Writing minor Max Klapow wins Truman Scholarship, mentored by Senior Lecturer Victoria Thomas
We are delighted to see the work of our Writing minor, Max Klapow rewarded with a Truman scholarship. Max's scholarship application centered on his proposal to improve the mental health of incarcerated populations by including positive psychology in the writing classes offered in prisons. This proposal followed on from the work he completed in an Independent Study under the mentorship of Senior Lecturer Victoria Thomas in Washington University's Prison Education Project. Max is a PNP major with a particular interest in positive psychology and mental health, and Dr Thomas invited him to join her as a tutor and resident positive psychology expert in her College Writing class. Like all Freshman groups, the PEP students are talented but nervous about their abilities, and the class is intended both to teach them how to write an academic paper and to bolster their confidence that they can write one. Collaborating with Max, Dr. Thomas incorporated the principles of positive psychology into her teaching, tailoring the writing exercises to lead students to an understanding of the benefits of positive psychology. Max was able to help students engage with his research, and prepare helpful positive psychology handouts. His administration of the VIA strengths test, which he graded and then returned to the students so they could see what their psychological strengths were, was especially important to the students. Several of them responded that they had never been told they had any strengths before and posted their results up on the wall of their housing unit as a source of encouragement. They appreciated Max's own enthusiasm for his subject matter, and by the end of the semester they were using the positive psychology tools they had learned as a matter of course. True to the PEP belief that the students are never used as research subjects, no formal measurements were taken of the efficacy of the course on their well-being but the students voluntarily reported how universally effective it had been and how much they appreciated having learned it. Max's proposal is to take the writing course that Dr. Thomas created along with his positive psychology materials and encourage the Department of Corrections to incorporate the course into programs that are already in place in prisons. To implement his project across the board would not take more funding or great effort but simply the willingness to implement it, some training, and access to the materials that he and Dr. Thomas prepared. They are planning to post all the materials for the course freely on the web.