Casey Applegate-Aguilar

Las Vegas, NM — New Mexico Highlands University clinical/counseling psychology graduate Casey Applegate-Aguilar won the university’s 2011 — 2012 thesis award competition for her groundbreaking research on adolescents.

Applegate-Aguilar researched adolescent development in the frontal lobe of the brain responsible for thinking, planning and organizing, which cognitive psychologists call executive function.

She tested adolescents aged 15 to 19 using the Short Category Test, a neuropsychological test where participants categorize visual information.

“Casey is the first clinical psychology researcher to provide normative data on this adolescent age group,” said Linda LaGrange, associate vice president for academic affairs and longtime Highlands psychology professor. “Casey completed a meticulous, original professional study. She would be an outstanding doctoral student.”  

LaGrange and other qualified readers reviewed the thesis competition submittals before naming Applegate-Aguilar for the award, which included a check for $500. 

“The major finding of my study is that 15 to 19-year-olds as a whole performed significantly lower than the 45 and younger age group,” Applegate-Aguilar said. “Teenagers could be misdiagnosed with executive function disorder when in fact it’s a normal part of their adolescent brain development.”

Applegate-Aguilar, 29, is a first-generation college student from southeast Texas. In May, she earned her M.S. in clinical/counseling psychology with a 4.0 GPA. In 2008, she completed her M.A. in English with a concentration in literature from Highlands with a 3.9 GPA.

“The clinical psychology professors are inspiring and such experts in their fields,” Applegate-Aguilar said. “They’re also very supportive and the program was like a family to me. The English faculty members are accomplished in their concentrations and dedicated to sharing their knowledge.”

As a graduate student, Applegate-Aguilar taught both psychology and English courses, with an emphasis on composition. She also completed numerous research studies in both disciplines.

“Casey was a brilliant student in the English Department from the moment she began her graduate studies,” said Helen Blythe, chair of the English and Philosophy Department. “She also distinguished herself as an outstanding and dedicated English composition instructor.”

“Composition is a building block for all the types of academic writing students will do in the their discipline,” Applegate-Aguilar said.

In July, she began a position as the university’s assistant coordinator of Academic Enrichment Programs, coordinated by English professor Barbara Risch. The programs include learning communities, writing in the disciplines, freshman forum, and the honors program.

“In Academic Enrichment, we develop and implement programs to build academic success for our students,” Applegate-Aguilar said. “This semester I’m teaching English composition in three learning communities, including business, sociology and drama. I’m also teaching freshman forum honors. My students at Highlands are wonderful.”

Applegate-Aguilar holds several teaching licenses in New Mexico, including secondary language arts and psychology, and elementary psychology.  

After earning her M.S. in English, Applegate-Aguilar taught for two years at Desert Academy, a middle/high school in Santa Fe. She taught English, social studies, and 12th grade international baccalaureate psychology.

“I wanted to focus on adolescent neuropsychology and being a teacher at Desert Academy gave me the lens to do that,” Applegate-Aguilar said. “Eventually, I want to be a school psychologist where I can help students find success in their lives. My goal is to complete a doctorate in school psychology.”

At Highlands, Applegate-Aguilar was managing editor for La Mecha, the independent student newspaper, wrote award-winning poetry, and received a Highlands leadership award. She volunteered for Big Brothers Big Sisters and still has a little sister.

Applegate-Aguilar met her husband, West Las Vegas High School graduate Christopher Aguilar, at Highlands. He also earned his M.S. in clinical/counseling psychology and has his sights set on a Ph.D. in clinical psychology with a concentration in neuropsychology.