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.
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.
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.
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.