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"20" anniversary candles

The year was 1988. The decade of flipped-up collars, fingerless gloves, MTV and John Hughes movies was drawing to a close. Bobby McFerrin urged the country to "Don't Worry, Be Happy." Prozac hit the U.S. market.

And at APA's 96th Annual Convention in Atlanta, the American Psychological Association of Graduate Students (APAGS) was established.

"Students needed a professional home," says co-founder David J. Pilon, PhD, now a team leader at an eating disorder clinic in Halifax, Nova Scotia. "In many ways we were outsiders; we participated in academia, but in a professional and organizational sense, we weren't involved."

Pilon and co-founder Scott Mesh, PhD, now executive director of the Los Niños Early Childhood Training Institute in New York City, launched APAGS to give students an opportunity to broaden their education in the professional fold. For the past 20 years, graduate and undergraduate students have taken that mission and run with it.

"I think it's fair to say that APAGS and students really have woven themselves into the basic fabric of APA," Pilon says. "One can't participate at any level at APA and not see students."

Since 1988, APAGS hasplayed an increasing role in APA. It began with a sizable 18,000 members and now has 42,000, making up almost one-third of APA's membership.

Some of APAGS's work onbehalf of its student members includes:

  • Gaining representation in APA governance with voting seats on the Council of Representatives and the Committee on Accreditation.

  • Holding review positions on APA journals such as Professional Psychology: Research and Practice.

  • Launching its own magazine, gradPSYCH.

  • Establishing scholarship programs, including the diversity dissertation scholarship and a grant program that promotes multiculturalism in psychology and helps to establish regional networks for students of color.

  • Partnering with psychology's state and provincial associations, which, among other benefits, gives students an opportunity for professional development and legislative advocacy.

Changes in the psychology field have also made APAGS more crucial than ever before, Pilon says. Career paths and areas of specialization abound, and APAGS can help students pick their paths by hooking them up with mentors, he notes.

"I think APAGS is just going to get bigger and bigger," says Nadia Hasan, APAGS chair and a fifth-year counseling psychology student at the University of Akron.

-L. Meyers