A view from
APA congressional fellows shape — and are
shaped by — the policymaking process.
BY DR. NIDA CORRY AND MICAH HASKELL-HOEHL
When this year’s farm bill was being drafted in the Senate, psychologist Tiffany M. Griffin, PhD, drew from her knowledge of social disparities
and intergroup dynamics to evaluate how the bill’s nutrition-
related provisions might impact lower-income communities.
In another congressional office, psychologist Valarie
Molaison, PhD, weighed in on bills related to Food and Drug
Administration (FDA) safety and domestic violence. These are
only a few of the policy issues that Griffin and Molaison focused
on during their APA congressional fellowships.
For more than 38 years, the APA Congressional Fellowship
Program has offered psychologists an opportunity to work
in congressional offices or as committee staff for one year. In
these placements, fellows learn about federal policymaking and
congressional operations and, in turn, empower legislators to
utilize psychological expertise that may improve public policy.
“APA congressional fellows have participated in the
development of key health and social policies, ranging from
funding psychological research and training programs to
improving access to quality mental health care for America’s
most vulnerable populations,” says Diane Elmore, PhD, MPH,
who co-directs the APA Congressional Fellowship Program and
served as a 2004–05 APA congressional fellow.
The 2011–12 APA congressional fellows share their
experiences on Capitol Hill:
In the office of Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.)
Griffin obtained her PhD in social psychology from the University
of Michigan and, before moving to Washington, served as a
postdoctoral fellow at the University of North Carolina at Chapel
Hill. She came to the APA fellowship with award-winning research
experience in the areas of health and educational disparities and
policy experience at the National Poverty Center.
“In ways that I could not have imagined, my social
psychology training has been a major asset in my role as a
fellow,” Griffin says. In addition to preparing her to work
on bills related to agriculture, welfare and the FDA, she says,
her training equipped her with great negotiation skills and
an ability to connect with different types of people — “an
invaluable skill in the policy world, where so much of ‘success’
rests on interpersonal aptitude,” she says.
Griffin calls her Capitol Hill experience “nothing short of
spectacular. I learned how policy works in a way that Civics 101
never could have taught,” she says.
The experience also convinced her to be an advocate for
integrating policy into graduate coursework. “If students and
faculty had a better understanding of the impact of policy, they
would be more motivated and strategic in using their research
to address social problems,” she says.
When her fellowship ended in August, Griffin accepted
the position of monitoring and evaluation advisor at the U.S.