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MCLA Experiences Prepared Psychology Major for Career

06/07/17

As a teenager, Milena Casamassima ’17 of Mansfield, Mass., became interested in psychology. “Psychology is exciting because it is malleable,” she said. “An aspiring psychologist can find or create a niche that is perfect for their specific interests.” 

Psychologists, she continued, have to mold their work to each specific person they work with. To do that, they need to see each and every person as a unique individual with a rich history and personality. I really like viewing people like that!”

After graduating from high school, Casamassima took a year off and volunteered for several months at a Costa Rican orphanage. “Most of the children there were taken from their parents’ homes because of abuse or because their parents were addicted to drugs. This gave me a firsthand look at the effects of drug use. That really motivated me to work with drug users as a psychologist.”

At MCLA, the psychology major was the president of Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP). She wants a career that involves research in drug use and recreational drugs in general, as well as more direct work with active drug users.

“I have always been passionate about the drug war and the need for changes to drug policy. Specifically, SSDP focuses on harm reduction which is the recognition that people are going to use drugs no matter what and the goal should be to help users do so as safely as possible,” she explained.

As a new graduate, Casamassima is employed as a harm reduction counselor in North Adams, where she works with intravenous drug users. Her work includes outreach to help educate people on drug-related issues such as overdoses, HIV and Hepatitis C.

At MCLA, Casamassima was a coordinator with the Pathways to College Program, created through MCLA’s Center for Service and Citizenship. In that position, she worked as a mentor to Drury High School students in their College and Career Readiness Center.

In addition, she served as vice president of the Psychology Club, worked as a research assistant in the psychology department, and wrote a senior thesis based on interviews she conducted with MCLA students with regard to their prescribed ADHD medications.

She also presented her research at the Massachusetts Commonwealth Undergraduate Conference, the NCUR (National Conference of Undergraduate Research) conference in North Carolina, the COPLAC (Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges) conference, and MCLA’s Undergraduate Conference.

Casamassima, who plans to attend graduate school in 2018, believes this research and presentation experience will make her a competitive applicant. 

As she got to know her professors at MCLA, Casamassima found that most of them had a good sense of her interests, her strengths and her weaknesses. “This was extremely helpful when I wanted to begin doing research because I knew who to go to, and they knew who to refer me to,” she said. “I got to spend enough time with each professor I worked with to really maximize all of the work I was doing.

“Another great thing about MCLA is that if you want to do something, there is a way to get it done. If you want to start a club or become president of a club, you can do that! There are so many opportunities just waiting to be taken advantage of at MCLA.”

She advises other MCLA students to go beyond what is required by their major. “MCLA is a gold mine. All you need is the willingness to put yourself out there a bit and dig for the opportunities!”