Random Sample

His job:

Beckum is associate vice president for academic affairs and professor of psychology at Palo Alto University (PAU), where he teaches courses in cultural competence in both the PAU PhD program and the PAU-Stanford PsyD consortium. "My commitment is to work with students that have an interest in the relationship between health psychology and education, and who want to perform those professional tasks in a culturally competent fashion," he says.

Overcoming obstacles:

Born in 1936 to a family of Louisiana sharecroppers, Beckum sought a way out of poverty by securing a music and baseball scholarship to Grambling College, in Grambling, La., now part of the state's university system. Despite his enthusiasm for college, economic hardships and the birth of his first child forced him to drop out after only one year.

Go west, young man:

Beckum moved his family west in 1958, finding work as a psychiatric technician at the Colorado State Hospital in Pueblo, Colo., and later at the University of California at San Francisco Medical Center. Beckum then trained as a police officer and joined the San Francisco police force in 1963. The job intensified his interest in psychology. "Growing up at a time of civil unrest and later working as a police officer uniquely influenced and prepared me for a lifetime of research, teaching and diversity while attempting to understand how education impacts the way we think and approach life's challenges and opportunities," he says.

From cop to prof:

To fuel his passion for psychology, he earned his bachelor's in psychology at San Francisco State University in 1969. Beckum tapped his police training and taught criminal justice at San Francisco City College while pursuing his doctorate in psychology at Stanford University. After graduating in 1973, he joined Far West Laboratory for Educational Research and Development to assist with race desegregation efforts in Arizona, California, Hawaii and Nevada. In 1985, he became the dean of the School of Education, City College-City University of New York. In 1990, he joined the faculty of Duke University, serving as vice president, vice provost and professor of public policy studies and education.

More lessons to learn:

Beckum's research has focused on multicultural learning, African-American students, urban school desegregation, equity in education and more. "The importance of equity in education cannot be underscored enough," he says. "It's been a challenging journey, but I'm nowhere near close to being done. There are still more lessons to learn and understand."

Each month, "Random Sample" profiles an APA member. You may be next.