As a researcher in educational psychology, associate and interim dean of the College of Arts & Sciences (CAS), and a member of the UMass Dartmouth faculty since 1994, Dr. Amy Shapiro says all her academic, administrative, and professional experiences have prepared her for her new role as director of the Honors College.
“I have a wide perspective on the university experience, campus life, and education,” she said. “I know how UMassD systems work, what is in place, and the areas that are ripe for growth. Most importantly, I’ve learned how important collaboration is between academic departments, faculty, students, student support services, and administration.”
She sees much potential for the Honors College and its students. “I want the college to serve as an engine of economic and social mobility for our students, especially those who have been traditionally underserved,” she said. “Talent and drive should be nurtured and supported so that students can reach their potential. What an honor to serve in this capacity!”
Honors College enrollment has increased by 30% in last year as new opportunities are offered
The Honors College was established at UMass Dartmouth just two years ago as part of the statewide Commonwealth Honors Scholars Program. Enrollment increased by 40% in the first year and 30% last year. Students are invited to join the college based on their UMass Dartmouth application. A minimum GPA of 3.2 is required, although “it’s not GPA alone we look for,” said Shapiro. “Students who have shown themselves to be deep thinkers, creative, and motivated are ideal for this program.” The average GPA of this year’s class is 3.8.
Once enrolled, Honors College students can select from an array of highly stimulating course offerings with smaller class sizes and greater student-faculty interaction. Or, they can adapt almost any class to the honors level with the approval of the instructor. As part of this vibrant, rigorous, and interdisciplinary educational community, students can live in dedicated living and learning spaces, engage in research, take on leadership positions, and participate in high-impact enrichment activities. At graduation, Honors College students receive special recognition on their transcripts, diplomas, and at the Honors Convocation.
The APEX (Academic Project or Experience) is the culmination of the Honors College education. Students can choose one of three tracks for an original, independent project: traditional research, performance/expression, or applied/service for students doing work in the community or in another applied setting.
Shapiro is excited about the new dedicated living and learning space for Honors College students and other unique benefits including access to housing usually reserved for upper class students, early registration for classes, eligibility for Honors scholarships, faculty talks and seminars in the residence halls, Student Council-run fun events and excursions, mentoring for graduate school and funding applications, and faculty-led alternate spring break trips. Some of the events enjoyed by honors students this year are trips to theater performances, apple picking, trivia nights, movie nights, and more.
“I would like every high-performing talented student to have the opportunity to enroll in the Honors College,” said Shapiro. “It turns the campus into a smaller university within the university.”
Research in educational psychology focuses on learning and false memories
Shapiro earned a bachelor of arts degree in French and a bachelor of science degree in psychology from Tufts University and her master’s degree in psychology and a doctorate in cognitive science from Brown University. Following a two-year postdoctoral research fellowship at the University of California at Berkley’s School of Education, she joined the UMass Dartmouth faculty as assistant professor of psychology. She served as associate dean of graduate studies and research in CAS from 2013-2017 and as interim dean of the college from 2017-2018. That year, she also served as acting chair of the Educational Leadership Department, then returned to her associate dean role for one year before returning to the faculty full-time last fall.
Her research has focused primarily on understanding the cognition underlying learning in complex domains with educational technology, as well as the cognition underlying false memories. She has studied ways in which hypermedia and learner characteristics interact to affect learning outcomes in these domains as well as the effects of learning with classroom clickers.
“My experiments have looked at learning outcomes when I manipulate things like the order or structure of information, or the kinds of questions asked by the instructor,” Shapiro explains. “I examine the learning outcomes for students with high or low expertise in the topic, metacognitive ability, grade level, and other learner characteristics.”
Shapiro’s research in cognition involves false memories. “A lot people believe that memory is like a tape recorder. But memory is constantly reconstructed. When we recall it, it’s not an exact copy. We relate it to other information like preconceived notions and prior knowledge. We store it within that context, which is not always exactly what we experience. We all have false memories and false memories feel very real. Like when you’re talking to a friend or family member and you each have a different memory of an event or experience."
Her most recent research explores baseless belief and misinformation acceptance. Funded by the Provost’s Seed Funding program, that work explores cognitive and personality factors that contribute to the growing phenomenon of conspiracy belief.
Shapiro has published numerous articles and book chapters and has won external grant funding from the James S. McDonnell Foundation and the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Educational Sciences.
As associate and assistant dean, Shapiro partnered with faculty to develop several undergraduate and graduate programs, including the bachelor’s degrees in economics and healthcare services administration, the PhD in integrative biology, and the STEM Education doctoral program. She also developed and managed several internal CAS grant programs, including the CAS Undergraduate Summer Research Fellow program. As interim dean, Shapiro expanded the STAR Center staff and created peer support groups for students identified as high-risk. She oversaw development of a CAS advisory council and was a member of the core leadership team for the most recent campus NECHE accreditation review. She also partnered with Bristol Community College to create a 2+2 program designed to support at-risk students in attaining a bachelor’s degree.
She was recently named co-chair of the search committee for the next provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs along with Vice Chancellor for Research Ramprasad Balasubramanian.