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The
Community
Psychologist

Volume 55, Number 3 Summer 2022

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Early Career Interest Group

Edited by Vernita Perkins, Omnigi Research and Shereé Bielecki, Pacific Oaks College

Diverse Careers in Community Psychology: Stories from Underrepresented BIPOC Scholars

Written by Tatiana Elisa Bustos, Social Research Scientist

Many community psychologists in their early careers don’t know their career options. In fact, we know very little about what other diverse career options are available for community psychologists outside of academia (Brown et al., 2014). In an effort to make these discussions more explicit and accessible to our field, some community psychologists have generated guides to showcase various career pathways and advise budding scholars on what to do with their community psychology degree (McMahon & Wolfe, 2017; Viola & Glantsman, 2017). Our Early Career Interest Group (ECIG) has also made concerted efforts to showcase multiple career pathways in prior The Community Psychologist (TCP) issues (Bielecki et al., 2021). However, we still don’t have enough stories about the journey of self-discovery for underrepresented scholars or specific career pathways for BIPOC community psychologists, specifically.

I shared my early career journey in an earlier TCP issue to show how training in community psychology can lead you to a career in policy assessment (Bustos, 2022). To continue these discussions about diverse career pathways, I interviewed two early career community psychologists, Dr. Mckenzie Stokes and PhD candidate Corbin J. Standley on their career journey. Throughout the interview, you’ll learn about what fulfills them in their roles and how their personal identities shape the work. You’ll hear about, how as community psychologists, we bring a unique training and lens focused on how social systems and contexts impact marginalized people. We also bring tangible skills for research and practice that can advance community-centered solutions for impact. Dr. Stokes and Mr. Standley offer recommendations for early career community psychologists who are just starting their journey or exploring their career interests.

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Dr. McKenzie Stokes (she/her). I earned my Ph.D. in Applied Social and Community Psychology last spring from North Carolina State University. I discovered the power of critical psychological research as a first-generation student and knew that I wanted to use it to promote change for marginalized groups at individual and systemic levels. This desire led me to become a community psychologist and continue to guide my research and advocacy. Currently, my research revolves around enhancing family relationships and communication to foster the well-being of Black and multiracial-Black youth. I’m excited to continue my work as a postdoctoral research fellow with the National Science Foundation over the next few years.

Tell us about how you found your current employment/role? Was it part of your initial career plan?

I found out about postdoctoral fellowships as a graduate student. I knew early on that I wanted to pursue additional training after graduate school, so a postdoctoral fellowship was pretty much always in my career plan. I later realized that I’d benefit the most from an externally-funded postdoctoral fellowship, which led me to apply for a National Science Foundation (NSF) Postdoctoral Fellowship. External fellowships typically offer more intellectual freedom and funding than those that are funded through universities. The freedom of an external fellowship was important to me because I didn’t have as much time to devote to my research and community engagement work during my doctoral journey due to teaching and serving as a project manager on externally-funded research projects.

What fulfills you in your role as a postdoc fellow at NSF? What do you find most meaningful about what you do?

My current role allows me to devote a lot of my time to my research with Black and multiracial-Black families, which is incredibly fulfilling for me. I’m discovering new trends that have meaningful real-world implications within my dissertation data, which was recently funded by the Society for Community Research and Action (SCRA). I’m excited to implement these findings into culturally-informed policies and practices to empower families soon. I also have more time to assist community-based organizations that serve Black, Latinx, and Indigenous families through grant writing and evaluation work, which is important to me.

How does your BIPOC identity add to or inform your current role?

My identity as a multiracial-Black woman undoubtedly shapes my research and service interests as a postdoctoral research fellow. The experiences that I had and continue to have due to this aspect of my identity are what sparked my interest in researching the relationship between family dynamics, racial processes, and in particular, wellness in multiracial-Black families. As a multiracial-Black scholar, I recognized that multiracial-Black youth are often underrepresented in psychological research and practice despite reporting higher amounts of suicidality and depressive symptoms than youth from most other racial groups. I likely wouldn’t have identified this gap or felt so called to address it in my own research as a postdoctoral fellow, if I wasn’t a multiracial-Black person myself.

What advice do you have for other early career community psychologists?

This is a challenging question because I’m still seeking advice and trying to navigate academia as an early career community psychologist. One piece of advice that comes to mind is to remember how valuable and unique a doctoral degree in community psychology really is. All graduate programs differ, but in general, most should equip you with the foundational knowledge of how social environments and systems impact marginalized people and the tangible skills (e.g., evaluation, intervention, policy work, etc.) to fight oppression and reduce social inequalities. This combination of training is rare, and it can allow you to work and thrive in a lot of academic settings/departments and industry positions! I would just recommend learning how to communicate that to folks who aren’t community psychologists.

Here’s more information about Dr. Stokes and her work:

Stokes, M. N., Charity-Parker, B., & Hope, E. C. (2021). What does it mean to be Black and White? A meta-ethnographic review of racial socialization in Multiracial families. Journal of Family Theory and Review, 13(2), 181-201. https://doi.org/10.1111/jftr.12413

Linkedin Profile: https://www.linkedin.com/in/mckenzie-stokes-phd-1b12a8166/

 

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Corbin J. Standley, PhD Candidate (he/him). I am a community-engaged researcher who has worked with organizations across the country to turn data and research into action to create change. I currently serve as the Director of Strategic Program Planning for Project 2025 at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). In this role, I’m responsible for the translational science, program development, implementation, strategic planning, and communications components of Project 2025—an initiative to leverage systems change across critical sectors to reduce the national suicide rate by 20% by 2025. I’m also a PhD Candidate in Ecological-Community Psychology at Michigan State University.

Tell us about how you found your current employment/role? Was it part of your initial career plan?

Finding an applied job in suicide prevention has always been my career goal. I have volunteered with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention for about 10 years and its mission has always been the main driver of my work, both professionally and personally. In my years with AFSP, I have developed relationships with other volunteers, staff, and senior leaders within the organization, as well as an intimate familiarity with our programs and resources. I have also held several volunteer leadership positions with AFSP, including as a member of the Board of Directors for the Utah and Michigan Chapters, Board Chair for the Michigan Chapter, and National Public Policy Council Member. This, combined with my academic work and expertise in suicide prevention research and policy, seemed to converge at the right time when this job opportunity became available. It’s a position that leverages my data and research expertise, as well as my communication and strategic planning skills. It all happened rather serendipitously.

What fulfills you in your role as a director with AFSP? What do you find most meaningful about what you do?

It may sound cheesy, but AFSP’s mission is what keeps me going in this work: To save lives and bring hope to those affected by suicide. The data and the research can be incredibly impactful, but when combined with the stories of our volunteers, suicide loss survivors, and suicide attempt survivors, I’ve seen real change happen locally and nationally. The high school students that meet with their state senator and see that conversation lead to a new law being passed. The suicide attempt survivor who shares her struggles navigating the crisis response system in order to create a better one. The trans student who stands up in a school board meeting to share their story and inspire their school to create new suicide prevention policies. I see my job as creating the programs, resources, and tools by which these inspiring people can make change happen in their communities.

How does your BIPOC identity add to or inform your current role?

Identity and equity inform every aspect of my work. As a first-generation college graduate and a gay Hispanic man, I am cognizant of the inequities within the systems I am trying to change in this role. As I do this work, I am aware that the healthcare and corrections systems are not broken but are operating as they were designed. These systems were designed to perpetuate inequity and have often harmed those with mental health conditions or those in suicidal crisis. That means, however, that we can redesign and change these systems to equitably serve those in need, but we cannot do it alone. Collaboration and equitable partnerships are major keys to systems change. To that end, part of my role is helping to identify the organizations that are led by and engaging with BIPOC, LGBTQIA+, and other minoritized communities, endeavoring to elevate their work and support its implementation. I see my role in that work as a catalyst–-helping those on the ground implement evidence-based solutions for all those impacted by suicide.

What advice do you have for other early career community psychologists?

It’s a bit cliché, but networking would be my biggest piece of advice. Find the niche that fits your interests and passion and connect with others doing that work—both via social media and in-person. The relationships and networks you build will be invaluable for setting up your career. My other piece of advice for community psychologists, in particular, is to maintain those community ties no matter what position you end up in. I now work for a non-profit organization at the national level, but I make an effort to stay engaged in local suicide prevention coalitions and other organizations. That grassroots work is where change happens and staying connected to it not only informs my work but helps me maintain my passion and drive.

Make sure to check out these resources shared by Mr. Standley to learn more about his work:

AFSP Website: www.afsp.org

Project 2025: project2025.afsp.org

Website: www.CorbinJStandley.com

Standley, C. (2021). How I used community psychology values to foster state-level change. The Community Psychologist, 54(1), 32-34. https://www.communitypsychology.com/using-cp-values-for-state-level-change/

Conclusion

Building your network outside of academia and across different fields can expose you to the diverse career pathways that community psychology has to offer. Remember that networking is part of your job search process (Viola & Glantsman, 2017) and networking also re-termed as “professional community building” is one of the key recommendations provided for ECPs (Early Career Professionals) (Perkins, 2022). We encourage our readers to reach out and connect with our early career members to learn more about their career pathways. (Did you know that many of the authors referenced are members of SCRA?) Check out the Early Career Interest Group (ECIG) here: https://scra27.org/who-we-are/interest-groups/earlycareer/

As part of the ECIG, we also want to encourage submissions to the uBIPOC Research Database (URD) and the Research Summary Videos (RSV)!

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Everyone is welcome to submit citations of their underrepresented research topics and/or unique methodologies, and both projects are particularly seeking research citations and videos from underrepresented BIPOCs (e.g., those individuals with intersectional social identities that continue to exclude them from acknowledgement and resources).

You can contact Dr. Tatiana Bustos via email: tbust002@gmail.com or on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/tebustos/.

 

References

Bielecki, S., Weinstein, T. L., Abraczinskas, M., Montagnino, M., Perkins, V., & Nettles, C. (Winter, 2021). Reflections on multiple pathways to community psychology and a call to action. The Community Psychologist, 54(1), 7-8. https://scra27.org/publications/tcp/tcp-past-issues/tcpwinter2021/early-career/

Brown, K. K., Cortisone, G., Glantsman, O., Johnson-Hakim, S., & Lemke, M. (2014). Examining the guiding competencies in community psychology practice from students’ perspectives. The Community Psychologist, 45(4), 7-13.

Bustos, T. E., (Winter 2022). An early career community psychology journey. The Community Psychologist, 55(1), 9-13. https://www.scra27.org/files/3016/3942/3545/TCP_Winter_2022_V551.pdf

McMahon, S. D., & Wolfe, S. M. (2017). Career opportunities for community psychologists. In M. A. Bond, I. Serrano-García, C. B. Keys, & M. Shinn (Eds.), APA handbook of community psychology: Methods for community research and action for diverse groups and issues (pp. 645–659). American Psychological Association. https://doi.org/10.1037/14954-038

Perkins, V. (Winter 2022). What it takes to be a psychologist in 2021 and beyond. The Community Psychologist, 55(1), 9-13. https://www.scra27.org/files/3016/3942/3545/TCP_Winter_2022_V551.pdf

Standley, C. (2021). How I used community psychology values to foster state-level change. The Community Psychologist, 54(1), 32-34. https://www.communitypsychology.com/using-cp-values-for-state-level-change/

Stokes, M. N., Charity-Parker, B., & Hope, E. C. (2021). What does it mean to be Black and White? A meta-ethnographic review of racial socialization in Multiracial families. Journal of Family Theory and Review, 13(2), 181-201. https://doi.org/10.1111/jftr.12413

Viola, J. J., & Glantsman, O. (2017). Diverse careers in community psychology. Oxford University Press.