Published April 10, 2020
A junior psychology major who hopes to research social and cognitive aspects of depression – including reducing prejudice of those struggling with the disorder – is UB’s latest Goldwater scholar, an honor UB administrators call the country’s premier scholarship for undergraduate students pursuing research careers.
The award to Cassondra Lyman, 21, is particularly notable because Goldwater awards usually go to students studying the hard sciences.
“To win a Goldwater as a psychology major is very challenging,” says Elizabeth A. Colucci, director of the Office of Fellowships and Scholarships. “The award typically goes to the hard sciences, so this recognition is particularly notable.
“When I first met Cassondra, we met to talk about fellowships. As a researcher, she spoke with great conviction about how psychology research was indeed a STEM discipline,” Colucci says. “Many psychology students go into clinical psychology, which is not an eligible field. But for Cassondra, her research is informing the field on many important topics.
“Obviously, Goldwater felt that her research and future graduate plans are exceptional.”
Lyman was one of 396 students chosen from among 1,343 students from 461 American colleges and universities nominated for the Goldwater scholarship. Established by Congress in 1986 to honor the work and memory of Sen. Barry Goldwater, the scholarship is awarded to college sophomores and juniors who intend to pursue research careers in the natural sciences, mathematics and engineering.
Lyman will receive a $7,500 Goldwater scholarship for tuition during her senior year at UB. But UB administrators emphasize the academic prestige, networking possibilities and entry into the highest echelon of their respective research circles are more valuable than the scholarship award itself.
A graduate of Maine-Endwell High School near Binghamton, Lyman plans to earn her PhD in psychology and continue researching the social/cognitive aspects of depressive disorders. She lists her academic goals as “reducing prejudice and provide new insights into mental illness.”
“Throughout the application process, I told myself not to get too excited,” Lyman said shortly after she was notified she would receive the Goldwater scholarship. “I knew I submitted the strongest application I could but, in all honesty, I planned to receive a rejection letter up until I read my acceptance letter.
“This is essentially a group of highly respected individuals saying, ‘Yes, you’re doing something right,’ and that has made me incredibly happy.”
Lyman, who wrote in her Goldwater application that her goal is to reduce prejudice and provide new insights into mental health, has worked on multiple research projects under the mentorship of John Roberts and Wendy Quinton, both associate professors of psychology, and Gregory Wilding, professor and chair of the Department of Biostatistics.
An Advanced Honors College junior and McNair Scholar, she is completing the psychology honors program.
“In my 21 years of university teaching – including the past 12 years that I have supervised our top undergraduates in the Psychology Honors Program – I have never met a student with a more astutely curious mind than Cassondra,” Quinton wrote in Lyman’s scholarship recommendation. “She has, quite simply, the best potential to become a groundbreaking research scientist of any undergraduate I have ever known.”
In her scholarship application, Lyman wrote about her research interests, noting that depression is a risk factor for serious health consequences and suicide.
“While a number of interventions for depression have demonstrated efficacy and effectiveness, access to treatment remains limited,” she wrote.
She said a promising avenue for increasing access to evidence-based treatment is the development of mental health (mHealth) apps. “Unfortunately, many available mHealth apps have not been subjected to empirical evaluation,” she said, adding that her research project aims to establish the feasibility and efficacy of a new health apps.
In her application, Lyman also discussed the great value of her university education, despite her personal financial hardships.
“Having been raised in a low-income single-parent household,” she wrote, “my mother always made it clear that should I choose to pursue a degree in higher education, I would do so without financial support as she does not possess the resources needed to contribute to my education and raise my brother. For this reason, the cost of college has always rested squarely on my shoulders, and I work year-round to finance my education.
She noted that she often has less time to study and spend as much time as she would like in the lab, and has had to “sacrifice valuable academic experiences” as well.
There were many moments, she says, when she struggled to protect her “sense of academic adventure from being extinguished by the overwhelming financial burden of college.”
“In these moments, I consider the many joys I have found while at college. I have had an enriching and rewarding experience and, regardless of the financial burden, I see college as a place to find positive role models, form meaningful relationships and receive life-changing counsel.”
As a freshman undergraduate psychology student, this is truly an inspiring thing to read. Congratulations! I hope to maybe some day follow in your footsteps.