Psychology students’ work recognized at SEPA southeast regional conference

Caption: Lea Bryant (Top), Hannah Waterman (Bottom)

The University of South Carolina Aiken Psychology Department participated in the Southeastern Psychological Association (SEPA) southeast regional conference in Orlando March 13-16, with two students bringing home prestigious research awards. Seniors Lea Bryant and Hannah Waterman were recognized by the Psi Chi Southeastern Psychological Society for their research presentations. 


The annual conference is attended by faculty and students from universities large and small across the southeastern United States. USCA’s Psychology Department sends a contingent of faculty and students each year for the opportunity to present student research without prohibitive travel expenses. This year, 11 undergraduate and graduate students participated, accompanied by Assistant Professors Bridget Cho and Brianne Coulombe.


Bryant, whose research interests are focused on the mental health of young adults, worked alongside faculty mentor Cho to study the imposter phenomenon among this age group. The imposter phenomenon is characterized by the self-doubt of intellect, skills, or accomplishments among high-achieving individuals. Bryant studied a sample of 155 young adults to evaluate the impact of education level and financial stress on these behaviors.


“I was absolutely floored when I was presented with the award,” Bryant says. “I don’t feel like I have a lot of research skills and experience yet, so it was an incredible thing to be recognized. It let me know that maybe I am doing something right.”


Bryant began her research approximately one year ago after receiving the $1,000 Connections Award from the university’s Center for Research Excellence. She also had a chance to present her work at the university’s Scholar Showcase on April 12. 


With Coulombe as her faculty mentor, Waterman studied the impact of early childhood adversity on school competence. Having worked as an after-school teacher and camp co-director, Waterman’s research interests involve the needs of children from adverse backgrounds and underserved communities. To evaluate indicators of competence, she studied a sample of children ages four to seven and measured correlations between their exposure to adversity and behaviors indicative of achievement and peer acceptance. 


“The school setting is a special place to see kids and their potential. Many people only look at academic achievement, but a lot goes on in the classroom with how students behave with their peers that might indicate competence, as well as their success in the future,” she says.


Waterman began her research last summer through participation in USCA’s Summer Scholars Institute. In addition to her Psi Chi Southeastern Psychological Society Research Award, she was named a SEPA Committee on Equality of Professional Opportunity Research Showcase Session Honoree in recognition of her presentation poster.


Although Bryant and Waterman each received a $400 award in recognition of their research, both students agree they gained much more in terms of research experience and confidence in their academic abilities. 


“Being involved in research has bolstered my speaking skills as well as my people and networking skills. Every time I present it pushes me a little further outside my comfort zone,” Waterman says.  


Psychology Department Chair Edward Callen says, “These awards are a recognition by professional psychologists from across the southeastern United States of the high-quality research our students engage in and a testament to the outstanding mentorship our psychology faculty provides to them. I’m so proud of their success as well as the time and commitment the psychology faculty give our students 12 months a year.”


For more information, contact Leigh Thomas -