Psychology Major Presents Research at Harvard Conference

Desharnais ’12 credits Holy Cross curriculum, programming for success

February 14th, 2012 by 

Chad Desharnais ’12, of Salem, N.H., recently presented his psychology research at a highly selective conference at Harvard University. His research, which he has been working on for two years, investigates how the use of images in science education can enhance student learning. The inaugural National Collegiate Research Conference received 130 applications and Desharnais was one of 12 selected to present his findings.

A psychology major in the College Honors Program, Desharnais has been working with Benjamin Jee, visiting assistant professor of psychology, to explore how images can be used in the instruction of the basic concepts of structural geology in order to boost student learning. Their research has focused on applying a theory of comparison and analogy to the presentation of images. They have found that providing visually similar images in geoscience instruction is a powerful educational tool for enhancing students’ comparison and learning.

Desharnais developed an interest in cognitive psychology in Developmental Science and Education, a course taught by psychology Professor Diane Bukatko. She suggested that Jee and Desharnais meet and conduct research together. Their work continued as part of last year’s Summer Research Program and as part of the psychology honors thesis program.

“Chad has been instrumental in all phases of the project, from designing the instructional and test materials, to collecting and analyzing the data,” Jee says. “Following his summer 2011 research, Chad developed an honors thesis project that extends our work on science learning to a classroom environment. Chad recruited a local high school to participate in his study and singlehandedly collected data from about 100 students.”

The National Collegiate Research Conference was held at Harvard University from Jan. 19 to Jan. 21.

“It was a great experience to be able to present my research to a multi-disciplinary group of undergraduate researchers from across the country,” Desharnais says. “This conference was my first experience giving a formal presentation on a stage to a large audience and it was an excellent opportunity to receive feedback on my presentation skills and research methodology.”

Desharnais credits the Holy Cross curriculum and programming for his early success as a researcher: “Being able to develop a thesis through the Honors Program has given me an opportunity to do a research project of this magnitude and participating in various colloquiums on campus like the Summer Research Symposium has given me great experience presenting my findings to fellow students and faculty.”

He also cites the College’s close professor-student relationships as a major contributor to his success. “The guidance and support I have received from my advisor, Assistant Professor Jee, has also played an enormous role in any success I have seen with this research so far,” he says. His recommendations and encouragement have been instrumental in this project.”

Of Desharnais, Jee says, “I have enjoyed working with Chad as his research mentor and I am excited to see him develop into a promising independent scholar. This most recent achievement reflects his hard work at Holy Cross.”

Jee continues, “I am grateful to have the opportunity to work with such bright and motivated students and for programs like Summer Research that help develop their talents.”

By Rachel Salemme ’12

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