Students' lab experience helps open door to graduate school

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Some Penn State undergraduate students credit their applied research work in the Health and Human Development Design for Impact Lab (HUDDIL) for helping them chart a future course to graduate school. 

HUDDIL is project-driven, collaborative learning experience that brings together interdisciplinary teams and uses human-centered design methods to quickly move discoveries forward for a broader social impact. Part of the Edna Bennett Pierce Prevention Research Center (PRC) in the College of Health and Human Development (HHD) at Penn State, HUDDIL is directed by Meg Small, assistant research professor and director of social innovation in the PRC, and Emily Waterman, assistant director of the lab. 

“I honestly had never considered going to graduate school until my senior year of college. The HUDDIL lab allowed me the space to focus on and refine my interests in prevention science,” said Morgan Bryan, a Human Development and Family Studies major who will attend the University of Pennsylvania in the Fall to pursue a master’s degree in nonprofit leadership. “I realized my passion for social impact and my drive to make social change through prevention and intervention work.”

Bryan worked on the HUDDIL Healthy Relationships Project team, which is a collaboration with the Centre County Women’s Resource Center, to strengthen and evaluate the Penn State Athletes Take Action (PSATA) bullying prevention program. Through the PSATA program, Penn State athletes teach middle school students in State College about bullying, harassment, sexual harassment and healthy relationships. 

The Healthy Relationship project expanded the PSATA program to address risk factors including nonviolent conflict resolution, effective communication skills, ability to negotiate and adjust to stress, belief in a partner’s right to autonomy, shared decision-making and trust, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s protective factors. 

“This is the type of outcome HUDDIL seeks to achieve and is a great example of Penn State as a leader in creating transformative experiences, Small said. “Watching Morgan’s insight about her interests evolve to real world program design and delivery was really rewarding. In HUDDIL we try to give students opportunities to take action and also reflect so that they feel confident when they make their post-Penn State plans.”

HUDDIL team member and Biobehavioral Health major, Alicia Ali, said she loves to learn and discovered, through her HUDDIL experience, that she wasn’t ready to end her career at the undergraduate level.

“The HUDDIL lab definitely taught me how to work more efficiently as a team,” Ali said. “It also pushed me outside of my boundaries to understand the public health and social development side of health, which is something I didn’t previously know much about.”

Ali was lead on the HUDDIL Happiness Project team. With a goal of increasing the well-being of busy college students, Ali and her team developed a Smartphone app to help college students relieve stress and develop a positive mindset.

“I firmly believe that having research experience helped me stand out from others who only had clinical experiences. It made me a more, well-rounded candidate,” said Ali, who will start a 27-month long graduate program in physician assistant studies at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania this month.  

Waterman, who was a former HUDDIL participant before becoming assistant director, added, “Applied research experiences are high-impact activities for undergraduate students. In addition to building important skills for graduate school and beyond, the HUDDIL students contributed to their communities.” 

Danielle Barrasse, a biological science major in the Eberly College of Science at Penn State who worked in the HUDDIL lab, is headed to Columbia University to pursue a master’s degree in public health. 

“It was my experiences in the HUDDIL laboratory that opened my eyes to the world of public health,” Barrasse said. “Dr. Small was an inspiring leader and mentor that worked tirelessly with me when I was trying to decide my career path. She helped me find what I love to do.”

Barrasse worked on several HUDDIL projects, including the Happiness Project with Ali.  The other project she contributed to was the Athletes for Global Goals, which partnered with UNESCO to implement the Youth as Researchers (YAR) program.  YAR empowers State College youth to use research to promote social good and teach them how to be change-makers.

“HUDDIL offered me countless opportunities that allowed me to grow as a researcher. I hope to run a research facility program like what I have been lucky enough to participate in. I hope one day to implement a program for youth in a way that HUDDIL and Dr. Small impacted me,” Barrasse said.

Another HUDDIL team member, Courtney Heidle, also worked on the Happiness Project. 

Heidle, a major in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies (HDFS) and a Schreyer Honor’s Scholar, completed her honor’s thesis with Alison Doub Hepworth, a graduate student in HDFS. Their study focused on parents’ information seeking and child feeding. 

Currently traveling in Thailand, Heidle will attend the University of Illinois at Chicago for Occupational Therapy.

People Mentioned in this Article

Meg Small