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Olena Marukhnyak

SJU Student Receives Grant Support to Conduct Research

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With a grant funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), St. John’s psychology major Olena Marukhnyak ’15C earned a place on a 12-person undergraduate team that participated in the foundation’s Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) at Baruch College during the 2013–14 academic year.

As part of the program, Marukhnyak completed a research paper, “Comparing Traditional and Modern Intelligence Tests to Reduce Adverse Impact for Minorities,” which found that contemporary IQ tests are a more accurate gauge for minority-group members than older versions that are heavily based on vocabulary. She presented her findings at the REU Conference in New York City on May 9, 2014.

To prove her hypothesis, Marukhnyak began by studying cognitive ability. She describes cognitive ability as a way of thinking, problem solving, and reasoning. “Traditional IQ tests attempt to measure not just your ability to reason, but what you have learned,” she said. “Unless these tests are culture-free, they will disadvantage certain groups—particularly minorities.”

Instead, said Marukhnyak, such testing should aim to measure fluid intelligence, which is not based on prior learning. “Modern IQ tests are patterns-focused and visual and don’t rely heavily on cultural knowledge,” she said. “Therefore, they produce results that are more representative of how an individual can reason.”

David Kaye, Ph.D., adjunct assistant professor of philosophy, stressed that Marukhnyak is the type of student who would readily receive grant support for her work. “Olena is very bright, always prepared, and, perhaps most importantly, eager to learn,” he said. “She certainly stands out as one of the top students I’ve ever taught.”

Marukhnyak’s interest in her research topic is rooted in her experiences adapting to the New York City public school system after coming to the United States from Ukraine at the age of 12. She noticed that some of her teachers would teach to the test. “That form of learning doesn’t measure what you are capable of outside of that standardized test box,” Marukhnyak observed. “Because we rely on standardized testing to find our place in society, it’s imperative that these tests are fair.”

Marukhnyak, who describes the Vincentian mission as “putting others before yourself,” plans to pursue her Ph.D. in clinical psychology to help at-risk teens. “It’s important to try to influence our surroundings and give back as much as we can, even before we get our degrees,” she noted. “My career goal—helping those in need—is what it means to be an SJU student.”