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Alumni endow scholarship for psychology research

From the time she was a high school junior, West Virginia University Ph.D. student Rebecca Delaney knew she wanted to pursue a career in psychology

Rebecca Delaney
Rebecca Delaney

“After taking (Advanced Placement) psychology, I really just fell in love with it. That’s where it started. None of the other subjects necessarily resonated with me as much as psychology did,” Delaney said. “I really enjoy being able to understand individuals’ behavior, especially through research where I can study specific behaviors and use findings to inform interventions that can benefit society.”

Transitioning from an interest in clinical psychology as an undergraduate to developmental psychology research as a graduate student, Delaney’s research focuses on the social context of decision-making. Her master’s thesis, published in the October 2016 edition of Personality and Individual Differences, found a decision profile that captured the interpersonal context to decisions, such as seeking advice and help from others.

Delaney’s research was recognized this spring with the Barry Edelstein Student Research Award, which annually awards the best published master’s thesis in the Department of Psychology.

“What’s really nice about this award is that (the department) is really trying to emphasize the importance of research. It incentivizes you to work hard to get that (master’s thesis) published,” Delaney said. “Getting it published in a peer-reviewed journal is really rewarding at that point in the program.”

For WVU psychology Ph.D. graduate Molly Crowe, the first recipient of the Barry Edelstein Student Research Award for her research on neuropathic pain, the scholarship supported travel to Poland for an international psychology conference. 

Molly Crowe
Molly Crowe

“The scholarship really contributed to my experience abroad. It was an amazing experience to see people doing the same research as me in other countries and have the opportunity to interact with them,” Crowe said. “Recognition of research through awards is the best thing a department can do because it really shows people that research is the emphasis.”

Future psychology students, like Delaney and Crowe, will continue to benefit from support from the Barry Edelstein Student Research Award, endowed this fall by a $50,000 gift from alumni Joe (B.S. Business Management, 1983; MBA, 1984) and Sharon (B.A. Psychology, 1984; MA Psychology, 1986; Ph.D. Psychology, 1991) Older.

This gift is part of the Olders’ $125,000 commitment to WVU, which includes gifts to the College of Business and Economics, the Mountaineer Marching Band’s Pride Travel Fund and the varsity crew team. 

The Olders own and manage Adapt Behavior Sciences, which has three locations near Orlando, Fl. What began as a small family business has grown to 1,000 active cases with nearly 150 clinicians. Sharon Older is the executive director and clinical supervisor, while Joe Older is the finance director.  

Sharon and Joe Older
Sharon and Joe Older

“WVU has one of the best behavioral psychology programs in the country,” Sharon Older said. “The Ph.D. in psychology from WVU opened a lot of doors for me, and I want other students to have those opportunities.”

The Barry Edelstein Student Research Award is named for Barry Edelstein, the Eberly Family Professor of Clinical Psychology. Considered the “grandfather” of WVU’s psychology Ph.D. program, Edelstein regularly includes Ph.D. students in research and practica at sites like Hopemont Hospital, a state psychogeriatric hospital in Terra Alta, W.Va. He visits Hopemont weekly, where he works with graduate students to assess and develop treatment plans for residents with mental health issues. Since his research mostly focuses on anxiety in older adults, Edelstein and his graduate students seek to compare how adults of different ages handle anxiety and develop tests for overcoming that anxiety.

A distinct component of Edelstein’s scholarship is mentoring psychology graduate students. Edelstein was recognized by the Gerontological Society of America with the 2015 Distinguished Mentorship in Gerontology Award, given to individuals in the Society’s Behavioral and Social Sciences division who have made a major impact on their protégés and inspired students and colleagues alike.  

“(Edelstein) is very casual—easy to talk with. You knew he was a professor and that he knew a lot more than you, but it wasn’t like he was looking down at you or that you were under him. It was almost like you were peers,” Sharon Older said. “Being able to call people that you didn’t know at the time how famous they were in the field by their first names—when I was interviewing for graduate schools, WVU was the only (program) that did that. The collegiality of the program stood out to me.”

Edelstein has fostered the collegial nature of the psychology department that continues to attract outstanding graduate students.

“A huge factor and component (to my decision to attend WVU) was everyone being collaborative and collegial. Everyone really tries to get a long and foster relationships with one another to create a supportive environment,” Delaney said. “It’s not meant to be a hyper-competitive environment. That was a huge selling point for me. I wanted to come somewhere where I felt I could belong and adapt to easily especially since I wasn’t from West Virginia.”

This donation was made in conjunction with  A State of Minds: The Campaign for West Virginia’s University. Conducted by the WVU Foundation, the fundraising effort will run through December 2017.