Katherine A. Johanson, a psychology and gerontology major, received the prestigious Donald G. Paterson Undergraduate Award in Psychology at the annual convention of the Minnesota Psychological Association. The award is given annually to an outstanding senior to recognize and encourage high achievement in psychology at the undergraduate level.
It’s the second time in 32 years that an MSUM student has received the award. John Gunstad received the award in 1997. The award citation, in part, stated: “Katherine demonstrated academic success in pursuing double majors in psychology and gerontology, among other facets of her undergraduate education, she has also consistently been the recipient of honors, awards, and scholarships.”
Johanson, who graduated summa cum laude from MSUM, was accepted into a number of doctoral programs, but will pursue a Master’s in Clinical Psychology at the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs. She received a $5,000 graduate fellowship to conduct research with Dr. Leilani Feliciano on developing cognitive profiles of older diabetics.
Johanson has more than two years of undergraduate research experience. She has conducted research with Psychology professor Christine Malone on memory blocks in word fragment completion and independent research on the social desirability of perfectionism; she has also researched religion and perceptions of suicide with Sociology and Criminal Justice professor Susan Humphers-Ginther.
“MSUM has a lot of opportunities for faculty mentorship, which makes it stand out from other universities,” Johanson said. “Students I’ve talked to at larger universities say it’s really hard to get one-on-one research experience with professors. At MSUM, I’m able to get that valuable one-on-one time with professors who give their first-hand knowledge of research and all its processes.”
Currently, Johanson is a research assistant in the NDSU Cognitive Aging Lab, where she conducts research on visual search in young and older adults with graduate student Dustin Elliot. She is also an intern at the Alzheimer’s Association in Fargo.
The wealth of experience Johanson has gained working with young people to college students to older adults has prepared her well for this distinct graduate program.
“I have acquired enough real-world experience in psychology at MSUM to apply it to a master’s program, especially in the research realm because I have a good amount of background knowledge on how research really works,” Johanson said.
Her research has been widely shared at various undergraduate conferences, including Stanford University’s Undergraduate Psychology Conference, MSUM’s Student Academic Conference, and the Red River Psychology Conference. Later this month, she will also present collaborative research entitled, “Competing Sound and Spelling Information Produce Memory Blocks in Auditory Word Fragment Completion” at the Midwestern Psychological Association conference in Chicago.
“No matter where you are in the psychology field – whether it’s academics, research or another area – psychology is an applied science, so everything is based on research. The research experience I’ve gained here and the opportunities I’ve had to present that research has really connected me with the field and made me feel more like a psychology professional,” Johanson said.
In addition to research, Johanson has completed service learning projects through MSUM’s gerontology program, the only gerontology program in the three-state area. She says learning in the classroom and immediately applying that knowledge to the real world has helped prepare her for her internship at the Alzheimer’s Association and volunteer work with Hospice of the Red River Valley. That, and her early experiences working with the elderly, has directed her career interest to geropsychology, a career path she didn’t know existed until coming to MSUM.
Geropsychology is a specialty in professional psychology that applies the knowledge and methods of psychology to understanding and helping older persons and their families to maintain well-being, overcome problems and achieve maximum potential during later life.
“It’s a very new field and very needed,” Johanson said. “The job opportunities in geropsychology are astounding, especially in North Dakota, where more and more older adults are getting dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.”