Graduate Student Perspectives

Read what Psy.D. candidates at the Wheaton College Graduate School are learning through research projects with the Humanitarian Disaster Institute (HDI).


Viola C. Valcin Psy.D. ’18, Wheaton College Graduate SchoolViola C. Valcin Psy.D. '18

"It's wonderful to take part in research that occurs overseas with underserved and overlooked populations."

Viola grew up in a Haitian community in New York City, and earned her bachelor's in psychology at The City College of New York. HDI's connection to Haiti was one of the factors that tipped the scales in favor of attending Wheaton College, and she has since traveled to Haiti twice with HDI to conduct hands-on research and to co-facilitate training sessions for community-based lay counselors learning to deliver a treatment program to restavek children. She presented her team's research, which demonstrated the effectiveness of a culturally modified intervention for restavek children, at the 2015 HDI Disaster Ministry Conference.

"It's wonderful to take part in research that occurs overseas with underserved and overlooked populations. Working with HDI has continued to verify and solidify why I want to work with the Haitian community: to help meet the great need for mental health services—either by educating others, or by directly providing mental health services."

Daniel Martinson Psy.D. ’18, Wheaton College Graduate SchoolDaniel Martinson Psy.D. '18

"I will never forget the words of one of the men: 'When you come and speak with us and work with us, we no longer feel like refugees. We feel like people.'"

Daniel's primary project with HDI involves the collaborative development of a trauma-counseling curriculum with a group of refugee pastors at the Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya.

"Coming into the project, I didn’t realize that a refugee camp could possess its own network of churches, and effect great change on behalf of the most vulnerable in the camp. Along the way, I have been greatly humbled by the faith and dedication of these community leaders living in the midst of a poor living conditions, frequent unrest, and great hardship. Learning from these leaders, I am reminded to always look where positive growth is already occurring in a community before I step in and try to 'improve' things.

"After our first week of seminars with the pastors, we had a brief time of feedback so that the refugee leaders could help us understand what had been helpful and what could be better moving forward. I will never forget the words of one of the men: 'When you come and speak with us and work with us, we no longer feel like refugees. We feel like people.' "I count it a privilege to work with an organization like HDI, which instead of telling people what is good for them or delivering solutions, comes together with them and asks for their insight. I've been amazed by the empowerment this brings to oppressed people."

Kalen Drake M.A. ’15, Psy.D. ’18, Wheaton College Graduate SchoolKalen Drake M.A. '15, Psy.D. '18

"Watching Drs. Aten and Boan...has opened up a world of possibilities."

Working with trauma survivors has long been a goal for Kalen Drake, who spent the last few years working with the United Refugee and Host Churches (URHC) in Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya. She was focused on documenting the work and organizational structure of URHC so that other such groups might be started in other conflict-heavy regions.

"Though I had never seriously considered working with refugee populations, the past few years working on the Kenya projects have had a profound impact on me both personally and professionally. The most valuable lesson I have learned through this process has been to see how much impact the church can have when it remembers its core purpose."

Through her work with HDI, she says, "I have learned a great deal about qualitative research, the research process, program evaluation, and most importantly, the value of collaboration and building trust in partnerships and relationships throughout the research process. Coming into the program, I assumed that I would be mostly doing therapy. Watching Drs. Aten and Boan as they provide consultation, supervision, program development, program evaluations, qualitative research, community action research, and so much more has opened up a world of possibilities. I'm excited to see where God leads!"

Hazel Rosete Psy.D. ’17, Wheaton College Graduate SchoolHazel Rosete Psy.D. '17

"It was a privilege to use my graduate education, research, and training to collaborate with pastors and NGO leaders to promote a better overall quality of life for the Filipino people . . ."

Hazel spent her summers with her family in the Philippines growing up. "I'm Filipina-American and my parents are first-generation immigrants to the United States. I remember hearing stories and seeing firsthand the devastation that natural disasters, specifically floods and typhoons, bring to the country. It was a privilege to use my graduate education, research, and training to collaborate with pastors and NGO leaders to promote a better overall quality of life for the Filipino people through prevention, mitigation prior to, and rehabilitation during natural disasters."

She conducted qualitative research aimed at understanding the developmental process of Filipino pastors and NGO leaders doing disaster work and working with local communities and vulnerable populations. With a goal of better equipping leaders in the future, Hazel's aim was to better understand the challenges these leaders encountered and lessons they learned.

After working on this project and traveling twice to the Philippines, she says, "The most valuable lesson I've learned is to never underestimate the Filipino 'bayanihan spirit' and the power of God. [Bayanihan is a Filipino word that refers to a spirit of communal unity and cooperation.] After interviewing each Filipino pastor and leader, I was blown away by their tremendous resiliency and hope, despite the many challenges involved in their work. Most of the people I talked to were living in poverty themselves, yet they managed to continue serving not only their congregations, but the larger community, and it was apparent that God was blessing their endeavors. They authentically and genuinely lived out their faith by serving their communities, and they were very creative in how they did so because of the lack of resources."

Alice Schruba Psy.D. ’17, Wheaton College Graduate SchoolAlice Schruba Psy.D. '17

"Wheaton is one of the few schools in the nation that offers faith-based training in disaster mental health care."

After growing up in the hurricane and tornado territory of Texas, Alice knew she had found the right place to pursue her graduate work when she came across the HDI website. "Wheaton is one of the few schools in the nation that offers faith-based training in disaster mental health care."

She's taken advantage of the opportunities HDI has afforded to collaborate with professors and government organizations. She worked with the Cook County Department of Public Health to develop a curriculum for churches to use in the event of an emergency. The city now uses the curriculum to train church leaders—building trust and ties between government and churches to create a web of help for times of disaster.

Now working on her dissertation, "Disaster Spiritual and Emotional Care in Practice," Alice's research involves collaborating with a variety of faith organizations to best capture how spiritual and emotional care providers promote spiritual and emotional well-being in those with different faith affiliations by meeting immediate needs and promoting connection with others and their faith.

Interested in better understanding how psychology can further the field of disaster response and care, she says, "I have been able to network with professionals from a variety of fields, which has opened doors for my future career. HDI has created opportunities for me to grow as a researcher—with my role ranging from project planning to curriculum development. Additionally, I have presented our findings at conferences such as the Christian Association for Psychological Studies (CAPS) and the American Psychological Association (APA). Personally, the most valuable aspect of my involvement with HDI has been the mentorship of Drs. Aten and Boan. They have both invested in my professional development by inviting me to work on projects, encouraging me in my academics, and connecting me with resources and collaborators."

Benjamin AndrewsBen Andrews M.A. '15, Psy.D. '18

"HDI has allowed me to work toward improving people's lives."

Ben traveled to Kakuma Refugee Camp twice with HDI, and hopes to return in 2016. He's also planning a summer 2016 trip to Rwanda to work with church organizations, lay treatment providers, and possibly a local NGO to help to trauma survivors.

"HDI has given me the opportunity to join international research projects, experiment with different research methodologies, travel, and meet some incredible people. An applied research institute, HDI has allowed me to work toward improving people's lives and to consider new ways for my faith to become integrated with my work in very tangible ways."

Ben's participation in overseas community-based projects has required creative thinking "about how to design and implement projects that are effective, collaborative, sustainable, and that build the capacity of communities to address their own problems. We also have to consider cross-cultural issues such as competing value systems and worldviews.

"In community-based work, issues of social justice often come to the fore, and our involvement with these religious groups has highlighted the implications of doing faith-based action research. This methodology brings often overlooked contributions of religious institutions and spiritual practice to bear in addressing broad, complex problems.

"Perhaps the most pleasant part of working with HDI has been the relational aspect. HDI has networks of relationships with international partners all over the globe, and I've met some absolutely remarkable people." Jean Pierre Gatera and his wife, Rezeke, are two of these.

"Jean Pierre was born and raised in refugee camps, and has lived in many over the years. Until last spring, Jean Pierre led the United Refugee and Host Churches (URHC), an organization of churches that represents approximately 11,000 refugee Christians in Kakuma. He has a tremendous vision for the unity of the body of Christ, the selflessness and compassion to sacrifice for his community, and the wisdom and integrity to lead well. He has been an agent of peace and has had a huge influence on the local church community, helping it overcome ethnic, gender, and denominational barriers. Jean Pierre's wife, Rezeke, helps lead a number of ministries within the community, cares for the most vulnerable people (e.g., widows and orphans), helps resolve disputes in the community. Her work is vital to the community, and she has become an example of a strong, gifted woman operating in church leadership."

James Kent Psy.D. ’16, Wheaton College Graduate SchoolJames Kent Psy.D. '16

"My experience in Haiti will continue to positively impact me personally and professionally."

"In July of 2012 I had the opportunity to go to Haiti as part of a research team from Wheaton College with the Humanitarian Disaster Institute (HDI). As a psychologist in training, it was easy to recognize this trip as an amazing opportunity to engage culture and apply research. As a teaching/research assistant, I had been included in the earlier stages of the planning process and given responsibilities that allowed me to take ownership of the project. From a professional development standpoint, my involvement in the planning process was educational, but I learned more during our five-day trip to Haiti than I could have anticipated.

"The Haitian members of our team now have faces and names, and I was able to hear from them about the needs of their community and about their desire to help their fellow Haitians. There was a sense of desperation in the way they described the issues they encounter, and explained the lack of culturally relevant, psychological tools available to them. Their hope was also evident as we planned, shared meals, and worked together. I see now the importance of contextualizing the tools in our field to offer them to different cultures that desperately desire mechanisms for impacting their communities in positive ways.

"As a psychologist in training, my experiences in Haiti broadened my perspectives. I've realized I had placed unnecessary limits on the possibilities for the future. The truth is, the opportunities are vast. From my perspective, the things I learned by going to Haiti would be very difficult to learn in a classroom or in clinical supervision, and I recognize the developmental importance of this trip and know that my experience in Haiti will continue to positively impact me personally and professionally."

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