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How UofGH connections helped a Psychology alum thrive

Jocelyn Sommerfeld

The Psychology program gives you a really good overview of the field, and then you can take any part of that and move forward with the rest of your academic or career life. I think it sets you up really well.
Photo courtesy of Jocelyn Sommerfeld

For alumna Jocelyn Sommerfeld, it was the close connections she made at the University of Guelph-Humber that opened doors in the field.

Since graduating from the Psychology program in 2016, Sommerfeld has co-authored five research papers and is now pursuing a Master of Science in Psychology.

She first became interested in the field after taking a course in high school.

“I've always been interested in human behavior and why people do the things they do, so I guess that's where my love of psychology sparked,” Sommerfeld said.

One of the reasons Sommerfeld decided to attend UofGH was because of the small class sizes. “I could walk by in the hall and say hi to my professors who knew me by name, which was awesome,” she said.

Through maintaining those connections, Sommerfeld got the opportunity to dive into the field of research.

After graduating, Sommerfeld reached out to Psychology Program Head Dr. David Danto, who was working on research around Indigenous mental health alongside Duquesne University’s Dr. Russ Walsh. Though new to that particular area of study, Sommerfeld was eager to contribute.

The team’s research focuses on land-based programs and interventions and how these activities can help improve wellbeing and mental health in Indigenous communities.

“Indigenous peoples have a very special and unique connection with the land that land-based programs specifically attempt to address. Land-based programs are meant to bring people who have been separated from that connection back to their roots,” Sommerfeld explained.  

“For example, they might go out hunting, fishing or do other traditional land-based activities, including participation in ceremonies,” she added. “This is all to reaffirm their identity and connect them to other people, not only in the present but also their ancestors in the past. These experiences help them learn about and connect with their culture.”

A new area of research

Sommerfeld is now completing a Master of Science in Psychology at Trent University, with a thesis partly inspired by her previous research.

“My current study involves the relationships between parents' connection to nature, their childhood experiences outdoors, and how much time their own children spend in nature,” Sommerfeld explained.

Sommerfeld noted how she often saw parents giving devices, like phones and tablets, to their young children, which sparked an interest in how kids were connecting to the natural world.

“The research is showing that there's been a huge decline in kids going out in nature from previous generations. One influence could be from parents, since they are often considered the gatekeepers of children's outdoor experiences and experiences in general,” said Sommerfeld.

This decreased time in nature can be attributed to many factors.

“There's been lots of studies done on barriers to kids being outside. I think fear plays a lot into this,” Sommerfeld explained, pointing to anxiety around strangers and road safety. “There's a lot of things parents are very concerned about.”

Building connections

In the first year of her master’s, Sommerfeld received the Tri-Agency Canada Graduate Scholarship. Recently, she also received the Ontario Graduate Scholarship for her second year. She noted that her previous research experience was a major asset on her scholarship applications.

“I was a little bit worried about taking time off between my undergrad and my master's, but it's really helped me because of all this research experience,” Sommerfeld said, emphasizing that everyone’s professional journey may look different.

“Don't worry about how many years you might take off. There’s no rush. You have to do what works for you.”

As Sommerfeld continues to work on her research, she credits her time at UofGH for giving her a strong foundation.

“I think the Psychology program gives you a really good overview of the field, and then you can take any part of that and move forward with the rest of your academic or career life. I think it sets you up really well,” Sommerfeld said.

Reflecting on her time at UofGH, Sommerfeld recalled how much she appreciated the close-knit community. “What I love about Guelph-Humber is that because it's a smaller institution, you're not just a number. People know you,” Sommerfeld said.

The connections made at UofGH, Sommerfeld said, can prove to be invaluable.

“Reach out to your professors. I think especially with this online environment, that can be really tough and feel weird, but just send them an email or go to their office hours. It helps connect you with your teachers and with the program as well,” she said. “Making those connections has really helped me in both my undergrad life and beyond.”