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Psychology Alumni: Making an Impact in UW Advising

Photo of
Photo: [standing, left to right] Tory Brundage, Kathy Wong, Elise Dorough, Crystal Eney, Clay Schwenn; [seated] Christian Johnson

"One of my favorite parts of the work is that almost every day you're helping to make someone's life better - even if it's just in a small way - and that feels good.  I like to call advisors professional troubleshooters."
     Crystal Eney (BS 1999), Computer Science and Engineering

This sentiment is no doubt shared by Crystal's UW colleagues - including six other psychology undergraduate alumni currently working with students across campus.  Along with Crystal, Tory Brundage, Kattie Dang, Elise Dorough, Christian Johnson, Clay Schwenn and Kathy Wong all graduated from the Psychology Department and went on to put into practice the valuable skills and insights into human behavior that they gained as psychology majors.  Across the board, these seven advising and student services professionals cite knowledge and experiences gained as undergraduates as having been critical in identifying and preparing them for their professional careers.  And, all point to communication, collaboration and creativity as centerpieces of their work.

"It wasn't until I was a few years graduated that I discovered the world of student affairs and how perfect it was for me."
     Elise deGoede Dorough (BA 2006), Computer Science and Engineering

For most of the seven, undergraduate volunteer and work experiences served as the building blocks for their current careers.  As Resident Advisors in the dorms, Summer Orientation and Freshman Interest Group leaders, campus tour guides, peer TAs, and peer advisors, the group honed communication, presentation, interpersonal and administrative skills that would help them transition into the workplace.  Both Clay Schwenn and Kathy Wong served as peer advisors in Psychology.  Kathy recalls the "genuine compassionate philosophy of helping students achieve their educational and career objectives that drove the mission of the advising office," and notes that this still resonates with her in her daily work.  Among the alumni are graduate and undergraduate advisors and an admissions counselor.  In addition to their current departments, members of the group have also worked in Economics, Biology, and Student Athlete Academic Services.

"While my professional work is about human behavior, I still have a passion for eusocial insects, as evidenced by my dramatic reading of a story about rafting behavior in fire ants from last Saturday's paper to my long-suffering wife and two small children."
     Clay Schwenn (BS 1993), Undergraduate Academic Affairs Advising

You never know what will spark that intellectual passion!  In addition to being drawn to the study of human and animal behavior, members of the group point to a variety of reasons that led them to choose a major in psychology.  Both Tory and Crystal cite an interest in the complexity of human communication, while Tory also had a more personal motivation.  "I have a younger cousin who is autistic and very dear to me," says Tory, "and the interactions I'd had with him - coupled with my general curiosity for and fascination with the way people think, behave, communicate and develop - helped me to peg psychology as my primary academic interest since high school."  Christian, Elise and Kattie identify, among other things, a strong desire to help others, while Kathy points to an analytical nature as a driving force in her choice of major.

"The rat lab class - although perhaps more hands-on than I might have liked - really forced me to understand how to apply the principles learned in class, while at the same time challenging me to adhere to high standards of writing and record keeping which are of great use today in my work."
     Christian Johnson (BA 2007), College of Engineering

Photo of Christian Johnson
Photo: Christian Johnson (BA 2007), College of Engineering

All members of the group point to memorable experiences as undergraduate psychology majors that challenged them, stretched the boundaries of what they believed they were capable of, truly inspired them, and sometimes made them laugh out loud.  This last category includes Jaime Olavarria's chicken impression, used to demonstrate the bird's lack of binocular vision.  Also of note is Michael Passer's insight and spot-on advice, highlighting the importance of meeting one-on-one with faculty, Laura Little's efforts to help motivate a struggling student, and the lightbulb moment of finding one's academic passion in Mike Beecher's Animal Behavior class.  The alumni also singled out non-classroom experiences, such as volunteering, study abroad, and research as having had tremendous impacts.  "The UW is an amazing place with so many research opportunities," notes Elise, "and there will never be another time when you will be able to so easily explore the field."

"The discipline of psychology fed my desire to analyze and observe people and situations.  I applied the theories I learned in classes in my daily life and interactions with individuals, which enabled me to learn meaningfully."
     Kathy Wong (BA 1997), The Information School

Photo of Kathy Wong
Photo: Kathy Wong (BA 1997), The Information School

Statistics and methods classes - yes, statistics and methods - received high praise from the alumni as having been foundational to their studies and to informing their professional work.  Making solid, data-driven decisions, developing and working with assessment tools, being able to back up statements, and understanding what research is and how it is created are all important components of the work of these professionals.  Clay credits the Department with teaching him to think critically about behavior and the world around him, to write well, and to be precise in his explanations.  Strong analytical skills and a foundation for understanding human behavior come to bear in the troubleshooting aspect of advising that Crystal identified.

"The best part of my job is that I get to continually be around the intelligence and excitement of students as they navigate the college choice process."
     Tory Brundage (BS 2008), Admissions

For many of the alumni, having made the transition from UW student to staff allows for a unique perspective on the institution and enhances the service they provide to current students.  Christian sees himself as a natural advocate and cheerleader for the University.  Although an infrequent visitor to advising while she was a student, Elise now urges undergraduates to view advisors as a critical part of the learning process.  "Just stopping by to talk with an advisor can open up doors you wouldn't have otherwise seen," she says.  Having experienced UW in a way that most staff have not allows Tory to help prospective students to value the fact that the University is so large and diverse.  In addition to the dual student/staff perspective, the simple fact of years spent at the same institution can make one philosophical.  "Having been at UW for 23 years now, I can see that the institution does change over time," says Clay, "and it usually keeps the good stuff and lets the crummy stuff go by the wayside."

"Find something you are passionate about and get involved!"
     Kattie Dang (BS 2009), Near Eastern Languages and Civilization

Wise words from the most recent graduate among the group.  Other words of wisdom from the alumni include urging students to find a mentor, to attend office hours and talk with faculty, to take on an internship, to get involved in research, to be honest, and - always - to ask questions.  Lots of questions.  Kathy counsels students to "do what you love, do what you're good at, and do explore!"  This group of advisors and student services professionals all lived out their student experiences as curious, interested, and active participants in their education.  They are now uniquely positioned to help current students to follow suit.  A final and revealing observation from Clay, the most veteran member of the group...

"Students who float through UW don't do much for me; I like the ones who make waves."


Katie McCorkell: An Active Mind and a Powerful Voice

"I was surprised to find that one in four college students struggles with a mental health challenge - and that two thirds of these students do not seek help."

     Katie McCorkell (BS student)

Photo of Katie McCorkell
Photo: Katie McCorkell

While this may be a fact that many find surprising, not many would then take the initiative to get involved.  Not so, Katie McCorkell.  As a UW freshman, Katie joined the campus chapter of Active Minds, a student organization committed to changing the conversation about mental health.  "We plan campus events to fight the stigma surrounding mental illness and to educate community members about symptoms and resources," explains Katie.  Now president of the organization, she feels that she has learned not only about stigma, but also about marketing, leadership and community.

As a psychology major with a minor in linguistics who is also the recipient of a Mary Gates Leadership Scholarship for her volunteer efforts, Katie might just be able to have that conversation about mental illness in any one of a number of languages.  She has studied Spanish, German, Italian, and Chinese, and hopes to live in China following graduation, hopefully landing a job in marketing.

Katie, who chose a major in psychology because she wanted to learn more about abnormal behavior, has enjoyed the resources available to students.  In particular, she urges undergraduates not to miss the annual Edwards Lecture series, presented by the Psychology Department.  Says Katie, "it is a great way to see the connections between academic work and the general public."

A performance poet who has written about her personal experiences with mental illness and recovery, Katie recently shared her work with over 600 people at the ASUW Every Body Everybody Fashion Show.  She also performed at the ACLU of Washington's 75th Anniversary Dinner.  "No matter what I do or where I go," says Katie, "I will continue to write, learn and speak openly about mental illnesses." 

Clearly, a voice well worth listening to... in any language.

Lauren Hudson: Enjoying a Busy Life

“I connect the things I learn from the psychology major to things I see in real life almost daily.”

     Lauren Hudson (BA student)

Photo of Lauren Hudson
Photo: Lauren Hudson

Lauren Hudson is busy.  She is a full time student, majoring in both psychology and anthropology, with minors in history and human rights.  She is an honors student, this year completing an independent research project under the mentorship of psychology professor Sapna Cheryan, whose lab team Lauren has been a part of for the past two years.  She also works 20 hours a week and commutes to UW.  And, according to her faculty mentor, “Lauren is THE BEST undergraduate I’ve worked with in my careers at both UW and Stanford.”

A Seattle native who grew up in nearby Mukilteo, Lauren chose psychology as one of her two majors because she is fascinated with people and with figuring out why they do what they do.  She says that when she first looked at the list of possible classes for the major almost every one interested her.  That interest has paid off, as Lauren is poised to graduate this June, Magna Cum Laude (indicating that she is in the top 3% of students in the College of Arts and Sciences).  Lauren is also the Psychology Department's nominee for this year's Dean's Medal, a prestigious honor awarded to one student in each of the College's four academic divisions.

On June 1, Lauren and 20 fellow psychology honors students presented the results of their research in a poster session.  Lauren's honors project focuses on understanding the social factors that might contribute to women's underrepresentation in the traditionally male-dominated computer science field.  She appreciates the hands-on experience and level of responsibility that she has enjoyed as a member of the lab team.  For her part, Sapna Cheryan couldn't be happier with this particular team member.  "Lauren is a stellar student and an amazing individual," says Dr. Cheryan, "not only has she shown herself to be an amazing student, but she is poised to make a real difference in psychological literature and in society more broadly."

Following graduation, Lauren plan to spend the coming year volunteering in underprivileged communities in Southeast Asia.  Her goal is to then attend law school to study international, environmental, and human rights law.  It looks like she will be sticking to that busy schedule!

Daniel Tetrick: A Man with a Plan

"It took me a while to realize how much I enjoy psychology.  In the end, people are neat and a gas to observe... so I'm in!"

     Daniel Tetrick (BS student)

Photo of Daniel Tetrick and family
Photo: Daniel Tetrick and family

Dan Tetrick is a gas to listen to.  He has an infectious kind of good energy and a great sense of humor.  Although he grew up in Forks, on the Washington coast, Dan notes that he had already graduated and enlisted in the Navy "before the young, hip, vampire crowd arrived in school."  Their loss.  Six years as a Nuclear Missile Technician on board a submarine followed before Dan arrived at UW.  His daily trek from home on the Kitsap Peninsula to campus may not take six years, but the four and a half hour round trip commute does include a Jeep, buses and a ferry.  Perhaps the sub would be quicker.

Asked if there was anything in particular related to the study of psychology that especially surprised or inspired him, Dan takes on a more serious tone.  "I have been inspired by Abraham Maslov whose writings gave me a goal early in life that I keep to this day," recalls Dan, "by (UW psychology professor) Jaime Diaz for showing me how cool smart can be, and by (UW psychology professor) Laura Little for proving how much respect can be gained through kindness."

A baseball coach for North Kitsap High School, Dan assisted the UW baseball team by developing an Excel based interactive baseball scorecard that can be used as a statistcal calculator and database for an entire team.  Dan, who characterizes this tool as "super dorky," explains that it can keep track of everything, including things that only interest him.

Dan chose to study psychology because he enjoys the creativity allowed in applying solutions to problems of the human condition.  An example of this is his current research into problem behavior harm reduction with a focus on alcohol.  This scholar/coach is a natural when it comes to community education.  "I have started work on my own drug education course that I hope to develop as I become a better researcher and educator," says Dan.  "One day, I would like to be able to deliver my message via a community education platform that is effective for all age groups, cultural backgrounds, genders, and socioeconomic classes."  He has a plan.  And, it sounds like a real gas!

Christopher Wyszynski: Open to the Possibilities

"I love to learn and with each new class comes a new paradigm with which to view the world.  I thoroughly enjoy trying to use these paradigms to explain what is happening in daily life.  For me, the process of learning is inspiring."

     Christopher Wyszynski (BS student)

Photo of Christopher Wyszynski
Photo: Christopher Wyszynski (BS student)

And, speaking of inspiration, meet Christopher Wyszynski - psychology honors student, researcher, undergraduate teaching assistant, and published author.  Christopher, who will graduate Magna Cum Laude this June with a psychology degree and a philosophy minor, has been working with psychology professor Jonathan Bricker, at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.  His independent research, under Dr. Bricker's mentorship, resulted in the recent publication of an article in the journal Health Psychology.  Christopher studies the relationship between adult smoking cessation and child/adolescent smoking.

Christopher's love of learning and openess to shifting paradigms literally took him to the other side of the world, to study at the Australian National University.  What he found surprising about this experience was the emphasis on the research happening in the United States.  "While I was expecting to learn more about research and advancements from Australian researchers," remembers Christopher, "it was fascinating to hear different perspectives on US contributions to the field."

Chief among advice that he would pass on to current psychology undergraduates is the importance of really connecting with faculty.  Christopher encourages students to seek out professors outside the context of the lecture hall, taking advantage of office hours and more in depth interactions, such as research and peer TAing.  "Some of the most insightful comments and advice about the field of psychology as a whole, the directions it is taking, playing the academic game, and how to prepare for graduate school, have come from discussions with professors," says Christopher.

Although he wishes that he had even more time to connect with and learn from his UW professors, Christopher is now poised to move on to the next step.  Following graduation, he will begin work as a Pre-Master's Research Assistant at Fred Hutchinson, working in the areas of smoking acquisition, cessation and treatments.  Christopher's long term goal is to enter a Ph.D. program in clinical psychology. 


On June 1, 21 psychology honors students presented the results of their research at the Honors Poster Session.  The posters, along with an honors thesis, represent the culmination of two years of intensive work.  Honors students initially work as a member of a faculty's lab team and then spend at least a year designing and carrying out an independent research project under the guidance of their faculty mentor. 

Photo of Lauren Hudson
Dean's Medal Nominee Lauren Hudson

Each spring, the College of Arts and Sciences awards the Dean's Medal to the top graduating senior in each academic division.  Lauren Hudson was nominated by the Psychology Department for a Dean's Medal in Natural Sciences.  Lauren is a psychology honors student, graduating Magna Cum Laude with majors in psychology and anthropology, as well as minors in history and human rights.  Read more about Lauren here

Photo of Monica Burns
Monica Burns, Gonfalonier

Graduating senior Monica Burns was selected by the Arts and Sciences Dean's Office to represent the College at Commencement as a gonfalonier.  The gonfaloniere (as they are called collectively), are outstanding graduating students who represent their colleges by carrying large banners - gonfalons - into the Commencement Ceremony.  Monica is an exceptional student - a member of the honors program and the recipient of an Arts and Sciences Undergraduate Research Award, a Mary Gates Scholarship, and an Undergraduate Research Travel Award.

Each year, the Mary Gates Endowment provides scholarships that enrich students' learning, with particular focus in the areas of research and service.  This year, the Psychology Department is proud to have eight students who were selected as Mary Gates Research or Leadership Scholars.  They are:


Monica Burns (Research)
Can 12-month-old Infants be Primed to Help?
Faculty sponsor: Jessica Sommerville
  Tom Coleman (Research)
The Role of Phasic Dopamine on Learning and Memory Function
Faculty sponsor: Sheri Mizumori
 Photo of Elliot Collins Elliot Collins (Research)
Neurobiology of Learning Language
Faculty sponsor: Lee Osterhout
  Kelsey Gordon (Leadership)
COASST High School Science Outreach
Faculty sponsor: Jane Dolliver, Aquatic & Fishery Sciences
  Lauren Hudson (Research)
Femininity Assertion and Women's Interest in Computer Science
Faculty sponsor: Sapna Cheryan
  Felix Lu (Research)
Development of the Rat Visual Cortex
Faculty sponsor: Jaime Olavarria
 Photo of Katie McCorkell Katie McCorkell (Leadership)
Active Minds at the UW: Changing the Conversation about Mental Health
Faculty sponsor: Julie Villegas, English
  Josef Turecek (Research)
Circuitry of Intrinsic Horizontal Projections in Rat Primary Visual Cortex
Faculty sponsor: Jaime Olavarria

The College of Arts and Sciences provides funds to support the research of a few exceptional undergraduates.  Departments nominate select students for Undergraduate Research Awards.  This year's recipients from the Psychology Department are Monica Burns (sponsored by Jessica Sommerville) and Rebecca Emery (sponsored by Kevin King).    

Photo of Monica Burns
Albet Han, McNair Scholar

The Ronald E. McNair program prepares undergraduates for doctoral study through involvement in research and scholarly activities.  Graduating psychology major Albert Han is a McNair Scholar.

Photo of Anna Gorn
Anna Gorn, Undergraduate Research Travel Award winner

A trio of psychology majors from Jessica Sommerville's lab were awarded Undergraduate Research Travel AwardsSarah Shin and Monica Burns will present a poster at the 2011 Biennial Meeting of the Society for Research in Child Development, in Montreal.  Anna Gorn will present a poster at the Cognitive Neuroscience Society's Annual Meeting, in San Francisco.

Congratulations to the psychology students who were invited to join Phi Beta Kappa this year.  Invitation is based upon the students' excellent academic record and interest in the liberal arts.  The students are:  Charles Casazza, Katie McCorkell, Sarah Schleimer, Shanshan Tan, Sarah Thramer, Kathleen Torello, Kalyuan Xu, Brianna Yamasaki, and Jasmine Yeh.