Any visitor to APA headquarters sees that the building lies practically in the shadow of the Capitol dome. Less well-known is the fact that each September a select group of APA members comes to Washington, D.C., to gain firsthand exposure to the world of federal policy-making.
Now in its 33rd year, APA's Congressional Fellowship Program gives psychologists the chance to engage in every facet of the work expected of a typical legislative assistant. They propose and draft legislation, back up legislators at congressional hearings, meet with constituents, write speeches and prepare policy materials.
"Our intent," says program co-director and former Congressional Fellow Diane Elmore, PhD, MPH, "is for Fellows to learn about the legislative process and its potential to benefit the science and practice of psychology, and for lawmakers to recognize the incredible resources that psychologists bring to the legislative arena, including strong writing, research and interpersonal skills."
Here's a look at the work and experience of this year's fellows.
Alfred Amado, PhD
U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Education and Labor, Majority staff
His background: As a former Regional Advocacy Coordinator for the American Psychological Association of Graduate Students, Amado came to the fellowship with a history of interest in advocacy activities. His research focused on acculturation of immigrant children and their development after entering American society.
His Hill experience: By working on the Education and Labor Committee, Amado is focusing on the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act and student support services. He also has headed an initiative that led to a congressional hearing on the effects of Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids on children, families and the community.
His next step: Amado says the fellowship "has opened a plethora of doors in a lot of different arenas [and] they all seem to bring an integration of policy, practice and research."
Kerry Bolger, PhD
Office of Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.)
Her background: Bolger already had experience working with government when she started her fellowship: While holding a post at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Bolger served as a member of the governor's task force that developed the State Plan to Prevent Child Abuse. Through the fellowship she hopes to become more involved in policy and to understand better "why research is or isn't used to inform the policy-making process."
Her Hill experience: In the office of Rep. DeGette, Bolger says she is "working for a leader on issues I care about, including health care, stem-cell science and reproductive choice." Bolger handles a diverse set of policy responsibilities, including the areas of tobacco regulation, health, science and the work force.
Her next step: Bolger's Capitol Hill experiences have cemented her desire to have a hand in policy-making. "I'm not certain what I will be doing after I finish the fellowship," she says, "but I expect that it will be strongly policy-related."
Gregory Hinrichsen, PhD
Office of Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.)
His background: Hinrichsen has had an accomplished career as a geropsychologist at the Zucker Hillside Hospital in Glen Oaks, N.Y., including serving as director of its Psychology Training and Geropsychology Fellowship programs. His previous government experience includes spending a summer during high school working as a Senate page, a stint that included buying cigarettes for Sen. Everett Dirksen, for whom the building in which Hinrichsen now works is named.
His Hill experience: Hinrichsen gravitated to Wyden's office because of the senator's assignments on the Special Committee on Aging and the Finance Committee, allowing Hinrichsen to put his expertise on aging issues to work. "The aging of the U.S. population has major policy ramifications for our country that can benefit from the knowledge and skills of psychologists," he says.
His next step: Hinrichsen's professional challenge is in successfully blending his 30 years in the aging field with his recent legislative experience. "This has been an extremely rewarding year that exceeded my already high expectations," he says.
Christina Moore, PsyD
Office of Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.)
Her background: Moore has a decade's worth of experience in international and local political systems, including mental health consulting for Doctors Without Borders, the World Health Organization and UNICEF and serving on her local school board. The fellowship appealed to her because she wanted a better "understanding of policy development at the national level."
Her Hill experience: Working for Rep. Kennedy, sponsor of the House of Representatives' mental health parity legislation, has allowed Moore to pursue issues that are important to her. "There are endless opportunities to learn and meet with people who are researching and contending with the mental health-care delivery system," she says.
Her next steps: Moore anticipates continuing to "build an admittedly alternative career path" and alludes to an "embarrassment of riches in the choices" she has for the future.
Catherine Zebrowski, PhD
Office of Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio)
Her background: Zebrowski's interest in policy has been growing since graduate school. In her subsequent work serving children with learning, emotional and developmental disabilities at the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore, the policy implications of providing such services and increasing the availability of resources became clear to her. After working on state policy issues as chair of the Public Mental Health Committee of the Maryland Psychological Association, "working at the federal level seemed to be the natural next step," says Zebrowski.
Her Hill experience: "I knew I wanted to work for a senator on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee," Zebrowski says. This placement offered the unique opportunities of working on both health and education policy and to help a freshman senator "raise the profile of mental health issues in the office."
Her next steps: As with her colleagues in the 2007-08 class of Congressional Fellows, Zebrowski says she "definitely plans to work in a policy-related capacity in the future."
To learn more about the Congressional and Executive Branch Fellowships, visit www.apa.org/ppo/fellows.
Micah Haskell-Hoehl is a policy associate in APA's Public Interest Government Relations Office. For questions about APA's Fellowship Program, contact him at e-mail.