As the son of a teacher and a principal, Joseph Latimer felt confident in his path to becoming an educator. However, after learning about school psychology, Latimer knew he wanted to positively impact students both inside and outside the four walls of the classroom.
What inspired you to pursue a career in school psychology?
I grew up in a family where both of my parents were teachers — my mother eventually became a principal — and I’ve been constantly exposed to the world of education. Originally, I really wanted to be a teacher, but then I got to college and I fell in love with psychology. And I thought, “What’s something I can do in the school setting?” and then school psychologist came up. The overarching goal of my career was to help as many students as possible, so I felt like school psychology is a great avenue to help students achieve academically, behaviorally, socially and emotionally.
Why did you choose the University of South Florida for your doctoral studies?
When I was finishing up my undergraduate studies at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, I looked all over America. One day I kind of figured out where I would want to live and then dictated from there what will be a good school site and program. So I chose about 10 (schools) all over the country, and I interviewed at all of them but I really liked the University of South Florida for many reasons. Not only did I have a great feeling when I came down here, but I felt like this was the best place where I could be successful. I also enjoyed the great financial support as well as the flexibility of what I wanted to do. I didn’t see this in other universities.
What experiences have you had as part of your doctoral program that have prepared you for your work in school psychology?
I’ve gotten practical, clinical, research and teaching experiences. In the course of my three years here, I’ve been exposed to different student populations and different ways of working within the schools. My experiences with clinical and practical practice allowed me to help students, as well as support other teachers in school sites within the school realm.
Research-wise, I’ve been involved in writing manuscripts, preparing grants, as well as presenting at national conferences. I was a teaching assistant for three semesters doing three different online courses, so I got the chance to teach pre-service teachers and experience the line of preparing individuals to go into the field of education as well. I’m currently (working) at a middle school and I’m providing intensive mental health support, which includes one-on-one counseling with students as well as group counseling. This is the first year I’ve been in a middle school, and it’s just a different population. There's a different set of problems to fix as well as different topics to talk about. So, it’s just been a very eye-opening experience to help individuals, especially during those tough adolescent years.
What are your research interests? How has USF provided you the opportunity to explore those interests?
My research interests are system-level perspectives and changes, as well as educational leadership. I really want to be an administrator or a leader within the school district, so my research revolves around empowering teachers and other professionals within the schools to use their best abilities to help students. USF has been great because it has provided me with not only financial support, but it provided me with ample opportunities to do that. The school psychology department is very student-focused. They reach out to all students with opportunities such as writing grants and research papers so we can have those kinds of experiences.
Mental health services in schools has been 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?
Schools have changed in the sense that back then you thought that going to school was just to learn. But, there are so many factors and complicated aspects that get in the way of learning and they completely need to be addressed. I honestly think that although the recent events have kind of sparked some conversation—which is fantastic because it has pushed money and resources—mental health has always been an issue that needed to be addressed. I think it’s super important that all students get the support they need regardless of if it’s needed academically, behaviorally, socially or emotionally. I think that school psychologists are in a prime position to help those students through all those levels because success in schools looks a lot different today.
What do you hope to accomplish after completing your doctoral studies?
I want to support school districts in the best way that I can and also be an effective change agent for any kind of system changes or anything positive that may be happening. I want to be seen as a district leader that empowers others and promotes student success. I don’t know what that position looks like, but as long as I am providing that support for students, I’ll be perfectly fine.
What makes you passionate about your work in school psychology?
It’s a fun job. If there’s one thing that has driven me to be a professional it is the fact that I’m making an impact on students’ lives and hopefully making life long impacts. If I help out a student who is struggling in reading understand something better, that’s enough drive for me to come back and keep going. It might be small in the eyes of some people, but it's huge in my eyes.
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 are in a unique position in the sense that they get a lot of training on not only academic support, but also on behavioral, emotional, and social support. They’re really kind of the ‘swiss army knife’ within the school. I always like to think that a school psychologist is the glue — it’s a person that can bridge gaps to help students in many different ways. They can be a leader within those three domains, and they definitely can advocate for students within those domains.
What advice do you have for those who are interested in pursuing a career in school psychology?
Do it! If you’re passionate about helping students and you want to be someone that empowers teachers or works within the education system, just do it. I mean right now — there’s a huge shortage of school psychologists and this is a great time, go for it!
USF's School Psychology Program 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.