Psychology Professors Provide Academic Support to University in Puerto Rico

Professor Aileen Torres

Tens of thousands of people in Puerto Rico continue to struggle after the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria. While donations of food, water and clothing are being collected by most humanitarian groups looking to lend a hand, William Paterson University is helping in a different way.

Under the leadership of psychology professor Aileen Torres, a group of eight professors on campus are coming together to support graduate students in the department of clinical psychology at Carlos Albizu University, which has campuses in San Juan and Mayaguez, Puerto Rico.

The Albizu students are applying to internships on the mainland through the Association of Psychology Postdoctoral and Internship Centers (APPIC). The national application process – with an October deadline for the most competitive posts and November/December for others – requires three essays, in addition to a CV and cover letter. However, emergency conditions and a lack of electricity and Internet access continues to affect much of Puerto Rico. The students, as a result, are having a difficult time communicating with faculty mentors as they prepare their application packages. That’s where William Paterson’s team comes in.

Each volunteer from William Paterson will be matched with one or two Albizu students in need, reviewing all of their APPIC documentation and providing feedback as necessary. Many of the Albizu students, Torres says, learned English as a second language, making the in-English application process all the more stressful for them.

Torres earned both her master’s and PhD at Albizu, and still keeps in touch with students and faculty at her alma mater. When she heard of their struggles and learned the clinical psychology students were not being granted an application extension from APPIC, she rallied colleagues here.

“Carlos Albizu University in Puerto Rico is my second home. I visit the island every year and own a home there,” Torres says. “It broke my heart to hear the conscientious students feel like the hurricane not only destroyed their homes but also their chances to complete their degrees. My husband was on the ground there fixing generators as part of the humanitarian aid, but I felt like I had little to offer. After talking with Samuel Ocasio and Maite Lasaga, two graduate students at Albizu, we were able to coordinate this small effort.”

Compiling a list of students in need, she says, has been difficult given the current communication hurdles in Puerto Rico. Torres did research and found some Internet accessible areas on the Island, pointing Albizu staff and students to such. Still, she says, emails from them are sporadic.

Classes at both Puerto Rico campuses resumed on a modified schedule on October 10, after more than three weeks’ closure. Accommodations are being made for staff and students still dealing with emergency situations, and according to the institution’s Facebook page, commencement has been postponed until further notice.