Loras hosts regional psychology conference

The 28th Tri-State Undergraduate Psychology Research Conference was held at the Loras College Alumni Campus Center on Saturday, Nov. 10. The conference was attended by 112 undergraduate Psychology majors from the Tri-State area and 27 of their faculty advisors.

The annual conference gives undergraduate Psych majors the chance to share the research that they’ve been doing as part of their major program. According to Dr. Steffanie Schilder, the conference organizer, “not only are they doing research, but now they have the opportunity to present it.”

The conference is held every year during the first or second week of November. Hosted this year by Loras College, the location rotates from year to year between four schools: Loras, Coe College, Rockford College, and UW Platteville.

Most of the attendees at this year’s conference were juniors and seniors; there were also a few sophomores and first year students. Almost all of the attendees plan to attend graduate school.

During the morning session, an overview of careers in Psychology and related fields was given by Dr. Catalina D’Achiardi-Ressler. After graduation from Loras 20 years ago, Dr. Ressler went on to attend graduate school at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, eventually receiving her masters and doctorate in Counseling Psychology there.

Dr. Ressler’s original plan was to pursue a career in private practice, but she ended up doing various kinds of work – including teaching, counseling, and research — during her career. She told the audience, “I really didn’t realize the variety of opportunities that I would have after I graduated.”

After finishing her doctorate, she split her time for a few years between teaching and counseling at Iowa State University and Drake University. Thereafter, she worked for a few years in industry. “One of the areas in which I had specialized during my grad school years was vocational psychology,” she said. As a result, she was hired by a company doing career services, helping them translate their assessments into Spanish, and eventually leading research and development for the company.

Thereafter, Dr. Ressler spent eight years in private practice. Then four years ago she founded a group practice: The West Des Moines Center for Psychotherapy. Today it is the only bilingual (English and Spanish) practice in the city of Des Moines. Dr. Ressler said, “We serve a lot of the Spanish speaking community in the greater Des Moines area.”

Dr. Ressler spoke about the great need for mental health clinicians in Iowa and the nation. “The shortage of psychologists in the state of Iowa is really a concern,” she said. She noted that, “Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in this country … so mental health is a great concern in general … and there are a vast number of individuals (children as well as adults) who are not receiving services.” These comments were echoed through conversation with Dr. Schilder when she said, “There’s a huge shortage of licensed psychologists and psychiatrists in Iowa.”

Next on the program after Dr. Ressler was Dr. Bob Dunn, Emeritus Professor of Psychology at Loras, who presented a very entertaining sing-along, accompanying himself on guitar for two of his original compositions. The first song — of all things, a tour of the functional anatomy of the brain – included the refrain: “You would not be the same without your brain.” The second song was an overview of psychology as a discipline and its various subfields, with a refrain of “psychology, psychology, psychology, psychology.” This sing-along was very well received by the students.

After this, there was a panel discussion about options for graduate school. Then Dr. Melinda Heinz of Upper Iowa University gave the keynote address on Psychosocial Theories of Aging — a talk that was very interesting and engaging, according to student attendees.

During the afternoon session, a Graduate School Fair ran concurrently with the poster sessions. Representatives from 18 graduate programs in Psychology from Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Minnesota attended and answered questions about their programs.

The student attendees presented and discussed their research during the two poster sessions that were held during the afternoon. Some popular topics dealt with the topic of mindfulness (The topic of mindfulness is taught at Loras in the Positive Psychology class, and is also covered in the J-term course on the Psychology of Stress).

At Loras College there are three Psychology-related graduate programs. Dr. Schilder said, “We have a Masters in General Psychology, and we have a Masters in Counseling; those are both housed in Psych. And then we have a Masters in School Counseling that’s through the Department of Education.”

The Loras Psychology program recently received permission to hire a new faculty member. Dr. Schilder said, “We are looking at a broad range of individuals …  We’ll take a look at who can offer the best interdisciplinary focus … So, how can we tie Psych into other things … For example, Kinesiology requires several of our courses … and some schools have a high overlap between Business and Psych …”

About the many connections between Psychology and other fields, Dr. Schilder said, “Look at some of the titles (in the conference program) … you can see where a lot of the students have an interdisciplinary focus.”

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Daniel Willis is a copy editor and staff writer for The Lorian.

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