1996-97 Hunt Award Research Report
Twenty-Five Years of the Hunter College Psychology Convention: Some Theoretical and Practical Issues
Jason Young, PhD & Tania DaPrada
Hunter College, CUNY
How does participation in a student research conference influence a student's later career?
The influence of extracurricular experiences on the development of college students has been examined by many researchers (e.g., Springer, Terenzini, Pascarella, & Nora, 1995). To enhance the learning experience, colleges may provide environments that allow for extracurricular participation, but students must be encouraged to participate. The present article examines one such experience, the Hunter College Psychology Convention, which is planned, organized, and executed each year by the Hunter College Chapter of Psi Chi. The Hunter Convention was established in 1972 as a professionally run, daylong conference at which students, faculty, and invited guests present research papers. Over the years, it has been organized with the guidance of several dedicated Hunter College psychology faculty, including Professors Florence Denmark, Herbert Krauss, Stanley Novak, and, most recently, Jason Young. It is regarded as one of the primary opportunities at Hunter College for which students are sponsored and encouraged by faculty mentors to present their research in front of an audience and to receive immediate feedback.
To understand the impact this conference has had on participants' academic, professional, and personal growth, we explored the past research on student involvement in such extracurricular activities. In addition, we conducted a survey of past student participants to find out what the specific reaction to Hunter's convention has been.
Calhoun (1996) suggests that learning and personal development occur through exchanges between students and their environments. Students may be more likely to achieve their goals when they are in situations that allow active collaboration with others, such as faculty members and peers (Calhoun, 1996). A study by Terenzini, Springer, Pascarella, and Nora (1995) reviewed the research literature on the effects of students' extracurricular experiences on academic and personal development. Terenzini et al. (1995) identified those aspects of students' extracurricular activities that may have the potential to heighten student learning and over which student affairs administrators may have control through their policies and programming. Their review primarily found that extracurricular experiences influence academic and personal growth a lot more than many faculty members and academic administrators may think. In essence, extracurricular learning experiences, such as presenting a research paper at an undergraduate convention, require active involvement on the part of the student. In addition, Terenzini, Pascarella, and Blimling (1996) found that the most powerful influence on student learning appears to be the experience of students' interpersonal interactions with their mentors/instructors and peers. Moreover, Richmond and Sherman (1991), in a longitudinal study that researched graduate students' professional choices, found that many students in their undergraduate years were strongly influenced by mentors who encouraged them, provided information, and fostered the students' professional development.
Another potential determinant of whether or not a student will participate in an extracurricular activity, such as an undergraduate psychology convention, is the student's expectation of success. Bandura's self-effi-cacy theory (1994) suggests that the self-perception of one's ability and competence can increase or decrease one's motivation to engage in a particular task. For students to be able to perform at a specific level and to succeed in the performance of a task, they must believe in their own abilities (Bandura, 1994). Bandura suggests that mastery experiences are an important influence on the development of peoples' sense of self-efficacy. Hence, as colleges and, in particular, mentors become attentive to students' academic ambitions, they can create opportunities for students to practice and sharpen career-relevant skills. With the guidance and support of mentors, students may become more motivated to achieve, and to increase their sense of skill-mastery. The positive experience of skill-mastery, consequently, may enhance the students' sense of self-efficacy, which plays a key role in their motivation for achievement, as well as their choice of major and pursuit of an advanced degree (Stage, 1996).
Celebrating at the conclusion of the 25th Annual Hunter College Psychology Convention are, from left, Psi Chi members Patricia Peete, chapter treasurer; Beverly Araujo; Clarissa Silva; Jason Young, faculty advisor; Julie Rathke, chapter president; Luiz Romero, chapter secretary; LilyAnn Jeu, chapter vice-president; and Jimmy Jung.
In light of the implications of this past research, we explored the impact the Hunter College Psychology Convention has had on its student participants. To assess the extent of these effects, in the spring of 1997 we mailed out questionnaires to 146 people who were identified from past Hunter Convention programs as student Psi Chi members who had presented research at a Hunter Convention sometime during the previous 25 years. Fifty-nine surveys were returned, for a response rate of 40%.
The brief questionnaire was mailed with an explanatory letter and a prepaid return envelope with no return address to preserve respondents' anonymity. Respondents were asked to indicate their year of graduation from college, their highest academic degree earned, who encouraged them to participate in the Hunter Psychology Convention, whether they remembered the topic of their presentation, whether their presentation topic was related to their working or graduate experience once they graduated, what effects they felt their participation in the Convention had in terms of personal growth or in terms of preparing them for graduate school, and, finally, what other specific benefits or effects their participation in the Convention provided them.
The responses to the returned questionnaires suggested that there was a strong connection between students' involvement in the Hunter College Psychology Conventions and their pursuit of an advanced academic degree and professional achievement. After graduation, 97% of respondents advanced their academic studies and went on to careers related to psychology, including 43% who obtained a PhD in psychology, 12% who obtained an MSW, 10% who were currently working on a PhD in psychology, 10% who obtained an MA degree in psychology, 10% who obtained an MS degree in psychology, 4% who obtained an MD degree, 4% who obtained PhD degrees in fields other than psychology, 2% who obtained a PsyD degree, 2% who were currently working on an MSW degree, and 2% who obtained an MBA degree. Only one alumnus did not continue beyond a BA degree, and 60% of alumni continued behind the MA level.
The impact of faculty mentors on students' motivation for their participation in the convention was found to be very high. Ninety-three percent of the respondents remembered who encouraged them, 86% remembered their mentor's name, and 87% of the mentors were members of Hunter's faculty. In addition, 85% of the respondents reported that participating in the Convention influenced their academic growth and professional goals and achievements, including helping with their acceptance to graduate programs. Forty-six percent of respondents reported that the topic of the research they presented at the Convention was related to their future graduate and/or career experience. Eighty-three percent of respondents indicated they saw the Convention as an invaluable learning experience, frequently suggesting that it enabled them to master career-relevant skills and instilled a sense of self-efficacy in the professional realm. Sixty-nine percent reported the Convention gave them the opportunity to show off their research, to meet and interact with other college students, and to exchange ideas with members of the scientific community. Sixty-three percent indicated enhanced self-esteem due to their ability to address, and frequently, to overcome, their fear of public speaking. Additional comments from respondents included their reporting specific self-improvement experiences, such as learning organizational, leadership, and interpersonal skills; learning responsibility and self-reliance; and learning to cooperate with a group for a common goal. Others reported they practiced new skills that were later used in graduate school and in their future careers, often pairing the word "experience" with words like "tremendous," "invaluable," "great," and "positive." Only 4% reported that the Convention had "little or no impact" on them, and no negative impacts were reported.
Thus, overall, our results were consistent with conclusions reached in previous studies on the beneficial effects on college students of extracurricular activities that involve cooperative work with faculty members and peers. In addition, our findings highlight the positive impact this type of extracurricular experience had on student participants' academic and professional growth, goals, and achievements. It appears the majority of students who participated in the Hunter Psychology Convention continued their studies and also went on to careers related to psychology. Indeed, the current president of Psi Chi, Prof. Harold Takooshian, was a presenter at one of the first Hunter Conventions! Clearly, the Convention provided an opportunity for several generations of students to develop and practice new skills. These new skills, in turn, were repeatedly cited by respondents as being relevant to their subsequent academic and career experiences, consistent with the self-efficacy hypothesis that the experience of skill-mastery is a dominant motivational, reinforcing influence on people's behavior (Bandura, 1994). Once high self-efficacy expectations have been created through successful learning, such as participation and presentation of research at a psychology convention, experiencing an occasional failure may not have as much impact on students' judgments of their capabilities. Consequently, students may be more likely to continue the pursuit of their goals.
An additional source of motivation to participate in such experiences may come as a result of self-fulfilling prophecies involving the student's mentor. That is, the mentor's expectations can be of key importance in motivating the student's participation in the convention and fostering professional development and goals. Most respondents in the Hunter College survey remembered the mentor who encouraged them to participate in the Convention, and 85% of these mentors were faculty members. Many respondents referred to their mentor as being the person who guided, encouraged, and provided information to the Convention participant, who, in turn, felt encouraged to fulfill the role expected by the mentor, thereby rendering the mentor's expectation of the student as a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Another important factor that seemed to contribute to students' satisfaction with the convention experience was the effect of group membership. Many respondents--over 70%--reported they felt like they were part of the professional psychological community, and mentioned that the Convention also gave them the opportunity to interact and exchange ideas with others in that community. Of critical concern to many was the fact that they received immediate feedback from others in response to their research presentations.
The creation of extracurricular conditions, such as the Hunter College Psychology Convention examined in the present study, can help motivate and inspire students to devote time to educational purposeful activities outside of the classroom (Carmody, 1996; Kuh, 1996; Takooshian, 1993). Terenzini et al. (1996) suggest the institution must provide opportunities and resources to foster this positive type of learning that encourages a student's sense of responsibility for planning, organizing, and staging various student activities. An undergraduate psy-chology convention is a type of extracurricular opportunity that enhances learning and that cannot take place unless faculty/mentors, Psi Chi chapters and/or psychology clubs, and students work together. Furthermore, successful and purposeful educational extracurricular experiences, such as a psychology convention in which students are validated as people who have something to share, seems to encourage developmental goals (King & Magolda-Baxter, 1996).
PICTURE CAPTION: Displaying the Hunter Psychology Convention's
25th anniversary cake are Psi Chi EasternVice-President (left)
and Psi Chi President-Elect Harold Takooshian.
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ABOUT THE AUTHORS: Jason R. Young, PhD, is a member of the psychology faculty at Hunter College in New York City, where he has been faculty advisor to the Hunter Chapter of Psi Chi since 1994. Prof. Young received his PhD in social psychology from the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis in 1988. His teaching and research interests focus on the study of attitudes, politics and the media, and evolutionary influences on social behavior. He has a constant cadre of students working with him on these endeavors. In addition, he has been known to threaten to hold his breath until "the next Hunter Psychology Convention is finished," but has the utmost faith and respect in the many talented students, such as Tania DaPrada, with whom he has worked through Psi Chi. Indeed, their efforts have made the Hunter Psychology Convention a unique and much-anticipated event throughout the College. Living in Manhattan since he came to Hunter in 1990, Prof. Young is frequently bemused by his "city bumpkin" friends, students, and colleagues, with whom he loves sharing the joys of hiking and camping whenever he gets the chance.
Tania DaPrada, inducted in 1996 as a member of the Hunter College Chapter of Psi Chi, recently graduated with honors in psychology.
Authors' note. The authors wish to thank the Awards Committee of Psi Chi for support for the present study through the Thelma Hunt Research Award. In addition, we thank the Hunter Office of Alumni Affairs for their assistance in identifying the current addresses of the alumni of past Hunter Conventions.
Address all correspondence concerning this article to Dr. Jason R. Young, Department of Psychology, Hunter College, CUNY, 695 Park Avenue, New York, NY 10021; e-mail: jason. email@example.com.