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Alvin Kuowei Tay, Ph.D.
Department of Counseling & Clinical Psychology
TC Faculty Host: Dr. Helen Verdeli
A visiting scholar from the University of New South Wales, Dr. Alvin Kuowei Tay brings extensive experience with refugees suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) to the Global Mental Health (GMH) Lab at Teachers College. Founded by Dr. Tay’s faculty host, Dr. Helen Verdeli, the Lab has worked for years with under-resourced populations in developing countries.
Dr. Tay was testing a novel psychosocial therapy he developed in Bangladesh with the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights (UNHCR) when he discovered the Lab through its work with Rohingya refugees fleeing persecution by Myanmar’s government. For the past three years, in collaboration with UNHC, the Lab has been evaluating the effectiveness of Interpersonal Psychotherapy (IPT) for refugees like the Rohingya. Now, Dr. Tay is contributing his expertise to the Lab’s work on sustainable mental health solutions for refugee populations. Even though he admits that there will probably never be enough mental health professionals to meet the needs of the world’s refugees, he believes this research is still critical to the ongoing effort.
Dr. Tay has always been interested in working with refugees, but how he planned to do so has changed significantly over the years. Having abandoned studies in law, he ended up pursuing a masters (in forensic/clinical psychology) followed by a doctorate in medicine (with a focus on psychiatric epidemiology) at the South-western Clinical School of the University of New South Wales. It was there that Dr. Tay began working with refugees from West Papua and Papua New Guinea. He also researched post-conflict mental health in East Timor, the site of genocide perpetrated by the Indonesian government prior to the country’s independence in 2002. Since then, Dr. Tay has been working in Bangladesh and Malaysia with refugees from the Rohingya, Chin, and Kachin ethnic groups. More recently, as a National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Australia Clinical Fellow, Dr. Tay devoted time to designing and leading epidemiological and clinical research studies, and testing adapted forms of psycho-social therapies in low-resource and emergency contexts based on the work he has conducted since 2014.
It was in Australia that Dr. Tay initiated his current course of study and work on global and refugee mental health. While writing reports for the immigration services in Australia as an expert psychologist, he witnessed how the process of seeking asylum can re-traumatize refugees. At a time when governments in wealthy nations are under tremendous popular pressure to keep migrant numbers low, asylum applicants come under a great deal of scrutiny by immigration officials. Oftentimes, refugees are forced to undergo repeated interrogations and hearings while awaiting final decisions in detention centers with very limited services and amenities. In addition, Immigration officials doggedly pursue discrepancies in applicants’ testimonies in order to justify deportation. However, many refugees suffer from memory problems triggered by the initial trauma of fleeing their home countries; these problems can make them more likely to make innocent mistakes during hearings. Adding to this, the records in the refugee’s home country may be incorrect, which may lead to misunderstandings during the testimonies. All of these factors play a major part not only in whether or not a refugee is deported, but also how the entire experience impacts the person going forward.
With these research experiences, it made sense then for Dr. Tay to seek out the GMH Lab. The Lab’s unique focus on mental health for displaced populations, as well as its dedication to addressing gaps in mental health resources for said populations drew Dr. Tay to Teachers College. “Dr. Verdeli’s Lab is one of the few labs that specifically focuses on mental health in developing countries [and] in post-conflict countries,” he explained. Refugee populations have experiences that span many different kinds of trauma.
Dr. Tay is in his second semester at Teachers College. In addition, he is working with the United Nations at their headquarters in Manhattan. He looks forward to taking more time to explore Teachers College and its programs before he returns to Australia.
By: Paulo Ribeiro & Blessing Nuga
Edited by: Bing Quek
Weidong Yang, Ph.D., Fumitake Fukui, Ph.D., Suhong Yang, Ph.D.
Offered through the CLP, the International Researchers Language Program (IRLP) offers two hybrid courses over eight weeks. These courses are designed to assist international scholars and researchers with advancing their academic communication and research skills; and facilitating their adjustment to academic culture in the USA. To learn more and register for spring 2019 courses, please visit the IRLP website.
Kelly Silverio, Ph.D.
Department of Biobehavioral Sciences
TC Faculty Host: Dr. Michelle Troche
Hello! Let’s start off with you telling me about yourself, and your affiliation with Teachers College (TC).
Thank you so much for this opportunity to talk about my life and my research at TC. I am from Bauru, Brazil; it’s a small university city with lots of students, and it is about four hours from São Paulo city. I am a speech, hearing, and language scientist and therapist, and a professor in the Speech, Language and Hearing Disorders Department, Dentistry Faculty of Bauru, at the University of São Paulo (Departamento de Fonoaudiologia da Faculdade de Odontologia de Bauru – Universidade de São Paulo). I teach voice disorders at the undergraduate and post-graduate levels. I am here at TC as a Visiting Scholar/Researcher to observe and study with the Upper Airway Dysfunction Lab to complement my learning and research in Brazil, with my research focusing on those with Parkinson’s disease. My TC faculty host is my mentor, Dr. Michelle Troche.
What originally made you interested in coming to TC?
I met Dr. Troche when she came to Brazil for a lecture at a conference in Bauru. We talked about my future research and ideas, and about the possibility of spending time with her to further my knowledge of Parkinson’s disease. And, TC is in New York City, a great place to spend time, learn new things, and open minds.
I’d love to hear about your work researching voice disorders, and cough and upper airway dysfunction in those with Parkinson’s disease.
Well, my research is about voice therapy in Parkinson’s disease. People with Parkinson’s disease often have complaints about speech and voice loudness – specifically because people cannot understand what they are saying. This is an important part of communication; people need to understand what you’re saying, right? Upper airway dysfunction is a part of the problem. So, we planned a clinical research study with “Tube Phonation,” that is offered by teletherapy. The participants receive the therapy through Facetime or Skype in their home and do exercises with the therapist. Before and after the treatment the participant goes to the Upper Airway Dysfunction laboratory to receive an assessment. The therapy’s goal is to improve laryngeal function and to work with the breathing muscles. The exercises are about making bubbles in water, in the context of specific phonation exercises. If we can make the breathing muscles and the larynx function better, we can improve voice loudness. That is our idea, and we need to test this hypothesis with research.
What inspired your interest in this research area?
All my life I’ve worked with voice disorders. I wanted to work with people with Parkinson’s disease to gain more information and to help improve treatment for people in Brazil. Telepractice is a new concept in speech therapy that we are starting in Brazil. Dr. Troche here at TC works in the area of Parkinson’s disease and more. She works with different kinds of treatment and assessments that help us to understand more about the behavior and the communication [of] people with neurological dysfunctions. When I go back to my country, I will be able to help more people.
What are the biggest challenges you’ve encountered doing this research?
Language is the biggest challenge here. I have a big support team in the Upper Airway Dysfunction lab, but the language is hard [for] me. But the participants are so kind and can understand me, which is great. I joke all [of] the time that they are my English teachers and this helps [make speaking] easier.
What are the most rewarding parts of your work?
The most rewarding part is observing participants improve their voices and [become] more confident about their communication and voices. It is nice to see, and they give me big smiles.
What do you hope to bring back to your students in São Paulo?
I hope to bring more knowledge about cough, upper airway dysfunction, and telepractice in people with Parkinson’s disease. I will encourage and inspire students to come here and study with Dr. Troche to learn more and more in this important area.
What are your future plans for this research?
I hope to start the same research in Brazil, in my university to learn more about voice, cough, and upper airway function in people with Parkinson’s disease. I hope that Dr. Troche and her team continue to support this research, too.
Is there anything we haven’t talked about that you’d like to discuss?
I just want to say thank you and that I appreciate being interviewed. I want to thank Dr. Troche for her support, for hosting me, and sharing with me her thoughts and knowledge, and thank TC for the support with documentation and activities here.
By: Tanwaporn Watanaporn
Editor: Blessing Nuga
Yuh-Jia Chen, Ph.D.
Department of Human Development | Measurement, Evaluation & Statistics Program
TC Faculty Host: Dr. James Corter
“If the risk averse and risk taking attitudes can be identified, insurance and investment companies can better predict behavior and from there, guide their clients to plan for retirement more effectively.”
With the hope of helping people make better and more rational and ethical decisions, particularly those related to finances, Dr. Yuh-Jia Chen, returned to Teachers College as a visiting scholar to research decision-making and business ethics with Dr. James Corter, Professor of Statistics and Education in the Human Development department. Mainly, Dr. Chen studied choice patterns in repeated-play conditions; do people change their risk preference over time and if so, how? Although the implications of his findings appear to be largely theoretically, he believes they are also useful in understanding how organizational cultures impact employees’ ethics and ethical behavior, money intelligence and money attitudes. “If the risk averse and risk taking attitudes can be identified, insurance and investment companies can better predict behavior and from there, guide their clients to plan for retirement more effectively.”
Money intelligence is an intrinsic component of daily life, and some would say an indispensable pillar of modern society. It determines why people go to work; what work they do and ultimately, how they survive financially. Even children are aware of its importance, albeit perhaps only marginally. But, how exactly do we develop this awareness? How do we grow to understand what money is and how to use it? According to Dr. Chen, understanding how money intelligence influences behavior can also inform why people make irrational choices with it. For example, in spite of the odds, when given a hundred chances and the option of winning $100 10% of the time or $10 90% of the time, people do not pick the same option each time. Instead they go back and forth about equally. Dr. Chen proposes that understanding the rationale of how people allocate their choice options is a step towards understanding how to help them make more rational decisions.
Dr. Chen’s interest in business ethics and decision-making stems from a diverse academic background that dates back to his time as a master’s student in TC’s own Organizational Psychology program. It was while writing his thesis on decision-making that he began making connections to a larger picture. Although understanding how individuals and organizations think is essential to decision-making, he also realized that he needed to understand data modeling. This curiosity culminated in a master’s degree in statistics and then a doctorate in measurement and evaluation in 2001. When asked about his TC experience, Dr. Chen eagerly shared anecdotes of his time attending classes, toiling over papers and interacting with instructors who are now his colleagues. “I love TC. It has a unique and wonderful culture that makes people very comfortable to learn and grow. TC creates a good energy and environment that [allows me] to conduct good research.”
Dr. Chen plans to publish his findings and then return to teaching at Palm Beach Atlantic University in Florida where he holds a full professorship. He also hopes to continue pursuing this line of research. He can be reached via e-mail.
By: Blessing Nuga
Eli Vinokur, Ph.D.
Department of Arts & Humanities | Philosophy & Education Program
TC Faculty Host: Dr. David Hansen
“In order to fix education, you need to fix people’s attitudes towards one another. Education is more than learning; it is the atmosphere and interactions that allow for authentic, autonomous self-transformation.”
Dr. Eli Vinokur is a visiting scholar in the department of Arts and Humanities. Born in St. Petersburg, Dr. Eli Vinokur received his BA in Jewish Philosophy and Jewish History (Ofakim Honors program) and his MA in Jewish Philosophy from Tel Aviv University. After some time as a secondary school teacher of Jewish philosophy and culture, he went on to receive his PhD in education from the University of Haifa.
Dr. Vinokur’s research focuses on education toward “rooted cosmopolitanism.” Cosmopolitanism is a concept that dates back to ancient Greek civilization, but according to Dr. Vinokur is present in all cultures and religions (his own research traces the roots of cosmopolitanism in Judaism, and in Kabbalah in particular). It is the idea that human beings, regardless of race, religion or nationality, belong to a single community grounded in a shared morality. Education toward rooted cosmopolitanism expands on this ideology by focusing on the viable ways to bridge the gap between the often-sublime ideals of cosmopolitanism and the concrete, real-world aspirations of local education systems. According to Dr. Vinokur, in light of contemporary educational challenges, there is a pressing need to tackle the “otherness” that is so often present in our immediate and remote relationships. Thus, the type of education he hopes to foster is one which “will cultivate care, respect and mutual responsibility for others, inside and beyond national, religious, racial etc., borders….”
A vital component of the “educational cosmopolitanism” Dr. Vinokur envisions is the focus on education, rather than on information. Nowadays, information is so accessible that students can be carriers of knowledge no less than teachers, if properly taught to do so. Thus, educators today need not only be carriers of knowledge who can communicate it to students in new and original ways, but also, and no less importantly they have to become facilitators of positive social processes. The challenge educators face today is generating such an atmosphere in class that will allow students to develop the capability to interact with one another and to form deep and meaningful relationships inside and outside of class, despite and without annulling disagreements and differences. The cultivation of such a civic virtue is made more difficult by current financial, cultural, political and inter-religious trends that place value on opinions that are not necessarily wholesome or beneficial to society. These trends, Dr. Vinokur proposes, jeopardize the future of society because they condition people to treat themselves and others in ways contrary to the spirit of cosmopolitanism—the spirit of global collaboration.
Even so, rooted in Dr. Vinokur’s research is a message of hope and perseverance. Although today’s situation may be difficult, he believes it is also rife with opportunity simply because people inherently understand that things are wrong and they want things to change for the better. Moreover, today’s interconnected and interdependent reality is practically forcing us to recalculate our direction and choose a path of greater cooperation and unity. This change begins with instilling a stronger sense of solidarity, locally and globally, in everyone—not only children. It is for this very reason that he chose to complete his visiting term at Teachers College, an institution he believes is at the forefront of this transformation.
In addition to being a prolific researcher, Dr. Vinokur is also the director of the teacher preparation program for future repatriates to Israel from Russian speaking countries at the Gordon College of Education in conjunction with the Masa Israel program at the Jewish agency. Additionally, four years ago he co-initiated a unique bachelor’s and master’s program for social leaders at the University of Haifa. A longtime dream of Dr. Vinokur’s, this social leaders preparation program works with teenage and adult social activists to cultivate the philosophical and practical tools they need to rekindle and foster in their communities a vision of unity and mutual care between all members of Israeli society. Dr. Vinokur is the author of two popular books and numerous articles. He is the recipient of fellowships and awards from the Wolf Foundation, the Mandel Foundation and both Tel Aviv University and the University of Haifa to name a few. He is currently a teaching fellow at the University of Haifa, the Max Stern Yezreel Valley College and the Israel Academic College in Ramat Gan as well as a member of the research group on Spirituality in Education at the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute.
He can be reached at email@example.com
By: Blessing Nuga