- By Megan Morley Thomas
"I don't breathe," says senior McNair Scholar Kristina Lafferty, but she's laughing and shows no need for intervention. Lafferty is just one of those people who acquires three minors, following the spark of her intellectual curiosity, who takes 19 credits the same semester she's applying to doctorate programs, who mentors a troubled child and then steps up to run — and recruit for — UVM's Big Buddies program. She captains the cheerleading team, has an outside job, takes anguished middle-of-the-night calls from students she befriended during her two years as a resident adviser and — oh — just won a national award for her psychology research. She appears not to hyperventilate either.
"I have a wide variety of interests," Lafferty acknowledges. "I feel like undergrad is the time where you can play with things." She's a sociology major who declared an English minor after a summer of study in London, then individually designed a minor in American Sign Language, just for the love of it — "it's a beautiful, beautiful language," she says. Last year she added a psychology minor, which has become the focus of her McNair-funded research, a program designed to help advance first-generation/limited-income and/or underrepresented undergraduates who are academically competitive and have the intention of earning a doctoral degree.
Lafferty's work is centered in UVM's social development laboratory, directed by her research adviser, Professor Dianna Murray-Close, which is where some of her life threads do intertwine. She's interested in the need to belong and rejection in vulnerable — notably young — populations such as juvenile delinquents, deaf adolescents and foster children, all of whom she has a passionate outside interest in.
In her summer research, for which she recently won best psychology poster project at a large conference in California of the organization SACNAS, which promotes diversity in the sciences, Lafferty looked at the relationship between the need to belong and relational aggression among girls — spreading rumors, gossiping, excluding.
"Kristina is so motivated," says Alice Fothergill, associate professor of sociology and Lafferty's major adviser. "She's so excited to learn — if there's an opportunity she'll take it. And it's all from her. She left high school early because she wanted to get to college so badly."
Briefly Lafferty wonders if she might have taken on too much this semester, then says, "So far so good. I have a few Bs which I would like to be As but what are you going to do? I'm not one of those people that's going to complain about a B." But in barely a beat: "Actually I do. But I should just get over it."