The research psychology arm of the U.S. Navy has named a Lynchburg graduate for its 2018 Research Psychologist of the Year Award.
Jenna Jewell ’10, a lieutenant in the Navy’s Medical Service Corps, was selected because of her research work with Navy Divers, collateral duties — she doubles as the public affairs officer for her current command — volunteer efforts, and service on several committees.
Originally from Iowa, Jewell double majored in psychology and criminology and also studied in the Westover Honors program at Lynchburg. She then earned her Master’s degree and PhD in experimental psychology at the University of Kentucky. She had long been interested in military service, but a friend introduced her to the idea of joining the Navy Medical Service Corps. She commissioned in 2016.
She is currently stationed at the Navy Experimental Diving Unit in Panama City, Florida. She does research with a team of divers to see how water temperature, the length of a dive, the type of gas they breathe, and other factors impact a diver’s psychological functioning.
“My job is to try to get a better handle on how those factors affect their cognitive functioning,” she said. That means she tests people before, during, and after a dive to see how they fare in a variety of tasks. “In the past year I’ve done a couple of studies looking at repeatedly diving for a couple of days in a row or diving in cold water.”
Right now she is studying how a pilot is affected by the rapid pressure changes that occur naturally inside the F/A-18 cabin as it changes altitude at high speeds. The pressure chambers at NEDU allow them to occasionally do high altitude research in addition to their normal diving projects.
As a Westover, Jewell worked with Dr. Virginia Cylke on a thesis about how to effectively teach people about the existence and impact of white, heterosexual, and thin privilege. In graduate school, she conducted research on children and adolescents’ gender identity and social belonging. Her research in the Navy is quite different from her independent work, but she loves that her work in the Navy translates directly from questions to research findings to policy.
“The work that we do gets turned into guidance for the Navy almost immediately,” she said. “Divers in the fleet actually take that information and change how they’re diving based on it. It’s pretty cool to do something that you know is going to help other people.”
She also loves the novelty she gets to experience. In March, her three-year assignment with NEDU will end and she will transition to a new field of research elsewhere in the Navy. For Jewell, it’s an opportunity to discover something new.