A class in cognitive psychology with the chair of the Psychology Department, Prof. Lisa Geraci, fascinated Melissa DiPano because she learned that a lot of things she had been taught – like the misconception that students have different “learning styles” – were just flat-out wrong.

“Cognitive psychology answered a lot of questions that I’ve had throughout life,” DiPano says. “Getting the answers to those questions was really rewarding.”

So DiPano, a psychology major, reached out to Geraci and asked about research opportunities. Geraci had several projects ready to go and gave DiPano her choice. DiPano picked one on “neuromyths,” commonly held misconceptions about learning and the brain.

DiPano and Geraci wanted to figure out if people would correct their belief in these neuromyths if told that they were wrong, and whether they would then use that new information or fall back on the neuromyths when reasoning about the world. They found that even if people corrected their initial beliefs, they still fell back on their original beliefs when asked to think about real-life scenarios.

DiPano presented her research at the 2020 virtual Student Research and Community Engagement Symposium. It also formed the basis of her Honors College thesis. 

More importantly, it inspired her to pursue graduate psychology programs.

“I think I just lucked out as much as a psychology major possibly can. Prof. Geraci does really interesting research,” DiPano says.

DiPano changed her own mind – about learning a foreign language while at UMass Lowell. Four semesters of world languages and culture are required for most majors within the College of Fine Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences. DiPano, whose mother is from Ecuador, decided to study Spanish, but she wasn’t happy about it.

“I had a bad language experience in high school, so I thought I’d just do it to meet my requirements – and then I had such a positive experience with a faculty member who I had almost every semester: Max Ubelaker Andrade,” she says. “He was the best.”

Ubelaker Andrade, an assistant teaching professor in Latin American studies, spurred DiPano to complete a second major in Spanish. A summer study abroad program at the University of Cádiz in Spain led by the chair of the World Languages and Cultures Department, Prof. Maria Matz, allowed DiPano to complete her requirements while still graduating on time.

Her senior year, DiPano also worked for a semester as an undergraduate research assistant for Psychology Asst. Prof. Miko Wilford, who researches decisions about plea bargains.

That experience led DiPano to apply for an internship with the Mental Health Litigation Division of the Committee for Public Counsel Services, which began shortly after she graduated. She is working there while studying for the GRE and applying to Ph.D. programs in cognitive psychology.

DiPano says she came to UMass Lowell because of its strong psychology program and because she fell in love with the campus and the city when she visited. She says Lowell was just the right size for her first experience of living away from home: not too big, but not “stuck in the middle of nowhere.”

“There was always stuff to do on the weekend downtown, like the farmers’ markets and great restaurants,” she says. “I’m a runner, too, and having a safe environment to go and run and explore was really important. I love running around Lowell.”