When Joseph G. Ponterotto, Ph.D., was working on his doctoral degree at the University of California at Santa Barbara, he found a mentor in Jesus Manuel Casas, Ph.D., a specialist in counseling and cross-cultural psychology and one of the first Mexican Americans to receive a Ph.D. in the United States. The mentoring experience, Ponterotto said, was deeply influential on both a personal and professional level.
“Without a good connection to a mentor,” said Ponterotto, “There is a good chance you may not finish your Ph.D. You are working with someone very closely and it is a critical variable in completing a program, and in working in the field thereafter.”
Ponterotto, professor of education and coordinator of Fordham’s Mental Health Counseling Program at the Lincoln Center campus, completed his Ph.D. in 1985 and has mentored 31 doctoral students in his teaching career. On Feb. 16, he received the 17th annual Janet E. Helms Award for Mentoring and Scholarship from Columbia University’s Teachers College, at a ceremony at Columbia University. It is a recognition for which he feels “deeply honored and touched.”
“Helms was a pioneer in the field of multicultural psychology,” he said. “My work and this award is a reflection of a cohesive, student-centered graduate program [at Fordham], one in which we all work together, teach together and publish together. Therefore, I want to acknowledge my colleagues with the award.” Ponterotto also dedicated the award to his mentor, Casas.
Ponterotto’s area of expertise is in multicultural counseling, a field that makes psychology more accessible to minority populations. Using its current applications, Ponterotto said psychology loses effectiveness across the cultural divide.
“In many immigrant populations, the idea of psychology is foreign,” he said. “ They might call it healing, or spiritual ritual, as opposed to what traditional psychology refers to as ‘talk therapy.’ We try to look at psychology from Eastern, African, South American, and Native American Indian points of view.”
In addition to mentoring, the Helms Award recognizes scholarship: Ponterotto has co-authored or co-edited ten books on multicultural psychology, and has published in scores of peer-reviewed journals. His newest book, Preventing Prejudice: A Guide for Counselors, Educators and Parents (Sage Publications, 2006), is widely acclaimed and was released simultaneously on three continents (North America, Europe, and Asia). His latest area of scholarship explores a new construct called the “multicultural personality,” a set of distinct personality traits that predict adjustment to multicultural environments.
Fordham’s counseling program offers two master’s degree programs and a doctoral program, and enrolls some 170 students. The program falls under the Division of Psychological & Educational Services, and is part of the Graduate School of Education. Calling the program “highly competitive,” Ponterotto said that “students come to our program from all over the world because of our multicultural strengths.”
“In the last 20 years we have become one of the premier counseling psychology programs in North America, one recognized for our research and publications in multicultural psychology,” he said, adding that many doctoral students have published multiple articles in premier research journals by the time they graduate.
Ponterotto recently received a Bene Merenti Medal for his 20 years of service at Fordham.