PBS Graduates Win University Awards of Distinction
This year, four PBS graduating seniors of the Class of 2020 won one of the most prestigious awards conferred by UCSB – the University Award of Distinction, which recognizes their “in-depth or focused involvement and significant achievement in campus or community activities”. They are Vanessa Veloz, Morgan Fitzgerald, Tashia Ovais and Sean Reilly. Congratulations to them all! Recently we had the opportunity to interview the winners and they were all happy to share their stories with us.
What does this award mean to you?
Receiving the University Award of Distinction was a huge honor because it signaled that my research contributed to the UCSB community in a way that was highly valued. Further, it was all the more meaningful to be recognized for research that largely focused on advancing our understanding of the female brain, a topic that I am deeply passionate about.
I dedicated a lot of my time at UCSB promoting Health and Wellness and Mental Health to my peers because it is something I am extremely passionate about. I believe that in order to thrive, we must take care of our overall wellness. This award means a lot to me because I feel that I truly made a positive impact on campus by fostering a supportive environment through de-stigmatizing mental health and implementing several wellness programs. I want to continue to help others through the knowledge and skills I developed through being a Mental Health Peer, Health and Well-being Instructional Assistant, Health and Wellness Chair Coordinator, RHA Health and Wellness Chair, Clinical Health Peer and EOP Volunteer Peer Mentor. As a first-gen college student who struggled a lot when entering UCSB in terms of my own well-being and
trying to find where I belong, it is an incredible honor to receive a University Award of Distinction for my service!
Being a meditation teacher on campus was the realization of a dream. Being recognized and awarded with the University Award of Distinction reaffirms the importance of the practice. It also highlights my ability to successfully articulate the practice in a relatable way to students. Receiving this award means that what I brought to the campus was meaningful and that I influenced my peers in a positive way. It also inspires and motivates me to continue deepening my own practice and continue striving to teach others.
This award means more than receiving my diploma! I am extremely thankful to receive such an award for something that means so much to me. I grew up in a household that wasn’t very expressive. We are very lowkey with celebrations, achievements, and so on. Not that doing good things wasn’t worth celebrating, but doing good things was also just something we were expected to do. So although this award is a great positive reinforcer, I don’t feel like what I did was an outstanding feat. I feel like I’m just doing my part. We should all do our part; it’s the human thing to help out other humans. The world would be much better off and actual change could be made if we cared for the progress of others as much as we do for ourselves.
Could you tell us more about a research and/or a volunteer project that you are most excited about?
Dr. Emily Jacobs has been a phenomenal mentor and has a number of incredible studies running in her lab. For my senior thesis, I utilized a network neuroscience approach to examine the resting-state functional connectivity of the cerebellum across a complete menstrual cycle (30 consecutive days). Together with Laura Pritchett, my graduate mentor, we found groundbreaking evidence that sex steroid hormones (estradiol and progesterone) are associated with cerebellar functional organization throughout the cycle. This project was tremendously exciting because it provided novel insight into the dynamic interplay between sex steroid hormones and the female brain.
I am grateful to have been able to participate in Dr. Hegarty's spatial thinking lab this year, where I studied individual differences in navigational ability and strategy. It was exciting to delve into cognitive psychology and spatial neuroscience research. I analyzed and decoded data from spatial thinking experiments, observing variations in navigational strategy. I have valued how my academic research experience has shaped my understanding of many upper division Biopsychology courses. For example, I became curious about how sex hormones may influence navigation after taking a course on Behavioral Endocrinology! In terms of volunteering, I participated in community service with UCSB Partners in Wellness at Cottage Health. In this experience, I offered support and care to improve patients' overall hospital experience and well-being. I also volunteered in a subprogram called Art for Wellness, which was very meaningful to me because we provided art supplies to patients, giving them a creative outlet during a difficult time in their lives.
I received the URCA grant and helped fund a project in Dr. James Roney's Behavioral Endocrinology lab. The project aim is investigating the hormonal correlates of facial attractiveness in women as hormones fluctuate throughout the menstrual cycle. The project is currently in data collection and I have been afforded the opportunity to continue my project post-graduation. I am excited to analyze and interpret the results and eventually co-author a paper with Dr. Roney and graduate student Mei Mei. This opportunity has taught me loads about how research is conducted. Setting up testable hypothesis based on theories, including the correct and validated measures, troubleshooting data collection as problems arise, statistical analyses and interpreting results and grant and paper writing. I am very excited to continue to dip my toes into the research world!
One of my favorite projects I did with Dr. Diane Mackie was more of a personal one. At the time, she was in a class of sorts with other professors and leaders on campus discussing how to make classes and teaching better … At the end of every quarter, students are asked to complete surveys about their professors, teaching assistants, and the class overall … This project with Dr. Mackie was genuinely the first time I felt like someone really cared about what I had to say in regards to my own educational experience. We sat outside a Starbucks for a couple hours just going back and forth. There were a lot of them, but the questions were very thorough and targeted a lot of the problems I think big colleges like UCSB face. Rather than just asking “how well was the professor prepared for class?”, I answered questions such as “how do you prefer to be assessed?”, “how do professors make asking questions in class work?”, and “what don’t you get taught in the PBS department that you think you should?” If any real change is to come for the betterment of students, and it is needed, these types of questions have to be asked.
What are you plans for after graduation?
After graduation I will be working as a research assistant at the University of California, San Diego. After working for a few years, I plan on entering a Ph.D. program and studying the neurobiology of pain. My aim is to advance our understanding of the elusive and insidious disease that is migraine, with a specific goal of uncovering the role of sex steroid hormones in the generation and propagation of migraine pain signals.
I am planning on taking a couple of gap years to get more experience in the Behavioral Health field and continue taking perquisite courses to prepare for a future career in Health-care! I am aiming to apply for graduate schools in 2021. Apart from working, I hope to spend my time volunteering in underserved communities, volunteering in a crisis text line and spending time with my family. I am so grateful for all the opportunities I've gained at UCSB and I am so excited to gain more after graduation to pursue my goals.
My immediate plans post-graduation is taking a well-deserved vacation and moving back to San Diego. I will prepare to take the GRE exam and continue to work closely with faculty members from UCSB. I am taking a gap year and plan on applying to various PhD programs to begin in Fall 2021. My research interests are human emotions from an Evolutionary perspective and I have compiled a list of potential advisors I would like to work with.
I started UCSB at the age of 17. Despite now having my degree, I am young for my cohort. I think it’s due time to experience life outside of school. Right now, the plan is to work full-time in the behavioral or mental health field. Currently, I have applied for several Behavioral Health Technician jobs at different substance abuse outpatient facilities in Phoenix as well as some other openings here on the Central Coast. I plan to work for about 2 years before applying to graduate school. I’ve gained a lot of research experience from being an RA since my freshman year so I’m excited to see what I gain from working more with real human beings!