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Spring 2003
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AS AN ASPIRING ACTRESS, Heather Lueck was adept at getting inside the heads of the characters she would portray. From her theater background grew a fascination while she was a student at Santa Monica College for psychology and neuroscience. But when her instructors encouraged her to apply to UCLA, she was a little apprehensive. “Since the university is so large, I didn’t expect to have personal contact with professors,” she says.

She overcame those concerns and, within her first year after transferring, found herself in a situation that would be the envy of any graduate student, let alone an undergrad: conducting original research alongside not just one, but two scholars working on the cutting edge of her fields of interest.

Now in her senior year as a psychology major with a minor in neuroscience, Lueck is studying language acquisition among autistic children under the guidance of UCLA psychologist O. Ivar Lovaas, a pioneer in behavior intervention for autistic children. And with neuroscientist Michael S. Fanselow, a leading authority in fear conditioning, learning and memory, she is exploring the role of damage to a specific area of the brain in memory loss. Lueck hopes to one day meld the two fields to illuminate neurobiology’s role in the language disorders to which autistic children are prone.

Though she is surrounded by world-class researchers and mentors, it has not always been easy for Lueck, studying at a university as large as UCLA. Parking, for example, has been a continuing hassle. And she is concerned that because of the university’s more limited financial resources in comparison with top private schools, not all students might have access to the kind of encouragement and opportunities she has enjoyed.

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