Alumna, School Psychology
Before entering the field of school psychology, Dr. Heather Agazzi was a collegiate track & field athlete who completed her bachelor’s degree in International Studies and Spanish at USF. After spending time with young children as a childcare provider, Agazzi began to garner an interest in the field of school psychology.
Dr. Agazzi is now a pediatric psychologist and associate professor in the Section of Child Development, USF Pediatrics. She is also the internship director of the USF Health Internship in Professional Psychology at the Morsani College of Medicine where she supervises the clinical training of doctoral interns in psychology.
What inspired you to pursue a career in school psychology?
My interest in school psychology grew from a primary interest in sports psychology while competing in collegiate track & field. After completing my bachelor's degree, I spent a lot of time with children as a childcare provider and learned that I enjoyed working with young children, even those with special needs. So, I combined the two interests and that led me to the field of school psychology.
Why did you choose to attend the University of South Florida for your doctoral studies?
USF has a well-recognized school psychology program. I took a few courses in the program as a non-degree seeking student prior to admission and fell in love with the program. It was my first choice.
What experiences did you have as part of the doctoral program that prepared you for your work in school psychology?
I completed extensive coursework in theoretical foundations, assessment, research methods, and intervention. I also engaged in considerable supervised work with children where I learned to apply knowledge. As part of my graduate training, I completed a thesis and dissertation, and managed several research projects, all of which helped prepare me for the day to day role as an academician.
What are your research interests? How did your experience at USF provide you the opportunity to explore those interests?
My research interests include implementation of parent training programs to treat disruptive behavior disorders in young children, including children with developmental disabilities and interventions for young children with trauma exposures. USF has provided me the clinical space, internal support, and resources that helped me get my research started, including assistance with start-up (funding), grant writing, human subjects protection, and research administrative duties.
Mental health in schools is a topic of interest in light of recent events. Why do you feel providing quality psychological services for youth and their families is critical in today's educational landscape?
Mental health is critical in all educational landscapes, past and present. I think we’re just more aware of student needs because of the electronic media. Schools are filled with students and some of these students have mental health problems. Therefore, we need school psychologists who can address a range of student mental health concerns across early and middle childhood and adolescence. Mental health needs to be addressed just as much as physical health, especially in the context of supporting students’ academic achievement.
What have you accomplished after completing your doctoral studies?
I am a licensed psychologist, board certified in Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology, and an associate professor at the USF Morsani College of Medicine. I was recently promoted to Section Chief of Child Development by the Chair of Pediatrics, Dr. Patricia Emmanuel. Dr. Emmanuel has been a great mentor and supporter of my development from a junior to mid-career faculty member.
What are you seeking to accomplish at this point in your career?
I am seeking accreditation from the American Psychological Association for our psychology internship program and I aim to secure NIH (National Institute of Health) funding to develop a multi-modal assessment to diagnose autism spectrum disorders using artificial intelligence.
What makes you passionate about your work in school psychology?
I really enjoy working with children and their families, so that they can have more intimate and higher-quality relationships. I enjoy disseminating evidence-based practices into community settings and evaluating the outcomes to share with colleagues in my field.
In what ways do you feel school psychologists can act as an advocate on behalf of the students and families they work with?
School psychologists can act as advocates by implementing evidence-based practices and being a voice for children and families.
What advice do you have for those who are interested in pursuing a career in school psychology?
I suggest that students find a graduate program that emphasizes a problem-solving approach to addressing student needs. Our field has moved from a traditional test and place model and is really focused on how to bring effective practices into the general education setting. There are many career options for a school psychologist, so choose a training program that also aligns with your career aspirations. For example, if you want to work in a clinical setting, identify a graduate program that provides these clinical training experiences.
The School Psychology Program at the University of South Florida prepares graduates to play integral roles in creating and sustaining educational and related systems in which children, youth, and their families have access to the academic, behavioral, social-emotional, and physical health services that promote lifelong success and well-being. We invite you to learn more about our programs.