A fellow of the inaugural 2012 SCP Leadership Academy, Dr. Femina Varghese took the gavel as President of Division 18, Psychologists in Public Service, at APA convention. Dr. Varghese received tenure this year as associate professor of Counseling Psychology at the University of Central Arkansas.
Also at convention this year, she was awarded SCP’s prize for The Counseling Psychologist Outstanding Paper Award for her Major Contribution focused on applying vocational psychology to criminal justice populations. The articles were published in the October, 2013 issue of TCP, and her co-authors include Devon L. Cummings, Krista M. Chronister, Linda Forrest, and Lindsey Brown.
Candice Crowell, who served as student faculty for the 2012 Leadership Academy, interviewed Femina in July about her leadership experience:
What made you apply for the SCP Leadership Academy?
The call for applications seemed to beckon people like me to apply – early career professionals who wanted to get involved in SCP, but did not know how. I had admired SCP leaders since I was a doctoral student and thought, “What if I got the chance to be mentored by some of the people I admire?” That strongly motivated me to apply.
What was the experience like for you?
I loved the experience. The leaders of SCP were welcoming and supportive. I formed connections with wonderful people who are not only accomplished in their field but also people of strong character. I experienced them as humble, generous, kind and dedicated to SCP. Interacting with those who genuinely cared about the profession increased my passion for SCP.
I worked with two mentors from SCP, Jim Lichtenberg and Nadya Fouad, on different projects that benefited the division. One was a research study on the future of counseling psychology, and the other was with a task force, led by Cindy Juntunen and Margo Jackson, on developing counseling psychology competencies. I enjoyed working with them and have valued their mentorship.
For what division are you now President-Elect?
I am President-Elect of APA’s Division 18 – Psychologists in Public Service, a division that fits well with many of my core values as a Counseling Psychologist. Division 18 consists of practitioners and scholars who work in diverse settings with some of the most underserved populations. The division encompasses six sections, including Criminal Justice, Veteran’s Affairs, Community and State Hospitals, Police and Public Safety, Serious Mental Illness/Severe Emotional Disturbance, and Psychologists in Indian Country.
How did you get involved in Division 18?
Similar to joining SCP, I joined Division 18 after being encouraged to do so by faculty and colleagues as a doctoral student at Texas Tech University. I began service to the division as an ECP. Less than one year after graduation, the Chair of the Criminal justice Section of Division 18 needed members for a newly formed ad-hoc membership committee. I applied to be a committee member, but was asked instead to chair the committee. I hesitated because the position seemed daunting. After deliberating, I decided that since the chair of the section had asked me to serve in this capacity andI was not serving elsewhere, I would accept the task. So I agreed, thinking that my service would last for just a year.
The team of committee members and I worked diligently on the task to which we were entrusted. After serving as membership committee chair, I was asked several times to run for Chair of the Criminal Justice Section. After deliberation, I did and was elected. While serving in that role, I was asked by multiple people to run for President-Elect. I deliberated again, agreed, and was elected. The success at each level of service was the result of working with a team of talented people. Similar to SCP, Division 18 has wonderful leaders. Therefore, it was an honor to be encouraged by those on whose shoulders I stand.
Note: It’s not typical for someone so young to be President-Elect of an APA Division. She is one of the youngest President-Elects in APA and, from division records, very likely the first woman of color to hold that position for Division 18. Founded in 1946, APA’s Division 18 is one of the oldest divisions.
What is your presidential project?
The theme of my presidential year is Public Mental Health. The Division 18 Conference in March 2015 will be centered on this theme, and it will be the focus of a special issue in the Division 18 APA journal, Psychological Services.
The SCP Leadership Academy inspired me. So, we have been discussing the possibility of a Leadership Academy for Division 18 as well as some work on our strategic plan. Finally, I also look forward to interdivisional collaborations.
Any final thoughts?
I am grateful to Barry Chung and those who developed the inaugural class of the SCP Leadership Academy: Linda Forrest, Rosie Bingham, Katharine Hahn Oh, Candice Crowell, Sandy Shullman, and John Westefeld. I learned much from them, as well as from my colleagues and my mentors, who modeled good leadership. I have continued to value the relationships and the training I received. Thank you for investing in me.