Triple Threat from New York
Milissa Rydzik '11 (right) is presented with Limestone's Psychology Excellence Award by Dr. Randall Wolfe, Chair of the College's Psychology Department.

By Alicia Smith '12

Limestone senior and psychology major Milissa Rydzik is a triple threat: an academic scholar who is already distinguishing herself as a skilled researcher, a musician whose talent can only be surpassed by her warm personality, and a stellar athlete who has made a name for herself on both the track and cross country teams.

This summer, the Binghamton, New York native is one of only 10 students, out of more than 500 applicants, participating in the National Science Foundation 2011 Summer Program in Applied Psychology at Clemson University, a highly selective internship program that provides students with an opportunity to conduct research on real-world issues that they may face as psychologists.

Throughout her internship, Milissa has been working with Dr. Paul Merritt, Assistant Professor of Psychology at Clemson University. Their study, "Fitness and the Workplace," explores, as Milissa describes, the "relationship between physical fitness and/or acute exercise and specific cognitive processes linked to workplace health and safety, mood and well-being."

Since the study was already underway when Milissa started, she spends most of her time collecting fitness measurements and cognitive assessments from participants before and after they perform a simulated exercise. When Milissa completes the data collection portion of the study, she "will put together a paper and poster to present at our end of the internship conference." Milissa hopes to continue working on the project during the school year and conduct a final analysis to present at the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology Conference in California next April.

Milissa's first experience conducting research came in the fall of 2010 when she enrolled in a required "Introduction to Experimental Psychology" course at Limestone. For an assignment, she had to create a study and perform the tests and analyses herself. Her project dealt with body image dissatisfaction among African-American female athletes and African-American female non-athletes. After surveying 40 students, her research concluded that "African-American female athletes are more satisfied with their bodies than the non-athletes." In April 2010, Milissa presented the study at the South Carolina Psychological Association Conference in Myrtle Beach, SC.

Dr. Randall Wolfe, Limestone Associate Professor of Psychology and Chair of the Department of Psychology, believes that it is Milissa's organizational skills and dedication to excellence that not only sets her apart from other students but makes her a skilled researcher. "I think very highly of her skills as a researcher, but like many things, there is a learning curve, and I think that she is far along that curve. There are many methods of doing research in psychology, and that is why I am glad that she has the opportunity to engage in research this summer at Clemson."

When she returns to the Limestone campus for the fall term, Milissa and Dr. Wolfe will join forces for yet another research project¬-a project for which Milissa sought and received funding from South Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities. Dr. Wolfe will teach her a different type of research methodology and expand her repertoire. She explained that her work will focus on "sympathetic nervous system activation and how it relates to mental rotation tasks."

During the study, the participants will see two objects on a computer screen and will "have to decide whether you can rotate the second object to make it look like the first object." While the participants are trying to mentally rotate the figures, Milissa will be measuring their Galvanic Skin Response to see if the person is sweating, a sign of activation of the sympathetic nervous system. Milissa will be paid a stipend as a work study while she collects and analyzes data and reports her findings. Each individual session is expected to last only 30 minutes.

Another characteristic that sets Milissa apart from other students is her well-roundedness, a trait indicative of a student at a liberal arts college such as Limestone. In speaking about Milissa's performance as a clarinetist for the Limestone Wind Ensemble, Dr. Douglas Presley, Limestone Associate Professor of Music, details what makes Milissa a great student to have. "Milissa is a wonderful student because of her consistency and personality. She works very hard and does the ‘little' things that truly separate her from other students - and will eventually separate her when she joins the professional world." Dr. Presley characterizes Milissa as "always prepared and attentive" and has "openly commented to her during rehearsal about her contributions to the group and her model for consistency. I believe that her discipline to be consistent and her tenacity to always excel make her among the best students I have ever taught. It will be these traits that will propel her into wonderful success no matter what she pursues."

Along with her musical aspirations, Milissa has also served as a member of Limestone's Psychology Club and as Junior Class President. "Several students here at Limestone have been student-athletes with stellar academics, but few have been engaged in as many extracurricular activities and been engaged in as much research as Milissa," Dr. Wolfe explained.

Milissa credits it all to her time management skills. When she was a little girl, her parents would give her a chore list of everything she needed to do before she could go out and have fun. That "chore list" mentality stuck with her. "When I get an assignment, I start doing it right away. I try not to procrastinate. That's the key. I get my homework out of the way and make sure I get to my practices on time."

Those practices are brutal. As a cross country runner and as a mid-distance runner on the Limestone College Track Team, Milissa runs about five miles a day; for longer practices, a little over eight. She continues to put her time management skills to use as the sport can become time-consuming. "We run everyday because we go from cross country, straight to indoor track, and then straight to outdoor track. It's always a loaded schedule."

Kevin Vees, Head Coach of Limestone's Men's and Women's Track and Field Team and Men's and Women's Cross Country Team, has seen firsthand how devoted Milissa is to her responsibilities and to her team. "Milissa is absolutely one of the most committed student-athletes that I have ever coached. She is always early and looking for ways to help the team. She is especially reliable in getting team social events organized and is always helpful to her teammates. I believe that her passion, dedication, maturity and love of the sport of cross country and track and field will lead to be successful in everything she does in life or professionally. "

Her determination has also earned her highest athletic achievement yet. Coach Vees recalls how at a cross country conference meet this past fall, "Milissa had been fighting an injury all year and was still able to run her fastest time of the year. I still remember the big smile on her face after the race was over!"

Despite her busy schedule, Milissa still manages to find time to prepare for the upcoming season. "She called me to tell me that she ran an 8k race during the summer and she hit a personal record at the 5k marks. I know that she has a lot of goals and I know that she is working hard to attain them."

This balancing act however is nothing new for Milissa. As a student at Maine-Endwell High School, she played volleyball and soccer and ran indoor and outdoor track. She found her inspiration for being so involved with sports, however, in her older brother Matthew. "I copied everything that he did because he played the clarinet, he played soccer, and that is what I did. It's a healthy competition."

While Matthew, 23, works toward his graduate degree in meteorology at the University of Wisconsin, Milissa, after graduating from Limestone a year early, hopes to continue her studies in psychology and earn her Masters and PhD in Industrial Organizational Psychology with a focus on Occupational Health Psychology as it "combines many things I love - helping people, problem solving, and advocating a healthy lifestyle."