By Dan Edelen
When students need a listening ear, Alberto Luna ’08 is there. Luna is a fourth-year Ph.D. candidate and supplemental instruction supervisor in the school of psychology at University of Arizona, where he completed his master’s in 2010. He has also served as program developer for the honors college Xtreme Discovery Teams and as a Summer of Excellence graduate coordinator for two years.
“I do assessments, clinical interviews, reports, consultations with teachers and parents, therapy, and counseling, among other services,” says Luna, who uses the skills he obtained as a psychology and English major every day.
“I wanted to be part of the psychology field in a way that allowed me to have a direct impact on young people and their academic and socio-emotional well-being,” he says. “School psychology was the answer. My dissertation seeks to identify predictive factors in motivation for postsecondary students with learning disabilities.”
Luna cites his research on attrition, which shows that up to 34 percent of learning-disabled students drop out of high school. Even those who do make it to college leave early 11 percent more often than their peers.
“I hope to learn the factors needed to increase these students’ low motivation, particularly intrinsic motivation, that would lead to academic success in college and degree attainment,” he says.
Personal experience as a Posse Foundation Scholar at Lafayette bolstered Luna’s desire to reach young people who face educational, societal, and cultural challenges.
“Culturally competent school psychologists are needed, as are role models for these students,” he says. “Students of color are disproportionately overrepresented in special education, which indicates that school psychologists are needed to provide better services and make more accurate diagnoses for these students who may or may not be placed in special education incorrectly.”
An interest in the needs of multicultural students began at Lafayette.
“When I was part of the intercultural development office, I worked on Intercultural Horizons, a student-led magazine with research-based articles in the area of cultural diversity,” he recalls. For this and his other diversity work, Luna twice won the David A. Portlock Cross-Cultural Relationships Award.
Luna was also mentored by several faculty and staff members. Rosie Bukics, Jones Professor of Economics, shared how to embrace opportunities, Alix Ohlin, associate professor of English, supported Luna’s co-founding of W.O.R.D.S. (Writing Organization Reaching Dynamic Students), and Alan Childs, professor of psychology, opened Luna’s eyes to the benefits of psychology. In addition, Michael Benitez, former director of intercultural affairs, Amber Zuber, associate director, Landis Community Outreach Center, and Robert Allan, associate professor of psychology, helped Luna focus on the direction for his future.
Though still on track to pursue a career as a school psychologist, Luna keeps his attention on the task at hand.
“The most challenging aspect of my research and studies is staying current,” he says. “I track the historical aspect of theory and research, as well as the most recent empirical data that supports the use of specific newly designed interventions and strategies for different populations. It’s all part of the investigation process, which makes it fun as well as challenging…finding the best way to help students be the best they can be.”