LEMONT FURNACE, Pa. — Olivia Spotto, an undergraduate student in the Human Development and Family Studies program (HDFS) at Penn State Fayette, The Eberly Campus, was one of 52 students awarded the Erickson Discovery Grant to fund undergraduate research. She is using her grant for a project titled “The Relationship Between Environment and Concealment of Sexual Identity in Working College Students.”
The Erickson Discovery Grant is awarded annually to undergraduate students conducting original research under the supervision of a faculty member at Penn State. In her initial explorations, Spotto observed a potential trend where individuals might feel compelled to conceal their true identities in professional settings, while universities seemed to foster a more accepting environment. Intrigued by the possible existence of such a divide, she decided to investigate further.
Spotto is now analyzing how LGBTQ+ students who both attend college and work experience the different environments and whether that influences their decisions to disclose their identities.
Throughout the process, Spotto worked closely with her mentor, Elaine Barry, associate professor of human development and family studies at Penn State Fayette.
“We spent a lot of time together going back and forth over the proposal,” said Spotto, crediting Barry’s contributions and support along the way.
"All of the professors on campus are crazy supportive, but my friends are passionate about my research, too. If these people weren't so willing to put in the time and make suggestions, my project wouldn't be where it is now."
—Olivia Spotto , undergraduate in the Human Development and Family Studies program at Penn State Fayette
“All of the professors on campus are crazy supportive,” Spotto said. “But my friends are passionate about my research, too. If these people weren’t so willing to put in the time and make suggestions, my project wouldn’t be where it is now.”
She attributed her successes to passion, hard work and the Erickson Discovery Grant, highlighting how it provided both funding and the opportunity to gain professional experience.
When asked what advice she would give to future student researchers, Spotto emphasized selecting a meaningful topic.
"Research doesn't only have to be about making a survey," Spotto said. "Look into the things you're passionate about and pick something that's important to you. If not, you won't live up to your fullest potential."