Doctoral student honors the memory of her mentor through research

About six months before entering graduate school in 2003, Amanda Kracen married her husband. Two years later, Kracen walked across the stage and received her Master of Science in Psychology degree in December 2005 from Virginia Commonwealth University.

Since then, Kracen has devoted herself to several areas of study, including working as a predoctoral student and as a researcher at the VCU Massey Cancer Center.

At Massey, Kracen performs a variety of research projects, including working with terminally ill patients to study their decisions and whether they would change anything concerning their treatment or care.

“I’m interested in the well-being of the health care profession and how it affects the health care of the patient,” Kracen said.

Dr. Kathleen Ingram, assistant professor of psychology who serves as Kracen’s academic adviser, is impressed by the Illinois native’s hard work and dedication to her field.

“I have been particularly impressed with Amanda’s initiative and professionalism in developing collaborative relationships with several researchers at the Massey Cancer Center,” Ingram said.

Kracen credits her life experiences with sparking her interest in social psychology. Her best friend in college was diagnosed with cancer, and she realized then that she wanted to help in her friend’s recovery process and ultimately make a difference in the lives of others.

Elizabeth Fries, who was an associate professor in VCU’s psychology department and co-director of cancer control research at the VCU Massey Cancer Center, introduced and encouraged Kracen’s initial efforts in social psychology and cancer research and helped her begin research at Massey.

“[Fries’] interest in health promotion was very attractive to me, and I liked her from the first time we talked on the phone. I also liked the fact that she had a joint appointment at the Massey Cancer Center, which meant that I would get research and clinical experience working with a medical population,” Kracen said.

Throughout her academic career, Kracen has received several awards and scholarships including the recently awarded Elizabeth A. Fries Scholarship in Psychology. The scholarship was created in Fries’ memory under the direction of her family, friends, colleagues and students. A scholarship of $1,000 is awarded annually to graduate psychology students who are pursuing cancer control research.

“It was a huge loss when Dr. Fries passed away in May 2005, [and] to be recognized was an honor, knowing who the pool was from,” Kracen said.

In the next few years, Kracen hopes to graduate with a Ph.D. in counseling psychology and use her master’s dissertation to help her develop her own area of research.

“I definitely want a career that involves research. [I] definitely want to be working with patients. I think you need to have that contact to be a better researcher,” Kracen said.

Ingram has high hopes for Kracen’s future as a researcher.

“I believe that Amanda has an extraordinarily bright future in her career as a researcher, practitioner, teacher and leader. She has so many possible routes that she can pursue, I look forward to watching how she coalesces all of her skills into a career focus,” Ingram said.

To make a gift to the Department of Psychology or the Elizabeth A. Fries Scholarship in Psychology, contact Lois Badey, director of development for the College of Humanities and Sciences, at (804)827-0856 or