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Michael Meinzer, PhD

This month, we are spotlighting Assistant Professor, Michael Meinzer, PhD. We caught up with Dr. Meinzer to learn more about his research project, "Improving the Transition to College for Students with ADHD: Piloting a Summer Readiness Program for Incoming UIC Students," which he will work on as a 2021-2022 fellow with UIC's Student Affairs Faculty Research Fellows Program. 

Mike Meinzer, PhD

[TT] When did you know Psychology was the right choice for you?

[MM] I started in undergrad as pre-med major with the intention of going to med school. I completed an internship the summer after Junior year at a summer camp for adolescents with ADHD. I really enjoyed working in that context and providing therapy to kids and adolescents. That ignited the idea of going the clinical psych route opposed to medicine. At the time, I was double majoring in psych, so during my senior year at Boston University I applied into PhD programs opposed to Med School.

[TT] Did you attend grad school directly after undergrad? What was that experience like?

[MM When I finished up at Boston, I started my PhD at Florida International University in Miami. The experience was great, and it was a unique program because it was focused on child and adolescent clinical psychology, which was my main interest. I received a lot of training and experience working with youth with mental health difficulties. The program was very researched focused, so going in I knew and thought I wanted to pursue a career in research, and my time in the program really solidified that.

[TT] I understand you completed some Post-Doctoral work shortly after finishing up at FIU. Can you speak to that experience and how it further shaped your research?

[MM] Sure thing! I completed my internship year at The Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston. I spent one year there and went on to do a Post-Doctoral Fellowship at The University of Maryland under Dr. Andrea Chronis-Tuscano. It was a truly amazing experience where I learned a lot. I learned how to write grants, continue publish, run a lab, and a lot of things that helped prepare me to be an independent faculty member. I was there for one year and transitioned into a teaching faculty position, but eventually decided I wanted to pursue tenure track position where I would have my own lab and independent research, which led me to UIC.

[TT] You mention the securing a tenure-track position was important to you, and it’s one of the reasons you came to UIC, but what are some other factors that led you to UIC Psychology?

[MM] Well, I joined the department in August 2019, just before the pandemic. Aside from seeking a tenure-track position, I was looking for a school embedded in a city and larger community. Being the amazing city Chicago is, I was immediately drawn to UIC. More so, UIC is so special because of the people. When I visited, I felt I could grow and be supported by the department and establish great collaborative relationships with other faculty members. Another thing that drew me here was the student-body of UIC. One of my interests is in college mental health, specifically the mental health of college students with ADHD. I was drawn to this campus because there were a lot of underrepresented individuals in the student-body. The student body at UIC looks very different than other four-year institutions. To be able to teach such a unique student body, where there are so many students from different backgrounds from a teaching perspective, but also from a clinical perspective. I founded a clinic at the University of Maryland to help students with ADHD. I was really excited to bring that to UIC to serve a completely different type of college students. Those that are working to support themselves through college full-time, those that identify as racial and ethnic minorities, those that do not have the support of their parents who have gone through college before. UIC provides a unique opportunity to work with these really special students.

[TT] What was the defining moment for you?

[MM] Receiving funding from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) to complete the project I’ve been working on. It’s been a labor of love for the past eight years of my career. Back during my dissertation, I developed a program to treat depression in adolescents with ADHD. This grant was really about moving the work from the clinic where it was piloted into school systems and specifically, school systems that serve predominantly African American students. This project started in Baltimore City where many of the students are coming from economically disadvantaged families and identified as African Americans. I saw this as a really unique opportunity to serve a population and train in-school Mental Health Providers to help students with ADHD with their mood concerns within a district that doesn’t have enough resources or mental health resources as another school district. That was a really defining moment in terms of being able to do this work and having this work recognized the NIMH as something important to them to be seen.

[TT] Would you mind sharing what your current research focuses on?

[MM] Yes! So, I just finished up the project I mentioned I received funding for from NIMH. There are a couple of other projects currently going on. One of my graduate students, Ariela (Ari) Kaiser is working on her dissertation. During the pandemic we started providing mental health support groups at Chicago Public Schools (CPS) High Schools. Ari has really taken the lead at helping with this project and is collecting data for her dissertation on how to sustainably implement this program within the school context and piloting it with freshmen and sophomores who are experiencing anxiety and depression. That is currently going on in one of the CPS High Schools.

[TT] Can you tell us about the Faculty Fellows project, “Improving the Transition to College for Students with ADHD: Piloting a Summer Readiness Program for Incoming UIC Students”?

[MM] This project is geared towards testing the effectiveness of a summer college readiness program for incoming UIC students with ADHD. The last couple of years we have been running our SUCCEEDS program for students who are currently enrolled a UIC. It’s a semester long program where students get a lot of help with organization, time management, executive functioning, as well as other mental health concerns. We have adapted that program to fit into an 8-week summer college readiness program for students to enroll in before they get to UIC. We are testing this through the Faculty Fellows program.

[TT] What advice do you have for incoming faculty or students joining the department?

[MM] There’s so much advice, but the main thing I’ll say for PhD Students is to take your time and explore what you’re interested in. The exciting things about our program, specifically the Clinical Psych program is it allows you to do so many different jobs. You can work in a hospital, four-year university, research, teach, provide clinical services, all sorts of things. It’s important to make sure you try all these sorts of things out so you can figure out what you like and what type of research excites you. You want to be excited and passionate and want to come into work and work on your projects and your dissertation, so spending some time to really think about what type of project will keep you engaged in research at UIC.

To incoming faculty, I’ll say one of the great things about UIC is there are so many people eager to collaborate. Not only within the Department of Psychology, but across campus and in the medical programs. I recommend you put yourself out there and network, meet people! In the 3 years I’ve been here, even during the peak of the pandemic, I have met some really great people and been able to collaborate on some exciting projects. I’ll say that goes for the students too, don’t be afraid to put yourself out there.

[TT] Our final question for you, would you mind sharing a fun fact about you?

[MM] Well my fun fact is I used to sing in a lounge/piano bar in grad school as a side gig. While I don’t do that here or anymore, I do sing in a choir for fun.

Dr. Meinzer, thank you for spending some time sharing your story with us! We wish you all the best on current and future projects.