School psychologists work with more than students – they work with educators, school leadership and families to help students through challenging times and to help them reach their fullest potential. Through his work, College of Education doctoral student Gary Yu Hin Lam hopes to promote well-being among individuals with autism across their entire lifespan.
This past summer, Lam completed a clinical internship at the Center for Mental Health Policy and Services Research at the University of Pennsylvania. He graduated from USF and has accepted a post-doctoral fellowship at Emory University. We asked him about his passion for the field of school psychology and how his time as a student at USF has helped him elevate this passion into action.
What inspired you to pursue a career in school psychology?
In general, I really enjoy working with kids in schools and in education in general. In particular, I’m really passionate about working with kids with autism because I have previous background working with (these students) in a school setting. I really think they are a group of people in our society who need a lot of support. My passion in education is to get more people aware (of autism) and to get them more accepting of people with autism in their lives.
Why did you choose to attend the University of South Florida for your doctoral studies in school psychology?
I think USF is a great institution, and the School Psychology program is one of the strongest programs in the country. I’m an international student and originally from Hong Kong, but I decided to come to USF because the faculty in the School Psychology program are all super supportive and they have been so amazing in providing mentorship to me. Even before I entered the program, I talked to different people (from USF) and they were all super nice and supportive. (The students and faculty members I met with) did a lot of applied research in school psychology, so I felt like (attending USF) would really help me with my career and with being trained in an applied setting.
What experiences have you had as part of your doctoral program that have prepared you for your work in school psychology?
I have had a lot of trainings in both research and practice. I was involved in different research groups within the school psychology program and worked with different mentors. Outside of the School Psychology program, (I’ve worked with) professors from the Educational Measurement department and with professors from the College of Behavioral and Community Sciences.
In terms of practice, there are a lot of opportunities for (students) to gain applied experience in the field. We have practicum in schools, in outpatient clinics, and in other pediatric settings. This has equipped me to work with kids, clients, teachers and families in the community, and that has helped me a lot. My experience at USF paved the way to my internship in Philadelphia.
Mental health services in schools has been a topic of interest in light of recent events. Why do you feel providing quality psychological services for youth and their families is critical in today’s educational landscape?
Prevention is definitely the biggest piece that school psychologists always emphasize. If we could set up a good system and build a really positive and healthy climate in schools, a lot things — ranging from small behavioral issues to more traumatic events — could be prevented by us doing the groundwork to build a positive relationship among students and teachers, set up good mental health services, and to equip students with academic and social emotional skills to help them learn and cope with stress in their lives. This is all important work that (school psychologists) facilitate and that are critical to children’s well-being.
What makes you passionate about your work in school psychology?
I see education as really important for the future of kids and for the future of society. I feel like a good education can help kids to learn and help them thrive in life. Especially for kids with disabilities, I feel like they have so much potential and they have so much to offer that educators or (the general community) may not have recognized. I really want society to look at (these children) and see what they have to offer so that they can become a successful member of society, too.
In what ways do you feel school psychologists can act as an advocate on behalf of the students and families they work with?
In my everyday work with clients, I always share my knowledge and my experience so they know from my perspective what are some good ways to help students learn better or to support different students with different abilities to be successful. Sharing our knowledge in school psychology and actively consulting with different families and teachers can help kids learn better and to advocate for their well-being.
At a broader level, school psychologists can also play a role in influencing policies and decision making at the system level. We are good at using data and assessment to inform our decisions. Using different information to inform policy making is a big skill of (school psychologists) that we can use at a system-wide level.
What advice do you have for those who are interested in pursuing a career in school psychology?
I encourage people to find a passion that they want to work on in their graduate studies or in the long run (during) their career. I think having a passion can really help you to figure out what kind of clinician you want to be, what experience you want to seek, and how you want to grow as a person. Picking an interest that is personally meaningful for you and that benefits the field and your career is really important.
The School Psychology Program at the University of South Florida prepares graduates to play integral roles in creating and sustaining educational and related systems in which children, youth, and their families have access to the academic, behavioral, social-emotional, and physical health services that promote lifelong success and well-being. We invite you to learn more about our programs.