A five-year grant of more than $3.5 million to SUNY Oswego from the U.S. Department of Education aims to fill pressing needs in the field of school psychology while helping diversify the profession.

The Cultivating Representation in School Psychology (CRISP) Initiative funds tuition and fellowships for students, which include a paid internship and guaranteed professional placement with valued partners the Syracuse City School District. 

Project principal investigators Michelle Storie, assistant professor of counseling and school psychology and the coordinator of its school psychology program, and Laura Spenceley, dean of the School of Education, emphasized the importance of the grant in this initiative that is so important to schoolchildren.

“In 2021, National Association of School Psychologists surveyed current practitioners and found that 87.5% identify as female and 86% identify as white; these data highlight the immediate and glaring need to improve representation across school-based mental health care providers,” they wrote in their grant proposal.

“Representation is important in schools,” Spenceley said. "There is a lot of data that if students see somebody who looks like they might have walked in their shoes, they can better mark connections and are more likely to succeed.”

“There is a nationwide shortage in school psychology and that’s very much felt in this area,” Storie said. “It’s critical that we find folks interested in going into school psychology and can meet that need.”

SUNY Oswego’s school psychology program has found success, but program organizers realize that more students are needed to fill the gap.

“We have 100 percent job placement of students in our program and we still can’t meet the demand,” Storie said. “Annually, we see probably about 25 positions in the region for eight graduating students, so we can’t meet the needs of even e Central New York area.”

Impressive benefits

The fellowship provides a full tuition scholarship, a graduate assistantship with a $35,000 stipend, dedicated placements in the Syracuse City School District, supervisory and mentorship opportunities and support to engage with the professional community as a graduate student. Participating students will have a fully-funded internship in the Syracuse district with the opportunity for immediate employment in the district following graduation. 

For its first round of fellows, the program has succeeded in recruiting male students, and an emphasis going forward will be on increasing racial diversity.

CRISP fellow Jared Cucinotta started in psychology with an interest in helping others, and learning about psychological assessments, data-driven decision-making and other opportunities fostered the interest in school psychology.

“I thought, this is great –- I can help people and I can still be analytical and use science and math to inform my decisions,” Cucinotta said. “A lot of what we do is gather data to make decisions about how to help special education students. That's a huge part of what we do. And I thought, ‘this is so great and involves all my interests, and I get paid to do it like. How cool is that?’”

For graduate school, SUNY Oswego stood out as a great value, allowing him to stay close to family and allowing him to work with professors such as Storie.

“It's the most affordable way to stay home and make this goal happen,” Cucinotta noted, adding that the pipeline Oswego created with SCSD was appealing, since his mother and grandmother have worked in the district.

“This fellowship is about creating a partnership with the Syracuse City School District because the fellowship is helping students, but also the Syracuse City district is helping us by giving a fully paid internship to anyone who goes there,” Cucinotta said. 

‘Exciting opportunity’

Cucinotta is already doing a practicum in the district and looking forward to the paid fellowship placement of 10 hours per week this fall.

“This fellowship is such an exciting opportunity for anybody who wants to get involved with school psychology right now,” Cucinotta said. “There's a mental health crisis in the country, and a component of that is that we don't have enough people going into the field. There is a shortage of school psychologists, and we need more people to enter the field, and I'm really proud of our program for taking the time to look at what groups of people who aren't being met.”

Another CRISP fellow, Marcus Lombardo, entered the school psychology program to help a wide range of people, which this support will enhance.

“We’re committed to doing our practicum and internship both in the Syracuse City School District because this is a partnership with them, they are a high-needs school district,” Lombardo said. “After we graduate, we will commit to working in that school district for at least a couple of years.”

The fellows are all interested in issues like equity, school safety and providing accessibility, as well as the goal of bringing a wider perspective into the field.

“It’s going to make it possible for us to increase diversity in the field of school psychology in the program,” Lombardo noted. “We’ll be able to figure out how to address DEI, increase awareness and build understanding for professionals in the future.”

Currently a graduate assistant with Storie, Lombardo is developing a podcast talking about and spreading awareness of school psychology. It dovetails with Oswego’s program being forward-thinking and solutions-based.

“We’re reaching out to local undergraduate institutions to publicize these opportunities,” Lombardo said. “I also think the fellowship will not just be good for the people who have it, but for others in the program. I want to bring other people in the program whenever we can so that it benefits not just the people in the fellowship but all of us.”

CRISP fellow Nathaniel Cronk was a human development major as an Oswego undergraduate who, at his core, really wanted to help people. When a faculty member made him aware of the school psychology field, he quickly realized this was a path he wanted to choose.

“I always felt like there was a way I could help students that I didn’t know about,” Cronk recalled. “I felt so often when I was younger I didn’t always see my own potential so I wanted kids to learn about their own potential.”

Sense of security

Going to a high-needs school is especially appealing, as is the fellowship’s ability to support Cronk’s goals.

“This fellowship is giving me a sense of security,” Cronk said. “As a first-generation student, there’s always a feeling of failure. I’m doing this for myself and my family and for the younger members of my family to prove you can keep moving forward. It guarantees a job, an internship, a future. It lets me focus on the now.”

For the internship this fall, “I’m ready to really get in there and start building my own path and what being a school psychologist means to me,” Cronk said.

“What’s really exciting about it for me is that because we’re the first cohort of fellows, we’re able to craft it for what we want to see for the future,” Lombardo said. “We’ll be figuring out what’s best for us and for the program.”

“I say, anybody who is a male, a racial minority, who's thought about going into the field, this is a sign,” Cucinotta said. “This is your time to enter the field. It couldn't get better than this.”

“The opportunity to receive funding like this removes barriers and also allows them to say yes to lean into this kind of program,” Spenceley said. “We think it’s really going to enhance the comprehensiveness of the program by helping them be part of these opportunities. It’s truly life-changing, this level of support.”

For more information about CRISP or the school psychology graduate program, email michelle.storie@oswego.edu.