With McNair Program as Foundation, St. John’s Alumna Puts Education to Work Helping Children
“My journey was long and the road has not always been easy,” Felicia Corbett ’06C, ’10G, ’13Ph.D., told students graduating from the Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program at St. John’s University. Corbett, a former McNair Scholar who recently earned a doctorate in clinical psychology at St. John’s, is now on a smoother path, one that she paved with determination and years of hard work.
Corbett credits the McNair Program with helping her achieve her academic and professional goals. Named for Ronald E. McNair, an astronaut who lost his life during the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster in 1986, it was established by the U.S. Department of Education to enable qualified, first-generation and underrepresented students earn advanced education degrees. Corbett said, “the program literally changed my life.”
Now a full-time clinician at Project CONNECT, part of the Child HELP Partnership Program (PARTNERS) that was created by St. John’s to provide mental health services for Queens-area children and families, Corbett believes that her years of effort were “more than worthwhile.” As a clinician, her responsibilities include evaluating and treating clients and establishing partnerships with organizations willing to sponsor off-site treatment centers. Teaching an undergraduate course in abnormal psychology at St. John’s, she is also helping to train future leaders in the field.
Corbett was raised by a single mother in a low-income Brooklyn neighborhood with abundant crime and a low rate of college attendance. Despite these circumstances, she earned good grades at Brooklyn Technical High School, where her guidance counselors urged her to go to college. It was also at Brooklyn Tech that she developed an interest in psychology. “The more I read, the more curious I grew about feelings, thoughts and behavior,” she said.
Drawn to St. John’s diversity and Vincentian ethos, Corbett was able to delve into subjects like theology, philosophy and African-American studies as an undergraduate. “I loved every minute of my time here,” she said. “The experience of living on campus, being a McNair scholar and learning from amazing professors expanded my world.”
Corbett first heard about the McNair Program from her undergraduate work-study supervisor, Rafael Art Javier, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology. “It was clear that Felicia had the innate ability to become the excellent clinical and research psychologist she is today,” he said. “She just needed the tools to be able to achieve these goals.” Through regular workshops and meetings with Javier, who served as her McNair mentor, Corbett developed the research and writing skills that would prove essential in her graduate studies.
After enrolling in the University’s graduate program in psychology, Corbett found a role model in Elissa Brown, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology and Executive Director of PARTNERS. “Dr. Brown is passionate about her work,” Corbett said. “Her commitment to treating children and families of trauma inspired me to dedicate myself to this sector as well. I immediately realized that I could make a difference in their lives.”
To that end, Corbett earned both master’s and doctoral degrees in psychology at St. John’s as well as a master’s degree in Psychology in Education from Teachers College, Columbia University. “It has truly been a pleasure to work and grow with Felicia,” said Brown. “She is immensely smart and talented, yet humble. Her therapy skills, her ability to connect with the community and her collaborative spirit are outstanding.”
Looking to the future, Corbett hopes to someday run a full-service mental health clinic in an underserved community like the one in which she was raised. She also plans to continue teaching—and inspiring—up-and-coming professionals in the field.