Department Newsletter | Graduate Student Spotlight

Ariana Stickel, Ph.D. Student in Clinical Psychology 

I first became interested in the aging brain when I volunteered in an assisted living home. The differences in cognition from person-to-person intrigued me. As I became involved in cognitive aging research, I noticed a lack of information on aging Hispanics. It hurt to see that the majority of aging research may not apply to many of my family members. I joined the University of Arizona’s doctoral program in clinical psychology in order to improve my skills in cognitive aging research with the hopes of one day applying such skills to investigations of aging in Hispanics. With the guidance and support of my research advisor, Dr. Lee Ryan, that day has arrived. My dissertation compares the influence of cardiovascular health and genetics on brain structure and cognition between Hispanics and non-Hispanic Whites. My previous graduate research suggests that cardiovascular risk factors, such as obesity, and genetics have complex and interactive effects on brain structure and cognition. Further, the impact of such factors may change from middle age to older adulthood and still more into late older adulthood. With the support of many individuals and organizations —the Ford Foundation, the National Science Foundation, and the P.E.O. (Philanthropic Educational Organization)— I will now be able to test if similar patterns are observed in Hispanics. The University of Arizona’s Psychology Department has laid the foundation for me to engage in collaborations, give back to the community, mentor students, and perform high quality research. After graduating, my overarching goal is to generate knowledge that promotes cognitive health and minimizes risk for cognitive impairments across multiple diverse groups. I also intend to work on teams to design and implement training programs to help underrepresent groups, especially people of color, overcome barriers to engaging in research.