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New Faculty Focus: Alvin Thomas

November 1, 2019

Title: Assistant Professor, Human Development and Family Studies Department, School of Human Ecology.

Hometown: Saint Lucia

Photo: Alvin Thomas

Alvin Thomas

Educational/professional background: I graduated from Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia, with a B.A. in psychology and a minor in French. I earned my M.Sc. and Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of Michigan–Ann Arbor, simultaneously undertaking a one-year fellowship with the International Max Planck Research School on the Life Course. I then completed my one-year internship at the University Center for the Child and Family and a two-year postdoctoral fellowship in the Department of Psychiatry, both at the University of Michigan.

Previous position (title, institution): I was an Assistant Professor and Co-Director for the Center for Excellence in Diversity at Palo Alto University in the Clinical Psychology Program.

How did you get into your field of research? I had taught at elementary, middle, and high school for about a decade while also helping my students navigate the family, neighborhood, and personal challenges of regular development. I finally came to the realization that I wanted to address those challenges on a grander scale and to examine the underlying factors in a way that would be useful to families and others who work directly with youth.

What attracted you to UW–Madison? Madison’s credo that the science, the created knowledge, the research is meant to be applied to and improve the lives of real people is an undeniable draw.

What was your first visit to campus like? My first visit was in the summer of 2016. I was living in California at the time, so your heat and humidity did not impress me. I returned in 2018 in the dead of winter, and yet here I am enjoying a Madison August near the lake.

What’s one thing you hope students who take a class with you will come away with? The real education process is not limited to the acquisition of knowledge, nor the use of knowledge in vaunting oneself or subjugating another. It is a carefully nurtured desire and skill for applying new knowledge, respectfully and responsibly engaging others in the expression of opinions and thoughts, and using your skills and acquired knowledge to make the world a better place one conversation, one person, one community at a time.

Do you share your expertise and experiences with the public through social media? If so, which channels do you use?

Do you feel your work relates in any way to the Wisconsin Idea? If so, please describe how. My work aims to improve the life chances of Black children and youth by drawing attention to risks that undermine their positive development, strengthening the Black family, encouraging father engagement, and challenging policies that undermine these families—an application of research to improve health (mental) and quality of life.

What’s something interesting about your area of expertise you can share that will make us sound smarter at parties? The idea that Black fathers are generally uninvolved and disinterested in the lives of their children is a cruel fabrication and a fallacy. The research indicates that not only are Black fathers intimately involved and interested in the lives of their children, but that Black fathers who do not share residence with their children are more involved than any of their ethnic counterparts.

Hobbies/other interests: Hiking, board games, cooking and eating