University News

Award-Winning Psychology Students Offer Reflections and Advice for Future Students: 2021-2022 Psychology Department Awards

May 24, 2022

Share |
Printer friendly version

MACOMB/MOLINE, IL – After a two-year pause, the Western Illinois University Department of Psychology has re-established the tradition of an in-person, end-of-year awards ceremony to recognize exceptional students.

The ceremony was held May 2, and each of the following students and recent graduates were recognized for their academic, scholarly and community service accomplishments:

Psychology Department Scholar – Spring 2022 graduate Emma Holtz, of Wonder Lake, IL: The Psychology Department Scholar Award recognizes graduating seniors who have excelled and earned academic distinction throughout their undergraduate career. Holtz previously received the Distinguished Junior Award, the Psychology Department's Lincoln Laureate nomination, and a Jim Joyce Scholarship.

During her time at WIU, Holtz was a member of three collaborative research teams, and authored or co-authored three research presentations at the Midwestern Psychological Association annual conference in Chicago, IL. Her honors thesis explored how experiences of trust and betrayal affect levels of the neuropeptide oxytocin, also known as the "love hormone." She plans to pursue her doctoral degree in cognitive and brain sciences at the University of Minnesota.

Donald Poindexter Scholarship – Spring 2022 graduate Sharon Moore, of Macomb, IL: In honor of former psychology student Donald Poindexter, of Peoria Manual High School, the Poindexter Scholarship traditionally recognizes psychology students with noteworthy academic accomplishments who represent an American minority group. Moore, who was actively engaged as part of a clinical community service team, also received a James Joyce Scholarship from the Psychology Department.

Moore coauthored a research presentation regarding binge eating and suicidal ideation as potential markers of having experienced sexual assault. She plans to pursue graduate training in clinical psychology and mental health at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.

Psychology Distinguished Juniors
McKenna Davenport and Sydney Verdino: The Distinguished Junior Award recognizes one or two psychology students who exemplify superior scholarly and professional performance at WIU through their junior year. Davenport, a psychology major of Eldridge, IA, collaborated on a survey research project and studied COVID-19-related anxiety on college students' academic performance. Verdino, a psychology major of Villa Park, IL, joined the Honors College in Fall 2020, and is researching the potential impacts of adverse childhood experiences on a person's body image for her honors thesis. Both Davenport and Verdino's academic accomplishments were further recognized with James Joyce Scholarships from the Psychology Department.

James Joyce Psychology Scholarship Awards - James Joyce was a faculty member and chair of the WIU Department of Psychology when it was founded in 1961, and, since then, the Psychology Department has trained more than 4,500 undergraduate students, 550 masters students and 200 specialists in school psychology. Each year, several outstanding students receive James Joyce Scholarships, which recognize those students who exemplify superior scholarly performance and professionalism.

In addition to those mentioned previously, the following three students also received James Joyce Scholarships from the Department of Psychology:

Alanna Colucci, a Spring 2022 Psychology graduate, of McHenry, IL
Siobhan Hickey, a senior Forensic Psychology and Law Enforcement and Justice Administration dual-major, of Oak Lawn, IL
Hector Esparza-Velez, a senior Forensic Psychology major, of Ottawa, IL

The James Joyce Award recipients, many of whom were graduating seniors, also took a moment to reflect on their undergraduate careers and to share some advice for future students.

• "Every day you are building your resume and skillset, so make your time worth it by getting involved in the areas you are passionate about while seeking out opportunities that truly interest you," said Holtz.

• "Take every opportunity to get involved in research and clinical experiences," said Moore.

• "Psychology is a great major because it provides a lot of career options, but it also means that a degree does not prepare students for a single career path," said Davenport. "There are, however, many people available to help you figure out what you want to do."

• "[Studying psychology] opens your mind to the expanse of the world and how it works, while in the process grants you the ability to truly look inward and strive to become the best person you can be," said Verdino.

• "Psychology has helped me to better understand myself and others so much more," said Colucci. "The information you learn in this field helps you gain skills that will be beneficial to you for the rest of your life."

• "[It is] important to make friends within your major," said Hickey. "These friends will be able to help you out with an assignment you may not understand and will be there for you as you continue to take higher level courses."

• Talk and learn from your professors on a personal level," said Esparza-Velez. "They are people too and can help guide you [toward your] professional career."

At the May 2 awards ceremony, the Psychology Department also took a moment to applaud the accomplishments of one undergraduate student researcher and three graduate students who received the following awards during the 2021-2022 academic year:

Madison Brooks, a senior psychology major, of Peoria, IL, received the Norman and Carmelita Teeter Undergraduate Research Award from the College of Arts and Sciences Undergraduate Research and Scholarly Activity Grant Competition for her research regarding signaled operant conditioning methods in Zebrafish.

Cheng-Lun Tarantola, a School Psychology graduate student of Taipei, Taiwan, received the Illinois Fund for Careers in School Psychology Minority Scholarship.

Bailey Marek, a Clinical and Community Mental Health graduate student of Saint Charles, MO, received the Alphons J. Richert Scholarship from the Clinical Community Mental Health Graduate Program.

Madison Grady, a Specialist School Psychology graduate student of Knoxville, IL, received the Lori Lynne Myers Award from the School Psychology Graduate Program.

For more information on the WIU Department of Psychology, visit

Posted By: University Communications (
Office of University Communications & Marketing