In the Public Interest

Many of you already know me, and I am honored and pleased to call you my personal and professional friends and colleagues. As I assume the position of Executive Director of the Public Interest (PI) Directorate, I thought I would take this opportunity to introduce myself to those I haven't yet had the pleasure of meeting, and to share early thoughts on my vision, hopes and aspirations for the directorate.

Beginnings

I decided to become a psychologist after taking a high school psychology course in the small town of Aiken, South Carolina (yes, we had a course in psychology in our high school way back then). I liked the problem-solving aspect of psychology and the idea that as a psychologist, I could really help people. My determination to be a psychologist was strengthened during my undergraduate years, especially during a Ford Foundation-sponsored summer internship at Howard University. During the internship, one of my assignments was to be a participant-observer of the Poor People's March on Washington. That experience and the discussions of psychological research related to the march (attitude change, poverty and so forth) sealed my fate.

Decades later I enter my ideal job, where I will lead the directorate whose mission is to apply the science and practice of psychology as a means of advancing public welfare. This mission often requires identifying areas where additional research is needed. The staff in PI works to affect real change in society, including public policy, through working with our Public Policy Office. We also work to improve the lives of the underrepresented in society, including the aged; people with disabilities; ethnic minorities; lesbians, gay men and bisexuals; and women. We work to create positive change for children, youth and families; to address issues of socio-economic status; and to attend to the concerns of those with HIV/AIDS, those at the end of life and those who experience or perpetuate violence. We work to reduce stress for workers and to encourage psychology's involvement in promoting healthy workplaces.

Many of these underrepresented populations in society are also underrepresented within APA and psychology. The Public Interest Directorate works to increase the participation of individuals from these groups in the field and in organized psychology, as members and in leadership positions within the association. As is true for our nation, our profession cannot afford to overlook the talents of these individuals.

The future

As I look ahead, I see a field of opportunities for psychology and psychologists. While I was tempted to outline in this column where I would like the directorate to go over the next several years and what I would like to achieve, after some thought, I decided to take a different approach. One of the principles I hold in highest regard is the need to involve a diversity of viewpoints, opinions and perspectives in identifying the goals; in devising the tactics and strategies; and in implementing what is decided and achieved. This is based on my belief that no one person holds all the answers. In fact, my experiences over the years have taught me that the best outcomes result from a commitment to seek out a variety of opinions, viewpoints, problem-solving skills and strategies.

In very general terms, my aspirations for Public Interest are to broaden and deepen psychology's visibility in the world. The committees, task forces and staff in PI do excellent work and have produced exciting and noteworthy products. One of my goals is to help ensure that those products reach the broadest possible audience to allow the greatest impact. Often we expend so much time and effort on producing the best possible report, that by the time we finish, we must quickly move on to the next initiative. This often results in a lack of time and resources to market and distribute the report as broadly as possible to ensure the greatest impact. We need to improve in this area and we need your help.

In closing this first column, speaking for the entire directorate, I would like to thank Henry Tomes, PhD, for 14 years of fine leadership. We have grown in numbers, programs and range of activities as a result of his efforts, and will really miss him. It is my hope that I will be able to run this leg of the relay with the skill, grace and form he displayed during his years as Executive Director.

I look forward to a long and productive collaboration, believing we can do many great things together.