Department of Psychology promotes student support with the Center for Psychological Inquiry

Written by Megan Bowers, CAS communications intern

Center for Psychological Inquiry Director Peter Wessels shares a light moment with students.

The Center for Psychological Inquiry (CPI) is located on the bottom floor of the Psychology Building. Throughout the day, hundreds of psychology students will walk past it or sit in the lobby outside, and a growing number of students will even visit the CPI on a weekly basis. Its main purpose is to act as a psychology-specific tutoring center, but it also hosts workshops and events based on the interest of students.

"The CPI changes every semester based on undergraduate student staffing," said Christina Fitzpatrick, CPI graduate student coordinator. "I think it's good to take advantage of student interests and see what each individual person can bring to the table instead of keeping it completely static from semester to semester."

A Valuable Support Space for Learning

Whether they visit it often or not, psychology students know the CPI is there as a safe space for them to get help with their learning.

"It's always been a protected space," said Dr. Peter Wessels, CPI director. "That's an important element, to have a room to work in that says we as a department value this enough to dedicate some space to your learning that we could have used for other things."

The CPI gives the psychology department a more feasible way to help students outside of the classroom while tailoring the tutoring very specifically to their discipline.

"It recognizes that meaningful learning occurs both inside and outside of the classroom and laboratory," said Fitzpatrick. "It's a constant reminder that the department values peer engagement and support for students."

Due to the CPI's location in the Psychology Building, its personnel is able to work alongside professors to know what the students are working on in their classes. They are also able to tailor their focus to the classes they know students may struggle in the most.

The majority of students come in for PSY 293 and 294, required design and analysis classes that focus on research and statistics.

"Coming from a PhD program perspective, those are the classes that a lot of us look at for having those research, statistical, and analysis skills," said Wessels. "Doing well in that is really critical to the mission of the department."

These courses are vital to the students' success in the major, but in the past they have become a barrier for students who don't think they have strengths in that area.

"A lot of people will go into those classes and say 'this is not for me,' and that's often just due to anxiety or not having anybody in their family go through classes like this before," said Fitzpatrick. "What I really hope to do is have students take another look at research methods and statistics, find their own individual path, and see how these courses can be beneficial to them in whatever career path they chose."

Benefiting from a Students-Supporting-Students Model

The CPI is staffed by student associates, who are there for general support, and student ambassadors, who act as teaching assistants in lab and lecture and then provide additional tutoring help outside of class. This helps them provide support that is very specific to classwork by understanding exactly how the professor wants to see the information.

The students drive a large part of the course-related decisions involving focus and needed materials. The CPI even experiments both informally and formally to test what they are doing is the most effective.

"I am looking to see what tools I can give the student associates and ambassadors so they can do their jobs effectively," said Fitzpatrick. "They're the ones who are making things happen and making things work, so I constantly rely on their feedback about what I can do to improve that process."

The students-supporting-students model is beneficial to everyone involved. This kind of training gives the CPI student staffers professional experience in dealing with people and tackling important subjects.

"It's an avenue for opening up these unique experiences that you don't get just by being a student," said Wessels. "It's something above your class load, and in our field especially, that's really important. This is one avenue to empower those students to have another experience that many others in the job-seeking stage don't have."

The CPI is also there to support students who plan to attend graduate school. While ambassadors and associates receive skills that will boost their applications, all students can receive help as they go through the application process.

"We have materials on hand for what different programs look like," said Wessels. "They cover whether they value your GRE score or your lab experience more, how to write a cover letter, how to research a program, what sort of factors to look for in faculty or areas of study. There is no other resource like that on campus."

The Center for Psychological Inquiry gives students a way to ask questions and get any extra help they may need.

"A lot of the training that you get as a psychologist is outside the classroom," said Fitzpatrick. "So it's really important for the Department of Psychology to provide structured support, so that students can learn not only to be psychologists within the classroom, but also to specialize in their interests and get that individual support outside the classroom as well."