Awardees conducting research in addiction, cognition, pain management
Three Arizona State University Department of Psychology graduate students are the newest recipients of the Sharon Manne Award, a scholarship that provides seed funding to allow students to conduct independent research projects. The award funds research projects in health psychology, clinical psychology and behavioral neuroscience that address important and timely mental and physical health issues. The funded projects are separate from the work the graduate students do with their mentor, which gives the awardees the chance to begin pursuing their own research interests.
Sharon Manne is currently a professor in the Department of Medicine at the Robert Wood Johnson School of Medicine and is the associate director of cancer prevention and control at the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey. She was a doctoral student in ASU’s clinical psychology program and was mentored by Alex Zautra and Irwin Sandler. She credits their mentoring as pivotal in her career and said she wanted to pay it forward in the form of a research scholarship each semester.
The new recipients — Erin Mistretta, Victoria Bernaud and Jack Waddell — are all conducting psychological research in diverse areas such as chronic pain, memory and hormones, and addiction. Photos and video: Robert Ewing, ASU Department of Psychology Download Full Image
The new recipients — Jack Waddell, Erin Mistretta and Victoria Bernaud — are all conducting psychological research in diverse areas such as addiction, memory and hormones, and chronic pain.
Waddell, a third-year clinical psychology graduate student and RSA Memorial Award Winner in 2019, has been conducting research as part of the BARCA and Pathways of Risk Resilience labs, to discover how the context of where and when people drink alters how they respond to alcohol. His research typically is conducted in an in-person wet lab where they monitor drinking behavior in social environments but plans to extend his research into participants’ daily lives.
The Manne Award allowed Waddell to purchase a phone app to monitor with in-the-moment-data the addictive behavior in people who are consuming alcohol and cannabis. While the social environments have changed to a remote setting, this allows Waddell to research the interplay of impulsivity, cognition and their subjective experience while using alcohol and cannabis.
The addiction literature shows that co-use of alcohol and cannabis is associated with a higher risk of having negative alcohol consequences such as an alcohol use disorder long-term. Waddell is investigating to see the daily contexts for people who use both alcohol and cannabis to see whether they are more likely to drink more heavily than just alcohol users and what is causing heavier drinking days. He also wants to find out if these people also have a stronger, more positive association with alcohol use long-term to inform future interventions.
“Ecological momentary assessment is just very expensive to do, but without the Sharon Manne Award, I wouldn’t have the resources to do that,” said Waddell. “It is a huge asset to be able to collect this data that I wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise.”
Mistretta, a fourth-year clinical psychology graduate student in the Emotion Regulation and Health Lab, is interested in mindfulness and how it can contribute to chronic and acute pain management. Chronic pain is defined as any pain that is ongoing, even after the acute injury has subsided. This includes back pain, or persistent inflammation in the nervous system, which is typically moderated with pain medication.
The Manne Award allows her to find and fund participation in a large-scale research survey project to determine delay discounting and its effects in chronic pain management.
“This award allows me to investigate the idea of delay discounting in individuals with chronic pain. This measures the extent to which people value immediate versus long-term rewards and punishments. Would you prefer this many days of pain relief starting today, or even more days of pain relief, but starting in a month?” said Mistretta. “This is going to help us elucidate where we might go with prevention and intervention efforts.”
Bernaud, a fourth-year behavioral neuroscience graduate student in the Behavioral Neuroscience of Memory and Aging Lab, conducts research on reproductive hormone interactions in the brain and how it may impact memory and cognition. Bernaud also previously won the prestigious Society for Neuroscience Trainee Professional Development Award for her research on hormone therapy combinations and their impact on memory during menopause.
“During the menopause transition, there are a lot of different experiences that women can have, both in how menopause is initiated as well as the different indications that women have across that transitional time. One of the things that women can experience is inflammation, both peripherally and in the brain as well,” said Bernaud.
The Manne Award funds Bernaud’s additional research investigating inflammatory markers in the brain and how they relate to cognition and memory.
“It feels really impactful to be able to be supported by someone who has a passion for the university and the Department of Psychology. It is so meaningful. It is wonderful that there is such breadth in what all of the students are doing who have received the award, but that we are all focused on answering these important health-related questions — I think it is really significant,” said Bernaud.
Editor’s note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable fall 2020 graduates.
This fall, Raelene Velasquez became the first in her family to graduate from a university, earning dual degrees in anthropology and history from Arizona State University. In her pursuit of higher education, Velasquez overcame a number of obstacles.
Raelene Velasquez is pictured with her son Xavier Rodriguez, left, and husband Felix Rodriguez, right. Velasquez graduated this fall with dual degrees in anthropology and history from The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Download Full Image
At 18 years old, Velasquez married her first husband and dropped out of college. Soon after, she became a single mother and providing for her son became her sole focus.
“I became a single mother at the age of 20 and providing for my son was all I thought about. I met my current husband when I was 23 and he was mine and my son’s blessing,” Velasquez said. “He became the father my son needed and my partner in life.”
Velasquez’s husband was in the Navy and stationed overseas, so she often found herself alone, raising her son. She said she discussed returning to school, but when her husband left the Navy, he began his academic journey first.
“I waited and let him get his education started. At the end of 2017, I told my husband I wasn’t going to wait anymore and I wanted to start school,” she said. “His response was ‘Absolutely, you deserve it.’ So, my journey began and in three years I was able to complete both degrees and graduate with honors. Neither of my parents graduated from college so this was also a very big achievement for my family.”
Velasquez shared more about her experience at The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
Question: How did you overcome the obstacles you experienced on your path to ASU?
Answer: I was 32 when I started so I had been out of school for just over 10 years. I had to study harder than normal so that I could stay on top of everything. My anxiety caught up with me more often than I thought it would. Having my success coach and tutoring available on a regular basis really gave me some peace of mind and helped me get through difficult moments.
Q: Why did you choose ASU?
A: My friend’s sister earned her degree online and she had nothing but good things to say about ASU. I looked it up and when I had my first conversation with an adviser it just felt right.
Q: Did you have an “aha” moment when you realized you wanted to study anthropology and history?
A: I have always been fascinated by history, so that was a given as a major for me, but when I realized I could get a second degree I told my adviser I was interested in ancient civilizations and digging up the past and he suggested anthropology. It just sounded fun so I added that and I am so glad that I did. I have so many questions about my own heritage and culture so I think that is why I am so fascinated with history and studying ancient civilizations and cultures. One day I hope to learn my paternal origins and where we are from so that I can have some closure and have the answers to all of my questions.
Q: What’s something you learned while at The College — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?
A: In studying anthropology, I learned that there are so many ways to learn about a person through their remains and through that person, we can also learn about different cultures and civilizations. I was very excited and surprised to learn about the extensive research that ASU is involved with and the professors who have made amazing discoveries.
Q: Were there any clubs or organizations that positively impacted your ASU experience?
A: American Indian Student Support Services (AISSS) was a great group for me to be a part of. Having their support and words of encouragement throughout my journey made me feel like I belonged and that I fit in.
Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?
A: You will come across some days where you feel like quitting and like it’s too much to handle, but you have to push through those difficult days and remember that the things you have to work the hardest for give you the greatest reward. Be confident and believe in your ability to accomplish anything you put your mind to. Celebrate your small wins and be proud of every accomplishment, you deserve it!
Q: What are your plans after graduation?
A: I plan to start my master’s degree in January in special education. I love working with at-risk youth, and many of them have needs that have gone overlooked or unnoticed. I want to make a difference in the future of our society and show them that despite where they come from they can still be someone and achieve their goals.