Advancing Psychology Research

Star Chavez, whose summer research experience confirmed her interest in pursuing psychology.

© Western New Mexico University

Star Chavez completed a 10-week research program over the summer, and the junior psychology major is eyeing graduate school eventually. “I’d love to pursue research in cognitive neuroscience psychology and society and health psychology,” she said.

But higher education wasn’t something Chavez always sought. “My grandfather, with a Ph.D. in mathematics, was the head of the math department here. My grandma was a math teacher in Bayard with multiple degrees. There was a brief moment in my life when I didn’t want to go to college, but I decided I wanted to reach the same level of education my grandpa did,” Chavez said.

Opting to stay in her hometown for her bachelor’s degree, Chavez accepted mentorship from WNMU faculty members, who encouraged her to apply to summer research opportunities. She was accepted to and completed the UTEP BUILDing Scholars program, during which she lived in El Paso and studied how policies impact women’s abilities to access maternal health care. Focusing especially on women from Mexico, she examined the providers’ perception, transcribing interviews and conducting analysis. She said one of the reoccurring themes of her project was breastfeeding and how border closure and the pandemic affected breastfeeding. The topic is one her mom has long done advocacy around, so Chavez was amused at its presence in her own work.

Chavez was able to stay focused, even when her grandmother passed away toward the end of the program. “I came back to visit her in the hospital, and she had the biggest smile on her face hearing about my involvement in academia,” she said. “I knew my going back to finish and present at the symposium is what she would’ve wanted.”

The BUILDing Scholars program paid a stipend and provided participants housing. It launched what Chavez hopes is a long affair with research. Through the rest of her undergraduate program and into her career, Chavez plans to continue exploring in the field of psychology. “There’s a gap between where psychology is and what lay people know. I’d like to keep pushing it along so we’ll catch up as it goes,” she said.

Also before graduating from WNMU, Chavez hopes to ensure the longevity of two campus clubs she has played a role in establishing. “I want to make sure the WNMU Psychology Club and the WNMU Queers and Allies Club continues after me and my friends graduate. I would like future students to know they can have safety once they reach college.”

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