Alvin Thomas

“I’m most excited about the prospect of taking on new students in the coming years. I’m looking forward to providing the same type of support I received for the next generation of scholars.”

While pursuing his PhD in Clinical Psychology at the University of Michigan and preparing to start his clinical internship, Dr. Alvin Thomas found himself at a difficult crossroad. He was facing at least one, potentially two, summers without funding and logistical challenges that would make his internship year almost impossible. As an international student from St. Lucia, very few funding opportunities were available to him, as grants were typically based on federal funding. With his family in the Caribbean and the possibility of no summer funding, he felt hopeless. Not only would he struggle to pay rent and cover living expenses, but he also faced transportation expenses since his clinical internships would require traveling back and forth multiple times a day from Ypsilanti to Ann Arbor. “There was no way I could travel back and forth by bus and not be late for every one of my clients,” Dr. Thomas said. 

When his advisor Dr. Laura Kohn-Wood suggested he apply for a scholarship at the Center for the Education of Women, Dr. Thomas was in disbelief. “I told her, this says ‘Center for the Education of Women’– I can’t apply for that! There’s no way I would get that. She said the worst thing they can do is tell me no. So to appease her, I applied.” When Dr. Thomas opened a letter from the Center, he was shocked to see the letter contained not a rejection, but news that he had been awarded a scholarship. Dr. Thomas, now a trailblazer in his research, also blazed the trail as the first male CEW+ Scholar.

“As stressful as that year got, I could not imagine if I had not received my scholarship. I literally would not have been able to survive,” Dr. Thomas expressed. While his scholarship allowed him to pursue his clinical internship, it also instilled in him a sense of confidence. “After getting that ‘crazy’ scholarship from CEW+, I thought if that could work – anything could. That was the biggest lesson.” With his newfound belief in potential made possible, he applied for and received a Rackham grant that allowed him to pilot a short-term intervention program with Caribbean juvenile boys and juvenile delinquents in his home country, St. Lucia. 

Today, Dr. Thomas is an Assistant Professor in the department of Human Development and Family Studies at the School of Human Ecology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Visiting Scholar at Center on Poverty and Social Policy at Columbia University as part of U.S. Collaborative of Poverty Centers. His research focuses on positive youth development and youth risk factors and risk communication, youth violence, and positive outcomes from father engagement with their children’s therapy and social issues, specifically with African American men and boys. “I look at factors such as social media use, violence, interactions with the police and exposure to violence in neighborhoods or in schools, and examine how these factors can show up as potential risks for African American boys and can reduce academic achievement and engagement while increasing violence, anxiety and trauma,” Dr. Thomas explained. “Parents can attenuate that by engaging in very specific risk communication with their children and engaging in racial socialization, especially for African American boys.” 

Throughout his academic career, Dr. Thomas has encountered senior colleagues and collaborators who have helped him navigate academia’s route as a scholar of color and international student. As he starts his tenure at University of Wisconsin-Madison, Dr. Thomas looks forward to aiding the next generation of scholars of color and first-generation academics as they navigate minefields and search for paths of support. “I’m most excited about the prospect of taking on new students in the coming years,” Dr. Thomas shared. “I’m looking forward to providing the same type of support I received for the next generation of scholars.”


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