Breaking Down Barriers Through Books

Adult NCBC Club

It’s a Wednesday afternoon in a Meadville bakery. Five adults sit around a table, each with a book open, reading “The Phantom of the Opera.”

Some of the individuals enjoy reading aloud. Others prefer just to follow along, but still taking part in the conversation.

The setting may seem like a typical book club. But what’s different is that it’s part of an Allegheny College faculty-student research project, aimed at making a positive impact on individuals’ lives and the community.

The project, called the Next Chapter Book Club, is for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) and other mental health conditions. This is the first summer that Assistant Professor of Psychology Monali Chowdhury and two summer research students, Ian Dempsey and Noelle Lemons, have facilitated the clubs. And it’s the first time a project like this has been done in Meadville.

“The Next Chapter Book Club began in 2002 at the Ohio State University, where I finished my graduate work. Now there are more than 250 clubs nationwide, in more than 100 cities and in 29 states,” Chowdhury says. “With Meadville being a smaller community, I felt there was a real opportunity to bring support like this here. Although we have several goals for the program, our main one is to make a meaningful impact on the lives of community members with IDD.”

Primary Objectives of the Next Chapter Book Club:

  • Develop a model program for literacy learning, social connectedness and community inclusion
  • Enhance social experiences
  • Increase the inclusion of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities
  • Optimize lifelong learning opportunities

The First Chapter
Chowdhury and Dempsey began the project in fall ’14 by reviewing scientific literature on setting up community engagement projects and establishing partnerships with local Meadville organizations that work with individuals with IDD.

Based on this groundwork, they made a presentation in April ’15 at “The Next Chapter Book Club and Beyond: A Conference on Literacy for Adults with IDD.” This national conference hosted Next Chapter Book Club members from across the country, professionals from the field of psychology, special education and social workers, and book club facilitators, as well as parents of individuals with IDD and other advocates. Chowdhury and Dempsey not only served as presenters, but also participated in and co-facilitated onsite book clubs.

Lemons joined the project this summer. Funding for their summer research came from the Shea Family Fund and the Dr. Barbara Lotze Fund for Student-Faculty Research.

Chowdhury, Dempsey and Lemons now facilitate two, 90-minute clubs for adults 20 to 50 years old referred from Child to Family Connections, a nonprofit agency providing adult direct support, among other services to community members with IDD. The book clubs meet weekly at Confections of a Cake Lover in Meadville.

Teen NCBC clubIn addition, the group facilitates two book clubs for teenagers with IDD and other mental health conditions from Bethesda Children’s Home in Meadville. These one-hour sessions take place in a school classroom at Bethesda.

During the first session, each group voted on which book they wanted to read. One adult group chose “The Phantom of the Opera,” while the other chose “The Arabian Nights.” Both of the teen clubs chose “The War of the Worlds.”

“When Professor Chowdhury asked me to join this project, I was thrilled,” says Dempsey, a senior biology major and psychology minor. “We are having fun with this. Allegheny emphasizes community involvement and engagement, and that’s exactly what we’re doing.”

During each session, the facilitators help members sound out words, use words in a new context, use events in the book as bridges to personal stories when appropriate and provide positive, gentle encouragement.

What the Research Says …
Research shows that for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, literacy may decline after their formal education ends, but it also can be motivated by book interactions. “Many people with intellectual and developmental disabilities who are trying to learn literacy may face many barriers. The book club promotes an environment that uses literacy and socialization as a mechanism to address and help alter inequities,” Chowdhury says.

“I really feel like this experience has shaped me,” says Lemons, a junior biochemistry major and psychology minor. “I’m learning about what I can say to get the members engaged in the book and have a conversation. It’s really rewarding. When they come in, they tell us how much they missed us. It’s a great feeling.”

It also feels good when they’ve made a special connection with a member.

“At Bethesda,” Dempsey says, “there’s a boy who really likes to write. After the club, he showed us a project he’d been working on. He was genuinely excited about sharing that.”

“I’m constantly amazed by how creative our members are,” Chowdhury adds. “When we talk about a person with IDD, we might have an image in our mind of someone who doesn’t understand much. While that might be true in certain cases, we have a range of individuals in terms of cognitive function in our clubs, and their creative ability is truly inspirational for all of us. This work helps us to break some of those stereotypes.”

A Civic Autobiography
In addition to making a difference in members’ lives, a large component of this research project revolves around civic engagement. Dempsey and Lemons have done several exercises that allow them to reflect on their civic identities and motivation – which also ties into one of the components of the new Allegheny Gateway.

“Work by various authors has shown that civic engagement activities can prepare a student for success far beyond the classroom in their personal careers and with family life,” Lemons says. “With the book club, we are able to be engaged in the community, and that expands our appreciation of civic engagement.”

This fall, the group plans to expand their work with new and existing members and focus on collecting data to assess how well the book clubs are meeting their goals. Funding for this research will come from the Fahrner Fund for Community Engagement through the Allegheny Gateway. Students in Chowdhury’s upper-level course on autism also will have an opportunity to participate.

“I just like to read; overall I’m enjoying it. I like it (“Arabian Nights”) because of the suspense. I look forward to coming (to the book club) … I wish the book club could go on forever; I would come (to the book club) twice a week.”
~ Member, Next Chapter Book Club, Meadville

Chowdhury already has seen positive results from this summer. For example, she says one of the adult members spontaneously, without instruction from the facilitators, started modeling appropriate reading for another member who had less-developed reading skills.

“This member had taken it upon himself to help his peer with difficult words and prompt the peer to sound out bigger words,” she says. “It was very rewarding seeing this unfold. This aspect of peer mentorship certainly speaks to the social connectedness and literacy learning that the Next Chapter Book Club has as one of its goals.”

Both Dempsey and Lemons feel the experience has made a difference in their lives.

“The more that you interact with people, the more you find out about yourself,” Dempsey says. “For me, this experience has solidified my plans to go to law school by giving me hands-on experience working with and for the people in my community.”

“I would like to someday be a pediatric oncologist, so I know I’m going to be interacting with a wide variety of people,” Lemons says. “Working with those with intellectual and developmental disabilities has helped me gain an understanding of what’s out there and learn how to interact and communicate with them.”

“This experience has been incredibly rewarding for me, as well,” Chowdhury says. “I see our members enthusiastically interacting over books, Noelle and Ian as effective facilitators helping them read, keeping them actively engaged and included in discussion – it is what we had envisioned for this project. I look forward to continuing this collaborative work with our future students and taking this journey forward.”

Year of Meadville
This year’s annual theme is “The Year of Meadville,” which ties into the work Dr. Chowdhury and her students are doing in the community. To learn more about the Year of Meadville, visit

Appropriate permissions have been obtained to use images of book club members.

Source: Academics, Publications & Research

Professor Conklin and Students Present Research at American Psychosomatic Society Meeting

Associate Professor of Psychology, Neuroscience, and Global Health Studies Sarah Conklin presented her research at the American Psychosomatic Society annual meeting held March 18-21 in Savannah, Georgia. Two students attended the conference with her. Nicole Masters ’15 presented the results from her Senior Project conducted with Professor Conklin and Associate Professor of Psychology and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Deb Dickey. Her project was titled “Experiences of physical and emotional abuse are associated with blunted cardiovascular reactions to psychological stress.” The project, currently under peer-review, was a multi-year effort. Her coauthors also attended the meeting: Annie T. Ginty ’09, now at the University of Pittsburgh as a postdoctoral fellow in behavioral medicine; Eliza B. Nelson ’12, now at the University of Saint Andrews School of Medicine, Health Psychology, UK; and Karen Kaye ’14, now at Brandeis University, Psychology. Katelyn Nicewander ’15 also presented the results of her Senior Project, which she conducted with Professor Conklin and Assistant Professor of Psychology Lydia Jackson. Her project was titled “Lavender essential oil aromatherapy does not reduce cardiovascular reactions to acute psychological stress in the laboratory: results from a preliminary randomized control trial.” Katelyn’s project is currently being prepared for peer review.

Source: Academics, Publications & Research

Students and Faculty Present Work at 86th Annual Meeting of the Eastern Psychological Association

Research by Rebecca Cohen ’15, Nicole Coogan ’15, Rebecca Gallup ’15, Autumn Vogel ’15, Breana Gallagher ’15, Katherine Roach ’16 and Assistant Professor of Psychology Lydia Eckstein Jackson was presented at the 86th Annual Meeting of the Eastern Psychological Association in Philadelphia in March. In collaboration with Professor Jackson, Rebecca Cohen presented her Senior Project on “The Effects of Acute and Chronic Stress on Unethical Behavior”; Nicole Coogan presented her Senior Project work on “The Effects of Short-term Volunteerism on Identification With All Humanity”; Rebecca Gallup presented her work on “The Effects of Loving-Kindness Meditation on Unethical Behavior”; Autumn Vogel presented research completed as part of an independent studies course titled “Self-Objectification, System Justification, and Social Activism”; and Breana Gallagher and Katie Roach presented work they had completed as part of independent studies projects on whether competitiveness predicts unethical behavior.

Source: Academics, Publications & Research

Paulson and Jones Present Work at American Counseling Association Conference

Assistant Professor of Psychology Lauren Paulson and Danielle Jones ’15 presented a 60-minute advanced education session titled “Tech It Out: Implementing an Online Peer Supervision Network for Rural Supervisors” and a 30-minute poster session titled “Connecting Rural Mental Health Workers Through On-line Peer Supervision and Consultation: A Pilot Study” at the American Counseling Association’s National Conference in Orlando, Florida on March 12-15.

Source: Academics, Publications & Research

Rutledge Co-Authors Paper in “International Journal of Alcohol and Drug Research”

Professor of Psychology Patricia Rutledge is the second author on “Patterns of alcohol policy enforcement activities among local law enforcement agencies: A latent class analysis,” which was recently accepted by the International Journal of Alcohol and Drug Research. The first author, Darin Erickson, is a faculty member in the Division of Epidemiology and Community Health in the School of Public Health at the University of Minnesota. The other authors are Professor Erickson’s colleagues Kathleen Lenk, Toben Nelson, Rhonda Jones-Webb, and Traci Toomey. The project was supported by a grant from the National Institutes of Health to the first author. Dr. Rutledge’s involvement in the project was supported by the Great Lakes Colleges Association as part of its New Directions Initiative, made possible by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Source: Academics, Publications & Research

Brown Bag

Three Seniors To Talk About Their Research at Brown Bag Lunch: 3/27

Three Seniors To Talk About Their Research at Brown Bag Lunch: 3/27

Posted on March 25, 2015 | Filed under Events

Join the Psychology Department for a special brown bag lunch featuring three seniors who will discuss their recently completed Senior Project research. Autumn Vogel will talk about “Activist Theater: The Effects of a Theater Performance on Socio-political Attitudes and Willingness to Engage in Activism.” Matthew Turner will discuss “The Effect of Variety of English on L2 Vocabulary Cued-Recall Task and Learner Attitudes.” And Meghan Murphy will talk about her work on “The Effects of Activating ‘Karma’ on Unethical Behavior.” The lunch will be held on Friday, March 27 from 12:20 to 1:20 p.m. in Carnegie 101. Please bring your lunch.

Clark Is Appointed to Editorial Board of “Behavior Analysis”

Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience Rod Clark has recently been appointed to the editorial board of the APA journal Behavior Analysis: Research and Practice.

Source: Academics, Publications & Research

Psychological Science Brown Bag


Brian Williams and the Malleability of Human Memory

Please join us this Friday, February 27th, for a discussion of the reliability and malleability of human memory.

We will meet on Friday from 12:20-1:20 in Carnegie 101. This week, we invite you to please bring your own lunch.

You may have been following the recent case of Brian Williams (the NBC News anchor who claimed he was in a helicopter crash in Iraq in 2003, only to be exposed a few weeks ago as having fabricated this version of events). Did he lie to make himself look better, or is it possible for him to actually “remember” his version of events? What does this line of research say about witness testimonies?

Psyched to Dance

Alumnus Discovers Unknown Passion at Allegheny

It was 2007 – the first semester of Carlos Blandino-Lopez’s freshman year.

Thinking that he someday wanted to be a doctor, he walked into the David V. Wise Sport & Fitness Center preparing to register only for neuroscience classes.

At that time, the course registration process “was like a school fair,” Blandino-Lopez says, with students walking from table to table learning about the different classes available.

That’s when Tom Erdos, a former dance and movement studies faculty member, motioned Blandino-Lopez over to his table. He said he needed more men in his ballroom class.

“I thought sure, why not?” Blandino-Lopez says as he jotted down his name on the Introduction to Ballroom roster.

Unbeknownst to him, the moment changed his life.

“We learned the six major dances in that course, and I found out that I had a knack for dance,” says Blandino-Lopez, who originally is from Anchorage, Alaska, but now lives in Pittsburgh. “I was hooked.”

A (Dance) Step in the Right Direction
With his new passion ignited, Blandino-Lopez filled his schedule with dance classes each semester at Allegheny. During his collegiate career, he also completed independent studies focusing on dance, worked as a teacher’s assistant for ballroom classes, and choreographed performances for the College and community.

In addition, Blandino-Lopez worked with other classmates to produce a surprise performance for Professor Erdos. “The entire production was student-run. We worked on it for a full semester,” he says. “We performed 16 pieces with all different types of dance. Professor Erdos had no idea.”

Blandino-Lopez’s love for dance continued to grow – and he began thinking about how he could continue his passion after graduation. That’s when a coach from Arthur Murray Dance Centers in Miami visited his class.

“She took me aside and told me I could do this as a career,” says Blandino-Lopez, who also was involved in the Bonner program, the Association of Black Collegians/Association for the Advancement of Black Culture, Union Latina, and Orchesis at Allegheny. “That really piqued my interest.”

The following year, the Allegheny senior found himself traveling to Pittsburgh for a job interview with Arthur Murray Dance Centers. Shortly after, he landed a position there as a dance instructor – a job he still enjoys today.

“As a teacher, I love seeing how confidence builds in people,” he says. “Even in college, there were people in my classes who were awkward and really didn’t interact with others. Then they would dance and develop confidence. My passion for dance is fueled by the excitement of seeing people learn.”

Story through Dance
One of the best parts about teaching, Blandino-Lopez says, is being a part of people’s stories. He cites one of his students, an 88-year-old man named Howard, as an example.

“Howard has Alzheimer’s, and the studio is the only place where he gets a sense of normalcy,” he says. “He’s deteriorating in every other aspect of his life, but on some level, he’s progressing here.”

Another student, 74-year-old Judy, was a teacher at Arthur Murray when she was 18.

“It’s so great to talk with her about how things have changed,” he says. “She met her husband through dancing, and now she does it for her own self-confidence and exercise. She told me this is her reason for getting dressed up and leaving the house.

“Over the years, I’ve learned that very few people come here to learn to dance,” he continues. “They come here for something deeper.”

Dance also has affected Blandino-Lopez’s personal life. He met his wife, Elizabeth, while salsa dancing.

“I asked her to dance and she said no,” he says. “Luckily I had the confidence to eventually get her to say yes.”

Although dance was a major focus for Blandino-Lopez at Allegheny – even becoming his minor during his senior year – he continued studying neuroscience, graduating in 2011 with a double major in neuroscience and psychology. He believes this foundation is still applicable to his current profession.

“I’ve always been fascinated with the brain. The reason I came to Allegheny was because I knew it was one of the best in the country for neuroscience,” he says. “It’s really helped me now because I understand the physiological process of how learning works. As a teacher, that foundation helps me to have more patience and understanding with my students.”

Eventually, Blandino-Lopez would like to revisit the connections among neuroscience, psychology, and ballroom dance.

“My senior comp was on ballroom dance and psychological androgyny. I’d like to do more research around ballroom dancing in general,” he says. “A study I read said dancing frequently can reduce your risk for dementia by 76 percent. I’d like to dig into that someday.”

Paulson and Jones Present Workshop at Pennsylvania Counseling Association Conference

Assistant Professor of Psychology Lauren Paulson and Danielle Jones ’15 presented a 90-minute workshop titled “Tech It Out: Implementing an Online Peer Supervision Network for Rural Supervisors: A Review of What Worked and What Didn’t” at the Pennsylvania Counseling Association’s 46th Annual Conference at the Penn Stater in State College on November 7-9. Paulson is also the first author of an article titled “Building Bridges: A Pilot Program for Training and Support of Rural Supervisors,” to be published in the December 2014 issue of The Clinical Supervisor. In addition, Paulson was interviewed for a cover story, titled “Supervision in Counseling: A Steadying Hand,” in the November issue of Counseling Today.

Source: Academics, Publications & Research