After COVID Hardships, PsyD Alumni Sponsor Hoods for Graduating Class

Emily Barrett, Assistant Director of Communications
Back of graduate's head shows cap and 2021 tassel

Graduating fifth-year students in the Institute for Graduate Clinical Psychology (IGCP) were welcomed into the university’s alumni network in a truly unique manner this commencement season, after program alumni sponsored doctoral hoods for each graduate. Their support came in response to a year marked by a number of hardships caused by COVID-19.

“It has been a tough time, and yet our students have persisted, completing their internships, arduous final clinical oral exams, and their dissertations,” said Mary Rourke, associate professor and program director.

In addition to overcoming hurdles to complete academic requirements, Rourke explained that a number of students were impacted financially during the pandemic, making it a challenge to purchase a doctoral hood to accompany the regalia. 

“It feels so important to us that every student have access to the hood as a symbol of their achievement, especially this year, and it pained us to think that some might not be able to do so,” Rourke said. 

When program alumni became aware that some graduates may not have the opportunity to obtain a hood, many members, like Dennis Debiak ’95, responded immediately and without hesitation. 

“This was a small way to help out just by purchasing a hood on behalf of a 2021 graduate but it felt like a nice way to mark the end of a really meaningful and often very difficult journey,” said Debiak, who served as an adjunct and core faculty member for more than 15 years.

As students finishing a doctoral program, the hood represents the culmination of years of hard work and dedication to study in the field. During the hooding ceremony, students receive the hood to symbolize their transition into the profession.

“There’s a particular distinction, I think, to getting a doctorate. It’s the highest that you can achieve in terms of post-graduate education and I think it’s really important for graduates to know that,” Debiak added.

The generosity of the alumni didn’t come as a surprise to Jennifer Moline. The recent graduate was drawn to the program for its robust and engaging alumni network, particularly in the Philadelphia area.

“One of the things that drew me to IGCP was the alumni network and as someone who is staying in the Philadelphia area this was so meaningful and marked this transition into the professional world,” said Moline. “What a great symbol to welcome us into the alumni family.”

Classmate Amber Keroles agreed, adding: “we’re talking about a program where alumni come back consistently to adjunct or come back to speak to classes. The alumni network is very strong and supportive so it didn’t surprise me that upon being called to action that they were willing and able to help out,” said Keroles.

A supportive network between current and former students is one of the cornerstones of the program. As Debiak explained, the guidance and career-long support that follows graduates well past commencement stems from the close relationships built between faculty and students. 

“I think so many of us have very clear memories of our interactions with the program faculty over time. There’s a way in which the relationships that we have with faculty are a part of us and guide us as we go through our careers and I think that’s part of what makes us a tight knit group,” said Debiak. 

As result of the generosity from Debiak and others, each of this year’s graduates received a hood to celebrate their accomplishments and mark their entrance into the alumni family.

“This hood for Widener specifically, to me, is the connection into this larger family and network of alumni,” said Keroles.

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