Tag: psychology

Becker returns to Lawrence to teach psychology and neuroscience

Elizabeth Becker ’04

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

The newest member of Lawrence University’s Psychology Department faculty is plenty familiar with what makes this place special.

Elizabeth Becker ’04 earned a double degree in psychology and music performance here before going on to earn a Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

“The lessons learned and relationships with faculty forged at Lawrence have been a guiding light in my own career as I sought to become the type of teacher that would make LU proud,” Becker said. “It is a true honor to be welcomed home and be part of the Lawrence community.”

Becker steps in as an associate professor of psychology and neuroscience, beginning with Monday’s launch of Fall Term.

She is one of two new faculty members, joining Miriam Rodriguez-Guerra, who begins work as an assistant professor of Spanish.

Becker had been teaching at Saint Joseph’s University in Pennsylvania, where she served as director of the Behavioral Neuroscience Program and was the faculty affiliate to the Kinney Center for Autism Education and Support. As a faculty member of the Psychology Department, she mentored both graduate and undergraduate researchers.

“I’m very excited to bring my program of research here to Lawrence to work with our incredibly talented undergraduate students,” Becker said. “I am dedicated to providing laboratory and professional development opportunities to prepare our students for graduate study.”

It was 20 years ago that Becker landed on the Lawrence campus as a first-year student. She said a matriculation convocation address delivered by then-President Richard Warch ignited a spark, a drive to learn and excel, that continues to this day.

“Starting the term I feel the same sense of excitement and nervousness I felt then,” Becker said. “Back in 2000, when I heard President Warch’s convocation address, that nervousness I felt was replaced with passion, admiration, and inspiration. I knew I was home. Indeed, my time at Lawrence was transformative and personally defining as I was pushed and challenged to be and live greater.” 

The Warch address touched on the importance of community, something that resonates even deeper this year as Fall Term begins amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Becker said.

“Not all institutions of higher learning will address this challenge well, but I can guarantee we will,” she said. “In my preparation for fall, which will be online, I have worked hard to ensure a high level of engagement with the material as well as with each other — including social distance walks — because I espouse the philosophy of President Warch, that ‘liberal education is best conducted as a personal experience.’ I am so happy to be home.”

Provost and Dean of Faculty Catherine G. Kodat said bringing Becker back to Lawrence is a huge win for a department that continues to serve one of the largest numbers of majors at Lawrence.

“As an alumna and double-degree graduate, she appreciates all the things that make Lawrence special,” Kodat said. “I am delighted to welcome her back to her alma mater.”

Ed Berthiaume is director of public information at Lawrence University. Email: ed.c.berthiaume@lawrence.edu

$2.5M gift endows new professorship to teach psychology of collaboration

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

A $2.5 million gift will allow Lawrence University to create an endowed professorship to teach the psychology of collaboration, adding to the school’s efforts to better prepare Lawrentians for life after Lawrence.  

The donation from J. Thomas Hurvis ’60 to create the J. Thomas Hurvis Professorship of Social and Organizational Psychology was announced at the May meeting of the Board of Trustees.

It is the latest in a long line of generous gifts to Lawrence from Hurvis, founder and chairman of Old World Industries and longtime philanthropist.

The new position, which will be based in the Psychology Department but will contribute regularly to the Innovation and Entrepreneurship program, will provide teaching that is focused on cross-cultural collaboration, group life, ethical thought and moral judgment. It’s the type of study usually found in business schools or as part of doctoral programs. At Lawrence, it will build on existing Lawrence strengths to allow students across disciplines to access teachings that will better prepare them to be the leaders of tomorrow, no matter their career direction.

The position is expected to be filled in time for the 2020-21 academic year.

“I am deeply grateful to Tom Hurvis for his vision and generosity in endowing the J. Thomas Hurvis Professorship in Social and Organizational Psychology,” President Mark Burstein said. “Tom’s passion for collaboration is the hallmark of his success both as a businessman and a philanthropist.  This new appointment will allow us to offer courses that will provide students access to research on group life, leadership, and social psychology, areas of increasing student interest, while also enriching and expanding interdisciplinary points of contact with our Innovation and Entrepreneurship program.”

The new professorship is an extension of efforts already under way to enhance offerings and programming to better prepare students for life after Lawrence. A year ago, Hurvis made a $2.5 million gift to create an endowed deanship, which was part of the public launch of Lawrence’s $220 million Be the Light! Campaign. Named for Hurvis’s founding partner in Old World Industries, the Riaz Waraich Dean for Career, Life, and Community Engagement position is now filled by Mike O’Connor, who is overseeing efforts in the Center for Career, Life, and Community Engagement (CLC) to bolster connections and skills to make Lawrentians both job market-ready when they graduate and prepared to lead fruitful and fulfilling lives going forward.

This new professorship in Psychology and Innovation and Entrepreneurship will build on that investment to enhance skills needed in the modern world across all disciplines. 

“Through this new appointment, Lawrence will join the select handful of liberal arts colleges that provide the interdisciplinary skills fostered by a liberal arts education through programming that gives students the opportunity to develop creative, integrative approaches to real world issues,” Provost and Dean of the Faculty Catherine Kodat said. “The curricular possibilities inherent in the Hurvis Professorship — in exploring the dynamics of effective leadership and collaboration, in partnering with co-curricular programming and off-campus internships to put classroom concepts into action — are exciting to contemplate.”

J. Thomas Hurvis '60 speaks during November's public launch of the Be the Light campaign.
J. Thomas Hurvis ’60, speaking here during the public launch of the Be the Light! campaign, says having the skills to work collaboratively is a huge key to future success.

For Hurvis, working collaboratively hits close to home, and he believes strongly that the skills tied to collaboration are critical for success in almost any field.

“Partnership has been at the core of all of my life’s success,” he said. “Collaboration requires skills and a personal inclination. I am thrilled we can now ensure every Lawrence student has the opportunity to develop these skills and better understand the importance of this work. Collaboration is easy to describe but very, very hard to do.”

The latest Hurvis grant builds on the Be the Light! Campaign, which has the student journey as one of its cornerstones, a focus on educating the whole student, from classroom learning in programs of distinction to personal development through wellness, career advising and the fostering of cross-cultural skills.

To date, the Be the Light! Campaign has raised $182.8 million — 83% of the goal — since the quiet phase launch in 2014. Endowed positions, in addition to the Hurvis-funded deanship and new professorship, have included the Dwight and Marjorie Peterson Professorship in Innovation, the Dennis and Charlot Nelson Singleton Professorship in Cognitive Neuroscience, the Wendy and KK Tse Professorship in East Asian Studies, and the Jean Lampert Woy and J. Richard Woy Professorship in History.

“The generosity of the Lawrence community is extraordinary,” said Charlot Singleton ’67, one of the tri-chairs of the Be the Light! Campaign. “Members of our community have invested in initiatives that will enhance the education the college offers for generations. We have made excellent progress toward our goals.”

The campaign progress thus far during 2019 has been strong, with $25.3 million in new campaign commitments outpacing the $22.5 million at this time last year.

Fundraising efforts continue for a number of special projects within the Be the Light! Campaign — Full Speed to Full Need has reached $81.6 million (toward a goal of $85 million); the Center for Career, Life, and Community Engagement is at $1.7 million (toward a goal of $2.5 million that was in response to Hurvis’ challenge when he established the endowed Riaz Waraich Deanship last year); and the Center for Academic Success has reached $735,550 (toward a goal of $1 million).

Ed Berthiaume is director of public information at Lawrence University. Email: ed.c.berthiaume@lawrence.edu


Six-figure grant a vote of confidence for LU prof’s youth mental health app

Lori Hilt, Caroline Swords and Sara Prostko pose for a photo in the psychology department.
Associate Professor of Psychology Lori Hilt (left) is working with psychology students Caroline Swords (center) and Sara Prostko on a rumination study. A new grant is expanding and extending the study.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

This will come as a shock to no one, but middle school is hard.

Throw in the first year of high school and you have a three- or four-year stretch that for many is an often emotionally difficult, awkward, angst-filled journey through adolescent hell, a transition from the relative safety of elementary school to the more confident (sometimes) world of young adulthood.

Getting across that bridge with your emotional bearings intact is no small thing. And that’s where the studies of Lawrence University Associate Professor of Psychology Lori Hilt and her psychology students come into play.

For the past two years, Hilt has been leading a study on adolescent rumination, focused on ages 12 to 15, and the study is about to be supersized thanks to a $368,196 three-year grant from the National Institutes of Health.

Adolescent rumination refers to a mindset in which someone can’t get beyond the negative things that are happening around them. Where most kids will process something bad that has happened, react to it and then move on, an adolescent struggling with rumination will dwell on the negative information, stew on it until it consumes them, unable to let go.

It’s often a precursor to depression or anxiety or other mental health battles that can track into adulthood.

Launching a study

Hilt and the students in her Child and Adolescent Research in Emotion (CARE) Lab set out to create a mobile app that would utilize mindfulness techniques designed to aid those 12- to 15-year-olds struggling with rumination, and then sought funding to study the use of the app.

“We see technology just skyrocketing with kids, so why not harness that for good?” Hilt said.

The American Psychological Foundation agreed, awarding Hilt an $18,000 John and Polly Sparks Early Career Grant two years ago to launch a study that would involve 80 Fox Valley adolescents and their families.

Data from that study has been collected and follow-up visits with the families have been completed. Hilt and her team are in the process of analyzing what they have.

But now comes the much more robust grant from the National Institute of Mental Health, part of the National Institutes of Health, allowing  the study of the app to continue over the next three years, entailing more sophisticated research methods. It’s expected to involve an additional 150 kids and their families. A full-time project assistant will be hired, and 12 to 20 LU students could be working on the study at any given time.

“If the results come out as we hypothesize, if we find that the kids who use the app actually decrease their rumination and their levels of depression and anxiety remain lower, then I think we’d move forward with further developing of the app and maybe get it out publicly, make it available for more kids to use,” Hilt said.

The app is designed to talk young students through brief mindfulness exercises at various points during the day, most notably when they wake up in the morning, after school lets out and before they go to sleep. The exercises could last from three to 10 minutes, focusing on breathing techniques and other things to help clear or refocus the mind.

“It came out of some research I was doing right when I started at Lawrence in 2011,” Hilt said. “One of the first studies I looked at, in the lab, how can we change rumination?”

So, a lab study using 160 kids was conducted, focused on various avenues to combat rumination, from briefly distracting the student to using mindfulness techniques. Mindfulness came out the clear winner.

“If we know that doing this in the lab for just a few minutes was really helpful, what if we had a way for people to access this as an intervention?” Hilt said. “Obviously, we think it needs more repeated exposure to actually be helpful in the long run. So, we developed an app that would allow kids to access it repeatedly.”

For information on participating in the rumination study, click here.

For more on the Psychology Department at Lawrence, click here.

A tech assist

Hilt and her psychology students knew where they wanted to go. But they lacked the technical know-how to create and develop an app.

Thus, they tapped a student in Lawrence’s mathematics-computer science department. Eduardo Elizondo ’16 set to work creating the app.

“He was a freshman at the time,” Hilt said. “Now he’s at Facebook. He really helped develop the first version of the app, and it was kind of clunky. He was learning, we were learning. So then as he became more sophisticated and we got more pilot data, we refined the app. So, before he graduated, it kind of developed into the version we have now.”

Another computer science student, Simon Abbot ’20, has since picked up the ball, continuing the work started by Elizondo.

For the LU psychology students, the work on the rumination study is part of a wider education.

“Since all CARE lab members are undergraduates, we have opportunities at every step in the research process that are normally only available to graduate students,” said Caroline Swords ’19, a neuroscience and psychology major who has been heavily invested in the study and will continue working with it as a research associate after graduation.

The study is focused on practical tools that young people can use to navigate their mental and emotional journeys, she said. And, while the results aren’t in yet, seeing the study unfold over the past couple of years has been fascinating.

“I was drawn to the study because of the positive impact teaching mindfulness can have,” Swords said. “Since adolescence is a time when mental illnesses can first develop, it’s great to teach adolescents about mindfulness, which can act as a buffer and remain a lifelong skill.”  

For Hilt, providing any tools that can help a child adjust, cope and thrive is always worthwhile.

“I’ve really focused my career on studying that early adolescent window,” she said. “We know so many things develop then, including depression. We see pretty low levels, luckily, in childhood, but then in adolescence you see this huge spike that really stays throughout adulthood. So, I’ve really focused all my research on trying to understand what’s going on, how kids process emotions in that window shortly before we see this increase, and what can we do to try to prevent that from happening?”

Existing apps such as Headspace are already available to teach ways to redirect our thoughts or calm our anxieties. But those, and any studies that accompanied them, are primarily geared toward adults, Hilt said.

“We’re one of the first to really look at it in kids.”

Ed Berthiaume is director of public information at Lawrence University. Email: ed.c.berthiaume@lawrence.edu.

Note: Research tied to the new grant is supported by the National Institute of Mental Health of the National Institutes of Health. The content reported here is solely the responsibility of the author and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

Lawrence University Psychologist Awarded Fulbright Research Fellowship to Canada

Lawrence University Professor of Psychology Terry Gottfried has been awarded a $25,000 Fulbright Fellowship. Beginning in January 2014, Gottfried will spend five months as the Fulbright Visiting Research Chair in Brain, Language and Music at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

Terry Gottfried

During his fellowship appointment, Gottfried will continue his ongoing research into the relation between music and speech processing. Working in collaboration with McGill researcher Linda Polka, Gottfried will examine the influence of linguistic and musical experience on listeners segmentation of the speech stream into words.

“We speak without clear pauses between words, so listeners must rely on other rhythmic information such as pitch and syllable duration to determine where one word ends and the next one begins,” explained Gottfried, who joined the Lawrence faculty in 1986. “This segmentation of the speech stream by rhythm and pitch is done differently in different languages, so we’re interested in investigating the role musical expertise has on learning how to process speech in a second language.”

“We are delighted that Professor Gottfried has received this wonderful, prestigious award,” said David Burrows, provost and dean of the faculty. “The work that he will do as part of the fellowship will be of great benefit to society. We are very proud to have one of our fine teacher-scholars honored by the Fulbright program. The award is a great testament to the high quality of Lawrence’s faculty.”

Role of Music in Language Perception

A specialist in second language acquisition, Gottfried has previously conducted research that found non-Mandarin-speaking musicians have an advantage over non-musicians in their perception of lexical tonal contrasts in Mandarin Chinese. Other studies suggest musicians acquire some of the speaking and perceiving skills necessary for second language learning more readily than non-musicians.

“My work with Dr. Polka will examine the extent to which musical training and ability may affect speech segmentation patterns,” said Gottfried. “Montreal is an ideal place to conduct this research given the ready availability of French-English monolingual and bilingual listeners, with and without musical expertise.”

He hopes to complete his study in time to present results at the fall 2014 meeting of the Acoustical Society of America.

“This Fulbright Fellowship is a wonderful opportunity to conduct research with a colleague I know as well as collaborate with other researchers interested in the brain mechanisms involved in music and language perception,” said Gottfried. “This will be important as I continue to teach courses in the psychology of music and language at Lawrence.”

This is the second time Gottfried has been recognized by the Fulbright Scholar Program. He was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship in 2001 for a teaching and research position in the English department at Aarhus University in Denmark, where he taught a seminar on the psychology of language for English language students. He also conducted research comparing Danish and American English listeners’ perception of American English vowels.

Gottfried earned both a bachelor’s degree in French and psychology and a doctoral degree in experimental psychology at the University of Minnesota.

Established in 1946 and sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, the Fulbright Scholar Program is the federal government’s flagship program in international educational exchange. It provides grants in a variety of disciplines for teaching and research positions in more than 150 countries.

About Lawrence University
Founded in 1847, Lawrence University uniquely integrates a college of liberal arts and sciences with a nationally recognized conservatory of music, both devoted exclusively to undergraduate education. It was selected for inclusion in the Fiske Guide to Colleges 2013 and the book “Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think About College.” Individualized learning, the development of multiple interests and community engagement are central to the Lawrence experience. Lawrence draws its 1,500 students from nearly every state and more than 50 countries. Follow Lawrence on Facebook.