Presenting a research paper is a daunting task for Ph.D.’s, let alone undergraduate students, but Etiane Navarro and Renato De La Rosa met the challenge when they attended the American Psychological Association’s annual convention Aug. 8-11 in Chicago.
These Palm Beach State College students—now graduates—earned the trip as the second-place winners of the 2019 Anne Anastasi Research Paper and Conference Travel Scholarship, a national competition sponsored by Psi Beta, the community college national honor society in psychology. They each received $2,000 to defray travel costs and support their future education.
Yet the biggest perk turned out to be the opportunity to present their research during a poster session at the convention. It allowed them to see their work through the eyes of the seasoned professionals at this, the world’s largest annual gathering of psychologists, psychology students and educators, and other mental and behavioral health professionals. This year’s convention drew over 12,000 attendees, including representatives from more than 800 academic institutions.
“The APA conference was a phenomenal experience. I am so grateful that I had this opportunity because it motivates you and opens horizons that you never knew were there,” said Navarro, a Dr. Floyd F. Koch Honors Collegestudent who graduated with an Associate in Arts degree this summer and starts Monday at Florida Atlantic University’s Harriet L. Wilkes Honors College in Jupiter to pursue a bachelor’s degree in neurocellular and behavioral neuroscience.
De La Rosa, who graduated with an A.A. degree this past spring and heads off to Florida State University in January to get his bachelor’s degree in psychology, remarked that presenting was a bit scary and intimidating at first.
“But once we started, it was very well received,” he said. “We were able to actually impress them and got a lot of compliments for doing something like this so early on in our careers. A lot of the higher-ups of Psi Beta, Psi Chi [the international psychology honor society] and the APA came by. It was definitely a big confidence boost. If we can do this, we can do anything.”
The students collaborated on their research paper with Ted Cascio, Ph.D., PBSC psychology professor and Psi Beta chapter advisor. The paper, titled “Narcissism and Psychological Well-being,” is an original study, approved by PBSC’s Institutional Review Board, that involved collecting and analyzing data from human subjects over the 2018-19 fall and spring terms.
“Dr. Cascio gave us so much information and knowledge about the topic,” Navarro said, “that we were actually able to answer all the questions posed to us at our poster session. I’m just an undergraduate—I’m doing my baby steps right now—and I was responding to these people who have Ph.D.’s. That experience will never be taken away from me.”
Cascio did not attend the APA convention, as he prefers to give students the chance to go on their own—although he did check in with them via text.
“Collaboration is a high-impact teaching practice. It has an enormous effect on students’ confidence and their professional development,” Cascio said. “We’re trying to simulate how research is done at the next level, and so these studies require a tremendous amount of effort and statistical analysis, as well as writing and presentation abilities. A lot is expected of the students, but a lot of good things come from it in terms of learning transferrable skills that can help them in the future. I strongly believe in the importance of research collaborations between students and faculty and encourage more of them at Palm Beach State.”
Navarro and De La Rosa had already presented their research at the Florida Undergraduate Research Conference in February, and both were active in PBSC’s Psi Beta chapter. De La Rosa served as Psi Beta president and Navarro as vice president and chapter delegate. Both believe they have found their path in life.
Navarro, who is a mother of two and owns a real estate business, has dreamed about a career in psychology since her high school days in Ft. Lauderdale. After she earns her bachelor’s degree, this first-generation college student hopes to enter Nova Southeastern University’s Physician Assistant master’s degree program with the goal of becoming a neuropsychiatric physician assistant.
“I had decided to dedicate my life to my children, but now that my kids are older, I figured that this was the right time for me to go ahead and pursue my dream. I took Dr. Cascio’s general psychology class, and he introduced us to neuropsychology, so that’s how I became interested in the field—thanks to Dr. Cascio.”
De La Rosa, a graduate of Palm Beach Gardens High School, entered PBSC as an early admissions student who also skipped the eighth grade. He’s working now to earn more money to fund his bachelor’s degree at FSU, with the ultimate goal of getting a doctorate in clinical psychology. Interestingly, one of his friends and mentors is Jose Martinez, also a PBSC graduate and FSU psychology student, who placed first in the same Psi Beta competition last year. But De La Rosa has known for a long time that he’s wanted to pursue this career.
“When I was younger, I always ended up being the ‘therapist friend’ that you talk to about your problems,” De La Rosa said. “I was pretty good at it, I’d like to think, and I enjoyed being able to help my friends. Then in late middle school, I got a hold of a personalities textbook of my mom’s from when she was in college, and I found it just fascinating. After going through that textbook, I decided that I’d like to do that for a living—to study psychology and try to help as many people as I can.”