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OSU clinical psychology program builds Native American presence

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STILLWATER, Okla. – Choctaw and Muscogee Creek tribal member Ashleigh Coser says sometimes it is challenging being a member of an underrepresented group on a college campus.

Oklahoma State University is working to bolster the Native American presence in the field of psychology through its American Indians Into Psychology program, one of only three Indian Health Service programs of its kind in the nation.

AIIP consists of two components, a six-week summer enrichment program and a scholarship program. During the six weeks, junior and senior undergraduates attend classes designed to prepare them for graduate school.

They also participate in research and are assigned to a tribal urban mental health facility. Scholarships are available to Native American students working on a doctorate in clinical psychology at OSU.

“AIIP is a great opportunity for Native American students to come together,” said Coser, a senior psychology major and former AIIP fellow. “The program allows you to meet with Native American professionals who have been in your position and are now in the community.”

Coser hopes to follow in the footsteps of several of the program’s alumni, including B.J. Boyd, deputy director of Cherokee Nation Behavioral Health Services in Tahlequah, Okla., and Chris Fore, of the Choctaw tribe, who is the director of behavioral health for the Albuquerque Area Indian Health Service.

Other program alumni are making an impact across the nation in places like California, New Jersey, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Rhode Island, Texas, Washington and Washington, D.C.

Of the 116 former summer enrichment participants, 26 have earned a doctorate or are enrolled in doctoral programs nationwide, while 24 have earned or are currently enrolled in master’s programs throughout the U.S.

The program represents many Native American tribes, including the Cherokee, Choctaw, Muscogee Creek and Navajo tribes. In its 13-year history, students representing 34 tribes have participated in the summer program.

“My staff and I work all year recruiting students from across the nation to participate in the program,” said Dr. John Chaney, a member of the Muscogee Creek tribe who is an OSU psychology professor and project director of AIIP. “We feel that it is critical to have a very diverse group of students.”

The program began in 1997 when federal funding was granted. AIIP receives funds on three-year cycles. Under the direction of Chaney and Patricia Alexander, director of the OSU Psychology Diversified Students program, AIIP also has founded a student mentor program, pairing psychology undergraduate students with graduate students to discuss job opportunities.