Feature Article

President's message

Remembering and acknowledging our mentors.

By Harvey Sterns

Let me begin by thanking Sara Czaja and Bill Haley for their great collaboration on Div. 20 leadership. I am looking forward to working with Sara and with president-elect Manfred Diehl during the coming year. Also I want to express my appreciation to all of you who have accepted the role of officer, committee leadership or volunteer in specific roles on behalf of the division.

At the business meeting in Toronto, Denise Park received the 2015 Mentorship Award. Reading the letters from her nominators, it was apparent the important role that mentors play in our professional lives. The other nominees for this award also had great letters as well. This made me think about the great mentors that I have had over the years including Paul Baltes, Warner Schaie, James Birren and Jack Botwinick. However, the person who was most influential in my becoming a psychologist with an interest in aging was Irene M. Hulicka. I share her as a mentor with Sara Czaja and Susan Whitbourne among others. When Irene died last year, the three of us discussed how to honor her. This is a first step in honoring a great gerontological leader in psychology.

Irene Mackintosh Hulicka was president of Div. 20 in 1981-82. In the APA Centennial Album for Div. 20 from 1992, she wrote “Long standing interest in education relevant to adult and late-life development was heightened by the Boulder conference on training psychologists to work with the aged” (June 1981). She contributed a chapter to the APA book based on the conference. That same year, a book “Teaching Undergraduate Courses in Adult Development & Aging” by Hulicka and Whitbourne was published. In this same time period, APA approved plans for a new journal Psychology and Aging.

In J.E. Birren and J.F. Schroots (Eds.) (2000) “A history of geropsychology in autobiography,” Hulicka writes about how nepotism rules at University of Oklahoma and later at the University of Buffalo at the time made it impossible to have a tenure track position if her husband had one at the same institution. With the move to Buffalo, Irene eventually joined the Veterans Administration Medical Center and became a psychologist with the medical service. She was a member of a special aging research network within the national VA network. She went on to become chair of the department of psychology at D'Youville College and the chair of psychology at State University College and then dean of natural and social sciences. After her retirement, she continued to have a clinical practice in Buffalo.

In December of 1965, I finished a double major in biology and psychology at Bard College. My wife and I had just gotten married in November, and we decided to move to Buffalo to be near her parents. My plan was to apply to the graduate program in psychology at the State University of New York at Buffalo. As I was making my application, I was told about a potential opportunity as a research assistant with Hulicka at the VA. During my interview with Irene, it came out that I had had statistics with one of her former students from Oklahoma, and though she was looking for a graduate assistant, she decided to give this newly graduated undergraduate a job. I immediately became involved in memory intervention research with older adults doing some of the earliest work on understanding and improving older adult mediational strategies.

The next fall, I began my master's work at UB. During my masters, I developed a severe case of test anxiety. It was Irene who helped me find a therapist and encouraged me to take some time to solve this problem. While I was completing my master's work, I had a national teaching fellowship at Villa Maria College teaching child development, psychology of adjustment and intro psych. This led to my interest in combining child development and aging. It was at her suggestion in 1967 that I applied to a new program in life-span psychology at West Virginia University being started by her former colleague K. Warner Schaie. In fall of 1968, I joined the doctoral program at WVU. I had additional educational experiences in the summer program at USC in 1969 and at Penn State in 1970. Paul Baltes was my dissertation advisor with Warner Schaie and John Nesselroade as members of my graduate faculty.

Why the long story? I want to share how important a mentor can be in shaping someone's professional life. I am certain that, if I had not had the encounter with Irene over fifty years ago, I would not have had the rewarding career that I have had. I'm sure that Sara and Sue have great stories to tell and perhaps they can share as well.

All of us need to think about how we can support our undergraduate and graduate students as well as past students and, when appropriate, take on the role of mentor. I hope all of us will encourage our colleagues and students to join together and take advantage of what Div. 20 can offer.