Class Act

Gwyn White, a clinical psychology graduate student at Rutgers, and Kathleen Van Dyk, a neuropsychology student at Graduate Center, City University of New York, met with Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.). (credit: Nick Crettier)A visitor to Capitol Hill on the afternoon of Aug. 4 would have seen an unusual sight: Dozens of psychology graduate students striding the halls of Congress advocating for psychology programs.

The excitement was generated by this year's PsycAdvocate Day, where APA's Education and Public Interest Government Relations Offices trained psychologists and students to speak with members of Congress and staff about the importance of federally funded psychology workforce development programs. Timed to coincide with APA's 2011 Annual Convention, the event featured a morning educational workshop and afternoon visits to Capitol Hill. Of the roughly 100 APA members who participated in the event, about half were graduate students and seven were student scholarship winners.

The number of students interested in policy and advocacy continues to grow, says Diane Elmore, PhD, MPH, senior legislative and federal affairs officer in APA's Public Interest Government Relations Office.

The scholarship winners — Ashley Boal, Katia Canenguez, Jessica Chavez, Sasha Kimel, William Martinez, Joann Wright Mawasha and Sarah Reed — received stipends covering enrollment fees for the PsycAdvocate workshop as well as travel expenses associated with attending APA's Annual Convention in Washington, D.C.

"We wanted to see to it that students really had the opportunity to be immersed in public policy training," says Nina Thomas, PhD, Public Interest Caucus chair.

Sharing Their Expertise

The scholarship winners and other PsycAdvocate participants lobbied for two key programs: The Graduate Psychology Education (GPE) Program, the nation's only federal program dedicated solely to the education and training of doctoral-level psychologists, and the Minority Fellowship Program (MFP), which supports psychology students from ethnic-minority backgrounds as well as those dedicated to minority behavioral health.

These programs need psychology's support more than ever since they, along with many other federal programs, are threatened with severe cuts, Elmore says.

William Martinez, a clinical-child grad student at DePaul University, advocated for the Minority Fellowship Program, which supports psychology students dedicated to minority mental health. Dr. Nina Thomas of the Public Interest Caucus (right) presented him with a Public Interest advocacy scholarship. (credit: Nick Crettier)Protecting the MFP was a top priority of PsycAdvocates scholarship winner Martinez, a clinical-child psychology graduate student at DePaul University and a 2010 MFP fellow.

Martinez has witnessed the benefits of the MFP fellowship firsthand.

"The mentorship and opportunities alone I have received through the MFP thus far were well worth the time and energy that went into the competitive application process. Not to mention the great financial support we receive," he says. "Advocating for the GPE program and the MFP was not difficult as these are two programs I was already familiar with and passionate about."

Thomas is heartened by the passion of students like Martinez, recipients of fellowships who are now eager to preserve and expand support for the next generation.

"We need to do whatever we can do to support students in particular who are going to take up the torch on behalf of those marginalized populations," Thomas says.

In addition to advocating for psychology training, the students explained their research to policymakers. Boal, for example, shared her findings on intimate partner violence, and used those facts to buoy her argument for MPF funding, which has helped train clinicians to work with victims of violence and perpetrators.

Matt Connelly, a staff member for Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), spoke with Dr. Rachel Casas and Charisse Corsbie-Massay, a postdoc and a student at the University of Southern California, respectively. (credit: Nick Crettier)"Over the past few years Oregon has seen quite a few intimate partner violence-related homicides," says Boal, a Portland State University grad student. "I believe this points to the need for trained clinicians that are prepared to work with specialized populations, including victims of trauma."

Katia Canenguez, a clinical psychology graduate student at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, also advocated for the MFP and plans to apply for the program herself.

"As an immigrant Latina, this mission is extremely important to me," she says. "My goal is not only to identify unique needs in the Latino population, but also strengths. ... There are very few programs related to minority mental health so this program is extremely valuable."

Overall, the day was a success, says Elmore.

"You don't have to be a tenured professor or a clinician with 40 years of experience to have an impact on Capitol Hill," Elmore says.

Martinez agrees.

"I was pleasantly surprised at how receptive everyone was to our presence there," he says. "The training has imparted upon me the idea that advocacy does not have to be intimidating and that it really can be accomplished by any citizen."

Summer Block Kumar is a writer in Los Angeles.

Digital Extra

See the PsycAdvocates in action at gradPSYCH's  digital edition.