Newsletter Article

Hunt Fellows Research Social Interactions Big and Small

J. Oliver Siy and Tom Soare have been named recipients of the fourth annual Earl (Buz) and Mary Lou Hunt Endowed Fellowships for Graduate Students in Psychology.  Both students joined our program in 2008; Oliver in Social Psychology & Personality with Dr. Sapna Cheryan and Tom in Animal Behavior with Dr. Sean O'Donnell.  Both will receive the Ph.D. by the end of 2013.  

The Hunt Fellowship was created to support the research of graduate students whose independent work and creativity moved their scholarly focus outside of their academic advisor’s research arena and/or budgetary restrictions.  Hunt Fellows receive full funding for one academic term including tuition waiver, health insurance, and a stipend, providing an opportunity for the student to fully concentrate on completing their dissertation work. This award is highly prized among Psychology graduate students and the Psychology Department is proud to steward this endowment, which was created by one our own faculty emeritus, Buz Hunt.

Photo: J. Oliver Siy

Oliver's dissertation consists of a series of studies which evaluate the interplay between diversity ideologies and one's cultural self-construct. Colorblindness is a diversity ideology that purports that people should ignore or give little attention to race or ethnicity in a situation. A multicultural approach is one that actively recognizes and celebrates alternatives in perspectives and contributions related to group-members race or ethnic differences. Among other things, Oliver’s research demonstrated that companies which espouse these different approaches to diversity may differentially appeal to potential workers dependent on the potential employees self-construct.  Study participants who were primed to consider their individuality (a perspective thought to be more prominent in American cultural contexts) indicated that they would prefer to work for a company which presented a color-blind perspective on workplace diversity more than participants primed to think about interdependence among people (a perspective thought to be more common within East Asian cultural contexts). This is only one of a series of studies through which Oliver determined that cultural factors may not only play a significant role in the development of a person’s perspective of themselves and their relationships with others in their personal lives but may also influence their decisions about where to work.  Oliver will be our Summer 2013 Hunt Fellow.  He will complete his Ph.D. that quarter and then head to Columbia Business School as a post-doctoral fellow.

Photo: Tom Soare

Tom's research also studies social aspects of interaction, but his participants are army ants! Like many ant species, the army ants are incredibly social creatures who work together to eat, live, and reproduce. However the similarities end there--army ants do not have a permanent nest site due to frequent foraging and they reproduce by splitting away from the main colony. These two necessary and major life events leave army ants exposed to the elements more than others. Deforestation is a human mediated phenomenon which adds dramatically to the survival challenge army ants face.  Tom's research has found that colony movements facilitate gene flow in army ants and that tropical deforestation presents a huge risk by inhibiting such emigrations. Thus it is important to seek ways to promote army ant survival to enable them to serve their very important role in supporting tropical forest biodiversity. Tom was the Spring 2013 Hunt Fellow and completed his degree at that time.  This summer he will drive cross-country to continue his career in his former home - Boston.

Oliver and Tom have been very prolific students in the Psychology Department. Both have served in leadership positions on major department committees, such as the Diversity Steering Committee, GPAC (Graduate Psychology Action Committee), and Admissions/Recruitment groups. They both leave with outstanding professional records including extensive teaching experience, several local and national fellowships and awards, numerous presentations at professional meetings, and multiple scholarly publications. We wish them well on their next expedition and extend our gratitude to the Hunts for their on-going support of our outstanding doctoral candidates.

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