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Emily Miller ‘17

"Friendship, Victimization, and Peer Interactions in School-aged Children"

Major/Minor: Psychology and Environmental Science
Hometown: Doylestown, PA
Project Advisor: Dr. Schmidt 

Briefly describe your project.

This research project required that I use an already existing data set. Dr. Schmidt, as part of her research, collected this data in the early 2000s. It is an extensive longitudinal data set that followed children in the Bethlehem Area School District. Children were assessed on their emotionality, their self-worth, their relationships with family and friends, mental health, and academic performance. Data was also available from the children’s parents and teachers. I carved out a project that investigated the impacts that a child’s home life and mental health can have on how they can fall into the roles of a relational or overt bully, victim, or bully-victim. For this I utilized both children and parent reports.

Why did you decide to turn your idea into a SOAR project?

This project was initiated when I spoke to Dr. Schmidt to see if she had any research that she would be willing to work on with me over the summer or if she wished to design an original project with me. It was as simple as sending an email.

How did your faculty advisor guide you through your research?

Dr. Schmidt is so incredibly knowledgeable and involved in the field of developmental psychology and psychological research. Most importantly, she is very passionate about what she does and it is infectious. She helped me learn about my field by allowing me to explore and discover answers and lessons on my own. Dr. Schmidt gave me lots of freedom to be creative with her data and would help me focus, steer, and polish my discoveries and realizations into something meaningful. She is so well versed in this field that she could tell me to approach the data or my literature searches in a way that would enrich the project at every step. I was blown away that she literally had an answer for everything. 

What was your biggest obstacle?

My biggest obstacle was navigating the balance of people who have different methods of time management than I do. At the beginning of SOAR my view on long projects was: as long as the project gets done and is of great quality by the deadline,  it doesn’t matter how it gets done. With SOAR, that is not possible. It is a process where you stretch your work across ten weeks. It was difficult to get used to that.

What has been your biggest takeaway from this experience?

The biggest takeaway from this experience was realizing that research is fun. I love looking at numbers and discovering the human connections to them. I loved being creative and discovering what variables can tie into other variables and how they can possibly interact with each other. After SOAR I am confident that I will enjoy the field that I am going into of clinical-counseling psychology after graduation.

What was the result of your project?

This study revealed that children depicting negative mental health symptoms (e.g. anxiety and depression) as well as children in a negative home environment significantly affected those that fell into relational bullies, victims and bully-victims. If a child reported symptoms of anxiety or depression, it was an indicator of them falling into the role of relational bully or relational bully-victim. This study also revealed that a bad family or home environment can breed more aggressive children (bullies and bully-victims). A similar pattern occurred with parental stress where only those who were not a bully, victim, or a bully-victim had their parents report low on their level of stress with parenting. Overall this study showed that the homelife and mental health of children are important and impactful variables to consider in the field of peer interactions, friendship, and victimization.

Will you expand on your research after this summer is over? If so, where would you like to see it go?

I have been expanding on this research throughout this semester by assisting Dr. Schmidt with a follow up study with the same children (now emerging adults) from the early 2000s to see if any of these previous variables influenced their lives in the long term. I have also been exploring the use of a technology not typically utilized in psychology: GIS (Geographic Information Systems). This allowed me to make use of the locational data that was provided in the data sets that I used and look at relationships between different variables and an individual’s location in the Lehigh Valley. SOAR sparked a passion for research in me that I wish to carry into my career after graduation.

SOAR has been and continues to be a spectacular experience. I have grown so much as a student and a researcher. The lessons and opportunities that were openly available to me were things that I would not have had access to had I not gone through the program.