Barry McNamara  |   Published March 21, 2018

‘Sophia’ project

Slocum’s off-campus study research published in Costa Rican journal
  • On her final day at the Fundación Servio Flores Arroyo, Slocum was given a bagful of desserts and homemade gifts that students make at the institute.
MONMOUTH, Ill. – A study-abroad experience has led to a published article for Monmouth College senior Sophia Slocum.

“When I was in Costa Rica last year via the Associated Colleges of the Midwest, I studied employment opportunities for people with intellectual disabilities,” said Slocum, a biopsychology major from Marengo, Ill.

Slocum’s research has just been published in the international journal of UNED (the Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia) in Costa Rica.

Upon returning to Monmouth, Slocum continued her research.

“For my senior capstone research, I replicated my study in Monmouth, interviewing 14 people who work at Warren Achievement Industries,” she said. “There is very little research on this topic in the U.S. and virtually none for Latin America. I’ve also found that the research that does exist greatly excludes the perspectives of the disabled.”

Slocum said she’s always known she wanted to be an occupational therapist, and her particular research interest grew from summer employment.

“I do that type of work at camps in summers,” she said of working with individuals with intellectual disabilities. “I noticed a lot of them weren’t working, but were capable to work. I would ask them about it, and they’d say, ‘I’d love to work.’”

For her research in Costa Rica, Slocum said she did “one month of community building” at Fundación Servio Flores Arroyo before conducting her interviews.

“Out of 72 students who attended the institute, 12 were deemed to have the cognitive level to interview with me,” she said. “I also interviewed eight staff members, the director of the institute and three moms.”

Among the issues Slocum explored were what barriers existed and what opportunities existed. Barriers included communication and a social stigma of employing individuals with intellectual disabilities, as well as not enough opportunities for employment.

“I decided to publish the research in Costa Rica as opposed to trying to get it published in the U.S. because I owed it to the people there to let the research be accessible to them,” she said.

While conducting her study in Monmouth, Slocum learned there was less of a stigma involved for employing those with intellectual disabilities, but transportation for those looking to work beyond Warren Achievement Industries was a barrier.

“One thing I found fascinating was that I asked, ‘Do you have the same opportunities as everyone else?’” she said. “Half of them said ‘Yes,’ and I remember that one of them said, ‘Everybody should have an equal chance.’ … I hypothesize that the language being used tells them they have an equal opportunity, but that is not always the reality.”

Slocum said she had a similar takeaway from both studies.

“I didn’t find any significant differences,” she said. “Third-world issues are being found here, as well.”

Off-campus study and published research represent only a portion of Slocum’s impressive résumé. A leader for the interfaith group Better Together and an intern for the Lux Center for Religious and Spiritual Life, she is also a copy editor for the Midwest Journal of Undergraduate Research and secretary for Monmouth’s forensics team.

A Presbyterian Scholar and Honors Program participant, Slocum recalled her thought process during her college search.

“I saw 12 small schools, and I know it’s a cliché, but Monmouth stood out to me as friendly,” she said.

Now, four years later, her time as a Monmouth student is almost complete.

“I’ve learned how to be challenged and to do that without getting so defensive,” she said of the growth she has experienced. “Yes, exams and papers are challenges, but I’ve also learned about being with people who are different than me. I’ve learned to become an active listener and seek out new opportunities to be challenged – things that the senior in high school (version of) me would’ve probably been scared of doing.”

Later this year, Slocum will enter the University of Wisconsin, which she said has “one of the top occupational therapy programs in the country.”

She’ll complete her 30 months of study at the end of 2020 and is counting on finding the right professional opportunity soon after.

“It shouldn’t be a challenge,” she said. “There’s a need for occupational therapists.”

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