Artesia Williams is a student in the School Psychology Ph.D. program. She is conducting research on multicultural issues in school psychology. After traveling and living and working around the world, Williams brings her experience to her work. It shapes her perspective that school psychologists should consider culture and local experiences when working with students.
Q: What sparked your interest in a career as a school psychologist?
I was in a clinical medical psychology doctoral program, first. I enjoyed the program, but they made changes that forced me to consider whether clinical medical psychology was where I wanted to be. I looked at my previous work experience—I taught English in Japan and South Korea. I was a college admission counselor working with international and domestic students at a university in Georgia. I enjoyed that work and the time I spent working in schools. So a career in school psychology seemed like a natural next step. It tied my interest in psychology with my interest in the school setting.
Q: What brought you to the program here?
I appreciated how the School Psychology program focuses on diversity and multicultural issues. A lot of literature on psychological assessment mentions the ethnic and socioeconomic disparities in assessment scores. I wanted to learn more about that than what I was getting from textbooks and articles. Because Georgia State focuses on diversity issues, we would dive deeper than just acknowledging those disparities exist. I would have a chance to explore the foundations of those differences and have a chance to impact those differences and challenges.
Q: Tell me more about your research.
I’m interested in research that examines disparities in test scores and disciplinary practices along racial and socioeconomic lines. I’m working on a project with my adviser, Stephen Truscott called the MINRS program. MINRS trains school psychology students to become effective in working with high-need students who have not responded within the multi-tiered system of support in the schools. Future School Psychologists are trained to work with children from particular groups involving race, national origin, gender, age and disability. MINRS scholars participate in workshops to learn about different interventions and supervision methods and different ways to incorporate positive behavioral interventions and supports.
Another project I’m working on is with a fellow doctoral student who interviewed school psychologists in urban settings to explore what they think makes them effective in that environment. I’ve learned a lot about the importance of cultural competence from helping with this research.
Q: You’ve done a lot of traveling. How has that affected you as a student and a school psychologist?
So far, I’ve traveled to 20 countries. I taught in seven high schools on the eastern coast of Hokkaido, Japan. There, the schools were distinct from one another based on the ability levels of the students. One of the schools where I taught was for students with special needs. That was very different from anything I’d ever seen. The school system in South Korea where I worked was similar to U.S. school systems where inclusion is more common. By immersing myself in those different systems, I got a chance to see some of the positives and negatives of each of the systems and how they impact students and school personnel.
One thing that has stuck out to me in my travels is that we’re all human. We all have human motivations and needs, but our cultures can dictate or influence how we go about fulfilling those needs. That encourages me to think in a more ecological manner. When examining a student’s behavior or performance, I like to look at more than just test scores to understand what may be happening. I think it is important to consider how things like their classroom or school environment, peer interactions or family culture might impact how the student behaves or performs. Considering cultural issues can help shed some light onto what’s causing a student to under-perform or act out at school.
Q: What are your plans for the future as a school psychologist?
I am not sure yet what I want my future to look like as a school psychologist. I like that school psychologists have the option of a hybrid career that includes research, teaching and practice. I like the flexibility of it. I definitely want to keep researching and working on the disparity issues in school psychology. It’s a touchy issue that can be hard to navigate, but it’s so important. I wouldn’t want to stop working until I can make an impact on that aspect of the field.
Q: Have there been faculty or staff members at Georgia State that have been instrumental in your time here?
Stephen Truscott is my advisor. One thing I’ve learned so far that stands out to me the most is that I should shift my thinking away from simply pointing out the problem and marveling at it, to finding ways to fix the problem. Maybe that’s a developmental process that all doctoral students go through, but he really made it a point to teach me to strive to actually solve problems. That’s really shifted my approach to research.
Q: What advice do you have for someone wanting to pursue a career as a school psychologist?
School psychology right now, as does a lot of psychology, involves lots of assessments. I’d like to stress that there is value in thinking outside of the assessments, which might mean taking on a little bit of extra work. But it’s so important to look outside of a test score to see what’s going on with a child.
Q: What do you do for fun when you’re not at school?
I try to put in an effort to eat right and exercise in my free time, but sometimes Netflix takes over. I’m currently binging on a telenovela called “Celia.” It’s based on the life of Celia Cruz. It’s has a fantastic storyline and makes me want to learn more about Celia Cruz and learn more Spanish.
Also, I love music. In the past, creating music was something that was very therapeutic, so I’d like to get back to doing that more.
Q: Do you have a favorite quote or words to live by?
“Ichi-go ichi-e” is a Japanese expression that translates to “One time, one meaning.” To me, it means to take the time to stop and appreciate the beauty of a moment in life. It’s a phrase that reminds me to chill a little bit and live in the moment.