Recent studies show that while the number of minorities that graduate with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in psychology has risen by at least 20 percent since 1989, the percentage of Black and Latino students that enter psychology doctoral programs remains stagnant.

Graduates with only a bachelor’s or master’s degree are more likely to serve in an assistant role to a clinical psychologist, rather than own a practice or have a high-ranking position. In some clinical offices, an employee with a bachelor’s degree is merely qualified to serve as an administrative assistant.

Some undergraduates opt to leave the psychology field all together.

Davyd Collins, who graduated with a bachelor’s in psychology from Coppin State University two years ago, now works in federal government. Many of his friends also chose jobs outside the field, he said. “I plan on getting a master’s degree, but it wouldn’t be for psychology,” Collins said, noting that his new job calls for a master’s degree in business for him to receive a promotion. He said he was a little deterred from psychology because of the emphasis placed on doctoral degrees.

“Clearly, as you go farther up the career ladder in psychology, there are fewer and fewer people of color,” said Shawn Bediako, associate professor of psychology at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Bediako says it’s imperative to expose more young people to the career and increase the number of minority students in psychology’s graduate-level pipeline.

With a $3,000 grant from the American Psychological Association (APA), Bediako and two of his colleagues plan to launch an intensive, mentor research program with high school juniors from Poly and Western this fall. “With this project, we want to approach this problem by doing things what will increase the talent pool so that the other programs and initiatives that occur later in the academic trajectory will have a critical mass of individuals with whom to work,” Bediako said.

During the year-long program, called ASPIRE (Applied Social Psychology Intensive Research Experience), the faculty members will mentor three students each, meeting after-school twice-a-month to introduce them to research methods, statistics, scientific writing and dissemination.

Bediako says the goal is to help the students develop independent research projects that can be presented at local science fairs and symposiums. “Youth in urban school settings have limited exposure to the social sciences, which makes them less likely to consider majoring in psychology,” said UMBC psychology professor Danielle Beatty, a co-investigator for the project. “If we can get them interested and prepared in the discipline during their high school years, then we can hopefully get them involved in conducting research much earlier in their undergraduate experience, and we know that students who are heavily involved in research are more likely to be accepted into graduate programs.”

While advising Black and Latino college students, Bediako found many decide to pursue psychology late in their collegiate careers, after run-ins with various other disciplines. This puts them at a disadvantage if they plan to continue psychology at the graduate level, he says, because they won’t graduate with the same amount of research experience they would have, had they pursued the major as freshmen.

“One of the byproducts we anticipate with this program is that they (the high school students) will begin their college experience as psychology majors,” he said.
The recently tenured professor plans to reapply for the grant and continue working with the participants into their senior year as well as invite more students to participate.

Collins says if he would have been involved in a similar high school program it “definitely would have” put him on track to pursue a graduate degree in psychology. But he says it shouldn’t be limited to high school students. “I think it would be even stronger if it were for college students too” he said. As for his future plans, “I’m not considering psychology right now, but at some point I will.”

Shernay Williams

Special to the AFRO