What do a trip to Bosnia, one-way mirrors and Gummy bears have in common? Each played a rolein the graduate programs selected by APA's Board of Educational Affairs (BEA) for the 2006 Award for Innovative Practices in Graduate Education in Psychology. BEA sponsors the annual award in cooperation with the Council of Graduate Departments of Psychology (COGDOP) to recognize innovative practices in graduate education and training.

Out of 10 entries for 2006, three schools shared the prize:

  • The University of Denver's Graduate School of Professional Psychology, for its International Disaster Psychology Program.

  • The University of Minnesota's Department of Educational Psychology, for its program preparing faculty in the teaching of statistics.

  • The School of Professional Psychology at Wright State University, for its Mental Health and Deafness Program.

The winners each received a plaque and $2,000 at COGDOP's 2007 annual meeting in February.

"This award is not about how well you do the standard kinds of things," says 2006 BEA Awards Committee Chair and APA Board of Directors member Barry Anton, PhD, "but how you innovate and respond to needs that are not normally met."

Preparing for disaster

There is an increasing need for mental health clinicians to assist communities affected by both natural and man-made disasters and pandemics. Recognizing this need, in 2002, the University of Denver (DU) Graduate School of Professional Psychology began offering classes to PsyD students on the topic of international disaster psychology, and two years ago, launched a master's degree program in this area.

"Our program provides students with the background they need to intervene at multiple levels to address the psychosocial needs of trauma-affected communities," says program director Judith Fox, PhD. "Students acquire a broad perspective on international development and disaster, relevant clinical skills and knowledge in research program evaluation and trauma in order to engage in work that can result in sustainable benefits for these communities."

The program provides an interdisciplinary perspective on international disaster psychology, with faculty trained in such areas as clinical psychology and trauma, international development and psychosocial programming, public health, program evaluation and mental health systems in developing countries. Course offerings include cross-cultural analysis, trauma and development, crisis intervention, humanitarian law and gender-based violence. Master's students complete two years of coursework and domestic field placements, as well as a two-month summer internship at an international disaster organization in such countries as Bosnia, Serbia, Croatia and South Africa. The program's PsyD concentration in international disaster psychology includes a trauma seminar and fieldwork abroad alongside the master's students.

DU's humanitarian focus piqued the interests of second-year master's student Molly Firkaly by combining aspects of child psychology and peace studies. After two internships working with African refugees in the Denver area, Firkaly will complete her fieldwork this summer at SOS Kinder, an orphanagein Sarajevo, where she will help provide residents with psychosocial interventions and education. She hopes to get a job next year doing gender-based violence and conflict prevention work in West Africa.

"I was very excited to hear [this program] existed," Firkaly says. "It's filling such a great need."

Stimulating statistics

Ten years ago, the department of educational psychology at the University of Minnesota (U of M) enlisted psychology professor Joan Garfield, PhD, to help redesign their introductory statistics courses and better prepare graduate students to teach them.

Now, dry, lecture-based introductory statistics courses are a thing of the past, thanks to the department's award-winning emphasis on developing, supervising and mentoring psychology graduate students to teach these courses.

Garfield, now director of the program, helped change statistics' bad reputation by advocating a student-centered, interactive approach. She teaches graduate students to use hands-on activities like Gummy bear launch labs, where students learn what makes a well-designed experiment by exploring how factors like the height of the launch pad affect the distance that Gummy bears travel after being launched in the air using tongue depressors and a rubber band. She also recommends running simulations of the game show "Let's Make a Deal" to confront students' faulty intuitions about probability. One lesson even has students measure their own body dimensions, such as head circumference, to help them understand the concept of variability. And nearly all of the lessons require that students spend time in U of M's state-of-the-art computer lab, where they use data analysis software to create charts and graphs to illustrate the day's lessons.

In 2002, Garfield helped launch a three-course graduate-level concentration in statistics education. The program includes a doctoral seminar examining research on teaching and learning statistics, a course on becoming a teacher of statistics and a supervised teaching internship. Next spring, U of M will introduce an online version of this course for anyone interested in teaching statistics. Plans are also under way to develop an online version of the research seminar to allow graduate students at other institutions to participate via web cameras.

Garfield's efforts seem to be paying off. Since the course redesign, U of M reports increased demand for stats courses, fewer incompletes and dropouts, and higher mean ratings on course evaluations. It's also led to a more confident student body, says Garfield.

"Students seem to be much more excited about the subject and their ability to use statistics in other contexts," she says.

Signs of change

Without a background in deaf culture and sign language, treating a deaf person with depression can be a daunting task. But a collaborative graduate program within the School of Professional Psychology at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, may help, says program director Robert Basil, PsyD.

The school's Mental Health and Deafness Program trains clinicians in such fields as psychology, psychiatry, rehabilitation and mental health counseling-alongside graduate and undergraduate level interpreters-about how to provide culturally and linguistically appropriate psychological services to the deaf and hard-of-hearing communities.

"While the deaf community would love to have clinicians with whom they can converse directly to, we don't have many mental health professionals who are fluent in sign language," Basil says. But training clinicians and interpreters to work together to properly diagnose and treat a deaf individual's mental health condition is much more effective than training clinicians alone, says Basil, and fills a significant gap in services to this population.

Throughout the eight-month program, students attend lectures by program staff or guest speakers every other week on topics such as understanding deaf culture, psychological assessment and therapy approaches with deaf clients as well as interpreting in mental health settings. Every week for three hours, students practice what they've learned at a supervised clinic for deaf clients. With the use of one-way mirrors and an FM microphone/earpiece system, interpreter trainees and mental health students receive immediate faculty feedback as they work in pairs to counsel clients.

All sessions are videotaped, both to help with diagnosis in the event a client signs too quickly, and for future training purposes. Basil says the videotapes, available to students at the school's library, will come in handy as he prepares to offer a Web-based course on the subject. He's working on replicating the program via the Internet and video-conferences to three other clinical sites in Ohio.

"If we can be successful in Ohio, I think we can take this [interpreter-clinician training] model and developa national mental health for deafness program," says Basil .