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Psychology students host area seventh graders

ISSUED: 2 November 2017
MEDIA CONTACT: Valerie Owens

SHEPHERDSTOWN, WV — Seventh grade students from two Jefferson County middle schools recently got a firsthand look at what it’s like to attend college through a service-learning project run by students in a Department of Psychology adolescent development class.

Dr. Heidi Dobish, associate professor of psychology, teaches the class, which gives students the opportunity to learn more about the cognitive, physical, and psychosocial-affective variables that affect adolescent development.

Thanks in part to $600 in support from the Paul and Lisa Welch Endowment, about 225 seventh graders from Harpers Ferry Middle School spent part of Friday, October 27, at Shepherd and about 140 Shepherdstown Middle School seventh graders were on campus Wednesday, November 1. Harpers Ferry has been participating in the program for about eight years now. This is the first year Shepherdstown students have taken part.

“They get to see a college campus,” Dobish said. “They get a tour. They get to spend some time at the Game Zone. They get a chat from admissions geared toward them. The highlight of the day is eating in the Dining Hall.”

Dobish said the Shepherd students in the adolescent development class are required to do a research project in conjunction with the visits by developing and researching a hypothesis about adolescent behavior that they can collect data on while interacting with the middle schoolers.

“There are ranges of hypotheses,” Dobish said. “Some students are looking at food choices that kids make, so they’ll observe what they eat in the dining hall. Some are looking at relationships with siblings. Some are looking at whether the middle school students are active in sports and how that affects their GPA. Some have a hypotheses around self-esteem and the relationship with family members.”

The Shepherd students are required to write an American Psychology Association-style paper and make a presentation on their research topic using the data they collected working with the middle school students. Despite the variety of hypothesis her students are working on, Dobish said they almost universally come to one conclusion after working with the seventh graders.

“Whenever it’s all said and done, they say ‘I never behaved that way when I was that age,’” Dobish said with a smile.

Ryan Garman, an R.B.A. student from Martinsburg, said his research hypothesis is that kids who participate in organized sports do better academically.

“I think so far it’s kind of accurate,” Garman said. “Working with the kids is a learning experience for both us and them. It’s kind of stressful because we have a research project and we have to entertain them, but at the end of the day I think it’s a good thing.”

Alyssa Butler, a psychology major from Elkton, Virginia, who is researching how kids view their level of physical activity, enjoyed hosting the seventh graders and said she learned a lot from spending time with them.

“I think this project is important for our class because we are studying adolescent development and it’s giving us hands-on experience with kids who are in the middle school years versus just reading about it,” Butler said.

“I think the project is really great because we get to establish mentoring relationships with young students,” said Caroline Shamberger, a psychology major from Morgantown who is researching adolescent food choices. “It gets them excited for what they’re going to do after high school, whether it be college or another track, so it’s just really great to get their views and see their excitement about being on a college campus.”

Brooke Reaves, a political science major from Charles Town, is doing research on peer pressure. Reaves said she enjoyed interacting with the middle school students as she showed them around Shepherd.

“You take them around campus and they say things like ‘I want to be like you,’ and ‘I want to go to school like you,’ and they ask you all types of questions,” Reaves said. “You wouldn’t expect 12-year-olds to be so engaged in the college experience.”

As mom to a 16-, 13-, and 8-year-old, Temetrie Whaley Encarnacion, an R.B.A. student from Long Island, New York, already has plenty of experience with adolescents. Her research topic is on how social media can affect their self-esteem and self-image.

“Some of them don’t even have access and aren’t allowed to use social media, so they said ‘we don’t care, we just see our friends at school,’” Encarnacion said. “Others say it doesn’t hurt but they just do it to express their feelings to as many people as possible.”

Dobish said the seventh graders also benefit from the time spent on campus. She pointed out that October is College and Career Readiness Month and the visit to Shepherd gave the middle school students the opportunity to experience the campus while college students mentor them.

“The goal on the larger scale is to get them to start thinking about college,” Dobish said. “It’s really getting them to think about careers, about going to college, and that you have to plan, make good grades, and take the courses necessary to be admitted to college.”

After spending the morning getting to know Shepherd and eating in the Dining Hall, the middle school students participated in a pep rally before heading back to their schools.

Listen to the interview HERE.

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