SRI Students Seek and Find Mentorship, Research Skills

Since 2005, the Summer Research Institute at the Florida Mental Health Institute (SRI@FMHI) has provided research skills and connections to some of the top students in the field of psychology, behavioral health, and criminal justice from across the country. Currently funded by the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) led by Drs. Kathleen Moore, Roger Peters, and Bryanna Fox, the program is an intensive 11-week program over the Summer. Undergraduate students in the program complete an independent research project while working with distinguished faculty members from departments primarily within our college including Mental Health Law and Policy (MHLP), Child and Family Studies (CFS), Criminology, School of Social Work. This year, the College of Behavioral and Community Sciences is proud to host Jana LeBert of Howard University, Thalia Preza of the University of South Florida, and Megha Rawat of Baylor University.

Jana LeBert

Jana LeBert, who is originally from nearby Ft. Lauderdale, FL, is a psychology major with a double minor in chemistry and health education at Howard University in Washington, DC. During her time at SRI@FMHI, she is working with Dr. Kristin Kosyluk to learn about second-year medical students’ experience with Cope Notes, a text messaging service that sends a positive message at a random time each day.

“Our Cope Notes team is using qualitative and quantitative methods to gather our findings and learn about new possibilities of mobile healthcare,” says LeBert. “I hope that my research will encourage connecting technology and accessible healthcare for communities everywhere.”

LeBert was skeptical about seeking a doctoral program before her SRI@FMHI experience. "Before entering this program, I did not think that I was suited for a doctoral program. My original plan was to stop my level of academia at a Masters level degree,” says LeBert. “However, since I’ve been at SRI, I've met so many people and learned about so many career options as well as plans surrounding academia that have pushed me to be more interested in pursuing a Ph.D."

LeBert hopes to pursue an MPH or MSPH with a concentration in behavioral sciences, “I find myself more interested in pursuing a Ph.D. in clinical psychology or another field close to public health, rather than my original plan of matriculating to medical school. This program has opened my eyes to many different paths, and I'm excited to carve out my own way into academia.”

LeBert says she has enjoyed meeting students from around the US and learning about their career paths. Since LeBert is a Florida native attending school in Washington DC, she was also excited to return to her home state for the summer while still engaging in academia and research. “I’ve loved visiting new beaches and exploring the culture of Tampa, and of course I was excited to not have to give up Publix subs!”

Thalia Preza

Thalia Preza comes to SRI@FMHI from the School of Social Work within USF's College of Behavioral and Community Sciences. She is a senior and expects to graduate in December 2019 before pursuing a Ph.D. in Social Work and focusing on advocacy in child welfare. Preza is currently working with Drs. Svetlana Yampolskaya and Norin Dollard in the Department of Child and Family Studies on a project examining county-level data in Florida to understand substance use as a risk factor for removal of children from the home. Preza hopes this research will encourage more child welfare interventions in substance abuse and more investment in community programs.

Preza says one of the most valuable experiences of SRI@FMHI has been the interdisciplinary nature of the program. "I have really enjoyed learning more about psychology and criminology. As the only social work major [in the program], it has been really neat to be surrounded by psychology majors with different perspectives on society and mental health issues."

Though Preza is a student within the College of Behavioral and Community Sciences, she says she didn’t expect the amount of field experience she would receive in the SRI@FMHI program. “Seeing the drug courts and community projects centered around substance use has been really fascinating," says Preza" I discovered through touring Gracepoint's CSU that child mental health access is something I want to advocate for!”

As a USF student, Preza has enjoyed experiencing the SRI@FMHI program while still being at home. “It’s been nice getting to spend the summer doing this and with my pals,” says Preza.

Megha Rawat

Megha Rawat is a senior at Baylor University in Waco, Texas majoring in psychology. She and Dr. Richard Moule in the Department of Criminology are working on two parallel projects this summer: one to develop a scale that assesses the correlates of jury nullification and one that examines legal cynicism and the code of street.

Rawat's research focuses on bringing awareness to people. "Before doing research on jury nullification, I did not know what it was clearly. Making jury aware of this process might have an impact in their verdicts," says Rawat. "Understanding how the criminal justice system works is extremely beneficial for laypeople since it is essential for them to know laws and rules and, above all, their rights in a justice system."

Thus far, Rawat has found the opportunity to conduct her research and explore a new field exciting. "At Baylor, I have worked in a research lab that examines jury decision-making, but it mainly focuses on how social and cognitive factors affect decision-making," says Rawat. "The research that I am currently doing is on criminology, so it spans a whole new space for me to explore. Initially, it was difficult to understand the jargon of criminology research papers and I had to start from the bottom, but I feel this has opened a new avenue for me."

Going forward, Rawat hopes to continue nurturing her research skills as she seeks a Ph.D. program, possibly in industrial organization psychology or the behavioral sciences. "I have also realized that it is more important to cherish the process instead of the outcome. The process has a lot more learning and experience attached to it than the outcome.”