News Story

Interview Series: Jenna Finch

April 22, 2013 – When Jenna Finch arrived at Georgetown in the Fall of 2009, she thought she would study International Health   Her parents thought so too.  Little did they know, she would decide to take a developmental psychology class, on a whim, with Rebecca Ryan (new window), and her interest in psychology was awakened.  “We were reading about resilience, and I started asking questions about how children respond to adversity.” Her interest deepened and she took a semester off to teach seventh grade English in a slum in Varanasi, northern India, by the Ganges River. There, she observed some children adapting and flourishing in the classroom, and others falling behind. “I wondered, what makes the difference? And how do we foster resilience?” 

Now a psychology and mathematics double major, Finch is keen to investigate the role of children’s early regulatory skills in predicting positive outcomes for low-income children.  Next year, she will be attending the Developmental and Psychological Sciences Program at Stanford University on a research fellowship. She credits her interest in graduate school to the relationships she has had with psychology department faculty. 

“The faculty here care a lot about the students. I’ve had an incredible experience working with them individually, and frankly, that’s why I’m pursuing graduate school. At a lot of research universities, the focus is on graduate students or just faculty-driven.  But here the professors put a lot into their teaching and want us to love psychology as much as they do.”

More immediately in Finch’s horizon, however, is her honors thesis, which examines the impact of child care quality on children’s effortful skills.  With Anna Johnson, a post-doctoral student in the psychology department, and Professor Deborah Philips, Finch is analyzing longitudinal dataset on 154 American preschoolers. Phillips conducted observational ratings of the quality of family and local childcare environments, including the sensitivity of the caregiver and teachers, and measures of the emotional climate.  Effortful control, which examines children’s self-regulation, attention and planning, was measured using both parental and behavioral assessments.

Finch, along with Philips and Johnson, wanted to know if childcare quality plays a positive role in improving children’s effortful control. The results, so far, confirm their hypothesis.  In their analysis, high quality childcare programs are associated with increases in effortful control at age 5, after controlling for other demographic variables.  Low and medium quality child care settings showed no relationship to children’s later effortful control skills. The result of the research, Finch hopes, is her first publication, co-authored with a Georgetown faculty member and post-doc.

Finch is keen to deepen her work in the psychology of resilience. “I’d love to get a nationally representative dataset of low-income parents and childcare indicators,” she says, “then analyze how a variety of childcare factors, like quality of academic instruction, predict resilience outcomes.” 

Finch also applied her passion to student leadership.  In January, as president of the Georgetown chapter of Psi Chi, she organized a research fair where 35 research labs at Georgetown, including psychology and biology labs, could communicate their research with Georgetown undergraduates. “I want other students to have the same opportunities I’ve had.”

Reflecting on her decision to major in psychology, Finch quips, “Follow your passions. My parents wanted me to do international health, but I told them I was passionate about psychology.”  She admits it’s not always easy. “I’m not saying I love every moment I’m doing the data analysis.” But Finch’s idealism is more refined now than before.

“For me, it’s about finding a balance between making a difference in the world and studying something I’m interested in.” Long-term, she says she hopes to continue producing research that can inform government policy and improve child care conditions.