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Lucille Howard | Faculty Mentor: Susan Lutgendorf

March 16, 2015
Lucille Howard

Lucille Howard, a December graduate from the Department of Psychology, developed an interest for psychology in high school. Upon arrival at the University of Iowa, she decided to take advantage of the opportunity to work alongside faculty and became a part of Professor Susan Lutgendorf’s lab.

“I chose to be a psychology major because I took a psychology course my senior year [of high school] and I loved it,” Howard said. “It is something I’m continually interested in. I never go to class and wish I wasn’t there.”

One person who kept Howard interested in psychology is Lutgendorf.

I took Introduction to Clinical Psychology with [Lutgendorf], and she was very instrumental in igniting my interest in the clinical aspect of psychology,” Howard said.

Howard added that taking Introduction to Clinical Psychology under Lutgendorf’s instruction was what inspired her to join the Lutgendorf Lab.

The Lutgendorf Lab studies how psychological factors influence ovarian cancer progression, and secondly, how stress hormones and inflammation are associated with chronic urologic pelvic pain. During her time at the UI, Howard was involved in a large study called the Multidisciplinary Approach to the Study of Pelvic Pain. MAPP, as it’s called for short, is funded by the National Institutes of Health.

Lutgendorf explained that the goal of MAPP is to learn more about the biological mechanisms that can lead to chronic pelvic pain and the progression of symptoms.

The UI also has a MAPP Discovery Center, headed by Dr. Karl Kreder in the Department of Urology. The center is housed in the Department of Urology, but also involves faculty from Obstetrics & Gynecology, Microbiology, Neurology, and Psychology.

Howard’s role in MAPP involved both recruitment and testing of participants. This consisted of making the initial phone call to potential participants to describe the study to them, ascertain interest, and verify eligibility. This was followed by a meeting at the hospital where participants completed surveys and physical assessments. Howard also helped in many aspects of administration, organization and data management. This longitudinal study lasted six years. The Lutgendorf Lab, along with the MAPP team, is currently analyzing the data.

Having just received funding for the next five years, their future research will continue looking at how inflammatory processes are related to painful bladder symptoms. This will allow them to predict whose symptoms will improve and whose will get worse, which should lead newer and more effective treatments.

Lutgendorf believes being a research assistant is very beneficial to students.

“The lab provides a hands-on experience doing research,” Lutgendorf said. “Many students are involved in screening and recruiting medical patients for research, conducting follow-up visits with patients, [and] doing experiments in the wet lab.”

Lutgendorf added many of her Undergraduate Research Assistants go on to medical school or graduate school in psychology, and she believes their experience in the lab strengthens their applications and makes them more competitive candidates.

Howard agrees that being an undergraduate research assistant enhanced her experience at the UI in many ways.

“I’m working with different people, and I’m seeing more of an academic side to extracurricular activities that I wouldn’t see otherwise,” Howard said. “I also feel that it has been helpful with time management. By keeping busy, I feel that I am better able to keep a hold on my own studies and my academics.”

Aside from working in the lab, Howard volunteered at the hospital, was a supplemental instructor for Fundamental Genetics, was a leader for OnIowa!, and founded the DeGowin Blood Center Student Organization.

Post-graduation, Howard plans to attend medical school at the Carver College of Medicine where she has been accepted for the fall.

 “Personally, working on the MAPP project has been very beneficial for me,” Howard said. “The information I get from [talking with patients] gives me a lot of insight into their disorder, and that’s something I might not get in a different setting.”

Howard said she believes this insider perspective will help her better understand her own patients in the future.

Howard believes her coursework is also good preparation for her future. One of her favorite classes was Abnormal Psychology.

As Howard exemplifies, the unique experience psychology students receive at the UI ignites and maintains their interest while also preparing them for a bright future.