Erika Pugh, a senior from Memphis, is working to change the world of neuropsychology after graduation from UT Martin.
“Upon completing a post doctorate in neuropsychology, I plan to work in a hospital. I would like to study neurodegenerative diseases and also traumatic brain injuries,” she said. “I hope that from my research I can develop methods for rehabilitation and institute those methods to help people have a better standard of life.”
Pugh, a psychology major with an official minor in biology, also has what she calls an “unofficial minor” in French.
“I have always loved the French language,” she said. “I hope to use it to communicate on medical mission trips to Africa and assimilate better into their culture,” she added, noting that the majority of the world’s French-speakers live in Africa and speak French as a second language. Pugh has already participated in one medical mission trip to Jamaica to deliver health care to the underserved populations on the island in 2012.
Pugh originally chose to attend UT Martin because of the close proximity to home and the availability of financial aid options. However, she ultimately remained a Skyhawk because of the small class sizes, close professor-student relationships and wide variety of leadership opportunities.
The personalized relationships Pugh has developed with her professors, especially in the Department of Behavioral Sciences, have helped her feel comfortable and supported as an individual as well as a student.
“I never thought I would feel close to people a lot older than me, but I feel close to them – enough that I can just pop into their offices unannounced and they’ll welcome me like I’m their best friend. And I’ve learned so much from them, from what’s actually in their field to what they’ve learned just from being knowledgeable about so many things,” she said. Pugh feels the Department of Behavioral Sciences in particular has done a wonderful job of challenging her intellectually and helping push her toward her personal and academic goals.
Pugh is involved in the Eta Xi chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., Psi Chi International Honor Society in Psychology and French Club. She is also currently serving as a senator from the College of Education, Health, and Behavioral Sciences in the Student Government Association and has been involved in a service-learning project with Cynthia West, associate professor and chair of the Department of Behavioral Sciences, during which she helped conduct a quality assessment survey for Carey Counseling Center, Inc., which has five locations in northwest Tennessee.
Pugh said these types of leadership opportunities are part of what has helped her grow into the person she is today. “There are so many opportunities here at UT Martin. It’s easy to find a position and learn how to be a leader so that, when you get into the real world, you’ll have the qualities you need to be a leader and be successful,” she said.
In addition to her campus involvement, Pugh is also part of the University Scholars Program, an exclusive group offered through Honors Programs and reserved for those who have been named University Scholars, the highest academic honor given at UT Martin. Part of the requirements for a University Scholar to keep his or her honor is to complete a two-year scholarly research project and present that research to a panel of professors. Pugh is currently analyzing her research and preparing to defend her project this spring.
“I created an original survey on the interaction between education and how it influences attitudes toward bioethical procedures,” she explained. Pugh asked participants about their level of completed education and then provided them with background information on the issues of stem cell research, pharmaceutical regulations, and full disclosure and informed consent laws and asked for their opinions. “Hopefully I can see a relationship between the education and the attitudes, which could help legislation be passed that would be more applicable toward bioethical procedures,” she said.
Being a part of the University Scholars Program has also given Pugh the opportunity to “branch out of [her] little bio-psych bubble” by interacting with professors and academic speakers from all areas of academia. These relationships, combined with her personal research work, “is something that’s hard to come by and something that will help you grow not only as an academic but as a person also,” she said.
Pugh, who will graduate in May, is currently applying to graduate programs at the University of Houston in Texas, the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania, American University in Washington, D.C., and the University of Buffalo in N.Y. “I’ve been in Tennessee all my life, so I figure it’s time to try something new,” she said.
When asked about her overall UT Martin experience, Pugh replied ecstatically, “I’ve never regretted it.”