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Wessels and Torney-Purta Receive 2009 APA International Awards

Michael Wessells, PhD and Judith Torney-Purta, PhD are the recipients of APA's 2009 International Humanitarian Award and the 2009 Award for Distinguished Contributions to the International Advancement of Psychology.

By Sally Leverty

Michael Wessells, PhD and Judith Torney-Purta, PhD are the recipients of the American Psychological Association’s 2009 International Humanitarian Award and the 2009 Award for Distinguished Contributions to the International Advancement of Psychology, which will be formally presented to them at the 117th annual APA convention in Toronto in August 2009.

Dr. Michael Wessells, winner of the International Humanitarian Award, is a professor of Clinical Population and Family Health at Columbia University and a professor of psychology at Randolph-Macon College. His career spans several years of protecting children and families affected by disaster, forced migration, and ethnopolitical violence. Wessells also serves as Senior Child Protection Specialist for Christian Children’s Fund (CCF) where he advises on child protection, psychosocial programs, and policy issues worldwide.

In addition to his humanitarian service, Wessells has made a number of scholarly contributions to field. He is the Associate Editor of Peace and Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology; his book, Child soldiers: From violence to protection (Harvard, 2007) provides insights about the complex lives of these children. In addition to his work on child soldiers, and children and armed conflict, Wessells’ research focuses on psychosocial assistance in emergencies, and post-conflict reconstruction for peace.

Wessells has worked with numerous governments and international agencies and to develop community-based and culturally sensitive programs that are designed to support families, children, and communities affected by armed conflict. This work has taken him to countries such as Angola, Sierra Leone, East Timor, Kosovo, and Afghanistan where his efforts on behalf of children often placed him in personal jeopardy. His activism, leadership, and service have occurred within multiple organizations such as APA (as president of Psychologists for Social Responsibility and the Division of Peace Psychology), the United Nations, the US State Department, IUPsyS, and the CFC.

In his capacity as co-chair of the United Nations Inter- Agency Standing Committee (IASC) on Mental Health and Psychosocial Support in Emergency Settings, Wessells worked with hundreds of professionals around the world to produce the IASC Guidelines on Mental Health and Psychosocial Support in Emergency Settings (2007). Since their publication the guidelines have provided mental health workers throughout the world a foundation for developing psychosocial support in culturally responsive ways.

Dr. Judith Torney-Purta, winner of the Distinguished Contributions to the International Advancement of Psychology, is a professor of human development at the University of Maryland, College Park, since 1981. Her lifetime contributions consist of developing civic knowledge and democratic attitudes around the world, promoting international collaborative efforts in research and infusing her teaching with an international perspective.

Torney-Purta has conducted psychological research for nearly 40 years on young people’s knowledge of democracy and the social and political attitudes necessary to maintain it. She has also spearheaded efforts at the National Academies of Science to address the challenges to international research.

She has received several awards for her research, including APA’s Decade of Behavior Award for Research Relating to Democracy in 2005, the Nevitt Sanford Prize of the International Society of Political Psychology in 2001 and the University of Maryland’s International Landmark Research Award in 2005.

Torney-Purta is the author or editor of six books reporting research on political knowledge and attitudes. The first was The Development of Political Attitudes in Children, (Aldine Transaction, 1967), and one of the most recent was Citizenship and Education in Twenty-Eight Countries: Civic Knowledge and Engagement at Age Fourteen, (IEA Amsterdam, 2001). She served from 1994 to 2004 as chair of the International Steering Committee for the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement Civic Education Study and was responsible for the research consensus process as well as major parts of a survey design and analysis of an international study that measured adolescents’ belief in the importance of citizenship.

Earlier in her career, Torney-Purta was professor of psychology at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She received her bachelor’s degree in psychology from Stanford University and her master’s and doctoral degrees in human development from the University of Chicago. Ψ