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Samantha Melchiono: Study of human behavior

Samantha Melchiono '14 of Marstons Mills, MA, is a psychology major, honors student, Admissions Ambassador, and manager for Theatre Company. She completed a research project that examined the impact of therapy dogs on children with autism and plans to pursue an MSW degree.

Why did you major in psychology?

I started applying to schools as an English major during my senior year. I never sent the applications, because I changed my mind halfway through an AP psychology course.

I fell in love with the study of the mind and human behavior, and became particularly interested in the clinical aspects of it. I felt inspired to help people who suffer from mental illnesses or behavioral/developmental difficulties.

I re-started the college application process from square one and applied to all psychology programs. It was the best last-minute decision ever.

What has been your experience working with faculty?

The UMass Dartmouth Psychology faculty bring so much knowledge and experience to the classroom, but at the same time are down-to-earth and approachable. I always felt comfortable asking questions, expressing opinions, and taking the lectures further with class discussions. The faculty members are endlessly supportive and legitimately care about the success of their students. I feel more than ready to enter the world of professional clinical psychology, and it's largely due to their guidance and encouragement.

Tell us about you research for the Honors Program.

My study was a huge success, and it's one of my proudest accomplishments, because it was the end result of a lot of hard work and careful planning.

I've spent the past year working on my undergraduate thesis, which was a study examining the impact of trained therapy dogs ("social dogs") on children with autism. My advisor, Dr. Elizabeth Richardson, was incredibly supportive throughout the entire process. I learned a lot from her, and feel lucky to have had the opportunity to work with her.

My study was a huge success, and it's one of my proudest accomplishments, because it was the end result of a lot of hard work and careful planning. It's something that's going to make me stand out when it comes time to apply to graduate school, because it shows I'm capable of doing independent research in my field.

What are your plans following graduation?

I'll be working full-time as a direct care provider at a residential treatment facility for youth ages 10-18. In the fall, I'll apply to graduate programs in Clinical Social Work at Boston College, Boston University, and Simmons College. I'm hoping to start in an MSW program in the fall of 2015.

Tell us about your involvement on campus.

I’ve served as the company manager for the UMass Dartmouth Theatre Company this year, which has been a rewarding experience. I had the opportunity to share my passion for theatre with a group of fellow students I'll never forget! Being able to lead such a great group of people and accomplish all the things that we did taught me a lot about believing in myself and working as a team.

I've also been an Admissions Ambassador for the university, and as a Peer Tutor at the Writing & Reading Center. The students and administrators I've worked with have all had a part in making me who I am today, and the lessons I've learned from them will stay with me forever.

What makes UMass Dartmouth special?

What I’ll never forget about UMass Dartmouth is the sense of community on campus. Everyone looks out for and cares about one another. We take pride in the accomplishments of our classmates and in being a part of this university as a whole. It shows in the dedication of the faculty to their students and the compassion that the students have for each other. We rally together in good times and bad, to celebrate the positives and to support each other when times are tough.

I don't think you'll find another campus where the community is as tight-knit. I’ll always remember the people I shared this campus with, and the sense of belonging that I felt from my first day as a freshman.

What's the most important thing you've learned?

The most important thing I've learned is that above all else, you should never stop believing in yourself. There are going to be good days and bad days throughout your journey, no matter the destination, and it's important to never lose sight of what you're working towards. It will all be worth it in the end, and you'll know when you've gotten to where you are meant to be.

Don't listen to the naysayers and the people telling you that you can't do something. We’re all works in progress, and life is full of endless opportunities to be anything you imagine. Live it without regrets, and if you have a dream, go after it. Work hard, keep an open mind, and "just keep swimming"!

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