Giuliana Stillo, B.A. in Psychology with Psychology Departmental Honors in January 2018
Deciding to attend Loyola was originally a choice I made due to a desire for comfort and familiarity. I found the small class sizes appealing, the liberal arts approach beneficial (as I was undecided about my interests), and the students seemed approachable just like the ones I left behind at home. While a number of these facets did in fact provide comfort, Loyola, particularly the psychology department, prepared me for and pushed me to grow in ways that I never could have imagined. As an undergraduate student, I assumed that I would maintain a similarly involved schedule as I did in high school. In retrospect, I was just as busy, but the activities I was involved in were fundamentally different.
During my first year I took my time settling in, but as Sophomore year approached I considered more things. I started by taking Lifespan Development from Dr. Barry as one of my major requirements for psychology. The coolest part of this class, beyond the relevance of the material, was that it was service-learning optional. I had a volunteer position at Patterson Park Charter School, where I helped at the after school program twice a week. I got to hang-out with fifth and sixth graders for two hours, and I had so much fun. This service-learning experience was relevant to the course material. I learned about child development including things like language acquisition, schemas, attachment and parenting style. We also covered adolescence and this was helpful as many of these students would be moving into that age range. I acquired a great deal of professional skills, and I began to understand not only the responsibility, but the joy of working with, and learning from children. This service opportunity brought me into new neighborhoods of Baltimore, and it also opened the door for me to begin to learn about the importance of cultural competence and intersectionality. These children showed inspiring resilience and independence.
Having participated in and completed my service-learning course, I found that I desired more person-to-person experience than I had during class time. I decided to pursue an internship off-campus, and I eventually pursued another internship in my home state of New Jersey. First, I worked at Mt. Washington Pediatric Hospital in the psychology department’s highly specialized Feeding Unit. That following summer, I found an internship in New Jersey at Embracing Hospice Care. These two experiences that helped me to earn departmental honors in psychology were very different in structure and content, but there were some very intriguing similarities. I found myself energized every time I was at Mt. Washington. I was able to ask experienced psychologists questions, to shadow them, and to watch them engage with the children. I even got to participate in therapy sessions when it was appropriate. I came to understand clinical work that takes place in the field better, but I also gained insight into the importance of integrating research and clinical work. At Embracing Hospice Care, I gained tremendous personal and professional skill; I learned to be assertive, to ask for help, but also to work on my own with less guidance. My experience with research is limited to my research methods course and an upper-level research seminar course. These two courses added to my understanding of the importance of critical analyses when evaluating research and conducting research to consume information accurately and to produce viable research.
These experiences guided the development of my professional skills and further shaped my interests. I realized that I was interested in working with a pediatric population and that I was as excited as I had hoped that I would be about becoming a licensed psychologist. These different experiences increased my passion and excitement for pursuing graduate school to which I am currently applying. Ultimately, Loyola prepared me with rigorous courses and invested professors, but these opportunities enhanced my overall education tremendously. I could begin to put my academic knowledge to practice and the feeling of empowerment, confidence, and joy that came from that has been truly astounding. As a usually quiet and withdrawn student, it took me time to realize that I could be quite successful and integrated on campus regardless of my naturally introverted nature. I came to realize that I was fully capable of forming lasting relationships with professors and supervisors and that I could gain invaluable hands-on experience. To students (both current and prospective) who are unsure of their interests in courses, research, or clinical or counseling practice, my hope is that you push yourself simply to give something a try, and show genuine interest and commitment; there is always a beneficial takeaway.