McNair program provides research opportunities for Stephanie Alvarez ’16

Obesity prevention is a great interest of Stephanie Alvarez ’16, a psychology major from Chicago, Illinois, because of today’s high rates of obesity in children and adolescents. “My curiosity led me to study college student eating habits in relation to parenting styles and accessibility of healthy food,” she says.

Alvarez is part of the McNair Scholar’s program at Ripon College, The program, founded in memory of physicist and Challenger astronaut Dr. Ronald E. McNair, helps first-generation, low-income and underrepresented groups of students prepare for graduate school and Ph.D. programs.

Last year with McNair, Alvarez completed a research project, “The Effects of Early Healthy Food Exposure on Adolescent Eating Habits,” supervised by Ripon Professor of Psychology Tim Petersik. “One of the great things about doing research for McNair was that I chose a topic in something I wanted to look at,” Alvarez said.

This summer, as part of a continuing relationship between Ripon College’s McNair Scholar’s Program and the UW Student Diversity Programs division, Alvarez is participating in the Rehabilitation and Special Education Department through the Summer Education Research Program (SERP) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

“My project focuses on teacher perceptions of alternative schools,” she says. “I am looking at the education system, but what is more important to me are the students who attend those schools, often considered ‘at-risk,’ and their mental well-being.”

Alvarez meets weekly deadlines and participates in student collaborations. She has been working under Dr. Kimber Wilkerson, head of the Department of Rehabilitation Psychology and Special Educations. “She is really great and encouraging in allowing me to direct the project while providing the necessary guidance along the way,” Alvarez says. “Visiting the Counseling Psychology Training Clinic has been my favorite experience so far. The clinic reminded me how much I would like to be a psychologist one day. Other good experiences include walking through State Street and bonding with my SERP roommates.”

Alvarez developed her interest in psychology during high school. “The best part of being a psychology major is that you can apply a lot of the things you learn in class to your life,” she says. “For example, the theories of personality and counseling class were great for understanding one’s own therapeutic orientation.”

Alvarez is grateful for her experience in the McNair program and the chance to work on her research. “It is an honor to participate in such a competitive program,” she says. “Our cohort was only six students, myself included. This research program was a great opportunity to hone my interests and further strengthen my academic abilities in order to pursue graduate school. I have learned that research takes a lot of patience, organization, motivation, and some fun breaks in between.”

Megan Sohr ’18
Oshkosh, Wisconsin

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