As the College of Charleston’s Class of 2020 crosses the finish line, The College Today will highlight how some of our graduating seniors spent their time at CofC, and what the future holds.

Megan Henrich was in high school when a close friend was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Over the years, she watched her friend struggle with fluctuating emotions and the stigma attached to mental illness.

“It was very taxing for my friend and her family,” says Henrich. “I knew what a difference it would make if people could understand and accept her, and I felt helpless.”

This friendship inspired Henrich to pursue her undergraduate degree in psychology, and she began working toward that goal as soon as she got to the College of Charleston in 2016.

“I wanted to have an impact on people who struggle with their mental health, like my friend did,” she says. “I wanted to learn ways to help people like her and give them hope and support.”

During her sophomore year, she joined her academic advisor, psychology Professor Thomas Ross, in a research project that explored the “reliability and validity of the action fluency test” in healthy, CofC first-year students. Designed to measure one aspect of executive functioning, the test asked subjects to generate as many verbs in one minute as possible. It  also evaluated students on a series of psychological tests meant to measure executive functioning. Henrich’s responsibilities included testing participants, administering commonly used psychological tests and coding data. The research was later published in the Archives of Clinical Neuropsychology, with Henrich listed as an author.

“Megan is a bright, charismatic and highly motivated individual whom I was able to depend upon greatly during our work together,” says Ross. “I relied greatly on her strong interpersonal skills, especially her ability to build a good rapport with our research participants. Not only is she intelligent and articulate, she is also a warm, empathetic and genuine person who will readily put others at ease.”

Henrich spent her junior year doing an independent study with psychology faculty members Gabrielle Principe and Dan Greenberg. The research included testing the relationship between mothers’ negative language and the tendency for children to make negative interpretations about social situations. Henrich interviewed child participants and assessed their memories for negative interpretations, as well as transcribed and coded data. This independent study became the basis for her bachelor’s essay.

All of this research resulted in Henrich being recognized this semester as a School of Humanities and Social Sciences scholar for the Department of Psychology. She is also a member of Psi Chi, the International Honor Society in Psychology, and the honor society of Phi Kappa Phi. But her commitment to the field of psychology extends beyond her work with the department. For the last three years, Henrich has also worked as a peer facilitator for the First-Year Experience program, a position that allowed her to mentor incoming students and help them navigate the transition from high school to college.

“This job has given me the opportunity to influence new psychology students at CofC and reduce dropout rates as well as comfort and guide students as they learn to balance the demands of college life,” says Henrich. “I also volunteered with the CofC UPLIFT program, which provides free events and activities for children who have a parent diagnosed with cancer.”

Henrich knows these efforts make a difference for students because she’s often stopped in the middle of campus by students she has mentored saying how much her encouragement meant to them.

“As a peer facilitator, you’re planting a seed that will grow over time,” she says.

And Henrich hopes to plant seeds of hope as she grows her career. Upon graduation, she will pursue a master’s degree in clinical social work at the University of Texas in Austin with a goal of becoming a mental health professional.