Member in Focus: Thelma Hunt research grant winner Ashley Whillans


Ashley Whillans, Dr. Michael Souza, and Brianna Morrow

When Psi Chi member Ashley Whillans declared her major in psychology at UBC in 2009, she found herself overwhelmed by the large number of students in her classes. There was some sense of disconnect in the undergraduate psychology community. Along with Dr. Michael Souza, our former faculty advisor, and her fellow Psi Chi members Jenn Ferris and Brianna Morrow, Ashley successfully applied for the Psi Chi International Thelma Hunt Research Grant to improve students’ university experience.

The Thelma Hunt Research Grant

The Thelma Hunt Research Grant is a grant of $3000 USD, empowering students in Psi Chi to engage in projects that “help produce well-educated, ethical, and socially responsible members committed to contributing to the science and profession of psychology and to society in general.” With the grant, in 2012, Ashley, Jenn, Brianna, and Dr. Souza founded the Student Engagement Program, an initiative to connect students with resources in the UBC psychology community.

A key part of the program involved matching more junior students with advanced undergraduate mentors. “[These more junior] students really appreciated that they had a peer mentor, that they had someone to talk to,” Ashley explained in a Skype interview. “Some of these students might not feel comfortable talking to a prof, but they might talk to a student.”

In addition to giving junior students a stronger sense of social support, Ashley and her colleagues wanted to give senior students new opportunities to be involved in the UBC psychology community. “It’s actually hard for students to get experience in the Psychology department that is not research-focused. That was another goal of our program: to not only get students more broadly engaged, but to engage senior undergrads in roles that allowed them to be a leader without being in research.”

“There’s always room to grow in working to connect more students to each other.”

When asked to reflect on the impact of the Student Engagement Program, Ashley noted that the program was just one “part of a larger set of programs—the Psychology Undergraduate Research Journal, the Psychology Students’ Association, Psi Chi, and the Psyched! Newsletter—that were designed for the explicit purpose of connecting students.”

Ashley believes that this set of programs has strengthened the UBC psychology community.  “I really do think before this collection of programs and initiative was created that it was difficult for students who didn’t work in a lab […] to be integrated in the department.” Ashley and Dr. Souza are now writing papers for publication based on their work with the Student Engagement Program.

The deadline for this year’s Thelma Hunt Research Grant applications is now approaching. To students who are considering applying this year, Ashley suggested perhaps “helping students bridge the gap between what they learn in the classroom and what they’ll do in the real world.”

This year, UBC’s Psi Chi chapter wants to help connect students with possible mentorship opportunities. If you’re a student and you have questions about Ashley’s experiences with Psi Chi International’s Thelma Hunt Research Grant, please email us at We can put you in contact with her.

For more information about Psi Chi awards, please visit our website.

– Brandon M. Woo and Natalie Wong