Running Commentary

This issue of the Monitor features several articles on students, including a special section on a very important group of students, the American Psychological Association of Graduate Students (APAGS). Most U.S. psychology graduate students are members of APAGS, and their early involvement in APA results in a high percentage joining APA when they graduate.

Many APA members are unaware of the significant role APAGS plays in APA. When most of us were graduate students, there was no organization for students and, except for the few who attended APA's Annual Convention, they were largely uninvolved in APA's activities. Today, the story is completely different. Attend any APA meeting, workshop, conference or event and you will undoubtedly find students there, not only as a physical presence, but also as active participants.

The growth of a great idea

APAGS was organized and formally recognized by APA in 1988. The group had its start through the efforts of a small group of highly motivated students and their supporters who approached me with the idea of creating APAGS when I was APA president-elect in 1987. The startup group included Scott Mesh, PhD, a former graduate student at St. John's University, and David Pilon, PhD, a former graduate student at the University of Waterloo, who were brought together by Ellin Bloch, PhD, chair of the Student Development Committee of Div. 29 (Psychotherapy). The initiative was supported by Pierre Ritchie, PhD, then president of the Ontario Psychological Association and a member of APA's council. Initial efforts culminated at APA's 96th Annual Convention in Atlanta with an open student forum and, ultimately, a unanimous vote of the Council of Representatives to create a national psychology graduate student association within APA.

At its start, APAGS had 18,000 members--larger than any of APA's divisions or state psychological associations. Today, APAGS has grown to 59,700 members, about a third of the 155,000 current APA membership. As you might imagine, APAGS exceeded our expectations and its successes continue to add up. APAGS got off to a rapid start, beginning by drafting bylaws, appointing representatives to several APA boards and committees, creating a newsletter, and developing a network of about 60 campus representatives across the United States and Canada.

Over the years, the list of APAGS activities has expanded exponentially and the level of integration has increased substantially. APAGS has created a host of important resources--many of which are described in this issue--and it participates in important discussions within various APA boards and committees. Not only have students become incorporated into APA's organizational structure, APA has benefited from the unique contributions students make. APAGS has been instrumental in bringing student issues to the forefront and providing students with a home within the association.

Student wellness

APAGS members are involved with, and sometimes take the lead in, tackling some difficult issues that are central to student development. As this issue of the Monitor illustrates, student wellness is a top APAGS priority. It is working with its now 300-member campus representative network to identify wellness programs across the nation. APAGS hopes to use this as a way to build recommendations for other programs to incorporate student wellness into their philosophies.

When I was an undergraduate student, there was no student health center or program on my campus. Students who were seriously ill or injured went to the medical school hospital on campus for treatment. There was no wellness program of any kind. When I was a graduate student, there was a student health center with full-time medical and nursing staff and mental health consultation, but there was nothing resembling a wellness program. Now, wellness and mental health programs that address the unique issues students face seem to be growing all over the nation. I am pleased that APAGS has been involved in advocating for their presence and their support.

A great partnership

APAGS has proven to be good for students and good for APA. APA's leadership believes in APAGS's mission and in the value of having students involved in an active way. To facilitate its growing agenda, we now have a full-time doctoral-level director, Carol Williams, and additional staff. We've carved out special niches for APAGS at APA's convention, in divisions, in our advocacy efforts and on APA's boards and committees, including the APA Board of Directors and Council of Representatives. It has been a great personal satisfaction to me to watch APAGS grow in numbers and in APA involvement.