By Lauren McCracken
Rebecca Newsham, alexandrianews.org’s first intern, recently graduated from the University of Virginia with a number of high honors. Newsham, a double major, earned a B.A. in Psychology and a B.A. in Sociology. Her psychology degree came with the mark of Highest Distinction, the highest of three distinction levels awarded to students, due to her participation in the department’s Distinguished Majors Program. Her final GPA was 3.939 and her psychology and sociology GPAs were both 4.0.
In the year-long Distinguished Majors Program, an undergraduate student prepares a thesis in collaboration with a faculty advisor. At the end of the year, the theses are assessed by members of the psychology department faculty. Students are awarded one of three distinction levels (Distinction, High Distinction, or Highest Distinction) based on “the quality of the student's thesis; the student's overall work in the DMP; the student's overall work in the major field of study; and the student's overall College record,” according to the UVA Department of Psychology’s Undergraduate Studies Handbook.
In addition, Newsham received the Maury Pathfinder Award, which is given to a UVA psychology student who develops an outstanding, innovative thesis project. Her thesis was “Perceptions of Adolescents’ Maturity and Responsibility in the Context of Sexual Relationships with an Older Partner.” Newsham became interested in this topic when she looked into the wide variation in statutory rape and sexual consent laws across states.
Newsham investigated the public's perceptions of adolescents’ sexual relationships with older partners, “in the hopes that lawmakers could use these perceptions to develop more consistent and legitimate statutory rape laws,” she said. Her results suggest that laws may be viewed more legitimately when they consider factors such as partner age difference, as opposed to those with strict ages of consent.
At the beginning of July, Newsham will begin work as a research assistant and programmer at the D.C. office of Mathematica Policy Research, a social policy research firm based in Princeton, New Jersey. “I’m really excited about it!” she said.
In the future, Newsham hopes to return to school to earn either a masters or Ph.D. She does not know what she wants to study, but is interested in community psychology and juvenile justice.
Newsham began work as an intern at the Alexandria Times in the fall of 2007, just before the beginning of her senior year at T.C. Williams High School. In January, 2008, after the Times was sold, Carla Branch, Rodger Digilio, Jim Boissonnault, Regan Kireilis, Dale Smith and Newsham started alexandrianews.org.
“This was the first online-only media outlet in Alexandria and Rebecca knew as much about starting such an entity as we did,” said Branch, alexandrianews.org Content Manager. “She learned as we learned and made suggestions that improved our product.
“During vacations from UVA, Rebecca was always willing to help alexandrianews.org by writing a story, taking a photograph or giving us news tips. I still call her to help train new interns.
“Now, however, she has finished college and has a real job that pays far better than the meager wages we have been able to offer her. Mathematica is very lucky to have her. She’s hard-working, smart and a very good writer and editor. We wish her luck,” Branch said.