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Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership

Psychological Insight and Life-Changing Research: A 75-Year Legacy

Four years ago, Neelam Prashad entered City College with the goal of earning a business degree. “After one psychology course, Prashad, a senior, recalls, “I found my calling.” Now the 21-year-old native of Guyana is racing to finish her undergraduate honors thesis and two research posters, and contemplating plans to earn a Ph.D in the field. More than forty years ago, Don Meichenbaum entered City College planning to become an engineer. Meichenbaum, who went on to become a founder of cognitive therapy, also found his life’s work in psychology. 

Like others before and after them, Prashad and Meichenbaum felt the pull of a department with a deeply dedicated faculty and an illustrious past—one that spans seventy-five years. To celebrate this legacy, the Colin Powell School has hosted a yearlong series of lectures, alumni events, and other activities. The celebration will culminate on June 5 with a conference that spotlights the ongoing social mission of the department. “The Social World and the Meaning of the Message: A 75th Anniversary Celebration of the Psychology Department at the Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership at the City College of New York” will take place in the Great Hall of Shepard Hall, from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., on the City College campus. 

The conference will include a keynote address by Drew Westen, author of The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation, and two panels, one of which will examine the social effects of racial bias and discrimination. It will feature Anderson J. Franklin, a distinguished psychologist who is the Honorable David S. Nelson Professional Chair at Boston College and whose research considers psychological resilience and the impact of stereotypes and invisibility on African Americans. The panel’s focus is, in part, a tribute to the work of Kenneth Clark, the first tenured African-American professor at City College, and a past president of the American Psychological Association. Clark and his wife, Mamie, carried out the now-famous doll studies, which revealed the pernicious effects of segregation on children. In striking down the “separate but equal” doctrine in the Brown v. Board decision sixty years ago, Chief Justice Earl Warren specifically cited their work.

Kenneth Clark (pictured above) and his wife, Mamie, demonstrated through dolls society's destructive impact on the identities of black children. (Courtesy: LOC.gov)

Speakers from events earlier in the year include aforementioned CCNY alumnus Don Meichenbaum, who delivered a galvanizing discussion at the University Club in midtown Manhattan on “Bolstering Resilience in "High-Risk" Children and Their Families: Ways to Close the Inequality Gap.” Other guests included Columbia University’s Jack Pula, M.D., on “A Transgender Psychiatrist’s Journey of Personal and Professional Transition” and Usha Tummala‐Narra, Ph.D., of Boston College’s Department of Counseling, Developmental, and Educational Psychology, Tummala-Narra discussed psychoanalytic cultural competence. 

Notably, said Paul Wachtel, a distinguished professor of psychology at the Colin Powell School, the 75th anniversary of the department is also a celebration of the first year of the department being part of the Colin Powell School. “The school’s mission is about the way social science can be brought to bear on the pressing problems of the world, and that is exactly what this department has been about from the time of Kenneth Clark on,” Dr. Wachtel said.

Similarly, the celebration underscores the department’s past and ongoing commitment to its students, added Robert Melara, chair of the department. Throughout its history, the department’s program nurtured some of the country’s premier psychologists. This emphasis continues today with growing numbers of students participating in field work, attending conferences, and working with faculty in their research labs.

“During the past year, I’ve become more keenly aware of the responsibility we bear for the success of our students after they leave our beautiful campus,” Dr. Melara said. “When I arrived in 2007, one in twelve graduates of City College was a psychology major; today that number is one in six. We must work diligently to better prepare our graduates to reach their career goals.”

It’s a goal, Prashad would argue, that faculty are already meeting. As she says, “They’re not only there for you in terms of academic success," she says. "They’re there for mentoring and guidance, and my peers and I have found this to be very helpful.”