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Blake Jonassen: Learning by Doing

Psychology major from Muskegon turns COVID-19 pandemic into research opportunity

ALMA — Various aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic, including wearing face coverings, social distancing and the possibility of contracting COVID-19 exacerbated negative feelings for many people worldwide. For psychology students at Alma College, those feelings were opportunities for clinical research.

Blake Jonassen, a senior psychology student, spent the better part of 2020 and 2021 studying his fellow students’ grade point averages, both before and after the pandemic, to see if negative feelings created a change in their GPA. Jonassen turned this research into a presentation at Alma’s Honors Day, which was also shown to the Michigan Academy of Science, Arts and Letters

“All of the opportunities we have here, I feel like you can’t get anywhere else,” Jonassen said. “To have research experience as an undergrad is very rare and it’s something that can only happen with dedicated faculty.”

Jonassen, originally from Muskegon, said that coming out of high school, he considered going to larger state universities, but decided to attend Alma for its “small-town feel,” including the opportunity to get to know others well. He feels fulfilled in that respect by taking part in programs such as the Alma Choir and Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia

“Don’t get me wrong — I love to sing — but I think my favorite part of choir is actually the people who are part of the program,” Jonassen said. “Since we see each other basically every day, we have all gotten really close to each other.”

Jonassen has also found a community within the college’s King-Chavez-Parks (KCP) First Year Mentor program, where he serves as lead mentor and student assistant. As part of KCP, Jonassen helps connect first-year students with mentors who assist in navigating college and all it has to offer, including the academic, social, and financial aspects. 

“I think that seeing our mentors are able to help mentees, especially first-generation students who don’t necessarily know about the resources that we have available at the college, is really nice,” Jonassen said. “You’re able to see concrete changes happening in peoples’ lives.”

Jonassen said his next steps will either be studying clinical psychology or higher education administration at the graduate level — two career tracks he picked up by attending Alma College.

“I came in as math and physics major and thanks to faculty members like Dr. Natashia Swalve, I developed this deep interest in how our brains work,” Jonassen said. “My work with KCP and the Diversity and Inclusion Office is what led to my interest in higher education administration. 

“I feel prepared to move on to the next level. The college offers a lot of opportunities to students and I really appreciate that.”

Story published on February 22, 2022