With nearly 60,000 graduate student members, APAGS makes up one of APA's largest constituency groups and about one-third of APA's membership. And just as its membership has steadily grown through the years, so has its voice, say those who have led it.
"I'm impressed and proud of the many achievements of APAGS, and how it has embedded into the very fabric of APA," says David Pilon, PhD, co-founder of APAGS. More than 15 years ago as graduate students, Pilon and Scott Mesh, PhD, laid plans for the psychology student organization.
Five previous attempts at forming an APA psychology student organization failed before Mesh and Pilon took on the task. "Everybody thought it would fail again," Mesh says. "But with the support of key people, we kept this dream alive and were able to survive...with a countless number of students coming after us." Those key supporters include former APA CEO Raymond D. Fowler, PhD, Ellin Bloch, PhD, and Pierre Ritchie, PhD.
With their help, the co-founders' dream became a reality in 1988, when APA's Council of Representatives voted unanimously to establish APAGS.
Before 1988, students did not have much of a voice within APA, and there were no tangible benefits for students to become members of APA since there was no formal network for them, Mesh says.
That changed. Over the past 15 years, the APAGS support staff within APA has grown from one part-time staff member to a high-level executive director and two other staffers. APAGS has also gradually increased its presence on APA boards and committees.
But mere presence was not enough, and students wanted to have input in the governance process as well, says Carol Williams-Nickelson, PsyD, APAGS associate executive director. The group's recent milestone of attaining an APAGS voting seat on APA's Council of Representatives--coupled with their positions on APA boards and committees--helps them to do just that.
"[APA board and committees] are coming to expect students to be just like anyone else at the table and to be just as involved in the decisions," says APAGS Chair Chris Loftis, a doctoral student at the University of Florida. "And this is critical if we are to be the next generation in APA."
Pat DeLeon, PhD, JD, an early supporter of APAGS and APA president in 2000, says students are valuable contributors to APA governance. "Students add a fresh vision," says DeLeon, a key adviser in the office of Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii). "They provide within the APA governance a whole future of agendas that otherwise would never have been heard."
Whether it's addressing student concerns--such as internship selection or the graduate curriculum--lobbying on Capitol Hill or voicing support for psychopharmacology, APAGS has become an organization composed of diverse committees that address a broad range of topics within psychology, its leaders note.
"APAGS is a tremendous vehicle for students to advance their leadership skills and confidence, make contacts that can serve them throughout their career, and do some real good for other psychology students as well as serve our professional community," Mesh says.
APA's former CEO Raymond D. Fowler notes that APAGS and APA have had a mutually beneficial relationship over the past 15 years. For example, APA provides support to the student group, such as staffing and funds to launch gradPSYCH, a new student magazine, next month. On the other hand, APAGS provides a training ground for students on members' role in APA governance, so when students join APA as professionals they can "hit the ground running as new members and as potential members of the APA leadership," Fowler says.
Ultimately, APAGS provides a formalized APA presence for the future of psychology, says L. Michael Honaker, PhD, APA's chief operating officer. "I've always considered them not as students but colleagues in training," Honaker notes. "As a profession, we really need to realize that, because they will be the ones we will be working with one day."