Dr. Elizabeth Ruiz Selected for Fulbright to Sri Lanka
It’s a wonderful opportunity to be in on the ground floor of establishing a department, and helping to further the recognition of psychology as a discipline in Sri Lanka.
Ruiz’s project, “Teaching at the University of Colombo: Contributing to the Growth of Psychology in Sri Lanka,” will involve spending several months teaching in the country’s capital and largest city, helping to develop an undergraduate degree program in psychology, contributing to the graduate programs, and training faculty. The project will be completed during the 2017–2018 academic year.
This project could have deep and lasting social and cultural benefits for Sri Lanka. Psychology is not established as a discipline in the country, creating a lack of mental health services in a nation with an elevated need for them. Twenty-six years of civil war and the devastation of the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami have left a wake of psychological trauma that isn’t being addressed by the medical establishment.
Ruiz characterized the situation. “As in many developing countries, there is an incredible stigma regarding mental health issues. And the change in attitude has a lot to do with becoming more modernized, and the idea that, yes, there are mental health issues, a lot of our people are suffering from them, and they really need help. So they’ve gotten to the point where they recognize that. But a lot of the culture still comes from the place where beliefs in mental health issues aren’t the same that we have now.
“They have only a few undergraduate psychology departments in Sri Lanka, and no graduate programs to train clinicians. The person at the University of Colombo who’s spurring the project, Dr. Gameela Samarasinghe, is a Fulbright recipient herself, so she came to the U.S. to study, and received her doctorate from France—because of course Sri Lanka doesn’t have any doctoral programs in psychology—and she has to teach in the Sociology department.”
“GSU was instrumental in preparing me for this, in a number of ways,” Ruiz said. “In 2010, I went to Guangzhou, China, to work with students there who were planning to come to the U.S. and study at GSU. I spent almost three months there and it was a transformative experience. Then I submitted a sabbatical proposal that was accepted, and the following year I returned to Guangzhou, to a different university there, and spent four months doing research.
“And then in 2012, I went to a global conference on psychology in New York, to present that research, and attended a seminar on the Fulbright program. That got me started thinking about it seriously, and right after that is when Jennifer Morehead Farmer, Director of GSU’s Office of Sponsored Programs and Research, started coming around to talk to faculty about the opportunity, and that was the encouragement I needed to decide I really wanted to do it.”
As a side note to other faculty who might be thinking of applying, Ruiz observed that persistence is necessary—she was declined for an award the first time she applied.
Dr. Andrea Evans, Dean of the College of Education at GSU, said, “This is such a distinguished honor for Dr. Ruiz and, on behalf of the university, we are proud that she is a member of our community. I am also personally very honored by and proud of her achievement.”
Looking forward to receiving the Fulbright grant and beginning the project, Ruiz said, “It’s a wonderful opportunity to be in on the ground floor of establishing a department, and helping to further the recognition of psychology as a discipline in Sri Lanka.”