Amori Yee Mikami / Psychology

Every day in elementary school playgrounds, most children gather together with their friends while a few children remain left out. For these youth who are persistently disliked by their peers, it is common for them to drop out of high school, engage in delinquency, use substances, and suffer from depression as a result of these experiences. Social problems constitute a frequent mental health referral for children to psychological clinics.

As a faculty member in the Clinical area of the Psychology Department, I conduct research regarding why it is that some children have difficulty making friends, and what interventions may help. This topic is highly exciting to the nearly 800 undergraduate psychology majors, the majority of whom have chosen psychology as a major because they intend to enter some sort of helping profession. Every year I receive over 70 applications for 10 spots to be a research assistant in my lab; this is among the highest of any faculty in the department, and I attribute this to the topic of my research being closely aligned with the interests of the undergraduates. I teach an undergraduate seminar on childhood disorders that has a long waiting list. In sum, a sizable number of psychology undergraduates desperately want more hands-on experience with therapeutic interventions and clinical populations than what they receive in their courses, and they would view this experience as relevant to their career plans post-graduation.

My Dream Idea is to host a one-day carnival for children with friendship problems, and to have undergraduates participate as counselors at this event. In the past four years that I have been faculty at Virginia, I have had 131 local children participate in an intervention study to improve their friendships, as part of my research. The majority of these children have clinically-diagnosed mental disorders that interfere with their peer relationships (most commonly attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, depression, and anxiety). I propose to invite these children and their parents to attend this carnival at no charge to them, and let them know that they may bring a guest. Therefore, I have a ready supply of children who might attend, plus the carnival will provide them with social interaction experience (something that most of these children are sorely lacking). I estimate that about 25-30% of them will attend, and perhaps half of those will bring a friend, resulting in a group of around 40-50 child attendees (with their parents).

I will recruit a team of 15 undergraduate psychology majors in their 3rd or 4th year to assist with the planning, organization, and execution of this carnival over the spring semester, and I will consider offering this as a directed reading course for credit units. I will give the undergraduate team research articles related to the population of children with whom they will be interacting, so that they have an empirical background for their work. I will train them in behavior management techniques that they will need, as this population of children has frequent behavioral problems; I have used such training procedures successfully with my undergraduate research assistant team. The undergraduates will assist in the design and development of the carnival games, the creation of the physical supplies needed for the carnival booths, the contacting of participants, and the planning leading up to the event. On the day of the carnival, they will operate the booths and engage with the children and their parents using the behavioral techniques in which they were instructed. After the carnival, we will have a dinner to discuss what was learned and the correspondence between their observations at the carnival and the research articles.

Budget requested:

$800 for booth and table rental

$500 for equipment for games

$300 for prizes for the children

$200 for small snacks at carnival

$100 for making invitations, contacting families, photocopying, and mailing

$100 for photocopying reading material for the undergraduates

$200 for staff T-shirts for the undergraduates to wear at the carnival (and to keep)

$400 for food for the undergraduates in trainings and at the final dinner post-carnival

$0 (assumed) for rental space; would try to hold it on UVA grounds for free

TOTAL: $2600

I believe that this Dream Idea will offer psychology students a unique experience that is unlike what they would receive in any of their regular courses (most of which are large, lecture style courses that do not involve a hands-on component), and would be relevant to their career plans post-graduation. I anticipate that the student interest in participating would be tremendous. This Dream Idea would have the additional benefit of providing a public service for children in the community who have difficulty with socialization.

I would like to thank the Mead Endowment for their consideration, and for their support of faculty-student interaction.