It’s been there for a while — maybe always. The seed to create something different, something bold, has shown itself throughout the 150-year history of Roberts Wesleyan College. Likewise, it’s been on the minds and hearts of people like Dr. Cheryl Repass.
As she sat at a national psychology convention in February 2014, the idea surfaced again as she listened to some of the leaders in the field of School Psychology from across the country who had established doctoral programs at major universities. They told their stories, shared how they arrived at the idea to make it happen, and as she listened, she realized something.
The time is now.
“I listened to the speakers and I heard them talking about things we were already doing at Roberts and I realized a doctoral program could better meet the needs of the Rochester area,” Repass said. “I thought we could develop a doctoral program here. I talked with one of the speakers and learned how the larger universities were able to offer doctoral education. I told the speaker that we’re a small college with a small faculty and small budget, and the speaker said, ‘You’re precisely the place that can do this!’”
After more than 6 inches of paperwork and requisite documentation, an institutional self-study, and two on-site visits from national experts in the field, Roberts will debut its first doctoral program — a doctorate in psychology — this fall, helping kick off the school’s 150th anniversary with another major milestone.
When Repass got home from that conference, she reached out to fellow faculty members to gauge their interest and got an immediate vote of confidence from Dr. Jennifer Aube. The two then took their thoughts to Dr. Julie Grimm, Department Chair, for her support, and things really took off from there.
“Cheryl came back from the conference at precisely the time we were welcoming Dr. Deana Porterfield as our new president,” Grimm said. “In the past, we hadn’t felt there was momentum for doctoral education, so we thought the timing could be right now. We made an appointment with our Chief Academic Officer, Dr. David Basinger, and he encouraged us to put a start-up budget together so we could present it to the President as soon as she arrived on campus. We did, and Deana offered her enthusiastic support and backing.”
What’s unique about the program Repass, Aube and Grimm developed is the versatility it affords those who graduate. The 96-credit program blends professional areas of clinical and school psychology, providing the educational foundation for eligibility for licensure as a psychologist in New York State, as well as the NYS Certification in School Psychology.
“That’s what distinguishes our program,” Aube said. “You have to be licensed as psychologist to practice in New York State, and our program provides that. Hospitals, clinics, mental health, primary care, private practice, a whole host of options — the one place they can’t work is in the schools, but our curriculum also gives certification to work as a school psychologist. Wherever our graduates end up working, they will know how the other systems work.”
Aube stressed that the experience the Roberts program will offer also allows graduates to see the big picture of mental health. A child with mental health concerns may be receiving care from multiple systems. Graduates of the Roberts program will have a deeper understanding of how those other systems work and can better adapt their approaches to fit client needs.
“I can tell you that the need is here,” Repass said. “There is a lack of licensed practitioners who can work with schools and children. A study was recently published by the Commission on Children’s Behavioral Health where they looked at nine counties in the Finger Lakes region. What they found was that each year 13-20 percent of children have an identifiable mental health issue, yet only one in five are seen by a mental health provider. Just in our area, that’s a huge hole for practitioners trained to work with children.”
The program hopes to bring in 12-15 candidates each year, a number big enough to have an impact yet small enough to retain the intimate feel Roberts is known for. One of the program’s first students is Vanessa Komarek, who graduated from RIT in 2014 with a degree in psychology. After two years working at the Arc of Monroe County as a behavior technician, Komarek was thrilled to pursue her doctorate through such a flexible program.
“I heard about it through the grapevine and I know lots of people who went to Roberts,” Komarek said. “I always knew I wanted to get a doctorate in psych and was looking for a program in the Rochester area, which is really hard to find.”
“What drew me to it was the fact that it’s a joint program between clinical and school psychology,” she said. “I thought I was all about clinical, but I realized the difference I could make by being a school psychologist. I’m not certain what I’ll do, but at the end, I’ll be credentialed in both, so I think that’s really cool.”
Komarek also said she doesn’t have to focus on a specific age group — she’ll learn to work with both children and adults. The Penfield resident said not only does it give practitioners a choice after graduation, but the program will help make graduates more well-rounded when it comes to understanding how the clinical and school psychology arenas operate.
The heart and determination necessary to put this together in such a short time is inspiring. Repass, Aube and Grimm credit Basinger as a consistent source of morale along the way whenever the goal seemed out of reach. They received another boost from Dr. Wayne McCown, Provost Emeritus, who read and edited documents before they were submitted to Albany.
“We have seen the Lord’s hand as we’ve gone along,” said Grimm, noting how even when the process was challenging, things seemed to fall into place. “I think God ordained the timetable.”