How #IAdvocate As a Graduate Student
By: Elly Maras, NASP Government and Professional Relations (GPR) Committee Student Representative
As one of GPR's newest members and the sole graduate student representative on the committee, I knew I had big shoes to fill as an advocate for school psychology. Sure, I had experience in grassroots advocacy efforts and worked as an administrative page in a state senator's office during my undergraduate years, but I initially struggled to make the connection of how I, a practicum student still learning about what it means to be a school psychologist, could make for an effective advocate for our field.
All of that changed during my first NASP convention in February. There, I truly saw advocacy in action. I witnessed genuine relationships with advocacy as the common thread and saw eager convention attendees take time to send multiple letters to their representatives at our advocacy booth. I watched in real time the heartfelt response to the Parkland shooting and school psychologists from around the country come together in support of preventing gun violence in schools. I also participated in conversations with other graduate students about wanting to spread the word about school psychology. It was on the plane ride back to Cleveland that I had an idea. I might not know everything about being a school psychologist (does anyone?), but I did know something. And that was enough to make an impact.
My time in Chicago provided me with the energy and enthusiasm to share about all that I had learned with our graduate student association of school psychology at John Carroll. It occurred to me that as graduate students we have unique access to the future of education and school psychology: undergrads! In collaboration with a handful of my peers, we reached out to undergraduate education and psychology professors about connecting with their classes about our field. After all, it wasn't until my senior year of college that I even became aware of school psychology as a potential career! With the help of NASP's Who Are School Psychologists guide, our group developed a short presentation about who we are, what we do in schools, and how one can become a school psychologist. While the undergraduates were introduced to the field through our presentation, this activity was also a powerful way for us as graduate students to practice advocating for ourselves and communicate exactly what school psychology is all about. At times I feel that we graduate students are so perpetually buried in our books and report writing that we all forget how essential it is for us to be able to effectively articulate all that we will be as future school psychologists, especially to those who may not be familiar with our role in schools. Developing this presentation allowed for much self-reflection and ample space to think about our impact, what foot we wanted to put forward to other educators, and how we aimed to make ourselves known as a small but mighty graduate program on campus.
My hope is that our advocacy may have inspired someone to pursue school psychology as a career or instilled in a future educator that school psychologists are available to support and collaborate with them in their students' success. Whether you have an active student organization in your program or there's just a few of you interested in spreading the word, I challenge graduate students across the country to engage with undergraduates at your universities and institutions. Make it your mission to embed advocacy and outreach into your time as a graduate student by sharing about our field with a presentation to students, engaging in meaningful dialogue with these future educators, and becoming a bigger presence on campus or in your department. After all, it is only through understanding who we are and what we stand for as future school psychologists that we can begin to think about advocating for ourselves in larger arenas for years to come.