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NLU’s Community Psychology Program Gets Highest Honor for Excellence APA's Society for Community Research and Action bestows Excellence in Education award

Members of National Louis University’s 2016 cohort in the Community Psychology Ph.D. program pose at the beginning of term.

A quick glance around NLU’s Ph.D. program in Community Psychology begins to explain why it was singled out for praise among similar programs around the nation. It has been  lauded with the 2017 Excellence in Education Award by the Society for Community Research and Action, the American Psychological Association’s division governing community psychology.

That’s the highest honor a community psychology doctoral program can receive.

Within the program, one student reinterpreted perceptions of how girls become victims of human trafficking, subjugated by pimps at a young age. Another student worked with financial literacy, trying to move low-income minority residents from a “pay fees but get money today” mindset to a “save for tomorrow” approach.

Still another compared young men in Nigeria and young African-American men in Chicago’s low-income neighborhoods, examining how cultural factors influence group members’ decisions to act violently or reject violence.

These are just some of the many vital activities happening in the Community Psychology program, a hub of energized faculty and students pursuing projects that make a direct  positive impact on people in Chicago neighborhoods.

Suzette Fromm Reed, Ph.D., at left, is director of NLU’s Community Psychology program.

“You can think of just about any social problem, and we have someone working in that area,” said Suzette Fromm Reed, Ph.D., director of National Louis University’s Community Psychology program.

She pointed out two significant ways in which NLU’s program differs from most community psychology programs.

Other programs accept students based on their qualifications for assisting faculty members with their own research. At National Louis, students are accepted based on research they themselves want to pursue. Many of them come from, or live in, the communities they wish to serve.

Additionally, most programs accept traditional-age students who have  little experience working in communities. NLU’s students, however, tend to have years or decades of experience working in communities.

“Many other Community Psychology Ph.D. programs are housed at research-intensive institutions and thus leverage the strengths of large research budgets and great technological infrastructure,” said Judah Viola, Ph.D., dean of the College of Professional Studies and Advancement, and a former Community Psychology faculty member.

“At NLU we leverage our faculty strengths in program evaluation, consulting with non-profits, partnership development, leadership development and human rights activities.

“We also tap into our institutional strengths in education and practitioner teaching to support our alumni to serve as leaders within the nonprofit, government and education sectors.”

NLU established the Community Psychology program in 2009, and although the university offers many Ed.D. programs, it remains the only Ph.D. program.

“We take that responsibility quite seriously,” Viola said. “The program has matured to the point where we are known and respected across the country and internationally as a top program.

“Our faculty are well-respected thought leaders in the field, our students are well represented at professional conferences and through publications and our alumni have gone on to lead meaningful change efforts across Chicagoland and beyond.”

These are some of the reasons the Society for Community Research and Action (SCRA), presented NLU with the award. SCRA is a division of the American Psychological Association, but its members are from a variety of disciplines with a focus on prevention of social problems with individuals, groups and communities.

To Fromm Reed, the recognition by SCRA was gratifying.

“We are in a continual process improvement mind frame and seldom step back and allow ourselves to receive the pat on the back,” she said.  “This means we can pause momentarily and reflect on the big picture, then get back to the details of continual process improvement.”

Some of the projects Community Psychology students and faculty are working on are listed as follows.

  • A student developed an initiative for helping domestic violence victims that focuses on cultural and community context, mainly for Latina victims.
  • A student worked with Fromm Reed on aiding adult learners  who have long-lasting impacts of Adverse Childhood Experiences, such as abuse or violence.
  • An alum who remains in contact with faculty worked on a gang violence prevention program which addresses the fact that the young people may be immersed in a gang-saturated environment.
  • A faculty member takes groups of low-income, minority high school students for visits to major corporations’ office suites to expose them to the white collar working world.
  • A student led an effort to support military veterans in higher education.
  • A student worked on reframing, for juvenile justice workers and police, the perception of female sex workers as prostitutes. The student interpreted the situation to be that pimps practice human trafficking on their victims when the victims are too young to defend  themselves.
  • A student studied how Nigerian youth and African American youth in low-income communities react to stress. He focused on cultural aspects to whether they participated in violence.  He found that on average, Nigerian youth resorted to violence less because their society provided family support and placed a high value on education. That led to better educational outcomes and a lower unemployment rate.