Brains and bassoons

ASU psychology grad combines love of music, psychology to study music therapy


May 6, 2016

Editor's note: This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2016 commencement. See the rest here.

What do brains and bassoons have in common? Perhaps only a psychology and music double major like Peter Whitehead could answer that question. Similar to many bassoon players, Whitehead started his mastery of the woodwinds as a clarinet player who moved to the bassoon in the seventh grade at his Mesa, Arizona, school. Going to ASU seemed a clear choice and as a new freshman, Whitehead had decided to study music therapy where the overlapping interests between psychology and music becomes a little more clear.  portrait of ASU grad Peter Whitehead ASU psychology graduate Peter Whitehead Download Full Image

By his sophomore year, Whitehead had started working in two of the Department of Psychology’s cognitive science research labs where he became interested in how the human brain processes information and how unique or novel stimuli affect attention. But, Whitehead's interests didn’t stop with earning bachelor's degrees this spring in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts — during his undergraduate career at ASU he also worked in Dr. Corianne Rogalsky’s Speech and Hearing Sciences research lab in the College of Health Solutions where he gained functional magnetic resonance imaging experience at the Barrow Neurological Institute.

According to Dr. Gene Brewer, Whitehead's psychology mentor, “Peter's academic interests revolve around the manner in which the cognitive system overtly and covertly coordinates behavior to achieve goals. He’s not only a talented musician but an incredible scholar who also has three first author manuscripts under review which represents a major achievement for any undergraduate student.”

“What’s exciting about cognitive science are the translational applications and the treatment implications for many disorders where cognitive control or attention focus may be impaired like schizophrenia, autism, ADHD, Alzheimers, and Parkinson’s Disease,” Whitehead said. 

Just recently, Whitehead was recognized by the National Science Foundation with an honorable mention for the Graduate Fellowship Research Program and has also earned the James B. Duke Scholarship for his upcoming doctoral studies in cognitive neuroscience at Duke University. 

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

Answer: I don’t think there was really an “aha” moment. I had been working in a lot of cognitive control projects in Dr. (Christopher) Blais’ EEG Lab and in Dr. Brewer’s Memory and Attention Control Lab for a couple of years and became really interested in what they were studying. So, I started asking questions and reading more about the topic. There are a lot of questions left to be answered and I find the topic interesting.

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you, that changed your perspective?

A: Plans change as you go along and it’s important to be flexible with them.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I chose ASU for a few reasons, some more practical than others. ASU has a great psychology department as well as a great music school. For what I was interested in, ASU was the best choice. It allowed me to be able to pursue my academic endeavors while still being able to develop my skills as a musician.

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

A: Talk to your professors and get involved in research. One of the best decisions I ever made at ASU was to join Dr. Brewer’s lab. Dr. Brewer and Dr. Blais are fantastic mentors, and I learned a lot from them.

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

A: If I wasn’t in lab, I was in a practice room, and more often than not, I was in lab. I’m not sure if that qualifies as a favorite spot on campus.

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

A:  I’m not sure I’m qualified to handle or manage $40 million dollars, so probably give it to a charity like Oxfam or Doctors Without Borders.

From the Army to politics and back again

Army ROTC Cadet Gerald Prater finds a passion for political science, by accident


May 6, 2016

Editor's note: This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2016 commencement. See the rest here.

For political science major and Army ROTC Cadet Gerald Prater, attending college was not in his plans. Army ROTC Cadet Gerald Prater Army ROTC Cadet Gerald Prater. Photo by Lisa Robbins/Department of Military Science Army ROTC Download Full Image

After graduating high school, he enlisted in the U.S. Army in 2010 and served as an intelligence analyst. While deployed to Afghanistan, Prater was given a challenge of 48 hours to determine a potential college to attend and degree program, which changed his future.

After he was accepted into the Green to Gold Active Duty Option Program, a two-year program that provides eligible active-duty enlisted soldiers the opportunity to complete a baccalaureate degree or a two-year graduate degree and commission as an Army officer, he was focused on excelling academically.

However, pursuing an undergraduate degree was only one challenge faced by Prater. As a father raising two children, attending school full-time and serving as a cadet for Army ROTC, his priority was to find a balance when managing his time.

The transition into the college environment was tough at first, but he utilized the Army discipline to create a framework of how to tackle academics, which allowed him to achieve a 4.0 GPA and earn a spot on the Army ROTC Cadet Command Staff as the cadet battalion commander.

This May, Prater will receive his bachelor’s degree in political science and commission as an infantry officer for the U.S. Army.

He answered some questions about his experience.

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

Answer: My “aha” moment came long before I even stepped foot on campus. When I was deployed to Afghanistan, I worked under Gen. Mark A. Milley, currently the chief of staff for the U.S. Army. He asked when I was briefing him once what I wanted to do with my life, and I actually had never really thought about anything beyond two or three years down the road. I responded by saying, “I was considering going to college.” He basically gave me 48 hours to come up with a school that I wanted to attend. After narrowing it down to Arizona, I stumbled upon the political science degree and never looked back.

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you, that changed your perspective?

A: I go back to my first political science class called Global Politics (POS 160) with Dr. Charles Ripley — this class served as an introduction and sparked my fascination for international relations. It was one of the first classes I took at ASU and set the tone for the rest of my undergraduate career.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A:
I chose Arizona State University because of their highly ranked political science degree program.

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

A: The syllabus is the cheat sheet to success in academic courses. Instructors will give you an outline from beginning to end of assignments, quizzes and readings, which you can use to guide you through courses. The very first thing I did at the beginning of the semester was print each syllabus out and put them in binders, then highlight or cross out as a week would elapse and update my agenda accordingly. That’s how I managed my courses, so I never had any surprises come up.

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

A: My favorite spot on campus would have to be the Army ROTC Cadet Lounge. I’ve been there almost every day since I started school. Not only because I can relate to other people who are in the program with me, but it’s also a good social setting. It was the place where I went to relax, study or just play games and hang out with other cadets.

Q: What are your plans for after graduation?

A: I’m assigned as an infantry officer in the Army, and I am going to serve in that capacity for four years. After that, I will transition into military intelligence. My goal is to serve honorably for my nation for 20 years, then return to my home state of Texas. I plan to get involved in whatever political capacity I can, whether it’d be in a Congressional seat or Senate.

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

A: I would use the $40 million to bolster the education system — the public education system — to continue to find different ways to improve them. I’m firm believer of investing in our youth. I understand the future of this world is in the hands of those who reside in it, so I take a lot of responsibility and accountability for developing not only my own children, but future generations as well.

 

Written by Stephanie Romero