New Summer Research Grants Offered to Undergrads

Psychology DepartmentSCSU Foundation

Alyssa Battipaglia had planned to work on her honors thesis this fall – a project that would require a considerable amount of time in her busy senior year.

But thanks to Southern's new Undergraduate Research Grant program, the psychology major (and Honors College student) has been able to launch her research during the summer months -- and will be compensated $3,000 for her hard work. And by being able to complete a considerable portion of the project early, she will have time to engage in a valuable internship this fall in the Marriage and Family Therapy Department – a position that will enable her to get first-hand experience in a field she is exploring as a career path.

"My heart stopped when I read the letter that I had been awarded one of the grants," she says. "It is a wonderful opportunity and I am really thankful to Southern for it. And I am proud to represent the Psychology Department."

Battipaglia is exploring a topic that affects a significant portion of the college student population -- the relationship between Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and substance abuse. An estimated 5 to 11 percent of college-age students in the United States tend to have measurable symptoms of the disorder, according to Kenneth Walters, assistant professor of psychology and faculty advisor to Battipaglia. Studies also have shown that between 1 and 6 percent of the general population actually has a BPD diagnosis.

By starting her project during the summer, she also will have an opportunity to share her findings next spring during a poster presentation at the Eastern Psychological Association annual meeting. In addition, she plans to make three other poster presentations on other research topics at the New England Psychological Association annual meeting this fall.

Participating in such conferences bolster a student's academic credentials, which can help open doors when applying to graduate school. It also can help them make potentially valuable contacts with professors and other experts throughout this part of the country.

Battipaglia is one of five undergraduates to receive the $3,000 grant this summer. The program was an initiative of President Mary A. Papazian and operates under the auspices of the Office of the Provost. The funding stems from the SCSU Foundation, which seeks to help students financially with their education. Faculty advisors working with these students also will receive a stipend for their work.

"By providing financial assistance to students to carry out their research during the summer, we hope they can work less in jobs unrelated to their academic and career goals, and spend more time engaged in learning," says Marianne D. Kennedy, associate vice president for academic affairs. "Students are mentored by a faculty member who is an expert in the subject area they are researching. This mentorship provides a great way for students to learn in a supported, yet independent environment."

Kennedy says funding already has been secured from the SCSU Foundation for grants to be awarded for the summer of 2015. "We owe a big thank you to the SCSU Foundation," she says.

Walters says his student's research is exploring some new territory.

"We know a lot about Borderline Personality Disorder. We know a lot about substance abuse. And we know a lot about college students. But there hasn't been much research published regarding the link between BPD and substance abuse among college students," he says.

What Battipaglia found – based on archival data – is that college students (between the ages of 18 and 24) with BPD symptoms drink more heavily on average than their peers. This is likely due to their tendency toward impulsivity and to engage in risky behavior.

In fact, while the average college student consumes 11 alcoholic drinks a week, those with BPD symptoms have an average of 15. And the bulk of the drinking – both for those who have BPD and those who do not – tends to be on Friday and Saturday nights. In other words, many students will have five drinks on each of the weekend nights, but the average college student with BPD would have seven.

"We know that BPD affects women in greater numbers than men, so that increased drinking due to the disorder is obviously going to affect young women more than young men," she adds. "And because women generally weigh less than men, their tolerance to alcohol is less, creating the potential for devastating consequences."

Walters adds that while five drinks over five hours can be problematic, especially for women, the consequences of seven drinks in that time period are even more pronounced.

Other students who have been awarded summer research grants include: