The initial research was conducted during a Mental Health Awareness Week initiative that Smith organized on Lakeland’s campus for her Honors project during spring of 2015.
The Lakeland project examined the impact of a public awareness campaign. Smith organized five consecutive nights of presentations, including one by her, one by a panel of Lakeland students, a visit by Tara Meissner (the author of “Stress Fracture: A Memoir of Psychosis”), a talk by local representatives for the National Alliance on Mental Illness and a presentation from a rep of Jak’s Place – a Sturgeon Bay resource center for people affected by mental illness.
Before each presentation, members of the audience were asked to fill out surveys about mental illness and the stigma that surrounds it. After each presentation, the audience members – comprised of Lakeland students and staff and members of the Sheboygan community – were asked to fill out the same survey again. Kalmar said the psychology students had more than 50 before-and-after data sets to analyze in the lab.
The conclusion Lakeland’s students reached was that after listening to testimonials about mental illness, people are likely to have more faith in treatment than they did before. However, the perceived lack of sympathy toward those who struggle with mental illness is unchanged.
“I think completing this important research, then presenting it at such a prestigious international conference, was a fantastic, enriching experience for our students,” said Kalmar. “It was also a fairly unique opportunity for students from a small, liberal arts college.”
Lakeland Psychology Lab students are expected to work in the laboratory, which is in the Chase building, for at least four hours a week. They crunch numbers, discuss assigned scientific articles in the field of psychology, come up with research topics and draw conclusions from their work.
Kalmar said Lakeland’s Psychology Lab is comprised at all times of five top psychology students. When students graduate, others are chosen on merit to fill the vacancies. Kalmar said students can apply for a position in the lab, or be invited by Lakeland’s psychology faculty.
“When there’s an opening, I reach out to (Professor of Psychology) Elizabeth Stroot and (Associate Professor of Psychology) Anthony Liguori, and we discuss which of our students are excelling. We then recruit them,” Kalmar said. “Lately, more and more students are approaching us with interest after hearing about the great things we’re doing in the lab.”