Class of 2019: Brittany Sears

McDaniel College senior Brittany Sears and her daughter Delaney
April 23, 2019

Brittany Sears is a Psychology major from Westminster, Maryland.

When I took my first step on the Hill, I was: a little lost even though I was right where I needed to be. I was apprehensive about being a non-traditional student and sort of felt out of place. Also, I was somewhat overwhelmed in my newfound environment and unsure of what I was in for. I just knew I needed to make something of myself for my daughter, Delaney. She is the reason why I took my first step on the Hill.

The me who will ring the Old Main bell on Commencement Day has: transformed into a different person.  I am empowered and spiritually aware. I am comfortable with myself. Also, I have direction in my life. I am fearless, knowing that nothing can stop me and everything is possible. And most importantly, I am someone who is thankful for their time at McDaniel because it has made me a better mother and role model for my daughter.

Aha moment: I took a Buddhist philosophy class here that changed my life. I was never a very religious person per se, but I found this class truly enlightening and it gave me a great foundation, spiritually. I look at the world through a different lens now. I do not attach myself to any type of negativity and I see connections between things that I had never seen before. This class blew me away because it offered me a whole new perspective on the interconnections life has to offer and how to live compassionately. It was this class that had the most impact on me while at McDaniel.

Footprints I’m leaving on the Hill: I hope I will leave a mark that resonates with people who have different or seemingly difficult circumstances. I am 33 years old and a first generation college student. I am a single mom of a 4-year-old little girl. I maintained two jobs while attending McDaniel full time. Also, I was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome later in life and that comes with its own set of challenges, but I would not change it for the world. I maintained the Dean’s list each semester and was inducted into three different honor societies during my time at McDaniel. So, if you feel like you are not the traditional college student, no worries. It can be done, and it can be done well!  

Professor who most influenced who I have become: Psychology professor Maggie McDevitt most influenced who I have become. She is the epitome of what a professor should be. She provided me with opportunities outside the classroom that were invaluable. I was a tutor, lab technician and researcher for her Psychology of Learning class. All of those experiences were wonderful, but we connected on another level. We talked sometimes and both of us would sit there in tears (happy tears, of course) while we had very heartfelt discussions. I think she knew the apprehensions I had about myself and about being a non-traditional student. She knew me better than I knew myself. I know I have Dr. McDevitt on my team for the rest of my life and that is one of the most important things I will take away from McDaniel.

My mentor. For life.: Another professor at McDaniel that put a lot of faith in me and helped guide me through my journey was my advisor, Psychology professor Madeline Rhodes. She invited me to be the writing fellow for her Writing in Psychology class and I jumped at the offer. I also felt a deeper connection with Dr. Rhodes. She has a personality that emulates strength and confidence. I looked up to her quite a bit as I really liked these qualities in a person. Dr. Rhodes also helped me with my preparations for graduate school. Dr. Rhodes wants her students to succeed.  

Best class ever: This is the most difficult question as I loved every single class, but if I had to only choose one I would pick Cognitive Psychology with Psychology professor Jack Arnal. What a fantastic teacher. I used to look forward to going to this class, if only for his jokes. I was never bored in this class! On a serious note though, this class allowed for creativity and hands-on experience in the cognition lab. The material was so interesting; I loved learning about different mental processes, such as memory and attention. I even got to invent a product and make my own commercial in this class!

Took me totally by surprise: There is a whole area of research that uses pigeons to learn about behavior!

Most mind-boggling idea I learned at McDaniel: The neurons in our brain communicate via electrical signals called action potentials, which I am now able to diagram. Thanks to the Behavioral Neuroscience class at McDaniel!

Real world experiences: I was a teaching assistant and tutor for the Psych of Learning class, a research assistant in the Cognitive Psychology lab — and also interned at an addictions facility and found out that I did not want to pursue that as a career. I highly recommend interning in an area that you think you are interested in because it is important to find out now if you will like it or not. One of my favorite and most recent experiences at McDaniel was attending the Eastern Psychological Association Conference in New York to present the research. It was my first time in NYC and I had the best time ever!

My capstone: “Good News, Bad News, and No News: How Pigeons Value Information”

What it’s about: I conducted research with pigeons to examine the effects of condition reinforcement. Most of the time pigeons behave optimally, but sometimes that is not the case. The pigeons in my experiment had a choice between two alternatives that were equated in terms of primary reinforcement (i.e., food). One alternative signaled “good news” and the other alternative signaled “bad news.” I found that even when primary reinforcement was equated, the pigeons had a strong preference for the good news alternative. These findings further support the notion that conditioned reinforcement impacts the decision making process.

What it’s really about: Pigeons value information, especially when it signals food. They love good news!