Success Stories

Psychology students, alumna present research findings at prestigious Eastern Psychological Association Conference

(l-r): Skylar Bartush '23, Jade Carriero '24 and Sara Azzi '25 at the Eastern Psychological Association Conference

(l-r): Skylar Bartush ’23, Jade Carriero ’24 and Sara Azzi ’25 at the Eastern Psychological Association Conference

Nine Western Connecticut State University Psychology representatives attended the Eastern Psychological Association Conference in Philadelphia recently — an experience that will not soon be forgotten by the six who were there to observe and the three who were there as professional-level presenters.

Their attendance at the conference was made possible by the Psychology Student Association (PSA), which funds the trip every year. According to PSA President Sara Azzi, “This year, between our fundraising efforts and money from SGA, we were able to get the cost down to $30 per student, which covered hotel, transportation and conference registration.”

Alumna Skylar Bartush, senior Jade Carriero, and Azzi, a junior, presented their research, “Mental rotation learning with task-specific interventions,” at the conference.

“Jade, Skylar and I worked together on this project,” Azzi explained. “We investigated mental rotation, a type of spatial reasoning skill that refers to your ability to look at an object and visualize what it would look like rotated at different angles. Prior research shows that making hand gestures or other body movements can enhance your mental rotation skills, a phenomenon known as ‘embodied cognition.’ We created a novel intervention to test this effect. Subjects in this group were asked to manipulate three-dimensional toy blocks, while subjects in the control were asked to simply watch videos of someone else doing the task. Both groups were then asked to take a mental rotation test to measure improvements. So far, both groups showed a trend of improvement in mental rotation ability with the embodied group improving slightly more than the video group.”

The reason this research is important, Azzi said, is because “developing a brief intervention like ours can help improve an individual’s spatial reasoning skills in a short amount of time. This is particularly beneficial for athletes and people in the STEM field since their job tasks often require complex spatial reasoning skills.”

Bartush, a 2023 graduate with a major in Psychology and a minor in Mathematics, said, “This was my third time attending the Eastern Psychological Association Conference and second time presenting research. Each year offers a chance to connect with peers and professionals, deepening my understanding of my research interests and shaping my educational journey. It’s always exciting to see new and upcoming research from my fellow peers, and I’m incredibly hopeful about the future impact of our generation in the field of Psychology.”

Carriero said this was the second year she had the opportunity to attend and present research at the Eastern Psychological Association Conference. “Both experiences have been extremely rewarding,” she said. “It is really great to be able to present my research and share the projects our lab has been working on with others who may share the same interests. It has also been a great way to improve on my presentation skills, which will help me greatly in my future career and post-graduation plans.

“The psychology program in general at WCSU has provided me with so many amazing opportunities such as doing research, being a TA, working in the department, and being a part of our chapter of Psi Chi and the Psychology Student Association,” Carriero continued. “A lot of these opportunities have been provided to me by Professor of Psychology Dr. Bernard Gee. A research project we just recently completed on the undergraduate student perspective on teaching assistants has been accepted for publication, which was a huge accomplishment for me. All these experiences have had a positive impact on deciding my plans post-graduation.”

Azzi agreed. “This was an excellent opportunity for me to further develop my presentation and communication skills. As someone who wants to pursue a career in research, presenting my work at professional conferences is something I will experience countless times in the future. It felt great that I was able to get ahead a bit and kick start this as an undergraduate student while also meeting like-minded professionals in the field.”

Azzi added that her experience in the psychology program at WCSU has been “nothing but positive.” “The faculty are extremely supportive and push their students to be the best versions of themselves. I’ve been able to make the most of my experience as a psychology major by getting heavily involved in the psychology club and taking on Research and Teaching Assistant roles within the department. These experiences set me up to be an excellent Ph.D. candidate, and I have the psychology faculty to thank for that.”

Bartush, of Watertown, currently works as a Postgraduate Research Associate at Yale University. “I work alongside renowned cognitive neuroscientist, Kia Nobre, in the Brain and Cognition Laboratory,” she said. “Currently, my work is dedicated to exploring the neural and behavioral aspects of long-term memory and learning within contextual spatiotemporal associations. In the next year or two, I plan to apply for my Master’s in Human Factors or Human-Computer Interaction to move toward industry research and pursue a career in User Experience Research.”

Carriero, of New Fairfield, will receive her B.A. in Psychology with a minor in Communication in May 2024. She recently has been accepted into a Ph.D. program in Counseling Psychology at Western Michigan University where she plans to continue her education in the fall.

Azzi, also of New Fairfield, will graduate in May 2025 and plans to attend three professional conferences next year: the Eastern Psychological Association Conference, the Connecticut Psychological Association Conference, and the New England Psychological Association Conference. “Dr. Gee and I are currently running two other studies and will be able to present those next year at these conferences,” she said. “After I graduate, I hope to obtain a Ph.D. in either Clinical or Counseling Psychology.”



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