A. Describe the three most significant professional experiences you have had.
I have had three particularly significant professional experiences: my participation as mentor and supervisor in a supplemental Instruction program; my work and research as a behavior therapist with autistic children through the Psychology Senior Thesis Program; and serving as a Service-Learning Teaching Assistant.
For the past two and a half years, I have been involved with the Supplemental Instruction (SI) program, a project founded to provide assistance for students in freshman level classes who need help with study skills. I am, at the moment, the SI Leader for Psychology 101. As an SI Leader, I attend class every day, which means that I have in effect attended the Psychology 101 class daily for two and a half years. By now I know the lectures by heart, which is essential because my job involves teaching the material three times a week in one-hour sessions.
Through the SI program, I have gained far more than accumulated academic knowledge: I have developed insight into how to teach psychology to groups of three to fifty people. I have learned that, in order to teach, one must first understand how someone approaches a subject, and then adapt the teaching to that approach. More specifically, I have noticed that students learn best by relating a concept to their own lives. Thus, not only do I give examples that relate directly to the material, I also teach students how to apply the concepts to their own lives.
I have become an integral part of the SI program and, as a result of my hard work, this year I was promoted to the position of SI Supervisor. In that capacity, I attend supervisor meetings to assist in organizing the program, and I help conduct hiring and training for new SI Leaders. One of my most rewarding responsibilities as supervisor is to attend sessions conducted by SI Leaders and, based upon my observations, to assist them with their teaching, interaction, and group discussion skills.
I also gained valuable research experience during my sophomore year by working twenty hours a week as a behavior therapist with autistic pre-school-aged children at the Children’s Behavior Therapy Unit (CBTU). Because CBTU possesses an extensive data-based assessment system, I had the opportunity to acquire practical research-related experience. As a behavior therapist, I focused on basic “learning to learn” skills, such as attention to the environment. I accomplished this using the classical conditioning techniques of positive and negative reinforcement, as well as punishment. As a researcher, I was required to record each child’s range of responses until that child developed a certain success rate with a behavior. One such success was shaping a child’s behavior to the point where the child felt comfortable with direct eye contact.
As a behavior therapist, I presented bi-monthly progress reports to the CBTU staff. The purpose of the reports was to inform the parents, doctors, and teachers about whether a particular child was ready to move to a higher level in the “learning to learn” program. More specifically, I reported on the progress of children’s behavior over time, which allowed me to trace development and compare individual responses.
CBTU provided me with an introduction to research, which led me to pursue further research opportunities through the Psychology Senior Thesis Program. I spent a year and a half experiencing the entire process: designing my research project, formulating hypotheses, conducting the research, and writing it up.
While serving as research assistant to Dr. John Kircher, who was conducting polygraph research, I began to wonder whether individuals with lower skin conductance readings would also score higher on the Dissociative Experiences Scale (DES). My interest stemmed from the fact that individuals with higher DES scores, even when lying, are able to pass polygraph tests more easily than individuals who have lower DES scores. I wanted to explore whether they had this ability because their skin conductance readings were less reactive.
Through extensive study, I learned a great deal about the research process. I researched dissociation, skin conductance, and how the two are related. This knowledge enabled me to develop my hypothesis. It was expected that high scores on the DES would be associated with low levels of electrodermal activity, resulting in a negative correlation. The results did not provide support for the idea that dissociative individuals have diminished skin conductance readings while experiencing a stressful situation.
Analysis of variance became the focus of the statistical analysis. This score was tested via a t-test. Through this process of compiling data and through statistical analysis, I came to recognize the importance of accuracy and attention to detail. Overall, through conducting research and writing a thesis, I strengthened my research and writing skills.
The greatest supplement to my academic experience has been the opportunity to be part of service-learning. This is the concept of students volunteering in the community, accumulating responsibilities that allow them to acquire hands-on experience in course materials. My first experience with service-learning happened a year and a half ago, when I was offered the job of Service-Learning Teaching Assistant (TA) in Psychology 101. After rigorous evaluation of several agencies, we chose ones that would best suit the students’ needs. We also developed a lesson plan that would enhance the learning experience, and we created contracts by which the agencies and students would abide. We gained valuable experience the first semester, including how to successfully conduct the Service-Learning class.
By the next semester, we had developed a system for keeping the students motivated. Our method involved asking students to keep reflective journals and conducting reflective sessions, which not only allowed students to tell about their Service-Learning experiences, but also to think critically about their experiences at their agency. We discovered that, in order for students and agencies to have a fulfilling experience in Service-Learning class, the program had to involve students in community service that addresses local needs and that allowed them to develop their academic skills, sense of civil responsibility, and commitment to the community. We also kept the students motivated by compiling the total number of hours in which they served in the community. These hours reached into the thousands, and keeping a record allowed students to see how their combined efforts made a difference.
This year, I am the Service-Learning TA in a Nurse-Practitioners graduate class. This has given me the opportunity to show the instructor what I have learned about Service-Learning, specifically how to successfully implement a service-learning course without the aid of a Service-Learning TA. Next semester, I will be a Service-Learning TA in an Environmental Ethics class, in which students will serve at activist-centered agencies. These agencies, whose purpose is to make a difference in the community, demonstrate a high need for service-learning students who can assist them in the effort.