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Two grad students win prestigious psychology awards

A WINNING PSYCHOLOGY: Graduate students Michelle Hilscher (top) and Igor Juricevic have been recognized by the American Psychological Association.

Two graduate students at the University of Toronto Scarborough have received prestigious awards from the American Psychological Association (APA).

Psychology students Michelle Hilscher, who is now completing her Master’s degree and starting a PhD in the fall, and Igor Juricevic, a recent PhD grad, have both been recognized with top awards this winter. The APA has more than 500 members, including U of T Scarborough professors Gerald Cupchik and John Kennedy, both past presidents and supervising professors of Hilscher and Juricevic respectively.

“Winning one award is remarkable, but for us to get the two available awards in one year is outstanding,” said Prof. Kennedy. “It shows that there is a ferment of new powerful ideas here about the psychology of art.”

Both students won the awards in the APA’S Division 10, The Society for the Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity and the Arts. Lauren Siefert, president of the division, said, “It is indeed a great honour for the University of Toronto to have two of the four award winners for this year. Our goal is to recognize individuals who are making superior contributions in this field.”

Hilscher, 26, is the winner of the Frank X. Barron Award, a new award given to the student who reaches great achievements in the fields of the psychology of aesthetics, creativity and the arts. Hilscher was recognized for her papers that centered on people’s perception to poetry, and whether they preferred to see and hear a performance of poetry or to read it by themselves. She found that people preferred to read poetry themselves in order to experience better the art in a subjective way.

“I was really surprised,” she said. “I didn’t expect to win, and everyone who submits materials for these awards is accomplished, so you never really know how you stack up to them.”

"One of the important points about this award is that Michelle Hilscher was an undergraduate here at U of T Scarborough,” said Prof. Cupchik, her thesis supervisor. “Michelle did beautiful undergraduate work for me and we’re fortunate to have her back on this campus pursuing graduate studies. She has a ‘green thumb’ when it comes to conducting research. The fact that she won the award shows the continuity of our successes on this campus -- the undergraduate students we are teaching here are graduating as talented researchers who can go on to make an impact, not just on this continent but in Europe as well."

Hilscher spent the fall of 2005 at the Technical University of Delft in The Netherlands working with Dr. Paul Hekkert in the Design Experience research group, Cupchik said. “While she was there, she lectured at three different universities on our collaborative research and trained students in qualitative analysis of discourse,” Cupchik said. “Michelle has conducted a variety of studies on the creation and reception of poetry, responses to film, and is currently doing her Master’s research on the perception of visual metaphors.”

As a result of winning the award, Hilscher has been invited to speak at the annual APA convention to be held this August in San Francisco, where she will receive her award plus a travel allowance to attend the convention.

Juricevic, 31, won the Berlyne Award for Young Investigators, which is given to the individual who demonstrates superior quality in doctoral work or newly-post-doctoral work, within five years.

His prize-winning paper is titled “Looking at perspective pictures from too far, too close, and just right.” His paper was based on perspective pictures and the reason the pictures look realistic when the viewer examines them from different angles. Juricevic used the ART (Angle and Ratios Together) Theory but found it insufficient to solve this problem, so he later formulated his own theory.

Juricevic said he did not initially know what the Berlyne Award was, until he later learned that Prof. Kennedy had nominated him for it. “Then I found out that I was up against scholars who had their PhDs for 10 years. Considering that I am always very hard on myself, that made me feel even better,” said Juricevic. “It is nice to know that others value your work.”

Juricevic just completed his PhD in November. He will also accept his award at the APA convention, as well as a $500 honorarium for the upcoming year.

Prof. Kennedy said, “Igor is truly creative and has revolutionized the study of perspective pictures. He has fulfilled his early promise, in spades.”

Rosalyn Solomon is a fourth-year student in the journalism program offered jointly by U of T Scarborough and Centennial College.

© University of Toronto Scarborough