Expanding access and removing barriers to scientific research opportunities

The Department of Psychology at Arizona State University is working to provide students from underrepresented populations with opportunities for hands-on research experience, which can be the first step to pursuing a career in science. The ENERGIZE program connects ASU students from underrepresented populations with yearlong research positions in psychology labs.

One of the major roadblocks for students from underrepresented groups is the lack of financial support and resources. When other students are pursuing research in a lab setting, these students may need to work multiple jobs to make ends meet, like Koop Bills, a student in the department who worked two full-time restaurant jobs for seven years while pursuing a psychology degree.

“Part of ASU’s mission is to give educational opportunities to nontraditional students who might have to work full time or have family obligations while they pursue their education,"  said Marisol Perez, associate professor of psychology. "The Jenessa Shapiro Undergraduate Research Scholarship will allow students who have financial demands to join psychology labs and participate in research — and will ensure that the psychology department and university do not miss out on training phenomenal future scientists.”

The Jenessa Shapiro Undergraduate Research Scholarship

The scholarship was created with a gift from Noah Goldstein, who graduated with his doctorate in psychology from ASU in 2007, in honor of his wife. Jenessa Shapiro graduated with her doctorate in psychology from ASU in 2008 and then joined the psychology department at the University of California, Los Angeles, where she taught until she died of cancer in 2018. Her research focused on stereotyping, discrimination and prejudices, and on promoting women and minorities. Shapiro was known for her dedication to mentoring and supporting underrepresented students and being a champion for advancing educational opportunities. She mentored hundreds of students over her career across multiple institutions, and this scholarship was designed to continue that legacy.

“Jenessa was committed to promoting diversity, inclusion and social justice, and authentically ‘walked the talk’ through her own substantial mentoring, research and teaching efforts,” said Steven Neuberg, Foundation Professor and chair of the Department of Psychology — and Shapiro’s graduate mentor at ASU. “She would be thrilled to know that this scholarship, in her memory, is aimed at supporting the goals and values that she so cherished, and was doing so at ASU.”

The first recipients of the Jenessa Shapiro Undergraduate Research Scholarship in the ASU Department of Psychology are Bills and fellow student Valeria Gutierrez.

Contribute to the Jenessa Shapiro scholarship.

Creating a psychology research pipeline at ASU

The ENERGIZE program began when Art Glenberg, a recently retired professor of psychology, realized that in his 12 years at ASU, he could not remember a Black student going through the cognitive psychology graduate program. He set about trying to create a pipeline, or easier path to begin a career in research, for students from underrepresented populations.

As part of the program, participating psychology labs offer flexible research opportunities to help overcome barriers like caring for family or commuting to and from campus, with the goal of providing research experience to students in spite of those barriers.

Erin Lanphier, a lecturer in the psychology department, chose the program name.

“I thought ‘energize’ was the perfect word for what we are trying to do for the students and also for the contributions they will make to the labs,” she said.

One of the first students to participate in the ENERGIZE program is Rebeca Alvarado Ortega, who is currently working in the Learning and Development lab with Viridiana Benitez, assistant professor of psychology.

“Some classmates in my research methods class talked about how their parents worked in research at ASU, but I am a first-generation college student so did not have those kinds of connections,” Ortega said. “The ENERGIZE program opened the door for me, giving me access to being involved in a research lab.”

In addition to learning how to design and carry out experiments and analyze data, Ortega has been trained on how to obtain informed consent from participants and how to use eye-tracking to measure where children are looking. Benitez also teaches the students in her lab how to network with other researchers, which led Ortega to a summer job as a research assistant at Duke University.

Ortega is now thinking about attending graduate school after ASU.

When Glenberg encourages students to apply to the program, he uses his own research as an example of how people from underrepresented populations can improve and strengthen scientific research.

“I start my pitch by describing how a goal of research in my lab is to develop reading comprehension interventions that work for dual language learners, like Latino kids and their parents. I then point out that I am not Latino, and what do I know about what is going to work in a Latino household? Translational research like mine needs students and researchers with appropriate backgrounds to help design effective interventions,” Glenberg said.

Learn more about the Jenessa Shapiro Scholarship and help grow the ENERGIZE program.