University of South Florida St. Petersburg (USFSP) alumna Jaclyn Dell’s trajectory was inspired by turning tragedy into hope. At two years old, she lost her father to alcoholism. Later, as an adult, she still saw struggles with addiction in her family. She turned her focus to volunteering with the faith-based Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.) program. While volunteering for A.A., she noticed there had to be something “more” to addiction, such as brain mechanisms which create behavioral patterns. It was emotional for Jaclyn to see people struggling to free themselves of addiction, but she knew that she needed to find a way to better assist them in that battle.
In 2010, Jaclyn enrolled at St. Petersburg College (SPC) with the intention of studying counseling or social work. At the time, her day began with a 4am shift at a retail store, followed by attending class in the afternoon. In 2012, Jaclyn and her husband founded The Rock Transformation Center, an addiction ministry, in her hometown of St. Petersburg, Florida. Gradually, she earned her Associate of Arts degree, then transferred to USFSP, where she majored in Psychology and focused her studies on a powerful form of motivation for reward (incentive salience), seen in unwanted repeated behaviors such as drug addiction.
In 2016, Jaclyn contacted Ms. Lauren Chambers, Associate Director of the Office of National Scholarships (ONS) after discovering a summer research internship studying ethanol-reward memory formation in fruit flies at Brown University. After working with Ms. Chambers to refine her application, she was elated to learn she was accepted into the program. The opportunity to conduct research at Brown was her first internship and shaped her desire for a future in research. Later that same year, she began working with Dr. Jennifer O’Brien, Assistant Professor of Psychology at USFSP, as a research assistant on the study of motivation, attention, and perception using an electroencephalogram (EEG) – a test used to find electrical problems in the brain.
Jaclyn’s research experiences at USFSP, Brown University, and later at Yale University, would eventually lead her to become a 2019-2020 Fulbright U.S. Student Program Study Grant recipient to undertake a PhD in Psychology at the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom (U.K.). Jaclyn chose the University of Birmingham, and to study in the U.K. specifically, because of Dr. Clayton Hickey, whose lab is one of few in the world using cutting-edge neuroscientific tools, such as Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) and certain medications in treating mental disorders to identify which brain systems are connected to incentive salience.
For her Fulbright application, Jaclyn worked once again with Ms. Chambers. The Fulbright U.S. Student Program provides grants for individually designed study/research projects or for English Teaching Assistant Programs. During their grants, Fulbrighters meet, work, live with and learn from the people of the host country, sharing daily experiences. Throughout the application process, she was supported with mentoring and provided information, such as thought-provoking prompts about the best way to engage with the host country, guidance on how to develop a feasible research project, and steps to obtain a letter of affiliation from Dr. Hickey.
Jaclyn began her Fulbright U.S. Student Program Study Grant at Birmingham in the fall of 2019, and in addition to researching the underlying neural mechanisms of incentive salience with Dr. Hickey, she volunteers at a charity for individuals struggling with drug addiction. Additionally, at Queen Elizabeth Hospital, which has strong ties to the University of Birmingham, Jaclyn assists with addiction treatment and referral processes.
When Jaclyn was chosen as a recipient of the Fulbright U.S. Student Program Study Grant to the U.K., it was a moment of gratitude and surprise. “It is an unbelievable honor to receive this award,” she says. “I feel like I am proof there is always hope.”
After completion of the Fulbright U.S. Student Program, Jaclyn plans to return to the U.S. in order to implement her research in a postdoctoral position to further study the phenomenon of incentive salience. In the future, she hopes the findings based on her research during her Fulbright grant period will be used in efforts to neutralize the opioid epidemic by facilitating treatment options.
The Fulbright Program is the premier exchange program for U.S. students. Three types of grants are offered – independent research, graduate study (one-year master's degree) or English teaching – in over 140 countries. Applicants choose one grant type, and one country to apply to. Students apply for Fulbright a year ahead of going abroad –either as a graduating senior, alumni, young professional, or graduate (Master's or PhD) student.