UM-Flint grad Culinski awarded 2024 Graduate Research Fellowship from the National Science Foundation

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Thanks to her extensive research experience as an undergraduate, the National Science Foundation has awarded Taylor Culinski a Graduate Research Fellowship.

Taylor Culinski wasted no time stacking up accomplishments so early in her academic and professional careers.

The April 2024 graduate, who majored in psychology, was part of the University of Michigan-Flint's Honors program and Urban Institute of Racial, Economic, and Environmental Justice. She immersed herself in research that delves into the resources and support available to kinship caregivers of children with disabilities and also served as a supplementary instructor for the Psychology Department's course on research methods. She is the second author of three peer-reviewed and published articles and a research assistant (through UM-Flint's Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program) in the Public Health Department, where she is involved in research regarding telehealth use among teens. She has been president of the Psychology Club since 2021 and was recognized as one of 13 Winter 2024 Maize & Blue Distinguished Scholars. Oh – and the National Science Foundation recently awarded Culinski a Graduate Research Fellowship, which provides over $100,000 in funding for her future graduate studies at the University of Oregon.

Culinksi smiling in front of a rsearch poster
Culinski presented her proposed research on teen use of telehealth services at the American Public Health Association Conference.

Culinski's personal experiences have profoundly influenced her academic journey. 

"My family is raising my niece and nephew, both of whom have developmental disabilities. This personal connection has fueled my desire to make a difference in the lives of others facing similar challenges. It's why I chose to stay close to home during college, to continue supporting my family," Culinski said. "The small class sizes at UM-Flint were also a major draw for me, as they provided the perfect environment for building close relationships with my professors."

She initially considered pursuing a career in speech pathology, so studying psychology seemed a natural course of action. However, her intellectual curiosity was piqued once she delved into academic research, and all bets were off.

"I had the opportunity to go to Atlanta for the American Public Health Association Conference and witnessed the real-world impact research can have," she said. "I fell in love with how transformational research can be, especially from a public health perspective – it can and does change lives."

Her scholarly interests center on developmental psychology, so Culinski complemented her major with a minor in early childhood education and a certificate in early childhood trauma and education. Through these classes, she met one of her most influential mentors, UM-Flint Associate Professor of Education Toko Oshio, who also served as her honors thesis advisor.

"I had never before worked with a student like Taylor, who is so curious and passionate about research," Oshio said. "It brings me joy when she asks questions about theories, research findings, and their application in the real world, and her enthusiasm for scholarship stands out. While her research interests are sometimes guided by her lived experience, she focuses on how research can empower and advocate for others facing specific social challenges."

Culinski smiling in front of a research poster.
Culinski presented her proposed research on kinship families raising children with and without disabilities at the 22nd Generations United Global Intergenerational Conference in Washington, D.C.

Since her thesis project relies heavily on community participation, Culinski will continue working with Oshio to collect results throughout the summer. What she learns from her thesis will help shape her future graduate studies.

"I chose the University of Oregon's online Master of Science in Psychology because its unique blend of courses in the neuroscience of trauma, adversity and resilience, and intervention science will enable me to continue research centered on any of the limitations revealed during my thesis project at UM-Flint," she said. "There is little to no research on the experiences of children growing up in kinship families, specifically children with disabilities. I'd love to focus on the kids' experiences and create opportunities for them to express what family means to them, whether that's through art projects or other mediums."

As president of the Psychology Club, Culinski has worked to create a space for many of the online-only psychology students to network and feel connected.

"I'm incredibly proud of the career series I helped start in the Psychology Club. We invited grad students, professors and professionals in various psychology disciplines to help expand our sense of what was possible with our degrees," Culinski said. "Helping to create that inclusive space and the opportunity to function as a supplementary instructor in our research methods course has reshaped the direction I'd like to take my career. My new goal is to become a university professor, share my passion for research, and mentor students as they discover what inspires them."

Culinski considers her recognition as a Maize & Blue Scholar the culmination of her college experience. "It's the cherry on top! UM-Flint has been so supportive of helping me pursue everything I've been interested in, and I'm so proud to represent my class," she said. "I hope it will inspire others to follow in my footsteps, continue to grow the culture of scholarly research at UM-Flint, and showcase the academically nurturing experience I've had here."

Kat Oak is the communications specialist for the College of Arts, Sciences, and Education. She can be reached via email at [email protected].