Spring 1997

Get Psyched: JMU Grants First Doctoral Degrees
by Janet Smith

President Ronald E. Carrier adjusts Vivian Begali's newly acquired doctoral hood.

On Dec. 13, 1996, when Vivian L. Begali and Liliane Valentine Speiden Burns received their doctoral hoods, the commencement ceremony crowned a 10-year university effort to put JMU on the map as a doctoral-granting institution. The women had no idea they were breaking important ground for the university when they entered the Doctor of Psychology degree program in the fall of 1995.

"I didn't enter the program knowing I'd be the first person (to complete it)," says Begali, who wound up her program when she successfully defended her dissertation last June. "It just so happened that I finished first."

Douglas Brown, former psychology department head and now associate vice president for academic affairs, began working on the Psy.D. proposal 10 years ago.

After the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia approved the program in May 1995, Begali, Burns and six other students formed the first doctoral class in JMU's history in the fall.

As the sense of their uniqueness sank in, Begali and Burns found being part of a brand new program exciting. "As members of the first class, we were told that the program would evolve and that we should expect shifts and changes," Begali says.

Most of the changes were procedural, not curricular, she explains. "We were constantly 'tweaking,'" explains Psy.D. program coordinator William Walker, adding that the first students helped to shape the program.

Psy.D., an applied program in school and counseling psychology, is designed to train existing practitioners in school and counseling psychology in advanced techniques for working with children and parents.

What's special about the Psy.D. program is that, for a doctoral program, it is extremely pragmatic, featuring predominately clinical application course work, Walker says. The program requires two to four years of full-time study, including an internship and dissertation. Begali's background, which included an Educational Specialist degree in school psychology from JMU, made it possible for her to complete the Psy.D. degree requirements in two years.

The emergence of the new program came at the right time in her career. She had moved from her position as a school psychologist in Charlottesville city schools into program administration within the school system. "I wanted to get back into direct service," she says.

In addition to advanced course work, related practica and teaching, Begali opted for a full-year split internship at Woodrow Wilson Rehabilitation Center in Fishersville and the Human Development Center at JMU, where she worked with people with various disabilities.

The Psy.D. program has qualified Begali for a one-year neuropsychology postdoctoral fellowship at Sheltering Arms Hospital in Richmond, where she works with adolescents, adults and families.

"The Psy.D. degree allows a professional to do more," Begali says. "It broadens the range of jobs you qualify for."

Liliane Burns awaits the ceremony with her hood on her arm.

Completing the Psy.D. degree has allowed Burns, JMU's other doctoral graduate, to expand her role with the Chesterfield County public school system, where she serves as a school psychologist. She now works with emotionally disturbed students who will need long-term care.

She consults with psychiatrists and other mental health professionals to coordinate the students' intensive day program within the school system with other support services. "The clinical focus of the Psy.D. program is important," Burns says. "The degree work has allowed me to expand my knowledge base and expand my role."

Burns, who also has an Ed.S. from JMU, believes more professionals will find the Psy.D. degree appealing because the psychologist's role in school systems is deepening to include such responsibilities as program evaluation, which require more specialized training.

Graduate School administrators and psychology department faculty members welcome the program's addition to JMU. "There's very little you can do for a university that will change its status as much as acquiring a doctoral program," says Brown. "It changes the perception of the university on the part of the public," he says, "and it has broadened our mission."

The newly enhanced status also makes JMU eligible for grants and other funding that are restricted to institutions with doctoral programs.

In addition, the psychology department's undergraduates benefit from the fresh real-world perspectives Psy.D. candidates offer in the JMU courses they teach as part of their doctoral programs.

JMU's already high level of prestige is enriched by the Psy.D. addition. The Graduate School, established in 1954, already boasts 32 major programs leading to nine master's degrees and the Educational Specialist degree. As Walker says, the Psy.D. program is "another feather in the Graduate School hat."

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