International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies

New Student Section Representatives Already Making Their Mark

Posted 1 May 2008 by Heidi La Bash - University of Nevada, Reno

Joanna Legerski and Lynnnette Averill stepped into their new roles as chair and vice chair of the ISTSS Student Section in November 2007. Wasting no time, they have already made great strides towards their three primarily goals: to increase opportunity, growth, and community. They hope that success in these areas will increase student satisfaction, drive up future participation, and allow for the continued development and strengthening of not only the student section but also of the entire Society.

Formation of the Student Section Committee

The first step Legerski and Averill have taken towards these goals is the formation of an ISTSS Student Section Committee. Legerski explains, “We would like to see more students becoming involved in the fabric of ISTSS and in day-to-day decision-making.”

Averill continues, “…[I]t is important to have diverse input and ideas when brainstorming the best ways to improve on and expand the Student Section… Additionally, several students expressed interest in being involved with the Section and I think Joanna and I wanted to encourage this in any way we could.”

How can the Student Section Committee provide opportunities for growth for students? Legerski elaborates, “Although we are now students, very soon we will be professionals seeking jobs and post-doctoral opportunities, so I think we have a lot to offer each other in terms of emotional support, encouragement, and networking. My perception is mainly influenced by my own experience such that even though I am by nature very shy, if I am assigned a task on a committee I have a reason to talk to others and participate. Therefore, we are working hard to create opportunities within ISTSS to help students contribute if they have the time and desire.” 

Student Section Web site expansion
Legerski and Averill hope to increase community and connection by expanding the Student Section Webpage on the ISTSS website.

Legerski states, “Our primary goal this year is to make the Student Section Webpage more dynamic with posted articles of interest, updated training sites, and ongoing dialogue on student issues…. I want to know what students really think about trauma in clinical practice, in research and in other applications of trauma-related work. What are they excited about? What would they like to see changed? Do students see a conflict with how traumatic stress is defined in the DSM or ICD?...We are hoping to make this site accessible to all students regardless of their availability to attend the Annual Meetings. I know the Student Section has been historically focused on psychology students - but I would like social workers, medical students, mental health professionals, public health students, student journalists, etc. feel comfortable participating on a greater level within the ISTSS Student Section. We need to broaden our scope and provide opportunities for students to speak out as to what they want and need from ISTSS.” 

Welcoming committee and increased networking opportunities at the Annual Meeting
In addition to electronic networking possibilities on the Student Section Webpage, Legerski and Averill are working hard to facilitate these types of enriching connections for student attendees at the 2008 Annual Meeting in Chicago, IL.

For example, they are exploring the establishment of a student welcoming committee. All would be welcome, but the group would be primarily aimed at first-time attendees and those attending without peers from their institutions. Legerski explains, “There were a few years when I came to Annual Meetings without a research team or mentor and I really had to be brave and make an effort to talk to people. I would like more opportunities at ISTSS for students to mingle with each other and learn about the projects they are involved in.”

Toward this end, Legerski and Averill are planning to organize either an informal dinner or cocktail hour in which interested students may “gather for meeting, greeting, and general merriment.” Averill states, “The student luncheon provides some opportunity to network with one another but has a set agenda. The dinner would be casual and informal, serving as a way for students to get to know one another a bit better.”

During the student luncheon, Legerski and Averill are planning for tables to be designated by research/clinical interests so students focusing on a particular topic, childhood trauma for example, will be able to meet other students and professionals with an opportunity to network. Legerski notes, “We listened to students’ comments that they were having difficultly in meeting professionals at ISTSS Annual Meetings. Therefore, we are attempting to create a situation where students can identify professionals that share their same interests and these experts in their field may offer mentorship and encouragement. In addition, we hope students will have a chance to meet other students who share their interests. It is our hope that student collaborations and peer mentorship will also occur.” 

Other Annual Meeting activities and plans
The Student Luncheon is an excellent time to engage in dialogue with Legerski, Averill, and other peers about goals, expectations, and changes you would like to see in ISTSS.

The annual internship/post-doc networking fair will follow the luncheon. Averill notes, “I am hoping to have a record number of training sites in attendance this year as well as a record level of student participation at this event.” Averill encourages students to contact her if there are specific sites they would like to see represented at the fair.

Legerski and Averiall also hope to continue the tradition of student-focused presentations at the Annual Meeting. Please look for more details on student-focused presentations in future StressPoints issues!

As for other Meeting goals, Legerski states, “I would like to see more students become actively involved in ISTSS both at Annual Meetings presenting their research as well as students participating on committees throughout the year. I would like to see more non-US students attending Annual Meetings, and serving on committees, and interacting through the Student Section Webpage. Lastly, I would like the student luncheon at the Annual Meetings to be free…I can hope anyway.” 

Legerski and Averill on being new student chairs
Legerski and Averill are both enjoying their new positions. Legerski explains, “Participating in ISTSS helps me keep up to date of issues regarding traumatic stress. I'm really interested to see what types of changes may be made in DSM-V about trauma and PTSD. Involvement in ISTSS gives me a reason to talk to others about trauma as I enjoy the community of members who share the same interest in traumatic stress. Due to my shyness I would probably like to sink into the background if possible, becoming involved in ISTSS student leadership helps me interact one-on-one and learn from other students and professionals.”

She continues, “I took a big chance talking to faculty and researchers that I greatly admired my first year of ISTSS. I found many that were welcoming and encouraged my student and professional progress. Admittedly, it was scary approaching others that I only knew by reputation, but I grew a lot from their interest in me. I would like to see all students feel welcomed and accepted at ISTSS Annual Meetings.”

Averill agrees, “I was also attracted to the opportunity to meet and interact with other student and professional members in a potentially more meaningful and impactful way. Additionally, coming from an area with little ISTSS representation and membership, I wanted to have a chance to broaden access and visibility of ISTSS so that other students would have the opportunity to participate in this great community.” 

Final comments
Legerski and Averill are working hard to re-energize the Student Section and create new opportunities for students to collaborate with one another.

Averill states, “I hope that student and professional members alike will continue to take an active role in the student section--you are the reason the student section is great and the reason we can make it even better!”

She continues, “If we can create a climate within the society that supports these values [connection and collaboration], we can truly progress toward the ultimate goal of becoming a strong, cohesive, Community (with a capital "C"). By bringing the society's membership closer together we will improve our ability to work together, to attract new members, increase participation in the conference as well as other activities throughout the year, and even more importantly to make even more significant strides in the field of trauma stress.”

When I ask if they have any final comments, Legerski says, “We certainly are eager to hear from students and hope we can meet their needs. There is more that we would like to do, but these are our primary goals that we hope to accomplish during our first year in this position.” It seems to me like they are off to an excellent start. 

Meet the chair and co-chair
Joanna Legerski is a 4th year clinical psychology PhD student at The University of Montana - Missoula. Joanna first became a member of ISTSS in 2003, while a research assistant at Columbia University/New York State Office of Mental Health. At that time, she was working with Kimberly Hoagwood on a 9/11 multi-site child trauma treatment project in New York City. Currently, Joanna is a student of Chris Fiore and researches rural issues pertaining to service delivery barriers and family violence. Joanna's clinical work is located in a rural community mental health center treating children and adult individuals with serious emotional and behavioral disorders. Whenever she has a free moment, Joanna enjoys horseback riding in the Bitterroot Mountains.

Lynnnette Averill is a 3rd year clinical psychology PhD student at The University of Utah. She first joined ISTSS in 2005 and experienced her first Annual Meeting in Hollywood in 2006 and was hooked! It was at this meeting she also had the fortuitous opportunity to meet Dr. Mark Creamer with whom she will be working next year at the Australian Centre for Posttraumatic Mental Health in Melbourne on a Fulbright Scholarship. Lynette is currently finishing up her thesis with Dr. Takuya Minami on the effectiveness of Dialectical Behavior Therapy as a treatment method for male veterans with PTSD. When she is taking time off from being a self-described "psych geek," Lynette likes to spend time with her husband and dog, read novels, and attend cultural events.