Featured Early Career Professional

A Div. 36 success story: An interview with Anna Harper, PhD

Early career professional Anna Harper discusses how being a Div. 36 student member has helped her and encourages other students to get involved.

By Steffany J. Homolka, Anna Harper, PhD, and Thomas J. Coleman, III

We know how awesome a resource Div. 36 can be for students (see Div. 36 Student Opportunities and Programs in this issue of the newsletter), but do not take our word for it. So, how might involvement with the division translate into a real-life success story, from grad student to faculty member? We reached out to Anna Harper, PhD, former Div. 36 APAGS student co-representative and assistant professor at Southern Nazarene University, to find out what she thinks about Div. 36, how she benefited from her student involvement within the division and what she would recommend to Div. 36 students now.

Steffany J. Homolka: Please briefly describe yourself.

Anna Harper: I am a newly minted early career professional, having completed my PhD in clinical psychology at Bowling Green State University in 2015. I live in the Oklahroma City area with my husband and am happily engaged in my work as an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology and Counseling at Southern Nazarene University (SNU). I am pursuing the elusive balance of teaching, research and practice. At SNU, we are particularly interested in the integration of psychology and Christian theology, both in research and practice.

Homolka: How did you get involved in Div. 36? Why?

Harper: I originally became involved at the recommendation of my faculty advisor, Dr. Annette Mahoney, who envisioned Div. 36 as a place where I could find a home as a student and a scholar. She encouraged me in my decision to apply for a position as APAGS student co-representative to build relationships with others in the Div. 36 community.

Homolka: How would you describe your experience within the division? (Was it everything you expected it to be?)

Harper: I have found Div. 36 to be a very hospitable place for students. Particularly over the past several years, the division has made great strides in offering key resources to student affiliates, creating numerous avenues for students to present their research and generating spaces for conversations among students and mentors about the psychology of religion and spirituality. It is an exciting time for the division.

Homolka: What are the long-term benefits of being involved in Div. 36 as a student?

Harper: Students who become involved in Div. 36 find a home among scholars and practitioners who are interested in the psychology of religion and spirituality. I have enjoyed the diversity in backgrounds and interests among Div. 36 members and student affiliates. The Div. 36 midyear conference and APA hospitality suite have become places to catch up with friends and esteemed colleagues who enrich the field. One key benefit to students is the accessibility of some of the field's great researchers, who have been more than happy to dialogue with students via informal mentoring. The student research awards, poster awards, Div. 36 journal, Listservs, social networking, leadership opportunities and graduate school list are just a few of the means through which Div. 36 students are nurtured.

Homolka: As an early career professional who was involved in Div. 36 as a student, what would your advice be to students in Div. 36?

Harper: I would encourage Div. 36 students to seek out friendship and mentorship in the division. It is never too early to become invested. In fact, we have undergraduate students who have decided to become involved and who have gained valuable experience in the process. It is easy as a student to begin spreading oneself too thin, and this habit can be difficult to break. On the other hand, getting connected to a community of scholars is crucial to a student's development. If Div. 36 seems to be a good fit for your interests, go ahead and dive in. You will reap more from investing greatly in a few key enterprises than in affiliating loosely with many. I have found Div. 36 to be an organization worthy of investment.

Homolka: Any hopes or dreams for where the division or the field in general are headed?

Harper: My hope is that Div. 36 will continue to be a hospitable place for all who are interested in the science and practice of the psychology of religion and spirituality, including sages and students. I am encouraged to see students and early career professionals who are interested in leading and investing time into the division. We are, after all, the future of the field. Additionally, I hope that we will continue making meaningful connections with other APA divisions, knowing that we have much to offer and much to learn as we collaborate together.

Homolka: Any other tips for Div. 36 student affiliates?

Harper: My number one recommendation is certainly not a novel one, but it deserves being reiterated. Get involved. I have been deeply enriched by meeting new people through Div. 36 and investing in the well-being of the division. While serving as APAGS co-representative with Steffany Homolka, my greatest wish was to see more students engage in the process of imagining and guiding the direction of Div. 36 student programming. Over the past few years, I have seen student involvement make a large, beneficial difference in the way Div. 36 has been able to support student scholars and practitioners.

About the Authors

Thomas J. Coleman IIIThomas J. Coleman III is a graduate student in the research psychology master's program at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and director of the Ralph W. Hood Jr. Psychology of Religion Laboratory. He is an assistant editor for the journal Secularism & Nonreligion and a managing editor for  The Religious Studies Project. His interests span research in psychological anthropology, the cognitive sciences and philosophy of science, focusing on theory of mind and folk psychology. Coleman recently co-edited a special issue of the journal Science, Religion & Culture titled “Atheism, Secularity, and Science” with John R. Shook and Ralph W. Hood.


Anna (Hawley) Harper, PhDAnna (Hawley) Harper, PhD, joined the faculty of Southern Nazarene University in 2015, after completing her PhD in clinical psychology at Bowling Green State University. Harper's research and clinical interests include relational spirituality (i.e., intersections of interpersonal relationships and religion/spirituality), couples and family relationships, emerging adulthood, stress-related growth and decline, spiritually integrated psychotherapy and Acceptance & Commitment Therapy.


Steffany J. Homolka, MASteffany J. Homolka, MA (Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinois), MA (Case Western Reserve University), is a fifth-year doctoral candidate in Case Western Reserve University's clinical psychology PhD program, child and family track, where she works with Julie J. Exline, PhD, investigating religious and spiritual struggles among youth. She will be completing her internship at SUNY Upstate Medical University and graduating in August 2017. Homolka has greatly enjoyed her service as the Div. 36 APAGS student co-representative (August 2012-July 2016) and hopes to continue her passion to educate, serve and advocate for others and the psychology of religion/spirituality field through academia, research, clinical work and consultation.