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Florida State Psychology Honors Students Find Research Inspiration Abroad

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — With honors comes opportunity.

Two Florida State University Honors Program undergraduates accompanied faculty to the Dyslexia Foundation Extraordinary Brain Symposium XVII, held this past July in Cathedral Peaks, South Africa. Alexandra Himelhoch and Hannah Cooperman, seniors in the Department of Psychology, attended the symposium to present research on vowel pronunciation under the guidance of Professor of Psychology and Florida Center for Reading Research Director, Dr. Donald Compton.

Florida State Honors Students Find Research Inspiration Abroad

Hannah Cooperman (left) and Alexandra Himelhoch, seniors in the Department of Psychology

Himelhoch and Cooperman participated in a poster session that highlighted their work suggesting reading skill and rime support play an important role in context-dependent vowel pronunciation.

Himelhoch explains, “We were interested in the extent to which rime prevalence supporting the lower frequency grapheme-phoneme correspondence affects nonword pronunciation. In other words, how might a reader pronounce ‘cheam’ versus ‘chead’? We expected that better readers would use the lower frequency, and therefore the consonantal context of the non-word, in pronouncing the non-word.”

The team found that better readers did use the lower frequency pronunciation when the rime supported it, which supported their hypothesis. They hope to apply their research to the classroom and continue to explore how to promote vowel flexibility and sensitivity to contextual clues through reading instruction.

While the senior students were excited to share their findings with future colleagues, they also had the opportunity to meet with leading experts in the field of dyslexia, literacy practitioners and administrators. They enjoyed engaging in conversations with many of the attendees about their work, emerging ideas, and methods.

“Having been involved with research as a research assistant since my freshman year,” Himelhoch stated, “my favorite part of this trip was being surrounded by so many dedicated, ambitious, and encouraging researchers. This conference gave me a glimpse of research at its most elevated level and gave me the opportunity to interact with individuals whom I respect immensely.”

“This fantastic group of professionals taught me so much during my time in South Africa,” Cooperman added. “I felt so welcomed by everyone and I am so grateful for the time I was able to spend with this group.”

Dr. Compton agreed that participation in the conference is important to their scholarly development. “This was a fabulous opportunity for two of our talented undergraduates to experience and participate in an international research conference bringing together some of the top researchers in the world who study the etiology, diagnosis, and treatment of dyslexia. Experiences like this are invaluable and will make Lexi and Hannah more competitive as they apply for graduate school.”

The Florida Center for Reading Research is a multidisciplinary research center at Florida State University that explores all aspects of reading research — basic research into literacy-related skills for typically developing readers and those who struggle, studies of effective prevention and intervention, and psychometric work on formative assessment. For more information, please contact Nathan Archer at narcher@fcrr.org.