University of Mississippi

Migraines’ Causes, Treatments Topic for Oxford Science Cafe

UM psychologist Todd Smitherman to share research on neurological illness at March 24, 2015 public science forum

Cover art for Todd Smitherman’s ‘Advances in Psychotheraphy’ textbook

Cover art for Todd Smitherman’s ‘Advances in Psychotherapy’ textbook

The causes and treatments for migraine headaches is the next topic for a monthly public science forum organized by the University of Mississippi Department of Physics and Astronomy.

The spring semester’s second meeting of the Oxford Science Cafe is set for 6 p.m. March 24 at Lusa Pastry Cafe, 2305 West Jackson Ave. Todd Smitherman, associate professor of psychology, will discuss “Migraine: Knowns and Unknowns.” Admission is free.

“Migraine is a neurological disorder characterized by recurrent attacks of severe head pain accompanied by nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to light and sound,” Smitherman said. “This talk will review recent scientific progress in migraine across these and other areas, differentiating between what is well-established from empirical research – the ‘knowns’ – and what remains to be understood – the ‘unknowns.’”

Smitherman’s 30-minute presentation is geared toward everyone, including both people who suffer from migraines and those who don’t.

“Data from the World Health Organization indicate that migraine is the third most common medical condition and eighth leading cause of disability on the planet,” he said. “Despite its high prevalence and impact, migraine remains underdiagnosed and inadequately treated, though recent scientific advances offer new hope for combatting this chronic condition.”

In the last two decades, substantial progress has been made in understanding migraine pathophysiology, headache triggers and the role of common co-occurring conditions, as well as in establishing effective treatments.

Smitherman earned his master’s and doctoral degrees from Auburn University and his bachelor’s degree from Samford University. His research areas include migraine and psychiatric comorbidity, behavioral interventions for headache, health psychology/behavioral medicine, and anxiety and depression in pain patients.

At UM, he teaches undergraduate courses in General Psychology, Learning, Abnormal Psychology and Health Psychology. His graduate classes include Seminar: Assessment and Treatment of Anxiety Disorders, Clinical Practicum and Issues and Ethics in Human Research and Professional Psychology.


Abstract Submissions for the 2nd Annual UM Conference on Psychological Science

Students, the DEADLINE is Friday, March 20, 2015 at 5PM, CST to submit abstracts for the 2015 UM Conference on Psychological Science, which will be held on Friday April 10, 2015, from noon to 5pm.

We will NOT consider abstracts without any data (ie, Your data must already be collected or expected to be collected by the date of the conference, but if the latter you must include preliminary data in your abstract.). If you are submitting multiple abstracts, you must complete the form separately for each abstract you are submitting.

TANZANIA STUDY ABROAD: Culture, Ecology & Youth, May 10-June 15, 2015

Lions, Hippos, and Elephants, Oh My! SIGN UP NOW! INFORMATION

Tuesday, Feb. 3, 17, 24 (10-1) Student Union

ljclassPSY or Environmental Studies credit, scholarships available! Join two Fulbright winner and National Geographic grantee, Dr. Laura Johnson,

PSY 475 (3 hours PSY or ENV) draws from environmental, cultural, and developmental, psychology to reflect interdisciplinary interests in positive youth development and sustainable community development. We travel to Northern Tanzania and the Island of Zanzibar in East Africa where we learn about environmental and humanitarian concerns facing Tanzanian youth and communities. Students have the opportunity to partner with Tanzanian youth members of Roots & Shoots (R&S), an environmental and humanitarian program founded in Tanzania in 1991 by Dr. Jane Goodall, the world-renowned primatologist and humanitarian. Students learn about the emerging field of conservation psychology; positive youth development (resilience, leadership, civic engagement), nature-youth relationship, and environmental education. Course can count toward environmental studies minor.

Northern Tanzania Safari – See all the best of African safaris – bike, hike, and drive though Taranagire, Lake Manyara and the Ngoro Ngoro crater to see elephants, lions, zebras and explore Maasai culture.

Mt. Kilimanjaro – partner with Tanzanian youth and the Mweka community (Jane Goodall Institute) for hands-on learning on the “roof top of Africa” – plant trees, build efficient stoves, dance, and swim in a waterfall!

Island of Zanzibar – Swim the azure Indian Ocean, visit a spice farm, tour Stonetown’s ancient sites, learn about Swahili culture, and relax on the Beach while getting henna.

Kenneth Sufka Is Carnegie-CASE Professor of the Year

Photo by Robert Jordan/UM Communications

Ken Sufka lectures to one of his classes. | Photo by Robert Jordan/UM Communications

Psychology Educator Received Prestigious Honor in Washington, D.C.

A respected University of Mississippi teacher and researcher is this year’s Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching-Council for Advancement and Support of Education Mississippi Professor of the Year.

Kenneth J. “Ken” Sufka, professor of psychology and pharmacology, received the prestigious honor Thursday (Nov. 20) at the U.S. Professor of the Year Awards celebration in Washington, D.C. The program salutes the country’s most outstanding undergraduate instructors and is the only national effort to recognize excellence in undergraduate teaching and mentoring.

“When I first read the letter, I was flat-out dumbfounded. I had to read it again,” Sufka said. “The CASE-Carnegie Foundation Award is by far the most prestigious recognition one can receive in this profession. For CASE-Carnegie to think that the entire body of my academic work is worthy of such recognition is both overwhelming and humbling.”

In addition to an all-expenses-paid trip, Sufka got a framed certificate of recognition. Winners were also recognized at a congressional reception and have opportunities to participate in media interviews, speaking engagements, teaching forums and other events.

The university shares Sufka’s recognition, UM administrators said.

“Dr. Sufka is a role model at our campus and is now a recognized model of excellence to the nation,” said Richard Forgette, interim dean of the College of Liberal Arts. “We are proud to have him as a faculty member at the University of Mississippi.”

Douglass Sullivan-Gonzalez, dean of UM’s Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College, said Sufka sets the bar for excellent teaching and creative scholarship among students and colleagues.

“(He) has produced more final theses with our high performing Honors students than any other professor on campus,” Sullivan-Gonzalez said. “The ethic of excellence that guides his work and interaction with our students creates a powerful magnetic attraction to those who want to push the boundaries of knowledge and wisdom.”

Sufka is most deserving of the award, said Michael T. Allen, chair and professor of psychology.

“I immediately felt a sense of pride for him and the Department of Psychology, but I wasn’t really surprised,” Allen said. “Dr. Sufka has won essentially all of the awards for teaching and service that the university bestows, and he has been a magnificent teacher and mentor of students for many years. What makes him so special is his love of teaching and his constant effort to become better and better at it, along with his sincere desire to have students succeed in his classes.”

Sufka earned his bacheor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees from Iowa State University. Before joining the UM faculty in 1992, he conducted research at Drake University, Des Moines University and Duke University. Sufka is a visiting research fellow at Newcastle University and an associate member of the UM Medical Center’s Cancer Institute.

“The University of Mississippi was a good fit for me when I was offered the position and it remains a good fit more than two decades later,” Sufka said. “It offered the right balance of teaching and research I was hoping to find in a mid-sized, flagship university located in a great little college town. While the university and Oxford have grown considerably, I am still able to find that perfect balance of teaching courses in psychology and engaging in laboratory research in neuroscience.”

Sufka said he is following in the footsteps of professors who taught and mentored him.

“I think all of us can point to a teacher/mentor that inspired and nurtured us in immeasurable ways,” Sufka said. “Professor Ron Peters at Iowa State University was that person for me. His love and enthusiasm for teaching, alongside a masterful ability to convey the most complex and interesting material, made it clear that I wanted to become a brain scientist and university professor.”

Sufka teaches several courses at UM, including General Psychology, Biopsychology, Psychopharmacology lab, Physiological Psychology and Teaching of Psychology seminar. A campus favorite among students and faculty alike, he has received the 1996 Elsie M. Hood Outstanding Teacher Award, the 2005 Faculty Achievement Award and the 2006 Thomas F. Frist Student Service Award. His other awards and honors include Top 20 Psychology Professor in Mississippi, Distinguished Alumni Award from ISU’s Department of Psychology, Presidential Citation from the American Psychological Association and Top 40 Under 40 Mississippian.

Sufka holds professional memberships in the Society for Neuroscience and the Society for the Teaching of Psychology. With research interests in behavioral neuroscience and psychopharmacology, he has written more than 67 refereed papers, 10 book chapters and one book, “The A Game: Nine Steps to Better Grades” (Nautilus Publishing, 2011).

“I wrote that to help my students at UM to better transition from high school coursework to college level course work, or from lower division courses to the harder upper division courses,” Sufka said. “It is an academic survival guide of sorts that detail a number of bad habits commonly exhibited by students that contribute to poor grades and offers evidenced based tips/strategies that promote course learning and yield much higher grades.”

Many colleges and universities across the U.S. have used Sufka’s book for specific programs.

“Some schools, like UNLV and Washington State University, have given it out as a summer reading assignment for their incoming freshman classes,” he said. “This has led to my giving numerous faculty and student workshops on promoting students’ academic success across the country and here at UM.”

Sufka has been the principal investigator on grants and contracts totaling more than $660,000. A prolific author, he has presented more than 120 conference papers and abstracts.

Sufka has directed 12 master’s theses and eight doctoral dissertations. He is a regularly invited speaker at freshman summer orientation sessions and helped develop the initial Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College curriculum. He also volunteers with the Oxford-Lafayette County Habitat for Humanity.

CASE launched the awards program in 1981. That same year, the Carnegie Foundation began hosting the final round of judging, and in 1982 became the primary sponsor.

For more about the U.S. Professor of the Year Awards program, visit


In and Out of Africa

Drs. Anton, Jane Goodall, Julie Johnson-Pynn (also a UM graduate) and Laura Johnson

Drs. Anton, Jane Goodall, Julie Johnson-Pynn (also a UM graduate) and Laura Johnson

Laura Johnson, associate professor of psychology, has been in and out of countries in East Africa since her junior year as an undergraduate at the University of Mississippi, when she spent a life changing year in Kenya.

Most recently,  Johnson returned from her second Fulbright research award. In December 2012, she, her husband and their two children took off for 11 months in Tanzania and Uganda. There, Johnson continued her research collaboration with the Jane Goodall Institute and other youth serving organizations, such as the Amani Center for Street Children, Ugandan Youth Rehabilitation Center, and the Mweka Village at the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro.  Johnson surveyed over 1,600 adolescents and conducted focus groups to assess youth strengths and assets among school and vulnerable youth.

Johnson’s children accompanied her in the field, often drawing considerable attention. Here they are during data collection with the Batwa ethnic group in Southwest Uganda.

Johnson’s children accompanied her in the field, often drawing considerable attention. Here they are during data collection with the Batwa ethnic group in Southwest Uganda.

“It was great to meet up with Dr. Jane again in Uganda this year, I first pitched the idea of studying youth in her Roots&Shoots back in 2000 when I was still in grad school,” Johnson said. “My sister Julie and I have been working with R&S since then, it is like a global family.”

New Frontiers with Photo-voice

“New cultures and contexts demand new methods in psychology,” said Johnson. “During the 11 months of research, I faced so many challenges. Keeping youth engaged, working with women not used to sharing their opinions, along with language barriers and cultural differences. With over a decade of research in East Africa, I have conducted a lot of bad focus groups, where basically participants tell you what they think you want to hear.

Photovoice, developed by Carolyn Wang, was by far the most exciting and effective research tool I discovered. In Photovoice, participants become co-researchers and they take photographic data on different themes. The process was action-oriented, fun, built confidence, and also helped to de-position me as interviewer.”

Maasai Moran (Warriors) learn to use the digital camera for photovoice research.

Maasai Moran (Warriors) learn to use the digital camera for photovoice research.

According to Johnson, the method was successful across different cultures and ages. She has presented her data and on this method to the National Academy of Sciences and the Society for Cross-Cultural Research.

Bringing the Fulbright Full-Circle: UM Student Involvement  

Doctoral student Chris Drescher, honor’s student Katherine Westfall, and 5 other UM students helped kick off the research during a study abroad course that Johnson teaches, Psychology 475, Environmental Psychology. These UM students partnered with Tanzanian research partners for cultural games, service, research training and pilot data collection with adolescents.

“It was great to involve UM students in the initial research and now, as we speak in the write up. I am excited to involve students again now on the results side of things and bring this research full-circle, so to speak,” said Johnson.

She encourages students to sign up for the study abroad course in Tanzania and Zanzibar in June 2014.

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Maasai participants share and discuss their photos.

Maasai participants share and discuss their photos.

Photovoice Image taken by former street children to show the importance of security, of having a safe place to live and security

Photovoice Image taken by former street children to show the importance of security, of having a safe place to live and security.

Photovoice image taken by former street children to show the importance of traditional cultural activities like drumming and dancing.

Photovoice image taken by former street children to show the importance of traditional cultural activities like drumming and dancing.

VIDEO: Bethany Aiena, doctoral student

Years from now when I look back at Ole Miss and what it means to me … anything I’ve learned as a clinician, anything I’ve learned as a researcher, I’ve learned from Ole Miss.—Bethany Aiena

Bethany Aiena

Bethany Aiena

Mental Health Impact of Gulf Oil Spill
The University of Mississippi Clinical Disaster Research Center plays a vital role in studying and addressing mental health issues related to natural disasters.

The negative and long-lasting effects following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill are being used to research ways to offer support for others who experience the effects of environmental disasters. After the oil spill, University of Mississippi faculty and students initiated research to understand the mental health impacts along the coast. The team was surprised to find large differences in the way many people cope with disasters and published some of that research nationally. The research is part of work being conducted by the Clinical Disaster Research Center at UM and plays a vital role with respect to disaster preparedness, response and recovery efforts, focusing on mental health.

Bethany Aiena explains how her involvement in research as a student helped her achieve success in her field.
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Psychology scholar Kristen Hymel

Kristen Hymel

Kristen Hymel

Kristen Hymel got goose bumps the first time she stepped on the University of Mississippi campus as an undergraduate. Her family has a strong connection to the University; she is a descendent of Dr. Andrew Armstrong Kincannon for whom Kincannon Hall was named and of Senator J.Z. George for whom George Hall was named. With the mentoring of Dr. Kenneth Suftka and the support from her mother, she continued her education at UM and will be receiving a Ph.D. in Psychology.

Research: Hymel helped to develop a model for anxiety using chicks. She has not only studied the biological and physical effects of the disorder but also worked with the Thad Cochran Center to develop new drug therapies.

Achievements: Hymel was involved with the Graduate Student Council for four years. She worked to better graduate student life on campus. She was the national director for outreach for the National Organization for Graduate Professional Students. Throughout her graduate career she has been a teaching assistant and taught undergraduate students. She has also presented her research at the National Meeting of the Society for Neuroscience.

Future Plans:  Hymel will be a post-doctoral fellow at Torrey Pines Institute of Molecular Studies in Port St.Lucie, Florida. She hopes to later work for a university so she can pursue a career teaching and continue researching.

What Does Earning A Ph.D. Mean: “It is the largest accomplishment I’ve ever had or succeeded with; five years of brutal pain, but worth every minute of it.”

University of Mississippi Graduate School Spotlight

Professor and author Ken Sufka offers students tips to excel


Ken Sufka, professor of psychology

Motivated to help at-risk college students succeed in attaining their educational goals, more than 100 faculty and staff from Mississippi’s higher education institutions gathered Aug. 14 at the University of Mississippi for a day of inspiration and empowerment.

The At-Risk Summit: Student Success and Persistence was held at UM’s Jackson Avenue Center. Hosted by the university’s Center for Student Success and First-Year Experience, the event prominently featured UM faculty and staff in leadership roles, advising other institutions on how best to support and instruct at-risk students. Included were motivational speakers, a panel discussion and break-out sessions focused on financial aid, connecting with at-risk students by understanding their challenges and perspectives.

“I am glad you are taking time to focus on this critically important issue,” said Hank Bounds, Mississippi commissioner of higher education via a letter read in his absence. “For our students, you help them obtain a college degree, which will enable them to lead a different kind of life from that of someone holding only a high school diploma. You help save them time and money along the way. You help first-generation college students and those who enter college unprepared.”

Ken Sufka, UM professor of psychology and author of The A Game: Nine Steps to Better Grades, delivered the first of the summit’s two keynote addresses. Sufka spoke about how at-risk students can overcome the odds to excel at the college and university level.

“Basically, there are four rules for student success,” he said. “Go to class, sit in the sweet spot (front and center), come to class prepared and when lost, ask questions.”

Even high-achieving students often fail for lack of classroom engagement, poor study habits and testing issues, Sufka said.
“A tenth of a grade-point average point can be the determining factor of whether a student stays in college or not. We cannot emphasize enough that a lower grade carries a lot of weight.”

Sufka’s presentation underscored the necessity of correct study habits for maximum academic achievement.
“When it comes to testing, many students erroneously think that pulling an all-nighter is better than prolonged, spaced-out study,” Sukfa said. “The reality is pulling an all-nighter is like studying for an F. Why would anyone do that?”

The renowned scholar suggested faculty and support staff push students toward concept maps (diagrams that organize relationships between persons, things and ideas) and away from merely reviewing notes, flash cards and study groups – practices that may have worked for them in high school but will not be as effective at the university level.

“You can look at something a thousand times and still not know it,” Sukfa said. “To learn and be able to apply complex concepts by thinking critically, students must know how to process information, not merely review or repeat it.”


New Clinical-Disaster Research Center


Dr. Schulenberg (third from left on the back row) and students.

Courtesy of the Oxford Eagle

The University of Mississippi’s Clinical-Disaster Research Center in the Department of Psychology is not just about educating students, it’s making a big impact on the community with a small budget.

The new center has a budget of $29,663, which was approved in October 2012 by the state College Board. These few dollars will help the center build on the work already done by researchers in the state to assist those who have survived a disaster.

“Disaster mental health is a relatively new field of psychological science and practice as it relates to disaster preparedness, impact and recovery,” said Dr. Stefan Schulenberg, director of the center.

Schulenberg has 16 years of training and experience working within the disaster mental health field. He moved to Mississippi in 2002, and when Hurricane Katrina hit three years later, Schulenberg was part of a multidisciplinary group that collected data on the coast on how people were handling the trauma. Schulenberg’s team was again part of mental health efforts on the coast after the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster of 2010.

BP gave $12 million to the Mississippi Department of Mental Health in response to the oil spill. The state developed a grant program, distributing the funds to 19 mental health facilities providing therapy, training and outreach to Mississippi coastal residents affected by the technological disaster.

Schulenberg consulted with the state Department of Mental Health, leading a team of graduate students and faculty to collect data to determine the amount of services being provided, how many people received services, and how people were responding to the disaster.

Still working
While the 2-year contract expired in June, the team continues to analyze the data and disseminate the findings so that the effects of the Gulf Oil Spill on the mental health of Mississippi coastal residents may be better understood.

The importance of their work during the spill brought to light the need to incorporate more of the team’s work into the classroom.

“Throughout the Gulf Oil Spill research it seemed apparent that the next logical step was to establish an identity, an integrated purpose bringing together research, teaching and service efforts” Schulenberg said. “With the center, we hope to continue our work raising awareness of an important area that many people don’t often think about.”

This spring, Schulenberg will teach an undergraduate course, Disasters and Mental Health, that emphasizes this need. He plans to develop a graduate seminar of the same course in the future and to continue to build the center with a focus on training and education.

“The graduate students in our clinical training program are getting that training already but this means having something more formal in place,” Schulenberg said.

While physical threat is often the first emergency responders’ concern, the effects of trauma on mental health often go unrecognized or untreated, Schulenberg said.

“People have a tremendous resilience to overcome adversity,” Schulenberg said. “However, individual response to a disaster can vary widely. Some people may experience problems that are short term, while others may experience problems that are longer lasting. Still others may experience what is called post-traumatic growth, learning how to respond to their experiences in adaptive ways.”

Several factors
With respect to the effects of a disaster, Schulenberg said that individual and community response to an event can be affected by many factors, such as previous history with disasters, socioeconomic status, and the nature and intensity of the disaster. Some problems that people may experience include anger, irritability, stress and anxiety, depression, disruptive eating and sleeping patterns, as well as problems with drug and alcohol use. Schulenberg also noted that, for those people who are experiencing such difficulties, there is help available, on campus and in the community.

The center will continue research and training in disaster preparedness, response, and recovery. Schulenberg also is a member of the Mississippi Disaster Response Network, and is Red Cross certified. He teaches courses for the American Red Cross program and also works with the organization for student activities and volunteer experiences.

Carrie Smith’s Research Suggests the “First Time” Really Matters

In an exclusive article for the UK’s MailOnline, University of Mississippi instructional assistant professor in the Department of Psychology Carrie V. Smith said the circumstances of how someone loses their virginity “appears to have implications for their well-being years later.” 

Smith, joined Matthew Shaffer of the University of Tennessee in surveying 331 young men and women about how they lost their virginity. It seems the “first time” really does color your sex life for years to come, according to a study “Gone But Not Forgotten,” compiled by two researchers. 

The study is one of the first to look at whether the first sexual experience has lasting consequences.

Read more.