Jessica Lucas-Nihei, a fifth-year student in the doctoral program in school psychology, is a 2018 recipient of the Ora Bretall Graduate Scholarship. In 2012 she graduated magma cum laude from DePaul University in Chicago with a major in psychology–human development concentration and a minor in game development.

As an undergraduate, Lucas-Nihei originally wanted to double major in psychology and game development. She enjoyed the individual aspects of each field of study as well as how these two seemingly different topics interact with one another. As she progressed through her course work, she realized that game development was more of a personal hobby, while psychology was her professional calling.

“I chose the human development concentration as my area of focus within psychology because then I believed that the best approach to helping children is to directly interact with them through therapy, and then indirectly impact them by collaborating with their parents and teachers,” Lucas-Nihei said. “My thought was to help them on all fronts, if you will. As I began preparing to apply to graduate school programs, I quickly realized that school psychology was the best subfield of psychology for me to pursue to follow my professional calling.”

Lucas-Nihei proposed her dissertation research project, “Mediating the Relation between Parent-Child Attachment Relationships and Peer Acceptance with Preschoolers’ Self-Regulation,” in January. Of the estimated 112 child participants she needs to recruit, her research team in Associate Professor Alycia Hund’s research laboratory has recruited 71 participants from local early childhood programs. (Parents who would like to learn more about how to participate in child and adolescent development studies at the Children’s Research Lab may begin by completing the online participation form.)

Once she has obtained her doctoral degree in school psychology, Lucas-Nihei plans to work in a public school system serving prekindergarten through fifth grade students to fulfill the school hours requirement for the Nationally Certified School Psychologist credential. She also wants to pursue a career in academia as a faculty member in a university’s department of psychology. Lucas-Nihei is interested in teaching at both the undergraduate and graduate levels as well as continuing her research focusing on early childhood, self-regulation, parent-child relationships, and peer relationships.

The Ora Bretall Graduate Scholarship fund was established through the estate gift of Ora J. Bretall. The scholarship is awarded on a one-time basis to persons enrolled in graduate programs at Illinois State whose proposal of master’s thesis or doctoral dissertation deals with issues of educational theory or religious thought. The recipient of an award shall be involved in study and research that adds to the existing knowledge base of the above fields of study.