Megan Schilling always notices how people react to her clients when they are away from the Eau Claire group home where they live and where she works.
“I often take my clients — who have mental illnesses — on outings into the community and I see how some people react toward them,” says Megan, an Ellsworth native who will graduate in May with a degree in psychology from UW-Eau Claire. “Not everyone seems welcoming.”
Intrigued by their reactions, Megan thought it would be interesting to conduct research on the factors that influence people to be prejudiced and, perhaps, even discriminatory against individuals with mental illness.
While she had the research idea, she had no idea how she might turn her idea into an actual project.
Then a friend told her about the McNair Program, a federally funded program on UW-Eau Claire’s campus that helps disadvantaged college students prepare for graduate-level studies.
Megan reached out to her academic adviser, who then nominated her to be a McNair scholar. She was invited to join the program’s 2017 cohort, with Dr. Jeff Goodman, an associate professor of psychology, as her mentor.
“I never thought I would end up doing research, but I always had a ton of questions about peoples' interactions and how different environments influence people,” Megan says. “Once I became a McNair scholar, research was one of the main aspects of the program, and research finally became a possibility for me. I had enjoyed my research methods course and I had a ton of ideas for possible studies. It really just clicked into place.”
McNair, she says, also changed how she sees her future.
“It prepped me for graduate school and created an area of passion for me,” says Megan. “I now want to continue doing research in my lifelong career, and I might even bring it further by using my research to create interventions or trainings in the future.”
In the fall, Megan will begin a clinical mental health counseling graduate program at UW-Stout.
While working toward her master’s degree, she plans to continue her mental health-related research.
Someday, she may go to medical school to become a psychiatrist.
“McNair helped me to strive for dreams that I would not have thought possible,” Megan says of her aspirations. “It gave me a support system of other students who had similar dreams and goals, while also recognizing my own ideas and dreams.”
Megan’s interest in psychology began in high school, but she discovered the range of possibilities that the field offers once she got to UW-Eau Claire.
“I decided to declare it as my major because of the many aspects of psychology that are taught here,” Megan says. “There are psychology classes that look at cognitive, social, health, developmental and neuroscience, and I was fascinated with learning more about people and different environments.”
As she prepares to graduate this spring, Megan is more thankful than ever that she took the initiative to learn about the McNair Program.
She encourages other Blugolds to make the most of the many opportunities offered on campus.
“Always seek out any resources available to you,” says Megan, who will present her research in May during UW-Eau Claire’s annual Celebration of Excellence in Research and Creative Activity. “There are more resources than you might think.
“Read emails instead of just deleting them, go to events even if you do not feel like going, search the UWEC website, look for databases to use or emails for people you can contact for advice. Become close with your major or minor department, and find ways to become involved in the community or in research.”
It is all of those things, Megan says, that has her planning a future she’d never guessed was possible.
Photo caption: Megan Schilling, who will graduate in May with a degree in psychology, is looking forward to putting her research skills to use when she begins graduate school in the fall.