Donald McAleer Nominated as Outstanding Advocacy Leader

"As a first-year doctoral student, I had the pleasure of meeting with Dr. McAleer as he visited my doctoral program in Pennsylvania as part of his agenda to promote participation in PPA during his tenure as the president.  That meeting had a great impact on my career and kicked off my own work within PPA.” — Anonymous

Since 1992, Donald McAleer, PsyD, ABPP, has held various positions in the Pennsylvania Psychological Association (PPA) governance. During his presidential year (2001-2002), he worked with others to enfranchise the doctoral students of Pennsylvania, drawing them into the larger professional organization.  Together they formed the Pennsylvania Psychological Association of Graduates Students (PPAGS), a student organization that bolsters the advocacy and leadership skills of its members and winner of the 2004 APAGS/CAPP/Division 31 SPTA Award.

The PPAGS elected representative has full voting privileges on the board of directors. Unlike in most other SPTAs, PPAGS members have full voting privileges for all elected PPA governance positions.

Some of this column’s readers may be muttering “madness, madness” at this point. How is it possible to govern a psychological association that is elected by graduate students, among other members of the electorate?

McAleer convinced PPA that it would persevere. In fact, it is one of the few SPTAs that has increased its membership since his presidency. PPAGS has grown to be a vital group within PPA, particularly during the past four years. Currently PPAGS has 430 members. Retention of students has averaged about 60 percent since 2006. Many of its former student members become professional members after graduation. For example, PPA has registered 70 new members since July 1, 2013, of which 47 were students.

Student involvement throughout PPA has increased mentoring and the development of its students as future leaders of the association: “Students have infused the organization with their enthusiasm and have challenged PPA to become more relevant for them,” said McAleer.

This initiative seemed critical to McAleer as he reflected on SPTAs “having to create advocacy identities among psychologists as they don the trappings of our profession.” As he said, “Rarely are students taught in school to be advocates for their clients and their profession. Our psychological associations teach our members to convey the value of what we do to regulatory and legislative representatives. We demystify the advocacy process to our members and help them rise above their fears.”

It took patience and several years of discussion within the organization to help PPA leadership and membership realize that full student involvement is a boon for the organization rather than a threat.  McAleer visited 12 doctoral programs in Pennsylvania during his presidential year to talk about the future of psychology and to build a grass roots advocacy effort for greater inclusion. Coming away from those experiences, he formed the strategy to convince PPA membership of the idea of full franchise:  As he said, “The students’ enthusiasm was so infectious — I took the Tom Sawyer approach from the students — I sure do enjoy being a part of this profession and this organization.  Really students are our future.  I addressed any unrealistic fears within the organization by talking about the enthusiasm we needed to harness.” Articles in the PPA newsletter extolled his experiences with students.

Building on the work of two prior presidents, momentum within PPA grew. Exploratory committees provided detail work behind the scenes to ready the membership for a bylaws vote. In the end, “members saw students as the lifeblood of our organization. Even though we knew many would leave our state after training, we reveled in the knowledge that they would be more likely to join other SPTAs,” McAleer said.