Florida Southern's Department of Psychology brings students together to develop their academic and career potential through constructive cooperation and mentorship. Recent alumni and current students share their thoughts about the program and its influence on their future plans: top row, from left, recent FSC graduates Heath Rutledge-Jukes and Medhini Urs, and returning students Sarah Elgrini and Jack Wilkens; bottom row, from left, returning students Katelyn Shibilski, Allen Shorey, and Emily Ready.
Jul 28, 2020
Incoming freshmen in the Department of Psychology at Florida Southern College quickly learn they have entered a program that will apply coursework learning through individualized research projects and innovative collaborations among classmates and faculty members.
First-year students in psychology at FSC are able to develop a strong sense of camaraderie through the unique structure of Learning Communities, in which students team up to experience connections between classes that integrate understanding of social- and natural-world behavior.
“In our Learning Communities, students within every major take two classes with linked co-curricular projects,” says Dr. Patrick Smith, professor of psychology and department chair. “It starts them doing research, and really helps them to communicate more professionally.”
As the department prepares to welcome prospective majors from the incoming freshman class, recent graduates and returning students reflect on how FSC’s psychology program has helped guide their personal and academic growth. Despite their different areas of focus, these students epitomize how "studying human behavior" requires learning experiences both inside and outside of the classroom.
Originally from Bluford, Illinois, Heath Rutledge-Jukes graduated from Florida Southern in spring 2020 as a psychology major with minors in biology, chemistry, and neuroscience. While at FSC, Rutledge-Jukes conducted psychology research while on the pre-medical track.
“I have done research in the fields of cognition, pedagogical tools in neuroscience, and psychology and law,” Rutledge-Jukes says. He points to his experience in the psychology department as being especially influential, for allowing him to become part of a research team as soon as he arrived as a new student. He credits his psychology professors for their encouragement in the development, implementation, and methodology of student research projects.
Rutledge-Jukes has developed several manuscripts and presented two posters at the Southeastern Psychological Association in 2019. He also participated in an internship with Joint Implant Surgeons in New Albany, Ohio — established by FSC alumnus Dr. Keith Berend ’92 — where he shadowed some of the nation’s top orthopedic surgeons and contributed to a retrospective analysis that was published in the Journal of Surgical Technology.
Currently applying for medical schools around the country, Rutledge-Jukes hopes to pursue a Master of Public Health at the same time. One of his major goals is to investigate a practice known as p-hacking, the conscious or unconscious misuse of analysis techniques in clinical trials.
In July 2020, Rutledge-Jukes received the highest Medical College Admission Test score in the history of the College, putting him in the 99th percentile of all MCAT scores nationally. A fellow psychology graduate, Joe King ’19, also earned one of FSC’s top MCAT scores; Rutledge-Jukes and King are the first two graduating members of the Department of Psychology’s Pre-Professional Program.
International student Medhini Urs, who graduated in May 2020 with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a chemistry minor, will attend Stony Brook University in New York in the fall. Urs plans to work in the university’s Computational Behavior Lab while pursuing a Ph.D. in cognitive science, studying the neural and cognitive mechanisms behind the decision-making process.
As a student researcher at Florida Southern, her main area of focus was in the area of cognitive psychology, although she also conducted biological studies involving RNA viruses as well as medical research projects with Dr. Brittany Gasper, associate professor of biology. Urs says her research experience at FSC helped her stand out in the selection process for graduate studies.
“For my program, there were 20 spots available for a total of 600 applicants. Primarily due to the experiences, opportunities, and mentorship I received in the psychology department at Florida Southern, I was able to obtain a full-tuition scholarship with a stipend to attend graduate school.”
In the summer of 2019, Urs obtained a grant from the Vaughn-Jordan Foundation to conduct RNA virus research. Through a student/faculty collaboration grant with Dr. Leilani Goodmon, she also coauthored three papers published in peer-reviewed psychology journals, including the first-authorship of a paper on the relationships between memory and the decision making process.
With the mentorship of her psychology professors, Urs completed her honors thesis that investigated connections between money-related stimuli and personality as reflected in the outcomes of a behavioral game-theory model known as the prisoner’s dilemma.
She was actively involved as a member of a variety of student clubs, including the Adam Smith Club — a free-market discussion group — and the Psychology Club, in addition to honor societies Phi Eta Sigma for academic achievement as a freshman, Psi Chi for psychology, and Gamma Sigma Epsilon for chemistry. She served as a teaching assistant for three separate courses, and she won a departmental service award from the Department of Psychology.
Urs says she hopes to continue pursuing research, with a career goal of publishing scholarly articles and books as a professor, scientist, or in another research-related position.
As an incoming senior at FSC, Sarah Elgrini says the research opportunities afforded her as a psychology student have been most helpful to her.
In her words: “The ability to conduct my own research for credit — to be able to take it to conferences — has given me an idea of what it may look like when I move on to graduate school for cognitive psychology research. I mostly focus on research that has to do with memory, emotion recognition, and personality.”
Elgrini first became interested in psychology while still in high school, where she took an Advanced Placement psychology course.
“I was fascinated by the concepts of memory and how little we truly understand about the way our brains work,” she says. “I hope to one day further the field in its understanding of the biological mechanisms behind the memories we make and how we can preserve them over time, in spite of aging and mental-disorder complications.”
Elgrini was approved to present two research posters at an annual meeting of the Southeastern Psychological Association. She has been inducted into Phi Eta Sigma, the National Freshman Honor Society, as well as Psi Chi, the National Psychology Honor Society, and Kappa Mu Epsilon, the Mathematics Honor Society. She also is a member of the Society for Collegiate Leadership & Achievement.
In addition to her involvement in the psychology department as a student and through work-study, Elgrini has worked as a resident advisor in campus-owned apartments and plays the cello in the FSC Symphony Orchestra. Upon her graduation, she hopes to earn a Ph.D. to be able to teach cognitive and neurological sciences at the collegiate level.
Jack Wilkens, a rising junior with minors in neuroscience and business administration, initially was drawn to his psychology major in order to pursue a career in genetic counseling.
In the course of his classroom work in both psychology and biology, Wilkens became increasingly fascinated with psychological aspects of his studies, with a dual focus on neurological and social-psychological influences that correlate with genetic predispositions.
“As I developed some research projects in different fields of psychology, I found a strong interest in industrial/organizational (I/O) psychology, which is now where I plan on pursuing a career,” Wilkens says. The subfield applies psychological theory to the development of individuals within the corporate and nonprofit worlds. “Reading prior literature on each topic, discussing hypotheses and other expectations with other researchers and professors, and seeing the research process unfold — complete with data collection, entry, and analysis — makes it almost impossible not to be excited to see the results of the project.”
As a freshman in the psychology program, Wilkens was assigned to one of the department’s Learning Communities, in which a set of students attends introductory classes together. The shared experience of taking the same classes, which pair the social and natural aspects of psychological study, helps students bond with one another and with faculty members.
“There were also ‘Psy Pie’ nights, where the professors would buy us pizza and the Learning Communities would all meet up to discuss and work on our group projects,” Wilkens says. “This entire situation led to the psychology major feeling more like a community, and less like disconnected classes.”
Wilkens has been a lead collaborator in an array of projects, such as a study of how tactile learning blocks can enhance lexicographical identification and writing ability in preschool children. The most compelling project in which he has participated, Wilkens says, was meant to examine workplace attitudes. His efforts with research partners Allen Shorey and Colleen Gallagher were designed to determine how the contents of a professor’s office can affect the perceptions of others. This work will be further developed for publication within the next year.
Katelyn Shibilski, a rising junior who is majoring in psychology with a neuroscience minor, has a simple bit of clear-cut advice for incoming freshmen: “Get involved and stay involved.”
By getting to know the professors, new students will feel more comfortable asking for their help in developing research projects and presentations, Shibilski says. “I knew I wanted to study psychology, I knew it was for me,” she explains, “but I had no idea what I might do with it.”
Through her experience with the psychology department’s Learning Communities, Shibilski gained a better understanding of her own interests as she learned. She recalls one research project, a “red carpet” event where the participating students prepared movie reviews — in the form of posters and in-person presentations — based on the psychological aspects of their chosen film. Shibilski explored the naturally and socially based profiles of characters in the 1993 drama "What’s Eating Gilbert Grape.”
Shibilski has been a lead collaborator on several projects that explore how tactile enhancements can improve reading and writing among preschool children. This work culminated in two projects that were accepted to the 2020 Southeastern Psychological Association meeting. She also has expanded her expertise toward developing more efficient pedagogical aids for neuroscience-based content.
Already Shibilski is thinking ahead to her post-graduation plans for medical school, with the goal of working with children as a psychiatrist — a professional distinction that will allow her to diagnose medical conditions involving mental illness and to prescribe medications.
“Psychology feels limitless,” she says. “We don’t have all the answers yet. It’s a field where there’s still so much to be discovered.”
A rising junior with a double major in psychology and business administration, Allen Shorey says his goal is to pursue his master’s and Ph.D. degrees in industrial/organizational (I/O) psychology. He envisions a career where he will work with a company or in the field as a consultant, to help identify ways for businesses and their employees to be more successful.
“I’ve been able to do research in that area since I got to Florida Southern, because you can get involved in research in your first semester, if you want,” Shorey says. All psychology majors do their own research projects, or are allowed to get a psychology internship to expand their scholarship to the real world.
Shorey and Dr. Patrick Smith applied for a faculty/student collaborative research award to develop a virtual expansion of an in-person study of student perceptions of professors based on social and personal factors. The project, planned for summer 2020 but delayed because of the coronavirus pandemic, was based on research Shorey had undertaken with classmates Jack Wilkens and Colleen Gallagher.
Shorey will be serving as president of FSC’s Psychology Club during the 2020-2021 academic year. He received a service award from the psychology program in his freshman year “for participation in the department, and for being involved in the club and service projects,” he says.
The opportunity to do research was a major drawing card for him, Shorey says: “It’s a hard-working department.”
Emily Ready is looking ahead to her graduation in December 2020, studying and preparing to take her Graduate Record Examination (GRE) to be able to apply for Ph.D. programs in industrial/organizational (I/O) psychology. Based on past, present, and future projects, she is one of FSC's most active students in this subfield of psychology.
“I am specifically interested in researching diversity and inclusion in the workplace, as well as sexual harassment policy,” Ready says. She hopes to become a workplace consultant and, eventually, a college professor — having already gained experience as a highly effective mentor of students in both lower- and upper-level courses within the major.
During her past three years at Florida Southern, Ready has been involved in about 15 different research projects, to gain meaningful experiences that will help lay the groundwork for graduate school and the workplace. She has been actively involved on campus since her freshman year, taking on leadership roles in various organizations and honor societies: intramural sports, Psychology Club, Psi Chi International Honor Society of Psychology, Phi Kappa Phi, and Omicron Delta Kappa — and she serves on the board of directors for Paint Your Heart Out Lakeland, a local community-service organization.
Within the psychology program, her various honors have included the Freshman of the Year Award in 2018, the 2018-2019 Psychology Department Service Award, and both the Florida Southern Research Excellence Award and the Christopher T. Weaver Rising Student Award in 2019. She also was a 2019 recipient of a faculty/student collaborative research award.
“I can genuinely say that the success I have achieved during my undergraduate career is solely due to my commitment to the Florida Southern College psychology department and my amazing, hard-working professors,” Ready says. “This department has been my home for the past three years, and I am beyond grateful for their support for me as a student and a person. FSC Psych is my family for life.”
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