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Student Research on Gender-Neutral Restrooms Has Impact on Campus and Nationwide Reach

A GCU student standing next to a female professor

How does starting a research project lead to presenting at national conferences and influencing campus policies? Madeline “Maddie” Mayhew, a Manahawkin resident and Georgian Court student, did just that. Her journey exemplifies what an undergraduate can achieve with hard work and curiosity.

It all started when Maddie first met Susan E. O. Field, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology, at Blue and Gold Day, an event for incoming Georgian Court students to meet campus community members the summer before their first semester. After learning that Maddie graduated with an Associate of Arts in Psychology from Ocean County College with a 3.9 GPA, Dr. Field insisted Maddie apply for GCU’s Psychology Scholars Program.

“I’m so glad Dr. Field recommended the Psychology Scholars Program when we met that day, as it opened me up to a world of opportunities,” said Maddie.

The Psychology Scholars Program is an honors program for undergraduate students who want to study psychology. Students in the program take advanced classes with a small number of students, gain access to unique research opportunities, and are guaranteed acceptance into the GCU psychology graduate program, among other benefits.

“Most of my undergraduate psychology classes consisted of only five or six other students, so I was able to form close relationships with my professors,” said Maddie.

When Maddie was a junior in Dr. Field’s honors social psychology course, Dr. Field invited her, along with students Jana Borkovic and Miranda Wells, to collaborate on a research project studying GCU student attitudes toward gender-neutral restrooms.

“This human rights issue is very important to me,” said Maddie. “I was excited to find that the population we studied was largely comfortable with gender-neutral restrooms.” 

The group presented their research at GCU Academic Excellence Night in April 2022 and won third place. Shortly after, Georgian Court decided to establish at least one single-user gender-neutral restroom in every building on campus.

“I found this to be a crucial step for the university,” said Maddie. “There is no reason anyone should feel uncomfortable going to school. I am proud that our research made this tangible impact.”

Later in the year, Dr. Field approached Maddie with an exciting opportunity to take their research to new heights. Maddie was awarded a NASA NJ Space Consortium Grant, along with seven other GCU students, for undergraduate research for the 2022-2023 academic school year. Each student received a $2,000 stipend from NASA for separate space-related research projects.

Maddie and Dr. Field used their research on gender-neutral restrooms as an analog for space travel. As in a bathroom, astronauts on a space shuttle must coexist in a closely confined, intimate space. Maddie’s research for NASA explored how inclusivity might affect a nonbinary or transgender astronaut’s ability to collaborate and complete mission tasks. This research can be applied to future astronauts in long-term living conditions, such as space stations, rocket flights, and settlements on different planets.

They presented their research at the NASA New Jersey Space Grant Consortium in April 2023. “Presenting at the Consortium was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I am so grateful to have experienced,” said Maddie.

Maddie and Dr. Field continued to take their research to the professional level in May 2023, when they presented their study at the Association for Psychological Science, a national conference held annually to promote and advance psychological science.

“It was incredible to be surrounded by the culture of my field and learn from others. Many of the other presenters had doctoral degrees, so I was proud to be there as an undergraduate student to present my research,” said Maddie. “It helped me realize that I can reach even my most difficult goals.”

“It’s always a pleasure to work with students on experimental research, but Maddie’s intuitive understanding of the scientific foundation of psychology is rare,” said Dr. Field. “I’ve enjoyed witnessing her growing enthusiasm for research.”

Maddie graduated in May with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology, and this fall, she began her Master of Arts in Clinical Mental Health Counseling at Georgian Court. After she completes the three-year CACREP accredited program, she plans to pursue her Doctor of Psychology.

“I loved the undergraduate program so much that I came back for more,” she said.

Maddie and Dr. Field are currently fine-tuning their study and writing a manuscript, which they will publish in a database.

“The manuscript is a direct reflection of Maddie’s motivation and persistence with the project,” said Dr. Field.

In addition, one of the requirements for the Psychology Honors Program is an internship experience. In the spring of her senior year, Maddie worked as a Clinical Intern for Relevance Behavioral Health, and this past summer, she interned under Dr. Deussing of Integrative DBT and Psychotherapy. She will work as a Pre-Masters Therapist in Dr. Deussing’s office this semester, bolstering her career ambitions.

She also served as a Peer Mentor in GCU’s Transition and Career Studies program during her undergraduate years, through which she helped college students with learning disabilities reach their goals, confirming her love for helping people.

Maddie’s path wasn’t always straightforward. “For most of high school, I had no idea what I wanted to do. At one point, I wasn’t even sure I wanted to go to college,” she said.

Nevertheless, she took advantage of every opportunity and forged a remarkable path.

“I encourage other Georgian Court students who want to get involved in research opportunities to do so,” she said. “Talk to your professors and let them know what interests you and what is important to you. They’ll help you reach your goals.”

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About Georgian Court University

Georgian Court University is a leading regional university that provides a transformative education, preparing students for ethical leadership and service in the Catholic Mercy tradition. Founded in 1908 and sponsored by the Sisters of Mercy, Georgian Court University is Central and South Jersey’s only Catholic university. The university has a strong liberal arts core and a historic special concern for women.

As a forward-thinking university that supports diversity and academic excellence, GCU is known for expanding possibility for more than 1,900 students of all faiths and backgrounds in 35+ undergraduate majors and 10+ graduate programs. The GCU Lions compete in 15 NCAA Division II sports in the Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference (CACC). In 2020, GCU was named a Best Value College by Money.com and a Best Bang for the Buck (Northeast) by Washington Monthly. High student retention and graduation rates make GCU a Top Performer on Social Mobility on U.S. News & World Reports rankings.

The main campus is in Lakewood, New Jersey, on the picturesque former George Jay Gould estate, a National Historic Landmark. Georgian Court, which is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, also serves students through its Center for Professional Studies, and at other locations, including GCU at Brookdale, GCU at Rowan College of South Jersey–Cumberland Campus, and through multiple online degree and certificate programs.