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College students standing in a hallway wearing face masks

Doctoral Student Studies Pandemic-era Anxiety, Depression and Resiliency

Kimberly Crystal Monroe is earning her Ph.D. in Educational Psychology in a University of Northern Colorado building a stone’s throw from her former preschool on a campus where several of her family members studied.

Kimberly Crystal Monroe is earning her Ph.D. in Educational Psychology in a University of Northern Colorado building a stone’s throw from her former preschool on a campus where several of her family members studied. From this academic home base, she’s been able to explore her curiosity and passion for learning through several research efforts, including a mental health-focused comprehensive project (akin to a mini-dissertation).

Kimberly Monroe
Kimberly Crystal Monroe

“Everyone has been impacted by the pandemic in different ways. The students starting their first year of college in 2020 missed their prom, graduations and senior-year sports. Those are important rites of passage. I wanted to check on their mental health because we were hearing people were depressed, anxious and scared of COVID,” said Monroe.

In her paper, “General Anxiety, Depression, Covid Anxiety, Resiliency, and the University Student,” she compared mental health surveys taken and self-reported by the campus community in 2020, 2021 and 2022. Approximately 150-200 full-time UNC students and faculty members completed surveys each year, including GAD-7 (anxiety), PHQ-8 (depression), CAS (coronavirus anxiety) and CD-RISC (resiliency).

“What was most interesting, was the average score for anxiety and depression was right below the moderate cutoff indicating mild to moderate. The underclass and faculty were reporting extremely low COVID anxiety scores in 2020 and 2021. I’m wondering if the people surveyed were not worried about COVID or if there was something not operating correctly about the scale itself,” Monroe said.

Monroe received a regional research award from Psi Chi, an honors program in psychology, and she presented her work at the Rocky Mountain Psychological Association (RMPA) conference in April 2023.

Nancy Karlin is a professor in the School of Psychological Sciences at UNC and an executive committee member at RMPA. She works year-round to ensure RMPA is one of the country’s most exciting regional psychology conferences. Karlin mentored Monroe on her first research assistantship and advised on her comprehensive project.

“Kim is a torchbearer for other graduate students. Her ability to lead makes her someone to watch by those who want to know what excellence looks like. She’s an enthusiastic and capable student who continues to develop into a recognized leader,” said Karlin.

Monroe’s abilities were honed, in part, by a 2020 literature review of COVID-19 pandemic issues that led to two separate research projects. The research resulted in presentations to local, regional and national audiences, including a Flash Talk at the 2021 Association of Psychological Sciences (APS) annual meeting. With each of Monroe’s research projects, she gained experience and skills. First, she did a literature review on home and community-based services in rural and frontier counties. Then, she served on a research team studying social media and multitasking. Next, she worked in a research lab on pandemic issues associated with service providers.

In addition to being a doctoral student and a graduate research assistant, Monroe is an instructor of record for social psychology at UNC, teaching both in-person and online. Her prior teaching experiences include K-12 and college-level courses in English composition, writing instruction and English as a Second Language.

“Students find her engaging. She is an individual who isn’t willing to take second best in a project or within her classroom, either as a student or as an instructor of record,” Karlin said.

Monroe said she always wanted to be a teacher because she loved being a student.

“I want to be able to pass on my love of learning. I’m a curious person, so I role model asking questions,” said Monroe, who noted her therapy dog, Caledonia or “Callie” for short, attends her classes.

For her upcoming dissertation, Monroe plans to study the effect of school closures on student outcomes.

“We all know there were differences in our personal lives, but as far as academic outcomes, were there any statistically significant differences after 2020?” she asks.

After Monroe graduates, she plans to attend law school.

“As a lawyer, I might be able to change some injustices in the world,” she said.

— written by Brenda Gillen

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