Mary Petrosko '09

Mary Petrosko '09 knew research would be a major part of her journey to become a clinical psychologist.

“I wanted to go to graduate school, and I knew that research was important,” Petrosko said. “ But I really hadn’t had a lot of lab experience before I came to Dominican.”

She credits Dominican with giving her the chance to jump into intensive research as an undergraduate, joining the team of Dr. Robert Calin-Jageman, associate professor of neuroscience during the school year and then as a summer scholar.

When the opportunity to complete an honors research project came up, Petrosko excitedly signed up, applying the tools and techniques she’d learned working with Calin-Jageman to her own project: “Ginkgo and Learning: The Effect of EGb 761 on Habituation of the Tail-Elicited Siphon Withdrawal Reflex in Aplysia Californica” – or, in layman’s terms, the effect of ginkgo on the memory of sea slugs.

“I really learned how a lab works and how science gets done, and I don’t think you can get that from just reading journal articles or sitting in class,” she said. “I found out that the process is really fun and creative.”

The next step after completing the research was presenting it – which she did at the 2008 Society for Neuroscience Conference, attended by more than 30,000 people. She was one of 10 winners of a Travel Award from the conference’s Faculty for Undergraduate Neuroscience reception.

“I helped her with designing the experiment, but she was the captain of the project and took it in the direction she wanted to go,” said Calin-Jageman. “This advisor-advisee relationship is meant to be mutually beneficial. She learns these techniques and applies them to something she’s interested in, and I get something from having bright students work on projects that enhance the reputation of the university and the lab.”

After graduating, Petrosko’s next step was entering graduate school. Fielding interest from many premier clinical psychology programs, she enrolled at the University of Minnesota, where she currently is pursuing a PhD in clinical psychology. As part of her studies Petrosko has been working with children and adults providing neuropsychological assessments and psychotherapy. Last summer she worked in the rehabilitative unit of a county hospital performing assessments and therapy for patients recovering from strokes, gunshot wounds and heart attacks.

Petrosko is looking forward to a career as a clinician, possibly in a medical hospital or VA center. She says she is considering a career working with the booming population of older adults, an area where clinicians are in high need. She doesn’t hesitate to look back at the Dominican experience that helped her get there.

“I would never be where I am today, working on a PhD at a major research university if it hadn’t been for my experience at Dominican. Being at a big university, I have come to realize how my education at Dominican was remarkably supportive and personalized,” Petrosko says. “At Dominican, my professors took the time to understand and nurture the potential in me and they gave me the academic opportunities and self-confidence that I needed to even consider pursuing a doctoral degree. My professors gave me the support I needed to believe that I could do something like this. It was definitely an idyllic experience.”