After spending a few years in Greece’s public school system, Despoina Lioliou ’17 of Veroia, Greece, realized students were taught to learn through rote memorization, not thoughtful or creative questioning. She enrolled at Clark University, and discovered her purpose: change how Greek children learn.
“In my sophomore year, I asked a professor for advice about what to do in life, and he asked me, ‘What makes you angry about the world?’ I realized I really wanted to reform education in Greece,” she says.
She landed her first internship at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and has since interned in the Laboratory for Child Development at Johns Hopkins University and Yale University’s Social Cognitive Development Lab, for which she earned a Barth Summer Internship Award.
Lioliou also works as a research assistant in Clark’s Purpose Lab, part of a six-country longitudinal study on service learning, with her faculty and honors thesis adviser Seana Moran, research assistant professor of psychology. There, working alongside Moran, she combined research with technical skills to write, conceptualize and produce videos to communicate the lab’s findings, something she feels makes her a more attractive candidate for graduate school or employment when she graduates.
“Whether we talk about strengthening my purpose in life, preparing for my thesis defense, or networking in conferences, she always has advice that is based on her experiences and her understanding of my goals,” Lioliou says.
Lioliou is the president of Clark’s Psi Chi Chapter, the psychology honor society, and she’s pursuing additional leadership roles because of it.
“The emphasis on research in my coursework has provided me with enough experience to get prestigious internships, which in turn have made me a competitive job candidate,” she notes.
Lioliou is gaining teaching experience as a program coordinator and teacher with Clark’s Educational Studies Program’s SPLASH event and as a researcher and instructor through Professor Sarah Michaels’ “In Our Own Words” project, a weekly poetry club for local students in 7ththrough 10th grades.
Outside the lab and classroom, Lioliou has volunteered with refugee populations and children in Greece. During winter break in 2016, she was a caretaker for unaccompanied refugee children and last August worked as a teaching assistant at refugee camp schools. Through her Psi Chi leadership role, she’s leading a fundraising effort for the Refugee and Immigrant Assistance Center in Worcester.
“I find that I learn best by doing, and Clark has been full of opportunities for action,” she says. “Clark provided the freedom to explore and has made me sure the career path I’ve chosen is the one I truly feel passionate about.”