Justin Marschall was part of the lab for five semesters from 2010-12. He primarily focused on the relationships among forgiveness, religion/spirituality, and health and had a hand in no less than 17 research projects during his time in the lab. Several of these projects were presented as posters at national conferences, such, including: Society for Behavioral Medicine; Society for Spirituality, Theology, and Health; and Midwestern Psychological Association. Justin and I also collaborated on two peer reviewed papers that were published. He was accepted into a social psychology Ph. D. program at Iowa State University where he continues to research health and well-being. On how to be successful in the lab, Justin says, "Get involved! Don't wait for an invitation to start writing a manuscript or develop an idea for a new study—just do it!"
Kaela Stuart was part of the lab for five semesters from 2010-2012. Kaela is currently a graduate student at Kent State University studying child clinical psychology. Kaela was involved in multiple projects in the lab and reports receiving "invaluable experience in lab work, organization, and research presentation." Kaela spent a good deal of her time coordinating the lab and mentoring younger students. The primary focus of the research Kaela was involved in was forgiveness and health research which she observes "is surprisingly applicable to many aspects of life." Kaela's advice to students interested in psychology is to, "work with Dr. Toussaint at some point during your undergraduate years. His lab gives you a chance to explore all the aspects of psychology you will need if you want to go on to graduate school of any sort."
Mitch Zoelzer was part of the lab from 2009-10. He worked on a variety of projects. First, in January of 2009 we analyzed the effects of stress on health measures such as blood pressure, heart rate, and amount of cortisol in participants' saliva. We found that unforgiveness was associated with increased cardiovascular and neuro-endocrine arousal. These findings were presented at the Mid-Year Research Conference on Religion and Spirituality in Baltimore, MD. Secondly, from September 2009 to May 2010 we worked on a campus-wide forgiveness intervention. This experiment included a psycho-educational project that tested the effectiveness of various forgiveness intervention techniques, as well as, a campus-wide forgiveness blitz that examined the effectiveness of communal forgiveness programming. The blitz was effective at bettering students' relationships with parents and teachers, especially among those who were low in initial religious commitment. These results were presented at the Luther College Research Symposium in May 2010. The data from the psycho-educational portion of the project are still being analyzed. Mitch Zoelzer is currently serving as a Teacher Resident at the MATCH Charter High School in Boston, MA where he is mentoring and tutoring urban youth. This training will prepare him to be a full-time teacher in an at-risk school somewhere in the country for two years following his year in Boston. Mitch is the winner of the 2010 Luther College Jenson Medal for service and achievement.
Audrey Seitz was part of the lab from 2008-2010. In 2008, Audrey, along with 2 other alum were involved in a study funded by the Kellogg Foundation titled Safe Routes to School. To determine barriers to daily exercise, walking to school and bicycle use, Audrey and colleagues surveyed 700+ students and parents from the Decorah School District. Data was analyzed and statistical reports were shared at the Luther Research Symposium. Reports were also shared with the Decorah School District, local Safe Routes to School representatives, and the Iowa Department of Public Health. Audrey also participated in data analysis on the Sierra Leone Forgiveness project, completed literature reviews on refugee health and forgiveness, and completed her senior thesis on the importance of primary care and prevention in the healthcare system. Audrey is currently enrolled in the Master of Public Health program at the University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee with an emphasis on Community Health and Prevention.
Mary Whipple was part of the lab and involved in multiple projects from 2006-09. These projects included assessing the impact of forgiveness and gratitude exercises on satisfaction with life and mood in post-polio patients, investigating religious & spiritual correlates of self-rated health & symptom severity in post-polio patients, and analyzing data from the forgiveness education in Sierra Leone. The results of these studies were presented at several conferences, including the Mid-Year Conference on Religion and Spirituality, in Baltimore, MD, and the Australian Conference on Spirituality and Health, in Adelaide, Australia. I was also instrumental in connecting Mary with Dr. Susan Everson-Rose at the University of Minnesota Medical School, which led to a summer research internship and a publication in the medical journal, Stroke.
Mary is now working at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, as a research study coordinator in the Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Clinic. Here, she has been coordinating a study with Dr. Ann Vincent and me on the effect of patient education on forgiveness, anger, and mood in individuals with fibromyalgia, a chronic muscle pain disorder. Mary is also working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on a study on the epidemiology of chronic fatigue syndrome.
Amy Schneider-Webb was part of the lab and participated in several public-health projects from 2007-09 and did an internship at the Iowa Department of Public Health. Below is a recent update from Amy:
I feel that public health is one of those things that is all around us but no one really notices! I had honestly never really heard of public health until the summer before my senior year at Luther when I got an internship with the Iowa Department of Public Health. After a summer of gathering data about the health status of five counties in Northeast Iowa I was hooked! Public health seemed like a really good fit with my interests of psychology, sociology, and health. I wanted to help people be healthier and public health let me do that at a population level.
I went Emory for a masters in public health with a program focus of behavioral science and health education. I felt that the behavioral science and health education program would be a great transition from my psychology major at Luther. The program was great! Another great part of grad school at Emory was the availability of super cool work study/internship experiences. Emory happened to be right across the street from the main location of the CDC. I was able to get a work study position at CDC within the Division of Healthcare Quality Promotion. I was hired to be a research assistant to a Behavioral Scientist in the division. It was a great fit and the research skills I learned at Luther really came in handy! I ended up having that position for both years at Emory. I was involved in developing surveys and focus group scripts for the research that my supervisor conducted. I entered data and learned how to analyze it both qualitatively and quantitatively. I was involved in developing the manuscripts for the projects I worked on and ended up being on four published journal articles in two years! One of which was my master's thesis which I was the lead author on. :)
After graduation I was hired on as a full time Public Health Analyst in the same division. I moved from working in the Prevention and Response Branch to the Surveillance Branch so my duties changed from research oriented to more program development and project management. Within the Surveillance Branch we run the National Healthcare Safety Network (NHSN). Its the largest healthcare surveillance system in the US. Healthcare facilities of all types enter data into NHSN for federal and state mandates as well as internal infection control. Our system provides standardized definitions for healthcare associated infections (HAIs) as well as a standardized system to enter, analyze, and compare the data to national metrics.
One of my main projects is the coordination of early adoption for one of our newer modules within NHSN: Antimicrobial Use. To make a long story short, antimicrobial use is something that's extremely important for healthcare facilities to monitor. Using antimicrobials inappropriately can cause harm to patients and increase the the likelihood of pathogen resistance to our most common drugs. Because the development of new antimicrobials has slowed down in the recent years, when pathogens become resistant, treating infections becomes much more complicated and costly. What NHSN does is allow facilities to enter their usage data to examine trends and evaluate appropriate usage of antimicrobials within their facility. Once we have enough facilities entering data in NHSN, we'll be able to provide national benchmarks so facilities will be able to compare their usage with others of similar size and patient population. My job has been to coordinate the early adoption of this module by working with healthcare software vendors, state health departments, and pharmacists to help them understand our protocol for data submission, the metrics we're using to calculate usage rates, how to submit the data into our system and how to interpret and analyze it. It's been a challenging project at times as each group involved has a different 'language.' I've learned a lot about how software vendors develop their product and roll it out to their customers. I developed a validation protocol that both vendors and pharmacists can understand and use to validate their data. I composed training materials and provided user support for pharmacists learning the system.
My other duties consist of NHSN user support, user communication, user training, development and maintenance of data collection forms, attending meetings, taking and disseminating notes, and working with outside partners such as the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services on the public reporting of healthcare associated infection data. Overall, I really enjoy my job. Working in the federal government provides me with the ability to affect the quality of healthcare for the entire US population. While I don't actually work directly with patients in a hospital, I help to develop and maintain a system that allows physicians to provide better care.
Of course there are tons of other opportunities for careers in public health. There are the more academic focused positions at universities and academic medical centers that center around conducting research and publishing the results. There are positions that work directly with the 'end-user' such as counseling and providing health education at HIV clinics or homeless shelters. There are positions that work globally with initiatives like polio and malaria eradication in Africa. You could work for government agencies at the federal, state, county, or city level. There are non-profit agencies and foundations such as The Gates Foundation or there are corporate positions at for-profit healthcare facilities or healthcare software vendors. Basically, there are tons and tons of opportunities for careers in public health; so much so that at times it can be overwhelming trying to narrow them down. Your best bet is to find a topic or a population that interests you such as school age children or refugees, obesity or drug/alcohol abuse and look for opportunities that focus around those areas. Also, if you don't want to go to grad school, that's totally fine. There are a lot of great internships and other positions for recent college grads. Any experience you get in public health will help you get to where you want to go.
I think that's all I have for now. Please let me know if you have any questions or would like me to elaborate on what I do currently or my journey in public health thus far. I'd be more than happy to help in any way that I can. :)
Karl Boleen was part of the lab from 2007-08. He worked on a project examining the effects of perceived stress on the forgiveness-mental health relationship, especially focused on the workplace. We found forgiveness and mental health were positively correlated and largely mediated by perceived stress. The results were presented at the senior honors project day at Luther College. Currently, Karl is working on an SAP implementation as a technology consultant for Accenture in Minneapolis, MN.
Amy (Christenson) Cahill was part of the lab from 2006-08. She worked on a project examining differences in dispositional forgiveness across cultures and the connections between forgiveness and well-being outcomes. Contrary to previous research, we found that individualistic cultures exhibit higher levels of forgiveness than collectivistic cultures. These findings were presented at the 2008 Mid-Year Conference on Religion and Spirituality. Amy completed a M.A. in Human Resources and Industrial Relations at the University of Minnesota in May 2010 and is currently employed as a Human Resource Analyst at Pizza Hut, Inc. in Dallas, Texas.
Alyssa Cheadle was part of the lab from 2005-08. She worked on a number of projects examining the relationships between forgiveness and health and religiosity and health, including a 2007 trip to Sierra Leone to investigate forgiveness after the country's civil war. We have presented results of these studies at the Mid-Year Conference on Religion and Spirituality, the Annual Meeting of the Midwest Psychological Association, and the Society for Behavioral Medicine. We have also published peer-reviewed chapters/papers on this work. Alyssa completed a Master of Theological Studies at Harvard in 2010 and is now a doctoral candidate in the Health Psychology program at UCLA.
Sebrinia Madsen was part of the lab during the spring of 2008. She worked on a project examining forgiveness, victimization by bullying, and mental health in middle school students in Decorah, Iowa. We found that higher levels of victimization by bullying were connected to higher levels of negative psychological symptoms, more forgiving students and lower levels of negative psychological symptoms, and being victimized by bullying was associated with lower levels of forgiveness. The findings of this study were presented to the teachers and staff of Decorah Middle School. Sebrinia currently resides in Denver, Colorado and works for the University of Colorado Denver as a graduate assistant for their Upward Bound Program. She intends to graduate from the University of Colorado Denver—School of Education in Spring of 2011 with a Master's in Counseling, with a School Counseling emphasis, from the Counseling Psychology and Counselor Education Program.
Joel Schrock was part of the lab from 2006-08. He was involved in a project examining the physiological responses to various stress relaxation techniques. Specifically, various relaxation techniques (progressive muscle relaxation, breathing exercises, or imagery) have differential efficacy when measured by self-reported relaxation or physiological measurements (skin conductance or blood pressure). These findings were presented at the annual Midwestern Psychological Association meeting in Chicago, IL. Joel is currently a pharmacology graduate student at Weill Cornell Graduate School of Medical Sciences in New York, NY. He is studying the molecular basis of opiate tolerance.
Gavin White first began in the lab in the summer of 2006. The project was a Health Risk Assessment (HRA) of faculty and staff at Luther College. HRA data were used by Luther's Health Care Committee to help guide decision making. Gavin again worked with the lab in the fall of 2006, this time on his senior project. The main purpose of his senior project was to compare and contrast differences in stress between student athletes and non-student athletes. The findings were presented to the faculty and staff of the health department at Luther College for Gavin's senior presentation. Gavin currently is living in Northeast Ohio with his fiance and has been working in banking.
Sarah Warner was part of the lab from 2006-07. She worked on a project examining forgiveness, interpersonal stress, productivity, and mental and physical health. Employees from a local company participated in this research. Forgiveness was consistently associated with improved productivity and health outcomes. However, this association was mediated by interpersonal stress. That is, forgiveness decreased interpersonal stress, which in turn, improved productivity and health. This study was presented at the 1st Applied Positive Psychology Conference at the University of Warwick in the United Kingdom. Sarah now works as a Program Coordinator for a company that runs group homes for adults with developmental disabilities in the Twin Cities.
Laurie Meinholz was part of the lab during the summer of 2006. She worked on a research project examining community effects of binge drinking. Residents of the Decorah community were asked about their perceptions of contributors to and effects of binge drinking at Luther College. Results of the community survey were used to guide discussions of a campus-community alcohol collaborative working toward binge drinking education and prevention. Laurie is attending Palmer College of Chiropractic in Davenport, IA pursuing a Doctor of Chiropractic degree.
Kelly Moore was part of the lab from 2005-06. She worked on a project examining mastery and self-reported and physiological indicators of stress relaxation. We found that an imagery exercise was most effective for individuals demonstrating high mastery, a progressive muscle relaxation exercise was most effective for participants low in mastery, and that a breathing exercise was ineffective in eliciting stress relaxation for both mastery groups. These findings were presented at the Midwestern Psychological Association Conference in May, 2007. Currently, Kelly Moore is completing a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology at Marquette University.
T.C. Mack was part of the lab from 2004-06. He completed a project investigating forgiveness, interpersonal stress, and health. Results showed that forgiveness was associated with better mental and physical health, but interpersonal stress was an important mediator/moderator. The findings provided additional support for the theoretical and conceptual work of Worthington et al. (2001) and Toussaint and Webb (2005). This work was presented at the Midwestern Psychological Association annual conference in 2006. We also completed a project that explored the dimensional structure of the Interpersonal Stress Scale (Hashimoto, 1997). Our findings suggested that a one-factor solution best fit the data. This work was presented at the 2006 Association for Psychological Science conference. Currently, T.C. is pursuing his doctorate in Clinical Developmental Psychology at Bryn Mawr College and conducts research in the area of mathematics learning disabilities.