Evolving Psychology Program Gives Graduates an Edge

August 15, 2016

Sarah Hill ’14, a mental health research assistant at Women & Infants Hospital in Providence

Shortly after declaring a psychology major her sophomore year, Sarah Hill ’14 found herself on a fast-track to success.

Because of the sweeping variety of classes and professors' breadth of interests in Stonehill’s Psychology Department, she was quickly able to dip her toes into a wide range of niche fields — from child psychology to sports psychology. That, in turn, helped her zero in on her passions: abnormal psychology and counseling.

By her junior year, the Londonderry, New Hampshire, native landed her first internship — as a school adjustment counselor at a Brockton elementary school. By her senior year, she had two more: one at a Brockton domestic violence agency and another at Butler Hospital in Providence, Rhode Island.

“The world is wide open to psychology majors. We’ve had grads go on to be everything from counselors or social workers to researchers to speech pathologists.”
Professor Michael E. Tirrell, chair of Stonehill's Department of Psychology

“I had a strong understanding of the types of mental health issues I might encounter — and of what it’s like working in a clinical behavioral health setting — before I even started my job,” said Sarah, who now works as a mental health research assistant at Women & Infants Hospital in Providence.

Aside from the hands-on experience of her internships, Sarah said her Stonehill courses provided a solid foundation for her career as a mental health professional, which she started seamlessly after earning her diploma.

“The knowledge I gained from my psych classes at Stonehill helped make the learning process at Women & Infants much quicker and easier,” Sarah said. “Already being familiar with the basics allowed for a smooth transition … I was able to really jump right in.”

With the benefits that come from the department’s ample hands-on research opportunities, a new state-of-the-art on-campus research lab and a faculty with diverse research interests, Stonehill psychology graduates are out in the world pursuing rewarding careers. Some have jobs secured before they even cross the stage to receive their diploma.

“The world is wide open to psychology majors,” said Professor Michael E. Tirrell, department chair. “We’ve had grads go on to be everything from counselors or social workers to researchers to speech pathologists.”

Recent alumni are employed at Boston Children’s Hospital, Yale Alzheimer’s Disease Research Unit, Bradley Children’s Hospital, Brigham & Women’s Hospital, Counseling and Psychotherapy Center Inc., McLean Hospital and South Bay Mental Health, among other major institutions.

Professional Preparation and Internships

One competitive advantage that Stonehill psych students have is the opportunity to present at national and regional conferences.

“Stonehill’s Psychology Department provides more than just academics — it provides incredible opportunities to take a step into the professional world of psychology while you are still an undergrad,” said Tori Stephenson ’17, who has already presented work at two national psychology conferences. “The department’s research programs provide amazing experiences that other colleges are unable to provide their students.”

Psychology students are also at an advantage when it comes to landing internships at leading hospitals and facilities, including Brigham & Women’s Hospital, The Jimmy Fund, Massachusetts School Hospital Foundation and New England Center for Children.

For Peter Krahe ’16, a yearlong internship at Rhode Island Hospital has blossomed into a full-time research assistant position, a role he was able to step into right after earning his degree.

The Scarborough, Maine, native called his research, which involves a sexual violence prevention program in Rhode Island high schools, a “very rewarding experience, both psychologically and practically.”

Students also have opportunities for hands-on research through Stonehill Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE) — where they can perform full-time, high-quality research under the guidance of an expert faculty researcher — and through the department’s research externship programs at Brown University, Harvard University and UMass Medical Center.

“Internship or research experiences provide you with an education that a textbook [simply] cannot,” said Candace Crocker ’16, who recently graduated and was ranked first in the Class of 2016. Before graduating, Candace assisted in research initiatives at the Centers for Behavioral and Preventive Medicine in Providence and is now working full-time as a clinical research assistant coordinating a breast cancer survivorship research grant that was recently won by Erin O'Hea, a professor at Stonehill College and UMass Medical School.

Stonehill Undergraduate Research Experience: Age Bias in Face Recognition Memory

Building on the work of past SURE scholars, Jane Farrell ’14 and Sarah Pearson ’14 helped Christopher Poirier, associate professor of psychology, to design and run experiments to test age and race biases on facial recognition.

State-of-the-Art Research Facilities

Psychology students conduct their research and studies in  graduate school-caliber facilities at the Thomas and Mary Shields Science Center — a $34 million, 89,000-square-foot building housing state-of-the-art technology for use in psychology research, including one-way observation rooms, a playroom for children’s psychology research, counseling rooms and computer labs.

“The Stonehill Psychology Department has a comprehensive research wing with rooms designated for different areas of study,” said Peter. “There is always opportunity for research involvement [and] I can work with the newest technology.”

“The Stonehill Psychology Department has a comprehensive research wing with rooms designated for different areas of study. There is always opportunity for research involvement [and] I can work with the newest technology.”
Peter Krahe ’16

Road to Grad School

“Being a Stonehill grad myself, I can attest to the way Stonehill has grown to better prepare students for graduate school,” said Tirrell. “When I returned to teach here 37 years ago, I vowed I would make it so that students going on to graduate school in psych would have the best preparation possible.”

Mission accomplished.

Today, more than 30 percent attend graduate school, which Tirrell said is close to twice the national average for psychology majors.

Alumni have pursued graduate degrees in renowned programs at schools such as Boston College, Boston University, Tufts University, Emerson College, Purdue University, University of Connecticut and California School of Professional Psychology.

Psych majors “are very well-prepared to enter graduate programs,” Tirrell said. “Some have reported that their graduate courses are nothing more than a review of courses they’ve had here.”

Georgia Winters ’13, who was named an Honorary Undergraduate Scholar by the New England Psychological Association, is now pursuing a doctorate in forensic clinical psychology at the John Jay School and aspires to be a forensic psychologist.

The Bristol, Vermont, native said the Psychology Department provided her with the education and experiences necessary to continue on the road to “my dream career.”

Tailor-Made Curriculum

The field of psychology encompasses so much, and Stonehill’s faculty members are so well-versed in such a wide range of branches, that psych majors can essentially design their own curriculum.

“The department can tailor the major to fit most interests,” Tirrell said. “If a person has an interest in animal behavior or interior design, we can help.”

Sarah added, “The core required classes give you a good foundation of understanding for the field as a whole, but with so many elective courses within the department, you have the opportunity to test out a lot of different potential interests.”

Candace, a Weymouth native who was named the 2016 Psychology Department’s Student of the Year (along with Peter Krahe), said her psychology courses sharpened “[my] communication skills, my people skills, my professional abilities, my research methods and my understanding of humankind.”