Wanting to know self leads to study of others

Mary Howell 2012Mary Howell’s interest in psychology began long before she took a class on the subject.

“At a younger age, it appealed to me because I felt it would help me fully understand myself, friends and family better,” she said. “The field of psychology appeared somewhat magical, because it entails attempting to truly understand human nature—how we as a species think, feel, act; why we think, feel, act certain ways.

“I’ve learned that psychology is much more than just talking about your feelings. There is a heavy research and science aspect, as well.” The fascination with that aspect drew her to major in the subject and led her to an internship at Butler Hospital in Providence, R.I., where she worked last summer and during winter break this January.

Howell, Class of 2012, received a Wheaton Fellows stipend to work as an intern for the Harvard/Brown Anxiety Research Program (HARP) and Learning to Ease Anxiety in Primary Care (LEAP), which are two large, longitudinal research studies that examine anxiety in adults in two different ways. HARP examines the nature and course of anxiety in older adults and ethnic minority groups. LEAP studies anxiety in adult primary care patients.

“I chose to pursue this type of job for the summer because I wanted to do something applicable to my career,” she said. “Everything I’ve been a part of makes me very excited for a future career in psychology.”

She helped the LEAP team finish research by coordinating the final interviews for the study. She also worked on a pilot study of a computerized, cognitive bias modification program for individuals with social phobia. For the study, she was one of four people who monitored the speech of individuals with social phobia, and watched pre- and post-treatment videos of the participants to measure the effect of treatment.

“Interning at Butler allowed me to gain familiarity with the criteria for anxiety disorders, common anxiety measures, both quantitative and qualitative research, longitudinal research studies and much more,” said Howell, who is also majoring in philosophy. “It was great to be able to witness and experience firsthand all that I have learned in the many psychology classes I have taken at Wheaton.

“It was nice to see both the research aspect of clinical psychology as well as the hands-on doctor-patient aspect of it. It has helped me narrow down my field choices for graduate school and reassured me that psychology is the right path for me.”

Professor of Psychology Gail Sahar first taught Howell in her First Year Seminar class “On Becoming Evil.” In the class, students explored the psychological transformations that enable a normal human being to carry out acts of evil that occur during a genocide or even in ordinary war. “As a person with interests in both psychology and philosophy, this topic fit very well for Mary, and she demonstrated to me that she is quite insightful,” said Sahar, who wrote the letter of recommendation for Howell’s internship opportunity.

The professor points out that one of Howell’s strengths is her determination: “She knows what she wants to do and is willing to do what it takes to achieve her goals.”

Photo / Amie Rosenblum ’12