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Physical therapy students and local women amputees assist each other

Shannon Jenkins, of Somerset, lets out a laugh while holding her balance with the aid of Chatham University physical therapy graduate student Brandon Maharaj. Maharaj was one of several physical therapists on hand to help evaluate women amputees.
Shannon Jenkins, of Somerset, lets out a laugh while holding her balance with the aid of Chatham University physical therapy graduate student Brandon Maharaj. Maharaj was one of several physical therapists on hand to help evaluate women amputees.

For the past eight years, Associate Professor of Physical Therapy Melissa L. Bednarek, PT, DPT, PhD has been taking students in Chatham’s Doctor of Physical Therapy program to De La Torre Orthotics and Prosthetics to learn about upper extremity amputations.

This year, De La Torre approached Melissa about co-hosting a free event that provides Pittsburgh-area women amputees with an opportunity for connection and education.

And so it was that on October 21, over 25 women came to the event at Chatham’s Eastside location where they met some Chatham physical therapy students and alumni, De La Torre staff, and—crucially—each other. The event allowed participants to assess their mobility challenges and to share their joys and struggles with fellow amputees.

Medicare, Medicaid, and many other health insurance companies determine an amputee’s eligibility for coverage of prosthetics based on that individual’s K-level. The K-level reflects the degree of (and potential for) the individual’s mobility, and is determined by a series of tasks often conducted by physical therapists.

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The event was not to definitively determine the participants’ K-levels, but rather to provide some motivation, says Bednarek. “We took them through the tasks they’d need to do, and said ‘Okay, here’s what you’re scoring right now; if you’re looking to have a more expensive device covered, maybe think about these types of activities to help you improve your current level.’”

I had such a great time working with each participant and was honored to hear each of their stories! I was particularly inspired and humbled by their attitudes and outlook on their life’s path.” – Jill Claassen, DPT ’17

There was another goal, too: “sneaking in” some physical therapy, laughs Bednarek. “We wanted to give these women not just a chance to learn and connect, but also get them up and moving on a Saturday afternoon.”

The Chatham University Physical Therapy Program educates Doctors of Physical Therapy who will advance the quality of human life through excellence in clinical practice. The Program prepares professionals to meet the challenges of a dynamic health care environment and supports faculty scholarship that bridges science and practice.

$1.8 Million HRSA Grant Awarded to Chatham University’s Counseling Psychology Program

PITTSBURGH: Chatham University announced today that it has received a $1.8 million grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) for a Behavioral Health Workforce Education and Training (BHWET) Program. The BHWET program is designed to increase the number of psychologists trained to meet the behavioral health needs of vulnerable and medically underserved populations and provide high quality care in an interdisciplinary setting.

With the grant, Chatham’s Counseling Psychology PsyD program will partner with five integrated care clinics at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center  and two community integrated-care clinics serving the behavioral health care needs of vulnerable and medically underserved individuals.  This includes clients whose care is complex because of psychosocial pressures, required medical care, or both, such as LGBT youth, medically challenged youth, pediatric transplant patients, cancer patients, GI disease patients, and medically complex older adults.

The grant will allow Chatham’s PsyD program to build upon its existing partnerships with several clinics at UPMC, including the Division of Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine, Hillman Cancer Center (pediatrics and adult), Visceral Inflammation and Pain Center and Benedum Geriatric Center, to expand the number of practicum offerings focused on integrated care models across the lifespan.  The funding allows Chatham to double the number of advanced PsyD practicum training slots currently available in integrated care settings.

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Chatham University Named Again to the Princeton Review Green Honor Roll

PITTSBURGH: Chatham University has once again been selected as one of only 24 universities for the Princeton Review’s  2018 Green College Honor Roll.  The Green College Honor Roll recognizes the most environmentally responsible colleges across the United States. This year, 629 colleges were ranked. Chatham earned a perfect Green Rating score (99 out of 99), which measures “a school’s performance as an environmentally aware and prepared institution”.

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Sierra Magazine Ranks Chatham as one of America’s “Greenest Colleges”

PITTSBURGH:  Sierra magazine, the official publication of the Sierra Club, has ranked Chatham University as the country’s 14th greenest university in its annual ranking of the nation’s “Cool Schools.” This is the fifth year in a row that Chatham has earned this top 25 honor, and is the highest ranking the University has achieved to date. The rankings, published in the magazine’s latest issue, salute the higher education institutions across the United States that are weaving sustainability into their culture and upholding high environmental standards.

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An emoji is worth…what, exactly?

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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.

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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.