I participated in a two-day shadow with Moira Tofanelli, a school psychologist at two different public schools in Portland. As an art major completing a thesis that draws heavily from the field of psychology, I was excited to see where a career in psychology could take me in Portland. I will be graduating in May and I am thinking about what kind of job I would like in the near future, and teaching seems to be an obvious next step for me. It was a great exercise for me to think about what kind of school I want to be a part of and see how the public schools in Portland vary.
It was interesting for me to compare the two schools I visited, as they were very different in terms of philosophy and educational goals. In the developmental psychology class I am taking this spring, we have been focusing on different models of human development and the kinds of guidance and parenting strategies that support each model. The first school I visited, the Creative Science School, uses a constructivist educational perspective. Jean Piaget, a psychologist influential in the 1970s, is the best-known proponent of this philosophy. Constructivism values learning through experience and independent problem solving. In general, Piaget viewed child development as a series of stages, and children as tiny scientists who learn about their world through experimentation and add new information to existing mental schemas. In the classroom, a constructivist approach often manifests as lots of group work, experiential projects, and integration of different classroom subjects.
To me, Creative Science seems big and colorful and full of movement and the evidence of children. There are art projects all over the hallway walls, glitter-covered handprints, and photographs of the students. I had forgotten what it is like to be in an elementary school. Everything is kid sized and chaotic in the way things are when tiny humans spend six hours a day in an enclosed space.
When I met Dr. Tracy Sax, it had been 3 years since I had given up my dream of becoming a doctor. I had taken an introductory Biology course and felt that I was not capable of doing the work it would take to achieve that goal. I expected this Winter Shadow to give me certainty that I was not interested in work as a clinician, particularly as an MD. As happens often in life, I got the exact opposite.
The dream was reawakened in a Pete's Coffee shop in North Portland. I sat down with Tracy Sax to do some introductions and preliminary instruction before the Shadow began. Her enthusiasm for what she did stood out to me in a way I don't see often. At first it scared me because I worried that my first bad experience with Biology leaving me with no passion for the field said something about me as a student. I thought if I couldn't make it through that there was no way I'd make it through medical school. But she was so encouraging, without even knowing me she encouraged me to go into medicine. Her enthusiasm was infectious.
We dealt with some really emotionally taxing material and I was proud of the way I handled that. I sat in on a session during which we preliminarily diagnosed a young man with ALS. I have felt confident in my potential as a clinical psychologist and this demonstrated that in this field, doctors get an opportunity to run tests and diagnose patients but also help them cope with these diagnoses, if only for a little while. Tracy handled the conversation in a personal and professional way. I learned that neurology is a field that could allow for a combination of my interests and skills in psychology.
One of the pictures I took of glowing antibodies in a brain slice
I can’t say that I ever imagined myself slicing up a brain before junior year of college. A few short weeks ago, I found myself doing just that: turning the huge crank on a deli-slicer-like machine to create a fifty-micron slice of rat brain. I then used an extra fine paintbrush to fish the brain slice out of the negative 22oC resting place and into a room temperature solution that would preserve it for future experiments.
I started high school thinking that psychology was the path for me. Somewhere between the first day of 9th grade and my first day at Reed, I reimagined myself as a rebel who would never follow in their parent’s footsteps. As a freshman I wandered around the philosophy department, and stuck my head in the political science department and finally, with much chagrin, signed up to take intro psychology my sophomore year.
Because I came home to psychology relatively late in my college career, I had to find my way through the department quickly. I had only three years to complete my major requirements, while those who knew what they were about from early freshman year had four. When I found myself enchanted with behavioral neuroscience, I found that I did not have room in my schedule to pursue this interest as well as graduate on time. This is when the winter shadow program appeared in my life and gave me a wonderful opportunity to explore the field of behavioral neuroscience in a hands-on way.
For the first two weeks of January, I had the opportunity to intern at the Kartini Clinic in Portland. I applied to this internship because it had somewhat to do with my major, and I had never been in a healthcare setting. I was curious how my skills applied to a pediatric eating disorder program and wanted to be a part of something that helps children and their families through this process. My sponsor was Morgan who is a Reed alumnus from 1994. I worked closely with him and Megan, who is head of the Business Office at the clinic. In this internship, I input data, analyzed it, and gave a presentation on my findings.
I was first of all very surprised with how much I was allowed to do. It was way more hands on than I was expecting which was a definite plus. As it was the beginning of the new year and December’s data had not been completely submitted, I started off with raw data entry. I thought my work would end there, but I was presented with possible questions about our patients that I could analyze. My first day there, I was able to participate in a finance meeting that went over revenue and expenses for 2015.
My primary job was to analyze patient data with regard to age, gender, and type of insurance for a nine-month period. Then, I came up with estimates on the average revenue of patient, average length of stay, and average revenue based on insurance. I worked closely with Megan in regards to the specifics of my analysis. We regularly checked in with one another both in person and though email. When she went to work off-site, we discussed the materials that I should look into the day prior so that I wouldn’t run out of things to do.
Maybe because I’m a Reedie, getting an education at a college that tucks grades out of sight and celebrates the weird and wonky types of intelligence that stick out at awkward angles from standard boxes. Perhaps because, as my mom says, I was raised in a hippy era when testing kids was “uncool.” For whatever reason, I admit I entered into my weeklong shadow with Dr. Amy Summers, a private psychologist who specializes in administering tests to kids to gather information about cognitive development, IQ, and possible learning disabilities, with a bit of a bias. The bias wasn’t even due to an issue of ethics, I think I just heard words like “testing” and “assessment” and “diagnosis,” and thought these translated to numbers, objectivity, and standardization. In all honesty, I thought the work would be a little boring. I was beyond wrong!
I simply did not know enough about psychological testing to realize how interesting, exciting, and nuanced it really is. I’m so grateful to this externship and everyone who made it possible. One week with Amy opened my eyes to some really cool aspects of psychology that I never knew existed, and inspired in me a real fascination with the process of psychological diagnosis.
Amy let myself and my fellow Reed student shadower Jocelyn Hansson follow her through every step of the process of assessing a 5th grader suspected of having ADHD or ADD. Amy works predominantly with young children, mostly to administer IQ tests to kids whose parents are hoping they qualify for a highly capable school or program, or to test for a learning disorder/ADD/ADHD.
I decided to do the winter shadow program because while I’ve been certain that I’d be a psychology major for a long time, I have been struggling to figure out what specific area in psychology I want to pursue. When I saw Amy Summer’s winter shadow program I knew I had to apply. Amy Summers Phd., is an educational psychologist who administers psychological tests to children. She administers IQ tests to children hoping to apply to highly capable school programs and tests to children suspected to have a learning disorder or attentional problems. I already had an interest in learning disabilities and ADHD, but I was interested in exploring and learning more about the various different job opportunities within this field. Over the course of my week shadowing Amy, my externship buddy Maddy and I learned about the responsibilities of an educational psychologist. We were also introduced to others in the same field, and the different kinds of educational backgrounds they had. We learned about learning disorders, ADHD, child IQ scores, and the tests that score them while also observing and even sometimes getting the opportunity to administer some of these tests.
Perhaps the most exciting parts of my externship experience involved administering tests to the young children. Maddy and I were given the opportunity to prepare and administer tests to the two 4 year olds who were receiving IQ tests (these tests were non-essential, so we couldn’t mess up the results of the testing). It was sort of crazy to see how IQ is tested in 4 year old children. Some of the tests made sense to me, such as the test that looked at processing speed, but others were more unusual. For example, a block design test had the children arrange colored blocks to match a simple pattern. It was weird to hear that an ability to understand and reproduce diagonal lines is considered to be advanced spatial-visual ability in 4 year olds. These were super sweet and intelligent kids, but it was a shock to see kids this young being exposed to a convoluted testing process with the goal of getting them into a high achieving school or kindergarten. I was glad Amy was more than happy to talk about my conflicting feelings about the schools, and she ended up giving me a lot to think about. We talked about things like the instability of young children’s IQ scores, the status element of having one’s children attend these schools, along with the effects of the different schooling children from high and low socioeconomic status receive.
During the week Amy also assessed an 8 year old who was being tested because of a suspected learning disorder. Maddy and I spent a day observing him in his school environment. While we were there we were able to talk to people worked in jobs different than Amy’s that were in the same realm of interest. I learned not only about jobs related to educational psychology, but also about some interesting methods geared to teach children with significant learning disabilities to read. When this boy came into Amy’s office, we were able to both observe his testing, and administer some tests ourselves. I came into this experience thinking I knew a lot about learning disorders and ADHD, but found that I actually knew very little about the tests for these disorders. One of the most interesting things I learned about these tests was the fact that there are different spelling errors that indicate different kinds of problems. Simply put, some spelling errors make phonological sense, and don't indicate much, while others might be indicative of difficulties understanding sounds and their corresponding letters. I think the most rewarding experience of my whole shadow program was looking critically at this boy’s performance on the tests. It was cool to see Amy look at certain test results, come up with a hypothesis, and administer certain tests to look into her hypothesis. We were treating this boy’s development and abilities sort of like a puzzle. I’m glad I was comfortable enough to put forward my own ideas and hypotheses about this boy.
Kartini Clinic is a small health clinic in Northeast Portland that offers treatment for pediatric patients with eating disorders. Kartini’s approach to eating disorder treatment differs in many ways from that of other facilities. The clinic’s treatment program is family-based and places an emphasis on eating disorders as genetic metabolic disorders instead of psychiatric disorders. In the past year, Kartini Clinic has even implemented individualized genetic testing as a part of their treatment process.
Upon intake, Kartini Clinic patients, ranging in age from 6 to 23 years old, are placed in one of the clinic’s three stages of treatment: the partial hospitalization program, the intensive outpatient program, or the outpatient program. During my two weeks shadowing one of the clinic’s medical assistants, I was given the chance to observe all three levels of treatment. However, I primarily interacted with patients in the partial hospitalization program, taking vitals each morning and occasionally eating meals with them. I learned some incredibly useful skills over the course of those two weeks, including how to take blood pressure manually, how to analyze urine samples, and how to recognize abnormal levels in certain vital measurements.
During my time at Kartini Clinic, I also conducted research. I was responsible for collecting data on the initial diagnoses and intake medications of one hundred of the clinic’s most severe patients. This data will later be compared to the results of genetic testing for those patients. This genetic testing, conducted by a company called Genomind, gives the doctors at Kartini Clinic information about specific mutations that are commonly associated with negative reactions to certain psychoactive drugs. This type of information is invaluable to the doctors, as they often prescribe psychoactive drugs to combat the anxiety and depression that often accompany eating disorders. The goal of our research is to observe any correlations between the results from this genetic testing and the severity of the patient.
Savanah Walseth, junior Sociology major and recipient of the Winter Fellowship for International Travel, reflects on her time in India, exploring alternative models of mental health care.
My trip to India was a series of dichotomies. Anxiety about traveling to a country alone; pure joy in discovering things that only I would have found. Seeing some of the most fabulous beaches and most expensive buildings in the world; visiting the largest slum in Asia. Exhaustion from constant conversations about money and worry about theft; witnessing immense kindness from complete strangers. I was there to study mental health in the country and while I did this, I also learned a lot about my own.
I think the only way to sum up my trip is to take it one city at a time and share the lessons learn and a few tidbits about the people I met and things I saw.
This past winter (2014), I shadowed Daniela Deyoung, a speech and language pathologist at the Portland Public School Early Childhood Team, for two weeks in January. Dani is mainly in charge of the transition from preschool to kindergarten for children with development delays, so she not only does speech development evaluations, but also communicates with preschool and kindergarten teachers and therapists to help with a smooth transition for children with special needs at school. Dani works with both English and Spanish speaking children. I followed Dani around the city to different meetings with parents and school staff and to observation sessions of children who need evaluations. Thanks to Dani, I also got to observe her colleagues during their evaluation sessions of children who were brought to the Early Childhood Team by parents with concerns of language or general development delay. It was very exciting and fun to learn about the child language development and observe the diverse tasks she and her colleagues perform on a day to day basis. Everyone was very friendly and helpful and was very patient with my questions.
I applied to the externship because I am very interested in languages and would like to learn more about the language development process of children. It was also a great opportunity to explore a completely new field. Dani was very engaged and helpful in the process and I learned a lot about autism and typical and non-typical child development at different age groups. Since Dani works with many children who fall in the autism spectrum, she started sending me articles about autism spectrum before the externship started and familiarized me with the symptoms. She was a great teacher and pointed out the children’s behaviors that might be indicators of autism to me during the observation sessions. She also gave me the opportunity to apply the autistic symptoms I learned by taking observation notes and gave me detailed feedback on them. I learned a great deal about child development from her within two weeks.
One important thing I learned is the importance of child play. Child play is an indicator of children’s social skills, their motor development and their intelligence development in general. Child play should be functional, meaning that children should play the toys the way they are designed to be played, have a story about what they are playing, or use the toys in innovative but still sensible ways. It is a lot of the times an imitation of adults’ activities—like cooking, driving cars, building a house, etc—and sometimes require cooperation with other children. When a child is not playing functionally, but uses a toy to make repetitive movements such as dragging a train in a circle nonstop or staring at car’s wheels spinning, it might be an indicator of autism, but of course the language pathologist has to see other symptoms of autism to qualify the child for special education. It was fascinating for me to learn about the functions and complexity of child play and helped me understand the typical behaviors of children.
As a part of the Reed Winter Externship Program, Maggie Maclean, class of 2016, worked at a veteran’s hospital, assisting patients through recreational and art therapy
As I prepared for my internship at a teaching hospital in Livermore, California, I realized that there was one very important detail that Reed had not prepared me for: business casual attire. I managed to dig out of my closet one pair of pants without ripped knees and a pair of boots without paint splattered on them. I arrived at the Veterans Association’s Community Living Center hoping to blend in as a med student, not an art major.
Although I have taken a few psychology classes at Reed, I never imagined myself in the scientific world of clinical medicine. I was worried about how I would fare in a hospital setting. Taking the elevator between floors of residents’ rooms I felt like an extra in a doctor show minus the white coat. But throughout my externship I saw how far interpersonal skills, patience, and an open mind could take me.
Madeline Wagar ’16, Assistant Editor with Works & Days, interviewed John Hopson ’97, User Research Lead at Bungie Studios, a video game company based in Washington state.
Describe a typical day in your work.
There aren’t really typical days. Game development is a very cyclic industry. The early stages of coming up with ideas are very different from the final run up to ship a game. There is a whole cycle to development. Right now, we’re in the final crunch to ship Destiny (an intricate, interactive first-person shooter). We have people coming in to play the game in lab multiple times a week, and we are running data analysis on the statistics we gather every day. We just finished public alpha testing, so we had 500,000 people plugged in playing the game from home. We have lots of data from that. We surveyed several thousand participants to get their subjective opinions, and we will be analyzing that.
Over winter break, I was an extern at the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience under Dr. Sharon Thompson-Schill at University of Pennsylvania. My co-extern and I spent our days at Sharon’s lab talking to her and other researchers about their research.
One of the topics that Sharon is interested in is cognitive control. This refers to the executive control of the prefrontal cortex on cognitive processes such as rational thought, task flexibility, and working memory. Interestingly, when the human brain is developing, the prefrontal cortex grows much slower than the rest of it—as a result children exhibit the traits of someone with a damaged prefrontal cortex for many years. This quality has inspired much research into ways to accelerate the prefrontal growth of children, to make them “mature” faster.
However, Sharon points out that there are some important tasks that children are better at than adults, like learning and creativity. Their prefrontal immaturity may actually aid in these tasks and the cognitive control that adults have inhibits them. I observed a tDCS experiment in the lab that either increased or decreased prefrontal activity in participants while they performed tasks that require learning and attention to see if their performance was affected by the changes in prefrontal activity. The idea was that participants with decreased prefrontal activity were more like children and would do better on the tasks without the control of the prefrontal cortex in action. Therefore, it may be inadvisable to hasten the prefrontal growth of children without fully understanding the benefits of slower growth. Perhaps it is most efficient for children to have underdeveloped prefrontal cortices to learn more fully and to develop flexible learning and rational thinking later as adults.
I participated in an externship with Moira Tofanelli. Moira is a School Psychologist at Creative Sciences School in Portland. She was very accommodating and tailored the experience to my interests. I learned that a School Psychologist spends their time focusing on the kids who are not doing very well in school, either academically or behaviorally, and try to determine if they need special educations services. I was intrigued that this was not an exact science; there are many circumstances making it it unclear what is causing the issues for the child and what steps should be taken to help correct the problem. This was highlighted for me when I did a case study of a sixth grader who was undergoing an evaluation to determine eligibility for special education services. Overall, my externship was a very rewarding and interesting experience.
There aren’t too many externships where they strap electrodes to your head. Not on the first day, at least.
But here I was, at 11 AM on a Thursday, listening to a cheerful senior rattle off instructions while gently attaching two large rubber pads to my scalp. While this may sound eerily like the start of a ‘50s science fiction movie, I was actually just a participant in a tDCS experiment, a form of neurostimulation in which constant, low-level current is delivered to the brain via small electrodes. tDCS changes the resting potential of neurons, making it harder or easier for them to fire. As a result, it can be used to temporarily increase cognitive ability in areas like memory and language.