American Psychological Association Honors UAlbany Professor of Psychology for Training Ethnic Minority Psychologists

ALBANY, N.Y.  (July 9, 2012) – University at Albany Professor of Psychology Jeanette Altarriba has been selected to receive the American Psychological Association’s 2012 Minority Fellowship Program’s Dalmas A. Taylor Award for her outstanding contributions to teaching and training ethnic minority psychologists. The award presentation will be at the American Psychological Association Convention in Orlando, Fla., on August 3.

UAlbany Professor of Psychology Jeanette Altarriba

'Giving back' is important to UAlbany Professor of Psychology Jeanette Altarriba. (Photo by Mark Schmidt)  

Altarriba studies how the bilingual brain processes language and switches from one language to another. She was chosen based on the accomplishments of her students who have careers as psychologists and have made their own contributions to ethnic minority mental health.

“One of the most rewarding parts of my career has been to stimulate and motivate students of color to achieve their goals, to overcome any obstacles that they have experienced or are currently experiencing, and to move forward towards a life that is meaningful and fulfilling, both personally and professionally,” said Altarriba, who is bilingual in Spanish and English and grew up in multicultural Miami. Her background is Cuban.

Altarriba joined the UAlbany faculty in 1992 as assistant professor of psychology and was promoted to full professor in 2004. She is chair of the UAlbany Department of Communication and chair-elect of the Department of Psychology.  Altarriba is also affiliated with the Department of Latin American, Caribbean, and U.S. Latino Studies, as well as with the Linguistics and Cognitive Science programs.

“The notion of ‘giving back’ has been very important to me as a Hispanic psychologist. I strive to offer the same momentum and energy to students who are, for the first time, seeing the possibilities that can unfold. It is indeed a rare honor and pleasure to be part of these students’ lives, and it has been one of the most meaningful aspects of my career to date,” said Altarriba. Altarriba has worked with Azara Santiago-Rivera, Ph.D., on pioneering the field of bilingual therapy and how the brain works when people switch from one language to another. Their work is presented at regional, national, and international venues.

Altarriba Honor Reflected in Her Students’ Success

Altarriba clearly had an impact on UAlbany alumna Francelina Morillo ’10.

“There are people who come into your life and change it forever,” said Morillo, a native of the Dominican Republic who trained as a research assistant in Altarriba’s Cognition and Language Laboratory. “Through their successes they unwittingly give you a sense of accomplishment and power -- power to do what others dare not. Dr. Altarriba has been this person for me.”

By her example, Altarriba helped Morillo envision a career for herself as a successful psychologist.

“Being part of an underrepresented group, I struggled to find a role model in my field,” said Morillo, who resides in Albany and is applying her training as a psychologist to the field of medicine as she pursues a career in psychiatry. “I longed to encounter someone who came from a background similar to mine and was able to accomplish a career that seemed outside of their reach. As a Latina, Dr. Altarriba served as an example that someday, I could impact the world of psychology.”

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