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Lopatto to be Honored for Excellence in Science Education

David Lopatto headshotDavid Lopatto, the Samuel R. and Marie-Louise Rosenthal professor of natural science and mathematics, professor of psychology, and inaugural director of the Center for Teaching, Learning, and Assessment, will receive the 2016 Bruce Alberts Award for Excellence in Science Education.

The American Society for Cell Biology selected Lopatto for the award for his leadership in assessing the benefits of undergraduate research experiences. The award is named after former ASCB president Bruce Alberts.

“It is significant that professional scientific organizations are recognizing work in science education,” Lopatto says. “Understanding the student experience and the best practices for science learning are essential for inspiring the next generation of scientists and science teachers.”

Central to Lopatto’s research and national impact have been several survey instruments that capture student self-reported feedback and enable analysis of the impact of experiences on student self-perceived gains in knowledge, skills, and confidence in research.

The Survey of Undergraduate Research Experiences (SURE) was developed by Lopatto in 2004 and was the first instrument available to faculty and program directors for assessing the impact of research programs. It was quickly adopted by faculty for use in diverse applications.

Since the introduction of the SURE (now in its third iteration), Lopatto has directed the development of related instruments, including measures of perceived student impacts of classroom-based Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) research; interdisciplinary STEM curricula; and research in non-STEM areas. These assessment tools are now used by over 150 institutions with more than 10,000 students annually.

Possibly the most significant impact of Lopatto’s work has been in establishing standardized faculty practice for assessment, which has laid the groundwork for development of new approaches and tools for student outcomes assessment.

Progress in the past decade has advanced assessment practice in STEM communities, and the conversation has expanded to include education researchers, cognitive scientists, and evaluation scholars, all of whom now inform practical understanding of student learning in STEM. These interactions not only advance assessment practice but also have led to new scholarship including discipline-based education research.

As noted by one of Lopatto’s nominators, Cynthia Bauerle at Howard Hughes Medical Institute, “These developments continue to motivate improvements in faculty practice initiated originally by the efforts of early researchers like Dr. Lopatto, who recognized the importance of assessment practice as a driver for improved teaching, for achieving a more ‘scientific teaching.’“

Lopatto will accept the award on Dec. 4 at the ASCB annual meeting in San Francisco.

Examining Grinnell’s Culture

Grinnell is a secular institution, but does that mean students have to leave their religion at the classroom door?

Olivia Queathem ’17 is part of an unusual group Mentored Advanced Project (MAP) in religious studies that may help answer that question. Queathem and five other student researchers are conducting focus groups this spring to gather data for the Grinnell Religious Diversity Project.

The grant-funded study is exploring issues of religion, religious culture, and religious diversity on campus. The project focuses, in part, on whether classrooms in an intentionally secular environment are affected by, or in some cases impinge upon, students’ closely held religious beliefs and experiences.

Strong Emotions

“There can be some pretty strong emotional attachments to what’s being talked about,” Queathem says, “and it’s a really difficult balance to find a classroom climate that feels open so that people can say what they’re feeling and ask honest questions.

“The professors are always looking for better ways to make sure that students feel safe in the classroom expressing their views through respectful dialogue,” Queathem adds.

Project directors Tim Dobe, associate professor of religious studies, and Caleb Elfenbein, assistant professor of religious studies and history, are helping students establish the parameters for the research. But it’s the students who are driving the process.

Honest Conversations

A key goal for the MAP participants, says Alexandra Odom ’16, is to “create a project that shows people what the realities of religion are on campus.” One of their first tasks was to formulate questions that would foster open and honest conversations in their respective focus groups.

“People are used to not talking about religion and keeping it part of their private lives,” says Odom. “We have to be very intentional about how we create a space where people feel comfortable talking about their religious beliefs and engaging with people who may or may not have similar beliefs.”

Odom says the first round of focus groups indicate that students who feel personally shaped by their religion are willing to share and wish more people on campus would ask questions about their faith.

Opportunity to Speak

“It seems like people have been waiting for this opportunity to speak,” Odom says. “Even people who don’t align themselves with a religion are willing to talk, especially if they grew up in a setting where religion was always present, even if they weren’t directly involved.”

Promoting honest dialogue will not only help define the range and depth of religious experience on campus, Odom says. It will ultimately help researchers understand religious diversity in the context of core Grinnell values like self-governance.

“Grinnell prides itself on students looking out for each other,” Odom says. “We can’t promote the health and wellness of the community if we have no idea what that community is. To identify religious populations that are present is the first step to serving those populations in a way that’s meaningful for them so they can have a great experience here, too.”

Identifying Campus Culture

Since February, the MAP students have been journaling personal impressions of their research experience on a blog. For Jaya Vallis ’16, having a place for personal introspection is helpful.

“We talked a lot about objectivity, self-reflexivity, and trying to remove our own biases when we were designing questions and talking to our interviewees,” Vallis says. “I recognized almost immediately even in just describing this project to people that I had to identify and separate out my own personality.”

Vallis says the research group also discussed techniques for talking to interviewees in order to identify what people think campus culture actually is and how religious diversity plays a part in it.

“‘Campus culture is a very vague term,” Vallis says. “Once we get an idea of what it is, we’ll be better able to identify ways to maybe implement policy changes or the creation of new spaces on campus.”

Valuable Experience

By semester’s end, the MAP students will produce a group paper that will help inform future phases of the three-year study. Among the skills gained in designing and implementing the focus group process is Institutional Review Board training necessary for ethical research involving human subjects.

“Religion touches a lot of aspects of our society, and it’s really interesting to see how it overlaps with other spheres of influence in terms of how people live their daily lives,” Queathem says.

“I know that I want to do something that helps people in a concrete way, whether that ends up being activism or nonprofit work,” Queathem says. “This is valuable experience in terms of giving me an actual research opportunity that I haven’t had before so I’ll get to see if I like it or not.” 

Olivia Queathem ’17 is a religious studies major from Grinnell. Alexandra Odom ’16 is a history major from Baltimore. Jaya Vallis ’16 is a psychology and religious studies double major from Washington, D.C.

Sharing Neuroscience Research with the World

Grinnell students, faculty, and alumni joined more than 30,000 colleagues from more than 80 countries at 2015 Society for Neuroscience (SfN) Annual Meeting.

Faculty joined the students as they presented their Mentored Advanced Projects (MAP) research at the Faculty for Undergraduate Neuroscience poster session, and met with alumni at an event sponsored by the College.

The Society for Neuroscience is the world’s largest organization of scientists and physicians devoted to understanding the brain and nervous system, and the annual meeting is billed as the premier venue for neuroscientists to present emerging science, learn from experts, forge collaborations with peers, explore new tools and technologies, and advance careers.

Students and professor in front of poster titled Effect of High-fat Diet-induced Obesity on Spatial and Declarative MemoryGrinnellians at the conference included professors Mark Levandoski (chemistry, biological chemistry, and neuroscience), Clark Lindgren (biology and neuroscience), Nancy Rempel-Clower (psychology and neuroscience), and Andrea Tracy ’99 (psychology and neuroscience).

Their MAP students included Tom Earnest '16, Mike Fitzpatrick '16, Anthony Mack '16, Takahiro Omura '17, Marissa Yetter '16, and Jacob Ziontz ’16.

At least 14 alumni also attended, ranging from the classes of ’00 to ’15.

The SfN meeting is one of many professional events where Grinnell students have had the opportunity to share their research and meet others with similar interests.

Photos courtesy of Takahiro Omura '17.

Inaugural Meeting of the Pre-Physical Therapy Society

Are you interested in learning more about a healthy, active lifestyle and about rehabilitation?

Two free public talks on the research and practice of movement science, with a specific focus on physical therapy, are part of the Inaugural Meeting of the Pre-Physical Therapy Society.

Dr. Jeffrey Kinsella-Shaw

Dr. Jeffrey Kinsella-Shaw will present "Physical Therapy: Bringing the Science of Healing and the Art of Caring Together.”

Dr. Kinsella-Shaw is associate professor in the kinesiology department and director of the Doctor of Physical Therapy Program at the University of Connecticut. 

Justin Munato

Justin Munafo will present "Research Experiences in Human Movement Science: Older Adults on Cruises" at 8 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 3 in Joe Rosenfield '25 Center, Room 101.

Justin Munafo is a doctoral student in the kinesiology department at University of Minnesota.

The presentations are appropriate both for those interested in the group and pre-physical therapy as well as anyone in the general public interested in how their body moves and how physical therapy helps.

Damian Kelty-Stephen, assistant professor of psychology and adviser of the Pre-Physical Therapy Society will provide information about the group to those who are interested.

The event is being sponsored by All-Campus Events, Wellness, Students on Health-Oriented Tracks, and Pioneer Diversity Council, among others. 

Grinnell welcomes and encourages the participation of people with disabilities. You can request accommodations from the event sponsor or Conference Operations and Events.

Old Maps, New Technology

Old maps are rich sources of historical information, but manually cataloging the information on them is time-consuming and costly.

Jerod Weinman, associate professor of computer science, and his co-researchers have plans to make them “searchable the way scanned books have become accessible to web search.”

With a National Science Foundation grant, he and Erik Learned-Miller, University of Massachusetts Amherst, have set themselves and their students a lofty goal — helping others search and analyze historical maps by automatically recognizing place names and other text, and aligning them with modern geography.

The National Science Foundation awarded the computer science professors nearly half a million dollars in a three-year grant for their project, Adaptive Integration of Textual and Geospatial Information for Mining Massive Map Collections.

Grinnell’s share will support up to 14 student researchers who’ll work with Weinman on the project.

Drawing Information From Old Maps

“Libraries and archives are digitizing historical maps for widespread online access. Without technology for searching them, large map collections relevant to a given problem or question may remain obscure even in online archives,” Weinman and Learned-Miller say. “If all of the text in a map can be read automatically by computer, a wealth of information becomes quickly available — location names, geographic features, and often statistics.”

The group is developing techniques that will — working back and forth between old maps and a world atlas — make text and geographical information available to researchers.

This information can help in a variety of ways. For example, scientists and policymakers can establish changes in land usage, waterways, or borders over time.

“Right now we’re targeting pre-digital era 19th century maps because they represent geography with reasonable accuracy while still being typeset by hand or handwritten,” Weinman says.

Why at Grinnell?

The hands-on research experience, say the professors, will “train a diverse group of graduate and undergraduate students in constructing, learning, and making predictions with adaptive models.”

Many of the Grinnell students working on the project will be doing so through Mentored Advanced Projects (MAP). Weinman’s approach to mentored projects emphasizes “not only scientific methodology, but also the philosophy of computing as a science.”

He and fellow researchers — including David Lopatto, professor of psychology and director of the Center for Teaching, Learning and Assessment, and David Jensen, director of Knowledge Discovery Laboratory at University of Massachusetts Amherst —  have shown that computer science students report more benefits from their research experiences using this method than they would with methods that are more traditional.

The researchers will share their findings through journals and conferences in the computer vision, artificial intelligence, and GIS communities.

7 Tried-and-True Study Tips

Studying is hard, especially when you’re just getting used to college classes or transitioning from introductory courses to higher-level studies. But it doesn’t have to be so hard that you feel like you’re not getting anywhere! Read on to learn tried and true techniques for mastering your classes while still having time to enjoy your life at Grinnell.

1. Ask for Help
One of the best ways to get ahead in your education is to take advantage of your professors’ office hours. Zach Liebman ’16 says, “Not only will going to office hours help you better understand the material and expectations of the class, but it also gives you an opportunity to build a relationship with your professor.”  
You can also take advantage of the many helpful resources that the Academic Advising Office has to offer, including tutoring, appointments at the Writing or Reading Lab, and tons of great worksheets and tips.
2. Test Yourself
When it comes to studying for a test or brushing up on an area you’ve struggled with, Evelyn Weidman ’17 suggests inventing your own problems for practice. “By making your own problems and examples, you do a whole other level of thinking than if you just review the examples from class and homework that you already have,” says Weidman. This process can help you to identify areas that you need to work on and will help eliminate the fear of “trick questions” many experience on test day.
3. Visualize Success
To deal with math problems that seem complicated, Karin Yndestad ’17 recommends using visual learning techniques. “Whenever possible, draw a picture. Visualizing the problem that you are working on often gives you unexpected insight on how best to solve it,” Yndestad says. She also suggests students write out and prove theorems from scratch without using notes, rather than just repeating from memory. “This forces you to really understand the methods behind the proof, and it also helps you commit important ideas to memory.”
4. Procrastination = Motivation?
Having trouble staying motivated when all you want to do is relax?  Try setting up a reward system to turn activities that you normally use to procrastinate into prizes for a job well done. After completing a reading or homework assignment, Carlina Arango ’16 rewards herself with a TV show on Netflix or a massage in the Wellness Lounge. “It helps you stay focused, and time goes by faster if you learn how to balance studying with a bit of relaxing in between,” says Arango.
5. Talk the Talk
Vocabulary flash cards not doing the trick? For increasing fluency in a language, Philipp Gemmel ’17 advocates practicing paraphrasing. “When learning a language, it is completely fine to not know something, but knowing how to say something you don’t know by describing it with something you do know helps a lot,” Gemmel says. Too shy to practice with other people? Try talking to yourself! Gemmel says this is a good way to build confidence through “perfectly pressure-free practice.”
6. Begin at the End
For students wracking their brains on how to begin a paper, Katy Tucker ’16 has a trick. “Try writing the first draft of your paper backwards. This strategy can help identify your strongest thesis and has the added benefit of motivating you to keep writing,” Tucker says. “I think it’s less overwhelming to feel as though you’re continually adding on evidence to your argument rather than constructing a perfectly organized paper from scratch.”
7. Sleep

It might surprise you that the study tip Grinnellians raved about isn’t even about studying.

“Sleep. Sleep. Sleep. Sleep. Sleep,” says Liebman.

“Sleep is more important than studying,” Isaac Mielke ’18 says.

“Get sleep. Really,” says Amanda Hinchman-Dominguez ’17.

It may seem like a good idea to take advantage of all Grinnell life has to offer by following the “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” philosophy, but if you’re tired your brain isn’t working at full capacity. Trying to function on only a few hours of sleep means it takes you longer to understand what you’re studying, finish a problem set, or write a paper. Sleep equals more efficient studying, which equals more time to enjoy life!

Zach Liebman ’16 is an economics major from Evanston, Ill. Evelyn Weidman ’17 is from Flossmoor, Ill. and is an economics major. Karin Yndestad ’17 is a mathematics major from Eagan, Minn. Carlina Arango ’16, a Spanish and anthropology double major, is from Chicago, Ill. Philipp Gemmel ’17 is a political science and biology double major from Gusenburg, Germany. Katy Tucker ’16, from Wellesley, Mass., is a psychology major. Isaac Mielke ’18 is an economics major from Falcon Heights, Minn. Amanda Hinchman-Dominguez ’17 is from Titusville, Fla. and is a computer science major.

Finance Is Cool

While growing up in Islamabad, boys were encouraged to become engineers and girls to be physicians, recalls Ahsan Rahim ’11. “Everything else was just a waste of time, according to my family.” That’s why he intended to major in physics and math at Grinnell and study engineering through a joint program at Dartmouth College before going to graduate school in engineering.

But as an excuse to live in New York City, he couldn’t resist doing a summer internship in alternative investments for TIAA-CREF through the Grinnellink internship program. The experience surprised him. “I realized I liked the unpredictability of the financial markets.” Even so, he dutifully followed through with his plan to study engineering.

Trying out engineering

While spending his junior year at Dartmouth “in the cold hills of New Hampshire,” he thought often about how much he preferred the chaos of the trading floor to the order of the instructional machine shop at the Thayer School of Engineering. The following summer in New York, he interned in market risk for securitized products with Deutsche Bank. For him, the experience confirmed that “finance is cool.” He decided to return to Grinnell with a new major: economics.

Until recently, Rahim worked as a portfolio analyst at AllianceBernstein in New York. In September 2015, he started his M.B.A. studies at University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.

Storytelling with numbers

“Finance isn’t just about numbers and getting the right answers on math problems,” Rahim says about his work. “Finance is as much about the stories as the numbers, and there are often no right answers.”    

Take the Japanese auto market, for example. Maybe you see it has a bad day. “People think, ‘Oh, a big part of the auto market is Japanese cars, so demand for cars must be falling, so any supplying car maker will suffer, even a small U.S. auto-parts maker that only supplies U.S. car makers.’ But if you understand the story — that the yen had one poor day, but it was just a one-time event — then you may decide to buy when others are selling.” Emotions and feelings create a story and influence reality; that’s what keeps him hooked.

He credits the interdisciplinary approach at Grinnell with helping him value the interrelation of information, stories, and knowledge. While math skills are a part of his decision-making, principles from sociology and psychology help him factor in the ways fear, greed, and groupthink can dominate fundamentals and logic.

Rahim leads a multidimensional life outside of work and school — a pattern established at Grinnell. “In Islamabad, nobody cared about cocurricular activities; their future was based on their exam results.” But he quickly realized there was more than academics at Grinnell. Besides working on campus 15 hours a week — washing dishes in the dining hall, grading students’ work in calculus, and working in the art gallery — Rahim also volunteered at Grinnell Community Daycare, served as vice president of Mortar Board, was president and founder of the Muslim Student Association, played club and intramural soccer, and served on various committees.

Does he second-guess his decision not to be an engineer? Not at all. If not for his experience at Dartmouth, he wouldn’t have known for sure that he didn’t want to be an engineer.

“I had to try it out first. That’s the investor in me that always wants to be diversified.”

Intrigued by Rahims mention of the engineering programs at Grinnell? You can take advantage of our formal 3-2 agreements with some of the top engineering schools in America, or, like Rahim, you can request to make arrangements with another institution.
 

Alumni Begin Year of Service

This August, a dozen Grinnell alumni began a year of service through the Lutheran Volunteer Corps (LVC), a national service-leadership program that unites people to work for peace with justice. The program is popular among Grinnellians, and Grinnellians are popular with the organization, as well. Holding more than 10% of the 104 positions, the Grinnellians represent the largest group of alumni from any college or university in this year’s cohort of volunteers.

After the week of intensive training and orientation on topics including anti-racism work, self-care and intercultural communication, the volunteers dispersed to 13 U.S. cities, each person committed to serve full-time for one year with a particular social justice organization, while practicing simple, sustainable living in household communities of four to seven people.

The Grinnell alumni are serving in a variety of positions — including case managers, program assistants, and academic associates — and in everything from marketing and communications to farm and gardens to academics. They will serve in six cities this year:

Chicago, Ill.
Hannah Bernard ’15, Chicago Community Loan Fund
Elaine Fang ’15, Lakeview Pantry
Eleni Irrera ’14, Free Spirit Media
Katherine Quinn ’15, Lincoln Park Community Shelter
Milwaukee, Wis.
Ankita Sarawagi ’15, Bread of Healing Clinic
Seattle, Wash.
Rebecca Carpenter ’15, Jewish Family Service
Tacoma, Wash.
Fatima Cervantes ’15, L’Arche Tahoma Hope
Brittany Hubler ’15, L’Arche Tahoma Hope
Twin Cities, Minn.
Jordan Schellinger ’15, Twin Cities’ Habitat for Humanity
Alex Sharfman ’15, Our Saviour's Community Services
Washington, D.C.
Georgina Haro ’15, La Clinica del Pueblo
Alexa Stevens ’15, Thurgood Marshall Academy

The LVC says they are “proud of the continued partnership with Grinnell College and congratulates these 12 Grinnellians as they begin their year of service!”

LVC, affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, is open to persons from all spiritual traditions and welcomes people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered in all aspects of the organization. It supports volunteers as they explore the spiritual aspects of justice, community, and sustainability.

The Grinnell alumni earned degrees in a wide variety of areas: anthropology, art, biological chemistry, economics, French, psychology, philosophy, political science, Russian, sociology, and Spanish.

Best Practices for Diversity, Inclusion in Sciences

Grinnell College will host a national conference June 19-20 that seeks innovative ways to train faculty and to develop creative approaches that foster diversity and inclusion in the sciences.

The conference includes four free, public keynote talks in Noyce Science Center, Room 2022:

Friday, June 19
9-10 a.m.

Denise Sekaquaptewa, professor of psychology at the University of Michigan

Social Psychological Research on Factors Shaping the Climate for Diversity in STEM
2-3 p.m.

Nilanjana Dasgupta, professor of psychology at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst

Thriving Despite Negative Stereotypes: How Own-Group Experts and Peers Act as Social Vaccines to Protect Against Implicit Bias
Saturday, June 20
8:30-9:30 a.m.

Becky Wai-Ling Packard, professor of psychology and director of the Weissman Center for Leadership at Mount Holyoke College

From Microaggressions to Microaffirmations: Framing Constructive Feedback to Students
2-3 p.m.

Sian Beilock, professor of psychology at the University of Chicago

Anxiety, Attitudes and Motivation: Helping Students Perform their Best under Stress

About the Conference

Grinnell College will welcome faculty and staff members involved in teaching and learning at the 15 member institutions of the Liberal Arts College Association for Faculty Inclusion (LACAFI). These schools share similar challenges in addressing diversity concerns yet have similar goals in these areas and similar resources for meeting them.

“The goal of our conference is to empower educators to initiate diversity and inclusion efforts on their campuses," said Mark Levandoski, co-chair of LACAFI and professor of chemistry.

The conference also will include sessions on stereotype threat and implicit bias as well as successes and failures. Small-group discussions will enable different colleges to share best practices. In addition, institutional teams will work to develop their diversity and inclusion action plans.

Accessibility Accommodations

Grinnell welcomes and encourages the participation of people with disabilities. Accommodation requests may be made to conference operations.