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Psychology Professor Provides Transformative Research Experiences for Students

University Professor of Psychology Gretchen Wrobel intentionally involves students in her adoption research.

By Katie Johnson ’19

November 02, 2018 | 12:30 p.m.

Psychology Professor Provides Transformative Research Experiences for Students

University Professor of Psychology Gretchen Wrobel

University Professor of Psychology Gretchen Wrobel’s face lights up whenever she talks about her adoption research or work with students, and when she describes opportunities to combine the two, she glows. 

Wrobel purposefully incorporates students whenever she can during the research process throughout the academic year, hoping to provide worthwhile experience and maybe even have a little fun. “I want to give students relevant experience. I want to teach them about the research process—not from a book,” Wrobel says. “It’s kind of fun to learn how to work with each other in a lab together.” 

“I have absolutely loved being a part of Dr. Wrobel's research team. She works hard to involve us in every piece of the process and has helped me gain so much confidence in my own research projects.”

— Sydnie Sybrant ’20, psychology major and Spanish minor

Her students clearly appreciate the collaboration and research opportunities as well. Psychology student Madeline Ruff ’18 is grateful for the chance to apply the concepts she’s learned in the classroom through the various research projects Wrobel has guided her through. “Working with Dr. Wrobel has been nothing short of transformative,” says Ruff.

Wrobel’s research usually focuses on curiosity the adopted child has about his or her adoption, and she’s been able to have students like Ruff assist her in her research recently. One study involved examining who was in contact with whom in various adoption-kinship networks. They found that, as the adopted child reaches emerging adulthood, he or she becomes the lead contact between the adoptive family and birth family. There is more contact between birth family members and the adopted person, while fewer adoptive family members participate in contact. Wrobel explains, “In general, the amount of contact between adoptive family members and birth family members reduces, which makes sense to me.” 

Since this is a longitudinal study, Wrobel has collected information across time. Student researchers Ruff and Zachariah Phillips ’17 helped her recalibrate the measures so they could identify the trends in adoption kinship network contact.  

Another study that Wrobel presented at the Sixth International Conference on Adoption Research (ICAR 6) in Montreal this past year focused on how Christian families described the religious meaning they held about their adoptions. The Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) provided the grant for this qualitative research study, and the six students she worked with were all credited as authors. One of those psychology students was Sydnie Sybrant ’20, who says, “I have absolutely loved being a part of Dr. Wrobel's research team. She works hard to involve us in every piece of the process and has helped me gain so much confidence in my own research projects.”

Another student researcher was Taylor Nelson ’19, who appreciates that Wrobel made the research process dynamic and interesting. “Dr. Wrobel gave me and my team an excitement and curiosity about research, and she allowed room for each of us to learn and grow beyond what we were studying.” 

Ruff, who was also involved in this study, echoes the importance of Wrobel’s influence outside of the research process. “On a personal level,” Ruff says, “being included on Dr Wrobel’s team allowed me to learn how to develop effective, fulfilling relationships with fellow researchers while also focusing on the best way to communicate our research and its implications with other professionals and the wider public.” 

Since this qualitative study required a specific way of keeping track of information, Wrobel and her team had to learn the process together, and Wrobel appreciated the students’ perspectives. “[The students] are really sharp. Especially with this new [to us] process, they had input about how it could be refined,” Wrobel says. “In general, they ask good questions and make me think in new ways, because sometimes I can get in a rut in the way that I think. Sometimes, when it’s newer to them than it is to me, they ask questions to get me to think.” 

During this academic year, Wrobel will look over her research opportunities and determine how she can include students in different parts of the process. “I learn a lot from students. They’re wonderful,” she says, her expression positively radiant.

Study psychology at Bethel.

Bethel’s Department of Psychology challenges students to look at the “hows” and “whys” of mental processes and behaviors. But not just through textbooks. Professors help students apply complex principles to everyday life, and integrate a Christian perspective with current psychological science.

Learn more about Bethel’s psychology department and undergraduate research opportunities

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