Rachel Snyder, a Psychology major in the Cook Honors College at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, is heading into her final year of undergraduate study. She is now facing a new challenge—preparing for graduate school. There is no better way to ensure that you are ready for the challenges of an intense graduate curriculum than to participate in conferences and programs that are specifically tailored to your field. Of course, another way is to participate in a Research Experience for Undergraduates, sponsored by the National Science Foundation. Having attended a major conference and being accepted to present a paper at another, Rachel is off to a summer of research at Yale.
At the Society for Research in Child Development conference in Montreal, Rachel came face to face with roughly three hundred paper symposiums, over 3,000 posters, and approximately 8,000 developmentalists who were also in attendance.
“It demonstrated to me the reason why I want to go into research,” said Rachel. “All these people had such passion for the field and wonderfully clever ways of studying various theories. I met researchers who I plan on applying to work with in graduate school, which is a huge advantage for getting into these highly competitive programs. Overall, it was one of the best experiences of my life and one that has definitely shown me that my current direction—becoming a developmental researcher of media learning during infancy—is the one I truly want to be on.”
In order to pay for attending this conference, the Cook Honors College Achievement Fund provided the means for Rachel to take advantage of this amazing opportunity. “Without the support of the Honors College’s Achievement fund,” Rachel explained, “I never would have been able to participate in an experience such as this. It may sound silly, but each time I felt intimidated or nervous about approaching a researcher at the conference (there were many ‘celebrity’ researchers there), I would think to myself, ‘Stop it! You have a purpose in being here. The HC wouldn’t have funded you if they didn’t think you could intelligibly talk to these people.’ And I think that’s another key feature of having support from the Honors College: it gives you the confidence to achieve because you have people like Dr. Goebel, Kevin, and the rest of the core faculty actively supporting you and encouraging you to succeed.”
Rachel transferred to IUP from Sarah Lawrence College in 2008 and, since then, has built herself a very successful college career. Achievements related to her chosen field include participation in an internship at the Melmark School for children with developmental disabilities, receiving the Psychology Department’s Stanley Lore Scholarship and the Board of Governors Full Tuition Scholarship, taking part in research projects at three different universities, and membership in Phi Kappa Phi, a national honors society that ranks her in the top 10 percent of her IUP class.
In addition to her many other psychology-related achievements, Rachel was also recently accepted to the Psychology Undergraduate Research conference at University of California–Los Angeles, for her honors thesis: “Infant Imitation of 2D Action Concepts on 2D and 3D Models.” Every year, this conference receives submissions from universities all across the country, but accepts just below half of all applicants.
“As of right now,” said Rachel, “my project is more theoretical, as I’ve designed the experiment, but I haven’t started testing fifteen- and eighteen-month-old infants yet. The study itself will investigate infants’ abilities to learn action concepts from a two-dimensional screen media, such as the television. I feel very honored to be included in such a program, and would not have entered my thesis if it [were] not for the support of certain faculty, especially my thesis advisor, Dr. Lisa Newell.”
This summer, Rachel is participating in an internship at Yale University, where she is employed as a summer researcher in the psychology department. The ten-week program is highly competitive, receiving over three hundred applicants for only eight spots. It is run through Research Experience for Undergraduates, which is sponsored by the National Science Foundation.
While at Yale, Rachel is working under Dr. Kristina Olson and Dr. Laurie Santos. Their research focuses on the development of social skills as investigated through evolutionary, developmental, and comparative perspectives. Rachel is working with young children and non-human primates, who will both act as participants in Dr. Olson and Dr. Santos’ experiments.
“It’s a really good opportunity,” says Rachel, “because not only are you compensated for doing something truly meaningful, you also get to see how a graduate research program is run. An experience like this ranks you nationally, which is a very important experience in several regards. I mean, for one, it’s key for a well-rounded CV, but it’s also a great way of deciding if you can realistically make research your full-time job, or even your future career.”
These accomplishments alone are enough to make Rachel a highly desirable soon-to-be graduate, but her success is not just limited to the field of psychology. Her other accomplishments include an Academic Merit Scholarship, receiving the Pennsylvania State Schools of Higher Education Women’s Leadership Award, presenting at multiple conferences, membership in Mortar Board, (a national honors society for seniors), Gamma Sigma Gamma (a national service sorority), SAGE: Students Advocating Gender Equality (which annually organizes The Vagina Monologues to fund raise for the Alice Paul House), involvement in a multitude of community service projects, and much more.
“As I’ve progressed in college,” Rachel explained, “I’ve realized that every opportunity is worth seizing, whether it’s a scholarship on campus, or a conference like this, or a random program. It helps you recognize that you have done something meaningful during your time here. I’m always applying to random things to see what happens.” She went even further to discuss what her experience in the Psychology Department at IUP has been like. “Dr. Zimny and Dr. Newell have been incredibly supportive of me and are always ready to encourage me to do something new. If I ever need to talk about something related to my research or otherwise, they are always willing to lend an ear and offer advice. These two professors have really made my experience in my department and at IUP in general exceptionally personal and very meaningful.”
This impressive list of achievements and activities certainly showcases Rachel’s accomplishments, and indicates that she is a dedicated student and well-prepared adult. She plans to further her schooling in developmental psychology, and is now considering several different Ph.D. programs for her graduate career. During her upcoming conference and her internship this summer, we know that Rachel will make the Cook Honors College and IUP proud.
by Sara Patton
Class of 2014