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Publishing, Rather Than Perishing

Dr. Kevin Cokley effortlessly excelled as a high school student in his small rural town of Pilot Mountain, N.C. When he arrived at Wake Forest University, however, he struggled in the classroom for the first time in his life.

Cokley, now an educational psychologist at the University of Texas, lacked study skills and did not know how to manage his time.

“When I tell African-American students my story about my abysmal first semester and early academic struggles, they are usually amazed and inspired by my resilience and subsequent accomplishments,” Cokley says.

The once under-prepared Cokley trained himself on the fly and managed to earn three degrees. Now, about 30 publications, eight book chapters and 60 conference presentations later, he is one of the most prepared and up-and-coming educational psychologists in higher education.

“Dr. Cokley is a well-published scholar in the field of counseling,” says Dr. Edmund T. Emmer, the chair of UT’s department of education psychology where Cokley just finished his first semester. “He has been well received by students and colleagues.”

The Association of Black Psychologists recently honored Cokley with its 2007 Scholarship Award. He has also earned an award from the American Psychological Association and had the honor of publishing in the Harvard Educational Review.

Cokley, who before UT taught at the University of Missouri- Columbia and Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, has racked up honors as a researcher in the area of Black psychology. He has sought to inquire about the construction of racial and ethnic identities and the psychological factors that impact Black student achievement.

“My research in many ways reflects my experiences as a Black male trying to negotiate the challenges of excelling academically at an elite, predominantly White university,” says Cokley, who is also an associate editor of the Journal of Black Psychology.

One of the ways that Cokley has excelled as a scholar — publishing instead of perishing — is by following the advice of a senior scholar who told him he should always have manuscripts in three stages of progress: in press, under review and in preparation.

“I have worked very hard to stick to this,” says Cokley, who published articles in six journals in 2007, in addition to a book chapter with another in press. “And it has served me well.”

But Cokley didn’t always want to be an academician. He initially went for his master’s in counselor education at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro to become a director of an office of minority affairs. However, the more articles and books he read by prominent counseling psychologists like Dr. Thomas Parham, Dr. Janet Helms and Dr. Derald Wing Sue, the more he drifted towards the academic realm of Black psychology.

“I liked the fact that there was an area of psychology that focused on race, and especially racial identity, as an important psychological variable,” says Cokley.

Since appearing and thriving in this realm, Cokley’s most challenging task has been luring other Blacks in with him. Cokley says most of the talented Black graduate students in counseling psychology become practitioners instead of researchers and professors, which are less lucrative options.

“It is frustrating for me, and a loss to our profession, to see many talented African-American students not seriously consider research-oriented careers,” he says. “I’m a strong believer that it is just as important for African-Americans to be producers of culturally relevant psychological research that is beneficial to African-American communities.”

Cokley has been on his own research mission to produce studies that inform policies and practices concerning Black education.

“I believe that my research will show that the importance of a positive racial and ethnic identity lies not so much in a direct causal relationship with academic outcomes,” he says. “But rather, in producing African-Americans who have a deep and abiding love for their people, are committed to the pursuit of educational excellence and are committed to alleviating the social problems facing Black communities.”

Title: Associate Professor of Counseling Psychology and Counselor Education, University of Texas at Austin
Education: Ph.D., Counseling Psychology, Georgia State University; M.Ed., Counselor Education, University of North Carolina at Greensboro; B.A., Psychology, Wake Forest University

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