While the pandemic changed many aspects of people’s lives, Mierel Rehich and Megan Loh, two University of Chicago students enrolled in the Masters of Arts Program in Social Sciences. They both worked as researchers with Dr. Howard C. Nusbaum and Dr. Anne Henly at the Center for Practical Wisdom and under the constraints restricting in-person research focused their efforts carrying out online research across the United States, and abroad to Malaysia. During this transformative and intense one year degree program, they worked diligently throughout the pandemic to continue the strong research traditions of the University of Chicago, focusing their work on aspects of wisdom.
Wisdom and Experiential Learning
Mierel Rehich focused her master’s thesis work on the psychological manifestation of concepts in virtue epistemology and wisdom. When she began her master’s project, she wanted to explore a topic with no prior knowledge to take advantage of the research training in her MAPSS year. She compared students with past experiences in study abroad programs to those who had not yet gone abroad to assess differences in measured wise reasoning and civility. The online survey included measures such as the Situated Wisdom Scale developed by wisdom researcher Dr. Igor Grossmann from the Wisdom & Culture lab at the University of Waterloo, the Epistemic Humility Scale developed by Center for Practical Wisdom researcher and Professor Emeritus in the Department of Music at the University of Chicago Dr. Berthold Hoeckner, Loewen, Lyle and Nachshen’s (2009) Empathy Quotient, the Di Fabio and Gori (2016) Workplace Relational Civility Scale (modified for students relational civility), and Doolittle and Faul’s (2013) Civic Engagement Scale, among others. Rehich found that students with study abroad experiences showed significantly greater empathy, humility, and cultural competence when compared to those who had not participated in a recent study abroad experience and this could not be attributed to differences in the types of students who study abroad. Her thesis suggested that “Given the immersive and interactive nature of the study abroad experience…results of this study provide evidence that the study abroad experience increases civic virtues as well as intellectual virtues and related psychological processes.”
Wisdom and Resilience
Megan Loh took a novel approach in investigating the psychological impact of the pandemic. Her interests stem from trying to understand how people are responding to the pandemic and what factors might increase resilience during this stressful time. Her research considered different factors in assessing resilience during the pandemic comparing online samples of undergraduate students, a broader US cohort, and a sample from Malaysia. Loh’s research utilized the Three Dimensional Wisdom Scale developed by wisdom researcher and Associate Professor of Sociology and Criminology and Law at the University of Florida- Dr. Monika Ardelt, Hoeckner’s Epistemic Humility Scale, Zimet, Dahlem, Zimet & Farley’s (1988) Multidimensional Scale of Perceived Social Support, and the Smith et al. (2008) Brief Resilience Scalealongside a revised Impact of Events Scale and a Covid Challenges Scale. Her results demonstrated that while wisdom, epistemic humility and social support are positively correlated with resilience, only wisdom and epistemic humility were found to mediate the negative impact of the pandemic. Loh notes this is particularly important as it indicates some aspects of social connection during the pandemic may serve as a stressor as opposed to a source of comfort. She concludes “the negative consequences of the pandemic appear to be greater among participants who have lower levels of either wisdom or epistemic humility”. As such, Loh hopes further investigating the ameliorating effects of wisdom and epistemic humility in other populations will help people navigate stressors brought on by the pandemic.
Since graduating, Rehich has is using skills she developed in MAPSS working at Nuro Retention, a software and data analytics company. She hopes that through her work she aid in increasing retention rates in higher education. Loh has extended her research in resilience and wisdom by collecting new data from Australia and New Zealand. She is also studying how children with dyslexia process language at the Harvard Graduate School of Education with Dr. Nadine Gaab. While both students have since graduated from the University of Chicago, the impact of their wisdom-based research will continue to inform research at the Center for Practical Wisdom.