Cheyenne Kovach became the first graduate of the industrial-organizational psychology graduate program on May 14, 2016. Photo by Sam O'Keefe

Passion for people drives first industrial-organizational psychology grad

May 31, 2016 by Greg Katski

Missouri S&T’s graduate program in industrial-organizational psychology gave Cheyenne Kovach the opportunity to pursue her specific interest as a psychologist. As the program’s first graduate, she’s also opening doors for future graduate students.

On the cusp of graduating with a bachelor of arts in psychology from the Ohio State University, Kovach realized that, although she hadn’t taken any classes in industrial-organizational psychology toward her degree, it was the field she wanted to pursue a career in. This realization came after plenty of independent research and soul-searching.

“I thought, ‘Oh, I’ve worked in places where this can be applied. This actually makes sense – it’s applicable,’” Kovach says.

Industrial-organizational psychologists focus on workforce development issues. They develop assessments of people for job selection and placement, create training programs and strategies for organizational development, and develop measurements of performance and ways to promote quality of work-life.

In an act of pure serendipity, Kovach moved to Rolla with her boyfriend shortly before S&T’s master’s program in industrial-organizational psychology was established in spring 2014.

Kovach enrolled in the program that fall and became the first person to receive a master’s degree in industrial-organizational psychology from the university on May 14, 2016.

The program includes a thesis option for students wishing to prepare to enter a Ph.D. program, and a non-thesis option in one of three tracks – “Leadership in Technological Organizations,” “Psychometrics,” or “Human Factors.”

Kovach took the “Human Factors” track. Human factors, or ergonomics, is the study of how people interact with machines and technology, according to the American Psychological Association.

“It’s kind of like designing the workplace for the worker,” says Kovach.

Kovach did a variety of research for her degree, including an independent research project where she walked through campus dropping papers in front of strangers.

“I wanted to see if they would help me pick them up,” she says.

In a different scenario of her experiment, Kovach had a friend sit on a bench. Kovach would walk past her and drop papers, then her friend would help her pick them up.

“That’s a descriptive norms condition. It’s demonstrating that you should help because other people are helping,” she says. “It turned out that people were less likely to help when they saw someone was already helping.

“If I had done it at (a department store), I don’t think people would have been as likely to help because there’s a group aspect of being an S&T student. You feel like you have some obligation to help other students.”

Kovach also attended the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology Conference in Anaheim, California, this spring. Dr. Nathan Weidner, assistant professor of psychological science, served as her advisor.

Kovach plans on staying in Missouri to pursue a career in the human factors field.