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Getting to Know the Newest Members of CIRP

In the following article, Pamela E. Flattau, PhD, Guerda Nicolas, PhD, and Laura R. Johnson, PhD, describe, in their own words, their backgrounds in psychology and the work they have done internationally.

by Psychology International Staff

In the last issue of Psychology International, we introduced you to three new members of the Committee on International Relations in Psychology (CIRP) as they entered their new term. In the following article, Pamela E. Flattau, PhD, Guerda Nicolas, PhD, and Laura R. Johnson, PhD, describe, in their own words, their backgrounds in psychology and the work they have done internationally.

Dr. Pamela Flattau, Defense Analysis Institute, Washington DC

Early in my college studies I had an opportunity to “study abroad” at the University of Leeds in England. At the time I was interested in pursuing a journalism career, and Leeds University had (and still has) the largest international student population among the top universities – providing a unique opportunity to gain exposure to the cultures of many nations. I eventually graduated from Leeds in 1969 – essentially at the peak of real intellectual foment among college students around the world. I “discovered” the field of psychology while a student at Leeds and was strongly attracted to the broad philosophical, historical and international underpinnings of the psychology honors curriculum. I’ve since maintained an interest in the international dimensions of psychology throughout my career largely as a result of this undergraduate experience.

I’ve worked in Washington DC for over 30 years as a policy analyst, first as a Congressional Science Fellow in the US Senate, and subsequently as a staff person with the National Academy of Sciences/National Research Council (NAS/NRC), the National Science Foundation (NSF), and most recently with the Science and Technology Policy Institute/Institute for Defense Analyses (STPI). In the mid-1980s, Dave Goslin, then-Director of the NRC Commission on Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education, asked me to serve as the first staff officer for the newly formed US Committee for the International Union of Psychological Science. There have been many other opportunities to represent the interests of psychology in the science and public policy arenas. Recently, we examined the influences of the National Defense Education Act of 1958 (NDEA) on the education infrastructure in the United States for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). It became clear that this Federal response to Sputnik not only facilitated important developments in the structure of fellowship and student loan programs in the United States, NDEA also stimulated the expansion of counseling psychology as a field and furthered the development of the then-nascent field of “talent” identification through testing and evaluation. Our report is available at: http://www.ida.org/stpi/pages/about.html.  

My primary professional interests involve the effective use of quantitative and qualitative measures for science and social policy. Recently, the Office of the National Science Board (National Science Foundation) asked STPI to assist them in the development of a Digest of Key Science and Engineering Indicators for use by planners and policymakers. Advances in data visualization techniques allowed us to suggest to the Board some important innovations in indicator reporting. See: http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/digest08/nsb0802.pdf.

I have been a member of APA since graduate school, at which time I was selected by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and APA as the first psychologist to hold a Congressional Science Fellowship. Over the years, I also received important APA travel support to attend meetings of the International Congress of Psychology – first as a “young” psychologist and later as a speaker. During my time as a member CIRP, I am interested in elevating the visibility of psychological research and measurement methods in international efforts to facilitate social, economic and scientific progress.

Dr. Guerda Nicolas, Boston College

My personal background is as a Haitian immigrant who immigrated to the United States at the age of 13. My research and clinical experiences are reflective of my cultural background and focus on addressing the academic and mental health needs of ethnic minority youths nationally and internationally. Specifically, over the last five years, we have conducted two projects that are both nationally and internationally based. The first is a project focusing on racial identity and teacher’s skills in teaching ethnic minority students in England in partnership with several schools in different regions of the country. Through this project, we have developed a measure for teachers (Teachers’ Emotional Literary Scale-TELS) to assess the areas in which teachers need further professional development. A similar program is being conducted here in the United States. In addition to the England project, we have implemented an English literacy project in Haiti for preschool to high school students. These projects have allowed me the opportunity understand the process, challenges, and benefits of implementing international programs.

Given my personal background, research focus, and international work, I'm a member and president-elect of the Haitian Studies Association and a member of the Caribbean Studies Association. Through these memberships, I have developed wonderful network and collaborative partnership with many individuals in a variety of disciplines. In addition to these associations, I've been involved with APA since 1992 as a doctoral student. Over the years, I have been involved in a number of different divisions and committees within APA. I recently served as a member and chair of the Committee on Early Career Psychologists. APA is my professional association so my involvement is not only to learn about the state of the science, research, and public interest areas, but to take an active role in shaping the future of the association.

There are several reasons for my decision to becoming a member of CIRP but at the forefront is the opportunity to expand psychology around the world, specifically. The international work that I am currently doing focuses on Caribbean and ethnic minorities. As we think about CIRP's mission and resources, we should be mindful of the entire world not just certain parts of the world. Even for folks who work in England, depending on where you go in England, you get a different idea of what everyone's doing. When making psychology an international focus one of the big pieces is addressing ethnic minorities and to broaden that piece.

Dr. Laura Johnson, University of Mississippi.

My interest in cross-cultural issues reaches back to my early childhood, spurred by a move from upstate New York to rural Mississippi in 1973. This move provided a firsthand experience with culture shock and an early awareness of racial inequities that left an indelible mark and fueled my concern for social justice, race relations and cross-cultural understanding. My interests broadened to international issues after studying African art and dance in Kenya for a year during college. In 1991, I graduated from the University of Mississippi with majors in psychology and anthropology and went to work in the community mental health system. Seeing firsthand the struggles faced by poor, rural African Americans as attempting to access mental health services gave me a holistic, ecological perspective on mental health and introduced me to the need for cultural competence. From 1993-95, I served in the U.S. Peace Corps in Papua New Guinea, where I lived in a remote rainforest and taught health and environmental sustainability. PNG, with its 1000 distinct tribes gave me new perspectives on the dynamic and complex nature of culture and also of the workings of aid organizations. 

From 1996-2002, I attended graduate school at the University of Louisville where I worked with Joseph Aponte on minority mental health. In 2000, I won a Fulbright grant to research explanatory models of depression in Uganda. During my internship at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, I specialized in refugee mental health. Counseling refugees from Afghanistan, Bosnia, Iraq and the Sudan on any given day gave me an even deeper appreciation for the meaning of cultural competence. In 2003, I joined the faculty at the University of Mississippi where I teach multicultural psychology, intercultural communication, statistics and theories. I also study youth’s involvement in environmental programs, such as the Jane Goodall Institute’s Roots and Shoots program, and how it impacts youth development in different cultural contexts.

I officially became a student member of APA when I began graduate school in 1996. During graduate school, I shifted my focus to another organization and conference. There I became increasingly disappointed with the lack of cultural programming, especially of an international or cross-cultural nature. In 2006, I presented my first poster at APA and felt like I was coming home again. It was delightful to see the level of international focus and to feel the support, especially in the International Division. Since then, I have joined the international division and become a liaison coordinator for Uganda and Tanzania. This summer I made a trip to Uganda and began working with a small group of psychologists to connect with APA and advance psychology in Uganda. I also visited colleagues from the traditional healers association to discuss their openness to research and practice projects with international psychologists. I have become increasingly active in the annual conference and look forward to helping organize “Fulbrighters at APA” events this year.

It is often said that “tolerance for ambiguity” is an important cross-cultural skill and it is a good thing that I have grown this ability. When I first read the minutes from a CIRP meeting, I was ecstatic—they were addressing the very issues that I am so passionate about such as internationalizing the curriculum; promoting international collaboration; and taking a stand for social justice and human rights, for science (e.g. supporting the theory of evolution), for the environment and for a cultural competent psychology that is effective and relevant in today’s global society. Soon I will learn more about the needs of CIRP and the specifics of what I will work on will become clearer. For now, I am excited about the many possibilities.