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Volume 54, Number 1 Winter 2021
Edited by Vernita Perkins, Omnigi
Written by Sheree’ Bielecki, Pacific Oaks College; Traci L. Weinstein, Rhode Island College; Michelle Abraczinskas, University of Florida; Mikana Montagnino, Student; Vernita Perkins, Omnigi Research; Christopher Nettles, Cobb Area Municipal Council
The Early Career Interest Group is pleased to present a new column introducing our membership. Early career includes undergrad and grad students through 10 years after graduation. We asked our members to present their reflections on how they came to Community Psychology and to SCRA, along with their research focus and purpose. These stories highlight the diversity, background, and career trajectory of some of our newest and ongoing members.
Meet the Early Career Members
(in alphabetical order)
A passion for improving youth-serving systems brought me to Community Psychology and SCRA in 2009. A decade later, I am a tenure track faculty in Prevention Science/Youth Development in the Department of Family, Youth, and Community Sciences at the University of Florida. UF is a land grant university, and extension programming is run out of my college. The land grant university and extension mission aligns with community psychology values. I plan to bring a unique community psychology lens to extension programming and evaluation to improve youth and family serving systems and have a local impact.
My journey to the Community Psychology world began in January 2019. I started my new career as administrative faculty in the BA in Community Psychology degree program at Pacific Oaks College, Pasadena. I learned about SCRA and became a member in March 2019. I attended my first biennial in June 2019. This began my love and passion for the program that I am currently overseeing. In my CP core courses, we use photovoice as a method for students to self-reflect on what they are learning in class. My dissertation has changed to using photovoice as a way for undergraduate students to self-reflect on their journey in community psychology. When I am not directing programs, writing my dissertation, or just taking time to relax, I serve and give back to underserved communities and families, and mentor teens through a program I have been passionate about for 15 years, A Child’s Dream-CA. My purpose is to bring change to underserved communities, lead, mentor, and educate.
My way into Community Psychology was through my work in participatory action research and providing social services to community college students as an undergraduate. I have been a SCRA member for one year, but what really brought me to community psychology was my family background in the Deaf community. I am passionate about bringing accessible social services to disabled people where they live, in their communities. I have also seen in my own life how mental health and accessibility concerns are often not addressed in the right way. It’s very hard to address emotional distress and communication barriers simultaneously. To further empower the Deaf community and disabled people in general, I am pursuing a research focus on accessibility in mental health and social services. During this COVID-19 pandemic, I believe it is more important than ever to ensure accessibility for all people, regardless of ability.
My interest in Community Psychology began when I returned to school for a MA in psychology at the University of Colorado, Denver. My primary research mentor introduced me to the field. I was awarded my clinical psychology PhD in 2015 from George Washington University. Their clinical psychology program has a community psychology orientation. My research focused on stress and coping, prevention of sexually transmitted infections, and health promotion in LGBTQ communities. I am also an ordained Buddhist priest. I worked for the American Psychological Association for five years, where I directed an NIH-funded early-career mentoring program and a program on integrated healthcare. Two years ago, I moved to Cobb, California to help rebuild a Buddhist monastery destroyed by a wildfire. This year, I was elected to the Cobb Area Municipal Council where I am using my community psychology skills to help inform community resilience and rebuilding efforts.
Formally educated as an Industrial Organizational psychologist specializing in organizational change, spiritually educated in the self-development practices of self-awareness, empathy, change, and social responsibility, and principled in the constructs of Community Psychology. I found my background in private sector corporations and my passion for integrity, accountability, equality and civilizational justice have blended into a unique niche career. This year, my resolve was tested as long-upheld racial injustices coupled with this tiny, deadly virus demanded the realization for so many that the racial and global health inequities we at Omnigi have researched over the past four years are now the next necessary global resolution. With my life purpose now centerstage, I continue collaborating with social scientists, developing innovative experiential initiatives to reframe and reconstruct a future that supports and sustains the good of all.
I had never heard of Community Psychology when I graduated with my BA in Psychology. I moved home to Massachusetts and worked in human services while I explored my interests. I know that I wanted to go to graduate school, and I knew that Social Psychology was the closest field to my interests, and yet it didn’t quite fit. I applied to a few graduate programs, both MA and PhD, and even got into a few, but I was concerned that they didn’t spark joy (thanks, Marie Kondo!). While teaching high school in Lowell, Massachusetts, I eventually stumbled upon the program at UMass Lowell. Within the first two weeks of my first class in Immigrant Psychology, I knew that I had finally found my home! I AM a Community Psychologist, I just didn’t have the name for it.
Shortly after enrolling in the MA program in Community Social Psychology, I became a SCRA member and attended my first SCRA biennial meeting in 2005. It was magical. I finally found my home! Since then, I have followed a twisted road that led me to my current tenure-track position as an Assistant Professor of Community Psychology at Rhode Island College. I feel that this institution’s desire to create a line specifically for CP, shows the continued development of our field. My continued dedication to working with marginalized communities, highlighted by my ongoing work examining the experiences of teachers who work with immigrant and refugee students, is further complicated with COVID-19.
In this year of unprecedented global events forcing us to re-evaluate and re-prioritize so many aspects of our lives, including: health and well-being, national healthcare, the foundations of America and its evidenced history of oppression and marginalization, recognition of social identities and intersectionality, the importance of decision-making and who we give our decision making power to advocate on behalf of our community psychology values, how wealth and resources are distributed, and how we envision a community-oriented future. We are proud and excited to share the research interests of some of the newest Early Career additions to the SCRA community along with those known members who are showcasing their community psychology journey, and research and advocacy interests. We will continue to share introductions from our ECIG membership, in an attempt to reduce duplicative efforts and encourage future research and advocacy collaborations with SCRA members and other SCRA Interest Groups. With so many of us collaborating, the path to healing our country and our world will surely be enriched.