Over this past summer, I was challenged to give a 15 minute presentation in response to the Mary Oliver quote, “What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” Although this was quite a daunting task, it allowed me to reflect on my life experiences and delve deep into my passions. Through the preparation of this presentation, I realized that I had discovered my passion while working in a fine-dining restaurant my freshman year. At this job, I interacted with a wide range of individuals and became quickly interested in the dynamics of interpersonal relationships, especially in the workplace. I noticed that many employees were dissatisfied with their jobs and constantly faced conflict and stress. I began to question why, if we spend over ⅓ of our lives working, do we not spend more time prioritizing employee well-being?
Since being at UNC, I have explored the questions I have always had regarding human behavior through my coursework and research. I have been a part of Dr. Sara Algoe’s Emotions and Social Interactions in Relationships (EASIR) Lab, where I primarily worked on the First-Year and Beyond (FAB) Study, which investigated first year students’ personal, social, and academic experiences on campus. With this lab, I completed an independent research proposal questioning how an empathy intervention may be an effective strategy for improving interpersonal relationships and job satisfaction in the hospitality industry. While in this lab, I found a passion for positive psychology and studying what makes life most worth living. I am now a part of Dr. Barbara Fredrickson’s Positive Emotions and Psychophysiology (PEP) Lab, where I have been studying positivity resonance, a type of interpersonal connection characterized by shared positivity, mutual care and concern, and behavioral and biological synchrony. Last semester, I completed an independent research project on how prioritizing positivity affects our well-being.
While I found myself loving research, I knew I wanted to put the theories into practice, which led me to discover industrial-organizational psychology. I am beyond grateful for the opportunity to explore this field through the Gil Internship Program. I was matched with CareYaya, a start-up company that strives to revolutionize how we provide care for the elderly population. CareYaya matches pre-health university students with families that are seeking non-medical care for their loved ones. I immediately fell in love with the concept of the company, having seen first-hand the flaws of elder care while caring for my grandmother with Alzheimer’s in her final years. The problems with the industry are simple: care is too expensive for the average family and the care is often not of high quality. CareYaya seeks to completely change this.
Neal Shah, the CEO of the company, and my mentor, is the most passionate person I have ever met. The amount of thought and effort he puts into his work is incredibly inspiring. When I first started, I admittedly had no idea where to start. Although I had limited knowledge of industrial-organizational psychology, I knew I wanted to apply my coursework in systems design and analysis to the company. So, I started with simply interviewing caregivers. Through these interviews, I learned everything that worked well with the company, and what needed to be improved. I discovered one thought that was consistent among all caregivers: they wanted training.
Since CareYaya provides non-medical care, caregivers do not need official training in order to work for the company. However, I found that most students desired social skills training, especially when it comes to dementia patients. I knew from my interactions with my grandmother, that caring requires a lot of patience, empathy, and enthusiasm. Through my independent research proposal on empathy training, I was aware that readings, videos, and quizzes would not be beneficial to caregivers. In order to train someone in empathy, you need to be able to fully immerse yourself in someone else’s shoes. CareYaya has used VR in the past for various projects, and through literature review, I knew that using VR to train empathy would be promising.
I recently partnered with a professor from Santa Clara University and will be assisting her lab on a research project which uses VR technology to train caregivers of dementia. I received the VR application and was amazed at how realistic the situations were! I am beyond grateful for the Gil Internship Program, CareYaya, and Neal for giving me the opportunity to combine my interests of positive psychology, industrial-organizational psychology, and information science in such a unique way. After graduating, I hope to pursue a PhD in either cognitive psychology or clinical psychology, with my focus always lying in positive psychology and assisting people with how to thrive in their one “wild and precious life.”