UMO Psychology Students Turn Classroom Knowledge into Practical Research Opportunities

UMO Psychology Students Turn Classroom Knowledge into Practical Research Opportunities

MOUNT OLIVE- It has often been said, “We learn by doing.” That is undoubtedly true for University of Mount Olive (UMO) psychology majors Madison Walton, Taylor Moncrief, Elizabeth Lopez, and Erica Mouanoutoua, who are taking their education to new levels by integrating their classroom knowledge into firsthand research and clinical internship opportunities.

Senior Madison Walton is passionate about the rehabilitation process. She is researching the best practice modalities for rehabilitation in connection to psychology and exercise science.

“Rehabilitation is important, for not just the body, but for the mind as well,” Walton explained. “I hope my research will provide useful insight into the priming effects of pain and persistence (self-efficacy) as they relate to perseverance throughout therapy.”

Walton is on track to graduate with her bachelor’s degree in May of 2020. She has recently been accepted into a Doctor of Occupational Therapy program. Walton is the daughter of Steve and Terrie Walton of Goldsboro.

“I am thankful for the support the faculty has given me not just as a student but as an individual,” Walton said. “Having professors that will pray over me and guide me in life has been such a blessing, and I am confident that I have life-long mentors.”

Senior Taylor Moncrief, a track and field athlete, has always been interested in how African American hairstyles are viewed in the workplace. With current research only focusing on women’s hairstyles, Moncrief wants to bridge the gap to include men in the study. In her research, which includes giving participants mock resumes and questionnaires, Moncrief observes the ways that hairstyles influence perceptions of professionalism, dominance, and career advancement for African Americans.

Moncrief is expected to graduate in December of 2020 and has been accepted into an industrial/organizational psychology graduate program. She is the daughter of Eric and Stephanie Moncrief of Jacksonville.

“UMO has transformed my life as a student-athlete,” expressed Moncrief. “The University’s numerous opportunities and wonderful faculty have helped me develop into the person I am today. And I hope to make them proud!”

Junior Erica Mouanoutoua of Fresno, California, dreams of becoming a licensed clinical psychologist. Her project is entitled, “Am I More Than Just a Kid? Parentification and its Effects on Achievement Motivation and Anxiety”.

According to Mouanoutoua, parentification is the role reversal between the parent and child. “Most of the previous research on this topic has found correlations to interpersonal competence, which is a contributing factor to achievement motivation, and mental health issues such as anxiety,” she said.

Mouanoutoua is the daughter of Mai Lai Vang and Mouatou Mouanoutoua.

“My experience at UMO has been transformative on a spiritual and educational level,” stated Mouanoutoua. “I want to thank the University, its staff, and my peers for helping me develop a love for psychology and research.”

Research interns make use of the state-of-the-art research facilities located within the Psychology Department. The psychology labs allow for behavioral observation and complex psychological experiments. They are equipped with a fully-functioning observation room, two testing rooms, and a computer room for data analysis.

Interns often receive grant funding to support their research agendas, which help offset travel costs when they present their work at professional conferences.

“The faculty make a concerted effort to ensure that these projects are focused on the interests of the interns,” said Psychology Instructor David Shields. “We want them to discover their own passions and work on something meaningful to them. We provide guidance, but the goal is for the student to become the expert in their chosen topic and in the associated advanced research methods.”

Internships are not the only means for psychology majors to engage in research. The Department also offers a research assistantship program to help students get acquainted with the research process.

“Assistants work with research interns and faculty members to carry out approved research projects. This introduces them to the behind-the-scenes work that is required to carry out publication-level scholarly work,” said Shields. “This experience mimics what will be asked of them in graduate school, where they may be able to obtain tuition funding in exchange for working on faculty research.”

Moncrief, Mouanoutoua, and Walton are on tap to present their research projects at the Southeastern Psychological Association (SEPA) Conference in New Orleans in April. They will also submit their findings for publication in professional journals at the end of the spring semester.

“The research exposure and internships that our students experience help them stand out when compared to students from other universities,” said Shields. “We have enjoyed a 100% graduate school acceptance rate over the last two years. Our students have a track record of gaining admission because they have similar research experience to those who already have master’s degrees. The Department has had wonderful faculty researchers in the past who have helped to build something truly special”

Research is an important part of the field of psychology, but many students prefer to engage in clinical work. The Psychology Department at UMO also offers a 128-hour clinical and counseling internship program that allows students to gain real-work clinical experience.

Elizabeth Lopez, a cross-country, track and field, and field hockey athlete enjoys clinical psychology. She is interning at Wayne County Public Schools Exceptional Children’s Department in the school psychology division. She observes educational assessments, translates English to Spanish documents, observes IEP meetings, scores assessments, participates in interviews, and observes students’ behavior. “I enjoy the clinical side of psychology because it involves interactions with people. I like being able to assist in treating or diagnosing disabilities or delays,” the Mount Olive native said.

Expected to graduate in December of 2020, Lopez plans to continue her education by seeking her master’s degree in school psychology. Being bilingual in both English and Spanish, Lopez hopes to one day fill a need in Wayne County as a Spanish speaking school psychologist. She is the daughter of Ramona Zamora and Pablo Lopez.

“UMO has taught me many things, such as self-discipline, time management, and devotion,” said Lopez. “My professors, coaches, and teammates have all served as an important factor in me being more open-minded and willing to take risks outside of my comfort zone.”

The Psychology Department at UMO has been building student-focused learning opportunities for more than a decade. “We are very proud of the education that we provide to our students,” said Psychology Department Chair Natalie Kemp. “Our students leave UMO ready to thrive, and our success rate with job-placement and graduate school admission reflects the quality of our graduates. The clinical and research internships are something that most students don’t experience until they are well into their graduate education. Our students obtain this training as early as their junior year and are well-rounded by graduation.”

The Psychology Department is happy to share more information about the research and clinical programs and is always looking for new collaboration opportunities. Please contact Natalie kemp at or David Shields at if you would like to partner with the Department.

The University of Mount Olive is a private institution rooted in the liberal arts tradition with defining Christian values. The University, sponsored by the Convention of Original Free Will Baptists, has education service centers in Mount Olive, New Bern, Wilmington, Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, Research Triangle Park, and Washington. For more information, visit

Erica Mouanoutoua, Taylor Moncrief, and Madison Walton observe study participants inside the UMO Psychology Lab.
(L-R):  Taylor Moncrief, Courtney Sgroi, and Kim Hunt point out observations regarding a study being conducted inside the UMO Psychology Lab.