Feature

As a junior at Howard University, Naijean Bernard found her mailbox crammed every day with catalogues, brochures and financial aid information from graduate psychology programs across the country. Armloads of letters from institutions invited her to visit their campuses and urged her to talk with faculty members and graduate students about their programs.

The reason, she says, is that she was identified by APA's Minority Undergraduate Students of Excellence (MUSE) program as an African-American undergraduate likely to succeed in a graduate-level training psychology program.

"I learned about schools I probably wouldn't have known about," says Bernard. "A lot of them pursued me for programs I probably wouldn't have thought of if I had just looked through a book of psychology graduate programs."

Ultimately, she chose to attend the counseling psychology program at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. Today, she's in her third year at Carbondale and, when she graduates, plans to work with ethnic-minority adolescents.

Hers is one of the success stories of MUSE, established in 1992 to help psychology programs identify ethnic-minority students that have excelled in their undergraduate studies. And such help is key for many programs, which find it difficult to recruit qualified candidates because ethnic minorities are substantially underrepresented in the education pipeline.

"Any program that identifies strong ethnic-minority students and puts them out there for graduate programs to find is helpful," says Kathleen Chwalisz, PhD, associate professor of psychology at Southern Illinois.

How it works

Sponsored by APA's Office of Ethnic Minority Affairs and APA's Public Interest Directorate, MUSE creates a large pool of applicants from which graduate departments and professional schools can recruit and select students. Candidates who have demonstrated an ability to succeed in graduate school and an interest in psychology are nominated by their professors.

"The idea behind the MUSE program is to serve as a central clearinghouse of potential ethnic-minority graduate students in psychology," says Bertha Holliday, PhD, director of APA's Office of Ethnic Minority Affairs.

When the program first started, APA would mail a listing of the MUSE candidates to more than 1,100 institutions. Now the listing is available on APA's Web Site.

While major universities in large urban areas have historically been able to recruit ethnic-minority students because more ethnic minorities live in those areas and are familiar with their programs, schools in rural areas--including many state schools--have had more difficulty attracting ethnic-minority candidates.

"Many program heads indicate they would make more offers to students of color if they could find them," says Henry Tomes, PhD, APA's executive director for the public interest.

Statistics show that few ethnic minorities have earned doctorates in psychology. For instance, between 1976 and 1993, a total of 3,833 ethnic minorities were awarded a doctorate in psychology, representing 7.6 percent of all such doctorates awarded during that period, according to Visions and Transformations, a report issued in 1997 by APA's Commission on Ethnic Minority Recruitment, Retention and Training in Psychology.

"The MUSE program is valuable because it's a means of getting the names of high-achieving ethnic minorities out in a network that is looking for talented students to provide diversity to their departments," says Howard University's Albert Roberts, PhD, who has been nominating students for MUSE since its inception.

Meeting the criteria

APA collects nominations from Roberts and other faculty in undergraduate programs nationwide each spring. Faculty members may nominate one to three students each year. To qualify, candidates must:

  • Identify him/herself as an ethnic minority, either African American/Black, American Indian/Alaska Native, Asian American/Pacific Islander and/or Hispanic/Latino(a).

  • Major in psychology and be eligible to begin graduate-level training in the fall of the following calendar year.

  • Demonstrate an ability to succeed in graduate-level training and an intention of becoming a psychologist.

After gathering nominations, APA circulates a list of candidates on its Web site and through the mail along with their addresses, ethnicities, graduation years, graduate training entry dates, colleges and areas of interest to more than 1,100 graduate-level training institutions. The listing also includes information on each student's research or professional interest in psychology and a summary of the student's academic qualities.

Arnold Froese, PhD, chair of the behavioral sciences department at Sterling College in Kansas, says he uses the MUSE listing to motivate ethnic-minority freshman to think beyond their undergraduate program and consider earning a graduate degree.

"I tell them this is the kind of support they'll receive to pursue a graduate degree if they work hard in college," says Froese.

Yet, despite the program's success in helping graduate programs identify qualified candidates, not every undergraduate psychology department participates. Last year, says Holliday, APA sent notices to 700 undergraduate psychology programs asking faculty for nominations, but fewer than 200 schools responded. Since 1992, fewer than 500 schools have nominated students.

Further Reading

APA has begun accepting nominations for 2000. Nomination forms as well as a listing of the 1999 candidates are available on APA's Web Site or by calling the Office of Ethnic Minority Affairs at (202) 336-6029. The deadline for MUSE nominations is Aug. 31.