Undergraduate Academic Affairs

June 14, 2024

A boundless connection

Danielle Marie Holland

Photo by Jayden Becles

For Kavin “Ken” Srinakarin, ’24, it all began in the Forest Club Room of Anderson Hall. Amid the serenity of evergreens, he and his fellow research assistants at the Human Interaction with Nature and Technological Systems (HINTS) Lab gathered every Friday to discuss scales, factor analysis and connect through shared experiences in nature.

Listening to each others’ stories, they talked about nights spent gazing at starlit skies to sitting by the fire or feeling the ocean waves at one’s feet. As the evenings stretched on, they turned their attention to presence, the state of being highly aware without thought.

The lab was working to develop new ways of understanding and measuring presence, with a goal of creating a scale to explore how different individuals experience deep connection to the moment. “Participating in these gatherings revealed how personal, curious and connection-driven the research process could be,” Ken said of his introduction to research. This experience sent Ken on a new trajectory, fueled by a passion for understanding human stories and uplifting communities and their interplay with the wider world.

Born and raised in Thailand, Ken was attracted to the University of Washington to major in psychology with a minor in education. He explained, “I cherish my homeland and recognize that the discourse surrounding mental health is often fraught with stigma.” Ken bore witness to the impacts of mental health as a taboo topic in his community and saw how that often perpetuated judgment, isolation and a lower quality of life. Driven to challenge the societal narratives and stigmas around mental health that are shared across many communities and cultures, Ken sought to harness the power of personal stories with scientific research to promote mental equity. He sees this, along with his advocacy for an environment where diversity, equity and inclusion are foundational to all clinical research, as his dual passions.

An interdisciplinary approach

Photo of Ken presenting his research poster

Ken Srinakarin shared his senior thesis in the poster presentation format at the 27th Annual Undergraduate Research Symposium.Photo by Jayden Becles

Ken’s second research stint brought him to the Center of Neuroscience, Neuroendocrinology and Clinical Translation (CoNNeCT) Lab. Motivated by a curiosity for clinical psychology and translational science, he was attracted to the CoNNeCT Lab by their shared vision of bridging disciplines and enhancing understandings of how individuals interpret their social environments. It was through this interdisciplinary approach, crucial for informed clinical decision-making, that led Ken to the work of his senior thesis, “Learning Safety from Like Others: Effect of Gender Categorization on Vicarious Extinction Learning.” His research investigated how our social group affiliations, such as gender, influence the way we learn to extinguish fears. Ken explored how incorporating gender matching into extinction protocols could enhance fear extinction recall for Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) patients by leveraging in-group similarities to increase treatment efficacy.

Ken’s CoNNeCT Lab experience was the first time he was mentored by a principal investigator who shared his Asian heritage. As a first-generation international student from Thailand raised in a single-parent household, Ken recognized the barriers students like himself faced. Often students in these groups did not have access to the necessary skills to advocate effectively toward their goals and professional development. Many found themselves unable to reach out and ask for help or resources. These obstacles fueled Ken’s advocacy for inclusivity and support within the university and the broader research community.

To voice the stories of the unheard

As the vice president of PsychatUW, the primary student-led organization for psychology undergraduates, Ken co-founded a mentorship program that fosters community-based support among students from underrepresented backgrounds. “I strive to smooth the path for future scholars and ensure they have access to essential opportunities and resources for success,” he said. The organization now serves as a vibrant hub for the undergraduate psychology community, a space of collaboration with various internal and external DEI-focused organizations to spotlight the contributions and experiences of people of color in psychology.

Photo of students at a meeting

Ken and his fellow PsychatUW officers and members at one of the bi-weekly events they organize in partnership with the Department of Psychology.Photo provided by PsychatUW

Ken’s cross-disciplinary journey to make meaning across experiences not only shaped his approach to advancing mental health equity but pushed the boundaries of his creative pursuits. His longtime involvement in filmmaking and theater was part of a greater quest to investigate the unknown, to forge connections through the portrayal of universal experiences and to voice the stories of the unheard.

Integrating mental health and human connection

Photo of Ken Srinakarin in drama performance

Ken performing in “Passage” directed by Adrienne Mackey at the Floyd and Delores Jones Playhouse as part of the UW Drama’s spring production.Photo by Marcia Davis

Performing in two UW Drama productions during his time as an undergraduate, Ken was often reminded of the beauty he has experienced — ranging from his family in Thailand to the evergreens of Washington and the research labs of the UW. The beauty of the present moment and in exploring the unknown.

“As long as I breathe, I will continue to integrate my scientific endeavors with my artistic expressions — whether in formulating questions, community engagement or designing digital mental health interventions,” said Ken.

Ken’s research has been steadily focused on digital mental health interventions during his years as a Husky. He believes that by embracing the full spectrum of the human experience and crossing traditional boundaries, he can further integrate psychology with digital media and technology to address mental health disparities. As Ken prepares to embark on his post-bac journey and pursue a Ph.D. in clinical psychology, he continues to witness how “they inform one another, a boundless connection.”

Photo of Ken Srinakarin at graduation

Ken speaking as selected student speaker at the Psychology Department Undergraduate Graduation Ceremony on June 3, 2024.Photo provided by Ken Srinakarin