SP Corner

Beyond the classroom: Extracurricular training for graduate students

Excellent opportunities that lie outside academic programs often go unnoticed.

By Jennifer M. Cooper and David O. L. Cheng

There is no doubt that as graduate students we are busy. Whether just beginning, or in the process of finishing, your program, we often find ourselves spread thin during the months of September to May. When looking at our calendars for winter and summer breaks, students may benefit from adding in non-traditional enrichment experiences within the field of psychology. It's no secret that time management is a vital skill that graduate students often must master in order to be successful (Mayrath, 2008). While time management is essential for students to successfully get from September to May in one healthy piece, time management skills can also be applied to the times students do not have course requirements.

As graduate students, our academic curricula provide us with the essentials to succeed as future school psychologists. However, excellent opportunities that lie outside of our academic programs often go unnoticed. While students are understandably protective of their vacation time, many opportunities are offered during these times, which can add value to a student's skills and knowledge base. Following in the footsteps of our professors, graduate students may seek to utilize our winter and summer breaks as opportunities to make progress on research and/or expand our competencies. Some of our most successful professors rely on these break periods to take steps forward on their research projects, manuscripts, book chapters, and research grants. As students, we can use this time to be just as productive in our own capacities. Research fellowships and training programs serve as excellent ways to make the most of our “down time” and are discussed in more detail below to highlight some of the professional development opportunities currently available for graduate students in school psychology.

Research Fellowships

Whether helping professors and/ or mentors with existing projects, or developing one's own study, intersessions may serve as excellent opportunities for students to get research experience in a more manageable time schedule. Rather than potentially overloading ourselves with a research project during a semester, students should look to budget time during breaks in order to make progress on these projects. While many research fellowships are year-long commitments, some opportunities may exist during academic breaks.

Check with your department

Students should first inquire with their faculty regarding the possibility of research fellowships. Some programs may allot additional funding for research fellowships for graduate students to help faculty on existing projects. If this is a possibility for you, it represents an excellent chance to not only get great experience working on a research project, but for you to familiarize yourself with your faculty and explore potential interests in a similar topic. If your university offers summer courses for graduate students, faculty members may be able to provide tuition waivers in exchange for your work as a research fellow.

Apply for established research fellowships

Academic departments are not the only institutions that see the value of graduate students being involved in research. Large research labs/ organizations often seek graduate students for summer opportunities (i.e., Children's Summer Treatment Program). These opportunities are especially advantageous for students who have established research experience. If you are aware of faculty members that publish frequently within your area of interest, you should inquire with these individuals/groups regarding potential research opportunities.

Go Independent

Although students should first explore options for fellowships, these opportunities are not always available or realistic. If that is the case, take it upon yourself to pursue independent study of the topic of your interest. Whether it be background research for a thesis or dissertation, or designing a completely new study, staying active and focused over intersessions will help progress your academic career and allow for more time to be devoted to your academic courses once the semester is under way.

Training Programs

Academic breaks during the winter and summer months offer an ideal time for graduate students to engage in a variety of training programs. Excellent opportunities lie in expanding a student's experience with a specific population and/ or increasing one's cultural competence (e.g., long-standing international programs exist in Ecuador, India, and Mexico to name a few). Improving one's cultural competence has numerous benefits for both students and practitioners, allowing each to break down potential barriers and reach their full potential in working with one another (Whaley & Davis, 2007; Zhou, Siu, & Xin, 2009). Training programs that include both educational and experiential components can serve as invaluable experiences for graduate students interested in professional growth and development. One of the most difficult obstacles regarding these summer training programs is successfully locating them in order to meet deadlines. Therefore, this article is intended to highlight several training programs and share resources to raise awareness within the school psychology graduate student community.

University sponsored/limited programs

One potential barrier in identifying exemplary summer programs is the fact that some are coordinated through university departments, and therefore limited only to the matriculated students of that university (i.e., Chapman University's travel courses to Guatemala, Cambodia, and Vietnam, University of Nebraska-Lincoln's study abroad program in Costa Rica, or St. John's University's Vietnam Initiative). These experiences combine immersion experiences in different cultures with academic courses for credit, further enhancing their tangible value to students. Whether it takes the form of a study abroad program or a research/training opportunity, these university-sponsored programs are likely to act as springboards for graduate students to build on their own research and professional interests.

Programs open to the public

If you are not so fortunate to have an intersession training program offered through your university, fear not, there are programs that are open to the public. These programs offer a wide range of wonderful training experiences and allow students to connect and network with other graduate students from different parts of the United States or from around the world.

Stay Informed - Join email list

Finding training programs that would be advantageous for school psychology students is not always an easy task, which is why it is important to stay connected to the field. Joining local and nationallevel organizations and staying up-todate on the opportunities available is of critical importance for graduate students. Staying connected during winter and summer months is no different. Just as these times offer students an ideal time period to conduct research and hone their professional knowledge and skills, they also can be used to research and apply to various training programs.

A Selected Listing of Training Opportunities (in alphabetical order)

The following information should serve only as a sample of the myriad of experiences available to students. These programs were selected given their relevance for graduate students in school psychology. While some of the application deadlines have passed for the current year, the authors' intent was to share this information now to help interested students to plan for upcoming years. We encourage students to continue searching for opportunities to remain active in the field and to discover the extra-curricular training programs that may offer the type of experiences best suited to your individual skill-sets and personalized training and research aspirations.

Children's Summer Treatment Program (STP)
The Children's Summer Treatment Program (STP) for children with ADHD and related impairments has been in existence for more than 30 years, most recently through the Center for Children and Families at Florida International University since 2010. Positions are available for students who are interested in working with children in Pre- Kindergarten, elementary, and adolescent age groups. Positions are available for lead counselors, counselors, teachers, and classroom aides. Application Deadline: Rolling admissions.

Ecuador Professional Preparation Program (EPPP)
Offering both a Four-Week Cultural Immersion Experience and a 10-day Cultural Boost, EPPP is offered to practicing psychologists, as well as graduate students in psychology and education. Located primarily in Quito, Ecuador, participants work in either a school or public agency setting providing psychological services to the surrounding community. The program also offers the opportunity to live with a traditional host family, individual language instruction, as well as weekly group supervision and academic lectures. Participants also engage in a community service project in collaboration with a local school that serves children working to provide support for their families while pursuing their education. Application Deadline: March 15, 2013.

India Cultural Immersion Program 
Offered by Alliant International University, this opportunity takes students on a ten-day trip to India in the beginning of January. Along with taking their “Mental Health Perspectives in India” course, participants visit multiple communities in and surrounding Chennai, India. Aside from gaining introductory Tamil language skills, participants attend both cultural and professional lectures. Application Deadline: September 1, 2012.

Latino Mental Health Research Training Program through USC
Dr. Steven Lopez at USC's Department of Psychology, Dr. Carmen Lara at the Benemérita Universidad Autónoma de Puebla (BUAP) in México, and colleagues at the Instituto Nacional de Psiquiatria (INP), USC, UCLA, University of Oregon and California State University at San Bernadino have established an 11-week summer research training program designed to prepare undergraduate and graduate level researchers to address disparities in mental health care of U.S. Latinos with serious mental illness. The program includes a one-week training seminar at USC, and a 10-week training program at the BUAP Medical School in Puebla México or at the INP. Application Deadline: February 1, 2013.

Mexico City Immersion Program
The Counseling Psychology Program at Alliant International University's Mexico City campus invites undergraduate psychology students, graduate students in a mental health training program, or graduates of a mental health training program. This program runs from the end of June to beginning of August and is designed and implemented on five educational pillars: Critical Pedagogy; Liberation Psychology; A Self of the Therapist Focus; A Pointillism Approach to Culture; and Spanish Language Training for Mental Health Workers. Academic courses are also offered in combination with a 5-week online coursework component. Application Deadline: March 15, 2013.


Mayrath, M. C. (2008). Attributions of productive authors in educational psychology journals. Educational Psychology Review, 20(1), 41-56.

Whaley, A. L., & Davis, K. E. (2007). Cultural competence and evidence-based practice in mental health services: A complementary perspective. American Psychologist, 62(6), 563–574.

Zhou, Z., Siu, C. R., & Xin, T. (2009). Promoting cultural competence in counseling Asian American children and adolescents. Psychology In The Schools, 46(3), 290- 298.