Inspired by Grandfather, Nelson'16 Studies Successful Aging
July 29, 2014
BLOOMINGTON, Ill.— Ask Illinois Wesleyan University psychology major Niccole Nelson ’16 (Tinley Park, Ill.) to define “successful aging,” and she’ll
answer in two words: her grandfather.
As Nelson explored the many facets of developmental psychology, she was drawn to discovering
why some people age better than others. Some stayed happy and healthy, while others
were depressed or sad.
“I’ve known many seniors in my life, but when I first learned about ‘successful aging’
and the research behind it, I immediately thought of my grandpa and I wanted to learn
more and get involved,” explained Nelson.
Her curiosity, combined with her work in Assistant Professor of Psychology Mignon
Montpetit’s Successful Aging in Context lab, led Nelson to apply for the Eckley Summer Scholars and Artists program. Nelson is spending her summer developing an instrument to measure the social
support adult children provide to their elderly parents.
Through focus groups, Nelson has asked seniors in the Bloomington-Normal area about
the types of social support they receive from their adult children and which aspects
of this support are most beneficial to them. So far Nelson has found differences in
family dynamics to be the most interesting aspects of her research.
“You can learn a lot from the literature, but it’s very different actually talking
to people about their experiences and what’s important to them,” she said. “Getting
this information first hand has been very eye-opening to me.”
As she continues her work, however, Nelson said the most important lesson she’s learned
is a very personal one.
“This project has shown me just how passionate I am about developmental psychology,”
she explained. “It has helped me solidify my career goals. I'm grateful I was given
this opportunity, as it can be hard to know for sure what you're passionate about
without actually having the experience.”
Nelson sought to become involved in original research early on. While still in high
school, she contacted Montpetit about research opportunities for a first-year college
student. Montpetit said Nelson could get involved immediately, even over the summer
if she wished. “Dr. Montpetit’s warm and welcoming response led me to realize Illinois
Wesleyan was the kind of place I would like best,” Nelson said. “I was interested
in doing research as early as possible, and that’s been so valuable to me.”
Nelson plans to attend graduate school and hopes for a career as an academic. She
is grateful for the depth and level of research experience she is receiving as an
undergraduate. “I’ve discovered original research is not easy, it’s not quick, but
there really is no better way to learn,” Nelson said. “I’ve learned good research
takes time, and that’s been a valuable lesson for me.”
The Eckley Summer Scholars and Artists endowment supports summer research and creative
activity for several students each year, enabling them to stay on campus over the
summer to work under the direction of faculty mentors. The program was established
as one aspect of a major gift to the University by President Emeritus Robert S. Eckley,
his wife Nell and the Eckley Family Foundation, before his death in 2012.