Sandy Garcia, a senior at Memorial High School in McAllen, Texas, is considering a career in neuropsychology in the hopes of conducting research on diseases related to memory. She was inspired by an APA-sponsored pilot program that taught her and other high school students about the various branches and careers in psychology.

The project, which aims to recruit more ethnic minorities into psychology programs, is one of many that APA's Teachers of Psychology in Secondary Schools (TOPSS) and Psychology Teachers at Community Colleges (PT@CC) are bringing to the nation's high schools and community colleges.

Former APA president Richard M. Suinn, PhD, proposed the idea for the high school diversity program and worked with PT@CC Past-chair Bob Johnson, PhD, and TOPSS Past-chair Debra Park to develop plans to pilot the project in high schools nationwide. In addition, APA's Office of Ethnic Minority Affairs has supplied career brochures geared to ethnic-minority students, and APA's Education Directorate has provided its video on "Careers in Psychology in the 21st Century."

"The ethnic-minority high school pilot project is based upon research findings that show modeling is most effective where the model is similar to the people viewing the model," Suinn says. "This would mean that the best model for ethnic-minority high school students would be other ethnic minorities who are themselves similar in age to them."

The project's diversity focus is also in line with the enhancing diversity in psychology initiative of APA President Ronald F. Levant, EdD. In addition, both TOPSS and PT@CC are developing projects related to other presidential initiatives of Levant's, including promoting health care for the whole person, developing APA policy on evidence-based practice and making psychology a household word.

Enhancing diversity

For her part, Garcia says the enhancing diversity program--which includes psychologists in the community giving career-oriented, one-hour programs in high schools that have high ethnic-minority enrollments--helped her realize that many psychology careers exist beyond the therapy room.

During these sessions, psychologists discuss topics that range from what psychology offers ethnic communities to examples of prominent ethnic-minority psychologists to how students can overcome racial barriers. Through the program, minority community college and four-year college students also will be available to mentor minority high school students considering a career in psychology.

So far, Suinn says, student mentors report positive feedback from high school students.

"What we're hearing is that the high school students are getting very excited at listening to undergraduates...who talk about their backgrounds, which are similar to the ethnic-minority students, and talk about how they went about picking psychology as a major, why they are so excited about psychology and how they went about selecting a college," says Suinn. "The high school students can then ask questions that are very pertinent to their lives and get answers."

Suinn, chair of APA's Membership Committee, helped secure $1,000 in funding from the committee last year to launch the project. He emphasizes, though, that human resources, more so than dollars, are what really drive the project. The project is "highly reliant on local resources of teachers, psychologists and undergraduate volunteers deciding this is important enough to them that they are willing to devote some energy to this on a volunteer basis," he explains.

And, as an indicator of the payoff, Garcia's Memorial High School now plans to make the psychology careers workshop an annual event, after the Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate high school students who participated in the April program reported it was helpful in learning about the specialties and careers within psychology. Meanwhile, about 40 students have attended sessions at West Deptford High School in West Deptford, N.J., and about 70 students participated in workshops at Metro Tech High School in San Diego.

PT@CC helps provide minority student mentors and speakers for the sessions, particularly since many minority students begin their higher education career in community colleges.

While Levant's own initiative is targeted specifically to enhancing diversity within APA, "This is excellent for both high school and the college level in reaching people of color and helping to develop their interest in psychology so more of them will decide to pursue a major in psychology or eventually even go on to the graduate or doctoral level," he says.

TOPSS Chair Amy Fineburg says she hopes the project will also help build stronger partnerships among community colleges, high schools and psychologists in the community.

"If we're all working toward the same goal, we can do a better job together" of increasing minority enrollment in psychology, says Fineburg, a psychology teacher at Spain Park High School in Birmingham, Ala.

To do this, TOPSS also is developing a speaker's bureau to add to its website, which will list psychologists and faculty at universities and community colleges who are willing to speak to high school students about psychology careers or topics.

"I hope that it will help support not only Dr. Levant's initiative, but also the general APA initiative on increasing diversity within psychology," Fineburg says.

Other initiatives

TOPSS and PT@CC also are working to increase the public's knowledge of psychology and what psychologists do.

In March, several PT@CC members participated in APA's Making Psychology a Household Word training program during APA's spring consolidated governance meeting. The training program, which will be offered at some state meetings this fall and at APA's 2005 Annual Convention in Washington, D.C., in August, teaches psychologists how to use APA's public education materials, make public presentations and work with the news media on psychology-related topics--all in the hopes that psychologists will then train others in their organizations and communities. 

PT@CC Chair Patricia Puccio, EdD, says that PT@CC's community college faculty members hope to use the training they received to conduct public education programs about psychology, lectures and depression screening days targeted to students and people in their communities.

TOPSS also has been making psychology a household word by:

  • Creating posters on psychology for use in high school classrooms, such as one that highlights the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education case, which educational psychologists Kenneth B. Clark, PhD, and Mamie Phipps Clark, PhD, presented evidence to the U.S. Supreme Court that school segregation harmed black children.

  • Highlighting an article, "Myths about psychology," in its fall Psychology Teacher Network Newsletter to tackle such myths as schizophrenia is a split personality and that eyewitness testimony is always accurate.

  • Promoting its Psychology Awareness Initiative, which aims to give teachers greater flexibility in promoting awareness of psychology in their schools and in their communities through, for example, sponsoring a psychology fair or psychology trivia contest. For more information, visit Topss awareness.

  • Helping teachers start psychology clubs at their schools.

TOPSS will debut a new unit lesson plan on stress and health promotion in the fall, which coincides with Levant's "health care for the whole person" initiative. The unit plan includes classroom activities and outlines concepts to teach students about such topics as obesity, smoking, positive psychology, definitions of stress and the impact of stress on lives and health.

TOPSS will also feature five speakers to address life-span issues from birth to old age on Aug. 19 and 20 during APA's 2005 Annual Convention in Washington, D.C.

Levant and his APA Presidential Task Force on Evidence-Based Practice have developed a proposed policy statement regarding evidence-based psychology practice (http://forms.apa.org/members/ebp). Similarly, TOPSS and PT@CC say there is a need for evidence-based standards specifically geared to guiding the teaching of psychology. Both groups are either promoting evidence-based teaching standards or developing new standards.

For example, PT@CC members will help form the new Board of Educational Affairs' Task Force on Strengthening the Teaching and Learning of Undergraduate Psychological Sciences, which will prepare a report on competencies for undergraduate psychology courses as well as models for teaching, learning and assessment, Puccio says. The task force--which will be composed of three community college faculty and four four-year college faculty--is meeting for the first time in July.

Similarly, TOPSS continues to promote its standards for teaching science-based high school psychology, the National Standards for the Teaching of High School Psychology. Developed in 1999, the standards serve as a road map for teaching high school psychology in five domains--methods, biopsychological, developmental, cognitive and sociocultural--with an emphasis on the scientific basis of psychology.

After all, high school psychology teachers usually offer students their first introduction to psychology, Fineburg says. "And we want to make sure teachers have the tools needed to teach a course that psychologists would feel is acceptable," she adds.

Further Reading

To participate in the high school enhancing diversity program or become part of the TOPSS Speakers Bureau, contact TOPSS Past-chair Debra Park.