Published On: Sat, Aug 21st, 2021

PBSC psychology students win Psi Beta Emerging Researcher Award

Two Palm Beach State College students received an Emerging Researcher Award from Psi Beta, a national honor society in psychology, and now their research article has been chosen for publication this fall in the inaugural edition of a peer-reviewed journal.

Craig Tomlin and Rivkah Estrin were among only four selected nationwide for the newly created award open to community college students. The award, which came with a small monetary gift, stems from research that Tomlin and Estrin conducted with a third student, Jodi Thall, during the height of the pandemic.

The article, which will be published in the Psi Beta Journal of Student Research in October, is titled “Dispositional Mindfulness and Stress Coping Amid the COVID-19 Pandemic: An Exploration of Problem-Focused Mediators.” Citing 40 previous research articles, it takes a deeper dive into the long-studied psychological phenomenon of mindfulness, a complex topic that got its origins from Eastern philosophy. Essentially, it centers on how people live their lives: in the moment (mindfulness) or in the past.

The trio sought to examine the relationship between mindfulness and effective coping strategies. The results of their research, conducted via online surveys of students enrolled in psychology classes, showed that “mindfulness correlates with reduced stress, lower negative affect, and higher positive affect.” In addition, the study not only demonstrated that mindful individuals coped better with COVID, but that they did so using strategies not previously tested in mindfulness research to date — a finding with potentially important implications for the scientific understanding of this phenomenon.

“I am so thrilled because it’s something that everyone who is conducting research wants and dreams about,’’ said Tomlin, the primary author and an aspiring clinical research psychologist who completed his Associate in Arts degree in May. “I just didn’t think it would happen so early on. Typically, you don’t get published until graduate school. I am super proud that we are able to get published and that it is of this caliber.”

“It’s a huge honor to have been involved in the research project. I feel really lucky as a community college student to have had access to this experience,’’ said Estrin, a former postpartum doula who is currently pursuing her Bachelor of Science in Human Services after earning an Associate in Science degree in Human Services and an A.A. degree in fall 2020. “It’s just really exciting that this project that we came up with is really taking off.”

Tomlin, a New Jersey native returned to school in 2019 to fulfill a higher education dream he had put on hold years ago because of the lack of funds and familial support. He went to work instead in the real estate industry, and while he thrived in his career, he did not feel he was following his true passion. He said he’s always been interested in “studying people and why they do the things they do.” 

Now a single father of two young children, he also wants to be a role model for them by completing his education. Although the COVID-19 pandemic occurred after two semesters in school, Tomlin began searching for ways to conduct research as part of his long-term goal of earning a Ph.D. in clinical research psychology.  

Through his persistence, he found out about Dr. Ted Cascio, a psychology professor on the Palm Beach Gardens campus and Psi Beta chapter advisor, who was launching research with some of his students. The research was derailed by the pandemic, but it quickly got back on track with Tomlin’s inquiry. The trio of students, under  Cascio’s direction, changed the research focus to address the challenges students were facing in the pandemic. They met routinely virtually to complete the project.

“We did a brainstorm on how to incorporate mindfulness and the COVID-19 pandemic. It was a whole different paper,’’ said Estrin, who took one of Cascio’s psychology classes. “This was an incredible opportunity for us to reach out to people whose lives have been totally turned upside down.”

“It’s just super satisfying that we created new scientific research,’’ Tomlin said. “No matter how small a contribution it is, I’m so thrilled because it’s something that everyone that’s conducting research wants and dreams.”

Tomlin presented the paper earlier this year at the virtual Florida Undergraduate Research Conference, one of the nation’s largest multidisciplinary undergraduate research conferences that drew over 400 students from colleges and universities this year. Rivkah and Thall, who is pursuing A.S. degrees in Human Services and Emergency Medical Services, were on hand to answer questions about the research. 

“I’m very excited for these students,’’ Cascio said. “Getting published is extremely difficult. It will change their career as far as their ability to get into graduate school.”

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