Student Profile: Erin Engstrom Aids Autistic College Students

Tuesday, March 20, 2018
Erin Engstrom

Congratulations to all Department of Counseling, Clinical and School Psychology doctoral candidates who were matched with internships for next year! We spoke to Erin Engstrom, 4th year doctoral student in CCSP, about what her plans are for this exciting next step in her graduate school journey.

GGSE: Tell us a little about the focus of your research and dissertation.

Engstrom: My dissertation is seeking to improve daily living skills in college students with autism. Challenges with daily living skills have detrimental impacts on these students’ abilities to be successful academically and socially, and thus has implications for their overall mental health and quality of life. Unfortunately, there is an overall lack of research on developing interventions to improve the lives of adults with autism. Even less research is conducted in the area of daily living skills in college students with autism, despite adaptive behavior being the number one predictor of long-term outcomes among this population.

My specific project integrates a behavioral daily living checklist intervention with peer-mediated components. Peer mentors are very effective tools for the college student population, since these interventions appear to de-stigmatize the students’ disability status while leading to greater and more generalized improvements in their behavior. I am excited to see how this intervention can improve daily living skills in this population, and I’m hopeful that my project is a step towards improving the quality of life for college students with autism.

GGSE: How has the Koegel Autism Center been a helpful resource during your time here?

Engstrom: The Koegel Autism center has been critical to my graduate experience. The Center provides the infrastructure and the training experiences that are needed to produce the next generation of applied researchers in the field of autism. Because of my clinical and research roles at the Center, I have had the opportunity to work with the community members and service providers who are impacted firsthand by the issues that adults and college students with autism face. My research is directly derived from that work, so without the existing programs at the Center, I don’t know how I would be able to develop new ones like my dissertation project. 

GGSE: What has been a source of motivation or drive for you in your graduate studies?

Engstrom: My motivation comes from my clients with autism and their families that I work with. Ultimately, I got into this field to be of service for the underserved, so knowing that I am on the frontline of research that will directly improve their lives keeps me going through long nights of tedious research coding, reading and writing. I am also extremely grateful for my advisors, Dr. Bob Koegel and Dr. Ty Vernon, as well as my fellow colleagues-in-training at the Center and at CCSP who encourage me to continue to be curious and diligent in my studies.

GGSE: You're heading into your last year in the doctoral program in which students complete an off-campus internship. Tell us about your plans for this upcoming year.

Engstrom: Next year, I will be completing my doctoral internship at the University of Colorado School of Medicine in Denver, Colorado. I will be working directly with the Department of Pediatrics’ JFK Partners Program, which is a University Center of Excellence in Developmental Disabilities (UCEDD) and Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities (LEND) Program. I will continue to provide clinical services to children, adolescents and young adults with developmental disabilities, particularly as their complex needs intersect with family, school, and their communities. I will also be participating in research programs, such as developing and analyzing the effectiveness of group interventions in the schools to decrease co-morbid anxiety in children and adolescents with autism.

It’s going to be pretty hard to leave Santa Barbara after nearly nine years here, but I’m excited for the next chapter in my graduate training.… and I can’t wait to return to campus next June and finally receive that fancy piece of paper!