Skip to content

Psychology in the News

Psychology and Chancellor’s Spring 2020 Awards for Graduate Students


Congratulations to all our undergraduate students who received awards this spring. Although we were unable to celebrate your success together, we applaud your achievement and are delighted to honor all our award recipients.

Departmental Teaching Award

The graduate student teaching award is based primarily on nominations directly from our undergraduate students.  The recipient receives $100. Nominees were Autumn Rae Florimbio, Emily Keller, Cara McClain, and Sean Murphy. This year’s winner is Autumn Rae Florimbio.

Autumn Rae Florimbio has taught general psychology (PSYC 110) and, more recently, abnormal psychology (PSYC 330) in our department. One of her nominators said that she, “has dedicated tireless work into her class preparation and helping her students in any way possible…her transition to online lectures” was “seamless” thanks to her organization and effort. Another noted, “This semester she made her classroom a safe place. I learned so much about psychology [but]… also lessons about life and after taking her class I feel like I better contribute to society.”

Departmental Research Awards

The graduate teaching awards are the culminating research acknowledgement from the department. We are very grateful to our alum and chair of the Psychology Advisory Board, Carol Ronka, for providing the funds that allow us to give the recipients of the Outstanding Graduate Student Research Award $1,000 each.

Clinical Research Award

Katie Lenger started her stellar trajectory at UT by obtaining external funding for her work via the prestigious Varela Award from the Mind and Life Institute in her second year at UT, which is an extraordinary accomplishment. She developed and implemented a brief, home-based, mindfulness intervention that successfully decreased stress and improved relationship functioning with low-income community couples. To accomplish this goal, she used focus group information to create a sophisticated treatment manual for the intervention and already has a book agent asking her to turn this manual into a book. Even more impressively, Katie won an American Psychological Association dissertation award for her work on this project. She has more than 15 publications (five of which are first-authored), and many more under review or in preparation.

Katie embodies the clinical program’s Tennessee Model, as her work is always community based clinically applicable, thus it has great potential to have an impact on the community instead of languishing in a journal. Finally, Katie has a deep commitment to understanding how improving mindfulness skills can improve people’s lives. In this way she fully lives what it means to be a scientist-practitioner.

In summary, Katie is clearly a clinical research star in the making. She is passionate about exploring mindfulness interventions with underserved populations and committed to doing this work to the highest standards. She has extraordinary potential to become a productive and innovative researcher and clinician focusing on mindfulness and its applications to psychological and relational health. She greatly deserves this award.

Counseling Research Award

During his four years at UT, Elliot Spengler has developed methodological and theoretical expertise in the study of mental health care, with a focus on systemic inequalities faced by sexual minorities in mental health care access and treatment. His recently defended dissertation, supported by an American Psychological Association Dissertation Award, validated a comprehensive model of sexual minority health care engagement; this sophisticated work makes an important empirical contribution and attempts to shift the focus away from “help-seeking” and toward mental health care engagement as a collaborative and contextually situated process.

In addition to clinical practice throughout the Knoxville region and advocacy work with the Tennessee Equality Project, Elliot has participated in multiple grant-funded projects and co-authored 11 publications in journals such as Journal of Counseling Psychology, Psychotherapy, and Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, including three as first author. He will join the University of Virginia’s counseling center this summer as pre-doctoral intern.

Experimental Research Award

During her time in our department, Brittany Coppinger has excelled at the three key components of R1 academic life – research, teaching, and service. She has carried out a series of experiments that reveal how sensitive individual songbirds are to variation in their immediate social environment, in terms of those individuals’ calling behavior and response to threatening contexts. She is the lead author on four co-authored and peer-reviewed manuscripts, including two in the flagship journal for the field of animal behavior. She helped fund her research with two external grants she obtained. She has been a regular presenter of her research at science conferences since her undergraduate days. Brittany had been the instructor of record for five different classes for our department. She has served as the president, vice president, and secretary of the Psychology Graduate Student Association, was one of the key local hosts for the ill-fated summer 2020 Animal Behavior Society meeting here at UT, has twice judged the EUReCA poster competition, was a Dean’s Advisory Board Member, and has reviewed manuscripts for two different journals. She has an infectious enthusiasm for science and teaching, and has been an exemplary graduate student.

Deborah Rhatigan Award in Women’s Health

The Deborah Rhatigan Award in Women’s Health honors our late colleague, Deborah Rhatigan, and her passion for women’s health by supporting graduate student research on this critical topic. The winner receives $1,000. This year’s winner of the Deborah Rhatigan Award in Women’s Health is Samantha Noose for her project, The Intergenerational Transmission of Emotion Processing Deficits in Socially Anxious Mothers and their Children: An Event-Related Potential (ERP) Study. Sam’s study aims to examine the possible intergenerational transmission of social anxiety disorder through the examination of event-related potentials (ERP) in mothers and their children. The award committee noted that Sam’s project had clear connections to women’s health and important implications related to prevention and intervention of social anxiety disorder. This award will allow Sam to travel to an international conference to build skills in ERP methodology, furthering this project and her broader program of research.

2020 Commission for Women’s Inaugural Rising Woman Award

Meagan Brem is a sixth-year clinical psychology doctoral student. Her research examines theoretical models of partner violence, with a specific emphasis on individual and contextual factors that increase the likelihood of alcohol-related partner violence. For her dissertation, Meagan collected data from a sample of 236 college students every day for 60 days to determine contextual factors (e.g., jealousy) that increased the likelihood that dating violence would occur after alcohol use. Next year, Meagan will complete a predoctoral internship in Clinical Psychology at the Medical University of South Carolina/Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center for her final year of doctoral training. She plans to pursue an academic research position that will allow her to investigate efficacious partner violence prevention strategies. Her achievements include receiving a National research Service Award (F31) from NIH and a Visionary Grant from the American Psychological Foundation, publishing 40 articles in peer-reviewed journals (17 as first author), being named Outstanding Student Researcher by the Society for Science of Clinical Psychology, receiving the Distinguished Student Research Award from the APA’s Society of Clinical Psychology, and receiving the Student Merit Award from the Research Society on Alcoholism.

Chancellor’s 2020 Extraordinary Professional Promise Awards

Extraordinary Professional Promise honors are awarded to graduate students who demonstrate professional promise in teaching, research, or other contributions. This year’s winners are Hannah Grigorian and Emily Keller.

The flagship campus of the University of Tennessee System and partner in the Tennessee Transfer Pathway.