If a documentary were made about the University’s Vincentian mission, it would have to include Anton Berzins ‘12G, a service-minded, fifth-year student in the Psy.D. Program in School Psychology.
Anton is co-founder of the Ecuadorian Professional Preparation Program (EPPP), a volunteer group serving needy Ecuadorians who require psychological counseling. It also prepares psychologists to better assist minority patients. EPPP recruits North American psychology graduate students and practitioners to spend a month in Quito, learning Spanish, living with host families and aiding elementary school students, clinic patients and orphans.
Anton launched EPPP before beginning his studies at St. John's. But he credits his professors’ support with allowing him to continue the project while pursuing his degree. A focus on service, part of St. John’s Vincentian mission, is what originally drew Anton. “Academic Service-Learning, cultural immersion, global studies — they all mirror my own aims,” he said.
Anton also was attracted by the Psychology Department’s reputation for excellence. For example, faculty and students are always well-represented at scholarly conferences. When Anton learned that the Psy.D. program is one of the few offering a bilingual track, he was sold. “I decided this was where I wanted to expand my skill set as a school psychologist,” he said.
Anton’s sensitivity to other cultures stems in part from being raised by immigrant parents — his father is from Latvia; his mother, from Trinidad and Tobago. Also fueling his interest in cultural competency is the growing number of Spanish-speaking students in the U.S., a trend Anton witnesses as a full-time school psychologist at a New York-area high school.
With his professors’ encouragement, Anton wrote an article about EPPP for a professional journal. The result is a by-lined cover piece in “Communiqué,” a National Association of School Psychology publication. “My experience at St. John’s has been empowering,” he said. “I’m evolving professionally while also strengthening my dedication to helping the needy.”