over strong students, strong women, and I personally love meeting them and being part of their lives.”

Kendyl Cole, a 2015 Meredith graduate, interned at Pediatric Possibilities several years ago. Cole, who majored in both psychology and Spanish, worked for two years after graduation as a research assistant at the Duke Center for Autism and Brain Development. Today, she’s pursuing a master’s degree in occupational therapy from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Cole’s internship experiences during her time at Meredith, combined with her research work, were formative. “Those two experiences really confirmed to me that OT was where I wanted to be,” she said.

Student in lab conducting experiments with science equipmentsOpportunities to ‘dig in’

Psychology students also engage in undergraduate research in a variety of projects, including the long-running Meredith Emerging Adulthood Longitudinal Study (MEALS). The study explores emerging adults, ages 18 to 25, and how they make the transition to adulthood.

“This is a very risky, very stressed out age group,” said Edwards, who focused her 2017 Faculty Distinguished Lecture on results from the study that she leads. “MEALS looks at the factors that mediate that stress.” (For more on the lecture see page 3.)

During summer 2017, students in the MEALS lab also worked with Governor’s School East, a program for high achieving high school students in North Carolina that’s held at Meredith. The group collected data on the teens’ summer experiences.

But students also can conduct their own related research in the lab. “We really give students an opportunity to dig into what interests them,” Edwards said.

In her MEALS research, Alyson “Aly” Mann, who graduated in 2017 with a major in psychology and a minor in Spanish, studied how relationships can impact college students’ resilience. In November 2017, her MEALS thesis was published in the journal Explorations, which highlights undergraduate research.

“As an undergraduate, you don’t get many opportunities to take this level of ownership for your academic pursuits,” said Mann, who is now pursuing a Master of Arts in Teaching at Meredith.

Making a difference

Through the Meredith Autism Program, psychology majors have the unique opportunity to gain clinical experience, something students typically must wait until graduate school to experience. The early intervention program serves young children no older than age 7.

By taking a series of courses, Meredith students can work directly with young children with autism, applying techniques learned in the classroom and eventually analyzing the results of their work. The courses also prepare them to take the national exam to become registered behavior technicians, which many parlay into jobs during and after college.

“There’s a lot of marketability for that,” said Kathryn Dove, the program’s director.

In her work in the program, Hope said that her psychology major gives her insights behind her clients’ behaviors. What’s more, she thrives on the connections she’s making with the children.

“You really get to interact one on one with a client,” said Hope, who plans to pursue a graduate degree in clinical psychology and become a board certified behavior analyst. “The relationship there is so special and valuable.”

Learning in Raleigh and beyond

Beyond the department’s required course of study, psychology students have other ways to build on their skills and learn about career options.

With a grant (funded by the AARP) from the Council of Independent Colleges, psychology majors, along with majors in exercise and sports science, are meeting with local seniors to assess their homes for safety risks. Students share exercise routines and find ways to ensure they follow through on any recommendations, said Gwynn Morris, an associate professor of psychology. Students receive a stipend for their work.

Morris will also take students to Italy this summer as part of a child psychology course. There, students will observe Italian children and travel to Reggio Emilia, a town well-known for its student-centered educational philosophy.

“It broadens their perspective and their cultural understanding,” said Morris, who also traveled to Italy with students in 2016.

Life-changing education

At Meredith, Lisa Hahne Duke, who graduated in 2004 with a psychology major, spent summers helping Edwards with her work. After graduation, she went directly into the workforce, launching a successful career with contract research organizations.

The experience in Meredith’s psychology department was life-changing, Duke said. There, she learned the organizational skills to run a research project, the public speaking skills to present results, and the confidence to enter new situations. More importantly, she learned about herself.

“I fell in love with the material and really felt driven to learn more about myself and how I could be a better person,” Duke said. “… I often talk with my husband about how we’re able to have a perspective on work that allows us to manage and be more successful. And I think it all stems from what I learned about myself in those years at Meredith.”

Find a playlist of psychology videos at youtube.com/meredithcollege.

Melyssa Allen

News Director
316 Johnson Hall
(919) 760-8087
Fax: (919) 760-8330

allenme@meredith.edu