October 19, 2016 | Kelsie Cleboski
Shelby Terral faced the transition from her associate degree studies to a bachelor’s degree program feeling shy, uncertain – even a little lost. Three years later, she’s not only a master’s student in psychology at University of Houston-Clear Lake, having already earned her Bachelor of Science in Psychology at UHCL in 2015, but she’s also an enthusiastic leader in the campus community.
Looking back, she says she couldn’t have imagined her transformation.
“I was going from shy little Shelby in this shell and blossoming into not-so-shy Shelby,” she said. “Personal growth has been the biggest thing I’ve gained from UHCL.”
Before attending UHCL, Shelby enjoyed her studies at community college, but she was uninvolved in campus and found leadership roles intimidating. Now?
“People know who I am here, where I used to just fade into the background. I’m helping other students get excited about becoming more active with campus culture,” she said.
Terral has held several leadership positions in student organizations, including the nationally competing Model Arab League Student Organization and Psi Chi, a psychology honor society. She’s also a member of the National Society of Leadership and Success.
As a first-generation college student, Terral said it was difficult not having anyone in her family who could advise her as she started her journey in higher education. However, at UHCL she met many other students facing similar challenges. Terral said it was encouraging to meet other domestic first-generation students as well as international students acclimating to a new country and culture. Fall 2015 enrollment data, the most recent complete data available, indicates about 30 percent of UHCL’s students identify as first-generation students. In 2015, UHCL was also recognized by the Institution of International Education for its growing international enrollment, which reached 1,309 students in the 2014-2015 academic year.
In addition to social enrichment, academic enrichment has been an important part of Terral’s time at UHCL. She’s added to her studies by working in two research labs on campus.
“I learned so much about the research process: developing a research question and hypothesis and putting together a study design,” she said.
Terral first became fascinated by psychology at a high school presentation, where she was struck by the diversity of topics in the field. As her studies advanced, she’s continued following her curiosity to understand the nuances of human behavior. Now, she plans to go on to a doctoral program and make a career in academia, though she’s keeping her options open.
“Social psychology is interested in how the environment and our own situation affects our behaviors,” she said. “I would love to teach social psychology, but going into industry wouldn’t be a bad idea. For example, Facebook hires a lot of social psychologists.”
Terral credits her UHCL professors with encouraging her academic work. She said she’s especially benefited from working in research labs with Assistant Professor of Psychology and Women’s Studies Amanda Johnston and Assistant Professor of Clinical Psychology Steve Bistricky as well as learning from Associate Professor of Anthropology and Cross-Cultural Studies Maria Curtis, who advises UHCL’s Model Arab League Student Organization.
Johnston has taught Terral in class as well as supervised her research and said she’s been impressed by her student’s transformation.
“Shelby has evolved from a quiet and reserved student who rarely (if ever) spoke during class to a student who regularly participates during class, seeks leadership opportunities and demonstrates a healthy level of confidence regarding her thoughts and ideas when engaging with her peers and faculty,” she said, noting Terral’s many on-campus activities. “Shelby’s presence on campus is impressive, and I’m proud of the way she challenged herself to step outside her comfort zone and seek these various opportunities.”
Terral has primarily studied group dynamics, with a focus on stereotypes and sexism in interactions between men and women. Johnston said Terral’s research has grown, just as she has.
“As an undergraduate, Shelby developed an independent project examining perceptions of neosexism. Now as a graduate student, she is the lead researcher on a project examining the perceptions of how sexism has evolved during the past 50 years and the expectations for the future,” she said. “Shelby’s research is a valuable addition to our understanding of the psychology of sexism.”
For college students getting their start, Terral encourages them to dive in to campus life.
“Get out there. Go to Student Org Expo; go to I Heart UHCL Day; look at those emails about events. It’s so worth it. It makes the experience so much more worthwhile,” she said.
For 40 years, UH-Clear Lake has empowered individuals to find their passion and pursue their goals. This #UHCLempowered profile series celebrates the students, alumni, faculty and staff who impact their communities and the world. Follow the #UHCLempowered hashtag on social media to learn more about how the university is changing lives. To empower the next generation of UHCL students, find out how you can support the university at www.uhcl.edu/giving.
Find out more about campus life by calling UHCL Office of Student Life at 281-283-2560 or visiting www.uhcl.edu/studentlife. To explore psychology programs in the College of Human Sciences and Humanities, visit www.uhcl.edu/hsh.