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Kristen Cyr
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CCRI helps Honors Program student, Class of '15 grad pursue passion for psychology

May 11, 2015

Kristen Sutton Kristen Sutton

When the time came for Kristen Sutton, 20, to go to college, she knew that she was looking for an experience that would bring her closer to her professors, and in smaller classes. Knowing that the Community College of Rhode Island could offer her those things right down the road from her home in Coventry, the choice to attend was easy.

“I don’t like the idea of a huge campus,” said the General Studies major, who is graduating with a 3.93 GPA. “I wanted to be able to get to know my professors. CCRI was exactly what I was looking for. The people here really made the difference for me, especially the professors.”

Sutton's early and fierce passion for psychology was one reason she was looking for a more engaged and manageable classroom environment that offered plenty of opportunities to work closely with professors. She and her parents fought for an override to take the AP psychology course when her high school said she likely wouldn't perform well enough on the test to take the class. Not only did she excel in class, she passed the test with flying colors, too.

So when she landed on campus, the shadow of those mixed messages from her high school days hung over her. Neither of her parents graduated from college, she explained, and though they did the best they could, they couldn't guide her from experience. So to come in and find professors and programs such as the Access office that were all too willing to give her the guidance she needed was nothing short of a gift. With help just around the corner should she ever need it, she threw herself into her longtime academic interest.

"When I took my first psychology class here in the fall of 2013 with Professor David Alfano, he suggested that I join the Psychology Club. I did join, and on the first meeting, they needed a secretary; I dove right in, because I wanted to be involved in community life," she said.

Sutton didn't get much of a chance to be involved in extracurricular activities in high school between her studies and part-time work in a bakery. Though she now works part time as a one-on-one assistant for a woman with developmental disabilities as well as a tutor in developmental and abnormal psychology, she has managed to balance work and life with aplomb.

"It was in the Psychology Club that I really started to meet people who were just as passionate about psychology as I was. I also met many other professors in the department, and went on to complete my first honors project. In the spring of 2014, I decided to run for president of the club, and I was elected," she said.

Sutton recently returned from a trip with two fellow Honors Project students to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, where they were selected to present along other students from two- and four-year colleges as part of the Northeast Regional Honors Conference. Sutton's project was a research endeavor that detailed how misleading information may or may not correlate with subjects' intrinsic motivation to complete impossible anagrams, or word jumbles. As wonderful as the recognition she gained from the experience was, Sutton said she just might have found something even more valuable: a potential career path.

"When I began the project, I still didn't like the idea of research. I thought it was tedious. But at the end of the project, I realized that new research is really necessary to advance the field. It was a great experience that allowed me to understand what I'd be getting my hands into someday," she said.

What she learned on the project also overlapped with another extracurricular: On the recommendation of Professor Lynne Andreozzi-Fontaine, Sutton volunteers as a research assistant in the Autism Treatment and Research Project at the Brown Center for the Study of Children At Risk. There, she does "a little bit of everything," from filing to coordinating patient visits to videotaping sessions to working on toys used to assess children. All of this is in support of a program that aims to "improve the lives of people with autism and get the families the support that they need," said Sutton.

The project is a perfect fit for someone who has "always been interested in how vast the brain is, and the fact that we can't know everything about it," said Sutton. Should she continue on to the University of Rhode Island through the Joint Admissions Agreement program, she is interested in pursuing a developmental psychology specialty degree. In the meantime, she is waiting to hear from Brown University. But no matter where she goes, there's no doubt that she'll be experiencing the priceless thrill of pursuing her passion.

"I'm excited to start learning the more advanced, higher-level material," she said. "I'm really excited to continue meeting new people who are just as passionate as I am about the field they are going into."

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Last Updated: 8/25/16