Riddle Prize winner empowers victims of violence

Sydney Rinehart (Photo: Fan Wang)

Sydney Rinehart’s achievements are enough to make her a model student, but as a freshman, Rinehart never would have guessed she would earn one of UIC’s top honors: the Donald and Leah Riddle Prize for Outstanding Graduating Senior.

“When I came to school here, I was worried that I even had what it takes to graduate,” Rinehart said about the prize, which is named for the former chancellor and his wife. “I didn’t really care about school until I found service and learned how good it felt to devote myself to something bigger.”

The possibility of studying topics she was passionate about heightened her enthusiasm for academics.

“I wanted to be a therapist or psychologist because I just felt like that was my skill set. I felt a calling to help others through vulnerability and openness, and I was really looking forward to doing that in college,” Rinehart said.

And then she got a confidence boost. Rinehart did well her first semester and was accepted into the UIC Honors College, a milestone that unlocked more opportunities, including those in research.

“I realized that I would be able to have a bigger impact by creating studies that could be replicated and utilized all across the world,” Rinehart said.

During her time at UIC, Rinehart has served as a research assistant in four labs. In one of her most recent positions, she studied how to help people stop smoking. In another, with pediatrics, she guided parents through talking and playing with their babies to support their development. Her honors capstone, titled “Utilizing a Demonstrated Play Intervention to Increase Well-Child Care Access,” focused on her work with pediatrics, which won her an award from LAS.

Rinehart also has helped the UIC community. She has volunteered for the UIC InTouch Crisis and Support Hotline since her junior year, eventually becoming president of the group. She won best poster at the UIC Cross Program Conference for a presentation on a training module inspired partly by her experience volunteering for the hotline.

The module is “for friends and family of rape survivors to learn how they can best support their loved ones after experiencing sexual violence,” Rinehart said.

In her junior year, she also interned for the Center for Advancing Domestic Peace, an agency that provides services for perpetrators of domestic violence.

“I was able to serve my community by helping end domestic violence where it begins,” said Rinehart, who plans to earn her Ph.D. in clinical psychology and empower survivors and prevent interpersonal violence throughout her career. “That was honestly one of the most gratifying experiences of the past four years for me, so I was very honored that I was able to have that opportunity through the applied psychology program.”

As she graduates with other accolades from her time at UIC, including receiving highest departmental distinction in psychology, she has some advice for other students.

“Do all the things you thought you would never be interested in or thought you would never like because you’re going to find hidden gems — not only on UIC’s campus, but in Chicago in general — that you can learn from,” she said.