Volume 55, Number 1 Winter 2022

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Edited by Dominique Thomas, Morehouse College

2021 John Kalafat Awards to Rutgers Grad Students Amy Oliveira and Molly Stern

Written by William D Neigher and Maurice J. Elias on behalf of Friends of the John Kalafat Award

For more than a decade, SCRA has given out the John Kalafat Awards. John was the Coordinator of the Community Psychology Concentration at the Graduate School of Applied and Professional Psychology of Rutgers University where he was on the faculty from 1996 to 2007. His gifts at bringing diverse people together led to the creation of a consensual definition of the field, and it is his vision of community psychology that is the context for these awards: 

“By integrating research with action, Community Psychology seeks to understand and enhance the quality of life of individuals, communities, and societies. Community Psychology approaches are characterized by collaboration with stakeholders, interventions that focus on problem prevention and/or wellness promotion, ecological and systems levels of analysis and action, an outreach versus waiting orientation, and a commitment to the empowerment of underserved communities.”

Beginning in 2021, the Award is administered by the Graduate School of Applied and Professional Psychology [GSAPP] at Rutgers University and the Friends of John Kalafat, an informal organization of colleagues, friends, family, and past students who continue to bring John’s legacy into their lives and work. Two awards of $1,000 each are given to doctoral students in the GSAPP program.

What is that legacy?  It is embodied in the criteria for the award: Students must show promise in having a positive impact on groups or communities as validated by the Dean; building foundational bridges between theory, research and improving the world, and/or demonstrating interest in integrating high quality, evidence-based, ecological theory-based training and program development in crisis intervention.

We proudly announce the 2021 John Kalafat Awards to Rutgers Grad Students Amy Oliveira and Molly Stern. Their faculty nominations are below:

Amy Oliveira [by Anne Gregory, Ph.D., Professor, GSAPP]

I am pleased to nominate Amy Oliveira for The John Kalafat Graduate Student Award. Amy is a doctoral student at Rutgers Graduate School of Applied and Professional Psychology in the School Psychology Department. Since 2018, I have seen Amy seek out opportunities in schools to hone her skills in prevention-oriented, systems-change approaches to improving the schooling of low-income, students of color. Based on her previous and current training experiences, Amy’s career will, no doubt, honor the pioneering work of Dr. John Kalafat. 

Dr. John Kalafat embodied the "scientist-practitioner" model, was a pioneer in community psychology, and focused on prevention through his evidence-based youth suicide prevention program. In keeping with central tenets of Dr. Kalafat’s work, Amy is committed to a career that is oriented towards improving systems to foster positive development among youth and adults. Even as an undergraduate at Rutgers, Amy sought out my research lab to engage in projects addressing racial inequality in schools and supporting restorative justice school reform. 

As a doctoral student, Amy has further demonstrated leadership in program evaluation: Amy recruited and trained over 20 undergraduates to facilitate data collection in 18 schools in New York City. As a good community/school psychologist in-training, Amy helped offer individualized data-feedback to each school in the project. She helped write 18 restorative justice/school climate reports and issued them to school administrators so they could work toward data-based school improvement. Amy’s dissertation follows up on this work as she investigates the social validity of restorative justice programming – she is particularly interested in advancing an understanding of the congruence or divergence in student versus staff perspectives on such programming. 

Amy has consistently sought out applied training that is oriented toward systems change in schools. For example, she assisted in Dr. Linda Reddy’s Rutgers Paraprofessional Coaching Project which helps strengthen the skills of classroom support staff as they intervene with struggling students. In addition, under the guidance of Dr. Maurice Elias, Amy also conducted prevention/systems change work with schools in a high-poverty district in New Jersey. In one of their elementary schools, she consulted weekly with a SEL/School Climate team about their Social Emotional Learning curriculum and activities. Yet again when it came time for internship applications, Amy took the lead in developing an internship with the Nurturing Environments Institute (NEI). Just this past summer, she joined their team full time as an intern to assist in staff professional development, school mental health planning, and coaching administrators as they roll out Multi-Tiered Systems of Support. 

Amy aims to shape a career addressing the social, emotional, and academic needs of under-served groups. With her prevention and system-change orientation, she aims to strengthen organizations so they can better help students thrive (e.g., improving support services, school climate, SEL and restorative approaches to community and student behavior). In her career, 

Amy will, no doubt, be a leader in the field. In doing so, she will honor Dr. Kalafat, a founding scholar and change-maker in the field of community psychology and the area of suicide prevention. 

Molly Stern [by Nicole M. Cain, Ph.D. Interim Assistant Dean of Academic Affairs, GSAPP]

It is with great enthusiasm that the Department of Clinical Psychology nominates Molly Stern for the John Kalafat Graduate Student Award. Molly is a third-year doctoral student in the Department of Clinical Psychology, and we believe that she embodies the spirit of this award through her clinical training, her research interests, and her service to the community. 

Molly has a longstanding commitment to suicide prevention and to using research findings to change and improve community outcomes. In her statement for this award, Molly noted her dedication to suicide prevention and her previous work collaborating with staff at the Crisis Support Services of Alameda County, CA to research how to better reach youth and adolescents who were struggling with suicidal thoughts. Molly’s research led to the development of a text-line program in Alameda County, which provided youth with a better way to connect during times of crisis. Molly has continued this important work through her clinical training and research at the RU-DBT clinic.

I also note Molly’s commitment to advancing public health and mental health in New Jersey. For example, she has served as a Crisis Text Line Specialist for the Mental Health Association of New Jersey and as a Contact Tracer Supervisor for Middlesex County during the covid-19 pandemic. Her research experiences at Rutgers have focused on examining a brief intervention for college students struggling with mental health symptoms during covid-19, and increasing access to behavioral health care for disadvantaged groups in New Jersey. Molly has also sought out leadership opportunities in the field of psychology and beyond. She is currently co-secretary of the American Psychological Association’s Health Policy Council and a student representative for GSAPP on the Rutgers University Faculty Senate.

We believe Molly will honor Dr. Kalafat’s incredible work by being a scholar and practitioner with an emphasis on suicide prevention, crisis intervention, and community psychology.

About John Kalafat  John_Kalafat.jpg

John Kalafat was a Fellow of the Society for Community Research and Action (Division 27 of APA). He received his Ph.D. at the University of Colorado, where he was Bernard Bloom’s first Community Psychology student. Among his areas of specialization were youth suicide prevention, training and evaluation of crisis hotlines, and evaluation of community-based prevention and intervention programs. He was a Past President of the American Association of Suicidology, a member of the Scientific Advisory Council of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, member of the Certification & Training Subcommittee, National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Network, and Member of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Agency (SAMHSA) Garrett Lee Smith Suicide Evaluation Steering Committee. He co-authored Lifelines, a nationally disseminated evidence-based youth suicide prevention program. His evaluations of prevention and intervention programs have included a statewide school-based peer-led substance abuse and teen pregnancy prevention program, state-wide community-school coalitions for Coping With Sudden Violent Loss in the Schools, and a statewide system of school-based Family Resource Centers to address barriers to student readiness to learn. 

John Kalafat’s life work integrated the principles and research of community psychology with their practical applications.  John left a rich legacy in the published literature and in the many communities he helped strengthen.  John also was deeply committed to the promotion of human wellness and dignity among all people and to the extension of opportunities to diverse individuals, particularly those whose voices have been under-recognized.

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