Meet Our Students

Meet our Recent Graduates - Class of 2021

The following students were kind enough to share their advice and personal experiences at UVA to help our future students to successful.  We hope you enjoy learning about their scholarly journeys and feel inspired as a result.


Jessica Smith  -  Annandale, VA  -  Class of 2021

Academic program: Psychology

About my profile picture: This is from when I studied abroad in Australia right after my first year in the summer of 2018. I was at the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary and got to pet and feed some kangaroos!

My path to psychology:  I wasn’t planning on studying psychology when I first got to UVA, I was actually pre-law and declared Foreign Affairs my first semester… but I really had come to terms with my love for science which then later developed into a fascination with behavioral health.

Favorite psychology class:  My favorite psychology class was 100% without a doubt, social psychology (PSYC 2600)! This class was not only my favorite content-wise, but this is the only class where I can truly relate something that happens each day to the content I had learned.

Favorite psychology professor:  Professor Mazurek taught my social psychology class that I took first year. I’m about to graduate and continue to rave about him to anyone who asks me which class they should take if they’re wanting to take a psyc class! He’s such a wonderful lecturer and really made himself available for extra help outside of class. He really cares for his students and wants them to succeed! 

Other UVA classes I recommend: My top 5 classes I’ve taken (besides social psychology) would have to be Intro to International Relations (PLIR  1010), Hitler in History and Fiction (HIEU 3505), Intro to Data Science with R (STAT 1601), RM: Psychobiology Laboratory (PSYC 3210), and Grammar and Composition I in Spanish (SPAN 3010).

Student organizations I recommend: I’ve been heavily involved in the University Salsa Club since I was a first year, and I was actually the President for the club this year (2021)! It’s truly been a ‘home away from home’ for me and allowed me to not just make some of my greatest friends, but develop my love for Latin dance.

Volunteer activities to consider: I used to volunteer with the UVA Health System through Madison House. I was a patient ambassador, and also an assistant in the outpatient pediatrics PT/OT clinic.

Undergraduate research experience:  I was the lead undergraduate research assistant with the Center for Behavioral Health and Technology (which is part of the UVA SOM, Department of Psychiatry and Neurobehavioral Sciences). When I decided that I wanted to pursue a career in academic research, I spent the day shadowing in the summer of 2019 when I was in Charlottesville and sought a student position! This research center is nothing like anything else I had ever seen before because it’s such an interdisciplinary lab that utilizes technology to implement engaging, interactive, and comprehensive interventions which improve outcomes with individually tailoring programs. Additionally, for over 10 years, the center has been involved in eHealth, the development and testing of clinical interventions via the Internet. I had the privilege to work with clinical psychologists, public health specialists, software engineers, etc. all in one center!

Psychology Distinquished Major Progam (DMP): I was in the Psychology Distinguished Majors program. I prepared a thesis under the supervision of faculty member Kelly M. Shaffer, PhD. The resulting thesis was based on secondary analyses using an existing database from our national clinical trial, SHUTi OASIS, regarding cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I). But in addition to a primary outcome, we’re working on moderation analyses regarding differences in depression and anxiety and polypharmacy at baseline to post timelines between our treatment and control groups.  Visit the Reid Conference Open Science folder to read more about my research.

Advice for new students:  The Psychology classes are not easy so do not be discouraged! I didn’t do super well in my first psychology class. If the content is something you’re really passionate about then stick with it!

Future Plans: I’m excited and sincerely blessed to be employed for the next year as I will be taking a gap year. I’ll be continuing to grow my skillset and build up my resume for applications to PhD programs in the near future!

Mary Isaac Cargill  -  Vinton, VA  -  Class of 2021

Academic Programs: Psychology and English (concentration in Modern and Global Studies)

My path to psychology: I’ve always been fascinated by the unknowability of the human mind.  In this field, every answer leaves you with new questions, so there’s always something new to pursue.

Favorite psychology class: I really enjoyed the Psychology of Black Racial Trauma with Professor Leath.  The discussions we had as a class and the topics we covered in the course were very pertinent and granted me deeper insight into the field.

Favorite psychology professor:  I really enjoyed Professor Jaswal’s class and overall teaching style.  I learned a lot from him, but more importantly, he clearly cares a lot about his students and their success.  (I’m a little biased because he’s also my advisor!)

Other UVA classes I recommend:  I really recommend any of the upper-level seminar courses, especially the Psychology of Women and Gender, and Autism: from Neurons to Neighborhoods.

Student organizations I recommend:  The Psychological Society is such a great community that gives you access to some really helpful resources, and I can’t say enough good things about Hoos Connected – I highly recommend everyone check out that organization!

Undergraduate research experience:   I’ve worked in a few different labs as an undergraduate research assistant, but I currently work in the Jaswal Lab.  I didn’t have the most normal introduction to the lab – I cold-emailed Professor Jaswal and came to his office hours to discuss the potential of me joining the lab; after a brief meeting with him and the lab manager, I was accepted for the upcoming semester.  The Jaswal Lab researches a variety of topics related to autism, including perceptions and stigma, emotion recognition, and terminology.

Psychology Distinquished Major Progam (DMP): I knew I wanted to do a DMP when I started at the Jaswal Lab, and I am thrilled to be working with Professor Jaswal on this project.  My project focuses on perceptions of autism and autistic people as influenced by different terminology, namely person-first versus identity-first language.

Advice for new students:  I strongly advise people to get to build relationships with their professors – they genuinely want to see their students do well, and they can be a great source of support.  I also think anyone with an interest in research should seek out opportunities to work as an undergraduate research assistant – it’s one of the best decisions I made during my time in college!

Future Plans:  I am currently in the process of applying to PhD programs for Clinical Psychology to continue my research on autism.

Neemah Koroma - Woodbridge, VA - Class of 2021

Academic program:  Psychology

About my profile picture:  I was at one of my first UVA football games (I am on the left) and I had gone with my friend Deebii who lived in my first year dorm and later became my roommate and one of my closest friends!

My path to psychology:  I was inspired to study psychology ever since I enrolled in social psychology the second semester of my first year with Professor Christopher Mazurek. I was in love with learning about how the mind works and how important our environment contributes to who we are, how we perceive ourselves, how we perceive other people and how we perceive the world. I wanted to continue my studies in learning about the mind since it is so intricate and plays such a big part in the world around us and how we respond to it. With every class I take I continue to love learning about it.

Favorite psychology class:  My favorite psychology class has to be social psychology. While it helped me pursue my interest in psychology, I love that its focus is in understanding and prioritizing the situations around us and other people and how we tend to overlook and underestimate its importance. To this day, because of the class, it really helps me self-reflect and be slow to automatically assume someone's personality instead of their situation which is so common to how we as humans work in order to make things more simple, even if it isn't right. This is a class I would recommend to everyone and not only just psychology students.

Favorite psychology professor:  My favorite psychology professor would be Professor Seanna Leath. I took her class on the Psychology of Black Women during Spring 2020 and I just loved it. We were able to have thoughtful discussions about the many struggles Black Women have to go through in America, many struggles that are overlooked and not truly understood by those who are not part of this intersectionality. It resonated with me because I continue to go through many of these struggles as a Black woman myself. I enjoyed finally having a professor who understood what I went through. I am now in her lab (FHIRE lab) currently.

Other UVA classes I recommend:  Other classes I would recommend would be Professor Amrisha Vaish's class on Child Psychology (PSYC 2700) and Tobias Grossman's class on Infant Development (PSYC 3490). Even if you don't like children, you'll very much enjoy the information without feeling overwhelmed and really understand how they work and why they act the way they do. Professor Rick Maye's class on Intro to U.S. Healthcare (GNUR 5390) is also an amazing class that I recommend to everyone, especially because you learn not only how US healthcare works, but how much if it affects our lives and those around us- the good and the bad. It brings to light a lot of the misconceptions we have about people's health. I don't know anyone who has taken any of these classes and regretted it!

Student organizations I recommend:  I was on the student advisory board of the Center for Global Health and I am the committee head of our annual Global Health Case Competition. Every year we host a competition where students across disciplinary schools are presented a global case and work for a week to solve it and then present it to a panel of interdisciplinary and international judges. The winner is sent to the national competition for a grand prize. I was also on the executive board for Happy Kids Healthy Kids where (before Covid-19) we would volunteer at various elementary schools in Charlottesville and teach kids healthy food and exercise habits. I love kids and I love health so this kind of went hand in hand with what I want to do in the future. Of course I would recommend all the ones I am a part of because they are such a great experience, but there are hundreds of others I couldn't even begin to just name one. UVA has a great site that lists anything you may be interested in.

Volunteer activities to consider:  I have since spent the end of third year at home so I was not able to do all the volunteer activities I was hoping to do. I was able to volunteer virtually with My Sister's Keeper this past semester where UVA students mentor BIPOC high schools students in Charlottesville, where more of the focus is on Black highschool girls. I would most definitely recommend volunteering at the Haven which works to provide food and sustainable housing to the homeless population in Charlottesville. My best friend works there and loves it and has taken on a leadership role; they are almost always looking for volunteers to help out.

Undergraduate research experience:  For all of second year I volunteered as a research assistant in the Early Development Lab where I worked on the Spatial App project. My friend who was working in the psychology lab had sent me information that EDL was looking for new assistants so I applied. While there was/is several projects, Spatial Apps worked to figure out if there is a difference in how parents interact with their children in spatial games electronically or physically and if there's a larger extent in interaction and scaffolding. I worked under Sierra Eisen who has since left to complete her Postdoc at Wesleyan University. I helped schedule and recruit participants, run experiments, and code the data that we recorded. Currently, I am a research assistant in the FHIRE lab under Professor Seanna Leath and work alongside brilliant students! The research focuses on how racial and gender identity beliefs contribute to psychological resilience in Black women and how discrimination and stigma affect outcomes of Black girls and women. There are various lab and paper projects of a variety of studies that are currently in place, so there is always something that needs to be done! The lab works very hard to create a community where everyone is free to express what is happening with their project or life in general.

Advice for new students:  What helped me be successful in my psychology classes is realizing that most of what you learn is what takes place in real life. When I study, I always try to apply what I'm learning to reality to make it much more relatable and understandable, rather than just memorizing. If there was a particular topic I wasn't getting, I would go to a professor to better understand it.

Future Plans:  As a pre-med student, I hope to one day become a physician. While anything can change, I still hope to become a child psychiatrist after medical school. I love that we are in the generation where there is more freedom to talk about mental illness, especially because every individual is going through something that may be hard to deal with. Many children, especially BIPOC children, go through adverse childhood experiences that affect them well into adulthood and deal with disorders that aren't recognized or dealt with properly in many cultures. I want to be a part of the solution to this problem and bring affordable mental health to communities that get overlooked.

Kayleigh Harris  -  Williamsburg, VA  -  Class of 2021

Academic program:  Psychology and Sociology Double Major

Favorite psychology class:  Social Psychology (PSYC 2600) and Social Dynamics

Favorite psychology professor: Professor Wood really helped to broaden my understanding of what psychologists can and do study and she has helped to push me towards achieving my own goals in the psych department here at UVA as my DMP advisor.

Student organizations I recommend:  I am part of the Virginia Women's Chorus and have met many of my closest friends at UVA through the chorus so if you're at all interested in singing I definitely recommend checking us out and auditioning!

Volunteer activities to consider:  I am a member of Alpha Phi Omega, a co-ed service organization here at UVA. Joining APO is a great way to find friends and a group of people who are passionate about serving our community.

Undergraduate research experience:  I'm worked as an RA in Dr. Brown-Ianuzzi's BASH (Behavior and Social Hierarchies) Lab. I got involved simply by emailing Dr. Brown-Ianuzzi and letting her know I was interested, she immediately set me up with her grad students to see if I'd be a good fit and it's been a wonderful experience.

Psychology Distinquished Major Progam (DMP):  For my final in Professor Wood's Social Dynamics class, I wrote a research proposal with two grad students, Professor Wood found our proposal really intriguing and offered to fund our project! I ended up taking the lead on the study and reached out to Professor Smyth to see if I could be included in the DMP for my project and was accepted! My research focuses on the effects of high or low gossip and in-group/out-group distinctions on prosocial behavior towards fellow group members.

Future Plans: I have applied to several business school Ph.D. programs in Organizational Behavior and I am also currently on the hunt for jobs.

Virginia Syer - Richmond, VA - Class of 2021

Academic programs: Psychology and English double major, Religious Studies minor

My path to psychology:  My high school guidance counselor and Mindfulness teacher, Alex Peavey, studied psychology here at UVA and he was a very influential figure for me. I have always been passionate about mental health, and his knowledge and understanding inspired me to pursue an understanding of my own. 

Favorite psychology class:  Introduction to Social Psychology was my favorite psychology class. I took this course in the Spring of my first year with Professor Mazurek, and I loved learning about human behaviors, thoughts and emotions and how they are influenced by the perceived presence of others. It was fascinating and I loved to look for the content we learned in class out in the real world. It was the first psychology class I took at UVA and it solidified my interest in the field. 

Favorite psychology professor:  This is a hard question, but if I had to pick I would say Professor Joseph Allen. I took Adolescence: Theory and Development with him in fall 2020. The course was over zoom, so it was a different experience than my other psychology classes, but I just found Professor Allen to be very knowledgeable and also kind and understanding throughout the pandemic. I also loved the content of the class. 

Other UVA classes I recommend:  I took PSYC 4500 Special Topics: The Human Brain as a January Term class in 2020 with Professor James Morris and I would highly recommend the class for a 4000 level seminar. As someone who tends to find more interest and ease in the social and relational aspects of psychology, rather than the anatomical (is this the right word? Or do I mean biological/ neurological?) or statistical aspects, I was nervous for the course, but it was still so interesting and definitely beneficial. I had taken Cognitive Neuroscience before it, which gave me some background, but background was not necessary considering Professor Morris’ teaching was great. It gave me a much fuller understanding of psychology. 

Student organizations I recommend:  I was a member and a co-publicity chairman of the Psychological Society and I highly recommend involvement. The Psychological Society is a student organization that has about four events per semester to foster interest in the study of psychology. These events are speaker series, panels, or even movie nights with psychological films. You only have to go to two events to be a member, and it is an extremely helpful liaison between students and the Psychology Department. It is a great way to stay informed about opportunities in the field. 

Volunteer activities to consider:  I recommend involvement in Madison House because they have many different options for volunteering based on student preferences, and it is a great way to engage with the Charlottesville community and get-off grounds. I worked in kindergarten and second grade classrooms as well as an early learning center and it was really cool to witness what I had been learning in Child Psychology while volunteering.  

Undergraduate research experience:  I was a research assistant for the Wilson Lab throughout 2020 and I definitely recommend being a research assistant when a position is available. I got to facilitate the experimental design and collect data for the lab, as well as accumulate and summarize relevant research on the topic of study to help formulate effective data-analysis techniques. The research explored relational satisfaction for college students, and I learned a lot about the topic but also about research and experiments in general.

Advice for new students:  I think a huge thing is to maintain or cultivate a love of learning and look for the content you’re studying in the real world. We are really lucky to get an education from UVA and it is so much more enjoyable when we allow our education to alter our perspectives and engage our knowledge outside of class. The world becomes much more interesting when we allow what we learn to create a holistic understanding. 

Future Plans:  I am still figuring out what I want to pursue after school, so to be determined, but I am thinking about jobs that mix psychology and writing.

Max Belkin  -  Jacksonville, FL  -  Class of 2021

Academic program: Psychology

My path to psychology:  My parents are both psychologists so that certainly influenced me, but initially I did not want to follow in their footsteps. I took a couple Psych classes because of recommendations by others and they ended up being some of my favorite classes at UVA. Also, I’ve always had somewhat of a knack for how the brain works and how people interact with one another. Even when talking with my friends, I feel like I have an innate understanding of how others are feel and why they’re feeling the way they are. Everything culminated in my second year and I just really felt a passion towards Psychology. I felt like it was the best use of my talents and what I would be the most successful in.

Favorite psychology class:  It would probably be the first Psych class I took: Introduction to Perception. I just found the subject matter really interesting. I gained such a greater understanding for not necessarily how the world works, but how people work to understand the world around them. Which, to me, was so unique and offered such a different perspective that I had never been exposed to before. 

Favorite psychology professor:  Either Dennis Proffitt or Christopher Mazurek. Professor Proffitt taught Introduction to Perception and I think that was also an influential factor in why I enjoyed the class so much. He was very knowledgeable and really engaging, even in a big lecture. Professor Mazurek was also among my favorites as well. I took Social Psych with him and that too was one of my favorite classes at UVA. 

Other UVA classes I recommend:  I took Dracula a few years ago and really enjoyed that class. Sport Psych was really interesting (I like sports a lot so that was certainly a factor in my liking). I also enrolled in a course with Professor Paul Harris in the Curry school and he’s a fantastic professor, so pretty much any class he’s teaching.

Student organizations I recommend:  I’m in a fraternity, Alpha Epsilon Pi. I would highly recommend it, and just Greek life in general. I’ve made my closest friends here and it’s an experience unlike anything else you’ll not only have in college, but in life.

Volunteer activities to consider:  I volunteered with Madison House my first year and beginning of second. They are probably the biggest volunteer organization at UVA and are very well run. They have many different opportunities and connections for people to volunteer in pretty much whatever area they want to. My first year I volunteered at an after-school program for a local Middle-school and that was a very fulfilling experience. My second year I volunteered at the hospital because I want to go into the medical field (but I was unable to volunteer for very long because I ended up having surgery and could not go). My first year I also volunteered at the ASPCA in Charlottesville with an organization called HASS (Human Animal and Support Services). That was also really fun and rewarding because I love dogs, but who doesn’t.

Undergraduate research experience:  I worked with Professor Per Sederberg in his lab at the end of my first year and throughout my second year. My mom actually found some research opportunities for undergrads, online, and his intrigued me the most, so I just emailed him and asked if I could help out. When I was working with him, the lab had a couple different projects they were working on, mainly focused on memory and functions of the brain when trying to memorize/remember certain images. I was one of the initial study volunteers in testing the program they developed to determine memory and reaction time when trying to recognize images that flash on a screen. 

Advice for new students:  At UVA, just explore as much as you can. College is about having novel experiences, and experiencing things that you probably never will again. If it interests you, just try it out. If you don’t like something, no one’s forcing you to stay in a club or stay in that major. Have fun and enjoy yourself. Too often, people get so caught up in the competitive nature of UVA and finding a summer internship, being in a prestigious club or whatever else it may be, and they lose sight of just enjoying themselves. Obviously, you’ve come to UVA for the academics, but that shouldn’t mean you need to sacrifice your enjoyment and well-being for that. Specifically for Psychology, in order to be successful you obviously have to work hard, but, going back to my earlier point, if you find what you enjoy (the classes, the major, etc.) it really doesn’t feel like hard work. Once you find that passion, gear your studies towards it. Often times people major in something they enjoy and then don’t end up going into that field or ever using that knowledge again. If you really enjoy child psych, for example, talk to a professor, find a research lab, volunteer somewhere. There are so many avenues in which you can use your knowledge and expertise, you just have to seek them out. 

Try to seek out new opportunities. College is a time for exploration unlike any other. Whether that be through taking classes that don’t pertain to your major (of which were some of my favorite classes), seeking out different groups of friends or clubs. This is the only time in your life that you’ll be surrounded by thousands of different people, with such different backgrounds and experiences with such a vast array of knowledge you have access to with unparalleled ease. There is so much time in life to figure out your path and discover what you want to do. Use college as a stepping stone to be more learned just in life. If that guides you and helps you learn your passion, then great. If not, there’s nothing to worry about because you are gaining knowledge and experience at one of the best institutions in the world, something that billions of people could only wish for. Also, don’t take your time for granted. Make sure to enjoy it to the fullest because one moment you’re eating at Newcombe with dorm-mates or pulling an all-nighter in Clem 1 and next thing you know you’re applying for virtual graduation. These four years go by so much faster than you can imagine.

Future Plans:  In the future, I want to be a doctor. Either medical or psychological. I also love kids, so I really want to do something in the pediatric field. Currently, I am applying for post-graduate pre-med programs so I can finish some of my Med school requirements and then hopefully I’ll go into Med school after that.

New student profiles are added on a regular basis.  Thank you for visiting and check back soon to learn more from our Psychology undergraduate students.