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Graduate Students Present Cog Sci, Psych Research at Symposium

April 21, 2008

Seven graduate students from the School of Social Sciences, Humanities and Arts gave attendees at the 29th Annual Central California Research Symposium in Fresno last week something to remember: valuable research in the fields of cognitive science and psychology.

The students – Liz Duran, Rodolfo Galindo, Kandice Soraya Grote, Kristi Imberi-Olivares, Justin Matthews, Michael Romano and Corinne Townsend – are all part of SSHA’s Social and Cognitive Sciences Graduate Group, which offers students individualized training and the opportunity to help build a unique, interdisciplinary research community.

Romano won first place for his poster, “Perceptual Similarity, Difference and Identity.” Duran won an honorable mention for her poster, “Parental Mental State Talk and the Development of Theory of Mind.” Romano works with Professor Evan Heit, and Duran works with Professor Michelle M. Chouinard.

This is the second year in a row that UC Merced has taken the top prize in the poster category. Last year’s winner, Matthews, submitted an oral presentation this year, which he delivered during the plenary session. Matthews, a research assistant for Professor Teenie Matlock, discussed how facial prominence affects predicted job performance.

Matthews is more than pleased by how well his UC Merced colleagues fared at the Fresno event.

“Last year, I was the only UC Merced student to participate, and I pledged to return with more students from Social and Cognitive Sciences,” he said. “I’m glad to see that not only did we succeed in increasing our campus’ participation in the event, but that our research was valued by the judges as well.”

Matthews’ positive experience at last year’s symposium was the reason for at least one of his fellow researchers to join him this year.

Grote jumped at the chance to present her research on bilingualism in preschool-age children in the Central Valley during the symposium’s poster session. A second-year doctoral student focused on developmental psychology, she said the most rewarding aspect of the event for her was explaining the significance of her research to those not familiar with the field.

“There are a lot of misconceptions about the effectiveness of bilingual education and informing others of its benefits can be challenging,” she said.

Aside from giving participants the experience of presenting research in a regional setting, the symposium allowed for UC Merced students to network with other faculty in the field, something Imberi-Olivares valued greatly. She discussed her research on how parent-child conversation affects learning with the chair of the psychology department at California State University, Fresno.

Olivares, a second-year doctoral student, believes her studies into whether children accept linguistic feedback from people other than their parents will have a direct effect on the nature-vs.-nurture debate in field of language learning.

“The more we understand how linguistic transmission works, the better we can structure teaching environments and give parenting advice,” she said.

UC Merced students will have plenty of opportunities to make their mark on the research community as part of the Central California Research Symposium in the future – at least, that’s if Matthews has any say in the matter.

“I hope we can make UC Merced students – undergraduates and graduates – a fixture there for years to come,” he said.