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Former MARC Scholar Focuses on Special Needs in Higher Ed

Nov. 19, 2014

As an undergraduate, Vanessa Costello-Harris '09 was taking a developmental psychology class with Nancy Segal when the psychology professor told her about the Minority Access to Research Careers (MARC) Scholars. Now acting assistant professor of psychology at Indiana University, Kokomo, Costello-Harris says the program made a big difference in showing her how to pursue her academic goals.

"I don't think I would have gotten to grad school without it — not because I wasn't capable of it, but because I just didn't know exactly what I needed to make my application stand out," she says.

Costello-Harris graduated with honors from Cal State Fullerton with a bachelor's in psychology, then pursued a master of arts and a doctorate in psychology from Miami University. She is wrapping up her dissertation on social information processing in college students with and without attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

"I'm interested in special needs populations, individuals with disabilities, social development and social relationships, as well as perspectives of individuals with different types of disabilities," she explains. "And I'm interested in community-based research, as well as campus-based research with students. For some of my future studies, I'd like to look at faculty perspectives with regards to working and teaching with students with various types of disabilities."

University faculty don't always know how to adapt to, or address, specific challenges that students can have in the classroom, she explains. She's also interested in the student perspective — how they feel that college campuses are answering their needs in regards to accommodations and other matters.

While at Cal State Fullerton, Costello-Harris was a care provider for individuals with disabilities; as a MARC Scholar, she learned that this was a valuable asset for grad school applications. "I didn't know that I could use that to my advantage when applying to programs — actually having hands-on experience."

The MARC program assists students interested in pursuing advanced degrees and careers in scientific exploration by immersing them in various types of research with faculty mentors. MARC Scholars are required to do research over the course of two summers — one at a doctoral-granting institution. They also must conduct research that culminates in a senior thesis, which they must defend. During weekly seminars, they learn how to develop presentations and hear from guest speakers. MARC students also need to deliver presentations at professional meetings and conferences.

While a MARC Scholar, Costello-Harris went to "a ton" of conferences. "When I went into grad school, I met students who had never actually been to a conference. I don't know how many conferences I presented in by the time I graduated from Cal State Fullerton — but within that year and a half, I had probably gone to a good six or seven conferences, which helped with my public-speaking abilities, my confidence in public speaking and in my abilities in general."

Segal, a nationally recognized expert on twins research, also suggested she take a genetics class — "something completely out of my area," she explains. Being out of her comfort zone and having to process information other than what she was used to, she says, made her see she had the necessary skill set. "It made me realize how capable I was in regards to tackling challenging tasks."

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