Dr. Timothy Ritzert with Kylie Gannon ‘23 and Leah Richardson ‘23

Since 2014, Longwood students apply for and are selected for the PRISM paid summer research program. For eight weeks during the summer, these talented and ambitious students engage in intensive research and study alongside a faculty mentor to complete a research project. PRISM alumni have gone on to careers in medical research, academia, and private business in the STEM fields.

This year we are catching up with the students who are engaged in PRISM research to highlight their work. Kylie Gannon ‘23 and Leah Richardson ‘23 are working with Dr. Timothy Ritzert, assistant professor of psychology, on interpreting data collected in a nationwide survey of college students.

Can you tell us about your research project?

Kylie: We’re looking at the factors that influence whether a college student who is experiencing mental health issues seeks formal or informal help while they are on campus. The data comes from the Healthy Minds survey, which is a nationwide survey filled out by college students across the country, including Longwood. It focuses on demographics, mental health status, and mental health service utilization on campus. We are combing through that data to see how it relates to when and how students seek help, and we suspect that campus climate around mental health issues is going to have the most impact on that decision.

What specifically about campus climate stands out?

Leah: A lot of the data we are looking at is about the effects of stigma on help-seeking. Stigma involves discrimination and prejudice against people with mental health problems. What that means with mental health on campus is that we are looking at how students think other students suffering from mental health challenges are treated on their campus. So an individual’s perception of how stigmatizing other people are.

What’s been surprising about doing intense research like this?

Leah: I think you learn very quickly your skills as a writer. There’s more polishing and editing than I’ve ever done, and you really have to think about the connections between each word and sentence that you put down. There are so many levels and details to writing a professional, publishable paper than I ever envisioned.

Kylie: I agree. It’s another level from typical work, but it’s really an advantage to be able to work this closely with Dr. Ritzert, who is focused on helping us get to where we need to go. I don’t think a lot of undergraduate students get that kind of one-on-one guidance when it comes to a research project on this level.

What is a typical day like?

Leah: I think most people picture test tubes and goggles when they think about research, but that’s only one very small piece of the research world. Most days we split our time between reading current research on this topic, coding data so we can interpret it, and writing results of our own research.

What do you hope to accomplish at the end of the summer?

Leah: The goal is to get a publishable paper. Research is really key to what we hope to accomplish. Both of us are looking to go straight in to Ph.D. programs in our respective areas of interest, and a published paper will really help.

What areas of psychology do you want to specialize in?

Leah: I’d like to work with children.

Kylie: I’m going to pursue a clinical psychology Ph.D. I want to work more in the health psychology area, looking at the connection between physical and mental health.

Ritzert, this is your first year doing PRISM. What is different about this summer than other research projects you’ve done with students?

The great thing about PRISM is it gives Kylie and Leah the chance to do the type of research we do in the field and get real hands-on experience doing the psychological research, writing a paper for publication, and getting the type of experience you get in a real-world research lab. And they’re doing this as undergrads, which is rare. It’s the type of experience that you typically get as a graduate student. It’s a wonderful opportunity and a wonderful thing to have at Longwood.

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