Public Policy Update
For the 32nd straight year, APA has sent a group of psychologists to Capitol Hill to learn the ins and outs of lawmaking-and to share their psychological knowledge with policy-makers.
The APA program, part of the American Association for the Advancement of Science's Science and Technology Policy Fellowship Program, began with one fellow in 1974. It now sponsors up to six fellows each year-nearly 100 in total since it began.
"The purpose is to give psychologists a firsthand experience on Capitol Hill," says Ellen Garrison, PhD, APA's director of public interest policy and co-director of the program with Annie Toro, JD. Fellows work with Republicans, Democrats and Senate and House committees: "We encourage a diversity of experiences across the political spectrum," Garrison says.
Former fellows have gone on to a variety of careers, with about one-third working in federal or state government. Others have landed in academia, policy institutes, associations and private practice, among other places.
This year's fellows, profiled below, arrived last September and will finish their fellowships in August.
Elizabeth Hoffman, PhD
Senate Subcommittee on Education and Early Childhood Development
Her background: Hoffman most recently logged three years of research and teaching in the Georgetown University Medical Center's pediatrics department. A neuropsychologist by training, she used functional magnetic resonance imaging to study motion perception in children with autism. Hoffman received her PhD in neuropsychology from George Washington University in 2001.
Her Hill experience: The Subcommittee on Education and Early Childhood Development handles a range of health and education issues, Hoffman says.
She's spent the bulk of her time working on the reauthorization of the Ryan White CARE (Comprehensive AIDS Resources Emergency) Act. The act, originally passed in 1990, provides funding to care for low-income and uninsured or underinsured people with HIV/AIDS. The lead staffer on the issue for ranking member Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.), Hoffman participated in bipartisan negotiations to reauthorize the bill, which passed out of the committee in May.
She's also worked on legislation concerning community mental health, food allergies in schools and-related to her previous research-autism.
Her next step: Hoffman is still considering her next move. She may spend a year in Hong Kong with her family to work on international health policy issues and then return to the United States for a full-time science policy career.
Bruce Gilberg, PhD
Office of Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV(D-W.Va.)
His background: Gilberg is the founder and executive director of Generation Two, an organization that matches Rochester, N.Y.-area senior citizens with local first-graders.
The seniors serve as both emotional mentors and political advocates for the children. Gilberg also maintains a clinical private practice in Rochester. He received his PhD in child psychology from Iowa State University and a master's degree in public administration from Harvard.
His Hill experience: When 12 miners died in a coal mine accident in Sago, W.Va., in January, some of Gilberg's focus shifted to the mental health components of mine-safety legislation. "Miners go into the mines every day knowing that it's not safe, and they tolerate that risk, but it takes its toll," he says. "There needs to be more information about the emotional and social challenges they face."
Gilberg has also worked on a variety of other issues, from participating in a West Virginia homeland security summit to researching the methamphetamine epidemic that has hit parts of rural West Virginia.
"I've learned how to put expertise in psychology within a political context," he says. "You have to learn the players, why certain offices take the lead on certain issues, and how to write a vote rationale or briefing statement."
His next step: Gilberg will return to his work running Generation Two and to his clinical practice, but he also intends to contribute to policy-making and public service. "I'm really in debt to APA for this experience, so I want to contribute to the public policy work they do," he says.
Paula Domenici, PhD
Office of Sen. Hillary RodhamClinton (D-N.Y.)
Her background: Domenici worked for three years as a postdoctoral fellow and staff psychologist on the post-traumatic stress disorder clinical team at the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center, where she helped veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan as well as World War II and Vietnam veterans. She received her doctorate in counseling psychology from the University of Maryland, College Park, in 2002.
Her Hill experience: Domenici has put her background in veterans' affairs to use, covering some veterans' health and mental health issues as part of Clinton's health team. She also handles seniors' and aging issues as well as mental health areas in general-tracking and evaluating relevant legislation and meeting with constituents about those issues.
She's also helped organize events for the Congressional Task Force on Alzheimer's Disease, which Clinton co-chairs, and she helped prepare for the reauthorization of the Older Americans Act, which provides funding for a variety of social services for senior citizens.
"The most interesting thing I've learned is the importance of vetting ideas with other colleagues and outside groups before taking sides or a stance on an issue," she says. "This has made me realize all the nuances that need to be taken into account when formulating policy."
Her next step: Domenici plans to return to clinical practice and hopes to also manage a mental health program or clinic. She also says that she'd like to stay involved in politics and policy-particularly with the issues of seniors and veterans-through activities such as serving on boards or coalitions or speaking at conferences.
Gregory Walton, PhD
Office of Sen. Hillary RodhamClinton (D-N.Y.)
His background: Walton came to Capitol Hill directly from graduate school at Yale University, where he studied how social-psychological processes contribute to academic motivation and achievement. In one study, for example, he found that students from historically stigmatized groups saw negative social events as evidence that they didn't belong in an academic setting, which ultimately undermined their achievement.
His Hill experience: Walton works on Clinton's children and families team. He's particularly focused on the issue of violence in the media. "Decades of social science research, especially research by psychologists, links exposure to violent media to increased aggressive behavior," he says. "So it's important that parents have the ability to control what media their children are exposed to."
Walton has worked on legislation that would provide funding for research on how newer forms of media, such as video games, affect children.
His next step: Walton has accepted a postdoctoral research position at the University of Waterloo for the next several years. After that, his future is wide open. "One of the great things about this fellowship is that it opens up a world of possibilities," he says, citing several examples: "You can stay on the Hill, work in a think tank or government agency, or go to academia."