Faculty Highlight: Nancy E. Rizzo and the VPA Help Students Cope During the Pandemic

Thursday, April 29, 2021

By Claudia Zequeira

The Valencia Psychology Association (VPA) has been especially busy this year, all in an effort to address the many challenges faced by students, faculty and staff during an unprecedented time for mental health issues in the country and in the world.

With Professor of Psychology Nancy E. Rizzo as its advisor, VPA — Valencia’s psychology student club on West Campus — held a number of virtual presentations this year. “Surviving the Pandemic: Part 2” was one such event. Hosted by the club in May 2020, it covered topics such as healthy coping behaviors, how to be successful in an online class and time management skills. Shortly before that, club leaders sent a document to students titled “Surviving the Pandemic,” which listed tips and included resources.

“We wanted to help students adjust to the academic changes and challenges they were experiencing and to help them find healthy ways to cope with these new stressors,” said Nancy.

Besides helping the students themselves, these events offer club members a chance to gain presenting experience and learn to operate in a professional environment.

Last October, VPA also presented “Virtual Game Night,” a series of trivia games that took place over the course of two days designed to give students a safe social “outing” and some Halloween fun.

“The majority of VPA’s events are academic in nature. However, during the pandemic, we found it important to include a social event to aid in stress relief. During the pandemic, VPA’s events centered on students’ well-being,” Nancy explained.

Trivia was followed by another virtual gathering held in November 2020, titled “What’s Brain Food?” where Professor of Nutrition Kristin Bartholomew discussed gut-brain connection. Approximately 80 people participated in this event, which was not only attended by Valencia students, but by faculty and staff at the College interested in the topic.

“This topic was chosen to help students’ mental health through nutrition, again, trying to find ways for students to stay healthy during a time of uncertainty and isolation,” Nancy said.

She added that VPA was supposed to host an event titled “Black Americans in Psychology’s History” this spring 2021. However, at one point it became clear that the stress of the pandemic was taking its toll on club officers throughout the semester. Meetings thus became a place to talk about their stress and receive support.

“I believe it is important to put the emotional needs of my officers before the needs of the club,” she said.

“The officers are full-time students who organize all of the VPA events and at least once a semester partake in co-presenting with me. These are ambitious students who take their studies seriously and need to be reminded of the importance of taking care of themselves. Sometimes, as the advisor, I need to step in and remind them their mental health is important too.”

Nancy, who holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in psychology as well as a doctorate in clinical psychology from the Florida Institute of Technology and is a licensed psychologist, expressed gratitude for the Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences at West Campus, its faculty and dean, all of whom were described as “very supportive.”

She also said VPA is currently working on a podcast series that will soon offer students an opportunity to listen to relevant mental health topics and develop coping skills. The podcasts will be shared in “Emergence,” Valencia’s Student Development newsletter, in the coming months.

Established in 2013-2014 after Nancy surveyed students about their interest in joining such an organization, VPA is a professional and academic club whose primary goal is to educate the Valencia community on psychological topics.

Students, faculty and staff are invited to attend VPA events, and faculty members may also consider giving students extra credit to attend. The club is open to any student who has an interest in psychology, but to be an officer, students must plan on going into the field of psychology. Currently, the club has 160 members, although it has counted as many as 450 students as members.

Without a doubt, its existence could not have happened were it not for a passionate instructor who loves her field and who makes that love contagious to her students.

“I love the field of psychology. I trust its science; I believe in it; and I live it!”, said Nancy, who has been teaching at Valencia since 2005. “Teaching affords me the opportunity to inspire students to get excited about psychology.”

Do you know a faculty member doing great work? Or, perhaps you’d like to share the work you’re doing? Send the colleague’s (or your) name to us at  The_Grove@valenciacollege.edu and include Faculty Highlight Nomination in the subject line of your email. We might just feature your colleague (or you) as an upcoming Faculty Highlight.

1 Comment

  • Melonie Sexton said:

    Love this! Way to go, Nancy!

    PMThu, 29 Apr 2021 18:31:11 +0000Thu, 29 Apr 2021 18:31:11 +0000pm21,6:31 pm

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