IC psychology students and faculty present research at top international conference


A group of Illinois College students and faculty recently presented their psychology research at the biennial meeting of the Society for Research in Child Development held in Baltimore, Maryland, this March.

SRCD is the top conference for the study of child development, and the event drew more than 6,000 professionals and scholars in the field. 

Dr. Elizabeth Rellinger Zettler, professor of psychology, and Dr. Caitlin Vasquez-O'Brien, assistant professor of psychology, accompanied seniors Samantha McFarland ’19 and Sarah Christian ’19, who presented their work entitled, “Fear Avoidance and Approach as Mediators Between Parent Effortful Control and Child Problem Behaviors,” and juniors Rylie Putrich ’20 and Abbey Keller ’20 who presented findings from their work, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy: Parent Positive Personality, Perception of Daily Hassles, and Child Self-Control.” Each student-faculty research project was completed during the past summer when students recruited and interviewed families as part of the Developing and Understanding of Childhood Knowledge (DUCK) study. 

“We're very proud that among the crowded field, both of our student projects were selected for the program, and our students did a great job sharing their research,” said Dr. Vasquez O’Brien, who noted that undergraduate presenters are rare at these types of international conferences with the majority of work coming from graduate students and Ph.D.s in the field. Being able to interact with these leaders in the field and learn from their experience was a valuable part of the trip for IC students. 

“The most memorable part was probably meeting first-year graduate students and just being able to ask them for advice,” said Abbey Keller. The junior health sciences and psychology major plans to pursue occupational therapy in the future. She said that because this was her first conference, she didn’t know what to expect, but learned a lot.  

Sarah Christian, a biology major, found that working with psychology majors on research and attending the conference broadened her perspective and gave her a better understanding of psychology. 

“I was able to attend the presentations that appealed to me the most,” said Christian. “I chose to attend ones that I felt related most to my interests such as the concentration of global health within public health. Being at a child development conference exposed me to learn about the impact of different global health issues on child development.”

Christian, who plans to pursue a master’s degree in public health at the University of Illinois Springfield after graduating from IC in May, lists communication, written skills and research abilities as some of the benefits of her experience which will help her in the future.

Samantha McFarland, who will also graduate in May, said the entire process -- from completing her summer research to attending the conference -- was an enriching, hands-on learning experience. She recalls working closely with faculty and the families involved in the study, and  said attending the conference helped put that work in context within what is currently happening in psychology. 

“I found that it is critical to have different perspectives when attending these conferences and when conducting research because it allows for a broader understanding of any topic,” she said. 

McFarland hopes to apply the methodological approaches she learned at Illinois College next year when she attends graduate school at the University of Denver. She recently accepted a scholarship into the university’s master’s program in research methodology and statistical analysis. 

“If all goes according to plan, I will become a data analyst. I could not be more grateful to Dr. Vasquez-O’Brien and Dr. Rellinger Zettler for their unwavering support, along with all of the opportunities they have provided me throughout my college career,” said the psychology major. 

While at the conference, the group met with two IC alumni who were also presenting research completed as part of their graduate programs. Riley Marshall ’16 presented her student-faculty research completed at Southern Illinois University Carbondale where she is earning a doctoral degree in psychology with a focus on behavioral genetics. Bret Eschman ’11 who is currently at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, finishing a doctorate in psychology with a focus on infant visual cognition, also presented his work.  

About Illinois College

Founded in 1829, Illinois College is a residential liberal arts college fostering academic excellence rooted in opportunities for experiential learning while preparing students for lifelong success. The college is located in Jacksonville, Illinois. With an enrollment of more than 1,000 students, the college offers over 50 undergraduate programs. In 1932, the society of Phi Beta Kappa established a chapter at Illinois College, and it remains one of only 11 in the state.

Illinois College is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association.

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Emily Titsworth '19, Writer
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