James Madison University

NEW COLLEGES FORMED A plan to reorganize the College of Integrated Science and Technology into two colleges took effect July 1, 2012. The new colleges are the College of Health and Behavioral Studies and the College of Integrated Science and Engineering.

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Eileen Nelson Scholarship Awarded

By: Beth Principi
Posted: March 24, 2009

PHOTO: Allyson Vasi“I just feel so fortunate because there were so many people doing incredible things,” said Allyson Vasi, winner of the Eileen Nelson Scholarship.  “It is a huge honor and I am really thankful for it.”

The Eileen Nelson Scholarship for Senior Excellence is awarded annually to a psychology student who demonstrates ideal involvement in the honors thesis program, vivacity in research and service, distinction in academic achievement, and the intention to attend graduate school in psychology.  This year, Vasi was the proud recipient of this scholarship.

Vasi is currently working on her honors thesis with Dr. Jessica Irons.  They are testing the effects of contingency management on increasing fitness behavior in college women.  “We see a lot of college students starting and stopping exercise, and we realized the importance of maintaining exercise,” said Vasi.  To test their thesis, Vasi and Irons found students who were “basically sedentary, meaning they didn’t exercise maybe but one day a week,” and put them on an exercise regiment.  These students did a cardiovascular workout; thirty minutes a session, for a five-week period.  Each student was compensated with ten dollars for each session they attended.  After the five weeks were over, and the compensation stopped, Vasi and Irons looked to see if these students would continue their exercise regiment.  “We have had really promising results,” said Vasi.  “They have maintained an exercise program even after not being paid anymore.”

PHOTO: Allyson VasiAs a result of Vasi’s dedication and achievement in her honors thesis, two great opportunities surfaced.  The first is that Vasi will have parts of her honors thesis included in an invited manuscript that is currently under final review.  “I was just really fortunate enough to find someone who was interested in the same thing, who was working on a publication, and who asked to use my work.”  Second, Vasi was asked to contribute to a professional presentation at the Association for Behavioral Analysis in Chicago.  There, they looked at using contingency management to improve classroom learning by either paying students in a research methods class or giving them extra credit for things they saw as primary to learning such as coming to class on time and turning in assignments on time. The results varied, but Vasi enjoyed the experience. “It was exciting to go to that conference and present it and hear all these people talk about their results and studies.”

When Vasi isn’t working on her honors thesis, she is acting as the Coordinator of Peer Advising and the Secretary for Psi Chi, the psychology honor society. Through peer advising, Vasi is involved in numerous community service programs, all of which she loves participating in.  The Special Olympics, or “Day With the Dukes” hold a special place in Vasi’s heart.  “The way the JMU athletes interact with them [the Special Olympians] is just amazing, it almost brings me to tears to think about.  They are just so giving to them and its fun to be there and experience that with the Special Olympians.”

The Special Olympics are just one of programs Vasi participates in at the university, but all the programs share the common theme of helping someone in need.  These programs are preparing Vasi for her future goal of eventually entering a health related field of psychology.  “I really just want to be helping people, so a hospital or clinic would be ideal for me.”  Vasi will need to take some pre-med classes after she graduates since she didn’t take any as a psychology major. 

“I am really hoping to possibly pursue med school or physicians’ assistant school,” said Vasi.  “So next year I am going to take those classes that I need at UVA, and then I am applying hopefully to JMU’s Physicians’ Assistant school or maybe UVA’s, or VCU’s med school.”

Her drive to excel may make people think Vasi has known she always wanted to go into psychology, but Vasi admits that it wasn’t her predicted major when entering college.  “In high school I took AP Psychology and I hated it.  But then I came to college and took GPSYC 101 for a GenEd and fell in love with it.”  Vasi attributed her sudden change of heart to the professor who taught that class.  “I believe that the teacher makes or breaks the class for anybody, and I had an awesome teacher.”

If it wasn’t for GPSYC 101, Vasi may have never entered the psychology program, a program that she ended up excelling in.  From her involvement and dedication, to her intent to go to graduate school, Vasi exemplifies all of the characteristics of an Eileen Nelson Scholarship recipient.