Psychology Dean's Medalist aims to help the socio-emotional health of children, families

Noemi Rodriguez, a double major in psychology and human and family development was named the 2021 Dean's Medalist for the ASU Department of Psychology


Noemi Rodriguez Psychology Dean's Medalist

Noemi Rodriguez, a double major in psychology and human and family development was named the 2021 Dean's Medalist for the ASU Department of Psychology. Photo: Robert Ewing, ASU psychology

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Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable fall 2021 graduates.

Noemi Rodriguez, a double major in psychology and human and family development was named the 2021 Dean’s Medalist for the ASU Department of Psychology. In addition to her exemplary academic performance, Rodriguez served as a community mentor and conducted intervention-based research during her time at ASU.

Her honors thesis for Barrett, The Honors College, "Helping High School Students Prep for College" aimed to help the AdviseAZ program guide and prepare high school students from underrepresented areas for college. The AdvizeAZ program is part of AmeriCorps and hopes to increase the number of low-income high school students and first-generation college students who enter and complete college. These students may have previously received information presented in inaccessible or repetitive ways and Rodriguez wanted to help reduce the doubt and confusion associated with college applications.

Her project shifted the presentation of information from information sessions and stale presentations to an interactive podcast that spoke to students on their level about how to complete applications, secure financial aid or complete the FAFSA.

Rodriguez, a first-generation college student, personally didn’t receive much family help in deciphering her future at college. Additionally, as a transfer student during the middle of a pandemic, many of the questions were extremely complicated and didn’t necessarily have clear answers. She wanted to conduct psychology research, however in-person research projects had to shut down as a result of CDC guidelines.

Fortunately, in her senior year, Rodriguez was able to join the ASU SIBS project in the T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics, promoting socio-emotional development and conflict management within siblings and families. This intervention program is designed to test the effectiveness of family-focused afterschool programs delivered to the Latino community.

Rodriguez also joined the Learning and Development Lab in the ASU Department of Psychology with Assistant Professor Viridiana Benitez. There, she participated in research on bilingual language development, focusing on understanding how young bilingual children experience their two languages. Rodriguez helped to transcribe and code the language found within children’s bilingual books and within the talk that caregivers direct at bilingual toddlers during play.

Noemi Rodriguez Psychology Dean's Medalist Close up

“Noemi is truly an exceptional student in psychology, demonstrating excellence not only in her academics, but also in her research, teaching, and mentorship roles both on campus and within her community,” Benitez said. “She is bright and highly motivated, and I have no doubt that Noemi will continue to make a significant positive impact in the field of psychology in the years to come.”

The Learning and Development Lab works to understand how young children learn about the world around them. The lab aims to answer questions like how children learn words, how they track the patterns of their environment, and how language experience, such as bilingualism, affects learning and development.

“My family always supported me in whatever I wanted to do, but they didn’t have the experience to answer many of the complicated questions, such as course selection, or planning my academic future,” Rodriguez said. “They always emphasized that I needed to think about my future and have a career because that was something they never had the chance to do.”

When Rodriguez found out that she was named the Dean’s medalist, she called her family and they were both excited and stunned.

“I had never won an award like this before, so for them to hear that I was the winner was really validating,” Rodriguez said. “My family is all really proud of me and excited for me.”

Rodriguez hopes to become a clinical psychologist specializing in children and families, and aims to make a difference in the lives of children who are struggling to cope with emotion or conflict.

“I would love to have my own practice for children, adolescents, and families and specialize in mental health and social-emotional development,” she said.

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