Psychology Dean’s Medalist fights community health disparities with language research

Marianna Kaneris, an Arizona State University senior and a double major in psychology

Marianna Kaneris, an ASU senior and a double major in psychology and biochemistry, was recognized as the fall 2018 Dean’s Medalist for the Department of Psychology.


Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for fall 2018 commencement. Read about more graduates

Marianna Kaneris, an Arizona State University senior and a double major in psychology and biochemistry, was recognized on Dec. 11 as the Dean’s Medalist for the Department of Psychology. The Dean’s Medalist is the highest achieving student in the psychology department for the fall 2018 graduating class.

“I have plenty of peers who were equally deserving, so it is a great honor to be recognized as the Dean’s Medalist,” Kaneris said.

Her contributions to psychology go far beyond academics. Kaneris served her fellow students as a student assistant in the academic advising office and was a member of Psi Chi, the National Honors Society of Psychology. She also worked with Viridiana Benitez, assistant professor of psychology, in the Learning and Development Lab.

The Learning and Development Lab investigates how young children learn language using techniques like tracking where children look, observation and having the children play games on a computer or tablet. The goal of research in the Learning and Development Lab is to understand how young children learn in general and especially how they learn about the world surrounding them.

“Marianna is an exceptional student,” Benitez said. “She's a fast learner, fully committed to her responsibilities in and out of the lab, and she really enjoys thinking about the research questions and exploring new areas to learn. She did so well in the first semester in my lab that I asked her to stay on through the summer.”

Kaneris said the Learning and Development lab was a perfect fit because of her experience with language learning: She grew up speaking Greek at home and studied French at ASU. She also loves working with children.

“Marianna takes initiative. When something needs to be done in the lab, she doesn't wait to be told to do it. She also gives feedback and ideas for how to make our research better,” Benitez added.

In the future, Kaneris plans to pursue graduate studies in public health, focusing on health promotion in communities.

“There are a lot of health disparities in communities, and I would like to go into health promotion to help people to live happier and healthier lives,” Kaneris said.

Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in? 

Answer: I had been interested in health since my science classes in high school, and this interest led me to study biochemistry at ASU. I liked chemistry and was interested in learning about health on a molecular level. But then I took Psychology 101 my sophomore year of college and loved it. I decided to double major in psychology and biochemistry. Psychology plays an integral part in health as well, so it was a natural fit for me and my interests. 

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU that changed your perspective?

A: I learned to enjoy the journey, one day at a time. Life holds a lot of twists and turns, so learning to be grateful for the present is very important. Like a lot of students, I thought I had to know exactly what I wanted to do with the rest of my life on my first day of college. That’s wonderful for those people who do know what they want to do, but for the others like me, I now know that it’s OK to explore your options and figure things out along the way.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: Having grown up in Phoenix, I had the opportunity to visit ASU when I was younger, and I loved the ASU environment and community. There was no question that this was the school I wanted to attend. Also, I have family members who are ASU alumni, so I knew that ASU provided the resources and opportunities for its students to succeed.

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: I have been really fortunate to have had so many wonderful professors here at ASU; all have influenced me with their enthusiasm, approachability and encouragement. It is hard to choose just one! The most important lesson I have learned is to be positive and always have enthusiasm in whatever I do.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: I would give two pieces of advice. First, believe in your abilities, and never give up on achieving your goals.

The second piece of advice is to use your time in college to step out of your comfort zone a bit and try new things. That could mean joining a club, getting involved in research or simply just introducing yourself and starting a conversation with one of your classmates sitting next you.

The best experiences and strongest friendships I have made throughout college have been from when I stepped out my comfort zone.

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?

A: My favorite spot for studying was the second floor of Noble at the tables by the windows. My absolute favorite part of campus is by the fountain in front of old main, especially in the mornings when the light hits the water; I find it so calming.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I plan on pursuing graduate studies next fall in public health with a focus on health promotion.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: I would address some of the health disparities across the world. I would try to ensure that everyone has access to clean water, nutritious food and basic medical resources. 

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