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April 27, 2006


Junior Wins Prestigious Beinecke Scholarship
To Fund Graduate Study in Psychology

Laura Sockol

Laura Sockol '07, a double major in English and psychology, is one of just 20 college juniors in the nation to win a 2006 Beinecke Scholarship, with a total award of $32,000 to fund graduate study. Beinecke Scholarships are awarded to juniors who have "demonstrated superior standards of intellectual ability, scholastic achievement and personal promise" as undergraduates and who plan to pursue graduate work in the arts, humanities or social sciences.

Sockol plans to do graduate study in psychology. She is interested in women's mental-health issues, particularly postpartum depression and the mental-health needs of adolescent girls. She envisions an academic career, but one that is closely allied with clinical practice. "I hope to do research that will help generate new clinical interventions," she says.

In order to accommodate thesis projects in both majors, Sockol has accelerated her work in psychology and took on a thesis in her junior year; she is just finishing it up and will present at her department's May 3 undergraduate research symposium. The paper is based on research she did in 2005 as an Undergraduate Summer Science Research Fellow.

"I worked in Professor Kim Cassidy's lab on a project that explores the connection between gender stereotyping and name phonology in young-adult books," Sockol says. "Various aspects of first names, such as length, stress and ending vowel/consonant sounds, tend to be different for male and female names. Native speakers of English, even young children, recognize and can identify these differences without consciously knowing that there are gender-based rules for names or being able to articulate those rules, so name phonology is a good way to research unconscious stereotyping.

"For my project, I selected young-adult books from required and summer reading lists at local middle schools. A computer model developed by Dr. Cassidy and her colleagues can assign scores to names according to how well they conform to either masculine or feminine conventions. I applied this model to the names of female characters in the books. Using passages that did not contain the names of the characters or any indication of their gender, I asked experimental subjects to rate the characters on a variety of gender-related traits such as dependence and aggression. I found that the phonologically more-masculine names were regularly assigned to female characters who were less stereotypically feminine."

Sockol had ventured into local schools before she began identifying books for her thesis project: she is working through the Bryn Mawr-Haverford Education Program to earn Pennsylvania teaching certification in both English and psychology. Through the Education Program, she has had experience in a range of schools — middle schools and high schools, urban and suburban, private and public. She expects to do student teaching in both subjects next spring. While she doesn't plan to pursue a career in secondary education, she says she believes the experience to be valuable.

"I hope to have a career in higher education that involves both teaching and research," she says. "From what I understand, graduate programs typically provide very little training in pedagogy, so I think the Education Program here is helping me fill a gap that I'd eventually have to address."

Sockol has also served the Dean's Office tutoring program as the head tutor for social sciences and language and has a job as the Canaday Library Circulation Student Manager. In her spare time, she rides with Bryn Mawr's equestrian team and serves on the staff of Nimbus, a student literary magazine.


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