Department of Psychology Spring 2017 Newsletter

Department of Psychology Spring 2017 Newsletter

Welcome! We are excited to introduce the Spring Edition of our newsletter for the Department of Psychology at APU. In this edition, you’ll get key updates about new programs and research in our department, find out more about news at our regional centers, and read an interview with Charity Vasquez about our new Master’s of Science in Child Life. We value staying in touch with you. Please let us know what you are up to by emailing:

Happy reading,

Dr. Priscila Diaz-Castaneda & Dr. William Whitney


Leo Chavez is awarded National Science Foundation Graduate Fellowship!

Leo Jimenez Chavez started at APU in fall 2016 as part of the first cohort of students in the MS in Research Psychology and Data Analytics program. He joined the lab of cognitive neuroscientist and research psychologist Dr. Teresa Pegors and took on the lab’s first virtual reality (VR) research project as his thesis work. The VR project aims to assess physiological markers of restorativeness during immersion in natural and urban VR environments. Last fall, Leo applied to PhD programs and also submitted an application for the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program fellowship, a prestigious fellowship that supports promising graduate students in STEM-related fields. This spring, Leo received word that he had been awarded the fellowship! His receiving of the fellowship led to a number of PhD admission offers, and in April, Leo accepted admission into the Ph.D. program in Psychological and Brain Sciences program with an emphasis in Neuroscience and Behavior at the University of California, Santa Barbara. In the fall, he will start his research there in the sub-field of neuropsychopharmacology, researching the effects of adolescent binge drinking on neurological development. Furthermore, Leo will be exploring the biological underpinnings of psychiatric disorders related to addiction in adolescent rats. Congratulations Leo!

Rebekah Guerra Receives University Servant Leader Award!

The Servant Leadership Award honors two students who have demonstrated exemplary service through academic courses, within the university, the community and internationally. The award program established in 2003 was created by the Barney II/Moore Foundation and currently funded under the Berdena Ruth Scholarship Fund. Recipients receive a $1200 educational award and $200 donation to an agency of the recipient’s choosing as part of the recognition process. Rebekah Guerra, a graduating psychology senior, was nominated and elected for this award. Her servant leader roles are many including volunteer experiences at a food bank ministry and being an action team leader on short term mission trips. Her various mission trips have led her to work with low income individuals in urban San Francisco, help deliver medical services to an underserved rural indigenous population in Ecuador and implement public health education curriculum in the Dominican Republic. Her nominators have described her as “a humble, hardworking, dedicated student” ready to roll up her sleeves to help others. And one simple description from her nominators was “Rebekah listens.” Through her simple act of listening she responds empathetically to provide healing solutions for others. We are very proud of the impact one of our majors has accomplished and appreciate her involvement in serving others. Congratulations Rebekah!

Psychology Club Wins Academic Club of the Year!

Communiversity held an award ceremony for this year’s Clubs and Organizations on the APU campus. Psychology Club was recognized as the Best Academic Club based on a continual engagement with students on campus regarding the discipline of psychology. The club presidents this past year were Beth Padini (pictured above, second right) and Tricia Dubin. This past year, Psychology Club has consistently held events for socializing, educating and serving. Members have served on campus by organizing puppy therapy events, graduate school informational sessions, professional guest speaker panels and brain awareness week. Members have also served in the community by participating in the 8th grade majors fair where students exposed middle school students to the field of psychology. Psychology Club hopes to continue to flourish and advance the knowledge of the discipline on campus and beyond! Congratulations Psychology Club!


APU’s High Desert Regional Campus (HDRC) continues to support the High Desert community with a Christ centered learning environment. This year the Bachelor completion program in psychology was successfully launched, and the HDRC is now looking forward to the future to expand their program with additional Behavioral Science Degrees.

Here are a few highlights:

Kandyce Harmon (Pictured Above-Top), Bachelor of Arts in Psychology (Professional Undergraduate), was elected the Regional Campus and Online Representative for the Graduate Professional Student Government Association GPSGA.

Featured above is Aileen Cuevas (left) who was the winner of the Alaska Federal Credit Union Future Leader Scholarship. She is standing with Sharlyn Ruyan (right), the Area Vice President of Alaska Credit Union. Mrs. Cuevas was awarded on behalf of Alaska Credit Union and the High Desert Education Consortium (HDEC). Cuevas is a Para-educator at Granite Hills High School who is currently pursuing her Bachelor's in Psychology. She plans to graduate in December of 2017 and then continue on with APU to obtain he Master’s Degree to become a school psychologist. The High Desert Consortium is a partnership of universities, colleges and organizations interested in promoting higher education the local neighborhood of APU’s regional High Desert campus. The mission of the HDEC is to promote a higher education culture that results in individuals reaching career goals, supporting the economic development of the High Desert, and operate as an organization that encourages our educators.

Also pictured above is “Soul Quest” which is a spiritual care ministry of APU’s graduate and professional students that offers intentional community building for students to integrate their spiritual journey with vocational growth. Soul Quest supports Christ- centered education with particular concern for spiritual formation of students.


Charity Vasquez, M.S., CCLS answers a few questions about the Masters of Science Child Life program.

1. What is the MS in Child Life, and what makes it unique?

MS in Child Life will prepare students towards a specialized role in working with children and families in times of stress as a Certified Child Life Specialist (CCLS). Certified Child Life Specialists (CCLS) are allied health care professionals who support infants, children and adolescents and their families facing challenging circumstances such as hospitalization, illness, and disability. The role of a CCLS is unique because CCLS, based on child development knowledge, addresses the whole child and practices family centered care approach while addressing psychosocial needs in hospitals or non-hospital settings. CCLS normalizes the healthcare environment for children, encourages self-expressions, supports normal growth and development, facilitates grief processes and helps children understand medical conditions and procedures, including parents and siblings during interventions. CCLS provides educational supportive services and therapeutic interventions to reduce fear, anxiety and pain, thus maximizing coping skills.

2. What gets you excited about Child Life as a career?

The field itself gets me excited as a career. The desire to work in healthcare setting with children and being an advocate as well as a support system in such setting was the reason I pursued this career. The progression of the field from when I started to where it is now is an exciting road. I am looking forward to being a part of the students’ journey.

3. What have been some of your personal experiences as a CCLS?

Being a CCLS myself for many years in clinical settings at hospital settings doing direct and non-direct patient care itself shaped me to be who I am in academia and a practitioner in the field. Through my direct clinical experiences with children and families, I was encouraged to further my career by applying myself in various management roles advocating for these families and teaching about such roles in college/universities. It’s an honor to be given opportunities to serve these children and their families during various stressful and challenging situations. I feel that being a CCLS is not just a career but also a mission I was given. This path I follow is the way I can integrate faith by doing the work God wants me to do with children and families.

4. How have you seen this career contribute to the Kingdom of God?

Working with children, I am often reminded of scriptures discussed in several books when the disciples rebuked the children from approaching Jesus and Jesus said “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it. And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.” — Mark 10:13-16. In Matthew 18:1-5, when the disciples ask Jesus who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, Jesus replied “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.” Those to me are the essence of why I do what I do as a CCLS.

5. Who should apply?

Students who are interested in working with children and families in healthcare and trauma settings, including those facing stressful situations. Anyone who is interested in educating families and advocating for children.

6. What is the advantage for current students or alumni to look into this program?

• Flexibility scheduling - Evening classes, full and part-time options, rolling admissions

• Housed in the Department of Psychology, which emphasizes research and therapeutic skills

• Supportive faculty mentors and availability of faculty

• 18 months completion time saving time and money

• International practicum experiences option

• Seniors have an opportunity to take up to 3 graduate courses during their senior year towards MS in Child Life program…..saving money and time

• Graduate application waived for APU students and potential discounts for tuition (depending on available funds)

7. What else should we know about the MS in Child Life?

The field of CL is progressing and it’s an exciting adventure. Consider our MS in Child Life program! If students are interested in working with children/families, consider this as their field of study. We’re here to help prepare students for this field, whether in healthcare settings or non-hospital settings working with children and families. Contact me,, for questions or learn more about the field of Child Life and the roles of Child Life Specialists.


Welcome New M.S. in Child Life Faculty!

APU’s department of psychology is launching its brand new M.S. in Child Life in the Fall of 2017. We’d like to introduce you to our outstanding new faculty who will be teaching and directing the program. To find out more about the M.S. in Child Life see our exclusive interview with Charity Vasquez: click here

Charity Vasquez M.S., CCLS

Charity Vasquez, born in Burma, became a Southern California native at age 12 when her family moved to the United States. Her interest in healthcare and children led her to pursue a career as a Certified Child Life Specialist. She has been in the field of Child Life since 1998 and received her Bachelor of Science with emphasis in Child Life and Master of Science degree in Child Development both from University of La Verne. She functioned as a Certified Child Life Specialist (CCLS) since 2000 with hospitalized children and their families both at a Children’s Hospital and Medical Center settings with career advancement in leadership roles including more than 6 years in management role as Child Life Manager at University of California Irvine Medical Center. She joined Azusa Pacific University in 2017 as Program Director of M.S. in Child Life, implementing and developing the graduate degree program. While working as Child Life Manager at University of California Irvine Medical Center, she also received a grant to develop a Perinatal/Neonatal Palliative program and became the Coordinator of that program named Paloma Comfort Care Program. In addition, she Chaired Women & Children’s Bereavement committee and NICU Family Advisory Care Team committee. In addition to her years of experiences as Certified Child Life Specialist, she has accumulated more than 16 years of college teaching experiences at various 2- and 4- year colleges and universities teaching child life and child development related courses to undergraduate and graduate level students. Her research interests are in infant mental health and the effects of healthcare stressors on infants/toddlers and implications on their growth and development.

Tanya Barclay, M.S., CCLS

Tanya Barclay is a child life specialist with a clinical focus. She received her B.A. in Theology and Pastoral/Youth Ministry from Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota and her M.S. in Child Life from the University of La Verne, where she later taught the “Effects of Disease and Injury on the Hospitalized Child” class. During her work as a child life specialist over the past 14 years, Mrs. Barclay created successful one-person child life programs at two different hospitals. As a one-person child life program, she gained valuable experience in program development and management while maintaining her clinical skills by working directly with patients and families. Mrs. Barclay’s expertise is in the acute care setting for pediatric patients, adolescent trauma patients, disaster, and working with children of adult patients. She has presented on various topics as they relate to children and the healthcare setting, including: non-pharmacological pain management, grief and loss, asthma and the pediatric patient, infant massage, pediatric coping, and mental health needs for children during disasters. Her work, in collaboration with other mental health professionals, has been published in the American Journal of Disaster Medicine. She is excited to develop the M.S. in Child Life program and work with APU students who are called to this ministry.


Highlighted Research in Psychology Department

What difference does the APU experience make in a student’s spiritual life? Can it be measured? Working with University Advancement and the Athletic Department, Dr. Matthew Heller is beginning a longitudinal survey of APU student athletes in Fall 2017. The study will measure precursors and outcomes of spiritual maturation and is projected to follow students for up to four years, examining a basket of potentially influential variables. One of the questions Dr. Heller hopes to address the role of consistent spiritual disciplines (e.g., Bible reading, prayer) in the development of godly character of students. Lauren Rietkerk, a 2017 APU graduate, is assisting with the project. To see more on Dr. Heller's research, go to


Did you know?

We have a Psychology Department website that posts announcements, scholarships and job postings relevant to you!