Department News

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Department Says Farewell to Valued Colleague

stoddard-thumb On January 25 we said goodbye to Katharine Stoddard, a gifted academic adviser, administrator, department cheerleader and friend to all. In addition to the day-to-day management of PSYUGRAD Advising, under Katharine’s leadership, the department implemented a fall career panel for its undergraduate majors and two research fairs; communicated weekly with its majors through an e-blast about opportunities and deadlines; managed complex student situations; developed and implemented four annual advising outreach campaigns which support our undergraduates' progress to graduation; modernized the way we collect data in Advising; and assisted with our onboarding a new university-wide advising platform. Last year alone under Katharine’s day-to-day leadership, PSYUGRAD Advising met in person with 4,500 majors who came seeking assistance on progress to graduation, course selection, appeals, applications and career planning.

Her supervisor and mentor, Dorothy Fillmore, spoke about Katharine during her last faculty meeting saying,

"Katharine has the stance of an academic adviser – she is as genuine with us, her colleagues, as she is with students. She is authentic and congruent and she approaches all of us – students and colleagues alike – with high regard."

We thank Katharine for the gifts of her work and presence, and wish her the best as she leaves us to start a new adventure. 

> View pictures from Katharine's farewell reception.

Providing Mentorship for Underrepresented Scholars

Dr. Chelsea Derlan thomas-thumb Chelsea Derlan, Ph.D., left, assistant professor in the developmental psychology program, and Krystal Thomas, doctoral student in the developmental psychology program, have been selected to participate in the 2017 Society for Research in Child Development (SRCD) Frances Degen Horowitz Millennium Scholars Program. Derlan will serve as a mentor in the program; Thomas will serve as a scholar.

The Millennium Scholars Program was developed as a vehicle to encourage and support scholars from underrepresented ethnic/racial groups from North America in pursuing graduate work in developmental science. To that end, the program provides educational and professional development for these scholars, giving them a launching point for a career in the field of child development. The program offers the selected scholars with mentorship from advanced scholars in the field who provide them guidance and support in their pursuit of educational and professional goals. Individuals from diverse racial, ethnic and disciplinary groups are recruited to serve as mentors. Through participation in the Millennium Scholars Program, minority scholars have the opportunity to attend the SRCD biennial meeting, special preconference activities and the possibility to develop a lasting mentoring relationship with their mentors. These experiences enable scholars to gain valuable exposure to the field and allow them to interact not only with their mentors, but also with other scholars and professionals.

VCU Annual Report Features Work of the Primary Care Psychology Collaborative

rybarczyk-thumb Virginia Commonwealth University's newest annual report (2015-16) prominently features Bruce Rybarczyk, Ph.D., and the Primary Care Psychology Collaborative team's efforts to bring free mental health services to Richmond's most underserved populations.


"Three of Richmond’s safety net primary care clinics found they could not meet the mental health needs of their patients — the city’s most vulnerable and medically underserved populations. They needed a solution. But what? And how at little or no cost? Psychology professor Bruce Rybarczyk, Ph.D., had an answer: embedding his doctoral trainees in primary care clinics where patients could easily access services. Now one of the largest programs of its kind in the U.S., the VCU Primary Care Psychology Training Network has trained more than 85 doctoral students in recent years. These trainees have delivered more than 10,000 pro bono sessions. And the patients are getting the access to the care they need."

 > Read the full VCU 2015-16 Annual Report.

Dr. David Chester's Revenge Research Generates Media Interest

David Chester, Ph.D., assistant professor of social psychology, has spoken to several news agencies recently regarding his research on revenge. In a December radio interview with the BBC, Chester said, "The desire for vengeance – to harm those who’ve harmed you - is part of human nature. Whether it’s getting your own back on a cheating partner or settling a score with a childhood bully, many of us have considered retribution against the person who’s done us wrong. Yet often we decide not to act on that instinct." 

Despite people's ability to control urges for vengeance, Chester and his colleague from the University of Kentucky, C. Nathan DeWall, Ph.D., found in a recent study that when research participants were given the chance to exact revenge on someone who had caused them to feel rejection, those who chose revenge (which was most of them, by the way) not only enjoyed the feeling, but actively sought to experience it as a way of improving mood. The study's findings were featured in the recent British Psychological Society article "Revenge Really is Sweet: Study Shows the Mood-Enhancing Effect of Retaliation," the New York magazine feature "Turns Out Getting Revenge Really Does Make You Happier" and "People Who Take Revenge Do It to Restore Inner Peace, Study Says" in Vice's online publication Broadly.

Reference: Chester, D. S., & DeWall, C. N. (2016). Combating the sting of rejection with the pleasure of revenge: A new look at how emotion shapes aggression. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Advance online publication. doi:10.1037/pspi0000080

Tennisha Riley Earns Awards


The Society of Multivariate Experimental Psychology has awarded Tennisha Riley a 2017 Underrepresented Student Workshop Travel Award for $1,000. Tennisha, a doctoral student in the developmental psychology program, will use the award to attend the Curran-Bauer workshop on multilevel modeling in June 2017 at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Tennisha also placed second in this year's annual Three Minute Thesis (3MT ®) Competition hosted by the Graduate School at VCU for "The Impact of Chess Training on Positive Behavior and Social Skills." 3MT ® is a research communication competition originally developed by The University of Queensland in 2008, and now has been widely adopted at universities around the world. The exercise challenges master’s and doctoral students to present a compelling talk on their thesis/dissertation topic and its significance. Many theses and dissertations can be over 80,000 words and take hours to present, but students in this competition have just three minutes and one slide to convey often highly-technical research to a lay audience. Congratulations, Tennisha!

Koch Serves as Expert Panelist

koch-thumb Associate Professor J. Randy Koch, Ph.D., served as an expert panelist at the Philippines 2016: Confronting the Drug Epidemic forum in Washington, D.C. in December. The forum, which was sponsored by the U.S.-Philippines Society and the Johns Hopkins Southeast Asia Studies Program, with support from the Philippine Embassy, brought together public health experts and U.S. and Philippine government officials to discuss and consider policy interventions for the drug epidemic in the Philippines. Koch offered specific recommendations for treatment facilities in the Philippines, noting access to treatment could be improved by "(1) building smaller and geographically dispersed centers, (2) developing a simplified intake process, ideally with same-day access, (3) expanding the range of services to include services in prisons and jail, and women-specific services, and (4) reducing length of residential treatment from six months to 30-90 days [by supplementing] with outpatient services."

> Read the full article on the U.S.-Philippines Society website.

surf 2016 ‌‌‌Celebrating the Inaugural Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship Program

This summer, the Department of Psychology held its inaugural Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship Program, SURF into Health Psychology. Eight undergraduate psychology majors were selected from a competitive applicant pool to participate in one of three laboratories: the Developmental and Family Psychology Laboratory (directed by Robin Everhart, Ph.D., and Marcia Winter, Ph.D.), the Behavioral Health Research Laboratory (directed by Caroline Cobb, Ph.D.) and the Behavioral Pharmacology Laboratory (directed by Joseph Porter, Ph.D.).

Undergraduate fellows received a stipend to participate in health psychology research for eight weeks for a total of 224 hours. They received broad exposure to research and to the health psychology discipline. The Department held a welcoming event, provided mentoring and offered several programs for the fellows throughout the summer including meetings about vita development and GRE preparation. The fellows also had the chance to meet with the department chair, Wendy Kliewer, Ph.D., and the College of Humanities and Sciences' new dean, Montserrat Fuentes, Ph.D. Future summer fellowship programs may use different themes. The closing event was a poster session on November 4.

> View pictures from the closing poster session.

Dr. Terri Sullivan Receives CDC Research Grant

sullivan-thumb > View Richmond Times-Dispatch story
> View NPR story
> View WRIC story
View VCU News story

Principal investigators Dr. Terri Sullivan, Developmental Psychology, and Dr. Saba Masho, Department of Family Medicine and Population Health, will work closely with the Richmond community. Excerpt: "The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently awarded Virginia Commonwealth University a nearly $6 million research grant to promote healthy communities and reduce violence rates in Richmond. The grant resulted from a strong collaboration between community partners and the university. The university will work closely with members of the Richmond community and local organizations to carry out objectives detailed in the five-year grant. . . The project continues the work of the Clark-Hill Institute for Positive Youth Development at VCU, which is one of five national centers of excellence for youth violence prevention funded by the CDC. Clark-Hill’s mission is to empower youth, schools and families to promote the healthy, safe and otherwise positive development of youth from early adolescence through emerging adulthood. The current project builds upon more than 15 years of CDC funding."

"In 2014, the rate of homicide among young people in Richmond was nearly four times the national average. Activities funded through the grant will seek to reduce incidences of violence in the city by evaluating the impact of evidence-based violence intervention approaches."

Dr. Eric Benotsch Receives NIDA Research Grant

benotsch-thumb Dr. Eric Benotsch, Associate Professor in Psychology, and Dr. Nathan Gillespie, Assistant Professor at the Virginia Institute for Psychiatric and Behavioral Genetics in VCU’s Department of Psychiatry, received an R21 from the National Institute of Drug Abuse for the project “The genetic and environmental etiology of non-medical use of prescription drugs.” Using data from an Australian twin sample and from VCU’s Spit for Science project [], the team will examine genetic and environmental contributors to prescription drug misuse.

The non-medical use of prescription drugs (NMUPD) such as opioid analgesics is a growing problem in the United States and now accounts for more emergency room visits than the use of all illicit drugs combined. Factors driving NMUPD include, but are not limited to, misperceptions about safety, increasing drug availability, and personal motivations. Despite the high prevalence of NMUPD, concomitant death rates, and comorbidity, the basic genetic and environmental contributors to NMUPD remain unknown. The intent of the project is to increase understanding of these fundamental factors associated with NMUPD.

Dr. Bryce McLeod Receives NIMH Research Grant

mcleod-thumb Dr. Bryce McLeod, associate professor and director of the child and adolescent concentration within our clinical psychology program, received an R34 grant from the National Institute of Mental Health for the project Developing a Robust Evidence-Based Implementation Package for Youth Autism. As co-principal investigator of this $706,069 award, which runs from August 2016 to July 2018, Dr. McLeod will be developing an innovative open-access internet-based system designed to help support the training of community clinicians in the use of evidence-based practices (EBPs) for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in a cost-effective manner that clinicians and other stakeholders find acceptable and feasible. This grant was driven by the fact that the quality of care for school-aged youth with ASD in community-based mental health centers is poor, with significant implications for current and future prognosis. Transporting and implementing EBPs to community-based mental health centers represents one way to improve the quality of care; however, there are inherent challenges in training clinicians in community settings to effectively use EBPs.

Dr. Chelsea Derlan Wins APA Research Award

Dr. Chelsea Derlan Dr. Chelsea Derlan, who just joined our department in the Developmental Psychology program and is affiliated with the Culture, Race, and Health Core, won an award over the summer for her work while a graduate student. She received the Society for the Psychological Study of Culture, Ethnicity, and Race (Division 45 of the American Psychological Association)'s Distinguished Student Research Award. The purpose of this award is to recognize outstanding psychological research on ethnic minority issues conducted primarily by a graduate student, including - but not limited to - dissertation research. Candidates whose goals and professional development are consistent with a career involving the psychological study of ethnic minority issues are given preference for the award.

Dr. Randy Koch Wins NIDA Excellence in Mentoring Award

 koch-thumbView the Zeitgeist story

Excerpt: "Associate Professor Randy Koch, Ph. D., was selected as the 2016 National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) International Program Awards of Excellence winner for the Excellence in Mentoring category. After nearly a decade as associate coordinator of the VCU Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship Program on Substance Abuse Prevention, Treatment, and Policy, Koch became the coordinator of the fellowship program in 2015. As coordinator, Koch ensures that the NIDA-supported Humphrey Fellows receive the academic, technical and leadership training that makes the program so worthwhile. NIDA International Awards of Excellence winners are selected based on contributions to areas essential to the mission of the NIDA International Program: mentoring, international leadership and collaborative research."

Dr. Bruce Rybarczyk Receives HRSA Research Grant


>View the VCU News story

Dr. Bruce Rybarczyk of the Clinical Psychology Program is the recipient of a 3-year $1 million award from the Health Research Services Administration (HRSA) to provide integrated mental health training for clinical and counseling students and services to underserved populations. Excerpt: “'One challenge and frustration since we began our VCU PCPTN was that we had not been able to reach two crucial underserved segments of the Richmond community: children and Latino families,' said project director Bruce Rybarczyk, Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Psychology in the College of Humanities and Sciences. “Even though we had the faculty expertise and students in those training areas, we simply had not been able to find the right clinics to partner with and resources to make it feasible for faculty to supervise in those settings.” Richmond has a sizable population of lower-income and minority communities who are underserved in access to mental health services, Rybarczyk said. Transportation and stigma barriers keep these communities from seeking services, he said. And many of these individuals do not have severe enough problems to qualify for public mental health services, or they have behavioral problems best treated in a medical setting in coordination with their medical providers. 'Integrated primary care is an ideal setting for filling these gaps in available services for these communities,' Rybarczyk said. 'It serves as a ‘one-stop shop’ where they can get coordinated, holistic care for a wide range of health problems, including depression, anxiety, stress management, weight loss, substance abuse, smoking cessation, and behavioral methods for managing chronic pain.'”

Dr. Jessica Salvatore Receives NIAAA Research Grant

salvatore-thumb > View the VCU News story

Dr. Jessica Salvatore, Research Assistant Professor of Psychology, received a K01 award from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) of NIH. The roughly $750,000 5-year award is titled “Genetics, Romantic Relationships, and Alcohol Misuse in Emerging Adulthood.” Excerpt: "Alcohol misuse reflects a complex interplay of genetic and environmental influences across development, and young adulthood is the highest-risk period for the onset of alcohol problems. Romantic relationships are a key environmental influence that comes “online” in young adulthood, and there is growing evidence that alcohol use and misuse are associated with relationship quality and the characteristics of one’s partner... My hope is that the findings coming out of this work will underscore the potential for preventive interventions that promote positive, growth-enhancing romantic relationships in young adulthood."

Drs. Marcia Winter and Robin Everhart Receive VCU Presidential Research Quest Fund Award

winter-thumb everhart-thumb > View the Zeitgeist story

Dr. Marcia Winter (principal investigator), Developmental Psychology, and Robin Everhart (co-investigator), Health Psychology, received a VCU Presidential Research Quest Fund award to conduct the Families of Richmond, VA Extension (FoR-VA-x) study to examine links between children’s stress exposure and immune profiles. FoR-VA-X draws participants from the larger FoR-VA study that aims to better understand individual differences in how children navigate challenges, both individually and with the help of their families, and how that might relate to their socio-emotional and physical health outcomes. Ultimately, this research is designed to inform prevention, intervention, and policy initiatives to promote child health and development and reduce the health disparities that are plaguing low-income children such as those in urban Richmond.

Read news from previous academic years on our archive page.