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Counseling Psychology team helps girls “see the best” in themselves

Dr Britney Brinkman Chatham University
Project members included Whitney Ringwald (University of Pittsburgh); Ashley Dandridge, PsyD; Britney Brinkman, Ph.D.; Sara Goodkind, Ph.D. (University of Pittsburgh); Kelsey Johnson, MSCP; Samantha Marino, MAP

In September 2016, a troubling report was released. It begins:

“Until very recently, little public attention has been focused on understanding the ways Black girls and women experience institutional racism and sexism. Over the last year, the national conversation about the experiences of Black girls has gained momentum. This report is an attempt to share some troubling local data in order to support additional conversation and draw public attention to these issues. Among its findings:

  • Black girls are suspended from the Pittsburgh Public Schools at more than three times the rate of white girls.
  • Black girls are referred to juvenile court three times more often than white girls nationally. In Allegheny County, it’s 11 times more often.”[1]

While black females are not incarcerated at the rate of black males, that’s not to say they fare better in schools. The phrase “pushout” is used to describe institutionalized racism and sexism that results in inequitable treatment of black girls in school, and the subsequent effects on their lives.

From this, it seems clear that furthering understanding of the girls’ lives—and of the girls themselves—is key to combatting institutionalized prejudice. And who better to tell you about that than, well—them?

“There’s a surge of research on African American girls right now, but we want to make sure that the body of research is informed by girls’ direct perspectives,” says Britney Brinkman, Ph.D., associate professor of counseling psychology and co-founder of Chatham’s Psychology of Gender Research Team.

In January 2017, Dr. Brinkman, along with the University of Pittsburgh’s Dr. Sara Goodkind, launched a project as part of local non-profit Gwen’s Girls “See the Best in Me” campaign. “See the Best in Me” is an initiative focused on self-esteem, critical thinking, and advocacy skills that enable girls to better understand and express themselves about the issues that affect them daily.

The project involved about 80 girls, who participated in Gwen’s Girls after-school programs. They used a research method called photovoice to capture their experiences. “Rather than responding to questionnaires or focus group prompts, photovoice offers a broader way of expression, through photos but also drawing, poetry, and collage,” says team member Jeremy Holdorf, MSCP ’18.

For about six months, Dr. Brinkman, Holdorf, and the other members of the team met periodically with the girls to talk about how the photographing is going, bat around ideas, troubleshoot technology mishaps, and otherwise touch base.

The program culminated in a gallery exhibit at Chatham that ran from June 6-9. The exhibit displayed these photos by 26 girls, along with drawings and notecards from a workshop that included over 80 girls.  The goal was to share the work with as many people as possible, to counteract negative stereotypes and get more positive messages out into the community.

exhibit-33“We wanted to help kids connect their individual experiences to group experience,” explains Dr. Brinkman. “To help them see that it’s not just them; that other black girls might be having similar experiences. It lets us not only learn from individual experiences, but also paint a bigger picture of what’s going on.”

Dr. Brinkman takes an individualized approach to mentoring research assistants. “Part of our mentoring is getting to know each student, their strengths and growth edges. Jeremy has an MFA in film and video, and we’ve worked on how to connect these skills to psychology. Another team member has worked at Gwen’s Girls, and with her, it’s like ‘You’ve worked with these girls the most, so tell us when we’re missing something, and we’ll help develop your competencies in research methods.’ I love it when our team members have different strengths and our team is collaborative.”

Chatham University’s Masters of Science in Counseling Psychology and Doctor of Psychology in Counseling Psychology programs focus on the professional, intellectual, and personal growth of students, emphasizing human-centered values as well as evidence-informed treatment approaches. 

[1] Goodkind, Sara. (2016). Inequities Affecting Black Girls in Pittsburgh and Allegheny County. Pittsburgh, PA: FISA Foundation & The Heinz Endowments.

 

Five Questions with Monica Riordan

Name: Monica Riordan
Title: Assistant Professor of Experimental Psychology
Joined Chatham: August 2012
Born & Raised: St. Louis, Missouri
Interests: family time, hiking, and travel

 

 

  1. What was your first job and what did you learn from it?

My first job was at the YMCA when I was 15. I worked in the baby nursery and taught gymnastics classes and summer camps for children. I learned quite a lot about negotiating and compromise (especially from the toddlers), how to make boring tasks seem fun (like making up songs for stretching routines), and showing leadership skills when in charge of a group of many different personalities and interests.

  1. What aspect of your life before teaching best prepared you to do so?

Working with children is a fantastic training ground for just about any career you ever take in life. It teaches you to think on the fly, be flexible from one moment to another, always have a plan B (and often C and D), work with many different people of many different backgrounds and needs, develop coping skills for high-stress environments, and show grace under pressure.

  1. What makes teaching at Chatham special for you? 

At many universities, teacher-student interaction is limited to the classroom, but I have found at Chatham (for better or worse), students weave themselves into the teachers’ lives. They email me articles that they think will be interesting to me, they ask about my son, they invite me to their plays and sporting events, and greet me by name and a hearty “good morning!”

  1. What is your favorite thing about working with Chatham students?

Most students are eager to learn and they spend time trying to relate material to their own lives and come up with examples of how they see psychological theories acted out in the real world. This transfer of learning from paper to practice is heartening to me as a teacher.

  1. What is your passion?

I like to design experiments and collect data, but am happiest when analyzing the data in the hope of finally finding answers to questions. Despite my passion for research, though, writing, unfortunately, I find to be necessary drudgery.

Monica Riordan is an assistant professor in the Psychology department at Chatham.  She challenges her students to identify her one tattoo.

 

 

independent monitoring for quality

“What Independent Monitoring For Quality (IM4Q) allows us to do,” says Chatham Professor of Counseling Psychology Anthony Goreczny, PhD, “is to help improve the quality of life for people who have historically not had much choice or opportunity to do so.”

IM4Q is an information-gathering method used in Pennsylvania to improve the lives of individuals with an intellectual or developmental disability. The state has contracted with Chatham to conduct this research in Allegheny, Washington, and Greene counties. Dr. Goreczny is principal investigator for that work.

goreczny-anthony“Here’s how it works,” he says. “Each year, we receive a list—a random sample of individuals who are receiving services through Pennsylvania’s Office of Developmental Programs. Then we go out and interview them in teams of two. Typically, one of the two will be an individual with an intellectual disability (ID), or a family member of an individual with ID. We interview folks in their home, or wherever else they’d like to be interviewed, and ask them how satisfied they are with their lives, and with the services they’re receiving.”

“And we ask them an important question: what would improve your quality of life?”

“They might say that they want to go to a Pirates game, or to go to church services more often, or to take a college course of some sort,” he says. “We submit their request to the county, and the support coordinator has 45 days to take action toward making it happen.”

“When we first started, a lot of participants were interested in moving,” says Dr. Goreczny. “Now, there seems to be a movement toward empowerment and self-improvement for people with ID. Instead of just accepting their lot, they’re saying ‘I want better’ and it’s really neat. They want to take a college class, learn how to vote, become more integrated and included in the general community.”

Dr. Goreczny considers individuals with disabilities to be underserved yet rewarding populations to work with. “When it comes to people who want to go into the helping people professions, there tend to be three groups of people that they don’t want to work with: older adults, the chronically mentally ill, and people with developmental disabilities. However, research has shown that when we bring people into the fold of working with these populations during their training, it opens up a whole arena that they’d never considered working with.”

“I’ve had several people say to me that they never thought of this as a population they’d want to work with, but now it’s all they want to do.”

Dr. Goreczny estimates that over 100 Chatham students have been involved in IM4Q, both graduate and undergraduate, and their degrees of participation vary with their interest and availability. Chatham students conduct interviews, enter and analyze data, and even publish in scientific journals based on work they’ve done through the program.

“IM4Q gives them in-depth interviewing skills, and also the opportunity to do more research analysis,” he says. “Students who work on the project really feel good about it.”

One of these students is Terrie Haggey, PsyD ‘21, who came to Chatham from Maine for the Master of Psychology program and for the opportunity to work with Dr. Goreczny on the IM4Q program. She co-conducts interviews, and serves as the coordinator for IM4Q Washington county.

“Chatham was one of very few programs I found that has an emphasis on research with people with intellectual disability,” she says. “I’m already working on a couple of studies with Dr. Goreczny, and I haven’t even finished my Master’s degree yet.”

This summer, Haggey will be presenting results from a study at the annual American Psychological Association conference in Washington, DC, focusing on how the overlap of intellectual disabilities with physical or behavioral disabilities affects quality of life. “We in the United States have done very little research on this,” she says.

For Haggey’s doctoral work, she’s interested in looking at co-morbidities of mental health and intellectual disability, particularly with regard to what types of treatments individuals are getting. “It’s about healthcare equity,” she says. “Even when people with ID have access to healthcare, providers aren’t necessarily trained to work with them, so they’re maybe not getting the care that they could.”

Chatham University’s Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) in Counseling Psychology program is one of a small number of APA-accredited Counseling Psychology PsyD programs in the nation. The program includes three years of coursework and practicum experiences, followed by a one-year internship.

 

 

Marita Garrett, MAP ’15 wins Wilkinsburg mayoral primary

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Update: On November 7, 2017, Marita Garrett won the Wilkinsburg mayoral race. A longer version of this story appeared in the Spring 2017 Chatham Recorder

In 2010, Marita Garrett bought a house in Wilkinsburg, PA, a borough of about 16,000 people, right outside Pittsburgh. “The taxes were super high, but I kept coming back because I really liked Wilkinsburg,” she says.

Three years later, the Department of Education put the Wilkinsburg school district on the financial watch list. Residents, including Garrett, took note.

Her first thought was to help another candidate. “There were four seats open on Borough Council,” she says. “I thought maybe I’d pass out flyers or host an event. But the second time I went to an interest meeting, I asked who was running for our ward, and saw eyes looking at me.”

“I started doing door to door, and realizing no information was getting to our residents. They didn’t even know Wilkinsburg was its own municipality; they thought it was part of the City of Pittsburgh. I thought now wait a minute, I need to stay in this full force, because this has to change.”

She was elected to Council in the fall of 2013, and began her term in January 2014.

Fall 2013 was also when she enrolled in Chatham’s Psychology program. “It made me a good listener, and good at figuring out where people are coming from. That’s come in more than handy in Council, when nine people all want the best thing for the community but have different ideas of what that looks like.”

On my first day of orientation, I saw the Pennsylvania Center for Women and Politics table and said I was just elected to Wilkinsburg council! They were like, ‘You have to come to our office! and I was like, Yes!’ It’s been a great relationship.”

In September 2014, Garrett launched a series of quarterly community conversations. In 2015, she co-founded Free Store Wilkinsburg, a nonprofit that redistributes new and lightly used goods at no cost to community members to bridge times of financial stress and emergency.

Why did Garrett decide to run for mayor? Wilkinsburg has a “weak mayor, strong council” form of government. That means that the vast majority of decisions are made by the Borough Council.

If it sounds like Council is where the power lies, that’s what Garrett thought, too. That’s why when her friend Austin David, executive assistant to County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, asked her whether she’d ever considered running for mayor, she was skeptical.

But then Austin made a very good point: Braddock’s John Fetterman is also “just the mayor.”

“I was like, Wow, you know what? That’s right,” Garrett says. “Fetterman has really taken that role of a figurehead and spokesperson and used it to do so much for Braddock. He’s brought in concerts, events, all these exciting things. I thought ‘You know what, okay. I’m going to do this.’”

“It was always my plan to announce the day after the general election. Then Hillary lost, and I did take a day of reflection. I thought, should I even try to run? Then I thought no—we’re moving ahead. I officially announced my candidacy in January.”

Wilkinsburg’s mayoral general election will be held in November.

An emoji is worth…what, exactly?

emojis1

It’s not every day that Vogue magazine wants to talk to a Chatham researcher, but Assistant Professor of Psychology Monica Riordan, PhD was ready. Dr. Riordan studies computer-mediated communication (such as texts, instant messaging, and emails), and she recently published a study in the Journal of Language and Social Psychology about emojis—the little pictures of everything from a thumbs-up to a salamander to the Romanian flag that we see on our phone screens and computer monitors.

Some people think that emojis grew out of emoticons, combinations of punctuation that help writers communicate the emotion behind a text or an email. The smile is a common one: :) In fact, many computer programs (including Microsoft Word) automatically replace emoticons with emojis: in the case of the colon + right parenthesis, it’s replaced with a smiley face.

“But if you look at all the 2000+ emojis that exist, only a small percentage of them are faces,” says Dr. Riordan. “The vast majority are objects. It begs the question, what are these non-face emojis for? What do they communicate?”

To investigate this question, Dr. Riordan worked with students to develop a set of texts that they could imagine receiving (“ecologically valid,” in psychology-speak), and paired the texts with zero, one, two or three emojis. She then showed the texts to study participants and asked them to rate how much of each of eight emotions (joy, trust, fear, surprise, anger, sadness, disgust, and anticipation) was present in the text message.

The results surprised her.

“It’s intuitive that if you use a smiley emoji, it will make you seem happier,” says Dr. Riordan. “But it’s not quite as intuitive that an emoji of a tree should suddenly make people seem happier, and yet they seem to. I was really surprised that of all eight emotions that I looked at, joy just significantly increased every single time.

“People just seem more joyful when they use emojis, no matter what that emoji is.”

Cara Gillotti, Senior Writer at Chatham University: Why do you think that might be?

MR: I think it adds an element of playfulness. If you’re really angry about something, you don’t play with language, right? You’re very terse, very to the point. Emojis are a form of art. They’re a form of playing with language.

CG: Do you think that’s their main purpose?

MR: I think emojis are used in a few ways. For one, they might be used to disambiguate meaning. For example, if I send you a text that just says “Party time!”, that could mean a baby shower, a graduation party—you don’t know. But if I include an emoji of two beer glasses clinking, it tells you more about what kind of party it’s going to be. But of course the extent to which they do that depends on which emoji you use, for example, a balloon emoji may not differentiate.

I was working closely with a former student—who is now in the Quantitative Psychology PhD program at Notre Dame—and we spent many hours talking about what emojis mean. She showed me a text she got from a friend that said “See you later” with a unicorn emoji after it, and I was like “What does that mean?” It turns out that they had negotiated the meaning of the unicorn emoji to be a personality signature, like a hidden understanding, a shared joke just between the two of them. And I found that really interesting, and we put together this theory, that by having this hidden meaning inside joke emoji, you’re almost performing your role as a friend, saying “we’re besties.”

The meaning of emojis is negotiated and changes over time. Emojis rise and fall in popularity, more emojis are made, and some emojis are deleted from the favorites list. In these ways, they are a lot like words, and have become a language unto themselves.

Emojis can also be great timesavers in terms of acting out social roles too. Let’s say you’re part of a sales team that just won an award. You could go down to the office and give everyone a high-five, or you could type a couple trophies, a couple of high fives, and text them to everybody, and you’re “present” in that moment.

And sometimes emojis have no meaning whatsoever, sometimes they’re just like rainbows and flowers and whatever else. I have nothing else to say so I’m just going to text you a bunch of emojis in a row.

CG: So we don’t always know what emojis mean.

MR: Nope. In fact, people who are older than college age tend to think of emojis as pictograms—that they represent the actual object. And this can lead to misunderstandings, because the people who use emojis more often actually consider them to be more like ideograms. Which means they don’t represent a trophy in reality, they represent the idea of being a champion, the idea of winning.

CG: How can we tell whether they’re used as pictograms or ideograms? 

MR: Apple recently came out with an upgrade to the iPhone that suggests emojis for words you type in a text— if you text “tree”, it will suggest replacing that word with an emoji of a tree. The problem is, most people don’t do this. The most common place for an emoji is at the end of a text, not in the middle, and rarely in place of words. They’re used as punctuation.

CG: Interesting. 

MR: Yeah. So, because emojis are often seen as ideograms, we can never really know what they mean. With some, there’s almost like a cultural-level negotiation of their meaning.  I thought it was really interesting that negotiation happens at the cultural level, and also at the interpersonal level, like with my former student and her best friend.

emojis2

CG: I looked at one of the papers your studies references, and was intrigued by the finding that texts that end with periods are actually seen as being less sincere. 

MR: One of my students told me that she uses a period to specifically end a conversation. When you’re face and face with someone, you walk away and the conversation ends. But conversations over text message can go on perpetually. Maybe there’s a delay, and 20 minutes later you get a message. It’s a constant, ongoing conversation. So she feels that if she wants to end the conversation, she puts a period there to show that we are now closing.

CG: So it’s a deliberate decision that she’s making?  

MR: Exactly. And it’s so interesting to me that it’s using punctuation in a completely different way. It’s not ending a sentence; it’s ending a conversation.

CG: In your study, did you find that three emojis—trophies, for example—correlated with more joy than two trophies?

MR: No, interestingly—if we look at the trophy, joy went up almost an entire point from zero emojis to one emoji. But two emojis were basically the same as one emoji, and when you added a third, it went up only about another three-quarters of a point. So it looks like the important thing is whether an emoji is included, not the number of emojis. Only rarely did adding more emojis make an emotion more intense.

If you look online, you will find like the “laughing while crying” emoji three times in a row, and that’s supposed to indicate the intensity of the emotion. But in reality, most of the time we’re not really feeling the ways that we’re communicating that we’re feeling. It’s all a complete performance, so you’re performing the social role.

CG: Do people use emojis in emails?

MR: It is extremely infrequent. Most people – especially teenagers and 20-somethings don’t email their friends or family. To them, email is strictly something they use for professional correspondence.

CG: Are you thinking about extending this line of research?

MR: Yes, I am. So, if my father or mother sends me an eggplant emoji, I know they don’t mean certain associated meanings. But if a friend sends it, I think “she knows what that means!” I judge the meaning of the emoji based on the person who sends it. It’s obviously very complex, but I think I’d like to untangle some of the relationships between context and emoji use, and meaning of the emojis of that context.

Read Vogue’s coverage of the study here.

This study was funded by a Chatham faculty research grant. Chatham University’s undergraduate psychology program allows students to explore contemporary theory and research in psychology while thinking scientifically about behavior and mental processes, appreciating and respecting others and their differences, and to pursue a variety of career paths or graduate school.

Campus Community Profile: Mary Beth Mannarino

Mannarino blog[2]

Title: Associate Professor of Psychology
Hometown: Pittsburgh, PA
Hobbies: Yoga, bicycling, reading, traveling, spending time with family
Joined Chatham: 2001

What is your main area of research interest?
I focus on connections between environmental health and sustainability and the health and wellbeing of people and communities.

What are some of these connections?
I’d say the connections show up in at least two main ways. The first is that climate change, pollution, and other factors are increasingly affecting mental and physical health. They can cause stress directly, if you’re living in certain areas, such as on a coast, or indirectly, as when air pollution affects health which affects stress. This is becoming such a large issue, yet most health professionals aren’t exposed to information about it unless they actively seek it out. Our program is really on the vanguard with this.

How so?
Since our psychology doctoral program began in 2009, we’ve offered a course in environmental psychology and sustainability. It’s mandatory for the PsyD students, and offered as an elective for master’s students. There’s interest in it across disciplines, too –we’ve had master’s students in Landscape Architecture and Food Studies take the class.

What does the class cover?
We talk about what climate change means globally, where we see effects in the US, and also how it impacts Pittsburgh regionally. For example, in the US, we see how drought affects the economic wellbeing of farmers and their families, and how this trickles down to affect food prices and food availability. So it’s not just “we have a drought,” but what does that mean? In most of our work, we emphasize social justice, because it’s often the people least able, due to limited economic means and education, to bounce back who are affected most seriously. Regionally, we talk about reliance on fossil fuels. Air quality is a concern. We look at how it affects children’s health in different parts of the city. It’s usually poorer kids who miss school, and get even further behind, and parents have to miss work to take them to the doctor, and so forth.

How else can connections between sustainability and psychology be made?
We stress sustainable considerations in clinical practice. For example, we think about mental health in terms of wellbeing, not just pathology. So we teach students to ask clients and patients what gives them pleasure, where they find relaxation in their lives, and how much of that they’re engaging in right now. We focus on change that persists well into the future. And we train students to consider environmental components in the treatment plans that they recommend.

What does that look like?
They might ask a client what their typical day is like, and what their work setting is like. Research has shown that access to nature and pets do a good job of supporting wellbeing, and can often be incorporated into treatment in a way that’s low cost and has no side effects. Community gardening can help with loneliness and depression in older adults. It’s not a cure-all, of course, but it can be quite powerful.

MB_quote[1]

What are your hopes for the upcoming year’s Global Focus on Climate Change?
Sustainability demands that you think and work across disciplines, and the nature of academia is such that it’s easy to stay in a silo of your own field. We’re hoping that the Year of Climate Change will get people talking to each other about what they’re working on, and about how we can collaborate across disciplines. It’s very exciting.

We’ve also been authorized by the American Psychological Association to offer psychology continuing education programs for credit. For Chatham, this means we can offer continuing education related to climate change and other sustainability issues to psychologists, counselors, and other mental health professionals. This is something we at Chatham really are uniquely positioned to do. We’ll be offering such a program during a conference that’s part of the Year of Climate Change in the spring, and bringing in activists and other people from the community.

Dr. Mannarino served as Director for Chatham’s Graduate Psychology programs from 2009-2014. She blogs about issues related to health, wellness, and sustainability here.