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Grant tackles minority mental health issues

December 3, 2004

Photo of Antwi Akom, assistant professor of black studies, working with COR students on their applications to graduate programs SFSU was recently awarded a five-year grant from the National Institute of Mental Health of more than $1.2 million to help minority students become competitive applicants to doctoral programs in mental health.

The grant renews funding for NIMH's nationwide Career Opportunities in Research (COR) program, which allows four to six SFSU undergraduate students per year to enter a two-year mentoring program on campus. Students receive one-on-one guidance and support from faculty experts, as well a $20,000 scholarship that covers tuition, supplies, books, training for the Graduate Record Examination, membership in professional organizations, and travel to conferences. Sacha Bunge, associate professor of psychology, is director of the COR program.

"As one of 23 programs nationwide to receive this award, San Francisco State University has performed commendably in its Career Opportunities in Research program and holds promise for continued success," said Robert Mays, NIMH program director for research training and infrastructure. "The undergraduate students, most of whom are from underrepresented backgrounds, have fulfilled many scholarly achievements that display advanced knowledge and research skills that are well beyond the undergraduate level. In addition, Dr. Sacha Bunge and the other SFSU faculty members have been incredibly supportive."

Mental health is a critical issue for minorities. A 2001 report by the U.S. Surgeon General states that ethnic minorities are less likely to receive quality mental health care than the general population. Language, culture and socioeconomic status often present obstacles to obtaining services.

In addition, 18 percent of first-year doctoral students in psychology across the nation represent ethnic or racial minorities, according to the American Psychological Association, while 31 percent of the U.S. population is of color, according to the U.S. Census.

"Addressing the inequity of minority representation among doctoral students in mental health research is an important step toward infusing the field with the training, knowledge, experience and passion that is required to address the mental health crisis we are facing," Bunge said. "In two years time, our students come into their own, find their voices and discover a direction in their careers."

In COR's first four years at SFSU, eight of the 12 students who completed the program entered doctoral programs in clinical psychology, educational psychology or social work. The others have been accepted to master's programs in clinical, school or research psychology.

As part of the program, students undertake intensive summer research internships at other universities and develop a mental-health research project. Their projects cover a wide range of topics, including sexual assault in Latina communities, the role of generational gaps in the psychological well-being of Chinese-American adolescents, and the relevancy of sex education among African American lesbian and bisexual young women.

"My experience in COR prepared me for graduate school," said Cathryn Fabian, who earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from SFSU in May and is now a doctoral student in social work and organizational psychology at University of Michigan. "Working intensively with a faculty member for two years helped me, in particular, develop my research interests, get more acclimated to making presentations at professional conferences, and become more confident about my work."

-- Matt Itelson


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Last modified December 3, 2004 by University Communications