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Introducing Alyssa McGonagle and Enrica Ruggs: 2018 Small Grant Winner

Liberty J. Munson, and Garett Howardson

As part of our ongoing series to recognize SIOP award winners, this quarter, we are highlighting one of SIOP’s Small Grant Award winners: Alyssa McGonagle and Enrica Ruggs, who are working on an intervention project to help reduce bias against job applicants with disabilities.


We applied for a SIOP Small Grant to conduct a study examining the effectiveness of diversity training related to individuals with disabilities on hiring managers’ mitigating biases related to hiring job applicants with disabilities. We draw from the training literature on various training strategies as well as best practices in online education to develop online training videos. Our goal is to determine the extent to which specific disability-related training is useful in ultimately increasing greater opportunities in the selection process for applicants with disabilities.  

Share a little a bit about who you are and what you do.

Alyssa: I am an assistant professor in Psychological Science and Organizational Science at UNC Charlotte. I study various topics related to worker health, safety, and well-being. I also teach courses in research methods, I-O psychology, job attitudes, work motivation, and occupational health psychology at the undergraduate, master’s, and doctoral levels.

Enrica: I am an assistant professor in Psychological Science and Organizational Science at UNC Charlotte. My research focuses on diversity and discrimination as well as the influence of social justice issues on employee well-being. I teach courses in I-O psychology, social psychology, managing diverse workplaces, and research methods at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.

Describe the research/work that you did that resulted in this award. What led to your idea?

Alyssa: I have a strong interest in vulnerable working populations, including workers with disabilities and chronic health conditions. I have been conducting research on and assessing interventions for workers with chronic health conditions for several years now. I was contacted by Laureen Summers, who works to place college students with disabilities into STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) positions. She expressed an interest in working on a research project to help mitigate bias in hiring situations for people with disabilities. I knew my colleague Enrica Ruggs (also at UNCC) had some expertise in bias interventions; when she agreed to join the project, I knew we had a great team to work on a meaningful project that we were each passionate about.

Enrica: When Alyssa contacted me about the potentially working together on an intervention project to help reduce bias against job applicants with disabilities, I was working with one of our master’s students to develop her thesis idea. We were in the very early stages of her thesis, and the project we were developing at the time was an intervention to reduce bias related to weight stigma. We were in the early stages of development, and I talked to my student about the possibility of studying bias toward people with disabilities instead. Much of the literature she was reading around stigma and training interventions was still relevant to this topic; she found it interesting, so we changed her focus to a study where we created videos that were used as a pilot for this project.

What did you learn that was surprised you?

Alyssa: It surprised me to learn just how time intensive it would be to create the intervention videos, given that we aimed to keep them brief (around 6 minutes each). I had never produced a video before. We shot initial “pilot” videos and sought feedback from several stakeholders (interviews, conversations, and survey response). Then, we found actors with disabilities, created scripts, revised them, and revised them again, scouted locations for the video shoot, combed through footage, and so forth. I wouldn’t change how we did it, but I will never underestimate the work involved in preparing videos again!

Enrica: So far, I think the thing the surprised me was the extent of variability in the feedback from different stakeholders and the difficulty of conveying all of the information we wanted to convey in a brief span of time. Some of the people we sought feedback from were education experts with a good deal of experience in developing and using online teaching and training materials. They provided great tips on developing materials that are more likely to hold viewers attention, but it was surprisingly difficult to fit everything we wanted within some of these guidelines.

What do you see as the lasting/unique contribution of this work to our discipline? How can it be used to drive changes in organizations, the employee experience, and so on?

Alyssa: We hope to share the video(s) with individuals and organizations in an effort to help mitigate disability bias. We are also working to determine some of the mechanisms through which these types of interventions work. This will allow us to contribute knowledge to the field regarding types of interventions that are likely to be more or less effective.

Enrica: Alyssa summed this up perfectly. Our goal is to be able to share the videos and our results with decision makers in organizations so that they can use this information as a resource in training decision makers in hiring situations.

To what extent would you say this work/research was interdisciplinary? How do you think the work benefitted by having multiple disciplines involved?

Enrica: We have drawn primarily from the psychology literature in the development of this research; however, we did consult with experts in education and technology communication to develop the materials for this project. After we received feedback from stakeholders, we decided it would be beneficial to bring people in with expertise on the medium we are using to help us convey the desired information most effectively. I think this was critical because it helped us focus the videos in a way that I believe provides a stronger delivery of our message.

Are you still doing work/research in the same area where you won the award? If so, what are you currently working on in this space? If not, what are you working on now and how did you move into this different work/research area? 

Alyssa: Yes; we are still working on this project, and issues related to working with disabilities is a strong research interest of mine. I am currently working on a funding proposal for an online intervention program to help promote well-being and work ability in workers with chronic health conditions. I am also working on a project that examines work–life issues for people who are working with chronic health conditions.

Enrica: I’m not currently working on any other projects related to employees with disabilities; however, I am always working on projects related to increasing understanding and improving the management of diverse workplaces. Currently, I have several projects that are examining the influence of social justice issues on employees and organizations.

What’s a fun fact about yourself (something that people may not know)?

Alyssa: I have always been a cat person, but I just adopted an older dog named Brie. She has already brought a lot of joy to my home!

Enrica: I love to travel, and I recently planned a trip to Cuba. I am excited to explore and learn more about the history and culture in Havana.

What piece of advice would you give to someone new to I-O psychology? (If you knew then what you know now…)

Alyssa: Learn as much as you can about a variety of areas in your early years in the field, but pay careful attention to what motivates you the most. Knowing what drives you can lead you toward a more meaningful career.

Enrica: Read a lot and venture outside of psychology to gain further insight into topics that interest you. I often read articles that suggest that there is no research in an area (and I have been guilty of making this claim myself); however, talking with scholars outside of I-O can open you up to research that is being conducted on topics that we may not see published in I-O journals yet. Even if you are not drawing from other disciplines directly, I think that learning about how people in other disciplines are studying topics that interest you can help you think about and refine your own work in a more meaningful way.

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