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Mark Terjesen, Ph.D.

Associate Professor of Psychology

Faculty from the St. John’s University Department of Psychology traveled approximately 12,500 miles around the world this summer to assist in establishing the first formal training program for school psychologists in Vietnam. Mark Terjesen, Ph.D., and Marlene Sotelo-Dynega, Ph.D. of St. John's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences embarked on this journey to impart their professional expertise and knowledge to faculty at the Hanoi National University of Education (HNUE). This ground-breaking collaboration across continents will bring life-changing services to children of Vietnam where there are currently no professionally trained school psychologists. 

Jeffrey W. Fagen, Ph.D., Dean of St. John's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, spoke enthusiastically about the relationship: “One of the most exciting things we are doing in Vietnam now involves our partnership with the HNUE and Vietnam’s Ministry of Education and Training. Our Psychology Department will train Vietnamese psychologists in modern, empirically-supported assessment and intervention strategies for use with children with emotional and/or learning problems. In addition to coursework, the students will be involved in academic service learning in collaboration with the Daughters of Charity.”

The training program offered this past summer resulted from a May 2007 trip to Vietnam, where faculty from HNUE were first exposed to, and exceedingly impressed with, the profession of school psychology after meeting St. John's School Psychology program faculty and students. The enthusiasm of all participants led to a series of subsequent meetings in January and July 2008 devoted to developing the profession of school psychology in Vietnam.

In January, collaborative efforts between the Applied Psychology Section (APS) of the HNUE and Dr. Terjesen and Kate Walton, Ph.D., began. Along with two doctoral students and research fellows, Maria Bolger and Kimberly Kassay, the team discussed the anticipated needs for school psychological services in Vietnam, identified and analyzed barriers to school psychology services, and developed collaborative research ideas. They created curricula and established a training plan and guidelines for a masters program in school psychology and a bachelors program with a concentration in school psychology courses.

This past summer St. John’s faculty delivered the first part of this training plan to APS faculty members. They gave a series of six 20-hour courses over six weeks.  Using data culled from a faculty survey, the planning committee worked together to identify areas that were of greatest need and would be most essential to their training program and to the practices of school psychology in Vietnam.

“It’s an exciting initiative,” reflects Dr. Terjesen. “It has taken us 100-plus years to get where we are today in school psychology. They don’t have to go through all those growing pains that we went through in the U.S. They can learn what the current research says is effective and then modify that to work with their own culture and society.”

The St. John’s team worked with faculty from HNUE for very intense, full-day workshops. Session lasted from 8:30 a.m.–12 p.m. in the morning and 1:30 – 5 p.m. in the afternoon.  In addition to Drs. Sotelo and Terjesen, a number of other professionals were recruited to provide training. These included Dr. Erin Dowdy from University of California-Santa Barbara, Dr. John Stokes from Pace University, and two graduates of St. John’s Psy.D. program, Drs. Brian Harris and Michelle Meskin. Each trainer provided lecture notes and PowerPoint presentations in English which were translated into Vietnamese and distributed to program attendees.

“Their enthusiasm and motivation to learn was contagious. By Fall 2009 they will begin training Vietnam’s future generation of school psychologists, who will provide professional services throughout the country’s schools,” comments Dr. Terjesen.

In total, there were 32 program attendees who came from all across the country to participate in this training.  Additional service providers, including social workers and school principals, attended as well to determine the best ways to provide integrated and sustainable services for the children in Vietnam.

“There is really nothing in which I’ve been involved at St. John’s that is more consistent with the Vincentian mission than this project,” says Dr. Terjesen. “The opportunity to provide assistance and service to those in the greatest need is so valuable for our students to experience. Everyone who has gone has had a reawakening of the Vincentian spirit and an understanding of what the big picture means. When our students and faculty come back and work with children in schools in Queens and the surrounding areas, we understand the impact that culture, economy, and family has on learning. What we see and learn first hand in Vietnam is easily translated to our students here.”