Faculty senate approves psychology master’s degree within existing Ph.D program

master'sProposal for the new Master’s of Science in Applied Social and Cultural Psychology | Courtesy of Faculty Senate

Elise Gregg | Editor-in-Chief

The last faculty senate of the fall approved a new psychology program for graduate students at FIU. 

Starting next fall, doctoral students could be able to earn a master’s degree in Applied Social and Cultural Psychology while they finish their Ph.D.

“Once all approved at the Provost’s level, it goes off to Tallahassee, where it is finalized for implementation approval for Fall 2024,” Mary Cossio, faculty senate coordinator, told PantherNOW during the meeting. 

The program has a couple more stages of approval to go through before it is implemented. The program would be added onto the existing Ph.D. program available at FIU. 

As such, it would only be available to students enrolled in FIU’s Ph.D. ASCP program. However, the addition of a master’s degree en route to a doctoral degree will serve students as they work toward their Ph.D. 

“Earning a master’s degree in advance of finishing the PhD opens certain doors for students in psychology such as being an instructor of record for undergraduate courses in psychology and also certain publishing opportunities,” wrote Kenton Harris, chair of the College of Arts Sciences and Education Curriculum Committee, in an email to PantherNOW. 

“I think this was one of the main motivations for the creation of this degree that our PhD students will be able to pick up.”  

Beyond more opportunities during graduate school, the program aims to broaden the scope of graduate education by including both skills and theories needed for research and work in academia, but also more applied work outside the higher education settings. 

The program “will train students to become action scientists, helping to understand and transform the social and cultural systems in which humans interact,” reads the proposal from Asia Eaton, associate professor of psychology

“The key term really is ‘public psychology’,” said Eaton in an interview with PantherNOW. “That rethinks what a psychologist can be beyond the classroom, beyond the ivory tower: rethinks what psychological expertise is and who possesses it.” 

It’s meant to ensure that students have a broad set of skills that can translate to a variety of careers after university. 

“We really wanted to make a student-centered program where the student’s long-term career goals were catered to,” said Eaton. “Our program does just that by enabling students to go an academic route or a sort of a more applied route.” 

According to the proposal, students will learn theories and methods to understand and work within social and cultural contexts where health disparities emerge, to work with diverse communities, and analyze social systems, settings, and policies. 

The content could apply to a variety of research topics: gender-based violence, homelessness, mental health, and more. 

In fact, students in the Ph.D. program already take classroom material into diverse settings to practice what they’ve learned. 

Students have worked with professor Dionne Stephens, studying abroad in India, partnering with the Public Health Research Institute of India in Mysore, India. 

“They’ve worked with them on issues related to, health, equity and gender,” Eaton said.

Closer to home, students have done a variety of work as well. 

“We have students who’ve worked with Lotus House in Miami, Florida, which is the largest facility serving women and children experiencing homelessness in the nation,” Eaton said. “We have students working with Kristi House, which is a center serving primarily girls in recovery from sex trafficking” 

“It takes a long time to build relationships with these community organizations.” 

Students work with a variety of other groups, addressing issues like youth violence and LGBTQ+ advocacy. 

Though the master’s degree would include all of that same work, it’s part of a larger goal to serve students as much as possible through their graduate education and beyond. 

“We also just found that students who care deeply about social issues want to see their research turned to good accord in the communities they belong to and care about,” Eaton said. “That often means having an applied career where they work for the Department of Justice… they work for a tech firm to protect the privacy of users or they work for nonprofits.”  

Along with the addition of a master’s degree for doctoral students, Eaton added that they have a certificate open to anybody earning a Ph.D. in psychology. 

“You can be getting a clinical-focused degree and get the ASCP certificate, you can be getting a legal psychology-focused Ph.D., and earn the ASCP certificate,” said Eaton. “So there’s over 100 students for whom a certificate is an option to get on the side.” 

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