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ASU professor weaves inclusion into classroom

November 25, 2008

We’re chunky stew.

That’s the analogy David W. Coon uses when he discusses inclusion at Arizona State University where he is a professor of psychology in the New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences.  And, like his fellow ASU faculty members, he is working with his students to bring together the ingredients in a tasty porridge that encourages availability, accessibility and acceptability in their thinking.

“My research and interests are woven into the classroom and lab lessons and are tailored to meet the unique needs of underrepresented populations,” says Coon, who for nearly two decades has been actively involved in the development and implementation of successful community intervention programs serving diverse populations and in the training and supervision of mental health professionals and trainees to assist distressed older adults and family caregivers.  “One of the key benefits of working with different groups is the opportunity to transfer lessons learned from one group into effective intervention strategies for another.”

Coon grew up in Bartlesville, OK, a company town dominated by petroleum giant Phillips 66 (now ConocoPhillips).  His mom, dad and a grandmother set the groundwork for what would become Coon’s life passion.

“My parents, and one grandmother in particular, instilled in me an ethic of care, grounded in social action and social concerns. At an early age I was concerned about barriers that were faced by underserved populations.  I became aware of the importance of three key considerations – the availability of programs and services, the accessibility of those programs and services, and their acceptability by those who needed them.

“We have different patterns and ways of being in this world.  My interest in the discovery of these unique and shared approaches helps guide my work.”

Coon’s family-directed life lessons have come full circle as he guides undergraduate and graduate students through their coursework.  He holds bachelor’s degrees in foreign service and public affairs and in linguistics and cross-cultural communication from the University of Oklahoma, as well as an M.Ed. in counseling from the university.  He received his Ph.D. in counseling psychology from Stanford University in 1996 and was a postdoctoral fellow in geropsychology in 1997.  He has taught at ASU since 2004.

His research is well known and nationally recognized.  A Fellow of the Gerontological Society of America, he has provided important information on the adaptability of social and behavioral interventions for Latina caregivers tending to loved ones with Alzheimer's disease.  He is also one of the first to systematically look at cross-generation issues in the transmission and prevention of HIV/AIDS.

"David has made fundamental contributions to the field of gerontology," says Marcia Ory, a professor in the Department of Social and Behavioral Health at Texas A&M's School of Rural Public Health.  "A specific contribution is his testing innovative interventions in diverse settings and populations, thus expanding the current knowledge base.

"He is an excellent educator (who) has mentored many students through geriatric clinical psychology internships and postdoctoral fellowships.  He continues to motivate students to see the importance of working with older adults on social and behavioral issues."

In his teaching, Coon emphasizes to his students that their thinking must take in multiple perspectives.

“I want my students to embrace inclusion and a wide spectrum of viewpoints,” he says.  “I don’t want anyone to simply ‘fit’ inclusion into their work or their thinking.  For example, we spend a great deal of time, working in multicultural teams, raising issues of underrepresentation and disparities in health care.  We also discuss acculturation and how this process influences these issues and the formulation of effective interventions.”

Coon, who has received Stanford University’s Gwen Yeo Award for excellence in ethnogeriatrics, attributes much of his success in the classroom and in the lab to the community partnerships he has developed with such organizations as the Arizona Alzheimer’s Research Consortium, Sun Health Research Institute’s Center for Healthy Aging, Phoenix Caregiver Cooperative Group, Barrow Neurological Institute, and the Alzheimer’s Association, among others.

“Our partnerships are a cornerstone of what we do when it comes to breaking down barriers, developing and improving interventions and services, and working against the disparities that exist,” he says.  “When you partner with people in the community who have the same goals to meet the needs of those who are underrepresented, the synergy is amazing.

“You can’t just build it and they will come, like in ‘Field of Dreams.’  You have to find effective ways to partner with others.”

In addition to his classroom and lab lessons, Coon hopes he is instilling passion in his students.

“I want them to find something they love to do,” he says.  “But, really, I want them to think critically about what they read, hear and are exposed to, and I want them to think about these things from multiple perspectives and to become excited about it.

“I want them to be the catalysts in developing and delivering programs that help address disparities in our society.”