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Jennifer Cobuzzi ’08 – PhD from American University

Posted in: Featured Alumni

Headshot of a psychology alumna.

By Ashley Pena, Published April 2016

In high school, Jennifer Cobuzzi ’08 used to joke that she wanted to be a truck driver when she grew up — academics didn’t motivate her much back then, but she’s since turned them into her life’s work. Cobuzzi is a new lecturer in psychology at the prestigious University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, Penn. She also rocketed through a PhD program at American University in Washington, D.C., specializing in Behavior, Cognition and Neuroscience and completing many published works in biomedical journals. In addition, she has co-authored a paper with her mentor, Montclair State professor Debra Zellner, this past fall. They’re now working to publish another and secure grant funding to continue their work.

Montclair State as a launch pad for success
When Cobuzzi was first looking at colleges, she didn’t want to go far from home. She was accepted at multiple institutions, but ultimately decided on Montclair State, thanks to great reviews from friends already studying on campus. Cobuzzi excelled at Montclair State. “I felt like I belonged on that campus. It turned out to be the best place for me,” she said in a phone interview.

She got involved with Psi Chi, the National Honor Society in Psychology, and forged connections with faculty members who shared input and advice. Cobuzzi worked with Zellner to design her own research program and felt well-prepared for American’s PhD program, she said.

“The beauty of college is that you get to sample from a buffet that you didn’t even know existed,” she said. Courses outside the major were valuable too. For instance, Cobuzzi took a class on the sociology of rich and poor nations as part of general education requirements that expanded her global outlook – an awareness that boosts her effectiveness as a teacher in a multicultural and diverse university setting.

Why study psychology?
It was an A.P. psychology class and an engaging teacher in high school that first drew her to the subject. Continuing at Montclair State, Cobuzzi loved the knowledge that she gained in the classroom and the personal, relatable examples that the professors shared from their own research. She developed a fascination with the brain and the field: “Psychology is like an instruction manual for humans that we never came with.”

A research and teaching focus
After Montclair State, Cobuzzi pursued a dual path, as both a researcher and a teacher. A research focus alone wasn’t enough, she said, since she wants to use the knowledge gained to instruct the next generations of students. She takes a personal interest in her students, looking forward to meeting each new batch. Cobuzzi relishes an opportunity to help them fulfill and find their hopes and dreams. For example, “I likely have someone in my class that will do something amazing for humanity and society,” she said.

Paying it forward
Cobuzzi’s investment in the next generation is following in the footsteps of her mentor, Debra Zellner. She took Zellner’s undergraduate class on experimental psychology and was impressed by the experience. Cobuzzi later approached her outside of class asking, “I kind of want to do what you do. How do I do that?” Fast forward nearly a decade and Cobuzzi has charted a path similar to her mentor. The two even received doctoral degrees from the same faculty advisor at American University.

Zellner and Cobuzzi recently published their first research paper together in Food Quality and Preference. The pair conducted research in Philadelphia last year, looking at what modifications can be made to a school lunch program that can increase healthy eating, specifically vegetable consumption. Now they’re working to publish a second study with larger implications, so they’re in frequent contact with virtual “meetings” by phone, email, and even text messages, said Cobuzzi.

What began as a faculty-student relationship has grown into teamwork and research collaboration between colleagues, “all thanks to Montclair State,” said Cobuzzi.

— Published April 18, 2016

*Ashley Pena is an English major at Montclair State.