Edinboro University student Elizabeth Bennett was selected among candidates at all 14 institutions in Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) to receive the 2022 Syed R. Ali-Zaidi Award for Academic Achievement.
Bennett, an Edinboro native who expects to graduate in December with dual degrees in psychology and data analytics and minors in applied mathematics and music, was recognized April 14 at the State System’s Board of Governors quarterly meeting.
“I am truly honored to be Edinboro University’s nominee for the Ali-Zaidi award, and I am endlessly thankful to the professors, mentors and friends who have helped me throughout my time as an undergraduate,” said Bennett, who, in addition to earning dual majors and minors, will also be among the first to earn Edinboro University’s new certificate in Cannabis Science and Industry.
Bennett was granted the highly competitive award from a pool of strong candidates based on her outstanding academic performance, participation in extra and co-curricular activities, essay quality and faculty recommendations.
Dr. Dale-Elizabeth Pehrsson, interim president of Edinboro, recognized Bennett for being nominated by two separate departments at Edinboro University – Psychology and Mathematics and Computer Science.
“In taking full advantage of the opportunities provided by a PASSHE education, Elizabeth models the best values of our Commonwealth – the thirst for learning, self-growth and practical experience; an ethic of hard work and perseverance; and a commitment to service,” she said.
An active student-researcher in the Psychology Department’s behavioral neuroscience research lab since her first year, Bennett quickly developed a passion for the sophisticated analysis of behavioral data. She designed and conducted analyses on the role of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine in multitasking, and found that acetylcholine causes divided attention by activating the muscarinic M1 receptor protein.
Because of her unique contributions to the success of the study, Bennett coauthored an article in the peer-reviewed journal “Pharmacology, Biochemistry and Behavior” alongside Psychology faculty member Dr. Peter McLaughlin in 2021. A second piece is in preparation.
As an accomplished research student, Bennett has earned several university awards for her commitment to academics. She won the Jack Culbertson Award for Outstanding Sophomore and the John Schell Award for Outstanding Junior, and is expected to win the Senior Scholar Award.
“She is an exemplary scholar with several research accomplishments and an excellent university citizen,” wrote McLaughlin in his recommendation letter. “If we had an award for freshmen, she probably would have won that as well.”
Her current scholarship involves meta-analysis of the outsized impact of neuroscience information. With the help of her data analytics professors, she wrote computer programming code to run the analysis in the statistical software package known as R. She also contacted scientists in several countries to access their data. Under McLaughlin’s supervision, Bennett found a weak – but statistically significant impact – showing that neuroscience messages do indeed possess an oversized influence relative to other kinds of health science information.
“For all my success in training students for science-related careers, I have never had a student independently conduct such a high-impact project with so little supervision,” McLaughlin said.
Bennett presented research at Edinboro University’s Celebration of Scholarship and at the Western Pennsylvania Undergraduate Psychology Conference in spring 2021. Her work was also accepted by the Society for Neuroscience in Chicago, but COVID-19 precluded her from attending.
She maintains a 4.0 GPA and is a member of both the university’s Honors College and Psi Chi, an international honor society for the Psychology discipline.
As a first-year student, Bennett studied abroad for two weeks in Ireland and accompanied members of the History, Politics, Languages and Cultures Department on an educational trip to Salem, Mass., to study the Salem Witch Trials.
In addition to her exceptional scholarly work, Bennett has held several leadership roles on campus, including three years as drum major and president of the Spirit of the Scots Marching Band, vice president of Psi Chi and a congress member for the Edinboro University Student Government Association.
She volunteered at Brain Awareness Day, an international educational outreach event that aims to raise awareness about brain science and health, and presented her research to hundreds of high school students at the Math and Computer Science Department’s annual Pi Day.
“I truly love Edinboro, and I could go on about my time here forever,” said Bennett, who included research with Dr. McLaughlin, marching band with Diann Smith, the Honors College with Dr. Roger Solberg and the study abroad trip to Ireland with retired faculty member Dr. Jerra Jenrette as highlights of her undergraduate experience. “If I had to list every professor I was thankful for, I would write the name of just about everyone I have encountered.”
Beyond her campus service, she has worked with students in Honduras to develop their English language skills and assisted with home improvement projects for impoverished residents of rural Kentucky through Red Bird Missions.
The Syed R. Ali-Zaidi Award was founded in 2000 by Dr. Syed R. Ali-Zaidi, a charter member of the Board of Governors, who wishes to inspire and honor State System students who exhibit excellence in their pursuit of knowledge. Funding was made possible through gifts from Dr. Ali-Zaidi, Highmark Inc., and the State System Foundation, Inc.
Photo: Edinboro University student Elizabeth Bennett was selected to receive the 2022 Syed R. Ali-Zaidi Award for Academic Achievement. Joining her are Dr. Dale-Elizabeth Pehrsson, interim president of Edinboro University, and Bennett's parents – Daniel and Michelle Bennett.