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Undergraduate Program

Celebrating our Graduating Seniors!

With a record 500 students earning their Bachelors of Arts in Psychology over the course of this year there are many things -- and many people -- to celebrate.  On June 6, many of these graduating seniors, along with their proud families and friends, filled the HUB Ballrooms as we celebrated their accomplishments at the Psychology Graduation Celebration.

Alicia Mendez Sawers Polo DeCano
Alicia Mendez Sawers Polo DeCano

In an effort to make this event an even more special and person experience, a number of changes were made to this year's program.  Chief among them was the addition of keynote speeches by one of our graduating seniors and by one of our distinguished alumni.  Our first ever student speaker was Alicia Mendez Sawers.  A Psychology Honors student and McNair Scholar, Alicia also participated as a peer mentor for incoming transfer students.  This summer, Alicia heads to the East Coast to begin an MSW/Ph.D. program at Rutgers University.  Our alumni speaker, Policarpio (Polo) DeCano, earned a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology in 2002.  A repeat Husky, Polo is now poised to complete a Ph.D. in School Psychology from the UW College of Education. 

Department Chair Sheri Mizumori presided over an evening that both highlighted the tremendous accomplishments of a number of individuals and celebrated the achievements of all of our graduates.  Awarding of honor cords to our graduating Honors students and the presentation of the Guthrie Prize awards were featured.  As always, a highlight of the evening was the procession of the graduates.  Professor Jaime Diaz and Psychology Lecturer Nicole McNichols read each student's name as they crossed the stage to the cheers of the crowd.  We wish all the best to our newest alumni and look forward to keeping in touch and learning about their accomplishments yet to come!

Student Keynote Speaker: Alicia Mendez Sawers

"I think what surprised me most during my time at UW was just how many of our psychology students have beautiful, untold stories.  These stories and the students are what really inspire me to keep reaching higher."

     - Alicia Mendez Sawers

Alicia Mendez Sawers

"I never graduated from high school," recounts Alicia Mendez Sawers, "and for years that filled me with shame."  Growing up with a single mother who had to work multiple jobs to make ends meet, Alicia placed most of the focus in her teenage years on working to help provide for her and her mother who she ultimately lost several years later to cancer.

Fast forward to today and you will find what seems to be a fairytale ending to this particular story.  Alicia graduated this June with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology with Departmental Honors and is off to the East Coast to attend the MSW/Ph.D. program in Social Work at Rutgers University.  This was one of several graduate programs from which she received offers.  Alicia also has the distinction of having been the first graduating student to deliver a keynote speech at the Psychology Graduation Celebration.

In between those challenging high school years and the present is a string of hard fought for opportunities and stunning achievements.  "I marvel at her trajectory and predict that she will be making a significant difference," says Psychology Professor Yuichi Shoda, Alicia's honors advisor.  This comment encapsulates Alicia's story and is shared by faculty, students, and staff with whom she has worked and studied since transferring to UW in the fall of 2014 from North Seattle College.  Her excitement about learning, strong intellect, commitment to the scientific process, and long-term desire to help people coping with sexual trauma are all impressive.

Equally, if not more impressive, is Alicia's sense of compassion and desire to build and strengthen community.  As a peer leader for the Psychology Transfer Academic Community class (TRAC), she was a role model for her mentor group as well as a source of support and encouragement for her fellow mentors.  "In that class I was able to provide social support and practical support as new students navigated the university system," recalls Alicia, "It really made me feel like I was making a difference in someone's life."

Alicia credits UW faculty members Yuichi Shoda, Stephanie Fryberg, as well as graduate student Laura Brady, with having made a big impact on her development as a student.  She notes that Dr. Fryberg's course, "Racism and Minority Groups," led her to the topic of her honors thesis in which she looks at first generation college students and how they cope with challenge in an academic setting.  She credits Yuichi Shoda and Laura Brady with showing her what a positive mentor-student relationship can look like.  Alicia also points to the tremendous impact of the Ronald E. McNair Program which helped her to navigate the daunting process of applying to graduate school. 

Now poised to begin the next chapter in her own story, one does indeed "marvel at her trajectory," and wonders about the other lives that this beautiful story will inspire.


Alumni Keynote Speaker: Polo DeCano

"Do it--major in psychology.  Your opportunities will be so wide open afterward.  This education prepares you to work with people, and--last I checked--they are in every job sector out there."

     - Polo DeCano on "why major in psychology?"

Polo DeCano

Policarpio (Polo) DeCano earned a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology in 2002.  A few years and a few adventures later, Polo returned to UW where he is nearing completion of a Ph.D. in School Psychology from the College of Education.  This June we were delighted to welcome him as our first alumni keynote speaker at the Psychology Graduation Celebration. 

Never one to take the typically prescribed or highly linear path, even his time as an undergraduate in the Psychology major was, shall we say, a bit outside of the box.  "My experience as an undergraduate was a bit of a blur," Polo recalls, "because I navigated through the program in a bit of an unorthodox manner."  Recalling that time, Polo credits some key Psychology faculty members with helping him to eventually become the scholar and the person he is today.  He notes that Professors Liliana Lengua, Ron Smith, and Frank Smoll, as well as then graduate student Nicki Bush Duffy and post-doctoral fellow Sean Cumming were true role models.  He also remembers advisor Carrie Perrin as having provided some degree of safe harbor in what was sometimes a turbulent ride.  "Carrie's door was always open," remembers Polo, "and I felt like I had someone who truly knew me and cared for my success even though my academic decision-making was a little erratic and unpredictable."

His own experiences as an undergraduate have, even beyond the knowledge gained, come to inform his current work and scholarship.  The School Psychology program in the UW College of Education has given him the opportunity to hone in on ways to develop and promote the delivery of education, skills, and strategies to young people to support their academic and social-emotional development.  The aim is to foster in young people the skills and tools needed to navigate the challenges that will inevitably arise.  While a graduate student, Polo has taught an "Introduction to Resilience" course to undergraduates as well as a "Team and Athlete Wellness" class to aspiring collegiate coaches.

Polo's initial interest in psychology centered around how biological, cognitive, and experiential aspects of an individual's life shape their experience and who they are as a person.  For Polo, there was definitely a big emphasis on the experiential.  In particular, he credits his work as an undergraduate research assistant as having been especially important in his development.  "I learned interpersonal and professional skills and was exposed to research," says Polo, "and, collectively, these elements provided me with lasting and meaningful experiences that prepared me for graduate work and consultation with others."

Learning by doing--sometimes failing and sometimes succeeding--with an emphasis on how one experiences and grows from both the successes and the failures is really the hallmark of Polo's approach to life, work, and what he brings to others.

Undergraduate Accomplishments

The Psychology Department is proud of the accomplishments of our undergraduate students.  Check out some of the highlights from this year:

On May 20, most of our Psychology Honors students as well as a large number of their colleagues -- 68 psychology majors in all -- participated in the campus wide Undergraduate Research Symposium.

Congratulations to the 16 Psychology majors who were named Mary Gates Research Scholars.  They are:  Roya Baharloo, Megan Benzing, Riley Dever, Martina Fruhbauerova, Chanxu (Stella) Hao, Johnathan Hill, Michelle Hong, Chonghui (Gabriella) Ji, Natalie Koh, Qimin Liu, Rachel Macor, Haley Mendoza, Angie Tamayo Montero, Marissa Pighin, Nicole Riley, and Jennifer (Jen) Wahleithner.

This past fall, we awarded two Psychology Honors Research Development Awards.  Our awardees, (listed with their faculty sponsors), are Zane Doyle (Jaime Olavarria), and Martina Fruhbauerova (Lori Zoellner and doctoral student Libby Marks).  More information about Zane and Martina's work was included in our Winter newsletter.

Members of the 2016 Psychology Honors cohort showcased the results of their research at the Psychology Honors Poster Session on May 31.  The poster session, along with the completion of a senior thesis, marks the culmination of a two-year intensive research program.  Congratulations to our honors students on this impressive accomplishment:  Megan Benzing, Anna Diss, Zane Doyle, Martina Fruhbauerova, Chenxu (Stella) Hao, Logan Kaplan, James Kelley, Reina Kluender, Natalie Koh, Dmitry Levin, Xuanlin Li, Qimin Liu, Yao Lu, Rachel Macor, Marissa Pighin, Yingxue Rao, Taylor Renno, Alicia Sawers, Joseph Wiesner, and Adinah Wyle.  Job well done!  To learn more about these students and their areas of research take a look at the poster session program.

The 2016 Guthrie Prize was awarded to Anna Diss, Hohjin Im, and Natalie Koh.  Named for the late psychology professor Edwin R. Guthrie, the prize was established to encourage excellent writing about psychology that is both broad in scope and accessible to the non-specialist.  Natalie Koh won in the Best Empirical Paper category.  Her paper, "Multimodal MRI Measures as Predictors of Cognitive Impairment," was sponsored by Thomas Grabowski, Ph.D. (Radiology and Neurology).  Anna Diss and Hohjin Im tied in the Best Conceptual/Literature Review/Research Proposal category.  Anna's paper, "Exploration of the Broader Autism Phenotype in Families with Autism-Related Genetic Events," was sponsored by Jennifer Gerdts, Ph.D. (Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences), and Hohjin's paper, "Brightness and Brown Induction with a Checkerboard White's Illusion," was sponsored by Psychology Professor Steve Buck, Ph.D.

Yingxue Rao

Each spring, the College of Arts and Sciences awards the Dean's Medal to a top student in each academic division.  Yingxue Rao was the Psychology Department's nominee for the Dean's Medal in the Natural Sciences Division.  Yingxue will graduate Magna Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Science in Psychology and a Bachelor of Arts in Early Childhood and Family Studies.  Yingxue completed her psychology honors work under the direction of Professor Jeansok Kim. This coming fall, Yingxue will begin the doctoral program in Psychology here at UW, working with Professor and Department Chair Sheri Mizumori.

Reina Kluender

Reina Kluender was nominated by the Psychology Department and selected by the College of Arts and Sciences to represent the College at Commencement as a gonfalonier.  The gonfaloniere (as they are called collectively), are outstanding graduating seniors who represent their colleges by carrying large banners -- gonfalons -- into the Commencement Ceremony.  Reina is a Psychology Honors and McNair Scholar, completing a Bachelor of Science in Psychology and a minor in Diversity Studies.  She completed her honors work under the direction of Professor Jaime Diaz and plans to pursue graduate studies in the area of cognitive neuroscience.

Congratulations to the four Psychology majors and one Psychology alumnus who were selected to be part of the first Husky 100 cohort.  The undergraduate students are Brandon Hadi, Anna Maher, Melanie Wade, and Natalie Yocum.  Our Psychology alumnus, now a Ph.D. student in School Psychology, is Polo DeCano.

The following students were invited to join Phi Beta Kappa this year:  Homer Aalfs, Grace Cha, Tiffany Chiang, Kaitlin Galvagno, Mallory Halbert, Maya Head-Corliss, Michelle Hong, Alexander Hopkins, Chi Huang, Raymond Lee, Jenna Levy, Roslyn Stapleton, John Stimson, Amy Tang, Claudia Valenzuela-Flores, Annika Veis, Alexander Vrhel, Yiyang Xu, and Qingqing Yin.