LEOMINSTER — Memory, finding your village, and her experience as a woman of color were some of the topics discussed during a visit to the high school from Ayanna Thomas, Ph.D., and dean for Research in Arts and Sciences at Tufts University.
Thomas’s presentation and interaction with students on Jan. 12 is the latest in the “Celebrating the Success of Women of Color” speaker series organized by Leominster High School senior Ivy Sasu, who secured a $7,500 Community Foundation of North Central Massachusetts grant to fund it.
A presentation and general discussion between Thomas and the large group of students gathered in the auditorium took place first followed by a second discussion with psychology students.
Thomas talked about growing up in Brooklyn and attending a Catholic school. After leaving that school, she traveled almost two hours a day by subway to Bronx High School of Science before moving onto Wesleyan University in Connecticut. It was there that she participated in a class on the topic of memory and began to become interested in memory. She would later discover Elizabeth Loftus, a successful psychologist, and Thomas worked closely with Loftus researching the topic of memory.
“She made the audience aware of the connection they had built at the University of Washington, where Dr. Thomas received her Ph.D.,” Sasu relayed before adding that later on in her presentation, Dr. Thomas “discussed our perception of events.”
“A task was given to identify the number of white shirts in a video,” Sasu shared. “What was not told was there was a crime present. When asked if anything happened during the video, there was only one person who could identify a detail of the crime. We were then asked to identify the perpetrator of the crime. Many made assumptions about the bystander as the perpetrator, proving based on what we are focused on impacts our testimony of events we had all witnessed.”
Sasu said that was followed by a second test which included groups of words that ran at a speed of one second per word. All the words were in categories and in the end, the students were asked to write down the words they could remember “after a brief interruption.”
“After this, Dr. Thomas mentioned words that seemed familiar to the words listed previously, words she stated were not present in the slideshow. The crowd was completely shocked,” Sasu conveyed. “Dr. Thomas discussed with us how distractions and associations impact how we recall events.”
After that, students were able to ask Thomas questions. One student asked her to share one of piece of advice she would give to the students.
“Dr. Thomas stated to focus on who your support system is, ‘Stay connected to them and communicate with them,’” Sasu shared. “Dr. Thomas discussed growing up with her father, who was her largest support system and that currently, her support system is her husband.”
Another student asked her if there are areas in life that she has been treated differently as a woman of color. Thomas said she has noticed how she is “treated differently” and “discussed with us how she wishes she spoke up in certain circumstances and taught us to rely on your support system and continue to speak up,” Sasu communicated.
During the session specifically for psychology students, Dr. Thomas “discussed testing and remembering information in times of stress, asking questions like ‘Why do we forget everything we know under stress?’” Sasu shared.
“Dr. Thomas showed us research on how induced stress can impact memorization and after this discussion, psychology students were able to ask questions,” Sasu continued. “The most common question was how to memorize and learn information ahead for a test. Dr. Thomas talked about how creating practice tests can impact your learning results in a better way and she also discussed a different method of memorizing, memorizing lines. For example, using seats in the auditorium to memorize lines. One line could represent a seat, aiding in memorization, especially at the time of performance.”
At the end of the Q&A following that session Sasu said Thomas “encouraged us to find ways to relieve stress and promote our memorization.”
The senior said that overall, her favorite part of the event was the interactive activities.
“Dr. Thomas was able to connect with us and in this moment, I was able to capture a sneak peek into her career,” Sasu said. “Her kindness is amazing, but her work is beyond words. Her personality and love reflect into her work, and I am truly amazed by her talent.”
When asked how she felt the latest event in the speaker series went, Sasu didn’t hesitate to say, “extremely well.”
“I am overjoyed by having the speakers series and we will be hosting our next event very soon,” she said, adding that she and LHS Principal Joshua Romano, Ph.D. “are very excited to continue this process.”
Sasu “sincerely” wants to thank the Community Foundation of North Central Massachusetts, the nonprofit she said helped “the speaker series move from an idea to an actual series.”
“President Stephen Adams and Meghan Macieko have continued to show their support effortlessly,” Sasu articulated. “I also want to thank Dr. Romano for letting my dreams become real. He has truly been a real supporter. Lastly, I want to thank Dr. Thomas. Her kindness has allowed this event to have such a positive turnout.”
Sasu said that through the collaboration with everyone, she has “been able to reach out to those I could have never imagined” to be part of the speaker series she launched last May and that “without giving too much away, we will be having at least two more speakers before spring.”
“These two women will truly be a delight and we are very excited to host them.”
Thomas said it means a lot to her to be asked to participate in the speaker series and that she enjoyed being a part of it.
“I felt honored to be asked by Ivy,” she said. “It truly did my heart good to have the opportunity to share my path and also learn from the students who attended my presentations. I met some fantastic students that day and I hope that hearing from me helps them as they navigate their own career trajectories.”