Student Laureate conducts clinical psychology research

Academic career combines interests in research and social work, plus some "awesome" extracurriculars

January 02, 2012

Lauren SmithLauren Smith says she expected challenging classes at Knox College. The Knox senior and recipient of a 2011 Student Laureate Award from the Lincoln Academy of Illinois says that she's also had "awesome" extracurriculars and an undergraduate research experience that has changed her career plans.

"I came to Knox thinking that I might be a social worker," Smith says. "I was a hospice volunteer in high school, and I was interested in working with people with terminal illness."

After studying with Knox faculty in class and working with faculty mentors in her research projects, Smith says she's now charting a different course.

"I started doing research, and I realized that it was something that I want to keep doing," Smith says. "I took Gail Ferguson's clinical psychology class, and I've done a lot of research with Tim Kasser. Now I'm leaning toward the idea of being a professor in clinical psychology, doing research that is informed by knowledge from working with people directly."

Lincoln Academy of IllinoisThe Student Laureate Award, presented by the Lincoln Academy in a ceremony at the Old State Capitol in Springfield in November, recognizes one outstanding student from each four-year college and university in Illinois. Photo, right: At the award ceremony, Knox College Student Laureate Lauren Smith, center, with Lincoln Academy Chancellor Thomas Johnson and Vice Chancellor Gayl Pyatt. Lincoln Academy Photo.

A graduate of Illini West High School in Carthage, Illinois, Smith earlier this year was awarded the Faculty Scholarship Prize -- the highest honor accorded to a student by the Knox faculty. Last year, as a junior, she was elected to Phi Beta Kappa, the national academic honor society. The distinction is normally awarded at the end of the senior year, but is given at the end of the junior year to students with particularly distinguished academic records.

Smith is currently working on an extended independent research project under the Knox College Honors Program. "It will take a whole calendar year, studying the social changes that happen in people's lives when they learn that they have a terminal illness," Smith says. "I'm looking at social networks, comparing the relationships that people choose to continue with the ones that end."

Smith's initial exposure to undergraduate research came through the Ronald McNair Program at Knox. The federally-supported program is specifically designed to promote academic careers to students like Smith, the first in her family to attend college, who are often underrepresented in research-focused professions.

Knox also awarded Smith a Ford Fellowship for theoretical research conducted during summer break, while a grant from Knox's Richter Scholarship Program is suporting expenses, such as travel, involved in the clinical phase of the project. Knox College awards more than a quarter-million dollars annually to Knox students for undergraduate research and creative projects.

Smith's major in psychology and social service combines work in psychology anthropology, sociology, and educational studies. She plans to attend to graduate school in clinical psychology.

In addition to her major and her research, Smith says, she's enjoyed studying music and playing alto sax in the Knox Jazz Ensemble. "My first year, the band got to perform in Spain," Smith says. "I had never been out of the country before. We were on a Spanish morning TV show -- it was an awesome experience."

Smith says the graduate programs she's looking at are "extremely competitive," and she credits the program and the guidance she has received from the McNair office at Knox with giving her an advantage inthe application process. "Having done research through McNair allows me to say in my applications that I already have that experience, and that I have a research paper under review at a scientific journal."

Smith says that she was attracted to Knox "because the people are really focused on academics." She also wanted to attend a small college. "People at Knox are interested in you as a whole person. The professors are interested in getting to know you, seeing you grow and develop as a person. That's why I enjoy it so much here."

Below, Lauren Smith, right, performs with the Knox Jazz Ensemble.

Knox Jazz Ensemble