Fordham University            The Jesuit University of New York

The cycle of empowerment

Scyatta Wallace, GSAS '98 and '02, isn't just spreading knowledge — she's spreading power.

 Scyatta Wallace

Scyatta Wallace, Ph.D., still has the acceptance letter Fordham University’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS) sent her more than a decade ago..

Today, Wallace — who came to Fordham for the applied developmental psychology program — is an associate professor of psychology at St. John’s University and the newly elected chair of the American Psychological Association’s (APA) Committee on Psychology and AIDS.
She said her experience at Fordham “changed the trajectory of [her] career.” And now she is trying to do the same for her own students and others around the world.

Her work is based on the idea that, when you help empower an individual or a community, those people can then go on to empower others. She sees her positions as a professor, a volunteer and chair of the new APA committee as opportunities to continue this cycle of empowerment.

“The main thing I try to focus on is really trying to impact the health of ethnic minority urban youth and either educating the actual youths themselves or empowering students who will potentially be working with these populations.”

Whether it’s through daylong events at schools around the city or through interactions with graduate students who help her with her research, Wallace is always focused on education and empowerment. She dedicates a lot of time working with organizations that help girls and young women develop confidence and leadership abilities.

Wallace was originally drawn to GSAS because of its program in applied development psychology. “It is definitely one of the premier programs in that field,” she said. “It espoused the whole idea of taking the research and using that to help individual people.”

Rather than focusing on the theoretical aspects, Wallace said, Fordham’s program allowed her to “make [the subject] into a practice,” and to be active in the field.

Through the program’s practicum course, Wallace first became involved with HIV/AIDS work. She credits this as one of the two biggest influences Fordham had on her. The other was less expected.

“One of the things that I didn’t quite know about when I decided to apply to Fordham,” she said, “was the Jesuit tradition.
But, when I actually got there, I was taken aback. It’s infused into every part of the culture.

“It engenders people to really think about being ethical and also emphasizes the importance of pursuing intellectual curiosity just for its own sake.”

The encouragement to do what she was interested in doing, along with the unique one-on-one mentorship she found at Fordham—which led to her first job with the APA, a public policy internship—sprung from this tradition. It has stayed with Wallace to this day.

When Wallace’s students ask her for advice, she echoes her own mentors and experiences at Fordham.

“I always say that they should definitely pursue what they’re interested in. Because I think a lot of the time people think that they should copy somebody else, like ‘this is the way you’re supposed to be a psychologist.’

“I just try to help students see how they can really blend their talents and their interests with a career and to believe in themselves.”


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