2019 Senior Award Winners Share Reflections from UMass

group of award winners holding plaques

From left-right: Laurel Whitfield, Lucine Boloyan, Brenna Duffey, John Vargas, Caren Rotello, Lily Vesel, Sophia Davis, Julia Tager, and Katelyn Loring.

Outstanding seniors from Psychological and Brain Sciences were honored at the annual Senior Award Celebration held at the University Club. Department Chair Caren Rotello, award recipients, their faculty sponsors were in attendance. Seniors were honored for their academic excellence, contributions to research, and scholarship. Hear what our senior award winners had to say about their UMass experience:

Lucine Boloyan, Outstanding Overall Senior Award

Pictured with Lori Astheimer

How did your experiences in the department of psychological and brain sciences shape who you are today?

The Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences offered so many opportunities for academic, personal, and professional growth. I am forever grateful to the faculty and staff in the department who ran such a diverse array of engaging courses, served as mentors through my research and teaching assistantships, and who helped me navigate my path. Majoring in Psychology at UMass has made me more well-rounded and open-minded, which I know will only help me serve others better throughout my life.

What is your biggest takeaway from UMass?

My biggest takeaway from UMass is to take risks even when I feel afraid; the unknown is scary, but listening to the voice of curiosity telling me to just try that new club, see what that class is like, or learn more about a particular field, never failed me. I learned that every experience is valuable, and all that UMass had to offer both inside and outside the classroom afforded me that chance to step out of my comfort zone and learn something new about myself and others.

What will you be pursuing after UMass?

I am pursuing a career in higher education administration. Inspired by my job as a Peer Advising Assistant at UMass, I would like to work with college students in academic advising and career counseling, helping them navigate their academic and professional path.


John Vargas, Academic Excellence Award

Pictured with Jeff Starns

How did your experiences in the department of psychological and brain sciences shape who you are today?

As a transfer student, I arrived at UMass without any prior connections and had to hit the ground running. However, the psychology department welcomed me with open arms, and provided for me a multitude of opportunities that paved the way to my eventual acceptance into graduate school. My experiences in the psychology department shaped the future of my personal and professional goals. 

What is your biggest takeaway from UMass?

Look for opportunities for personal and professional development, and take them! UMass provides all the tools needed for success, you just need to make the first move and utilize them. 

What will you be pursuing after UMass?

I've been accepted to a graduate PhD program, and will continue my research/education in cognitive psychology. 


Lily Vesel, Outstanding Senior Service Award

Pictured with Brian Lickel

How did your experiences in the department of psychological and brain sciences shape who you are today?

PBS gave me the opportunity to work with an amazing, supportive group of people who taught me the value of experiential learning. The passion for research I saw in my professors and mentors in PBS also inspired me to pursue this in my future.

What is your biggest takeaway from UMass?

My biggest takeaway from UMass is to take charge of my own learning. UMass had so many endless possibilities academically and socially that there was always the opportunity for me to pursue something new or get involved in groups or projects that were in line with my interests.

What will you be pursuing after UMass?

After graduation, I plan to continue working in psychology-related research at a university or hospital for a couple of years before attending graduate for either psychology or law.


Julia Tager, Outstanding Thesis Award

Pictured with Linda Isbell

How did your experiences in the department of psychological and brain sciences shape who you are today?

The fact that I was able to work as both a teaching assistant and a research assistant starting early in my sophomore year allowed me to get deeply involved with academic psychology in a way that I don't think I would have been able to do at other schools. Gaining these experiences early in college solidified my professional goal of becoming a clinical psychologist.

What is your biggest takeaway from UMass?

I am grateful to have been given so much choice in shaping my undergraduate career to fit my personal interests. From interning abroad in London at an infant cognition center through IPO to interviewing psychiatric patients in the Emergency Department with Dr. Isbell to helping freshmen navigate the college transition as a Peer Mentor, I have a broad array of experiences, the lessons from which I will continue to reflect on through graduate school and beyond.

What will you be pursuing after UMass?

In the fall, I will be going to UW Milwaukee to pursue a PhD in Clinical Psychology with a focus in pediatrics.


Brenna Duffey, Outstanding TA Award

Pictured with John Bickford

How did your experiences in the department of psychological and brain sciences shape who you are today?

Psychology vastly shaped my life! Before I stumbled my way into psychology, I entered UMass as a biochemistry major. It was a very lucky accident that I took my first class with John Bickford (Psychology 100). Psychology has pushed me to look at the world differently, and has greatly improved my relationships with my friends and coworkers!

What is your biggest takeaway from UMass?

My biggest takeaway is that I’m stronger and more worthy than I think I am. I struggled through college and fighting my way through it all showed me that I can do anything I set my mind to. 

What will you be pursuing after UMass?

Lastly I will be pursuing a future in social justice and community education. It’s my goal to work with at-risk queer youth within various communities teaching them about mental health topics and identity formation.


Laurel Whitfield, Outstanding RA Award

Pictured with Adrian Staub

How did your experiences in the department of psychological and brain sciences shape who you are today?

Becoming a psychology major changed the trajectory of my life because it introduced me to and taught me about research, which I now see as my future. 

What is your biggest takeaway from UMass?

There's always something available for you to learn, even if it is about something you never saw yourself being interested in. 

What will you be pursuing after UMass?

I will be a lab manager/research assistant in the Snedeker Lab at Harvard.


Katelyn Loring, Outstanding Internship Award

Pictured with Ashley Woodman

How did your experiences in the department of psychological and brain sciences shape who you are today?

The department of psychological and brain sciences encouraged me to pursue new avenues and question my prior assumptions about the world. This department introduced me to my passion for working with people with disabilities- an interest that has heavily influenced my future career goals. 

What is your biggest takeaway from UMass?

UMass has given me incredible opportunities that I could never have dreamed for myself. I’ve learned that life cannot be perfectly planned out. It is with the road blocks, twists, and turns that I have learned who I am and what I am meant to do. 

What will you be pursuing after UMass?

After I graduate from UMass I will be pursuing my doctorate of occupational therapy at Tufts University. 


sphia davis and ashley woodman

Sophia Davis, Outstanding Internship Supporting Adults with Intellectual Disability. Sponsored by the Developmental Disabilities and Human Services Program (DDHS). 

Pictured with Ashley Woodman

How did your experiences in the department of psychological and brain sciences shape who you are today?

The variety of classes offered through the Psychology department allowed me to not only pursue a degree I was passionate and excited to learn about, but helped me to discover the intersection of disciplines within psychology that I am most interested in. The department’s holistic approach to providing a broad range of classes, certificates, and extracurricular opportunities allowed me to discover my passion for working with children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. 

What is your biggest takeaway from UMass?

My experience as a student at such a large university taught me how to be proactive and self-driven in my studies and how to self-advocate for academic and extracurricular opportunities.  

What will you be pursuing after UMass?

I'm pursuing a Masters degree in Occupational Therapy. I would like to work with children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities in either a clinical or residential setting.