Undergraduate research award paves the way for the next generation of psychologists 

One of the hallmarks of a Butler education is its emphasis on a student-centered education. This means that students can tailor their studies, activities, and research to the subjects, ideas, and career fields that they’re really interested in. This is nowhere more evident than in the Psychology department’s Dr. Burrton Woodruff Undergraduate Research Award.

This award was established in 2005 by Psychology alumnus Stephen Stuart ’74 to honor Psychology Emeritus Dr. Burrton Woodruff. Dr. Woodruff was a beloved professor who worked at Butler for 35 years. He also served as a professor and mentor to Stuart.

“I took a number of courses taught by Dr. Woodruff,” Stuart says. “I have great memories of my relationship with him. I recall him taking his students under his wing and really being a mentor. I had a terrific experience with him and with all of my Psychology professors.”

It was those very relationships that inspired Stuart to establish this scholarship, which helps cover portions of Butler’s tuition for juniors and seniors majoring or minoring in Psychology.

Recipients of the scholarship must be engaged in a research project with preference given to those with approved Honors thesis projects.

“I know there are students who have to put together all sorts of elaborate scholarships and aid to even be able to get through school, so I was hoping this scholarship—whose recipients are chosen by the Psychology professors—could help alleviate some of that stress,” Stuart says.

One of the students who has received this scholarship is Abey Akinseye, a 2022 graduating Psychology and Sociology double major, minoring in Art + Design. Akinseye has always known that he wanted to study Psychology and Sociology, and chose Butler due to its emphasis on student-centered learning, mentorship, and the fact that it’s only an eight minute drive away from his family.

“I’m Nigerian and there’s not a lot of discourse in non-western cultures about mental illness and understanding mental health in society. I’ve always wanted to study Psychology and Sociology for this reason,” Akinseye says. “Butler was the perfect fit academically, financially, and based on its location. I’m so glad I chose to study here.”

Akinseye was chosen as a recipient of the Dr. Burrton Woodruff Undergraduate Research Award, due in part to his Honors research thesis. Entitled “Art, Race, and the Carceral System: Perceptions of Criminality in Artful Expression,”

Akinseye’s thesis examines why rap music is viewed as more “criminal” than other musical genres and why juries are more likely to attribute criminal stereotypes to rappers. He presented his thesis at the American Psychology–Law Society Conference in Denver in March, and then again at Butler’s own Undergraduate Research Conference in April.

“I’ve always been really interested in research, but was a little unsure about what my next steps would be after I graduated from Butler,” Akinseye says. “My advisor, Dr. [Fabiana] Alceste, encouraged me to apply for the scholarship during my junior year. I submitted a write-up of my thesis, and ended up getting the scholarship. It was validation that I was on the right track and that I could be a great researcher.”

Since receiving the scholarship, Akinseye says that it’s encouraged him to take his research seriously and he’s since decided to apply for very competitive doctoral programs in Psychology. He recently found out that he was accepted into his first choice program at Oakland University in Michigan. After obtaining his doctoral degree, he hopes to become a Psychology professor and inspire a new generation of students, just like his professors—and Stephen Stuart’s—did.

“Getting this scholarship was huge for me,” Akinseye says. “Not only did it help financially, but it gave me a huge confidence boost. I attribute most of my recent successes to having confidence in myself that I probably wouldn’t have had without receiving this award. It really means so much.”