Undergraduate Student Finds Career Passion and Mentorship through Infant Studies at WKU

Upon first meeting graduating senior Mequeil Howard, it would seem as though she was born to excel at WKU.

Majoring in Psychological Sciences with a minor in American Sign Language (ASL), Mequeil has presented her groundbreaking research to multiple audiences and is planning to pursue graduate studies in Occupational Therapy. At WKU, Mequeil has been a member of Psi Chi (the National Honor Society in Psychology), served as a Psychological Sciences Student Ambassador, and received both a Faculty-Undergraduate Student Engagement (FUSE) Grant and the Honors Development Grant supporting undergraduate academic researchers.

However, she wasn’t always sure of her path. It was the leadership and staff at WKU that helped her find her passion and identity in undergraduate life.

“All through high school, I studied biology, but struggled to find my own passion within this field,” she says. “When confiding in my advisor at WKU, she suggested I explore a path in research–and Dr. Lickenbrock was one of those professors known for taking on and training passionate students, even with limited research experience.”

Mequeil Howard and Dr. Diane Lickenbrock presenting research findings at The Society for Research in Child Development National Conference in Baltimore, Maryland (March 2019). Mequeil has excelled in her work under Dr. Lickenbrock, and received guidance and mentorship at WKU that developed her passion for research.
Left: Ashley Quigley (graduate student, M.S. Psychology-Psychological Sciences program)
Middle: Dr. Diane Lickenbrock
Right: Mequeil Howard

Mequeil has been assisting Dr. Diane Lickenbrock with her research on how infants develop emotion regulation skills though parental interaction, and the implications of this development later in life. Mequeil is particularly interested in the cognitive effects of these interactions, and how infant temperament and cardiac physiology are predictors of infant locomotion.

In the WKU Child and Families Lab, Mequeil has been a part of three teams that rate different behaviors during parent-infant interactive sessions:

  • Mind/Mindedness, which involved watching videos and transcribing the audio portions of the sessions
  • Sensitivity, including observing parents and infants while recording different types of interactions (including soothing, physical touching, backing away, etc.)
  • Heartrate Variability (HRV), which requires measuring and recording the heartrate of the parents and infants every 30 seconds

Mequeil and her colleagues also survey the parents in their studies to assess the propensity for their infants to demonstrate certain temperaments or personality traits, including anger, fear and surgency (extroversion). After several years of performing this research, the Children and Families Lab team has uncovered several key preliminary findings that are in line with previous research: including that anger promotes movement in infants.

Mequeil’s undergraduate work at the WKU Children and Families Lab has led to multiple important findings about the emotion regulation skills of infants, which will be the subject of much future research.

Not only did WKU’s environment of rigorous research and mentorship allow Mequeil to explore her passions under Dr. Lickenbrock, but WKU’s 70+ minors supported her in pursuing a minor in American Sign Language (ASL)–an unusual skillset that has helped her break through language barriers in her parent-infant studies, allowing her research to flourish.

“I was also able to pursue a minor in American Sign Language (ASL) at WKU, which has been very important in my ability to communicate effectively with a diverse group of families involved in our research.”

Mequeil is incredibly grateful for the growth she has undergone at WKU, supported by several advisors and mentors who gave her the opportunity to build the beginnings of a passionate and fulfilling career.

“Throughout this entire experience, Dr. Lickenbrock has continuously worked with me to help further my education through gaining research experience and presenting my research at conferences,” she says. “I found a passion for research while working in WKU’s Children and Families Lab, which greatly influenced my decision to pursue a doctoral degree in Occupational Therapy (OT). Research paves the way for the future–and I want to help promote change in the OT field with my research.”

Mequeil Howard and her Principal Investigator, Dr. Diane Lickenbrock, who has mentored and trained Mequeil as a researcher at WKU’s Children and Families Lab. Mequeil will pursue doctoral studies in Occupational Therapy after graduating in May 2020.

Mequeil’s work with Dr. Lickenbrock highlights how hands on research experiences in Psychological Sciences can take student learning to a new level, while helping students prepare them for the workforce in their respective careers. For more information on Dr. Lickenbrock’s current research and work in the Department of Psychological Sciences, please visit the Department’s Research Labs Page.

Dr. Lickenbrock’s research has been supported by a KBRIN IDeA award (NIGMS: 8P0GM103436), a WKU RCAP Level-1 Grant, and an Ogden QTAG award.

Mequeil’s research has been supported by a WKU FUSE award (2019-2020) and an Honors Development Grant (2019, 2020). Her research has also been supported by a KBRIN IDeA award (NIGMS: 8P0GM103436) and a WKU RCAP Level-1 grant awarded to her mentor, Dr. Lickenbrock.