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College of Liberal Arts News

Melissa WitkowMelissa Witkow

Professor studies coping responses to bullying through NSF grant

Willamette University psychology professor Melissa Witkow has earned $81,461 of a larger $545,999 National Science Foundation grant that will allow undergraduates to join her in researching adolescent bullying.

The grant from NSF’s Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences will help Witkow, three Willamette student assistants and collaborating researchers at two other universities investigate how social environments and peer groups may help sixth-graders develop effective coping responses to bullying.

“I have a general interest in the ways in which adolescents experience peer relationships at school,” Witkow says about her work. “We hope to learn what coping strategies are most effective when students experience victimization, as well as whether the social context — including the ethnic composition of an adolescent's friendship group — impacts an adolescent's coping strategies.”

The Willamette research team will collaborate with Amy Bellmore at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Adrienne Nishina at the University of California-Davis.

During a two-week period, Witkow and her students will collect data from Salem sixth-graders regarding their well being, victimization experiences and how they deal with the experiences. At the same time, Witkow’s collaborators will collect the same type of data for Wisconsin and California sixth-graders.

While this part of the project will only take two weeks, Witkow and her team will spend many months preparing for the data collection and then many years analyzing and publicizing the data.

Willamette students will be involved with every aspect of the study, including collecting and analyzing data. The NSF grant also helps pay for students to travel to professional conferences to present their work.

“This is a fantastic opportunity for students to gain research experience, whether for graduate school admission or to see whether research is something they are interested in continuing as a career,” Witkow says.

Witkow hopes their findings will be used to inform interventions for victims of bullying.

“Unfortunately we know that bullying is part of the peer-relations experience for many adolescents,” Witkow says. “It is critical that we can find ways to help reduce the suffering of those who do experience bullying.”


Willamette grad earns a Fulbright to teach English in Colombia

Jaela Dinsmore '12Jaela Dinsmore '12

Jaela Dinsmore ’12 has earned a Fulbright grant to teach English in Colombia.

The Fulbright enables Dinsmore to work as an English teaching assistant at the Colombian university, Corporación Universitaria Minuto de Dios in Bogotá. From now through May 2013, Dinsmore will assist in a classroom and organize activities to help students improve their English-language skills.

This “will allow me to share my culture and English language with Colombian students,” Dinsmore says. “At the same time, I will be learning about Colombian customs and a different form of Spanish than what I’m used to, by living in the country and interacting with the community.”

Each year the Fulbright program allows Americans to teach English, conduct research or complete graduate work in more than 150 countries. Dinsmore’s grant provides her with a living stipend of about $13,000, as well as round-trip airfare and a stipend for books and supplies.

Through the grant, Dinsmore — a Spanish and Latin American studies double major — will also conduct research on racial and ethnic relations in Colombia, which was the focus of her studies at Willamette.

Dinsmore says her time at Willamette, both as a student athlete and through a study-abroad experience in Mexico, have helped prepare her for the challenges of living in a foreign country.

“I am thankful that I will be able to draw on and build upon these experiences while being abroad once again,” Dinsmore says.

“Being at Willamette — through rigorous class work, participating in varsity track, and other personal challenges — has taught me how to be adaptable, open minded and to keep a positive attitude, especially when things are not going my way.”

While at Willamette, Dinsmore accumulated a long list of academic and athletic honors. During her senior year, she finished 5th in the finals of the 100-meter dash at the NCAA track and field championships, and she received a NCAA Elite 89 Award by achieving a 3.99 cumulative GPA.

Dinsmore was named First Team Capital One Academic All-America in 2011-12 and earned Third Team Capital One Academic All-America honors in 2010-11. She was also a member of Mortar Board, and she worked with the Willamette chapter of CAUSA, Mid-Valley Mentors and as an international student peer advisor.

Dinsmore is eager to use the Fulbright grant to prepare for a career in bilingual education.

“I look forward to being able to challenge and improve upon my skills, expand my knowledge and get to know another part of Latin America,” she says.

The Fulbright program aims to foster mutual understanding among nations through education and cultural exchanges. In the past decade, 27 Willamette students and graduates have been awarded Fulbright grants.

For more information about the Fulbright program and other national scholarships, go to the Office of Student Academic Grants and Awards.