HACKETTSTOWN, NJ (Warren County) — For Centenary University rising senior Ciara Rodriguez, summer has been anything but a time to kick back and relax.
The psychology major traveled to Sri Lanka in May to serve as a mental health volunteer for children and adults in Sri Lanka, and then went straight to West Virginia University to conduct behavioral health research funded by the National Science Foundation this summer.
A resident of Roxbury Township, Rodriguez initially entered Centenary University as a forensic science major, but quickly realized that her passion was psychology. After changing her major, Rodriguez set her sights on gaining acceptance to a combined master’s/doctoral degree in behavior analysis.
With only seven accredited programs in the country, the competition is fierce and she knows her credentials have to stand out. So, Rodriguez began researching ways she could help others while bolstering her graduate school application.
“I really wanted to give back to a country in need,” Rodriguez said. “Sri Lanka stood out because it has one of the highest suicide rates in the world. There have been a lot of natural disasters there and they don’t have the best healthcare system. I had the opportunity to work in hospitals, and also with children who have disabilities. There aren’t a lot of resources, so these children don’t receive the treatment they deserve.”
Soon after returning to the United States from Sri Lanka, Rodriguez traveled to West Virginia University to participate in behavior analysis research measuring food motivation in lab rats. The study’s goal is to update standards for the most efficient and ethical way to motivate rat behavior in future studies.
“My experiences in Sri Lanka and West Virginia have solidified my goal to pursue a career in behavior analysis that is both clinically- and research-based,” Rodriguez said.
At Centenary, Rodriguez is active with student organizations and volunteers as a crisis counselor with several suicide and crisis hotlines. She has organized workshops for survivors of domestic violence, as well as on violence prevention, stalking, and men’s mental health. A Dean’s List student, she plans to earn her bachelor’s degree in just three years—graduating next May—thanks to a significant number of Advanced Placement credits earned in high school.
As she prepares to put the finishing touches on her graduate school applications, Rodriguez is grateful for faculty members, like Associate Professor of Psychology Christine Floether, Ph.D., who have encouraged her to aim high.
“At Centenary, the small class sizes make such a big difference because I’m really learning, rather than sitting in a big lecture hall not interacting with professors who don’t really know me. Here, the professors care a lot,” Rodriguez said.
Dr. Floether is looking forward to seeing the great things Rodriguez accomplishes in her career.
“Everything about Ciara speaks to her drive and ambition,” Floether said. “She’s been very motivated to achieve academic success at Centenary and apply to highly selective graduate schools. I know that she will achieve everything she puts her mind to.”