Commencement Spotlight: Catherine Pope '21

Psychology major Catherine Pope creates a resource manual for survivors of domestic violence that demonstrates new APEX research experience developed by the Honors College

Psychology major, Honors College student
Catherine Pope '21 worked with the Domestic Violence Institute during her junior year Dukakis Fellowship and for her final Honors Project, culminating with a resource manual for victims.

“Many people ask domestic violence survivors why they didn’t leave sooner and the answer to this is often complex,” says psychology major and Honors College student Catherine Pope ’21 of Berkley, MA, who has worked with victims in her undergraduate research and as a volunteer.

“Abuse is complex and erodes many areas of a victim’s life. Abusers often control finances, isolate victims from their support system, and create a large amount of dependence on them,” continued Pope. “These obstacles make it extremely hard for a victim to leave the situation as they may be leaving only to end up on the streets with no food, housing, or income.”

As a Michael Dukakis Public Intern Fellow during her junior year, Pope worked with the Domestic Violence Institute at Northeastern University. For her senior Honors thesis, Pope continued to work with the institute to create a resource manual for survivors of domestic violence who need resources beyond the legal aid the institute provides.

“The manual provides resources in key areas which survivors of abuse need to stabilize in order to ensure a sustained escape from their abuser,” explains Pope. “My psychology major was extremely helpful in the formation of this manual.”

The manual, Pope explains, provides survivors with an increased sense of self-efficacy. “Self- efficacy in this context is the faith in yourself that you are capable of completing what needs to be done. The resource manual puts control back into the hands of the survivor, which increases their self-efficacy, leading to a positive upward spiral of independence.”

New independent project opportunties culminate the Honors College education

This project represents a new APEX (Academic Project or Experience) created for Honors College seniors. Rather than require a final project only involving traditional research, the Honors College created the APEX to reflect the college’s learner-directed pedagogical philosophy and to allow students to explore their educational interests and career goals through an individually chosen independent project, explains Professor and Honors College Director Catherine Villanueva Gardner.

Culminating the Honors College experience, the APEX consists of three possible tracks in traditional or classic research, performance/expression, or applied/service, which reflects internships.

“I greatly enjoyed the freedom that this project provided me with. I was able to continue working with an organization that is in line with my passions and goals,” said Pope. “There are two main tracks in psychology; research and clinical. I definitely want to go into the clinical end of things, so I have been building my skills in this area. The Applied Service APEX allowed me to continue gaining experience on the track I am most interested in.”

Fascinated by “our internal worlds,” Pope decided to major in psychology. “Psychology allows us to see deeper within people, to really understand them, why they behave the way they do, and who they are at the deepest level. I have found psychology to help me understand myself so much better.”

An independent project Pope presented at the National Regional Honors Conference this spring entitled "Decriminalization is not enough: Addiction as mental health," explored why decriminalizing drugs is the first step in beginning to tackle the drug epidemic in America. “When you remove the criminalization of drugs without adding adequate care for those addicted to drugs you only tackle half of the problem,” Pope said.

Pope created a support community for UMassD students

Pope has not hesitated to help others while earning her degree. The recipient of the William B. Bulger Presidential Scholarship as well as the Rick Pitino Presidential Scholarship, she received the Louside M. Goodrum Unsung Heroes Award for her work on campus as the founder of the UMass Dartmouth Collegiate Recovery Community, a program for students struggling with substance misuse disorder.

She also worked on the Cambridge Women’s Center hotline with volunteers who provided emotional support or resources for women—a shelter for the night, a listening ear, or resource referrals.

Pope plans to earn a master’s degree in clinical mental health and become a licensed clinical counselor, operating her own practice where she can combine holistic treatments with evidence-based psychology practices. She will continue volunteering to help survivors of domestic violence and those with substance misuse disorder.

“I am forever grateful for my experience at UMass Dartmouth,” said Pope. “All of my professors have been incredibly engaging, helpful, and left a lasting impression on me. Every staff member I have encountered has been helpful. I am so grateful for everything this university has done for me.”


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College of Arts and Sciences, Departments Psychology, Features Commencement, Features Honors College, Features Student Research