Category: Undergraduate

CLS Faculty Receive Exceptional Teaching Score

photos of Amber Bennett, Kelly Steelman, Linda Wanless, and Destaney Sauls
Clockwise starting top left: Amber Bennett, Kelly Steelman, Linda Wanless, and Destaney Sauls

Cognitive and Learning Sciences’ faculty Amber Bennett, Destaney Sauls, Kelly Steelman, and Linda Wanless (CTL) have been identified as four of only 70 instructors who received an exceptional “Average of 7 Dimensions” student evaluation score for fall semester 2022.

Each of their scores were in the top 10% of similarly sized sections university-wide that had at least a 50% response rate and a minimum of 5 responses. Only 91 sections out of more than 1,379 surveyed were rated this highly by students.

Andrew Storer, Interim Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs, recently congratulated the faculty stating, “On behalf of Michigan Tech’s students, I want you to know that I am aware of your accomplishment. I know that exceptional teaching takes a great deal of time and effort, and I appreciate your commitment to the success of our students. Providing excellent learning opportunities is an important part of Michigan Tech’s mission.”


Michigan Tech’s Department of Cognitive and Learning Sciences offers bachelor of science degrees in Psychology and Human Factors, along with a Minor in Psychology. We also offer an Accelerated Masters degree in Applied Cognitive Science and Human Factors (ACSHF), which typically requires only one additional year of course work. Our graduate program includes masters and doctoral degrees in Applied Cognitive Science and Human Factors (ACSHF).

Questions? Contact us at cls@mtu.edu. And follow us @clsmtu on Instagram and Facebook for the latest happenings.

Student Spotlight: Dalton Williams

Today we are talking with Dalton Williams, a third-year Exercise Science major and Psychology minor. We’ve gotten to know Dalton, here in the CLS department, as he has been our work-study student since starting Michigan Tech in fall 2020. He seems to have an endless amount of energy and drive—see list below 🙂—so we wanted to learn a bit more about him outside his duties in the Meese Center.

For some background, Dalton’s extensive list of campus involvement includes: Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Squad Leader, Orientation Team Leader, Summer Youth Programs Counselor, Athletic Training Student Aide, and member of Association of Psychology Students (APS), Pre-Health Association, Beta Sigma Theta, Quiz Bowl, Smash Club, and Fighting Game Club.

Let’s start our Q&A at the beginning . . .

Q: Growing up in Ithaca, Michigan how did you decide on Michigan Tech for your undergraduate studies?

A: A couple of my close friends in high school were committed to Michigan Tech relatively early, so on a whim I decided to go with them for a campus visit. I immediately fell in love with the area and the campus facilities. I also discovered that the university had a good program for exercise science and physical therapy, as well as a free EMS training course—a program I had been interested in for a while. So I applied, and here I am!

Q: What do you feel are the advantages of adding a psych minor to your exercise science major?

A: Physical Therapy doctorate programs have several psychology course prerequisites such as intro to psych, developmental psych, and abnormal psych. After that, it doesn’t take many more psychology courses to earn the minor. Beyond that however, I believe that anyone in a health-related field should have a strong understanding of the mind, as the brain drives everything the body does. Specifically for my major, getting someone motivated enough to exercise, working with a wide variety of people of all ages and personalities, and having a comprehensive understanding of how the mind influences motor function are all important lessons I have learned while pursuing my psych minor.

Q: You’ve been involved in a wide variety of organizations around campus over the past three years, including becoming a fully certified EMS volunteer. What are some of the top benefits you have gained from being a member of these organizations?

A: The organizations that I am lucky to be a part of have taught me skills and lessons that not only make me a more well-rounded person, but a better pre-health professional. Michigan Tech’s Emergency Medical Services ( EMS) is definitely the organization I am most passionate about, and for good reason. Tech EMS training was a life changing experience, during which I met lifelong friends and beneficial study habits. Being a part of EMS and Michigan Tech’s Athletic Training Student Aide (ATSA) program taught me very practical new skill sets as well as discipline and interpersonal skills.

Q: What do you aspire to do after completing your undergraduate degree?

A: I plan on going to physical therapy school and earning a Doctorate of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree. From there, I would love to work as a sports medicine physical therapist to rehabilitate athletes.

Q: Anything else you would like to share with us?

A: My advice to all upcoming college students is to take it one day at a time. The balance between work, school, one’s personal and social life, and everything in between can feel overwhelming at times. I find that if I focus on what I need to get done today to make tomorrow less overwhelming, I can always keep on keeping on!


CLS would like to recognize Dalton and all EMS and emergency personnel on this National First Responders Day, October 28, 2022. From day-to-day incidents to large-scale emergencies, career and volunteer first responders selflessly serve to keep us all safe. Thank you!!


Read more on the benefits of adding a psychology minor to your major in our blog story: Alumni Spotlight: Emilee (Philson) Stanczyk

Michigan Tech’s Department of Cognitive and Learning Sciences offers bachelor of science degrees in Psychology and Human Factors, along with a Minor in Psychology. We also offer an Accelerated Masters degree in Applied Cognitive Science and Human Factors (ACSHF), which typically requires only one additional year of course work.

Questions? Contact us at cls@mtu.edu. And follow us @clsmtu on Instagram and Facebook for the latest happenings.

Social Connections & Mental Well-being

Research has found that having social support plays a vital role in mental health, so building a network that includes family, platonic friends, and other loved ones can be important for our overall wellness. [American Psychological Association. Manage stress: strengthen your support network.]

But before we get into the ways a strong social network promotes health and well-being, it’s important to point out that not all relationships are equal. Just like you can make unhealthy choices around diet and exercise, you can certainly make unhealthy choices when it comes to your friendships and relationships.

This August, CLS welcomed Destaney Sauls, visiting assistant teaching professor from Oakland University. Destaney’s research interests include ways that individual differences shape our interpersonal interactions. Specifically, her focus is on how personality traits (e.g., narcissism or narcissistic traits) shape and are shaped by different sustained interpersonal interactions (e.g., platonic friendships). With over 30 journal articles and conference presentations on the subject of narcissism and social connection, we tapped into Sauls’ knowledge on the subject in the days leading up to October—Mental Health Awareness month. 

Joining us in the conversation is Amber Bennett, CLS adjunct assistant professor. Amber is a licensed master social worker in the State of Michigan and a mental health professional at the Copper Country Intermediate School District. Her teaching experience includes Psychology of Trauma and Abnormal Psychology.

Now let’s jump in . . .

[Sauls]

Q. From your research experience, what have you found is the connection between friendship, social interaction and overall health and well being, and why should we be aware of its significance? 

A. I think it is pretty easy to overlook our friends and how important they can be. We have quite a lot of friends over the course of our lives, but their rules and their roles, even how they start and how they end, tend to be a lot less clearly defined than in other kinds of relationships. I actually think we might be unappreciative of our friends, simply because we have so many! I think that tends to make them a little less “flashy” than other kinds of relationships, even though they are just as important. 

From an evolutionary perspective, friendships don’t always make a ton of sense – why are we so inclined to invest significant amounts of time and resources into a relationship with someone we’re not related to, when we’re not clearly getting something out of it?

But it’s the fact that it doesn’t make sense to invest in an unimportant relationship that means that friendships have to be important. But it probably isn’t one single thing that makes our friends important – it’s the combination of benefits. 

Friends do provide a lot of tangible benefits – they provide support when we need it, whether that be emotional, mental, or physical. People with good friends typically have better outcomes – they’re happier, more stable, and in some cases even physically healthier. Some work even suggests that people with good friends might have better immune systems and better life expectancy. Our friends make us feel good, and they really seem to be good for us in a lot of ways. 

But unfortunately, the opposite is also true. A lack of friends, or a lack of social connections, appears to be really detrimental, especially for our own sense of mental well-being. We knew this, of course, but it became really obvious in the Covid-19 pandemic when we really needed to be more isolated from each other. If you look up “social isolation” you will probably find a lot of articles talking about the Covid-19 pandemic and the well-being of isolated people. They’ll talk about protective factors – for example, things like physical exercise seemed to lessen the impact of being cut off from our social relationships, but the conclusion seems to be that social isolation is extremely detrimental, especially to our mental health. Even being isolated for as little as a couple of weeks seemed to impact our mental health in some pretty harsh ways. Friends, and social connections generally, are really good for your health, but I would be remiss not to mention how detrimental a lack of these relationships may be. 

Q. What do you feel is the definition of friendship?

A. This is actually a somewhat complicated question! In the world of research, it is important to have a clear definition of different terms, but the problem with a word like “friendship” is that it can be so personal – so easily influenced by our experiences and personal perspectives. Hruschka, who has contributed some really interesting ideas to the friendship literature, defined friendships as “long-term relationships of mutual affection and support”. For the purposes of my own research, I typically say something long-winded and specific about what a friend is, like “a friend should be defined as someone with which we share a close, platonic, pleasant, sustained, and voluntary relationship – and someone to whom we may be consistently loyal or committed”. That’s definitely a mouthful just to say what a friend is! But you have to be specific in research – what I really think is important is that “voluntary” piece of the relationship. Friendships are special, and I think a big part of that is that you choose your friends. Why did you choose them? Because you love them. I don’t know if it always has to be more complicated than that.    

Q. What are some indicators that a friend may have narcissistic traits?

A. Narcissistic individuals tend to believe they are the most “special” person in a room, and depending on the “kind” of narcissism, this can mean they are going to try and convince their friends to lift them up, or they are going to try and tear their friends down. Either way, narcissistic individuals in a friendship tend to be trying to get something out of it. They prefer friendships that offer avenues to things like power, or influence. But the good news is that most of the time, it does look like the people they are interacting with do get a sense of something being “not quite right” and they do tend to react accordingly. 

Q. How can a friendship with a narcissist affect our mental well-being?

A. Friendships with narcissistic individuals tend not to end well. They are often very charming at first, but some research suggests it only takes a handful of short meetings for their interaction partners to begin to dislike them. It’s possible this is at least partly because of how the narcissistic individual acts in the relationship – they tend to try and boost themselves up, and this can often mean they derogate others, or engage in inappropriate self-promotion, or even become aggressive when they feel that their status is threatened. For the vast majority of people, friendships with narcissistic individuals probably end fairly quickly, likely because these friendships tend to be fairly unpleasant. 

Interestingly, the people who might get along with a narcissistic individual the best might be other narcissistic individuals! Research around friendships suggests that we really like friends who are similar to us, even in terms of personality traits like narcissistic traits. They appear to recognize, at least on some level, the similarity in their traits and are able to at least tolerate them.

Q. How is social media influencing our social connections and friendships?

A. I actually think social media use is unfairly stigmatized, especially for younger generations. We can’t really expect something like friendships on social media to behave in exactly the same way that friendship might in real life, but I don’t think this necessarily makes them “bad” or “less than” in-person friendships. There are some issues with social media – it is pretty easy to curate an image online that is very different from who you actually are, and it is even easier to add “friends” that you have no real connection to. 

However, there is also a good chance that social media presents unique opportunities to connect with people in a way that we don’t really fully understand. The Internet and social media are still so new in terms of our evolutionary history that we just don’t really know how they are going to impact us in the long run, but the fact of the matter is they are probably here to stay. I think instead of villainizing social media and the Internet, we should instead recognize it for the tool that it is. Is every friendship online going to be absolutely worthwhile, or even comparable to in-person friendships? Maybe not! But at least some of them might be.

Some researchers have argued that social media is simply changing the way we form social networks, but it is not necessarily making them worse – there does appear to be an upper limit to how many meaningful social relationships we can maintain, and that appears to be about 100 to 150. Social media isn’t going to change that, but what it has changed is the sheer amount of options that we have for those social connections. Historically, we have been pretty limited in our options for social relationships simply because we needed a certain amount of physical proximity. Now, if you want to have a best friend that lives on the other side of the world, it is pretty easy to do so. Some work suggests that this might be leading to a kind of “customized sociality” where there is more of an individualized social network centered around the individual.

It’s easy to see social media and think it has a lot of “cheap” or “shallow” relationships, and to a certain extent that might even be true. But it certainly is not all that social media and friendships can be, and I think this is really a tool that we need to be making the most of. And that will probably start with a focus on the quality of our online relationships, which can be difficult when we are so often focused on the quantity. 

Q. How can we take our relationships to the next level? What tips would you like to share for forming and keeping healthy friendships/relationships?

A. As adults, we probably need to dedicate more time to the maintenance of our friendships. Friendships, especially their beginning and end, can be “fuzzy”. This makes the consequences of not putting work into your friendships hard to spot, even though there are definitely consequences. Sometimes it is difficult to dedicate resources to those friendships that are worth maintaining, while letting go of those that just aren’t. In the research world, you’ll hear people refer to “tend and befriend” – if we want to really foster good relationships, it is incredibly important that we don’t neglect that “tend” part. In the busy chaos of our everyday lives, it can be easy to think that the message you’ve been meaning to send to your friend but haven’t quite gotten to it yet isn’t a big deal. But the little things might be more important than you realize, because suddenly you might look up and realize you haven’t spoken to that friend in a year. Put work into your friends. Especially the people who love you enough to put work into you.

Q. How can a person find and make new friends as an adult?

A. It can be really difficult to make good friends, especially as an adult. When we’re younger, we tend to have a lot more “ready made” friend groups – our classes, our teams, etc. When we get older, those easy friendships tend to be harder to come by, but unfortunately our friendships don’t become any less important. I think the best advice that I can give is to find people who have similar interests and try to build a relationship step-by-step. Don’t force it – that’s when things get a little uncomfortable. But trust yourself. You’ve made friends before, you have friends now, and you know what kind of friends you like even if you don’t really think about it that explicitly most of the time. Be open to friendships, and I would say to even pursue them and put work into them. Let them form naturally and those will be your best relationships. Find reasons to interact with people – especially reasons that you enjoy, like a hobby, etc. – the rest will work itself out.

[Bennett]

Q. Some say our experiences of connection or disconnection are deterministic—predicted by our previous experiences of connection. How does our personal baggage affect our relationships?

A. Human connection is a fundamental aspect of our health, well-being, and overall quality of life. While there are documented cases of individuals who live in solitude, as humans we are hard-wired to seek out companionship. In fact, interacting with others is inherent to our ability to survive – physically, socially, and emotionally. It may seem as though relationships should be easy by virtue of them being so critical to our existence. Yet, I would argue that interacting with others is amongst the most challenging aspects of our daily lives. Relationships are hard because they are complicated. We are not simple creatures, and we tend to bring the history of our past relationships into our current ones. 

Our sense of belonging and connection – or relationship – with those around us is largely influenced by our history of bonding with our primary caregivers and then later in life by experiences with our peers. Yet, these experiences are not always positive or healthy representations of relationships. These early memories influence our conceptualization of connection and often lead to similar behaviors with others as we grow and mature. In order to shift to a healthier approach we must recognize what was first modeled for us, be aware of what we have experienced within our own history of connection with others, and be willing to take ownership of and action in shifting the role we play in our current relationships. Again, easier said than done. However, setting healthy boundaries for ourselves, establishing open and honest communication, and remaining our authentic selves can set the stage for improving our connections with others.


This story has been written in recognition of World Mental Health Day, October 10, 2022. The faculty and staff of Cognitive and Learning Sciences at Michigan Tech extends compassion to all who have experienced the darkness of mental health issues, whether it be with ourselves or through our loved ones. Let’s shine our light on the subject. Let’s find and use the tools we have available—even if it is just our own breath, or a friendly smile. Let’s “Make mental health for all a global priority”.

Resources shared by Amber Bennett

Films

Brené Brown: The Call to Courage (2019) available on Netflix

Podcasts (links in Spotify)

On Purpose with Jay Shetty

Super Soul with Oprah Winfrey

Ten Percent Happier with Dan Harris

Unlocking Us with Brené Brown

We Can Do Hard Things with Glennon Doyle

Books

I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn’t): Making the Journey from What Will People Think to I Am Enough (2007) by Brené Brown

Daring Greatly (2012) Brené Brown

Braving the Wilderness (2017) by Brené Brown

Untamed (2020) by Glennon Doyle

University resources

Center for Student Mental Health and Well-being

www.myssp.app

Alumni Spotlight: Zoe Reep

Today we are chatting with Zoe Reep, recent Michigan Tech grad who earned her bachelor’s of science in Psychology and Mathematics in spring 2022. This fall she begins her post graduate studies in Clinical/Counseling Social Work at Boston College. 

Zoe describes herself as a person who lives with intention and makes decisions—big and small—based on purpose. It is no surprise that she filled her summer “break” with activities and adventures that align with her curiosity and passion for the great outdoors. Let’s let Zoe unpack the details and give us a glimpse of what her purpose-filled living is all about.

Q: We last saw you in late April as your undergrad time at Michigan Tech was ending and your next adventure was about to begin. Where and how did you spend your summer after finishing your bachelor’s degrees?

A: For most of the summer, I split my time working with Michigan Tech’s Outdoor Adventure Program and a local screen-printing shop in Calumet called Monkey Business. I focused on my interests and explored new hobbies such as embroidery, sewing, kombucha brewing, gardening, puzzling, reading, and fly fishing. I also experienced #vanlife and used it as my temporary home for the first couple months. As summer went on, I wanted to do something even more physically and emotionally challenging. Within two-weeks I doubled my paychecks—working 14-16-hour days—packed up my things and hitched a ride out to Colorado with some friends.

The long workdays and foregone sleep to fund my trip was totally worth it! I spent the next 35 days hiking the Colorado Trail, a 486.6 mile trek. It was absolutely incredible and definitely life changing as I met people from all over the country and around the world. Some moments were tough, and sometimes dark, and other times I cried of joy. The experience taught me to be resilient, I even managed to make myself a splint in order to get down the mountains with a leg injury. The views were insane, the hikes were brutal, and the weather was not cooperative—we hiked through many, many thunderstorms. 

For those who don’t know about the Colorado Trail, it runs from Denver, CO to Durango, CO, has an elevation gain of 75,000 feet (more than twice the height of Mount Everest), 8 national forests, and 16 mountain passages. Most people who hike the trail as a thru-hike go into town every 3-5 days. For example, I stopped in Breckenridge, Twin Lakes/Leadville, Garfield/Salida, Lake City, and Durango. Most hitchhike to get into town. We definitely came across some interesting characters this way, and even got to ride in a semi-truck!. 

Some people stay overnight in town, as we did, and others just resupply and head on their way. I hiked the first half of the trail with some friends I met—a couple from Boston (now moving to California, sadly), and a hiker from South Dakota. One friend from Michigan Tech joined us along the way; the poor guy hiked the worst part—40 miles with 3 water sources, rocky roads and cow pastures, including a decaying cow on the trail. We separated paths from the Boston couple but I’ve been with the hiker, Russ, ever since. We finished the remaining trail route and road tripped it back through Houghton, Petoskey, Grand Rapids, Louisville, Dayton, Cleveland, Niagara, arriving in Boston. In fact, Russ will be moving out to Boston now! 🙂 Overall…summer was wild—and a blast. I documented a lot of it on my “adventure” Instagram account, which I created for my friends who wanted to laugh about my amusing life @2rav4u.

Q: You were part of Dr. Samantha Smith’s Nature Psychology class at Michigan Tech this spring. Were there any takeaways from the course that helped you make the connection between wellness, resilience, and nature?

A:  Great question! I took Nature Psych because it dealt with exactly what I wanted to move into post-graduate. So it didn’t really change my direction. However, it definitely created a lot more questions and curiosity for me. It helped me determine that this is exactly the field I want to go into. It gave me all sorts of fantastic connections and brought up a lot of passion for me. It helped me to connect with the local community and gave me tons of resources (in regard to social issues, the role of nature on the mind, local UP history, etc.). Dr. Smith is an incredible professor—I’ve learned a lot from her. I also admire who she is as a human being, which really ties the whole class together: Her curiosity, passions, knowledge, heart, etc. Highly recommend the course 🙂 Absolutely.

Q: You’ve had a four-legged friend along the way. What’s her name and how did she become your travel companion?  

A: Murphy is my recently adopted doggo. Her trail names are Wags—because her tail is cropped and is always wagging, uncontrollably. And Bumper—she hiked with a backpack and when she wanted to pass someone on the trail, she would keep bumping them with her pack until they made room for her to pass. I’ve had her for about 7 months, adopting her the day before my birthday. She’s loved by everyone who interacts with her. Here at Boston College, she has already strutted through one of my classes, gotten affection from all over campus, and explored the campus store and buildings. She is very calm and goofy, so she seems to get into any place she wants (i.e. places that don’t allow dogs). Funny, I almost didn’t take her home with me, but I knew I couldn’t end the day without adopting a dog so we became a pair. I was hoping that she would become my trail dog— running, biking, backpacking, etc.—and an unregistered emotional support animal. She has taken on both roles. I am currently planning to certify her as a therapy or facilities dog.  

Q: What field of practice will you be focusing on for your post graduate studies and how does this align with your purpose?

A: I am really interested in Wilderness Therapy. I’m toying with the idea of pursuing a PhD in this realm or becoming a Wilderness Therapy practitioner. I think there is a lot of research still to be done in this field and I’m super excited to help pave the way to a more effective and safe way to use nature to heal. 

Nature has been a huge source of healing for me—through coping with anxiety, depression, seasonal affective disorder, and disordered eating. It has taught me a lot about the way my mind works (stressors, relaxers, etc), encouraging me to love my body and mind for the work that it can do (thinking, running, etc), and has strengthened my characteristics such as confidence, creativity, emotional regulation, etc. 

At Boston College, I will be working toward my Masters in Social Work. I am currently taking four classes and will be starting a field placement as a middle-school counselor. The school just received a therapy dog, so I hope to bring Murphy in as well. I also have a part-time job at a rock climbing gym teaching youth classes and covering  the front desk. Why rock climbing? After spending last summer as a wilderness therapy guide, I learned how effective rock climbing is when working on skills such as emotional regulation, confidence, anxiety reduction, teamwork/trust, etc. It is all very interconnected.


Read more about Dr. Smith’s Nature Psychology course and other related stories in the links below.

Related stories: 

Huskies Follow the Research Trail to Explore the Psychology of Nature

Samantha Smith Selected for Deans’ Teaching Showcase

What is Wilderness Therapy?

@kltrocks

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Photo credit: Zoe Reep

Alumni Spotlight: Emilee (Philson) Stanczyk

Minoring in Psychology at Michigan Tech led me to find and obtain my dream job. I never knew that I could combine engineering and psychology and turn it into a career. My minor helped me understand how people think and behave, feeding into my work on medical devices that are used by various groups of people. It has also taught me how to interact with diverse personalities and perspectives, serve clients in a global market, and lead my employees toward success. I would not have the career that I have today without my Psychology minor.

Emilee (Philson) Stanczyk, Managing Human Factors Specialist at Emergo by UL

Michigan Tech alumna, Emilee (Philson) Stanczyk had a strong interest in medical technology when she started Michigan Tech in 2012, and knew she wanted to use her math and science skills for medical innovation. As she explored career options within biomedical engineering, she realized that before you design and develop medical technology, you have to first understand who your users arewhat they want and need and how they think and work. That prompted her to add a minor in psychology to her education, opening up a wide variety of career opportunities in the field of Human Factors Engineering. “I quickly discovered that Human Factors is highly regulated in the medical device field and would enable me to use my biomedical engineering skills to develop products specifically for their intended users,” said Stanczyk.

This past week we got a chance to catch up with Emilee and hear how her life after Michigan Tech has been going so far in this alumni Q&A.

Q: With Alumni Reunion 2022 right around the corner (August 4-6), we’d love for you to reflect back and tell us why you decided on Michigan Tech for your undergraduate studies?

A: I knew that I wanted to major in Biomedical Engineering, so I started with schools in my home state of Michigan that offered the major. I was looking for a school that was big enough to have lots of opportunities for me to begin my career and get involved in student organizations, but small enough for me to make connections with my peers and professors. Michigan Tech was that happy medium. Although all of that was what drew me to look at Michigan Tech, it was my first visit to campus that really “sold” me. The campus itself is beautiful but the surrounding area was like no other place I had lived before, and I just knew it was where I would spend my undergraduate years.

Q: You have recently been promoted to Managing Human Factors Specialist at Emergo by UL. What does an average day at work look like for you?

A: In short, every day is different! A lot of my work consists of usability testing where I conduct sessions with representative users who use devices in development so that I can assess if the device is safe to use. This could mean I’m working with surgeons to evaluate a new surgical robotic system, or patients who have a skin condition to evaluate a new injection device. Other projects involve working with clientsmedical device manufacturersto advise them on regulatory strategy, often navigating FDA’s Human Factors requirements for marketing a medical device. In addition to my project work, I serve as a manager to a team of human factors specialists and help guide and mentor them.

Q: It’s evident that you are passionate about your work. Can you tell us a bit more as to why?

A: Knowing that my work impacts individuals on a daily basis is meaningful and is why I do what I do. I know that at some point in my life, I or someone I love, might need to use a medical device, and taking the time to design the devices intentionally, such that they can be used safely and effectively, is so vital in today’s world.

Q: Looking back, can you tell us about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way?

A: My biggest lesson I have learned so far in my career is not to dwell on mistakes. Sometimes a failure seems like the worst thing that could happen in the moment. But often times, dwelling on the mistake is worse than the actual mistake. Accept that mistakes are learning opportunities and although you can’t change the past, you can use it to transform your future.

Q: What do you see for the future of Human Factors?

A: The field of Human Factors is growing and growing and has never been so important in our society. As technology advances and becomes more widely available, implementing Human Factors into product designboth medical and non-medicalwill be imperative to safe and effective use. I see the field growing and more and more jobs becoming available.

Q: You have been of service as a student mentor through the Women’s Leadership Institute and The Chapel Student Ministry. What is the top advice you give to young students deciding on their future education and career?

A: Find what you’re passionate about and what motivates you. Although your career will often be challenging and hard work, it should be something you enjoy doing. Find your “why” for why you enjoy something and use it as your driving motivation to move forward and work toward a goal. Finally, don’t be afraid to change your mind. Life is too short to have a career you don’t love. Go after what you want and make it happen!

Q: What has been the most rewarding part of your career in the human factors field so far?

A: The most rewarding part was during one of my usability tests. I was working with a patient who had a rare diseaseone that limited her life expectancy to a relatively young age. During the session, the patient got emotional talking about her disease and how it has negatively impacted her life. After hearing stories about her experience, we got to talk about how the device in development we were assessing would greatly improve her day-to-day activities and overall lifestyle. She thanked me for the work I was doing and was so appreciative that her needs as a patient were being considered. It was very rewarding to hear first-hand the impact my work would have on that patient population.

Another really rewarding experience was getting to travel to Shanghai, China for a usability test where we were interested in learning how the different techniques taught in medical school in the US and in China might impact the way surgeons use a surgical stapler. It was my first time visiting China, and I really enjoyed that cultural experience as part of my job.

Q: With a background in psychology, you understand the importance of self care. What are some ways you incorporate it into your life?

A: The most important self-care tip I can relay is to set boundaries. I work in a hybrid model where I spend some days in the office and some at home. In today’s modern world, I am usually accessible via phone or email at all times. It’s important for me to set boundaries on my work email and make sure I am not checking it during “off” hours so that there is separation between home and work. I also find that moving my bodywhether it’s a run around my neighborhood, a walk during my lunch break, or time in the gymcan do just as much good for my mental and emotional health as it can my physical health. I also make sure that I spend some time away from technology each week to engage in something I enjoy doing, like cooking, reading a book, or playing golf.

Q: What is next for you on your life journey?

A: Career-wise, I am looking to grow into my role as a people manager, which is something I took on a few months ago. I look forward to opportunities to mentor and manage those who are early in their career.

Life-wise, my husband and I hope to start a family soon and plant our roots in the Chicago suburbs. We bought our first house a few months ago and are enjoying some new projects as first-time homeowners. I also really enjoy traveling and have a bucket list item to visit all of the US National Parks, so I’m hoping to cross some more off in the next few years!


We look forward to seeing our alumni back on campus in August and invite everyone to stay in touch on Instagram and Facebook @clsmtu.

New Student Spotlight: Ani Schneiderhan

Hello everyone. We’d like to introduce you to new psychology major Ani Schneiderhan, a member of CLS’ incoming class for Fall 2022.

A native of Calumet, Michigan, Ani’s volunteer work with the Main Street Calumet Board and Farmers Market recently earned her a Community Impact Award from Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer. Her community involvement also includes concern for the environment, assisting Nitrate Elimination, a Lake Linden based biotechnology company, in their test kits marketing campaign. As part of her academics, Ani was co-captain of her school’s Junior-ROTC Leadership and Academic Bowl (JLAB) and a member of the Science Olympiad and forensics teams. For these accomplishments and more, Ani was selected as a Michigan Tech Leading Scholar and recipient of a Portage Health Foundation Making a Difference Scholarship. Already thinking like a Husky–Ani was instrumental in promoting the inaugural “Snow-coming” event in Calumet last year.

Let’s learn a little more about Ani with a few quick Q&As.

Q: Looking back on the past four years, what was the most memorable highlight of your time in high school?

A:  One of my most memorable experiences was going to Washington, DC for the JROTC Leadership and Academic Bowl (JLAB) competition. My team qualified for Nationals in 2020 and 2021. The 2020 competition was canceled due to COVID-19 but we placed 4th in the Nation in 2021, out of a field that began with over 1,700 competitors.

Ani at the National JLAB Competition in Washington, D.C.

Q:  When you were younger, what did you want to be when you grew up?

A:  I really wanted to be a pediatric orthopedic surgeon when I was younger. Mostly because I went to see one and I wanted to have a cool sounding job.

Q: How has that changed or how have you incorporated that into your future plans?

A:  Well, I realized that I’m not comfortable standing or walking for long periods of time. And I’ve always wanted to have a profession that helped people, so I decided on Psychology. 

Q: Do you have any special plans for summer before starting college in the fall?

A: Yes! I am volunteering at the National JLAB Competition in DC, the same one I competed in last year.

Q:  Tell us a little something about Michigan Tech that attracts you?

A:  I like the open area around campus, the trails and the water. But I also like that the student-to-faculty ratio is smaller than at other universities.

Q: You’ve chosen Psychology as your major. Can you tell us a bit more as to why?

A:  I like Psychology because it’s the study of humans and how we react. There’s not really a “right” way to look at things and everyone is going to have a different perspective even though their brains might function in a similar way. 

Q:  Besides your studies, what other activities at Michigan Tech do you want to be a part of? 

A:  I have always enjoyed watching the productions put on by Michigan Tech students. I’ve participated in high school plays so I’m excited to join something in theatre. I’m also going to join the pep band. 

Q:  What’s the best advice you have been given in your life so far?

A:  My Biology teacher, Mrs Wright, would always have us say her mantra at the end of each class; “If you can be anything, be kind”. 

Q:  How would you change the world if you could?

A:  I would really like to see people stop judging based on their characteristics and be open to hearing opposing opinions. 

Q: Would you like to give a shout out to anyone?

A:  I would like to give a shout out to my JROTC instructors Major Farley and First sergeant Powell for helping me develop my leadership skills. 

We are excited to see Ani here at Michigan Tech this fall, along with all of our new incoming and returning students!

If you are a new psych or human factors student for Fall 2022, and would like to say “hey”, please reach out to cls@mtu.edu or message us @clsmtu.

Q&A with Teaching Award Winner Briana Bettin

Briana Bettin is the recipient of Michigan Technological University’s 2022 Distinguished Teaching Award in the Teaching Professor/Professor of Practice/Assistant Professor category.

My goal is not just that students know how to code — you can find coding tutorials anywhere that give you raw “stuff.” I want to help them validate whether they understand what code does and whether they can communicate about code with others and justify their decisions while programming. I also ensure that students recognize, even if we aren’t building big systems for people just yet while we learn these foundations, that code is powerful and comes with responsibility, that there are social impacts to what they program and that computer scientists are often the least likely to recognize how impactful to society their job can be. These skills and this awareness are what job recruiters look for in the modern market. They are also valuable even for those who won’t go on to become programmers.

Briana Bettin

For complete Q&A with CLS / CS assistant professor Briana Bettin, see Michigan Tech News.

Mental Health Awareness Month

Mental health refers to our emotional and social well-being and impacts how we think, feel, and behave. It enables us to connect with others, make decisions, handle stress, and many other aspects of daily life. As with our physical health, mental health plays a big role in our overall well-being. But unlike general physical illness or injury, it can be more difficult to recognize when someone is struggling with a mental health issue. 

Since September 2020, approximately 56 Michigan Tech faculty and staff have been trained and certified to recognize signs and symptoms, and provide support and strategies to those in need. This is all thanks to the National Council for Behavioral Health (NCBH) and Mental Health First Aid training provided by the Center for Student Mental Health and Well-being. The training, led by Sarah Dowd, Director of Student-Athlete Wellness and Clinical Counselor, and Sarah Woodruff, Clinical Counselor-Outreach, follows a hybrid model with several hours of pre and post-work and two half-day sessions of in-person instruction. The content focuses on the ALGEE plan: Approach/Access, Listen nonjudgmentally, Give reassurance and information, Encourage appropriate professional help, and Encourage self-help and other support strategies. 

Several faculty and staff from Cognitive and Learning Sciences (CLS) now join those certified as part of the most recent cohort trained this May.

Associate Professor Kevin Trewartha (CLS/KIP) describes his reasons for completing the training. “I have multiple roles on campus that motivated me to complete the Mental Health First Aid training. Aside from engaging with students every day as a faculty member, graduate program director, and research advisor, I am also serving as the co-chair of the University Senate Committee on Promoting and Facilitating Equity and Understanding. In addition, I am also the faculty representative for the College of Sciences and Arts on the University Diversity Council. This year, the Senate passed a resolution on raising awareness and reducing mental health stigma. The Senate and the Diversity Council are dedicated to ensuring that individuals living with mental illness are supported and welcomed at Michigan Tech. I completed the MHFA to ensure that I am prepared to contribute to those efforts.” 

Staff also play an important role in mental health support. “As CLS department coordinator and graduate program assistant, I interact with students, faculty, and staff for a variety of purposes on a daily basis,” Lisa Hitch explains of her participation in the recent MHFA training and certification. “I want to be knowledgeable about identifying and helping someone in need. I’m grateful that Michigan Tech values and provides such training for faculty and staff.”

MHFA as common as CPR

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health, administered by Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), shows that in 2018 an estimated 46.6 million people, or 18.9 percent of adults ages 18 years or older, experience a mental illness or substance abuse disorder each year. Latest research now estimates that more than 1 in 4 U.S. adults report experiencing symptoms of depression as we continue to deal with the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic. The vision of the NCBH is for Mental Health First Aid to become as common as CPR and for Mental Health First Aid training to be available to everyone in the United States. 

The MHFA training also teaches first aiders the importance of self care — putting on your own oxygen mask first so that you are able to assist others. SAMHSA has defined eight dimensions of wellness to help individuals focus on optimizing their health through emotional, spiritual, intellectual, physical, environmental, financial, occupational, and social components. (https://store.samhsa.gov/sites/default/files/d7/priv/sma16-4958.pdf). This is helpful information we can all use to support our overall wellness.

Michigan Tech’s Center for Student Mental Health and Well-being offers the Mental Health First Aid training each semester with the next available session sometime this fall. Certification is valid for three years upon successful exam completion. 

Sources: https://www.mhanational.org/mental-health-month; https://www.samhsa.gov/; https://www.mentalhealthfirstaid.org/news-and-updates/; https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/us-cases-of-depression-have-tripled-during-the-covid-19-pandemic

Resources:

https://www.mtu.edu/well-being/

https://www.mtu.edu/deanofstudents/students/resources/

https://www.mtu.edu/well-being/for-students/services/individual-therapy/wellbeing-guide.pdf

Mental Health First Aid

Student Highlight: Hunter Malinowski

Reading about Hunter Malinowski, a psychology and computer science major at Michigan Tech University, it’s hard to believe a student could accomplish so much during their undergraduate studies. But what is really amazing is the fact that Hunter began her dual degree programs just two short years ago.

Starting with her first semester, Hunter was awarded third place in the Bob Mark Business Model Competition and received a MTEC SmartZone Breakout Innovation Award and honorable mention in Central Michigan University’s New Venture Challenge for her start-up idea “Recirculate – The Future of Sustainable Fashion”. (See YouTube video below where Hunter describes her waste-reduction business model.)

Utilizing what she had learned in her first-year research methods class, Hunter applied to and received a Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) grant from Pavlis Honors College (PHC). Each REU site receives funding from the National Science Foundation to support the research and contributions of many undergraduate students allowing students to work in a group of ten or so while conducting research at the host institution.

In her second year, Hunter continued her research work under the direction of CLS associate professor Dr. Shane Mueller after receiving a grant from Pavlis’ Undergraduate Research Internship Program (URIP). Her project, titled “Assessing the Effectiveness of the XAI Discovery Platform and Visual Explanations on User Understanding of AI Systems,” was part of the university’s 2022 Undergraduate Research Symposium. This spring, Hunter was also selected by PHC as a University Innovation Fellow and, in conjunction, attended the Stanford University Hassos Plattner Institute of Design (d_school) program in March. 

Hunter also devotes time to the campus community, currently as VP of Finance for Delta Zeta and as a member of the Order of Omega Honor Society. Past positions include Vice President of Public Relations for the Panhellenic Council, and member of the Undergraduate Student Government (USG) as their representative on the Well-being Advisory Board Team. Hunter’s academic achievements have earned her a place on the Dean’s list each semester as well.

We caught up with Hunter during Week 14 to find out more about her life at Michigan Tech.  

Q: Looking back, what were the deciding factors that led you to select Michigan Tech for psychology and computer science? Has your experience met or exceeded your expectations?

A: When I first toured Michigan Tech, I was solely interested in psychology. I visited the Cognitive and Learning Sciences department and was able to see all of the research labs, which was a large deciding factor for me in choosing Michigan Tech. I ended up taking a computer science class my junior year of high school, and loved it. I went on to do summer programs with Kode with Klossy, as well as the Women in Computer Science Summer Youth Program (SYP) at Michigan Tech, and that was the experience that solidified that I felt like I really belonged here. 

My experience at Michigan Tech has absolutely met my expectations; I was able to get involved in research during my first year and I love the environment that the psychology classes have. With the smaller size department, you end up knowing everyone very well and it makes classes a lot more comfortable. 

Q: What interests you about the combination of Psychology and Computer Science?

A: People are always surprised when I tell them that I’m majoring in Psychology and Computer Science because they don’t see how the two fit together. But there are so many interesting intersections between the two. First and foremost, if you know how to code and create a piece of technology, it’s not very useful if the user interface is poor. You could have a perfect technical design, but without understanding the psychology of the users, your app probably won’t get used. However, the most interesting aspect to me is artificial intelligence and its applications, which is what I plan to go into after graduating.

Q: With so many accolades over the past two years, what has been the highlight for you so far?

A: The trip to Palo Alto through University Innovation Fellows was 100% my favorite experience since being here. We attended a conference at Stanford; the campus was so beautiful and there were so many amazing speakers at the sessions I attended. It was one of the coolest things I’ve ever gotten to do.

Q: What are your future plans for your time remaining at Michigan Tech and when you complete your undergraduate degrees?

A: I am returning as a Ford IT intern this summer. Other than that, I think I will mostly be focusing on my classes and getting involved on campus where I can. When I complete my undergraduate degrees, I plan on staying here at Michigan Tech for one more year to complete my Accelerated Masters degree!

Q: What do you like to do in your “spare” time in the local area?

A: I love hanging out with my friends, going on adventures, and doing crafts (I love to crochet). One time, my friends and I were volunteering at Treat Street, passing out candy to local children. Afterward we decided to go and watch the sunset at Breakers Beach, which was happening in like 20 minutes. So we went in our Halloween costumes since we didn’t have time to change. That’s probably one of my favorite memories since being here. I love the Keweenaw because you’re so close to so many beautiful sights.

Q: Would you like to share any “Words of Wisdom” with high school juniors and seniors deciding on their college career?

A: I think my best advice for students making their college plans is just to do what feels right. You have so many options, and it can be hard to decide between them all, whether it’s the college you’re deciding on or what major you want to do. But at the end of the day, you know yourself best, so don’t overthink it too much. If something doesn’t feel right, you can always change it. Which is probably one of the hardest things for me because I feel like I want to do everything. And sometimes you have to admit to yourself that something isn’t working out, or else you’ll get overwhelmed.

For more information on our Psychology and Human Factors programs, and the student opportunities highlighted in this post, please contact us at cls@mtu.edu. For our latest happenings, follow us on Instagram @clsmtu or Facebook

Play Recirculate – Hunter Malinowski video
Preview image for Recirculate - Hunter Malinowski video

Recirculate – Hunter Malinowski

The Psychology of Nature


Psychological research is advancing our understanding of how time in nature can improve our mental health and sharpen our cognition. From a stroll through a city park to a day spent hiking in the wilderness, exposure to nature has been linked to a host of benefits, including improved attention, lower stress, better mood, improved immune system, reduced risk of psychiatric disorders and even upticks in empathy and cooperation. [Source: https://www.apa.org/monitor/2020/04/nurtured-nature]

The Department of Cognitive and Learning Sciences has blended these wellness findings with the area’s abundance of outdoor activities and endless beauty into its new course – Nature Psychology. The course was developed by Dr. Samantha Smith, CLS assistant professor, with noteworthy contributions from several other faculty at MTU.The new course centers experiential learning and takes an innovative and interdisciplinary approach to helping students explore how our mental experience is connected to the natural environment. 

The course also featured a significant service learning component. In collaboration with Jill Fisher, program manager at the Keweenaw Land Trust (KLT), the students designed a pamphlet explaining many ways that spending time in nature is good for mental health, physical health, and cognitive performance. The pamphlet will be placed at various KLT trailheads and around the local community. The class also created a family-oriented activity with the aim of getting more people exploring the great outdoors, and the KLT-protected lands in particular.

This year’s course culminated with a weekend nature retreat in the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, allowing students to directly experience and reflect on concepts they discussed throughout the semester. The retreat, facilitated by Dr. Smith and Dr. Erika Vye, included hiking, outdoor cooking, nature-themed discussions and crafts, and time for interpersonal connection and reflection.

Complementary Research and Curriculum Development 

In addition to learning about traditional psychology themes, like the impact of time in nature on cognitive performance and mental health, the new course introduced students to a variety of other perspectives on the human-nature connection. Brigitte Morin (BioSci) illuminated the human body’s physiological response to spending mindful time in the natural world, and Dr. Mark Rhodes (SS) led students on an exploration of human geography, political ecology, and what the word “nature” really means. Dr. Chelsea Schelly (SS) engaged students in an exciting examination of environmentally responsible behaviors, and our interdependent relationship with the biophysical world from a sociological lens. Lisa Gordillo (VPA) spoke to some of her own and others’ work at the intersection of art and ecology to facilitate community engagement and conversations about environmental justice and human rights. Dr. Erika Vye (GLRC) introduced students to the importance of varied personal values for geologic features, the wide-ranging connections people have with landscape, and the value of geoheritage as a geoscience communication tool affording place-based learning experiences that nurture our sense of place. Dr. R.J. Laverne (CFRES) shared his expertise on urban forestry, and the consequences of becoming too disconnected from the natural world that we evolved to thrive in.

The takeaways to keep for life

Throughout the course, students gained a greater understanding of:

  • how nature impacts human psychology and physiology,
  • how an understanding of psychology and the human-nature connection can be used to promote positive social and environmental outcomes,
  • how to engage in and promote environmental stewardship efforts and become more environmentally responsible citizens of the Earth.

There’s More

The Nature Psychology course is not the only experiential learning opportunity provided by the CLS department. Course offerings also include Environmental Psychology, where students go outside the classroom to observe psychological principles and practices at play in various real-world settings. For example, during the course, students conduct a walkability survey of Houghton, and conduct a scavenger hunt at the A. E. Seaman Mineral Museum to explore the design of educational environments.

In the fall semester, during the Upper Peninsula’s famous “color season”, the department also organizes a “Psych Hike” – a group hike on one of the area’s beautiful trails. This is a great way to calm the mind, move the body, and enjoy time together in nature.  

For more information regarding our Psychology and Human Factors programs, please contact us at cls@mtu.edu. And for the latest happenings, follow us on Instagram @clsmtu or Facebook

Photo credit: Hannah DeRuyter