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Amanda L. Roy, PhD

This month, we are spotlighting Associate Professor and Program Chair of Community & Prevention Research, Amanda L. Roy, PhD. We caught up with Dr. Roy to discuss her research project, "Promoting Educational Equity: Identifying and Understanding Transformative Social-Emotional Student Supports," which she will work on as a 2021-2022 fellow with UIC's Student Affairs Faculty Research Fellows Program.

Amanda Roy, PhD

[TT] How did you career/psychology journey begin?

[AR] Like a lot of undergrads, my first introduction to psychology was taking a class. I never really thought much about it before, but when I took that first course I was immediately taken with the study of human behavior and understanding why people do what they do. In terms of Community Psychology, when I was an undergrad, I had never heard of this as a sub field. It was never something I studied or was presented with. I was in a Social Psychology lab during my time as an undergrad, and I liked the commitment to social issues and thinking about how we could study behavior in a social context. After I finished undergrad, I was I looking for a way to do something more applied, and I ended up applying for and going to serve in the Peace Corps. I was in the Corps for about two and a half years where I was posted in Cameroon, West Africa.

[TT] What was your time like in the Corps?

[AR] served as a Health Education and Community Development Volunteer. I worked with community groups helping them organize, apply for funding, and implement projects. During this time, I really felt I was missing the research component of psychology, so as my time was ending, I knew I wanted to go to graduate school. I began researching what this could look like and came across Community Psychology, and I was blown away by this sub-field with an emphasis on social justice, on context, but really paired that with commitment to action, and that’s how I made my way to the field.

[TT] Where did you attend school for your PhD and what was the experience like?

[AR] So, I ended up applying for graduate school while I was still in Cameroon, and I was accepted and decided to go to New York University (NYU). This was a major transition from living in this tiny village in Cameroon, to moving to New York City. In a lot of way this was exciting because of the completely different context and very urban setting. My program was great. I think one of the highlights of Community Psychology programs is they have a component of a practicum, which is something that really drew me to the program at NYU. There is the opportunity to partner with an organization or group outside of the university and develop a project in collaboration with them.

My experience, well there was all sort of drama that happened when I was in graduate school…Community Psychology has always been a smaller sub-field within psychology. My program was in the psychology department, but over the course of time there, they decided they were going to close the Community Psychology program in the psychology department and move it to the School of Education. There was a lot of disruption, and it made me think about how I wanted to be valued as a community psychologist in the field of psychology. The experience pushed me to value my identity as a Community Psychologist and to advocate for Community Psychology to be recognized and appreciated within psychology spaces.

[TT] What advice would you give incoming faculty and/or PhD Students, or even those with an interest in Psychology?

[AR] The UIC Psychology Department has a lot of strengths. Getting to know everyone here, finding people to share information and experiences with because people here are open and willing to share and support, and help with integration. I also think it’s important to find people to commensurate with. People you can rant, share moments, vent, and won’t judge you. It’s a challenge coming into a new space and there are going to be moments when it’s hard and there will be moments when it’s great.

[TT] Why did you choose UIC?

[AR] I finished my degree at NYU, and I stayed in New York for another four years. I really loved living in a city, and I was also hesitant to leave New York. When I started looking at other places and decided to commit to academia, I knew I would have to go where I needed to go. Then, an opportunity came up at UIC. Chicago’s a great livable city and a lot of the work I had been doing was already in Chicago, but there was piece that felt it could be a plus or minus. The Community Psych program here was going through transitions with faculty. There was potential for the program to go one of two ways. One, it could possibly not continue to be supported or hire, or it could be a good place where we could think creatively about how we wanted it to look and grow the program to be strong and a leader in the field of Community Psychology. So, I decided to take that risk. I’m excited about being here and in the program because it has grown so much in the past five years. We are setting ourselves up as leaders in the field.

[TT] Can you tell us about the foreground or history behind your research?

Yeah! I started out doing research on neighborhoods and experiences of poverty and how they shape individuals and young people’s development. As a Post-Doc, I was working on this study called the ‘Chicago School Readiness Project,’ which is a longitudinal study of young people living in Chicago. The students are recruited from Head Start centers that were in particularly under resourced neighborhoods. The young people were recruited into the sample when they were in preschool and were subsequently followed up over time. By the time I joined the project, they were in fifth grade. I started doing research with this team around young people’s experiences with poverty in the home and how aspects of neighborhood shape children’s development. That was one piece of my research and as the young people got older, around age 15 we started asking them more open-ended questions about their experiences, and specifically around their perceptions of social problems. We wanted to know what are the things that are important to them in the world. We started to hear more about these critical perspectives on young people talking about inequity and their own experiences of inequity in their communities. It was a pivotal moment where I realized everything I did up to that evolved top-down. Poverty affects kids and it’s bad. We have this data, and I was hearing how much kids were aware of this and were resisting this in a lot of different ways. That involved into questions around future and career plans. The kids describe wanting to go to college to engage in social action and come back to their community and make a difference. This all evolved into the work I’m doing now, which falls under this body of work called Transformative Social Emotional Competencies or Learning.

There’s work being done at Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) and work that Kim Schonert-Reichl does around skills that are important for kids’ development. There’s self-awareness, social awareness, responsible decision-making, relationship skills and more. The framework has been critiqued because it has overlooked the skills and experiences of young people of color. More recently there has been what people have called a transformative perspective put on it that better captures the experiences of young people of color, so thinking about self-awareness, not just knowing skills but knowing one’s identity and one’s positioning in the world (social awareness). I am really interested currently in thinking about how this transformative social emotional competency and learning perspective can be used in settings of higher education to promote engagements, persistence, and ability to sustain within Higher Education, career choices, and beyond.

[TT] Can you share how you will further explore your research with your involvement in the UIC Student Affairs Faculty Fellows Program?

[AR] I am interested in exploring the ways that the student supports that are present on campus engage with these transformative social emotional learning perspectives, and how they get to know the student as person, understand their identities, understand where they are coming from, working with them one-on-one, and letting students have a say in determining what sort of supports are best for them. I am thinking about their own identities and the way they approach the work. I will survey the support providers and students who use the supports to see what they feel and determine how they respond to those types of experiences.

[TT] Final question! What are things you enjoy doing in your spare time?

[AR] I like to travel a lot. I like to do puzzles. I’m somewhat obsessive with puzzle. I also like to cook and hang out with my husband Jack and our dog, Pixie.

Thank you, Dr. Roy for sitting with us and sharing your journey through psychology and your current work! Congratulation on being named a 2021-2022 UIC Student Affairs Faculty Fellow. We can’t wait to see what’s next for you!