Psychology Master's Student Earns Grant to Support International Student Research

Villanova University Psychology master’s student Maria Gabriela Molina Funes ’21 CLAS

Villanova University Psychology master’s student Maria Gabriela Molina Funes ’21 CLAS drew on her own experiences as an international student to develop her research interests, which focus on international students’ sense of identity safety and how professors can ensure social identities are welcomed and valued.

Her work was recognized by the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues, which awarded Molina its Clara Mayo Grant to fund her thesis, “The effect of identity safety cues and shared identity on international students’ belonging and engagement in college classrooms.” The grant is designed to support masters’ theses or pre-dissertation research on aspects of sexism, racism or prejudice, with preference given to students enrolled in a terminal master’s program.

“Specifically, my thesis seeks to determine if professors’ inclusion of identity safety cues—signals in people’s environments that indicate that their identities are valued and respected—in their classrooms, syllabi and other materials can improve international students’ experiences,” Molina says.

Assistant Professor Caitlyn Yantis, PhD, Molina’s thesis advisor, notes that she “developed this project with the goal of informing interventions to support international students’ belonging and academic success in college.”

Molina grew up in El Salvador and attended Villanova as an undergraduate student. She plans to take a year to build research experience and then pursue a PhD in social psychology. She credits Villanova for inspiring her growth as a scholar.

“Villanova has truly become a second home,” Molina says. “It has given me the opportunity to grow as a person, professional and researcher. It has been an amazing experience, and there is a sense of community here that is hard to find anywhere else.”

Learn more about Villanova's master's program in Psychology.

About Villanova University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences: Since its founding in 1842, Villanova University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences has been the heart of the Villanova learning experience, offering foundational courses for undergraduate students in every college of the University. Serving more than 4,500 undergraduate and graduate students, the College is committed to fortifying them with intellectual rigor, multidisciplinary knowledge, moral courage and a global perspective. The College has more than 40 academic departments and programs across the humanities, social sciences, and natural and physical sciences.

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