Psychology student abroad conducts gender and religion research in Italy

by Noe Sandoval, Contributor

Students who study abroad have the chance to see new places and meet new people, but only a few go the extra mile. Psychology senior Kasey Johnson is one of few students who has conducted research abroad.

During her junior year, Johnson studied at the University of Urbino in western Italy.

Johnson developed a passion for culture at a young age. The first time she left the United States was at the age of 15, when she took a two-week trip to Italy. Ever since then, she knew she had to go back, and with the help of mentors from her high school and college years, she was able to achieve her goal.

“I made it a mission for when I am in college to study abroad,” Johnson said.

Initially, she had decided on studying abroad for a semester, however her mentor encouraged her to study abroad for the whole 2017-2018 academic year.

Nevertheless, as a psychology major she knew she had to do more than just studying abroad.

Many psychology majors are recommended to conduct undergraduate research for those interested in attending graduate school, and Johnson was one of them.

“I had to figure out a plan and I decided to put the two plans together and mesh them,” Johnson said.

Johnson decided to reach out to one of her professors, Shawna Saponjic, and told her about her research plans. Saponjic was interested and amazed at Johnson’s enthusiasm, and gladly helped Johnson in her research.

“She was very enthusiastic,” Saponjic said. “I knew she had the right mindset.”

During a lecture with professor David Marx, Johnson recalls learning about how little research had been done on gender. She also knew Italy had a great influence of religion, especially Christianity.

She wanted to contribute and decided to conduct research on gender stereotypes based on religion.

With the help of Professor Saponjic, Johnson created a survey before embarking on her journey to Italy.

While abroad, she stayed in contact with Saponjic and was also able to receive help from two professors at the University of Urbino Carlo Bo, Manuela Berlingeri and Raffaella Santi. These two professors helped her with data analysis.

“Professor Berlingeri was my number one support system.” Johnson said. “I came in not knowing anyone in Urbino. I met her a couple weeks in.”

Johnson met Berlingeri through Raffaella Santi, who is the director of the psychology department at the University of Urbino.

In her research, Johnson surveyed students at her host university on what gender stereotypes they held as well as their religious beliefs.

Johnson admits that this research project was not easy, as she had to be careful with every detail and had no room for error.

During her experience, she learned that research requires creativity.

“There is a lot of creativity in research. You have to think about every little detail — how it could screw your data, how it could be biased. There are so many variables (to research) that I think not many people don’t give credit to,” Johnson said.

After a challenging experience and finally setting out her goals, Johnson is in the process of having her research published.

She has been on panels for Weber Honors Students, and talked to parents during the Family Weekend in September, speaking about her experience abroad.   

“(Studying abroad) really makes you grow,” she said. “It’s not just seeing beautiful places or meeting new people. People don’t really talk about the challenging parts of traveling like communicating in a new language or trying to navigate yourself in a new city and that’s what makes you stronger at the end of the day.”