Contact: Lisa Sollie
MERIDIAN, Miss.— Many people say they want to change the world. One Mississippi State Meridian undergraduate student wants to help individuals change their own world.
Caelan Martin, a psychology major from Philadelphia, took her first psychology class as a freshman at East Central Community College. Her interest piqued, she decided to pursue a degree in the field at MSU-Meridian. Two years later the highest honors graduate, Riley Scholar and recent inductee of Psi Chi National Honor Society has been named the recipient of the Dennis J. Mitchell Award for Undergraduate Academic Excellence and Outstanding Undergraduate student in the Division of Arts & Sciences.
“Four years ago, I picked psychology because I thought it was interesting, but I honestly didn’t have a plan or know what I was going to do with it,” she admitted. “Through my classes here at MSU-Meridian and the help of my professors, I have a clearer picture of what I want to do and how to get there.”
Martin, who has aspirations of being a behavior analyst, was recently accepted into the Master of Science in Educational Psychology with a concentration in Applied Behavior Analysis degree program at MSU's Starkville campus.
“I’ve always liked working with kids, and considered being a teacher,” she said, “but this is the field I feel called to. I will still get to work with children, preferably those with autism or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder—I’ll just do so in a different capacity.”
Applied behavior analysis is the science of applying the principles of learning to change socially significant behavior. In other words, behavior analysts use principles of learning to change behavior that matters. ABA can be used to increase academic, communication and functional life skills; or to decrease inappropriate or problematic behaviors that may be negatively impacting a person.
Helping navigate a changed behavior through applied behavior analysis is a way for Martin to make a difference, not just in an individual, but for a family.
“If I can help a child with autism or ADHD learn how to appropriately interact in social settings, for example, then I’ve not only changed that child’s life—but his/her entire family,” she said. “I also want to help erase the stigma surrounding diagnosis like these and bring more awareness because I can’t stand to see people treated differently because others see them as less than.”
When not in the classroom, Martin is busy babysitting her baby cousin, helping teach Sunday School to 4-and 5-year-olds with her mom at New Zion United Pentecostal Church, starting an embroidery business and being a Jumpstart volunteer.
The Jumpstart literacy program, funded through a three-year grant from the Phil Hardin Foundation, is a national early education organization that recruits and trains college students to serve pre-school children and help them develop the language and literacy skills they need to be ready for kindergarten. Through the grant, MSU-Meridian provides volunteers to work with pre-K4 students in identified schools within the Meridian Public School District.
Uninterested at first, she joined the program at the suggestion of a friend.
“I’m very glad I did—I’ve loved it,” she said, “but I also believe working in Jumpstart helped me confirm the calling God placed on life to pursue this degree in educational psychology and not teaching.”
Faith is essential to Martin and is the guiding force in everything she does, so she understands why people were somewhat shocked to hear she was studying psychology in college and intends to continue in the field in graduate school.
“The common belief is that psychology and faith are like oil and water,” she said, “and I admit it has often been hard to have a faith-based approach, especially in my psychology classes. But I’d like to bring the two together. I want to use the training I receive—combined with my faith—and be a positive influence through helping individuals overcome. There are a lot of things I could not have accomplished these past four years without my faith and without God pulling me through. I give all the glory to Him.”