For Outstanding Student Masha Melnik, Clear Link Between Psychology and Biology

If there’s one thing that Masha Melnik (’13) knows well, it’s time management.

The psychology and cellular/molecular biology double major has held seven research assistantships, served as an HOP counselor and as a teaching assistant in two classes, and worked as a Supplemental Instruction leader for Genetics.

For her academic and extra-curricular contributions, Melnik was named a 2012-13 Outstanding Student of the Year earlier this year by President Rollin Richmond.

How does she manage it all? “To-do lists and prioritization,” she says.

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Masha Melnik is a psychology and cellular/molecular biology double major who was recently named a 2012-13 Outstanding Student of the Year by President Rollin Richmond.

A San Diego native, Melnik learned about HSU from her favorite high school government teacher Matt Pruden, a Humboldt State alum. When she visited campus during Spring Preview as a high school senior, she fell in love, she says. “I was looking for something different and found HSU.”

Studying two related disciplines means that Melnik’s classes often complement each other. For instance, if a topic isn’t taught in biology, it might be covered in psychology and vice versa, she says.

“As a psychology student, you have to take research methods, which teaches students the skill of designing experiments and how to apply statistics,” she explains. “These are skills you use all the time in biology.”

One of Melnik’s favorite things about HSU has been her professors. She still remembers one class with psychology professor and department chair Gregg Gold in which he demonstrated the problems associated with eyewitness testimony.

During the class, Gold had a student volunteer walk in unannounced, throw a glass of water on him and shout, “How could you give me an F?!” Afterward, Gold had the class describe the event, including the student’s hair and dress.

“By the end of it, we had about five different hair colors on the board and some people insisting the student threw coffee instead of water,” Melnik recalls. “It was a powerful way to show how eyewitness testimony can lead to false imprisonment,” she says.

Melnik has also worked with graduate students during her time at HSU. In her most recent lab, she helped psychology professor Ethan Gahtan and graduate students Nathan Helm-Burger and Sarah Stednitz research proprioception, or the sense of the body moving through space.

For the study, Melnik and other students looked at the behavior and anatomy of zebrafish, which are commonly used to study sensory-motor circuits. The study will help researchers better understand locomotor control in animals and humans, she says.

Melnik credits HSU for providing her with valuable research experience. One of her favorite projects was working with biology professor Mark Wilson and student Samantha Shelton on developing a concept inventory for the scientific method. Concept inventories are multiple-choice tests that educators use to gauge students’ understanding of a particular concept.

For this project, Melnik, Wilson, and Shelton wanted to develop a test to assess the effectiveness of various teaching methods in conveying concepts critical to understanding the scientific method. The results will eventually be used be science educators.

When it comes to her own future, Melnik is looking forward to a career in biology. “I’m excited for the next step, and I know that Humboldt has prepared me well.”