First place in a NASA competition. An internship at Boeing. Creation of an app that was a finalist in a national technology competition. Psychology graduate student Stephanie Six has taken full advantage of the opportunities that have come her way, and by the time she graduates in 2024, Six will have a jump start on her career in aeronautics.
“Each competition is an opportunity to show what I have learned over the last seven years as an undergraduate and graduate student,” Six said. “It is a chance to use the skills I have developed in psychology and apply them to other areas.”
Although Six applied to other graduate programs throughout the country with the goal of studying clinical neuropsychology, a short conversation with Cynthia Pury, Ph.D., and Kaileigh Byrne, Ph.D., two faculty members in the Department of Psychology, during her undergraduate thesis defense changed the trajectory of her career. Before that conversation, Six had no idea there was an entire subfield of psychology dedicated to areas such as problem-solving and safety.
“I went home, did some research, and decided to apply to the program,” Six said. “Dr. Byrne reached out, asking if I wanted to be her graduate student, and I happily agreed. Sometimes, all it takes is one conversation and an hour-long Google deep dive to change the direction of your life.”
The Dream of a Lifetime
A lover of all things space-related, Six could not pass up the opportunity to be a part of NASA’s Proposal Writing and Evaluation Experience (NPWEE), a 12-week program with NASA and Arizona State University (ASU) that helps students from all backgrounds gain experience and learn how to write and review high-quality fundable proposals.
As a graduate student, Six had experience writing academic proposals, but not as much practice with industry-fundable proposals. She was placed on a team with nine other students with a wide variety of backgrounds in human health, computer science, engineering and astronomy. They worked together to develop a new product concept for NASA that could help improve the health and performance of the astronauts while in orbit during the Artemis Missions.
She and her team created a six-step iterative plan that included the creation of an itemized budget, a list of materials, potential lab spaces, and subject matter experts all with the goal of creating a fully tangible and functioning prototype. Out of nearly twenty teams, her team was one of two that received the first-place reward of a $10,000 grant.
“I have always wanted to work for NASA. The fact that our team will now be working closely with NASA over the next year or two to make our prototype a reality is a dream come true,” Six said. “The overall experience was truly something I will never forget.”
An app to help conquer mental health issues
As part of her master’s thesis, Six created an app, AirHeart, to help individuals with depression reduce their negative symptoms through interactive modules utilizing cognitive behavioral therapy, problem-solving, meditation and games. In her study, she showed that using the app over a 14-day period led to significantly lower levels of depressive symptoms.
With encouragement from a friend in her department, she submitted the app and data for a competition hosted by the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society (HFES). At the end of January, she received a notification that AirHeart had been selected for the semi-finals of the competition.
HFES assigned her team an industry expert who helped create a game plan for how to secure a spot in the finals. Over the course of about three weeks, the team completed six personas, a journey map, competitor analysis heuristic evaluations and user testing. During this process, she completely remodeled AirHeart through an online software called Figma.
About a month later, she was informed that AirHeart had been selected as one of the finalists for the competition and that she could present her work at the HFES health care symposium in Orlando, Florida.
“I was so honored and thrilled to be able to present my work to a group of passionate, like-minded researchers,” Six said.
While her app did not win first place, Six was encouraged by different app development company representatives who said her app had a solid start to becoming a reality.
“They told me my product could help reach a lot of people, and I should keep going to make AirHeart available to the public,” Six said. “These kind words definitely made all the long hours and hard work worth it in the end.”
Looking beyond the classroom
She has worked in the psychology department’s Cognition and Decision Science (CADS) lab as both an undergraduate and graduate student at Clemson. During that time, she has participated in many different projects designing products for individuals with symptoms of mood disorders like depression and anxiety. Her research finds how everyday products, like smartphone apps, can be designed to be more user-friendly for different populations. Her goal is to provide useful insights and findings for designing mental health applications using human factors principles and techniques.
“Stephanie is a highly driven, creative go-getter who consistently takes the initiative to challenge herself and advance her skillset,” said Byrne, who has worked with Six in the CADS lab for six years. “Under all of her hard work and dedication is a strong motivation to use her scientific knowledge and skills to help others through technology.”
Six’s career goals include working in the aerospace industry as a human factors specialist or as a part of a human systems integration team. She says she would love to be a part of the research, development and testing operations for a company like NASA or Boeing. And she is getting a head start this summer during her internship for Boeing’s internal research division.
“My ultimate goal is to help make products and environments safer and more user-friendly, especially for the people in the military. They are dedicating years of their lives to protect and serve the U.S.,” Six said, “and I would like to do my part to protect and help them by using what I have learned at Clemson and through my internships.”
The Department of Psychology is in the College of Behavioral, Social and Health Sciences (CBSHS). Established in July 2016, CBSHS is a 21st-century, land-grant college that combines work in seven disciplines – communication; nursing; parks, recreation and tourism management; political science; psychology; public health sciences; sociology, anthropology and criminal justice – to further its mission of “building people and communities” in South Carolina and beyond.
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