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Hands-on learning at JMU is real-life problem-solving. Learning by experience is a big deal to our students and professors. Here is a solid example of a multi-faceted approach to hands-on learning by a student who adores the learning process.


Lauryn Miller

Class of 2022

Major: Psychology

Minors: Exceptional educationHonors Interdisciplinary Studies

Hometown: South Boston, Virginia

High School: Halifax County High

Highlights: Potential grad programs piquing her interest include UNC Chapel Hill, University of Virginia and Howard University; has worked as a JMU teaching assistant for Dr. Kala Melchiori; thanks to Dual Enrollment courses, finished high school with an associate’s degree

“I have gotten some very useful experience. I’m pleased with how it’s all going so far.”

Lauryn Miller is a poster child for hands-on learning.

Her list includes the start of a senior Honors thesis, research in Dr. Ben Blankenship’s psychology lab and having completed an internship.

Miller’s thesis is about how internalized racism can mediate the relationship between skin-color satisfaction and self-esteem.

“Previous research has shown that Black individuals who have a higher skin-color satisfaction usually have a lower self-esteem,” she says, ”I so want to see if maybe internalized racism could be the cause of that. So I’ll be collecting data and then analyzing data, and then I’ll go from there and see what I find.”

Her research in Blankenship’s Structural Oppression as Feelings, Attitudes and Behaviors lab—also known as the SOFAB Lab—led to a presentation at JMU’s 2021 Spring Psychology Research Symposium. The topic she and partner Abigeal Kiros pursued was The Mediating Role of Trust in Media Between Racial Centrality and Trust in Healthcare.

And then there has been the internship with the Shenandoah Valley Black Heritage Project, a local organization hoping to uncover lost Black history. Miller’s role has been learning about Black schools in the Harrisonburg area.

“Last semester, I researched the Effinger Street School, which came before the more well-known Lucy Simms School,” she says. “I think it’s cool when we find out things that may otherwise have been lost forever. That makes it a lot of fun, and hopefully helpful to others in the future.”

Miller’s initial college academic plan was focused on autism research. That changed when she and her mom visited JMU during the college search process. “Psychology had an information session during our visit, and then afterward my mom and I chatted with Dr. Kevin Apple, and he was the one who suggested exceptional education as a path for me,” she says.

“A big reason why I chose my minor and, really, why I chose JMU is that the professors really want to help you—even if they don’t exactly know you,” she adds. 

Miller’s immediate future is fairly clear, she says.

 “I definitely have a ‘next,’ she says. ”After I graduate from JMU, I want to go for my Ph.D. in school psychology or family and clinical studies psychology. I want to do those because I want to make a change—especially with discrepancies between Black and Latinx children and white children,” Miller says. ”Latinx children are usually discriminated against in terms of diagnosis. Usually, Black and Latinx children are diagnosed later or given the incorrect diagnosis in comparison to white children, so that’s what really drew me into those fields.”

Miller loves learning. And in a real way, each one of her classes has a hands-on component, she says.

“I kind of really like school. Some people are like, ’I’m so ready to graduate.’ I guess I’m ready to graduate JMU, but I’m also ready to continue my education because I do like learning.”

Especially the hands-on variety.

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