Dept of Psychology Research Laboratories

Cardiac Psychology Lab

East Carolina Heart Institute

ECU Cardiac Psychology | Research Team

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Research Team

History of the Cardiac Psychology Lab at ECU

The Cardiac Psychology Lab at ECU was established by Dr. Sears and his post-doctoral fellow, Dr. Melissa Matchett. He currently mentors three doctoral students at various levels in the program. The first graduate of the ECU program, Garrett Hazelton, PhD, graduated in August 2011. Dr. Hazelton completed his psychology internship at Duke University and recently accepted a position in the Department of Psychiatry at the Brody School of Medicine at ECU. Dr. Kari Kirian, the second graduate of the doctoral program, completed her internship at Eastern Virginia Medical School in Norfolk, Virginia, and returned to ECU as an assistant professor in the Department of Family Medicine at the Brody School of Medicine. Together with his work at the University of Florida, Dr. Sears has mentored 12 PhD dissertations, and his graduates are employed in both academia and industry focused on health and cardiac psychology. In the Spring 2012, Dr. Sears was honored as Research Mentor of the Year by the graduate students in the Department of Psychology at East Carolina University.


David Sager, Ashley Burch, Ph.D., Caley Kropp, M.S., Samuel F. Sears, Ph.D., Ashley Rhodes, M.A.

Samuel F. Sears, Jr., Ph.D.

Professor at East Carolina University (Tenured)
Department of Psychology
Department of Medicine, Division of Cardiovascular Medicine
Program Director of Health Psychology Ph.D. Program

Dr. Sears is an internationally recognized expert in the psychological care and quality of life outcomes of implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) patients. He is also a well-published researcher who travels around the world giving talks to patients and members of the medical community. Dr. Sears focuses his research on the psychological aspects of cardiovascular disease and recovery from cardiac arrest. He is specifically interested in the psychological care and quality of life (QOL) outcomes for patients with implantable cardioverter defibrillators (ICDs). The ICD is the primary treatment for patients who survive, or are at risk for, cardiac arrest. Approximately 24 to 38 percent of ICD patients experience psychological distress following implantation. Moreover, approximately 31 to 41 percent of spouses develop significant anxiety or depression. Thus, research in this area is notable because it addresses the psychological impact of this life-saving technology by examining its effects on patients and families.

Visit Dr. Sears' website


Ashley Burch, Ph.D.


Junior Colleagues

For more information regarding student research projects, visit our dissertation research studies page.

Ashley Rhodes, M.A.

Ashley RhodesAshley graduated from Truman State University in 2012 with a B.A. in Psychology. She began her doctoral studies at East Carolina University that same fall. Ashley's research interests include adaptation to chronic illness and quality of life measures across the lifespan. Ashley has matched to the A.P.A. accredited internship program at the University of Kansas Medical Center and will start in June, 2017.


Caley Kropp, M.S., CRC

Caley KroppCaley Kropp, MS, CRC is a 3rd-year graduate student in the Cardiac Psychology Lab. A native of Statesboro, GA, Caley earned a degree in Clinical Rehabilitation & Mental Health Counseling at UNC-Chapel Hill and is a Certified Rehabilitation Counselor. Now pursuing a PhD in Clinical Health Psychology under the guidance of his mentor Dr. Sam Sears, he is currently investigating device satisfaction and psychosocial factors surrounding the use of smartphone-electrocardiograms in patients with implantable cardioverter defibrillators (ICDs). In addition to cardiac psychology, his other broad interests include working with the intellectual/developmental disability population and neuropsychological assessment of older adults. In his free time, Caley enjoys spending time with his wife Katherine, playing soccer, and staying involved at his local church.


Nichelle Huber, B.A.

Nichelle HuberNichelle is a 3rd year graduate student in the Clinical Health Psychology Doctoral Program. She received a BA in Psychology from Oklahoma State University. Her research interests include the impact of chronic illness on the child, siblings, and the family as a whole, with a specific interest in family functioning, adjustment, and quality of life. Her master's thesis is focused on examining the impact of sickle cell disease knowledge, coping style, and family functioning on the psychosocial adjustment of healthy siblings of youth with sickle cell disease. Nichelle has completed similar research in pediatric oncology and foster care populations and is excited to continue this line of work with individuals with cardiac conditions! In her free time, she enjoys playing intramural sports, hanging out with friends, and taking her dog Ranger on walks.

David Sager, B.A./B.A.

SagerFaceDavid Sager is a 2nd-year graduate student in the Cardiac Psychology Lab, earned undergraduate degrees with honors in both Psychology and Philosophy from East Carolina University, and is a US Marine Corps veteran. He is currently investigating heart-focused anxiety and self-care practices in heart failure patients living with wireless implantable hemodynamic monitors (W-IHMs), and heart patient perceptions of and reactions to biofeedback. His broad research interests include the psychology of living with implanted and wearable devices, and active duty military and veteran mental health. Free time activities include spending time with his wife and children, reading, running, model painting, tabletop gaming, and videogames.

Connor Tripp, M.S., CRC

TrippFaceConnor Tripp is a first year graduate student in the Clinical Health Psychology Doctoral Program. She earned her master's degree in Clinical Rehabilitation & Mental Health Counseling from UNC Chapel Hill after earning a BA in Psychology from East Carolina University in 2014. Connor's previous research experiences include stressors related to Left Ventricular Assist Devices (LVADs) for patients and their caregivers and integrative treatments for chronic pain and opioid use disorder. She enjoys running, spending time at the beach, and playing with her dog Khloe.