By Apryl Alexander, Clinical Assistant Professor, Graduate School of Professional Psychology
The goal of the Psychology Academy for Scholarly Success (PASS) program was to assist first-generation undergraduate psychology students, including underrepresented and economically and educationally disadvantaged students, through the graduate psychology training pipeline and into mental and behavioral health professions careers through a University of Denver (DU) campus workshop. Not all students who wish to attend graduate studies in health services professions have the means and support to do so. Further, many low income and first-generation doctoral students report difficulties understanding the “rules” of graduate education (Gardner, 2013). Portnoi and Kwong (2011) interviewed first-generation master’s students about their academic experiences and found three supporting factors for enhancing their experience in graduate school: 1) adapting to and understanding the “rules;” 2) combating their feelings of inadequacy and not belonging; and 3) navigating and addressing disparities between their academic and home environments. Graduate training in psychology has its own unique “rules,” as students not only have to navigate classroom work and research similar to graduate students in other disciplines, but also adapt to evaluative components of training, such as clinical field placements and supervision. The aim of the PASS program was to provide first-generation college students the “rules” to graduate studies in psychology.
A cohort of eight undergraduate psychology students from Metropolitan State University of Denver, Regis University, and the University of Denver were accepted into the PASS program after a formal application process. When asked about the reason for interest in the program on their application, participants stated:
“Attending graduate school has always been a goal that I have perceived as unobtainable, however, with the near completion of my bachelor’s degree in psychology and criminal justice I believe that that goal can be reached…The PASS program would allow me an opportunity to take the steps in reaching the goal that I had once found unobtainable.”
“I want to be able to give back to my community in creating culturally appropriate intervention programs as well as help to destigmatize mental health that exists in many Latinx communities. I am the first in my entire family (including older cousins) to even think about graduate school, which means that the process is completely new to me. This was never something that counselors in high school ever talked to me about, therefore, I have been navigating the process of trying to understand the difference between programs, and what kind of requirements I am in need of, all on my own.”
Participants were eight female first-generation college students from universities within the Denver metro area. The average age of participants was 20 years (SD=.71 years; range 19-21). Five were rising juniors, two rising seniors, and one a rising sophomore. The mean undergraduate GPA of the participants was 3.34 (SD = .43; range = 2.6-3.8). Most of the participants were women of color; three self-identified as Latina, three as bi-racial/multi-racial, one as Black/African American, and one as White. Three students were from Regis University, three students were from the University of Denver, and two were from Metropolitan State University of Denver.
Drs. Alexander and Henderson Metzger, along with Graduate School of Professional Psychology (GSPP) faculty, staff, and students, provided a full day of in-vivo workshops for the PASS scholars focused on preparing them for the application and interview process for graduate school, as well as providing advice on how to survive and thrive in graduate school once admitted.
Six of the eight participants completed a series of pre- and post-workshops questionnaires in time for this report. The Psychology Major Career Information Quiz (PMCIQ; Thomas & McDaniel, 2004) was administered to assess psychology students’ actual career-related students’ perceived knowledge of career opportunities and common misconceptions about psychology careers. Preliminary data from the PMCIS revealed significant gains in knowledge about the graduate school process. Sample items are provided below:
One-year post-workshop data will be collected regarding their progression through the graduate school application process. However, in the post-workshop qualitative data, participants reported the following regarding the value of the PASS program:
“After leaving PASS I’ve been feeling so much more confident in my abilities as well as feeling like I have a solid plan of how to move forward and people supporting me along the way.”
“I’m feeling a little overwhelmed because the process is coming up soon for me, but I’m feeling better about understanding the different kinds of programs and what I should be looking for in a program.”