Cassandra Domingo

Everyone has areas where they can use a little help. Cassandra Domingo needed help with math, so she took advantage of SUNY Broome’s tutoring program to stay on top of her statistics class.

The tutoring sessions did more than help her learn statistics. They also planted the seed for multiple research projects, which this future psychologist has presented at both national and international conferences.

“The most important thing about coming to SUNY Broome is what I want to do in the long term,” Domingo, a Liberal Arts major from Johnson City, reflected. “SUNY Broome does a really great job in focusing on where you want to go. I never thought that undergraduates could do research; it never even crossed my mind.”

Domingo, who is one of SUNY Broome’s peer tutors, conducted research on the impact of supplemental instruction on student success. She found that the final grades of students who took advantage of supplemental instruction for introductory psychology averaged 20 points higher than those who didn’t attend the sessions, earning a B rather than a D. They also improved their study skills and their confidence, and developed the habits crucial to college success.

Her research didn’t stop there. A second study tracked students who came to peer tutoring, and their progress.  “It was really cool to watch their progress, but there was a visible decline when students drop out of tutoring,” she observed. “If they were in the session, they did significantly better.”

As one research question inevitably leads to another, the study points to a new focus: What tools can we give students so that they retain the skills they learned in their tutoring sessions? Note-taking strategies could be one such area for improvement, Domingo said. 

“All I could think was, how can we flip this to be a little better for them?” she said of her tutoring subjects.

Domingo has taken her research on the road, presenting at professional conferences along the Eastern seaboard. As a first-year student, she presented a research poster on the effectiveness of peer-assisted study sessions in June 2016 at the Eastern Conference on the Teaching of Psychology in Staunton, VA. For an undergraduate student – a freshman at a community college no less – to present at a professional scientific conference is exceedingly rare, according to Dr. Bill Altman, her psychology professor and research advisor. While most students who present at conferences do so as part of a professor-led research team, Domingo conducted her own research – something more expected of a graduate student than a college freshman.

More opportunities followed. She presented her research and led a Participant Idea Exchange on supplemental instruction in January at the 39th annual National Institute on the Teaching of Psychology (NITOP) in St. Pete Beach, Fla. While the June conference was small with less than 100 participants, NITOP is an international conference, Domingo said. She’ll be presenting at another international conference in May on the lasting effects of supplemental instruction.

“I think I was the only community college undergraduate student,” she said of her experience at NITOP. “I was also the only undergraduate student to host a participant idea exchange.”

So, what’s it like to present in front of professionals in your field?

“The walk to where you’re presenting is so nerve-wracking. As you get closer, it gets more and more serious,” Domingo said.

Nerves aside, the reception of her work was positive, and Domingo fielded interesting and supportive questions and comments.

“Every single person was just so excited that anyone was doing research,” she said. “It’s all of these professionals pulling you up.”

Chess, airplanes and Ben Franklin

Like many SUNY Broome students, Domingo is the first person in her family to attend college. And far from being a budding scientist from her early years, she never considered research as a possible career; in fact, she didn’t even take a science course during her senior year of high school.

When it came time to consider college, SUNY Broome wasn’t even on the list; Cassandra expected to attend a four-year school. All that changed after a family member fell ill, and Domingo chose to stay closer to home. It proved a fortuitous choice; by the second semester, she was connecting with professors, tutors and staff, she said.

“Now I would absolutely say that coming to SUNY Broome has completely changed my trajectory. I had no idea of what I wanted to do,” she said. “If I went to another college, I would have been lost in a sea of students.”

In addition to her research accomplishments, Domingo is one of three Jack Kent Cooke scholarship semi-finalists from the college, along with Heather Coggin and Werley Scott Paul. Outside of class, she is a member of the Phi Theta Kappa honor society and Chess Club, even though she didn’t know how to play the game when she joined.

“The professors who mentor the club are scary good. We have nationally ranked players,” she said. “It’s probably my favorite club on campus.” 

After she graduates in May, she plans to study psychology at Cornell University – and then transfer to Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University to become an aeronautical psychologist.

Yep, that’s a real career – and a diverse one. They can study the human factors connected with airplane crashes, conduct grief counseling in the wake of emergencies and help vet candidates looking to attend pilot school, for example.

“I’m really interested in research, and it’s a pretty small niche field with a lot of really cool research being carried out,” she explained.

Once she announced her interest in psychology, Dr. Altman encouraged her to look into her options. She read through a 75-page document from the American Psychological Society on every career available to those with a psychology degree, and took note of what piqued her interest.

Psychology is an endlessly fascinating field because, ultimately, it’s all about understanding human behavior, Domingo said.

“The more you learn, the more questions you have. It’s a rabbit hole of interesting things, like one called the Ben Franklin effect,” she explained.

The Ben Franklin effect?

“Years ago, someone hated Ben Franklin. He had a rare book collection. Franklin asked the man to borrow a book and they started a conversation about the book,” she said. “It caused cognitive dissonance, and the other guy ended up liking him. He ended up being Ben Franklin’s best friend.”