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Meet Shauntel Baker, a junior Psychology major and with a Medical Anthropology minor. She is completing an independent research study in Dr. Shauna Cooper’s Strength, Assets, and Resilience (StAR) laboratory. The StAR Lab utilizes developmental and community psychological theoretical frameworks to better understand variation in the experiences of African American children and families.

Tell us about your research. As an independent research study student under the guidance of Dr. Cooper, I have the opportunity to learn about historical and present psychological research, as well as various research practices through the lens of race and culture. While doing this, I get to collaborate with my faculty mentor and other undergraduate/graduate lab students in the further investigation of demographic trends of mental health, well-being, and developmental patterns that have yet to be revealed or understood within racially and ethnically diverse communities.

What encouraged you to get involved in research? I consider myself to be a very curious person and I find myself always wondering and questioning why things are the way they are in life. My family always has a joke about how they can “see the wheels turning in my head” when I’m being “too quiet,” and drift off in thought. I can say that they’re definitely right about that and I am blessed to attend a top research university that gives me the opportunity to participate in this field of applied curiosity otherwise known as research. I always knew I wanted to participate in research, but it wasn’t until I became a psychology major that began to have an actual idea on what kind of research I wanted to do.

What made you choose the StAR Lab? I decided to work with Dr. Cooper’s StAR lab because I found great interest in her lab projects that revolved around social and psychological family dynamics and how different factors of African American communities helped shape African American adolescence and youth. As a psychology major, I was particularly interested in this, because while I do learn an immeasurable amount of valuable information in my courses that I can carry with me into the real world, I haven’t had the opportunity to actually apply information from my learned curriculum to minority communities in a practical way. With this being said, I knew that working with Dr. Cooper as an independent study student would be a great choice for me because I can apply what I learn in my classes and in her lab and carry that valuable information back to my community.

Do you think you might want a career that involves research? I am still trying to explore and figure out exactly what I want to do as a career, but I do believe that venturing into a career that involves research is highly likely! I have found special interest in global health and the study of health patterns which can be considered as a kind of field research. My psychology research experience at UNC with Dr. Cooper will definitely help me in this field as it is important to be culturally conscious and understanding of diverse communities when trying to observe and understand the different ways that the health of a community is shaped and can be improved.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic has affected your research? The move to remote learning affected my ability to do research in the sense that it was quite difficult to find labs that were offering positions to students for hands-on research experience during this time. While I knew there was a possibility that it would take a while for me to physically get into a research lab, I still remained hopeful and applied for labs regardless of the situation. Thankfully, Dr. Cooper was offering positions for independent study students and because I had such great interest in the research projects of her StAR Lab, I knew I couldn’t pass the opportunity up!

Our Undergraduate Research Series features spotlights on our Psychology and Neuroscience majors and minors who are conducting undergraduate research with our faculty! We believe strongly that undergraduate experiences are greatly enriched by inquiry and discovery through undergraduate research. Research experiences allow students to better understand literature, determine areas of interest, discover their passion for research, continue on to graduate studies, and to jump start their careers as researchers. If you are an undergraduate who is interested in pursuing research experiences, we offer PSYC and NSCI 395 as an opportunity to work side-by-side with graduate students and faculty members on cutting-edge psychological and neuroscience research. We also recommend you visit the Office for Undergraduate Research to find research opportunities, apply for research funding, and for helpful tools and advice. Research opportunities abound at UNC – find one that works for you!

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