Yale University professor Robert J. Sternberg, PhD, has been elected APA's 2003 president. He'll begin his term next January.
Sternberg, a professor and director of the Center for the Psychology of Abilities, Competencies and Expertise (PACE) at Yale University, is perhaps best known for his research on intelligence and creativity. His path to this area of study is somewhat surprising.
"I did poorly on IQ tests as a child," he says. "In fact, I did so badly in sixth grade I was sent back to a fifth-grade classroom." Whereas that might have soured some people's interest in intelligence, Sternberg says, "Everything I've studied have been things I have failed at."
But there were some life lessons he caught onto right away growing up in Maplewood, N.J. Neither of his parents were college-educated. His father dropped out during the Depression and his Viennese mother fled the Nazis in her country, so she didn't get to go to school. His father ran a dressmaker's supply store. "They were supportive. But I didn't have college-educated parents helping me with my homework. I knew if there was something in life I wanted, I'd have to get it myself," he says.
Sternberg left New Jersey to attend Yale for his undergraduate degree and then went to Stanford for his PhD. He returned to his undergraduate alma mater to teach in 1975.
Since then he's been the recipient of many awards and honors, including the APA Early Career Award, the Connecticut Psycho-logical Association's Distinguished Lifetime Achievement Award, the Outstanding Book Award from the American Educational Re-search Association, the Distinguished Scholar Award from the National Association for Gifted Children, the Cattell Award of the American Psy-chological Society, and a Guggenheim Fellowship.
He followed his childhood ethic of relying on himself when he created the PACE center at Yale in 1999. "I decided to shape my own environment and improve it," he says. "The center combines science, education, public interest and practice. We do scientific work, train postdocs, graduate students, undergraduates--it's a very diverse group. We try to have an impact on the world and make a difference. And we really see psychology as a collectivity."
Goals for his presidency
Sternberg says he tries to "merge science, education, public policy and practice" at the PACE center and that's the model he'll use for his work with APA. Unification of the field is one major item on his agenda. "We need to get everyone under one roof," he asserts.
Some of his other priorities include:
Applying psychology to societal and world agendas. Sternberg says the events of Sept. 11 made it clear to him that the field should marshal its resources to aid in the fight against terrorism. "Psychology can play a very important role in combating hate and violence," he says. "We can provide an important kind of expertise and analysis." His current research involves both the psychology of hate and the psychology of wisdom, one way of combating hate. He also believes that American psychology should interact more with communities all over the world. "There's no one we can't learn from," he adds.
Infusing psychology in schools. He'd like to see psychology more involved in education. "Schools are becoming factories for test-taking," he says. "I will propose a set of standards of accountability--a school children's bill of rights."
Promoting the science and the practice of psychology. Sternberg would like to see increased funding and an appreciation for psychological science among government decision-makers. He also supports prescription privileges for appropriately trained psychologists and strong lobbying to "remove the imbalances and injustice" of mental health-care coverage in this country.
Sternberg says he will also actively promote the interests of women, ethnic minorities, aging populations, individuals with disabilities and sexual minorities within APA and in society.
Sternberg will draw from his own theories--of creativity and wisdom, for example--in his work as president. He says he'll approach problems from different angles and will encourage that type of thinking in others. "Much of the best work breaks out of existing paradigms," he says. "We all know that finding the right solution to the wrong problem is not helpful. We have to foster creative thinking in psychology--that applies to research, teaching and practice. People also work best when they take a team-based approach."
When asked about the impact he hopes his presidency will make, he speaks of a mentor, Wendell Garner, whose words, "You are judged by the positive contribution you make," made an impression on him. "I try to use that as a model for my career and will use it as a model for my APA presidency."