As a high-schooler in Charlotte, North Carolina, Kameron Cummings was diagnosed with a reading disability. Some teens would be alarmed at such a diagnosis.

Cummings was relieved.

“I found it comforting to know why reading was so burdensome,” she said. That diagnosis also set Cummings on an early career path with a sharp work ethic and a keen desire to carry out research that betters the lives of others — especially at-risk or vulnerable youth. Her goal: Become a licensed school counselor.

“My own diagnosis sparked a passion in me to better understand learning disabilities and their impact on academic success, social status, and peer relationships,” said Cummings, the 2022 Outstanding Senior in the Virginia Tech College of Science, where she is majoring in psychology with a double minor in disability studies and sociology (the latter two are part of the Virginia Tech College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences.)

Cummings will give the keynote speech at the College of Science’s commencement ceremony on May 14, sure to be a proud moment for her family. Her father, grandfather, and uncle are all Virginia Tech alumni, and younger brother Cole is now a sophomore in the Pamplin College of Business.

“When I was just a little girl, we would always visit for football and basketball games,” Cummings said. “As I grew older I always pictured Virginia Tech as the place that I wanted to be for college. I applied early decision and when I was accepted, my family and I cried knowing that my childhood dream had come true.”

In her four years at Virginia Tech, Cummings has been a star researcher.

In spring 2020, Cummings completed field research with Rosanna Breaux’s CALMER (Coping Skills and Learning to Manage Emotions Readily) Lab, learning how to give IQ and academic achievement testing, administer psychodiagnostic questionnaires, and measure heart rate variability using a BioLog system. (The COVID-19 pandemic put a temporary halt to this. She later returned to the work.)

During summer 2020, while still in remote-learning mode, Cummings completed a virtual Undergraduate Summer Research Internship through Virginia Tech’s Multicultural Academic Opportunities Program. Here, she worked on two projects as recruiter and data collector. In one, she studied the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on children, adolescents, and their families; with the second study, she examined the professional and personal experiences of parents of youth with emotional, behavioral, or academic difficulties who were teleworking during the pandemic.

She combined these efforts for an independent research project focusing on the remote learning experiences of at-risk children and adolescents during the COVID-19 pandemic in rural Southwest Virginia. The work, co-authored by Breaux and others, was published in the Journal of Rural Mental Health in April 2021.

“Seeing my name in a journal was very rewarding for me,” said Cummings. “I am happy to share my findings with others interested in learning about the impact of COVID-19 on academic success.”

More recently, Cummings has been working in the Virginia Tech Child Study Center, also directed by Breaux, an assistant professor of psychology. Her latest research topic: The effect of peer relationships on the aggression levels of adolescents with social anxiety.

She’s also a member of the Virginia Tech Honors College; a member of Psi Chi, the international honor society in psychology; a member of Phi Kappa Phi’s Honor Society; and has served three terms as vice president of the Psychology Club.

“Kameron has been a delight to work with over the past two years at the Child Study Center, my CALMER Lab, and in class,” Breaux said. “She impressed me with her motivation and maturity as a sophomore and has only continued to grow and excel across all areas  — academically, in research, professionally, and clinically. Kameron is certain to have a very bright future and will make us Hokies proud.”

Tyler McFayden, a Ph.D. candidate in psychology and a co-author on the Journal of Rural Mental Health paper, added, “Kameron’s involvement in this project and the fact that she has been published as an undergraduate speaks to her dedication. She approaches science with a positive attitude and attention to detail, completes work in a reliable and efficient manner, and is eager to be involved in all stages of a project.”

Kurt Hoffman, director of the Department of Psychology’s undergraduate studies program, had Cummings in his Psychology of Learning class in spring 2020. “Kameron is an exemplar of the well-rounded student," Hoffman said. "She’s outstanding in the classroom, is very active in research and service, and she has a job. It’s as if she has more hours in the day than the rest of us, and it’s very impressive.”

Yes, Cummings also is holding down a job. She now works as a group exercise supervisor for Virginia Tech Recreational Sports, having been promoted from exercise instructor.

“I use daily exercise to improve my physical and mental health and boost my confidence,” she said. “My commitment to exercise led me to become a cycle instructor. As I watched my participants’ motivation and confidence grow, I realized that my role as an exercise instructor was a complement to my professional goals.”

Next up for Cummings is graduate school at the University of Virginia. She’d also like to expand her research into the impact of COVID-19 pandemic on education.

“Now that these students are re-entering school systems, it is even more important to provide them with support,” she added. “My academic success is due in part to strategies that I developed to overcome my own learning disability. I have empathy for those with learning struggles, and I want to share my story with them in hopes of making a positive impact on their academic success and self-confidence.”


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