Psychology Major Receives Top Graduate Student Award

Travis Shivley-Scott

Travis Shivley-Scott. Photo by Nestor Garcia.

After facing rejection from 10 different doctorate programs as a senior undergraduate student, Travis Shivley-Scott felt defeated. The 24-year-old native of Colorado thought he’d never get into a doctoral program. However, California State University, Northridge restored his confidence that he could excel as an academic scholar.

Today, he has proven himself victorious. Shivley-Scott is this year’s Nathan O. Freedman Outstanding Graduate Student award recipient, the highest honor presented to a CSUN graduate student who shows the best record of distinguished scholarship, has made significant contributions to his field and maintains a minimum GPA of 3.5. He has a grade point average of 4.0.

“This is the biggest award I have ever received, and it’s an affirmation of all my hard work,” said Shivley-Scott. “It truly speaks to CSUN and its graduate programs because it comes to show how much they can help you improve your capabilities.”

In his senior year as a psychology major at Loyola Marymount University, Shivley-Scott underwent an intensive process of applying to 10 doctorate programs but was denied acceptance to all except Fordham University, where he wait-listed. To his dismay, he was edged out for the opportunity by someone else ahead of him on the list.

Realizing his odds were slim, he decided to apply to various graduate schools to improve his GRE scores and gain the clinical and research experience that could help him succeed. Shivley-Scott chose CSUN because of his interests in psychology professor Jill Razani’s work in cultural and dementia neuropsychology.

“The graduate coursework in the clinical psychology program here at CSUN has been a lot more intense than I expected,” Shivley-Scott said. “They teach at a different level, giving me good study habits and improving my scientific research writing skills that I know will really help me as I move onto my Ph.D. program.”

This fall, Shivley-Scott will be attending the clinical psychology Ph.D. program at Fordham University in New York – the same school he wait-listed at two years ago. His commitment to helping others combined with his interest in cultural issues contributed to his decision to pursue his doctorate. There, he will be investigating the neurocognitive and sociocultural aspects of antiretroviral adherence in HIV-positive Hispanic adults. He looks forward to moving to New York in the hopes that this opportunity will later lead to a job.

“I chose this path because I see it as a way I can really have an impact on people,” said Shivley-Scott. “Improving mental and individual health through a cultural context, I can help prevent cultural biases through my research.”

Identifying as African-American and white, Shivley-Scott was adopted by white parents and grew up in Denver, Colo. He moved to Los Angeles at 18 to pursue his original dream to be a filmmaker, but realized his love for neuropsychology after taking a brain and behavior course early in his undergraduate years.

“I’ve always been interested in culture because of my parents who constantly encouraged being immersed in it, not just ethnically but in any way possible,” Shivley-Scott said.

Shivley-Scott graduated summa cum laude from LMU in 2011 with a bachelor’s in psychology. He was the recipient of the ACE Summer Research Grant during his time at LMU, which provided him the opportunity to conduct cultural neuropsychology research in the summer of 2010.

At CSUN, he earned a graduate equity fellowship in fall 2011and 2012, and will be graduating with his master’s in psychology next week. Shivley-Scott will be recognized during the university’s Honors Convocation ceremony at 6 p.m. on Monday, May 20.

“My end goal is to leave a lasting impact on the field of clinical neuropsychology, to possibly teach and to definitely mentor ethnically diverse psychology students,” said Shivley-Scott.

Additional Awards

Shivley-Scott is among several graduate students who will receive prestigious awards this year. A new award is also going to be presented to one graduate student. The Mack I. Johnson memorial research award for outstanding graduate student — named in honor of the late vice president of Graduate Studies, Research and International Programs — is presented to a graduate student in the College of Science and Mathematics who has demonstrated extraordinary research abilities and who has been accepted into a doctoral program.

Appointed in 1988 as the associate vice president, Johnson was also a professor of biology at CSUN. He was a respected administrator and advocate for students who wished to pursue graduate studies. Johnson provided support and encouragement to international students and helped establish more than 50 cooperative agreements between Cal State Northridge and overseas institutions.

Receiving the inaugural award is Darren Brown, 35, a marine biology graduate student who has accepted a fully-funded Ph.D. position at the Unidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico in Mexico. After completing his undergraduate degree in marine biology at CSUN in 2009, Brown decided to remain on campus because a bond he established with biology professor Peter Edmunds.

“I never expected to achieve as much as I have, and I owe most of my accomplishments to Dr. Peter Edmunds,” said Brown. “If it were not for his high expectations, my graduate student experience at CSUN would not have been as productive as it has been.”

After high school, Brown entered the automotive industry fixing car tires and within a few years built a career in tire sales as a regional manager. He worked for companies, both small and large, and was able to start a business with a friend. Unsatisfied with where he saw his life heading, he decided to pursue a career in science where he could find fulfillment.

“My decision to change career paths from sales to science stems from my interest in biology and my ambition to achieve more in this world than making money,” said Brown.

Brown will be recognized by name at the College of Science and Mathematics Commencement ceremony on May 21. Donations can be made to the CSUN Foundation to support the Mack I. Johnson research award.

One student is the recipient of the Robert H. Schiffman Memorial Award, which is given to a single graduate student who shows promise in the early stages of their research.

The Schiffman award is based on holding a minimum GPA of 3.5, maintaining a good record of scholarship, making contributions to the field, and will be returning to CSUN the following academic year. This year’s recipient is:

Diana Valdez, anthropology major – Her project, “Transforming Identities and Altered Landscapes: Life History of Place at Cerro Bernal, Chiapas,” aims to answer how transformations to the landscape may reflect changes in a culture’s perceptions and relationships to it and, reversely, how the landscape has shaped local identity. The research will construct a life history of place at Cerro Bernal, Chiapas in Mexico in order to understand how local identity has transformed throughout the life of the landscape. Valdez’s faculty supervisor, Michael Love, described her as “the finest graduate student in the Department of Anthropology at CSUN” who “richly deserves to be supported in her continuing studies.”

In addition, four students have been selected to receive the Association of Retired Faculty Memorial Award, which recognizes and provides financial support to graduate students for excellent scholarship and creative activity. The award will support a project that is part of a master’s program.

The 2013 ARF Memorial Award determining factors are based on a record GPA of 3.5 and have made significant contributions to the field. This year’s recipients are:

April Bey, art major – Her project, “The Millenial Natural Hair Movement,” explores the subculture-counterculture on YouTube which consists of young women between the ages of 11 and 32 blogging about natural hair. The research will reveal and investigate the African-American Natural Hair bloggers on Youtube and their role in the Millennial Natural Hair Movement through social media’s community-based mode of communication and support. Bey’s faculty supervisor, Samantha Fields, describes her as an “exemplary student” and “one of the most responsible, conscientious students” in the program.

Edwin Leung, marine biology major – His project, “Population Structure and Survivorship of White Seabass (Atractoscion nobilis) in Southern California from 1995 to 2008,” explores the effect of temperature on growth rate and survivorship in white seabass. White seabass is one of the most popular and important species for commercial and sport fishing in Southern California and is in need of management despite fishing restrictions implemented in 1994. Leung’s faculty supervisor, Larry Allen, described him as an “intelligent, deliberate and dedicated young man” who “is one of those rare students that sees what needs to be done, figures out how to do it and does it.”

Trista Payte, English major – Her project, “Domesticism: Sexuality, Maternity, and Domesticity in Contemporary American Fiction,” explores both American literature and feminist studies to blend interdisciplinary scholarship that explores sexuality, domesticity and motherhood from a plethora of contemporary American female perspectives. The project examines the apprehensions women feel as a result of the multiple choices they are offered, as well as the paranoia and shame they often experience as a result of the potential to choose “incorrectly.” Payte’s faculty supervisor, Katharine Haake, described her as “an exceptional writer” who “shows both talent and an edginess of vision.”

Victoria Weaver, anthropology major – Her project, “Dietary Ethanol Ingestion by Free-Ranging Spider Monkeys (Ateles geoffroyi): An Evaluation of the ‘Drunken Monkey’ Hypothesis,” explores the hypothesis that suggests human proclivity to consume alcohol may have its roots in the affinity of nonhuman primate ancestors for naturally occurring ethanol in over-ripe fruit. The research will examine the dietary role of ethanol from fruit of Spondias mombin in free-ranging spider monkeys on Barro Colorado Island, Panama. Weaver’s faculty supervisor, Christina Campbell, described her as a “determined and tenacious student who has successfully persevered and overcome many obstacles in her path to her academic goals.”

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